(according to the Scriptures)
We hear a lot
- about choosing Christ,
- about receiving Him,
- about making a decision to believe.
What does the Bible, the Word of God, actually say?
1. Question: Who chooses?
- Jesus told the disciples that He chose them, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, . . .” John 15:16.
- God chose from the foundation of the world “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:” Ephesians 1:4.
- We are chosen of God to salvation and to believe, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: . . .” II Thessalonians 2:13.
- We are chosen and caused to come near to God to dwell in his house, “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.” Psalm 65:4
Answer: Evidently God does the choosing unto faith and salvation.
2. Question: Why did God choose?
- “According as he hath chosen us in him... Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Ephesians 1:4-6
Answer: God chooses according to His counsel of predestination, according to His own good pleasure and for His own glory.
3. Question: In what manner did God choose?
- “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” I Corinthians 1:27-29
Answer: God has chosen in a manner that makes it clear that those chosen did not choose of themselves and were not worthy and in a manner which sets the pride of men on its head, and to this end: “That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
4. Question: But why is the gospel is to be preached unto to all men since God only chooses some?
- This is also explained in Scripture, “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” I Peter 2:6-9
Answer: The preaching of the gospel comes to all. It comes as a stone set in the way. To believers it is the precious word of life, and they are built upon it as living stones in Christ (I Peter 2:5) For others it is a stone of stumbling, a rock of offense. Moreover, those who believe do so because they are “a chosen generation,” effectually brought by God to faith: “who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Others do not believe but stumble, to which stumbling, “also they were appointed.” God sends the gospel to save His chosen, while also hardening in sin and unbelief others, appointed to stumble at the word and be judged in their unbelief.
5. Question: But are we not commanded to believe?
- The Word describes the preaching among the Gentiles: “and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed,” Acts 13:48
- The Word describes Lydia’s coming to faith thus: “whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul,” Acts 16:14.
Answer: Believing (the activity of faith) is a work of grace, grounded in God’s election and imparted by the Holy Spirit Who works it. It does not proceed from man nor is it something man can do of himself. We are commanded to believe, but God works in His elect what He commands. Faith does not have its source in man.
6. Question: But does not man have free will?
- Jesus teaches that coming to Him by faith is a matter of God’s election, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” John 6:37.
- Jesus denies the ability of man to come unto him: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:44
- Jesus says that coming to him by faith is a gift given by God, “And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father,” John 6:65.
- The Word of God also says of man in himself, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” I Corinthians 2:14.
Answer: Jesus Himself denies that man has free will, so as to be able to choose the good or believe. The word of God teaches that man is fallen into sin and is become, through the fall, by nature, an unbeliever who is not able to understand the gospel or come to Christ or believe, except God give him the gift of faith and work its activity in him.
7. Question: But does not man make real choices?
- Jesus, speaking of sinful man and false prophets, specifically says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles,? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Matthew 7:17-20
- The Word of God speaking of carnal or fleshly man, man as he is fallen in sin, says, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God,” Romans 8:6-9.
Answer: Man makes real choices, in harmony with his nature which is fallen in sin and unbelief. Since man is wicked, he makes wicked choices and is unable and unwilling to obey God, or to repent and believe. Man is not neutral, standing between good and evil, but evil. Therefore he is described spiritually and morally as being “dead in trespasses and sins,” and under the government of sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). What a corrupt tree is unable to do is bring forth the good fruit of faith. Man must be saved by the grace of God and become by the Spirit a spiritual man, or to use Jesus’ figure, a good tree. Evil choices therefore proceed from an evil nature and good spiritual choices proceed from a renewed nature. Thus Moses did not choose to believe, but believing, chose by faith to suffer for Christ’s sake, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.” Hebrews 11:24.
8. How does God work this spiritual renewal?
- “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” John 3:3-8.
- “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; . . . Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:1,5,6.
- “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour,” Titus 3:5,6.
- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” I Peter 1:3.
Answer: We are born again or regenerated. This is a spiritual renewal of the nature, a resurrection of the soul from death to life, comparable to the resurrection of the body from death. This work of God is the work of Christ by the Spirit; without it we cannot see or enter the kingdom. We are born again unto faith, as a living hope. That new spiritual life imparts spiritual ability to know and see spiritual things and to come and enter the kingdom through faith. Without it, that which is born of the flesh is flesh and dead in sin. It is a wondrous work of God in the depths of the heart, a washing and cleansing of the mind and heart and will, by which one born of the Spirit is given to spiritually repent and believe. Without this work of grace the preaching of the gospel leaves man dead. This grace of God is also one that God is able to work in the heart of the smallest child, “But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother' breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly.” Psalm 22:9,10. This new life God calls unto the activity of faith by the gospel.
