Does God predestine some for heaven and others to hell without any choice in the matter? If so, some argue God is not unjust because all are depraved and none would choose God without His help. We would accuse earthly parents of immorality if they showed similar favoritism toward their children. Can we blame one for rejecting a God that claims to be a God of love and freedom but arbitrarily chooses who to save? Christians may rationalize certain behaviors because “God is not always fair.” Bigotry may be defended due to God’s biases.
Jesus knew nothing about a quota on God’s grace. In John’s gospel see what Christ said to the Samaritan woman (4:13-14], to Jews persecuting him (5:24), to disbelieving Jews (8:24, 51), to Martha (11:25-26), to Philip and Andrew (12:25-26), and to the crowd. (12:36, 46) Jesus spoke as if salvation was available to all who desire it. Context may restrict words such as “whoever, anyone, everyone,” but no contextual indicators in the passages above defend God limiting His grace. John 3:16 is one of hundreds of verses that speak of everybody’s freedom to choose or reject a relationship with the Creator. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
A few select passages might seem to contradict God’s universal grace, but a careful study reveals God elected Christ to save the world and not that God elected only certain individuals. Ephesians 1: 4-5 says: “For he chose us in him 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, in accordance with his pleasure and will—” God’s predestination act is that of choosing Christ. God predestinates those who choose to believe in Christ. I Peter 1:18-21 confirms Christ was chosen beforehand to save all those who believe.
God does not play favorites. The viewpoint that God chooses only certain individuals for salvation and others have no choice is indefensible exegetically and morally. Christians would admonish one another in Christ, on the grounds of scriptural teaching, if mercy was exercised in such an arbitrary fashion. Some call it sovereign grace but it is clearly arbitrary and contradicts hundreds of passages that declare God “wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (I Tim 2:4) God’s grace is not limited to a select few – the elect – at the exclusion of others. God will never force any one to love Him, but God extends His grace to us all.
In human relationships we understand it is far better to be motivated by love than fear. Serving a boss out of respect than obligation empowers us to be the most productive. It always feels better to follow because we want to than have to. Young children are taught to fear consequences but punishment doesn’t prevent finding a better way to hide it next time. As children mature parents desire obedience out of respect and understanding, so wise decisions are made when parents are not around. Relationships based on fear can lead to temporary changes and trying to not get caught, not lifelong transformations. True intimacy is never obtained.
We still though emphasize God’s wrath over His unconditional love. God’s love was center stage in Scriptures. God is Love not Wrath (I John 4:8). Fear was for evil folks in the Bible, not those seeking selfless lives. A survey of the times “fear of God” is used in the Bible suggests fearing God was synonymous with fearing evil. To not fear God was to not fear evil. God’s wrath is against godlessness and wickedness in hopes to restore, not against those who don’t pursue evil. God hates the sin, not the sinner, because sin leads to destruction in the end.
Besides, obligatory obedience doesn’t lead to reflections how to better ourselves, only to reach certain “good” standards. Do we truly love our partner if we are successful 85% of the time? It is far better we seek changes deep down that keep us from being who we want to be. Focusing on our goodness can lead to false pride and doesn’t produce genuine love toward others. We may be tempted to puff ourselves up over others and minimize others’ works because they have a checkered past or their works are not as great or numerous as ours. When we understand our shortcomings we then may reach out to God for help, which leads to true righteous.
We are taught to fear God and be scared of eternal damnation. Fear doesn’t inspire. No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor can conquer our battle against self-centeredness. Jesus died not to change God’s attitude but our attitude toward God. Understanding God’s unconditional love inspires us to love Him back, which is to better love others and ourselves. God is the eternal optimist – where can we end up? It is never too late to start. God’s accounting system is different than ours. [Mt 20] Do we really want an exact accounting? God is always waiting with open, loving arms for those who desire to be loved and encouraged. God’s love and His mercy is our necessary nourishment. We can start each day feeling accepted rather than rejected.