1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
-I Peter 1:1-2
Sounds hard to read doesn’t it? I kinda like how the writers in the New Testament would often start their letters with something poetic or grandiose. If you read it with a deep voice, you’ll sound like a preacher. Really, go ahead and try it. No one is listening and they don’t know how to pronounce Bithynia either….
Anyway, there’s a part in there that starts arguments, can you guess which phrase? Times up. It’s this one: “…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God…” If you have a King James Version or one of the older ones, instead of “have been chosen” it says “the elect”. The elect is a term given to people who belong to God and this isn’t the only time it is used. Speaking of the end of the world Jesus said:
And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. -Matthew 24:31
It means chosen, (which is why the NIV just translated it that way instead of confusing us with “elect” and making us think we missed something at the ballot box…) and I Peter 1:2 says God chose people because of his foreknowledge, implying that God could see into the future, and knew what we’d be like, what we would do and not do ahead of time. You see, according to the New Testament, we were already chosen before we were even born.
…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will…
Interesting how the writers seemed to enjoy bringing this up at the beginning of their letters. Hmmm… anyway…
Doesn’t this mean that, according to the Bible, we don’t really have a choice? A lot of people believe so. In fact, it is a major doctrine of certain churches, and it is usually a big part of what’s referred to as Calvinism. I’m not really a Calvinist although I do enjoy reading the Calvin and Hobbs cartoon occasionally.
For me personally, I don’t like the idea of not having a choice. It just seems wrong! God doesn’t give some people a choice in the matter? He basically sends them to hell? Wait a minute! So I’m a little biased against the idea before I even start.
Before you Bible guys and gals wag that index finger of yours in my direction, I do realize that the Bible trumps whatever I want to think. If the Bible disagrees with me, then I’m the one who’s wrong. I’m with you there. It’s just that I don’t think the Bible disagrees with me here.
And the secret to studying the Bible is not to apply one verse to the entire Bible, but to apply the entire Bible to one verse. In keeping with everything ELSE the Bible says, how do we answer this question?
Do we have a choice? When first Peter says God’s people are chosen by God’s foreknowledge, does that mean we really don’t have a choice in the matter? If God makes the decision and we are already condemned or called before we are even born, then why not simply say so point blank in the Bible?
It doesn’t you know. In fact, the Bible says crazy things like this: “For God so loved the world that WHOEVER believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life?” John 3:16
That verse seems to imply that anyone and everyone who believes will be saved. No restrictions are mentioned about only those God chooses to allow.
Why would John write this in chapter one verse twelve:
“To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
The plain sense of the words is “all” means anyone, and believing on his name is a option for anyone. I mean just look at it. It tells us that receiving Jesus is based on belief and receiving him. Heyyy, that sounds a lot like believing in Jesus and be baptized (which symbolizes receiving Jesus into your life).
Now, let me be intellectually honest here. Admittedly the Bible says God is the one who calls people, and it says that a person cannot even come to God unless the Lord Himself draws Him. Here it is:
The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. -John 6:41-44
So the point is often made that while God requires us to “believe,” the only people who can believe are those He allows to believe. It does say only those whom God “draws” can come to him doesn’t it?
Notice, however, what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t actually say some people are never called or that God only decided to save some of us. Nope. We INFER that part. In fact, these verses do not say the people Jesus was referring to would never believe. It’s very likely some of them did later. It also doesn’t say those people whom God “draws” have no choice in the matter. The context of those words was concerning people at that particular moment who would not accept what Jesus said, but Jesus did not say that God will never, ever call those people.
That’s the thing. I believe the whole of the Bible teaches that at one time or another, God calls everyone. Romans 1:20 and Psalms 19:1-4 make the point that God even calls people using the creation and the universe itself!
Paul says this salvation, by the grace of God, has appeared to “all men” Titus 2:11 All includes everyone. Why make it appear to all men if some of them have already been rejected?
He tells Timothy that “God desires all men to be saved.” I Timothy 2:4 Hey, if God wants everyone to be saved and God is the one who decides who is saved and who isn’t, then everyone should be saved. After all, that’s what God wants. Why condemn them if that’s not what you wanted to do? Is God opposed to Himself?
Romans 5:8 says the free gift came to all men. Not some. Not just those the Lord has chosen, but everyone.
I believe if God wanted the Bible to say He is the one who decides who will be saved and who will not, then He could have said so much more clearly. Instead He talks about reaching out to everyone, calling everyone to repent, and preaching the gospel to the entire world! (Matthew 24, the Great Commission, II Corinthians 5:19-20, etc… etc… etc…)
So what sort of choice does God give us? Glad you asked. Jesus made the point over and over again that people should believe in Him. In John 6 Jesus said the work that God requires is this: To believe on the One He has sent. God requires that of us. He might control everything else in the universe, but Jesus said the one thing God requires from us is “to believe on the One He has sent.”
Again no limiting of the call to believe to only a few.
God controls the universe, He controls circumstances around each one of us, but I think God gives everyone the choice of whether or not to believe -from the Indians in South America to a stock broker on Wall Street. In one way or another, using one form or another, and at one time or another, God calls everyone.
Interestingly, Jesus also said “many are called but few are chosen.” -Matthew 22:14
In my opinion, that makes a bit more sense. God calls everyone, but only a few are going to believe and when they do believe… they are given the right to become children of God. On the basis of THEIR belief. It’s the one work. The work that God requires. Belief. It seems that everyone who is capable of making that choice, whether or not to believe, will have to face God and answer for that decision, whether they believed and trusted in Jesus or not.
God can “choose” them ahead of time, or call them “chosen,” because He can look into the future the way you and I look can look into the past. He IS God you know.
When I watch NFL football, I see replays of choices every game. Even when I watch the replay, I often desperately wish that the quarterback hadn’t thrown the ball and been intercepted. Many times, I’ll scream at the TV and say “Why did you do that?” But even though I know what’s going to happen on the replay, I didn’t make the quarterback throw the ball. It was his decision, I just know what he did. In the same way, God can look into the future.
He can see who will make the right decision or not. He’s God. But it’s still your decision, whether or not to believe in Jesus or not. And at one time or another, everyone has the chance.