Do you remember the feeling of being chosen, perhaps for a game during recess? Being picked first made your day; being picked last ruined it. I was usually picked last and still have memories of how I felt each time that happened.
Our early school experiences with being selected (or not) can make us uncomfortable with the idea of God choosing whom He will redeem (theologians call this the doctrine of election). But beginning in the Old Testament, Scripture clearly teaches God’s sovereignty in this decision. Yet there is no “first or last” with Him. All whom God chooses, He chose in Christ in eternity past. God the Father chose Jesus (Luke 23:35; 1 Peter 2:4), and then selected us “in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”
Ephesians 1:4 NET “For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.”
God chose the judge Samson and the prophet Jeremiah before either was formed in his mother’s womb (Judges 13:5; Jeremiah 1:5). And the apostle Paul knew he had been chosen through God’s grace.
Galatians 1:15 NET “But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased…”
Some might think that since God knew these men would play featured roles in His plan, He selected them because He knew what they would become.
God’s choice of Israel shows the flaw in that view and illustrates how God chooses us for salvation. Moses reminded the people, “It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that the LORD favoured and chose you – for in fact you were the least numerous of all peoples. Rather it is because of his love for you and his faithfulness to the promise he solemnly vowed to your ancestors that the LORD brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery …” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a).
God based His choice of Israel on two realities: His love and His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Indeed, God chose Abraham, a Mesopotamian, for reasons not apparent to Abraham. God chose Isaac when his parents (Abraham and Sarah) thought they were too old even to have a child. And the Lord chose Jacob over his twin brother, without explanation.
Just as nothing special in Israel made it God’s choice — the people were a scruffy, destitute lot of slaves languishing in Egypt — so nothing remarkable in us causes God to choose you and me. We were completely dead spiritually! Yet God selected us anyway in Christ. Being chosen gives us no cause for boasting. Except for boasting in God, “… to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son” (Ephesians 1:6 NET). God’s grace made us accepted — made us chosen — in Christ.
Why did God select us? So that we would “that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will (Ephesians 1:4-5a NET). That is as far as Paul goes in explaining why God decides to reconcile anyone to Himself. But inChapter One of Ephesians, Paul does provide a remarkable list of blessings that accrue to those chose by God:
- We are adopted into God’s family and made brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:29)
- Freely given grace by God in Christ (Ephesians 1:6)
- Redeemed from our slavery to sin (Ephesians 1:7; 2:1-3)
- Enlightened concerning the mysteries of God (Ephesians 1:9)
- Given an eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:11)
- Sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
- Made secure in our eternal relationship to God (Ephesians 1:14)
Although in Ephesians 1 Paul does not address the question of those not chosen, in Romans 9 he appears to call the very question inappropriate. If we judge God for not choosing all, we miss the mercy displayed in His choice of any. Christ said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). God wills all people to be saved but only a few answer that call to come to Him by faith. And, from the beginning of time He has known which ones will respond and those who won’t respond. Thus He knows who “are called to redemption” or are “elected” to be His children. This is what it means to be called and chosen.
Of course, all who respond in faith to the call of God are like the saints in Ephesus: chosen by God in Jesus.