The Elect - Foreknown By God

(Part of the "Predestination vs. Free-Will" series)

1 Peter 1:1-2:  “To God’s elect . . . who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” 

People who believe in predestination (Calvinists) define the “elect” (the “chosen” ones) as those whom God has pre-chosen for salvation.  And everyone else is destined for hell, with no chance of being saved.  They would say that this verse confirms it.  That we are chosen by God to be believers or unbelievers. 

For starters, I don’t think “elect” means "specific people chosen by God to be saved."  And I don't think this verse is saying that God has prechosen people for salvation.  I think this verse means that God foreknows who will choose to believe in Him and that He has pre-decided to help them grow in obedience to Jesus Christ, through the work of the Spirit.  Not that He has planned to save certain people.  

(I once read of one Calvinist who chose to redefine "foreknown" as "fore-chosen."  He actually said this, that he was going to believe that it should be "fore-chosen" instead of "foreknown."  How nice to be able to alter God's Word so brazenly, whenever you feel like it, in order to support your twisted theology!  But fore-chosen doesn't work because, according to the concordance, "foreknow" has to do with perceiving or having knowledge of something beforehand.  It has nothing to do with the action of choosing or electing something.  Totally different ideas that are in no way interchangeable!)  

In his book Totally Saved, Tony Evans says he believes that the “elect” are those whom God has chosen to pursue more passionately and more openly, so as to make sure that at least some people will definitely accept His gift of salvation.  But this doesn’t mean that He forces them to believe, just that He reveals Himself to them more clearly and calls to them more strongly, giving them a more compelling reason to believe in Him, such as when He pursued Paul by striking him with blindness and speaking directly to him.  I am fine with this interpretation, too, because it doesn’t say that God decides what we choose, just that He appeals to some people more strongly. for His purposes.  However, they still have to willingly respond to Him.  And He is still available to everyone else, even if He reveals Himself less obviously to others.

And I also recently read someone else's idea that "elect" means those God has chosen to spread His Gospel through, not those prechosen for heaven.  Just throwing that out there.  It sounds possible, but I need to look into that a little more.

Either of those would be much closer to a biblical version of "elect" because they don't include the idea of God making salvation decisions for us, choosing some for heaven and making the rest go to hell with no chance of salvation.  

I, personally, think that the elect are the people whom God knows will come to Him.  They are not “elected” as in “chosen against their will.”  But God foreknows that they are going to choose to believe in Him, and so He “elects” them (almost like “marks” them), and He has pre-decided to help those who believe in Him to grow to be more like Christ, with the Spirit’s help. 

The way I see it, before we are even born, God knows what decision we will make about Him.  And ultimately, there are only two groups of people: those Jesus knows and those He does not know.  These verses show the difference: 

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’”  (Matthew 7:21-23, italics are mine)

“But the man who loves God is known by God.”  (1 Cor. 8:3)

The person who loves God is known by God.  Foreknown by God, if you will, from the beginning of time.  All the rest of the people, He does not know, even if they claim to know Him and to do His work on earth:  “I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”

But what does it mean to “love Him”?  Does it mean having “warm fuzzies” about Him or simply believing that He exists?  

No!  It means to obey Him. 

“This is love for God: to obey his commands. . . .”  (1 John 5:3) 

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. . . . He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”  (John 14:15,24)

So from the beginning of time, He knows the people who will love Him, those who will choose to obey Him and to do His Will.  They are His “elect,” His chosen ones.  He chooses those who willingly choose Him.  This comes down not to some arbitrary decision He made to save us (to choose us), but to our own willful decision to love and obey Him.  Those whom He knows will choose to love and obey Him are His elect, His chosen ones.   

I think we can get a sense of how God chooses people – about whom He chooses – if we look at an example, Romans 11:4-5: 

“And what was God’s answer to him?  ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’  So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”  

God did not arbitrarily choose a remnant.  He did not pick out individual people to place in one group or the other – the believers or unbelievers, the chosen or unchosen.  He let the people choose first.  Some chose to bend the knee to Baal and some didn’t.  

And then He chose those who did not bend a knee to Baal.  

The people influenced their future themselves, by choosing to turn from God or toward God.  And then He chose those who chose Him.  But it was the people’s choice about which group they ended up in.  They chose first, then God responded to them according to their choice. 

“ ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.’ ”  (Matthew 23:37, italics are mine) 

Jesus longs to protect Jerusalem.  He longs for them to respond to His love, to His desire to gather them unto Himself.  Yet, they were not willing!  They were resistant.  They had the chance, the offer, the ability to respond to His love and call, but they refused to.  

