My wife Grace and I have been faithfully married for 26 years. We first met at the age of 17 in high school. Within days (or at most weeks), I knew that I had met my wife. In my heart, I had chosen her to be my bride. Grace, however, had not yet come to that same conclusion. For us to have a relationship, she would have to respond to my choice by choosing me back.
God speaks of His relationship with His people like a groom and bride. I take this to mean that God chooses us for covenant love, and we respond to His love by loving Him back. In any healthy relationship, both parties need to choose to love one another. The question is, who chooses to love first? This leads us to the question of predestination that appears early on in our study of the last book of the Bible. Malachi 1:2b-4 opens by saying, “‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.’ If Edom says, ‘We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,’ the Lord of hosts says, ‘They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever’.’”
Paul picks up this theme and even quotes Malachi saying in Romans 9:10-14, “…when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls — she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger’. As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’. What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”
Nearly every Christian Bible study ends up beating a stable of dead horses as soon as someone asks, “Do we choose God, or does God choose us?” At this moment, it is always good to pop some popcorn and turn on some carnival music as the fun is sure to commence.
For the sake of simplicity, I want to share the six options for who chooses our salvation:
- No one is saved and everyone is damned. I cannot remember anyone actually ever teaching this which is odd. The truth is, hell makes perfect sense. Fallen angels cannot be saved and only go to hell. If fallen people joined them it seems like a fair deal.
- God chooses everyone. This is called Universalism and a heresy so if you believe it, you are a heretic and need to pick another option.
- We are good people who can freely choose God. This is called Pelagianism and also a heresy so, once again, if you believe this, you are a heretic and need to pick another option.
- We are sinful people but God grants everyone a free will choice. This is called Arminianism or Wesleyanism where God gives everyone at some point “prevenient grace” which opens their fallen will to make a free will choice to follow God or not (kind of like Adam and Eve existed before the Fall). This is not a heresy so, if you believe this, congrats to you on not being a heretic.
- God chooses some sinners for heaven and some sinners for hell. This is also called Calvinism, or double predestination. This, too, is not a heresy but can appear to be a very capricious version of the kids game “Duck, Duck, Goose” renamed “Elect, Elect, Damned”.
- Everyone chooses hell through sin and God chooses to save some people through His loving grace. This is called Lutheranism, or single predestination, where the non-Christian gets what they want, and the Christian gets what God wants for them. If you believe this you are not a heretic and agree with me, Jesus, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and all that is right and good. You should buy us both a cupcake to celebrate.
All kidding aside, the battle between believers is often regarding open-handed issues. Our faith has closed-handed issues which all faithful Christians must agree upon. Our faith also has open-handed issues which Christians can disagree about without dividing over. This is one of those issues with at least three options that I conclude with above.
Since we are in Malachi, I will close with an illustration. Throughout the book God tells His people that He is their “Father” (1:6, 2:10). That makes believers the children of God. The Bible actually speaks of salvation as being adopted by God the Father. In every adoption, it is not legally possible for the child to fill out the paperwork and adopt the parent. Instead, the parent must decide to adopt the child and the child is then given a voice as to whether or not they want to be adopted into this family. In Christianity, I do not see how we adopt God as our Father. Instead, I see the Father choosing to adopt us, sending the Spirit to give us a new nature and will, and from that new heart, we love and choose the Father who has chosen us in love.
How amazing is it that the God of the universe chose to love you and adopt you as His beloved child forever?