If we are to understand the Bible's teaching on the doctrine of election, there is one key question we must answer: if God elects some individuals to salvation (and Scripture is clear that He does!) why does God choose some and not others? That’s the crucial question.
Throughout church history and into the present there’s been two basic answers to that question. Understand, these debates are not between theological liberals and theological conservatives. They are not between people who believe the Bible and people who don’t, or between believers and unbelievers. These are family debates between Bible-believing Christians.
On the one hand are those who believe that God chooses based on foreseen faith. In other words, God looks down the corridors of time and He sees who will have faith and chooses them. In other words, God saw who would choose Him and chose them back.
Others argue that election is based on sovereign grace alone. In other words, God sovereignly chooses some for salvation out of sheer grace and that choice is not conditioned by anything anybody could do. Or, as one author says, “God’s choice to save you had nothing to do with anything that you have done or will do.”[i]
Which interpretation is right? I believe the key is to understand the word “foreknowledge” in 1 Peter 1:2. We are chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” What does that mean? Does it mean God looked in the future and saw that you would believe so He chose you? Or does it mean you have faith because He knew you before you even knew yourself? Does foreknowledge mean God merely observed what would happen before it happened, or does it meant God planned or ordained what would happen before it happened?
Thankfully, Peter uses the same word in 1 Peter 1:20. There he says that Jesus “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for [your sake].” In what sense was Jesus foreknown? Did God the Father look down the corridors of time and observe that Jesus would die in our place? Or did He ordain the death of Jesus in our place?
Hopefully Act 2:23 will settle it for you. Peter is speaking to the crowd at Pentecost when he uses that word again: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Ask yourself the same question: is Peter saying God merely observed Jesus would be crucified, or that God ordained His crucifixion? The answer is obvious. It was according to God’s definite plan. God’s foreknowledge does not mean He merely observes the future, but that He ordains the future.
By the way, if you prefer to argue that God merely observes the future and doesn’t ordain the future allow me to ask you a question. Is that still the way He operates? Does God still merely observe the future, or does He ordain it? If you believe He ordains now what He previously merely observed, then why did God change? If you believe that He still merely observes the future and does not ordain it, than how can you have any hope in the promises of God? Can He be trusted if He cannot or will not act to determine the future?
Christian: you were not chosen because you are good or would be good, but because God is good. You were not chosen because you would have faith, you have faith because you were chosen.
As Charles Spurgeon said, “I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love.”
[i] Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones, PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 70.