John Frame: “Does God choose us for salvation and then move us to respond, or do we first choose him and thereby motivate him to choose us for salvation?”

Commenting on Ephesians 1:4-6 and 2 Timothy 1:9,

Here we learn of God’s choice (election is the theological term) of a people for himself, before the foundation of the world… [Salvation] is therefore ultimately by divine appointment, divine choice (cf. Acts 13:48; 1 Thess 1:4; 5:9; 2 Thess 2:13-14).

Certainly there is also a human choice, a choice to receive Christ, to believe in him (John 1:12; 3:15-16; 6:29, 40; 11:26). Without this choice, there is no salvation (John 3:36). There are also human decisions to follow Jesus, to obey his commandments–decisions that Scripture continually urges us to make (e.g., John 14:15, 21, 23). But which choice comes first? Does God choose us for salvation and then move us to respond, or do we first choose him and thereby motivate him to choose us for salvation?

The second alternative is quite impossible, since it violates the very idea of grace. If our choosing of God moves him to save us, then salvation is based on a  work of ours, and we have something to boast about.*

*[Footnote] The Arminian response to this argument is to deny that faith is a work. It is true that faith has no merit that would move God to save us. That is true of anything and everything we do. But the Arminian wants to have it both ways. He wants to say that faith has no merit, but he also wants to say that our faith somehow motivates God to save us, that God chooses us on the basis of our choosing him. But if our faith motivates God to save us, then it must have merit in his eyes.

Furthermore, God’s choosing took place in eternity past, before anyone was even conceived. Before we began to exist, God’s plan for us was fully formulated. We can no more change God’s decision than we can change our grandparents.

Arminian theology, nevertheless, asserts that God chooses us because he knows in advance that we will choose to believe in him. On this view, our choice is the cause, and God’s choice is the effect. We are the first cause, and God is the second. Some have supported this understanding by appealing to Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:2, which say that election is based on “foreknowledge.” But the foreknowledge in these passages is not God’s foreknowledge that we will choose him. Often in the biblical languages, as in English, when the verb know has a noun rather than a fact-clause as its object, it refers to a personal relationship, not a knowledge of information. In Psalm 1:6, for example, we learn that “the Lord watches over [Heb. knows] the way of the righteous.” This does not simply mean that God knows what the righteous are doing, which would be rather obvious, but that he guards and keeps them. Compare Amos 3:2:

“You only have I chosen [Heb. known] of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.”

The NIV’s translation, “chosen,” is correct. God is not confessing ignorance of all the families of the earth other than Israel. Rather, he is claiming a special covenant relationship with Israel. (Cf. Hos. 13:4; Matt. 25:12; John 10:14; Rom. 11:2 [“foreknew”]; 1 Cor. 8:3; 1 Thess. 5:12 [where know is translated “respect”]; 1 Peter 1:20 [where foreknown is again translated “chosen].) So in Romans 8:29, when Paul says that God “foreknew” believers, this means that he established a personal relationship with them (from all eternity, according to Eph. 1:4-5). The Greek word translated “foreknew” could also be translated “befriended” or even “chose” or “elected.”

So Scripture teaches all believers, as Jesus taught his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last” (John 15:16). God’s choice precedes our choice, our response, our faith. How could it be otherwise, considering everything we have already observed about God’s sovereignty throughout nature, history, and human life in general? Can the choice to believe in Christ be the one choice that is beyond God’s control? Is salvation the one area in which we should not give God the praise?

John Frame, The Doctrine of God, p 71-72

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About cteldridge

A beggar trying to tell other beggars were the Bread is.
This entry was posted in Election, Salvation, Sovereignty of God, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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