One of the ways the government recruited soldiers for World Wars 1 & 2 was using propaganda. A well-known poster features Uncle Sam pointing at the viewer saying, “I want YOU for U.S. Army.”
I call this propaganda because the poster isn’t technically true. Had the government specifically chosen each individual who saw the poster for the army? No. Rather, they had a general desire for everyone who was eligible to enlist.
Many Christians take this as an analogy for salvation. When the Bible says God chose us, they picture Him pointing at us like Uncle Sam saying, “I want YOU to be saved.” But like Uncle Sam, He doesn’t actually choose specific people. Instead, He lets us choose whether to enlist in His army.
A better analogy for salvation comes from Toy Story. At Pizza Planet, Buzz Lightyear climbs into a claw machine inhabited by aliens. He asks, “Who’s in charge here?” The aliens point up and answer, “The Claw.” One of them explains, “The Claw chooses who will go and who will stay.”
When you play a claw machine, you don’t move the claw around randomly before dropping it, hoping a prize will choose to be picked. Instead, you choose the prize you want and line up the claw above it.
This is how salvation begins. God doesn’t point at all humanity and say, “I want YOU.” Instead, He chooses to save specific people. He makes them His prize and “drops the claw” on them. This is the first stage in the “plan of salvation” – predestination.
Where Salvation Begins
Many Christians believe salvation begins when we “make a decision” for Jesus. In other words, we decide to let Him save us. So the “plan of salvation” starts when we choose to be saved. But the Bible doesn’t say we chose God; it says He chose us.
Paul says, “For God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:4-5a) Before He even created the world, God chose those whom He would save. This is where His saving plan begins.
Paul says elsewhere, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son” (Romans 8:29). God knew us before He chose us. Salvation doesn’t begin when we “make a decision” for Jesus. It began before the creation of the world. In a sense, we have always been saved because God has always known and chose us for salvation.
God’s Choice, Not Ours
On what basis did God choose us? Some Christians argue God chose those who would receive the gospel. In other words, He chose those who would choose Him. His choice is based on our choice.
Think back to the claw machine. Are the prizes any different from each other? Not really. They’re made of the same stuff, and cost the same amount to make. So what makes your prize valuable? The fact that you chose it. Do you pick a prize because it chooses to be picked? Nope. You just pick the one you want.
The Bible says God did the same thing when He predestined us. Read further in Ephesians 1: “For God chose us in Christ…in love he predestined us…in accordance with his pleasure and will…in him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11).
God chose us “in accordance with HIS pleasure and will.” He predestined us according to “the purpose of HIS will.” He saves us by His choice, not ours. And He chose us not because we want to be saved, but because He wants to save us.
Paul makes this indisputable in Romans 9. He explains: “Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’” (vv 10-12)
He concludes a few verses later, “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (v 16).
Jacob and Esau hadn’t “done anything good or bad” to influence God’s choice. They had no “desire” for Him, made no “effort” toward Him. God simply chose Jacob so His “purpose in election might stand”; in other words, so He could get what He wants.
This is why He chose us. Like prizes in a claw machine, sinful humans are indistinguishable from each other. None of us stand out above the rest. None of us deserve to be chosen. Nothing about us compels or obligates God to save us. He picks us simply because He wants to.
Paul summarizes this first stage in the “plan of salvation” nicely in 2 Timothy 1:9: “God has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
After He chose us, God provided for our salvation by sending Jesus to make atonement for our sins. To receive my post on the next step in His saving plan, subscribe by e-mail!
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