DOES GOD CALL EVERYONE?
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
I’ve received several variations of the question in the title of this study, so I assume it’s on the minds of many more. Here’s a representative question and my response.
In a recent article you said, “Romans 8:29-30 tells us that God foreknew every person from throughout the age of man who would choose to accept Him as their Savior. He predestined all of them to have a place in His kingdom. And at the appropriate time in their life He calls each of them, and when they respond He justifies them.”
It sounds like you’re saying He only calls those who in His foreknowledge He knew would respond, and doesn’t call those He knew would not. I’ve always thought that God calls everyone, and some respond while others don’t. And Matthew 22:14 says many are called but few are chosen. How do you explain this?
In beginning, let’s review Romans 8:29-30 because the language is critical to our understanding. In the original version of the NIV, which is the one I usually quote from, it reads like this.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
This is consistent with the Greek text, which the KJV translates as follows;
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
The Greek word translated foreknew means to have prior knowledge, or to know beforehand, and the one translated predestined means to appoint. The word translated call comes from a root that means to command, order, or urge. Justified means to render righteous, and to glorify means to praise, extol, magnify or celebrate, to make glorious.
In simple terms, Paul was saying that God had prior knowledge of all who would choose Him and appointed us a place in His kingdom at that time. You might say He made a reservation for us in advance. At the appropriate time in our life He urged us to make the choice He already knew we would make, and when we did He applied the payment he had already made for our sins, wiping the slate clean and making us as righteous as He is. At the rapture/resurrection He will make us glorious forever. So far so good.
Now let’s look at what Paul didn’t say. He didn’t mention any loss between any of the five steps. The ones God foreknew are the ones He predestined. The ones He predestined are the ones He called. The ones He called are the ones He justified, and the ones He justified are the ones He glorified. No one falls through the cracks and no one enters the process midway. He knew everyone before He began and He doesn’t lose anyone along the way.
John 6:37-40 confirms this in no uncertain terms.
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
So how do we reconcile this with Matt. 7:7-8, which says,
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Or John 3:16 which tells us,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Or Romans 10:13,
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
IT’S ABOUT TIME
The answer lies in our understanding of time. As physical beings, we’re governed by the laws of time. These laws restrict us in two very important ways. We can only look back and we can only move forward. We can see the past, but we can’t go back to change it. We’re constantly moving into the future but we can’t see what the future holds for us.
But God has no such limitations. He can see the end from the beginning and knew everything that would happen in His creation before any of it came to be (Isaiah 46:10). However, knowing everything that will happen is not the same as controlling everything that happens. Within the context of time, we make our own decisions and are responsible for our own actions.
We demonstrate this in a very simple way when we watch a video of a sporting event that has already taken place. When the video was made the players and their coaches were all trying their best to win, employing certain strategies during the game that they believed would help them do so, and changing those strategies when the situation called for it.
When we’re watching the video we’re not controlling the players’ behaviour but we already know the result their behaviour will produce. So while they were doing everything they could think of to make the outcome favourable to them, we knew the outcome before we started watching the video.
Life is infinitely more complex but the principle is the same. Like the players in the game, we make our own decisions about how to live our life, but God knows what the outcome of those decisions will be, and He knew it before our life even began.
Here’s a big difference between God and us. While we watch the video, we’re limited to being passive observers. We can’t do anything to influence the behavior of the players. But God is not content to be a passive observer. He wants everyone to be saved, and continually works to influence our behavior.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth
(1 Tim. 2:3-4).
He only calls those He already knows will answer, but He is determined that everyone will have every possible chance to respond. No one will be able to say God didn’t pursue them to the very end. He put such clear evidence of His existence in the Creation that no one could fail to see it (Romans 1:20). He loves all of us so much He sent His one and only Son to die for our sins so that whoever believes will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). He sent His disciples into all nations to teach us about Him (Matt. 28:18-20) and promised the end will not come until the Gospel has been preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (Matt. 24:14).
Even though He already knows most of mankind will reject Him, He doesn’t give up on any of us until we take our last breath. It’s almost as if He’s hoping to be surprised by someone He hadn’t planned for.
This explains the “many are called but few are chosen” phrase in Matt. 22:14. The Greek word translated called in the King James version of Matt. 22:14 is not the word Paul used in Romans 8:29-30. Matthew used a word that really means invited, like the NIV renders it, whereas Paul used a word that’s more like a command. But you don’t have to understand the Greek language to see this. Remember, Matt. 22:1-14 tells the parable of a wedding banquet, and people are invited to a wedding. They are not commanded to attend. This is a good example of why it’s so important to consider the context in which a word or phrase appears when trying to interpret it.
God “invites” many but He only “commands” those He knows will come. (Personally, I believe everyone gets at least one bonafide invitation during his or her lifetime. Otherwise, He couldn’t condemn those who don’t choose Him. )
CREATION AND PROCREATION
Some have asked, “If God Knew from the creation of the world who would choose Him and who wouldn’t, why does He allow those who won’t choose Him to even be born?”