9. Question: How does God call this new life unto faith?
- Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” John 5:25
- Jesus said, “. . . I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” John 10:25-29.
- “How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? . . . So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:14,17.
Answer: God works faith by calling those whom He quickens unto life by the word of Christ, so that through the preaching they spiritually hear Christ the Shepherd and come to him as His sheep by faith. Faith therefore is kindled in the hearts of the regenerated by the Spirit and Word. This work of grace, Christ works in His sheep given to Him. This is not accomplished merely by the sound of the preaching, but by a work of grace. Those who do not come, abide in unbelief because they are not Christ’s elect sheep. The seed of the gospel grows when it is planted in regenerated or prepared soil, just as it does not grow on the path, in the weeds, or on stony ground, as Jesus explains in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13).
10. Question: What is the nature of this spiritual hearing or seeing?
- “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Matthew 11:25-27.
- Jesus’ testimony concerning Peter’s faith and confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” was this, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 16:17
Answer: It is a work of grace by which we are given to see spiritual things spiritually, know spiritual things, understand, and believe. Jesus speaks of it as a work of God which is revelation, a lifting of the veil of darkness, which gives light.
- Hence we also read,” But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” Matthew 13:16.
- We read, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:,” I Peter 2:9
- We read of God, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son,” Colossians 1:13
Hence the answer is also that it is God’s work of grace, Who takes us from darkness to light, quickens to life and works faith. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10.
11. Question: But does not the Bible also speak of our accepting Christ?
- In the context of God’s “choosing us” and predestinating us (Ephesians 1:4, 5), the Bible says, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Ephesians 1:6
Answer: the Bible speaks of our being accepted of God in Christ, and not our accepting Him. That acceptance is grounded in Jesus’ atoning death: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;” Ephesians 1:7. This is the legal basis of our being received of God in mercy and forgiven. It is also the legal basis of God’s work of grace by which He imparts faith, salvation to us through faith, and righteousness by means of faith and justification.
12. Question: Why do you speak of the legal basis of faith?
- “For we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” Romans 1:9.
- “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:14,15
- “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;” Philippians 1:29
Answer: We are not only dead in sin and unable to come to God, but we are also guilty before God and have no right to come and be accepted. Jesus died for His sheep given Him of the Father, His elect. In His death He bought His sheep. By His righteousness and payment for sin as a ransom, He also bought faith, which is given us “on behalf of” Christ. To that blessing of faith therefore belongs also the privilege of suffering for Christ’s sake. Except Christ died for us, we have no right to any spiritual life, for “. . . the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Faith, as a work of grace, rests upon the foundation of Jesus’ atonement and belongs to the gift of eternal life and the ransom He gave.
- Hence it is written, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45.
- Hence also we were redeemed not only from sin in general but from the vanity of unbelief and “by him do believe. ” “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.” I Peter 1:18-21.
13. Question: But are we not said to “receive” Christ?
- “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.,” John 1:12,13
Answer: Yes we are said to receive Christ as a gift given of God, which gift is also to be understood as being received of God’s grace through a faith which is God’s work in us. By that gift we are given of the Spirit, “power to become sons of God.”
That same gift is described in Romans 8:15-17: ”Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.”
The same passage in John cited above, however, explains this work of the Spirit in us. We are given to become sons of God because we “. . . were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” We were born (past tense) and were given power to become sons of God, which we are, but not yet in perfection. Being born again was the cause. It was not man’s will of the flesh (free will) nor our natural birth (will of a male father). We were born “of God,” received Christ by faith, embraced Him, and were given the blessing of adoption. It is all the Spirit’s work as the Spirit of adoption, unto which adoption we were also predestinated (Ephesians 1:5).
What the text is not talking about is an act of man dependent upon the will of the flesh of a dead sinner by which man decides to believe.
14. What is the summary of the matter?
Salvation is of God. He ordained it, He accomplished it in Christ and He applies it by the Spirit. He that is saved is “of God,” that is, he is God’s work of grace from beginning to end. He that does not believe is a sinner, who is not “of God.”
- Thus Jesus said to the unbelieving, “He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God,” John 8:47.
What then is the spiritual response of one who is given to know God’s grace? It is a doxology of praise and thanksgiving.
- Thus we read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Ephesians 1:3-6.
Is this confession yours?
For Further Study
The Word of God richly treats the subject of salvation by grace alone. The following material expounds this subject more fully.
Pamphlet length articles
This truth is also developed in the following online books
Jesus also had much to say on this subject, for it is a matter also of true faith in the authentic Christ of the scriptures: