Why did the Lord choose us to be His people? Is it because of something we did, something He did, or maybe a little bit of both? Today, Barry Cooper shows that the Bible’s answer to this question is abundantly clear.
It began one day in late 1991, when a student worker called Tony invited me to meet him for coffee one afternoon in his study at St. Ebbe’s Church in Oxford. To be honest, I didn’t really see the point. Even after we’d met, I still wasn’t sure I saw the point. Pretty much all we did was look at a short Bible passage together. He threw out some questions to make sure I understood what I was reading, asked me how he could be praying for me, and that was it. Then we’d doggedly repeat the process a week or so later. Poor man, I thought to myself. He’s obviously lonely.
By the time we reached Easter 1992, I realized when I sat down in Tony’s overstuffed armchair that I wasn’t doing it for his benefit. I had been introduced to Jesus Christ.
There’s much more I could say, but the question I want to focus on is this: Why did all this happen? Why did God choose to write my name in His book of life? Was it because of something I did, or because of something He did, or perhaps a bit of both?
The answer to this is tied up in the biblical idea of predestination, the fact that God determines everything in advance, including who will be saved. Historically, it’s been a very big deal, and Martin Luther even called it “the heart of the church.”
You see the concept of predestination across both the Old and New Testaments. Listen, for example, to Ephesians chapter 1:
“In love [God] predestined us for adoption. . . . In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”
In other words, God predetermines, or pre-destines, those He will adopt into His family, to know and enjoy Him forever. That much, at least, Christians can agree on. The only question is, How does God make the decision to predestine someone to adoption and salvation? What’s that decision based on?
One view—and it’s probably the most widespread—is called the Arminian view.
The Arminian view teaches that God predestines people to be saved because He foresees that they will one day put their faith in Christ. Before the creation of the world, before time began, God foresaw that in Easter 1992, Barry would put his trust in Christ—and that is the basis on which God “predestined” me to be saved.
But is that the biblical picture of predestination? The Apostle Paul makes the point in Romans chapter 9 that God chose Jacob rather than Esau even before they were born and before they had done anything good or bad. According to Paul, He did this specifically to show that His saving of Jacob had nothing to do with anything Jacob or Esau did and was wholly because it was God’s good purpose to do so.
Not only that, but Jacob and Esau were children of the same family—indeed, they were twins—so again, there was nothing that one had that the other did not that would explain God’s choice of one and not the other. Actually, it was Esau who was the older brother—by a matter of mere moments—so if anything, Esau would be the one expected to have the higher status.
But the Lord sets His saving love on Jacob.
At this point, we might think: “Well hang on. Isn’t that unjust of God to choose one person and not another?”
Paul anticipates this point in Romans chapter 9 when he says: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” And Paul’s answer is this: “By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’”
In other words, we should be very careful about demanding that God treat us with justice. If we were treated with justice, there would be no hope for any of us. We are a race of people who take life and breath and every good thing from God, all the while treating Him—at best—as a footnote in our lives. We take His gifts; we treat them as if they were more valuable than He is; we even wield those gifts of life and breath as weapons against Him.
That God shows compassion and mercy to anyone is staggering. That He does it by sending His own Son who willingly sheds His own blood ought to make us drop to our knees in stunned silence, with our hands over our mouths.
Esau received justice. Jacob received mercy. In neither case was God acting unjustly.
The biblical idea of predestination tells us that God’s mercy and compassion in salvation is based on nothing we do and nothing that God foresees we will do. It is based on nothing other than His own sovereign will.
Only then can His mercy and compassion be, as it says in Ephesians, “to the praise of his glory.”