After the creation, God delegated the production of offspring to man (Genesis 1:24). We call it procreation. In my opinion, that means He no longer controls who will be born and who will not. We do. But He does know us from the time we’re conceived (Psalm 139:13) and He insists that everyone who is conceived has both the right to be born and the opportunity to decide whether to live eternally with Him. This is consistent with His character. Being a just God, He couldn’t hold us responsible for our choices without giving us the opportunity to make them.
So although He knows in advance who will choose Him and only calls those who do, He doesn’t make the choice for us. We do that. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, but God already knows everyone who will call on His name and has prepared a place in His kingdom for all of us.
A. Ironside (1876-1951) was a popular pastor and teacher who authored more than 60 books on various Bible topics. In doing so he gave us an illustration of this point that became popularly known as Ironside’s Door.
As we walk into a large building we come to a door with a sign posted just outside. It says, “Whosoever will may enter.” We open the door and step into a banquet hall that stretches as far as the eye can see, beautifully prepared for an enormous celebration. Walking along the rows of tables covered in fine linen and adorned with endless settings of china, silver, and crystal, we are astonished to see a reservation card with our name on it at one of the places. Looking back at the door we just walked through we see another sign posted on the inside. This one says, “Fore ordained from the foundation of the world.”
Anyone can choose to enter the Kingdom of God, but when we do we discover He’s had a place reserved for us since the beginning of time. Selah
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY? PART 5, CAN WE CHOOSE TO BE SAVED?
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
There are basically two schools of thought where the motivating force behind our salvation is concerned.
One is that before God created the first man, He knew mankind would fall into sin and be lost. At that time He chose some of us to be saved by having His Son die for our sins. Those who believe this say He didn’t give us His reason for choosing some and not others. They say He did it because He is sovereign and it was His right to do so. Neither those He chose to save nor those He didn’t choose have any say in the matter. It was all decided by God and there’s nothing we can do about it.
The other school of thought begins the same way. Before He created the first man, God knew mankind would fall into sin and be lost. But then it differs, holding that God provided a means whereby mankind could choose to be saved. The remedy He provided, having His Son die for our sins, is the same. But as you can see, the application of the remedy is different. All who choose to do so can ask God to save them and if they believe His son died for their sins and rose again, He will do so.
So, either God knew we would sin, provided a remedy for our sins, and then applied that remedy to a sample of mankind that He selected. Or, God knew we would sin, provided a remedy for our sins, and then offered that remedy to everyone who chooses to accept it. What does the Bible say? Must God choose us to receive His remedy or can we make the choice to receive it ourselves?
First Things First
To give ourselves the best chance at finding the correct answer, let’s begin by reviewing some of the guidelines we should follow for accurate Biblical interpretation no matter what we’re studying.
The first is that the Bible is the word of God and therefore is not self contradictory. That means on all matters of doctrine, the Bible only teaches one position. People who claim there are some verses that indicate our salvation is God’s choice while other verses say it’s our choice cannot be correct. It’s either one way or the other.
The second guideline we’ll follow is to always let the clearest verses on a particular issue help us understand those that aren’t so clear. The clearest statements on a topic define the Bible’s position on that topic. Therefore there are no obscure verses lurking somewhere else in the text that negate them. The Bible is not meant to confuse us or trick us, but to bring us understanding.
And third, we should always assume the Bible means just what it says when we place a given verse in its proper context, unless we’re given a clear indication that we shouldn’t make that assumption. Examples of this would be when we’re reading a parable or when some other obvious type of symbolism is being used.
With that introduction, lets look at the Bible’s clearest verses on the issue of who made the choice for us to be saved.
What Does The Bible Say?
One of the best known verses in the Bible is John 3:16. It’s also one of the clearest where the matter of our salvation is concerned. In the King James Version it reads like this:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The Greek word translated “world” in this verse is “kosmos”. It appears 187 times in the New Testament and in 186 of those it’s translated “world”. But from the context of the passage we can see the Lord was not talking about the planet we live on, because it can’t believe anything. He had to be talking about the people who live on the planet, and when that’s the case the word “knsmos” refers to the inhabitants of the Earth, the human family. It’s an all inclusive word that covers everyone on Earth.
So God gave His Son because He loved each and every person on Earth. This is consistent with other statements the Bible makes about God’s love for all of mankind. When John the Baptist said that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) he used the same word for “world”. And 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Again, the same Greek word was used.
This means Jesus didn’t just die for the sins of those God had chosen, but for the sins of everyone. It follows then, that when you add the conditional phrase “whosoever believeth”, John 3:16 means everyone who believes Jesus died for their sins can ask for salvation and receive it because everyone’s sins have been paid for. Jesus confirmed that salvation is available to everyone in Matt. 7:7-8 and in John 6:40, as did Paul in Romans 10:13.
He Can’t Do That
Jesus could not have said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life,” as He did in John 6:40, if God only gives eternal life to those He has already chosen. And Paul could not have said that some will perish because they refused to love the truth and be saved (2 Thes. 2:9-12) unless everyone has the ability and opportunity to believe the truth. Otherwise God would not be just.
