“Doesn’t God give everyone a chance to accept Jesus?” one of my daughters recently asked. The answer is, “No, he doesn’t.” Accepting Christ for salvation requires hearing about him (Romans 10:14-17). Today, there are many places where Christ’s Gospel is not preached faithfully, regularly, or at all. Some people have access to the Gospel and salvation, and others do not.
John Calvin, a 16th Century French theologian, pondered this reality. He wrote, “It is a fact that the covenant of life is not equally preached to everyone, and even where it is preached it is not equally welcomed by all. In this diversity an extraordinary secret of God’s judgment is revealed, for there is no doubt that this difference serves his good pleasure. Now if it is obvious that it is by God’s will that salvation is offered to some while others are excluded from it, this gives rise to weighty and highly important questions which can only be resolved when believers are taught what they should know about God’s election and predestination.”
Logically, Calvin argued we must conclude that God chooses whom he will save and passes over the rest. For those chosen for salvation, God provides every means – primarily preaching and prayer – to bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Those God passed over he permits to remain happy in sin until the day of judgment. And, he made this choice before he created the world.
In the church, this is a divisive issue. Not long ago, a man told me his church thoroughly interviewed their new pastor to ensure he did not believe this doctrine. Southern Evangelicals are divided roughly into thirds over the doctrine of election. 35% agree that, “God chose the people he would save before he created the world.” 20% don’t know, and 45% disagree, 36% strongly so.
In sin, men want to pull God down from his position over his creation and put ourselves their. We assert with existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, “Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.” But one thing Scripture makes abundantly clear is God is sovereign, even over human choices (Acts 2:22-23).
I used to be offended by the doctrine of election, believing God looked into time and knew who would choose his free offer of salvation. I argued he left the final choice to me because he would never coerce my love.
But, if the choice is mine, how can God know it? God can only know what is determined. And, since every man is “dead in sins and trespasses,” how can they choose Christ? Since not all men receive Christ, God must not bring all men to life. Isn’t this what Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:1-8?
God said, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15, citing Genesis 25:23). If salvation is by grace, then God gives it to whom he chooses. If we choose our salvation, then that salvation is earned, not freely given.