A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Recently 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.
Q. 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?
A. 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’ behavior but we already know the result their behavior will produce. So while they were doing everything they could think of to make the outcome favorable 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.
H. 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’re 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