The beauty of God's choice of sinners

By Paul Witter, 03 Aug 2015

There is, I believe, a sublime beauty in the fact that I did not choose God, but He chose me. According to Ephesians 1:4, God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world”. There is nothing in me that caused that choice, not even my faith (foreseen or otherwise). If our being adopted by God were based on anything in us, even if only our faith, then God would not be choosing us so much as giving us what we deserved. Our faith would have merited our salvation.

As it is God declares in Ephesians 2:8 that our salvation, including the faith that receives it, is a gift from God. We can claim nothing in us that earns what we get from God. In fact, left to our own devices we would never come to choose God in faith. According to the Bible we will never choose rightly. Why? Because (i) every thought of our hearts inclines towards evil (Genesis 8:21), (ii) naturally no one seeks God (Romans 3:11), (iii) the truth of the gospel is spiritually discerned and men and women in their natural state cannot grasp it (1 Corinthians 2:14), and (iv) we are naturally blinded to the glory of the gospel unless and until God shines His light into our hearts to show us the “knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ Jesus.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

Now there are many who find this idea of God choosing us, before we are even born, to be offensive. They feel affronted that they did not have the free will to choose for themselves. I think that is based on a misunderstanding of freedom of the will. Of course nothing from outside of us constrains us, and to that extent we are free and our choices are real, responsible and free. The trouble is that our wills are bound from within, and bound by our sin. We end up always doiung that which our hearts most desire. And because of sin, we naturally tend to that which is wrong or to do right seeming things from wrong motives. But I also think that in our modern era, Christians have taken in too much of the idolatry of the supposed free will that is entitled to make its own choice. I love John Piper’s summary of Augustine on this question of free will. “The ideal of freedom,” he writes, “is to be so spiritually discerning of God’s beauty, and so in love with God, that one never stands in equilibrium between God and an alternate choice…In Augustine’s view, the self-conscious experience of having to contemplate choices was a sign not of the freedom of the will, but of the disintegration of the will. The struggle of choice is a necessary evil in this fallen world until the day comes when discernment and delight unite in a perfect apprehension of what is infinitely delightful, namely God.”[1] In short, “free will”, if defined as the freedom to choose between what God says is good and what He says is bad, is not a God given ideal, but a product of the fall. That is why it is right and proper that God’s salvation of us, in union with Christ, should be an act that is totally dependent upon His grace.

And God’s choosing of us was taught by the Apostle Paul as something to delight in, not to argue about. He was not interested in what many of us perceive as unfairness, except to ask who we are to speak back to God, querying why he acts like He does (Romans 9:19-21). What he saw in God’s sovereign election was something to be supremely glad about. Montgomery and Jones have a wonderful way of putting it: “God in Christ has declared over you ‘I could have chosen anyone in the world as my child, and I chose you. No matter what you say or do, neither my love nor my choice will ever change.”[2] And right there is the pastoral beauty of God choosing us and not us choosing Him, and His doing so out of His own purposes and will and good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5) and not for anything He foresaw in us. It is the absolute security of being God’s by His will. God is never going to change His mind.

This is a great source of comfort. If you are trusting Christ for your salvation, knowing you needed your sins forgiven and that His blood shed for you is the only way that can happen, then you have been chosen by a holy and sovereign God and will be presented before Him pure and spotless. God peered out across the centuries and saw you and chose to place His electing love on you for reasons that are not capricious or unjust but which are hidden in the counsels of God. They are not predicated on anything in me whether extant or simply potential. Oh how beautiful is the unconditional election of God!

[1] John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000), 62.

[2][2] Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones, Proof: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace (Grand Rapids, Mich.: 2014) (I am using the Kindle format so I cannot cite the page number).