In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)
Some teach that God arbitrarily chooses who will go to heaven and who will go to hell before they are born and predestines them to be either saved or lost. But that is not what Jesus teaches us. In the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23) we see that Jesus, who is the Sower, spreads the seed (the Gospel message) without it being aimed at specific persons. The seed is scattered to the wind and has the capability to land where it may. In other words, the seed goes everywhere and the Sower wants it to plant wherever it will take, meaning it is intended for any heart that will receive it. We may ask, did God then make some hearts receptive and some unreceptive? What makes the soil good or bad? Are people predisposed to accept or reject the Gospel? Jesus makes it clear that the reason people don’t accept the Gospel message isn’t because they can’t, but because they won’t. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Matt. 13:14-15)
Here, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 to tell us that His will is for people to see and hear the truth and understand it and be saved, but many have “closed their eyes” to it. Whether it is because of loving wealth more than God or letting the worries of the world choke out the truth or deciding that they want to turn to other methods of solace and hope, they have closed their eyes. They refused to listen. It wasn’t that God blinded them or closed their ears. They chose to reject the seed of the Gospel. They closed their hearts.
Sin affects us all and becomes a hindrance to us coming to God because our natural inclination is to live for self and let our sinful nature rule us.
For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12)
We all are in the same boat. We are all on equal footing. God is no respecter of persons nor does He show favoritism (Romans 2:11). We all are born in sin and begin with a sinful nature to deal with.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:3-5)
But we can’t pass the blame to God, the devil, or even to the curse for our rebellion. If we reject God, it is our fault alone. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by their own free choice. If that weren’t the case then God would not have been just in punishing them for their sin and pronouncing a curse upon them and the earth. We can’t blame our parents or how God made our personalities or what environment we grew up in or what conditions we were predisposed to. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent but God said in essence, “take responsibility for your own actions!” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” (Genesis 3:13). We are made in God’s image so we have the intellect and volition to reason and evaluate and then make a choice. We are without excuse. God said, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut. 30:19). Joshua said, “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”” (Joshua 24:15 ).
We think we can blame God for our decisions or be without culpability because He created us, but He says to us, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:15). We think we can blame our parents but God says, ““Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:19-20). We think we can blame the curse but God says, “This only have I found: God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes.” (Eccl. 7:29). God created us with the ability to do good but we then go and find our own trouble. We need no help with that one! We can’t blame the fact that we are spiritually blind before we find God because the blinders get taken away only when we willfully choose to believe the Gospel. When and how is our spiritual blindness cured? What has to happen? The veil over our spiritual eyes and mind has to be removed because the god of this age has blinded us (2 Cor. 4:4). But God has given us a way of escape. “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Cor. 3:16). We come to the Lord and then the veil is taken away. Our action of belief in Christ removes the blinders.
We choose our attitude and whether we want to humble ourselves or remain full of ourselves. So, we can’t blame the fact that the whole world is under the sway of the evil one (1 John 5:19). God has revealed Himself to every human being and those that choose to reject Him will have no excuse. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20). Can we stand before God and tell Him that we couldn’t choose Him? Can we blame Him for our unbelief or blindness or say to Him that He prevented us from believing? Of course not. In Acts 17:26-28, Paul tells us that the reason God made human beings is so they would inhabit the earth and reach out and find Him. God wants us to find Him. He has made Himself near to us so we can reach out to Him. He desires a relationship with everyone if they are willing. He has made Himself reachable and accessible to everyone who desires Him.
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
He is near to all who call upon Him. Whoever calls upon Him will be saved (Romans 10:13). We are all God’s offspring! Would God willfully cast off His own offspring, the crown jewel of His creation, people made in His image that reflect His glory (1 Cor. 11:7)? God tells us clearly what His desire is for every human being.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:3, 4)
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Tim. 4:10)
So then, if God doesn’t choose certain people to go to hell or keep them forcefully in darkness, why do they end up in hell? Paul explains the reason in Romans 1.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness… For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened… Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts… Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Rom. 1:18, 21, 26, 28)
We choose to suppress the truth. We choose not to glorify Him. We do not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of Him. God reveals Himself to the whole world. God loves everyone in the world (John 3:16). Everyone knows there is a God. So, people who choose to be wicked and reject the truth about God have rejected God’s love and His extended hand to save them from their sin through Christ. Their hearts get hardened by their own choices and since God is just, He gives them over to what they want. He doesn’t force them to be good or to accept His love. He gives light to the whole world, but many reject the light because they love the darkness too much. That is their choice.
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
So, back to the Parable of the Sower. What makes the soil good? What determines whether a heart will receive it? Free will. “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matt. 13:9). We choose which god to serve. Will it be mammon or Yahweh? Will it be darkness or light? No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). You will hate one and love the other. But we choose what to love and what to hate. And God has given us the ability to do this otherwise we would not be accountable for our own actions.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (Matt. 25:41-43)
Does God want everyone to be saved? Let’s look at Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God. He wants His Kingdom to leaven the whole world (Matt. 13:33). God didn’t send His Son to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). In the Wedding Feast parable the ones He chose (Israel) rejected Him so He gives the invitation to anyone on the streets who wants to come in. Whoever accepts the invitation can come to His feast.
“So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Matt. 22:9-10).
Now, who then are the ones that get rejected from coming to the banquet? Those that don’t want to come. Those that have other priorities. Those that make excuses.
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses…”Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.‘ ” (Luke 14:16, 17, 23, 24)
But Jesus gives the invitation to everyone to begin with:
Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (Rev. 22:17)
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 5:37-38)
Did Jesus ever reject someone that asked for healing or deliverance or to have one of their family members healed? No, rather. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) AND “the one who comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
But let’s go back for a moment to my opening statement. There are those that teach that God chooses certain people to be His children and rejects the rest. But many of the Scriptures they use to “prove” their point do not really mean what they are purported to mean. Yes, it’s true that only those God draws can come. Only those appointed to eternal life can enter. Only those called, elected, and predestined from the foundation of the world are His. It’s all through God’s foreknowledge. The rest are hardened. Yes, this is all true. But these passages are not there to make us believe that God randomly or arbitrarily creates some people to be saved and others to be damned. God sees all of time at one moment. He is outside the realm of time and space. So, before you are born He sees your life all at once. He writes all of your days in His book before you have lived one (Psalm 139:16). This kind of language simply tells us that God sees everything in all of eternity ahead of time. He doesn’t figure it out later. He isn’t surprised when you make a choice to believe one day. But He does not force anyone into believing. That’s the difference. Just because God knows that you will freely choose Him one day doesn’t mean that He forces you to choose Him. God is love and love doesn’t manipulate. God wants us to freely choose to love Him.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matt. 23:37)
He looks up the corridor of time and in His foreknowledge knows that you will freely choose Him and because He knows that in advance He already calls you elect and chosen. He didn’t force you to choose Him. There is no favoritism with God, so He doesn’t give you a special path or inclination to choose Him and not do the same for every other human being.
What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.(Romans 3:9)
In 1 Peter 1: 1, 2 we hear about God’s “foreknowledge”. Those that are saved are chosen according to God’s foreknowledge.
To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood
Let’s look at how Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the word “Foreknowledge”:
“a foreknowledge” (akin to A.), is used only of Divine “foreknowledge,” Acts 2:23 ; 1 Peter 1:2 . “Foreknowledge” is one aspect of omniscience; it is implied in God’s warnings, promises and predictions. See Acts 15:18 . God’s “foreknowledge” involves His electing grace, but this does not preclude human will. He “foreknows” the exercise of faith which brings salvation. (www.studylight.org)
In other words, God’s foreknowledge indeed speaks of God electing and predestining certain people to be saved, but His choice of who will be saved involves human decision to believe. God chooses us but in order for us to be chosen we must freely choose Him as well. A good example of Jesus’ foreknowledge is in John 6:64: “Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.
Some of us may seemingly be at a disadvantage in coming to God because of where we live or the pagan religion we grew up in or who our parents are or a medical condition we have or because we are poor and don’t have access to a Bible. Those are real disadvantages. But in many cases, they turn out to be advantages. Many people that are handicapped or poor or sick or oppressed are the very type of people that know they need a Savior and will cry out to God. God is smarted than us all!
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)
Another chapter used by those that believe God arbitrarily chooses some people for heaven and some people for hell is Romans 9. Yes, at first glance Paul seems to be telling us that God does indeed choose certain people to be good and certain people to be evil. It is definitely focused on God’s sovereignty. But let’s not forget that we can never separate God’s sovereignty from man’s responsibility. God is sovereign and He initiates, but man has free will and must respond. God chooses us AND we choose Him. You can’t take one of those truths away. We are made in God’s image so we have free will like He does and we are created to freely love or freely hate, freely accept or freely reject. Just look at the marriage covenant. Which, by the way, God uses as a picture of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). The two people freely choose one another. The man initiates, but the woman can reject or accept his marriage proposal. This is the same concept when it comes to God’s covenant of salvation to human beings. One initiates but the other rejects or accepts the invitation.
So, let’s look at the amazing truths here in Romans 9. Paul is in anguish. The Israelites, his countrymen, were God’s chosen people who God invited to be His through covenant promise. But they stumbled over the truth of the Gospel (Rom. 9:30-32). But let’s not misunderstand. Yes, God called Israel His people but ultimately He wasn’t talking about a physical nation of people but a group of people that would believe His message. God’s promise was only for those who had faith in Him, whether Jew or Gentile. Jacob represents those people of promise that will have faith and Esau represents those that will persist in unbelief. God chose Jacob to be the firstborn. God has the right to choose some people to be firstborn, last born, born into a rich family, born into a poor family, of large stature or small stature. He’s sovereign. He makes the rules. He orchestrated things, not us. On the other hand, we all have free will in how we live. He didn’t force Esau to later reject his birthright. Just because God elected Jacob and rejected Esau before either had done anything good or bad doesn’t mean that as was stated earlier that God didn’t know what kind of person each would be. In fact, Hebrews 12:16-17 tells us that Esau made the evil choices and couldn’t repent because of what he had done. God certainly knew the kind of person Esau would choose to be so He chose Jacob over him, knowing that Jacob would respond to God’s mercy. God called Pharaoh for His own purposes also. But that doesn’t mean Pharaoh didn’t have a choice to let God’s people go. Whatever call we have or whatever situation we find ourselves in it is a test to see how we will respond. We can choose to serve God or serve ourselves. Yes, God has mercy on whomever He wants. But He tells us that He wants to have mercy on everyone!
For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:32).
The Lord is good to all; He has mercy on all he has made. (Psalm 145:9)
He decides who to harden, but He’s chosen to harden those who reject Him as we discussed earlier in Romans 1. Yes, There are objects of wrath prepared for destruction, but the reason they are objects of wrath is because they refused to believe (John 3:36). And yes, there are objects of mercy that God prepared beforehand for His glory, but the reason they are objects of mercy is because they believe the Gospel message,
As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:11-13)
In John 6:44 Jesus said, “”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” How does the Father determine who to give to Jesus? Jesus goes on to tell us that “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” (John 6:45). In Romans 1 Paul tells us that what is evident of God is obvious. If we respond to the light He has given us through creation and our conscience then we will desire to learn more about God and from God and He will give us special revelation of how to have a relationship with Him. This is the Gospel message. This is the good soil that receives the seed of the gospel because it is open to hearing it and then learning from the Father (understanding it) and then coming to Christ and bearing fruit for Him. Yes, they can’t come unless the Father draws them. We can’t reach God without His grace. The Law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Being drawn by the Father speaks of His free gift of grace. Without God’s grace being available to access we would never be able to come to Jesus. How is God’s grace accessed? Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2). Grace is accessed through faith. But again, we couldn’t even have faith or be able to believe unless God gave us free will. We have free will, but that is something God gave to us. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? 91 Cor. 4:7). Everything we have that is good comes from God. So we can never take credit, all we can do is be thankful and receive His free gift. If Abraham was saved by works he would have something to boast about. But not before God! He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. He wasn’t forced to believe no coerced. God initiated a covenant with him and he accepted it. He agreed to do his part which is simply to believe and obey. And every human being has also been offered a covenant by God. He initiated it. He draws us in. His grace is available to us all. Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more. The question is – will we accept the free gift of His grace and entering into covenant with Him? What is our part?
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11)