Does God choose us, or do we choose Him?

The Issue

David Hollaz (1646-1713) declared:

Predestination is the eternal decree of God to bestow eternal salvation upon all of whom God foresaw that they would finally believe in Christ.

Is this the teaching of the Bible?

The Bible’s Overall Teaching

Romans 9

The point of Romans 9 is that it is God’s sovereign choice who he will have mercy on.  It has nothing to do with the choice, future or past, of the person concerned.

Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:18 NIV)

Ephesians 2

The point of Ephesians 2, is that we are dead (Eph 2:1), unable to help ourselves, without hope (Eph 2:12) but God graciously chose us (Eph 2:4).  So we cannot boast (Eph 2:9), because salvation is purely an undeserved gift (Eph 2:8).  We do not choose him, we respond to him as he enables us.

The Biblical Pictures of Salvation

1. Born again

Being born is something we have no choice in.  Being born again is the same.  We go through the process, but we are pushed through the birth canal by our mother. (John 1:12-13; 3:5-8)

2. Fishers of Men

Evangelists are fishers of men (Matt 4:19).  Fish caught in a net don’t have any choice in the matter, in the same way, we have no choice.  It is God’s choice and directing of the net.  Evangelists throw out the gospel net and catch the elect – those who have been chosen beforehand by God (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15).  Of course, we have no knowledge of who those fish are, we are just commanded to proclaim the gospel and it is up to God to determine who is “caught”.

3. Drawn by the Father

No one comes unless the Father draws them (John 6:44).  Draw, not as in entice, but draw as in drawing water.  When the bucket is thrown into the well, how much choice does the water have?  None.  It just flows into the bucket and is drawn up.  So is our role in our salvation.

4. Elect versus hardened

In Romans 11:7 we get both of these terms used in the one verse:

What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened,

Like he does in Romans 9:18, when referring to Pharoah, and elsewhere in that chapter, Paul draws this distinction.  Some are chosen by God, some are not.  It is all up to God alone.  Throughout the New Testament we have this term “elect” being used.  Jesus used it, and Paul used it.  We also get other terms like chosen (Eph 1:4, 11, 2 Thessalonians 2:13)), predestined (Eph 1:5, 11; Romans 8:28-29) or appointed (Acts 13:48) to refer to those who are given the gift of eternal life.  Those who are not entering the kingdom are described in similar words (1 Peter 2:8).

We also see this in Jesus’ description of why he spoke in parables (Luke 8:10).  It was not so that everyone could understand and turn to him, in fact it was the opposite!  The “knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God” had been given to the disciples, but the “others” were not to see or understand.

Some, by God’s grace, enter the kingdom of God, others, by God’s righteous decision, do not.

Our Previous State

Images of our state before the Spirit acts in us:

  • Dead

Those who are dead are unable to make themselves alive (Ephesians 2:1).

  • Enemies

We were on the wrong side, serving the wrong ruler (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:20).

  • Slaves to sin

We were in slavery, unable to set ourselves free (Romans 6:6, 17, 20)

We see here that our “free will” will always choose to rebel against God.  We are unable to do anything else.  It takes a miracle of God to turn us around (Luke 18:26-27).

Both before and after the flood, God’s analysis of the human heart is that it is only wicked all the time (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). Jeremiah tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Paul’s argument in Romans 1:18–32 details the painful reality of human depravity, and his summary of the human condition in Romans 3:9–20 removes any grounds for thinking that anyone is innocent in the sight of God—it also destroys any possibility of salvation apart from the pure grace of God.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

By nature, we are evil.  Jesus said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matt. 12:33–34).

One of the most sobering—not to mention damning—indictments of the human condition is found in Romans 8:7–8. Paul writes, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”

We cannot please God.  We are unable to turn to him, unable to choose him.  If God looked into our future, without the Spirit graciously working in us (Romans 8:9), then he would see people who are utterly deserving of his condemnation and nothing else.

It is because we are in rebellion against God, that his decision not to extend grace to anyone is a righteous and just act.  They are getting the just penalty for their sins (Romans 1:27).

Free Will

The notion that God will not override our free will doesn’t line up with what the Bible tells us.  The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hands of the lord, he turns it wherever he wills (Proverbs 21:1).  God is in control, not man.  However, man is still responsible for his rejection of God (Eph 4:17-19).


How about the term “foreknow”?  Doesn’t that imply that God is simply looking into the future to gain knowledge as to what will happen?

God’s knowledge of us is not some passive looking at us to see what we will do. It is a deep understanding because he has determined in himself exactly what we are going to be like and what we will do.

God said to Jeremiah (1:5):

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

The context here is of God setting Jeremiah apart, of appointing him.  This is not knowledge based on looking into the future, it is actively choosing him.  And this is what we see with the use of this term.  Throughout the Bible, translators consistently use the word “choose” as an alternative.  It appears in the context of God planning (Acts 2:23) that Jesus would be executed.  It is used in the context of God sovereignly determining who will be predestined to be saved (Romans 8:29).  The only exception is for 2 Peter 3:17, where, speaking of mere humans, it is translated as “forewarned”.

The example of Israel

The Israelites were in captivity in Egypt, slaves of Pharoah, unable to help themselves.   The Bible often uses this history as a parable of our experience of salvation.

God, through Moses, rescued them.

They were included as part of that salvation because of their ancestry, their genetics, something they had no control over, not because of anything they had done.  God had decided to rescue them. They went along because they were God’s chosen people. No other reason.  It was not because he looked into the future and saw that they would turn to him. In fact, it was the opposite (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).

Why does it matter?

If the idea that God knows beforehand who will choose him and on that basis elects them holds true, then there are two major consequences:

1. God is no longer sovereign

In this view, ultimately it is our decision whether we are saved or not.  God is no longer in control.  So don’t bother praying for the salvation of someone, because it is out of God’s control.  In the same vein, don’t bother praying for God to change the minds of anyone about anything else either.  Under this scheme, the future was determined by man, not by God, and he is just going along with that.  Of course, the Bible will have none of this.

2. We are saved by works

If God looks into the future to see who will choose him, then we are saved by our own effort, our own good work of choosing to turn to Christ.  No matter how small that contribution is, that is the turning point. We are then saved by works, not purely by grace. Not purely by God opening our eyes and the Spirit enabling us. Again, this is not the message of the Bible.

3. It gives us a reason to boast

If there is something different in us which caused God to choose us, then we have a reason to boast.  We might be tempted to think better of ourselves, and look down on those who reject Christ.  But this idea is totally rejected in the Scriptures (Eph 2:8-9, Luke 18:9-14).


People want to come up with a system that will get God off the hook, so to speak, as if he needs our help in that way.  But he doesn’t need our help.  Everything he does is righteous and just, even if we have problems getting our heads around it.

We need to acknowledge that our salvation is totally dependent on God’s sovereign. merciful choice.  It has nothing to do with us.

I will leave the last word to Jesus – “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).

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