If the ultimate choice were left up to man then no one would ever be saved. As much as men attempt to flatter themselves by saying salvation is a free gift that can easily become theirs as soon as they choose it there is no getting around the hard reality that, though indeed salvation is the gift of God, man, left to himself, will never choose God. “There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God” (Rom 3:11).
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Tim1:8-9, NKJ).
This God, for whom Paul encouraged Timothy to suffer, is not a God who waits for people to get smart and choose Him; He is the God who “called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose.” In other words, God did not choose believers because we chose Him, or even because He foresaw our choice of Him, but we chose Christ because God first chose us, thus guaranteeing the fulfillment of His gracious plan. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it this way, “If God’s plan of salvation were to be dependent upon man, and the choice of man, it would certainly fail; but if it is of God from beginning to end, then it is certain.”
To make it more personal, I did not choose Christ of my own, uninfluenced, free will. Rather, I chose Christ because He first chose me; “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16). I was born again “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13, emphasis mine). Consider this the divine view of my conversion.
I know of no other theologically-correct way of understanding why I am a Christian today. Certainly I did nothing to commend myself to God. On the contrary, I did more than enough to offend Him and warrant eternal damnation, habitually turning to my own way (Isa 53:6). “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved [me], even when [I was] dead in trespasses, made [me] alive together with Christ (by grace [I] have been saved), and raised [me] up together, and made [me] sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-6).
According to God’s Purpose and Grace
Like Paul and Timothy, and other New Testament believers, my present reality exists because God called me “according to His own purpose and grace which was given to [me] in Christ Jesus before time began.” It’s almost as if Paul used this language to completely eradicate any possibility that I might think I had something to do with initiating my choice of Christ. If God’s choice of me in Christ was “before time began,” how could I be the ultimate cause of it? As a believer, I was chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). This phrase is a figure of speech meaning from eternity, from the eternal decrees of God. The word “foundation” (katabole) means, “to throw down,” referring to the laying down of the foundation of the earth. Greek scholar, Kenneth Wuest, says this language refers to,
…an eternal choice, a determination of the Divine Mind before all time…and it has its ground in the freedom of God, not in anything foreseen in its subjects…That choice is as eternal as God is. The name of every Christian is as eternal as God is, for God has had that individual in His heart for salvation as long as He has been in existence. What a salvation, based upon an eternal choice, which extends through time, into, and throughout the eternity after time ceases.
Prior to the creation of the earth, God chose for Himself a people for His own pleasure and possession (1 Pet 2:19). The salvation of believers flows out of this eternal choice. Some explain the doctrine of election this way: “God looked down the channels of time and saw those who would believe so He elected them.” But surely this cannot be since that scenario makes man sovereign and God the servant of man’s choice. Beyond our human comprehension lies the fact that God, in eternity past, elected those who would be His Son’s bride and by doing so also granted that they should receive the repentance and faith necessary to receive His gift without coercion (Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 2:25). God draws sinners to Himself through the instrument of gospel preaching, which gives birth to saving faith, so that sinners believe in Christ. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). This is why I have clear memory of turning to Jesus for removal of the guilt of my sin, pleading for God’s mercy, and trusting Him as my Lord and Savior. This is also why we must preach the saving gospel to all.
A Mystery Only God Understands
This mystery, which surpasses human comprehension, must be accepted with childlike faith since any attempt to make these biblical texts say something other than what they clearly teach ends up elevating man’s choice higher than Scripture will allow. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance, before he goes to the university of election and predestination.” There are some teachings in the Word of God that we cannot reconcile in our rational minds. Instead, we must say, “God is God, and I will let Him be God.” Spurgeon illustrated it this way,
Have you ever noticed that some people who are ill and are ordered to take pills are foolish enough to chew them? That is a very nauseous thing to do, though I have done it myself. The right way to take medicine of such a kind is to swallow it at once. In the same way there are some things in the Word of God, which are undoubtedly true, which must be swallowed at once by an effort of faith, and must not be chewed by perpetual questioning.
How I am to fully understand the glorious truth of election I do not know, but God has not asked me to understand it. He has asked me to humbly accept His revelation and, consequently, fall down and worship Him as my gracious Redeemer. Far from producing feelings of injustice the biblical doctrine of election evokes praise of the purest and deepest kind.
Tomorrow, I will explain the human instrumentation God employed in early 1984 to free me from the spiritual darkness of works-based religion and bondage to sin in order to bring me to Himself in such a way that I was clearly conscious of my personal turning from sin to Christ. Consider it the human view of my salvation. Until then, believe me to be overwhelmed by grace.