Does God choose who will go to heaven?

Q. Does God know who are to go to heaven (those with His seal)? Or it is an individual who makes a choice between light and darkness?

You’re asking a question that thoughtful people of faith have wrestled with throughout the centuries: What ultimately determines whether a person is saved, God’s sovereign choice of them, or their response to God?

I believe that this is one of those mysteries of our faith that we must respond to by embracing both sides of a paradox.  If we let go of either side, we lose something essential.

We need to hold onto the idea that our salvation is entirely the work of God, because none of us human beings can save ourselves.  This principle would extend even to the act of choice:  we are not even capable of choosing to be saved because of the deeply imprinted effects of sin on all areas of our being, including the will.  So God must choose us.

However, we must also hold onto the idea that we are morally responsible in some way to respond to the overtures that God makes towards us, that is, to the gracious influences that God brings into our lives to lead us to salvation.  Our inability to save ourselves does not absolve us of the responsibility to seek salvation and to accept it when it is offered.

I believe that the Bible teaches both divine sovereignty and human moral responsibility—sometimes in the same breath!  For example, Peter told the crowds in his Pentecost sermon, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God [divine sovereignty], you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men [human moral responsibility].”

So we need to embrace both sides of the paradox to have a full understanding of where our salvation comes from.

It’s been said that as you walk towards the gates of heaven, you see written above them, “Whosoever will to the Lord may come.”  But after you walk through the gates, you look back and see written above them, “Chosen from the foundation of the world.”  I think that about sums it up.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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