God’s Promise of Care

After speaking to all the nations, God now turns to one nation, God’s own people.

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant;
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”

Isaiah 41:8-9 (NRSV)

In the Hebrew, the word “servant” signifies a special relationship. Unlike the other nations, Israel’s future is secure. God reassured God’s people they had nothing to fear when this victor would be raised up. The Lord was not becoming the God of the Persian Empire. As the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people were God’s own specially chosen people.

Abraham was like any other Middle Bronze Age inhabitant of the Ancient Near East when God came to him. There was nothing, really, to distinguish him. On his own Abraham had not been worshiping God, nor maybe even knew about God. The Bible indicates Abraham was a typical idol worshiper, a man of his time, wealthy, materialistic, well established in a prospering metropolis of Chaldea.

But God, seemingly randomly, came to Abraham and promised him that God would make him into a great nation and bless the whole world through him. God intended to keep that promise with Abraham’s descendants.

Question of Predestination

The apostle Paul puzzled over this phenomenon of God selecting Israel in the case of Jacob and Esau. Neither of these twins had done anything to earn God’s favor. God’s choosing was not a question of character, or good record, or outstanding deeds. It was not on the basis of God’s foreknowledge of what either of them would do, or choose, or become. God’s selection was not based on whether either twin would one day want to choose God.

Esau sells his birthright to Jacob | By Creator:Jacob van Zeunen – Own work, Public Domain

Doctrine of Election

Those who speak of election will explain Adam and Eve had already chosen a destiny for all humankind: life apart from God. They knew that to choose disobedience was to choose death, but they opted to believe the words of the Serpent rather than the words of God. Perhaps in that moment, they indeed believed they would not die, but would rather become like God—eternal beings who were independently masters of their own fate.

They moved away from God.

But in that moving, they severed their connection with the source of life, and of goodness.

It is the logical conclusion – which Paul articulated – that ever since then all of humankind has been in this fallen condition.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—for sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam, who is a pattern of the one who was to come.

Romans 5:12-14 (NRSV, emphases mine)

Jesus also seemed to refer to this truth when He spoke of being born anew from above.

Those who believe in him [Jesus] are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:18 (NRSV, modifications mine)

Left to themselves, logically speaking, no fallen person would choose God. Fallen people still have a free will and are able to choose what they want. But the problem is, so this teaching asserts, fallen people (descendants of Adam and Eve) do not want God. People are so ruined by sin, blinded by Satan, and in bondage to Satan’s control, they are unable to respond by faith to the Gospel unless God is first at work in them to give them the ability to respond.

As the apostle John put it, “We love because God first loved us.”

The pith of this teaching on election explains that God is sovereign, God controls and guides all events for God’s glory and for the good of God’s people. So, God selected (elected) from eternity, before the creation of the world, before anyone had done anything, who would respond in faith.

Paul wrote of this spiritual phenomenon in one of his letters.

… [God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will …

Ephesians 1:4-5 (NRSV, modifications mine)
x1952-110, The Mess of Pottage, Artist: Tissot, Photographer: John Parnell, Photo © The Jewish Museum, New York | By James TissotPublic Domain

A Nuanced View of Election

Still, it is a problem, is it not, to think about God not choosing, or electing, to save everyone.

  • Is God’s open invitation to receive salvation through Jesus not genuine?
  • Or does election somehow make God dishonest?
  • Since God knows that no one would respond in faith to God’s invitation without God’s help, how can the Lord honestly invite those God knows God will not help?

How free are we? it is a question theologians have been struggling to understand for thousands of years.

The answer is found in God’s attributes. God’s character of absolute love, holiness, impartiality, justice, and goodness guarantees that God’s choices are never arbitrary, but always good. And, God’s sovereignty in choosing, what the Bible refers to as election, does not negate a person’s responsibility to believe.

God foreknows and calls those whom God chooses to respond to the good news of God’s grace and at the same time God works through a person’s choosing to believe. Throughout the entire Bible, God again and again presents an invitation to believe, have faith in, and covenant with the Lord. These are genuine invitations, presented in good faith by a good and loving God.  

Somehow, both the truth that all people are responsible to make right moral choices, and are accountable to how they respond to the Lord Jesus, and the truth that God is the One Who draws people to Jesus, must be held together in the same hand.

This is sometimes called irreducible truth. It is still complex, so the temptation is to try to break it all down into simpler components. But to do so would empty this truth of its truthiness.

When Jesus presented Himself to the people He said “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus said, “Whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” Then, to the person who receives Jesus He says, “I always knew you, I chose you since before the creation of the world.”

Instead of seeing these concepts as opposite of each other, God invites you and me, through Jesus’s words, to accept that both are true: God’s invitation to every person is genuine, and those who believe have been drawn by God. God loves God’s own, we are important to the Lord, and when we are opposed, God will still uphold us.

Matthias Stomer (Umkreis) Das Linsengericht | By Circle of Matthias StomPublic Domain

This was good, good news to the Jewish people. All Jewish people in antiquity were perfectly comfortable with election. They regarded themselves as honored above all others to be considered God’s elect.

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