Section 6: Salvation — Part 1
Week 2: Election: God Chose Us before the Foundation of the World
Day 2: Election Isn’t Based on God’s Foreknowledge of What We Would Do or Believe
We saw yesterday that election is clearly taught in Scripture. The question of course becomes: On what basis did God make his choice? Some say God chose those he knew from the beginning would put their faith in Christ. In other words, before the creation of the world, God looked into the future and saw exactly who would come to faith and who wouldn’t. Those individuals he saw coming to faith are the ones he decided to save.
That feels better than saying God randomly chose some and not others. The Bible, however, never says God chose us based on the knowledge that we would one day come to faith. In fact, it suggests the opposite is true. Ephesians 1:4-5, for example, says that God chose us according to his pleasure and will, not our faith.
But what about Romans 8:29? Paul says God predestined those he “foreknew” for salvation. Isn’t that a reference to God using his knowledge of the future to determine who would be saved? And what could he have known about the future that was relevant to our salvation besides our faith?
The word translated “foreknew”, however, doesn’t refer to factual knowledge about a person (e.g. that someone would or wouldn’t have faith). It refers to the act of knowing someone personally. “It is personal, relational knowledge that is spoken of here: God, looking into the future, thought of certain people in saving relationship to him, and in that sense he ‘knew them’ long ago.” [i]
The fact that God did not choose us on the basis of our faith is consistent with what we know about ourselves. Remember what we’ve said before about the human condition. On our own we wouldn’t choose to come to faith. That truth has an impact on our understanding of election.
Imagine a father is in the hospital holding his newborn baby boy when he gets a glimpse of the future. He doesn’t like what he sees. He sees a future where his son gets involved with drugs, can’t hold a job, and spends some time in jail. Most painful of all, his son doesn’t want anything to do with him. The father doesn’t approve of his son’s choices, but his son doesn’t want to give any of it up. So the son stays away. It’s easier that way – for the son anyway.
Knowing what the future holds, the father decides to pour himself into doing everything he can to educate his son on the dangers of drugs, to ensure he hangs around the right friends, and most importantly, to let his son know how much he is loved. In this timeline, the son still gets involved with drugs. Now, however, when the father goes to him and begs him to come back home, the son does.
The father’s decision right there at the very beginning “saved” his son. But was the father’s decision to save his son based on foreknowledge of the son’s decision to turn away from drugs? No. There was no foreseen turning back, no foreseen restored relationship until the father decided to save his son. Before that decision there was only foreseen rejection. In that sense, the father’s choice to save the son came first.
God’s decision to save us would have been similar. In eternity past, if God had peered into the future to look for people who on their own had turned to him in faith, he wouldn’t have found any. On our own, we don’t want to turn to him in faith. That’s why we need God to work in us to lead us to faith. As a result, when God looks into the future and sees faith, it’s only because he graciously chose beforehand to work in us to bring us to faith.
If that’s true, foreseen faith can’t be the reason God’s chose to save you and me. If God hadn’t decided to save us, we never would have come to faith. His choice to save us came first.
Reread Eph. 1:1-14
If you are a believer, on what basis did God choose you? According to these verses in Ephesians, what is the result of God’s choice? How does it feel to know, before he even created the world, God thought of you as his child?
[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House (1994), 676.