God Chooses Those Who Choose Him

Maybe God knows the outcomes, but He does not determine them.

depositphotos Image ID: 146437381 Copyright: SergeyNivens

A fellow blogger has written on Paul’s writing in Romans 11:1-6 and The Remnant of Israel where Paul says that “God did not reject His people, whom he foreknew”. Rather, God “reserved” for Himself “seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal” in the time of Elijah, and Paul says similarly of his time when he wrote the letter to the Romans, “there is a remnant chosen by grace”.

This “dialogue” Paul has with himself in the letter to the Romans continues the theme I have been writing on lately: God’s choosing us (before the foundation of the world) and the choices God gives us. How can they both fit into our theology? How can it be that God chooses us and we choose God at the same time?

Paul’s brief summary of God’s interaction with the nation of Israel has evidence both of God’s choice and the choices He allows men to make. God chose Abraham and His descendants who became the nation of Israel. The history of the nation of Israel is a history of rejecting God and choosing other things, but for some outliers – some of the prophets, a few kings and other nonconformists.

Most of the people were continually running after other gods and failing or simply refusing to love God and His commands. Most of them rejected God, but Paul says God did not reject them – not all of them anyway. God reserved[1] for Himself a number – a remnant.

Is this God responding to the choices made by the people of Israel? Or has God carved out (reserved for Himself) a number of the people who would not turn from Him because He reserved them for Himself? Were the remnant chosen by God? Or did God choose the remnant?

Paul said, there came to be (at Paul’s time) “a remnant according to God’s gracious choice”.[2] Alluding back to Scripture, Paul says that “Israel failed to obtain[3] what it was seeking”, but “the elect[4] [those who were chosen] obtained it [grace], and the rest were hardened”. The remnant in the Old Testament scriptures served as a model for what God was doing in Paul’s day.

These verses emphasize God’s sovereignty, God’s agency in choosing Abraham’s descendants, and more specifically a remnant of those descendants in Elijah’s time. And that model of choosing a remnant is continued in Paul’s time (says Paul), while the rest are hardened.

Do we, then, have any real choice at all? God seems to do the choosing and the hardening, so what choice is left to us?

God is in control, of course, and He is exercising that control to achieve His purposes. Paul says that the nation of Israel “did not stumble so as to fall”; they were hardened to allow the Gentiles to enter into the grace God offered in order to make the Jews jealous.[5] And Paul suggests the end is that the opening of grace to the Gentiles would make Paul’s fellow Jews jealous so that some of them would be saved[6] – implying that this jealousy would trigger a response (the exercise of some choice) by Paul’s fellow Jews.

Just when we think we have confirmed that the choosing and hardening is all God, our choice is reaffirmed.

It is hard to reconcile the choices God makes and the choices people make in the same framework. Not that we necessarily need to reconcile them. We can choose simply to believe that they hold together in ways that we are unable to fathom and unable to see.

Indeed, we don’t have the perspective God has. He exists outside of time, having infinite existence and omniscience. How could we understand what God understands, know what God knows, and see what God sees from our finite position?!

We have a hard time holding the idea of God’s foreknowledge and predestination together with human freedom of the will and accountability. Many of us can grasp one, but not the other. Yet, here we are again, finding traces of both in the same passage. Maybe the Molinists are correct. Maybe God is completely sovereign, but man is completely free at the same time.

Maybe God knows the outcomes, but He does not determine them. Maybe He knew from before the foundation of the earth that some of Israel would reject Him, that only a remnant would accept Him and enter into His grace. Maybe, knowing what He already knew about the agency He would give to man, He chose them anyway – He chose by setting the whole thing in motion, and in His “position” outside of time and space He could see how it all would unfold, knowing the outcomes.

John says He came to His own, but His own people didn’t receive Him, “but to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God….”[7] He knew who would and who would not receive Him, and He chose to proceed. In that sense, perhaps, He chose those He knew would choose Him.


[1] Emautoú – properly, pertaining to myself. Emautoú (“myself”) is the reflexive form (first person) to emphatically bring the action back to “myself.” Emautoú suggests reflexive force.

[2] Romans 11:5 (NASB)

[3] Epitygxánō (from epí, “suitably on,” which intensifies tygxánō, “hit a mark, reach a point”) – properly, obtain by “lighting upon” (“to fall in line with”), i.e. happening upon; attain to because at the right point for “suitably obtaining.” It can be translated “providentially obtaining”.

[4] Eklogē (from ek, “out from/to” and légō, “speaking to a conclusion”) – properly, selection out of, to a given outcome; (theologically) election.  Eklogē (“election”) refers to God’s choice (selection) of people who receive His gift of salvation.

[5] “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.” (Romans 11:11)

[6] “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.” (romans 11:13-14

[7] John 1:11-12

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