Responding to Him is a choice.  Loving Him is a choice.

Another verse to illustrate what I am saying:

“. . . God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  (Romans 8:28-30) 

Notice that it doesn’t say that we are predestined to eternal life, but (like the 1 Peter 1:1-2 verse) we who are foreknown by God (those of us who will love Him and obey Him) are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus.  True believers are destined to grow to look more and more like the Son because of the work of the Spirit. 

However, those whom He doesn’t know – the ones who have not chosen to love and obey Him and do His Will – have a different destiny.

“. . . They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”  (2 Thess. 2:10) 

Those who perish do not do so because it was God’s Will for them to perish.  For God wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  He wants no one to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). 

But if they perish, it’s because they “refused to love the truth.”  They chose falsehood instead.  But they could have been saved – they could have been one of the foreknown “chosen ones” – if they had chosen to believe the truth.  If they had chosen to love the Lord and obey Him.

God does not force one destiny on us or the other.  He lets us choose.  If we choose Him, He guides us in the path of righteousness.  But if we choose to refuse the truth, He lets us walk down the path of rebellion and face the ending that goes with it.  

As Jesus says, in John 7:17, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will. . .  Once again, there is a human choice and responsibility about whether or not we do God’s will, whether or not He knows us or doesn’t know us.  And it all comes back to our willingness to do His Will, which comes back to if we choose to love Him or not, if we choose truth or refuse truth. 

That determines if He foreknows us or does not know us, if we are destined for heaven or for hell.

[Important note:  In the Revised Standard Version, 1 Peter 1:1 doesn't say "to the elect."  It says "to the exiles."  The KJV says "strangers."  Other versions say "aliens."  

We make so much out of that word "elect," but maybe in this verse it simply means "the Christians who have been exiled and scattered among other places."  

According to the concordance, the word in this verse - "strangers" - signifies those who are travelling in a strange place, away from their own people.  And in this verse particularly, it refers directly to those scattered throughout Pontus, etc.  And it refers metaphorically to those who are residents of heaven but living as aliens on earth.  How we changed this word into "elected people who are predestined by God for heaven" is a mystery"!

And here is one other possible way to read the 1 Peter passage.  Remember that this was the first generation to have Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.  It may just be that when a verse says the people were "chosen" or "elected" for obedience to Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, it means that they were the generation that was chosen to be the first to have salvation through Jesus's death and the work of the Holy Spirit.  It might not be implying at all that God chooses who to give salvation to, but that He chose them to be the first generation to find faith in Jesus, through the Spirit, simply because their lifetimes coincided with His.  They were a "chosen" generation.

In fact, this 1 Peter greeting sounds a lot like Paul’s greeting in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14: “But we always ought to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

First off, this could definitely sound like God hand-picked who would believe and who wouldn’t.  And it would sound especially so if the verse simply said, “God chose you to be saved!”  But it might not be saying that God chose specifically whom to save . . . but that God chose to save people (mankind) through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through our belief in Jesus.  It could be a general description of anyone who chooses to believe in Jesus.  
And secondly, in various translations of the Bible, it doesn’t just say “from the beginning God chose you to be saved.”  When we read this, it could seem like God has chosen who will be saved from the beginning of time. 
But other translations say something like, “God chose you as His first-fruits,” basically that “God chose you to be among the first of those who believe in Jesus and who receive the Holy Spirit.” 
Maybe all along, it’s not saying that God chose whom to save, from the beginning of time (that He elected people to go to heaven), but that He chose that generation to be the generation that would be the first of the “Jesus believers,” the first believers (first-fruits) after Jesus’s death and resurrection, and the first generation to have the Holy Spirit to help them grow to be more and more like Christ.    
And maybe this is the same kind of greeting we see in 1 Peter.  Maybe Peter is saying not that they were chosen for salvation, but that they were chosen to be the generation that saw Jesus’ death and resurrection.  They would be the first believers of history to have Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Maybe the "predestination" and "election" verses are not so Calvinistic after all.  And since the majority of the Bible contradicts Calvinism, yet only a very few verses seem to support it, maybe it's better to look for better, more accurate explanations of those few "Calvinist" verses, to find ways to read them that fit with the rest of the Bible ... instead of altering the rest of the Bible to fit those very few (misunderstood) "Calvinist" verses.]

Next post in series:  Predestined For Salvation?  Or For Something Else?

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