In this week’s message we discussed election, God’s choice of whom He would save, made before the foundation of the world. We saw this in passages like Ephesians 1:4-5: “…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…”
Many people hear a passage like this and think, “that can’t be right. God doesn’t choose some people and not others. God wants everybody to be saved, and it’s up to us to choose God. So if God is writing names down in His book, choosing people from the foundations of the world, that must be because He looked forward in time and saw those who would choose Him. And so God wrote down the names of everyone who would choose Him.”
But that’s actually not what the Bible tells us. It tells us repeatedly that we choose God because He chose us, not the other way around.
One of the clearest places we see this is in the book of Acts, in chapter 13. The apostle Paul is preaching in the city of Antioch, and had shared the gospel with a group of people. And Acts 13:48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
Who are the ones who believe? Those who were appointed to eternal life. They weren’t appointed to eternal life because they believed; they believed because God appointed them to eternal life.
That’s what the Bible teaches. But we should acknowledge that even in the face of Scripture like this, many people are still uncomfortable with these things. Many people are uncomfortable with words like “election” and “predestination,” even though both of these words are used right in the Bible! Many people are freaked out when they are taught that God is this sovereign.
I used to be one of those people. I used to be uncomfortable with the idea of a God so big and so sovereign that it was His choice, not my choice, that determined the way things were going to be. And I used to go on the internet and argue with people about this.
A part of the reason some of us struggle with this, and I think I struggled with this, is that we’re very used to the idea of democracy. When we think about the word “election,” we think about something we do to choose a leader. We give our leaders power. If we don’t like them, we get a chance to choose a new one.
In our modern way of thinking, we are each self-determining. We get to choose what we do and when. There is nobody bigger than us who has power over our lives to decide our destinies. We are the captains of our own fate, the masters of our own soul.
But in times past, people were far more used to the idea of a king. An absolute monarch, with absolute sovereignty. You didn’t elect Him. He had imperial power, and you bowed before His will.
God is a king like that. He has absolute, unconditional sovereignty.
In Daniel chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar–a man quite used to having imperial power–said this about the God of Heaven:
“His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Daniel 4:35).
He does according to His will—in other words, whatever He wants—among the inhabitants of the earth, and nobody can second-guess Him.
This is the same thing the Apostle Paul said in Romans 9 when He was defending the absolute sovereignty of God. Listen to this passage:
“So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:18–21).
Now please hear me: there are legitimate questions about how this teaching meshes with everything the Bible says about the offer of salvation and God’s genuine desire for all to be saved. We see some of that tension resolved in passages like the one I just read from Acts, where the Apostle Paul preaches the gospel freely to all, and trusts that the ones God had chosen will respond. I’ve been further helped with some of these legitimate questions by John Piper’s excellent essay “Are There Two Wills in God?”, which I would commend to you.
But I think it’s important to start with the Bible’s basic teaching that God is God, and we are not, and we must be okay with that. We have to come to peace with God being the king who has absolute sovereign sway over us.
Because the place we should be at is one of praising and thanking God for His sovereignty. We should realize that if He had not chosen and called us, we would not have come. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God made us alive together with Christ, like Ephesians 2:4 says. We’ve been resurrected, called forth from the grave just like Lazarus.
And that’s why Paul explodes with worship when He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3–4).
God choosing us is a breathtaking blessing that we should praise God for. The doctrine of election should be fuel for more than our questions or our arguments－it should ignite our worship.