In John 15:16 Jesus says to his disciples, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” In his High Priestly prayer in John 17 Jesus says, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word” (John 17:6). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:3). And in the book of Romans he quotes the Old Testament passage that says, “For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Ex 33:19).
From these and other passages theologians have developed the doctrine of election. That is the idea that those of us who come to Christ do not do so of our own will, but are drawn by the Holy Spirit according to the will of God the Father. Another part of that doctrine says that God’s call cannot be resisted. If the Father has chosen us, we cannot say “No.” Furthermore, those who are not chosen are beyond the mercy of God and utterly hopeless. Paul expresses this idea when he says with respect to Jacob and Esau, “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:9-13)
So, whether or not we receive mercy is entirely God’s choice. But on what basis does God the Father make that choice? Paul is clear that His determination is not based on merit. His purpose in choosing some and not others is to show His holiness in judging sin on the one hand and His mercy in providing salvation on the other. For instance, God made Pharaoh rebel against him so that he could demonstrate his mercy by miraculously delivering the Israelites from bondage, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Rom 9:16-17). People naturally object that God is not fair in extending to some an opportunity that he refuses to others, “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” Paul counters, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom 9:19-23)
We find throughout scripture that God does not choose according to our standards. He typically chooses the weaker over the stronger, the lesser over the greater, and the younger over the older. For instance, the disciples were shocked when Jesus told them that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. They thought that since the Old Testament promised blessings to those who follow God and curses to those who don’t, rich people should be the first to enter the kingdom.
In the same passage where Paul makes the case for election, he quotes the words of the angel who promised Rebekah that she would bear twins, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:12-13). Joseph, the youngest of Jacob’s children, was chosen to preserve his family and their descendants. David, the youngest son in his family, was chosen over his brothers to be the King of Israel and forefather of the Savior.
Rahab, Bathsheeba and Ruth were the only women listed in the lineage of Jesus Christ. Rahab was a prostitute, Bathsheeba was an adulteress, and Ruth was a Moabite, a tribe cursed by God. Jesus associated primarily with the lower strata of society – tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and day laborers like fishermen. He usually veiled his identity, even telling demons to remain silent when they proclaimed him the “Holy One of God.” But he openly revealed himself as Messiah to the woman at the well, a person who had two strikes against her. She was a lowly female and a despised Samaritan. The first person to whom he revealed himself after his resurrection was a woman from whom he had cast out seven demons – hardly a paragon of virtue.
Matthew was a despised tax collector, an agent of the occupying Roman government who collected revenue on their behalf from his subjugated countrymen. Yet Jesus called him to be one of his inner circle. Matthew was so thrilled that he held a banquet in Jesus’ honor and invited his fellow tax collectors. The religious leaders did not approve. They asked Jesus why he associated with such riffraff. Jesus replied, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:31-32). Jesus held up the humble tax collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!‘ as an example of righteousness rather than the Pharisee who boasted in his religious credentials (Lk 18:13).
In Matthew 11:25-26 Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” Paul tells the Corinthian believers, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor 1:26-29).
One of the main criticisms of the doctrine of election is that it leads to pride. The exact opposite is true. If you have been chosen, it is not because you were the pick of the litter. It was not because you had anything special to offer. It was not because you were more worthy than anyone else. It was precisely the opposite. God chose you because you were weak, flawed, and worthless in order to display the greatness of his mercy. So if you are like me and sometimes wonder if you will be standing at the back of the throng of worshipers in heaven looking at Jesus from a distance because of all the wonderful saints obscuring your view, you need not worry. Christ loves you and cherishes you not for your own worth or accomplishments but because you are a gift from the Father to him. As he said in his high priestly prayer in John 17, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them” (Jn 17:6-11) .
You are a gift from the Father to the Son. Just as you cherish a gift given to you from one you love, so Jesus cherishes you as a precious gift from his Father. The Father and the Son share all things. Because you belong to them, they also belong to you. Whatever they share with each other you share with them. What that includes you cannot possibly imagine because you have never had a glimpse of the glories of heaven or of God the Father and his Son. But one day you will. Nothing could be more humbling than the thought that all this was given to you when it was utterly beyond your reach. Those who do not receive grace are simply getting what we all so richly deserve.