Some say the sovereignty of God allows Him to do anything He wants. But that simply is not true. Moses had this to say about God.
“I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut. 32:3-4).
That means God can’t violate His own laws, or go back on His own word. And He can’t act in an unjust, unrighteous, unloving manner because these are His defining characteristics. It’s true that we’re all deserving of death and because of our sins God would be justified in condemning all of us. But to arbitrarily pick a few to save while leaving the rest to die in their sins would not be consistent with His justice, His righteousness, or His love. In fact it would be a violation of all three.
Two other clear verses underscore the fact that God could not have created some solely for the purpose of condemnation. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God doesn’t want anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance, and 1 Tim. 2:3-4 confirms that God wants all men to be saved. If this is what God wants, and if it is solely up to Him, then wouldn’t everyone be saved? And if it’s not what He wants why would these verses, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, say it is?
That’s not to say God isn’t involved in our salvation decision because He certainly is. Here’s how.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified
There are five steps here and God is involved in everyone of them, He foreknew, He predestined, He called, He justified, and He glorified. Lets take them one at a time.
The Greek word means “to have knowledge beforehand.” In Isaiah 46:10 God said, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come.” God is not just someone who has a lot of time. He is outside of time altogether and can actually see past, present, and future all at once. Where our salvation is concerned, it means He knew everyone who would choose to be saved before any of us came to be.
(An alternate translation of Rev. 13:8 tells us that the Lamb’s book of life, which contains the name of every member of the Church, was actually written from the creation of the world. If so, God not only knew our names from the very beginning but created a record of them as well. Rev. 21:27 tells us that only those whose names are written in this book can enter the New Jerusalem, the eternal home of the Church.)
This word means “to appoint beforehand.” It’s very similar to making an appointment or a reservation; arranging in advance for something to happen at a certain time. When God looked down through time to see us making our decision to be saved, He made an appointment for us to be conformed to the image of His son.
At the proper time in our life God calls us to do what He had already seen us do. This is a critical step. From Romans 3:9-18 we learn that because of our sin nature none of us will seek God on our own. The guilt we bear for our sins makes us fear Him. Therefore He doesn’t sit idly by. He sends people to tell us that He loves us and wants to make peace with us. He may even intervene in our life, orchestrating circumstances that will make us receptive to His call. (In my case He had to shatter a whole bunch of “idols” that were cluttering up my life and distracting me from making my decision. Having already seen it happen, He knew what it would take for me to surrender and He did what it took. I would never want to live through that time again, but I will be forever grateful for His perseverance.)
The Greek word means “to render righteous” He caused us to become innocent, faultless, guiltless. He did this by applying the blood of Jesus to the sins of our life so we could dwell with Him. 1 Peter 3:18 says,
“For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
(Notice how this verse confirms that Jesus died for all of us, not just those God had chosen.)
He holds us in honor, adorns us with lustre, and clothes us with splendour. Obviously this will happen at the rapture/resurrection, when we will become in fact what we already are from His perspective. For those who are in Christ are a new creation; the old has gone the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17).
We can see that these five steps were all put into motion when God saw in advance that we would one day choose Him by accepting the pardon He purchased for us with the blood of his Son. But if we were to ignore that first step then it would appear that God chose us. In fact those who believe that our salvation was God’s choice and not ours do just that, often calling their position “predestination”, after the second step in the process Paul laid out in Romans 8:29-30.
The notion that God has to choose us is an improper application of Scripture that had its beginning in the Protestant Reformation. This is the time when the lines of delineation between Israel and the Church were erased and the Church was said to have inherited all the promises of Israel. A new system of understanding the Bible emerged, called reformed theology. Among its components is the idea that just as God chose Israel, in the same way He has chosen the Church.
It’s clear that Israel was chosen by a sovereign act of God. That’s why they’re called His chosen people. There was nothing to commend Abraham and his descendants above the other nations. In Deut. 7:7-8 Moses told the Israelites:
“The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
Israel was in a national covenant with God that included a national homeland, and individuals had no say in the matter. Jewish males were circumcised on the eighth day of life, long before they had any ability to choose, as a lifelong symbol of this covenant. The nation stood or fell on the basis of their obedience to their covenant with God.
But when it comes to the Church, the Bible says,
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
The Church is not in a covenant with God in the sense that Israel is. In the first place, the Church is not a nation and has no national homeland. Second, we are the beneficiaries of a covenant between the Father and the Son. Every human, regardless of race or national origin, has the privilege of entering into this beneficial relationship, as a matter of personal choice, upon confessing their belief that Jesus died for their sins and rose again.
Claiming the Church is the successor to Israel is a major flaw in reformed theology, and perhaps the most serious component of that flaw is the insistence that our salvation is determined by a sovereign act of God over which we have no control, rather than being something Jesus died to make available to all who choose to accept it. Remember John’s words;
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30) 02-22-14