Are All Christians Chosen?: John 15:16

"You did not choose Me, but I chose you..." Christ told His disciples in this verse. It seems to be pretty clear -- God chooses who will believe in Him. Our choosing Christ is not the reason God chose us. God choosing us first is the reason that we chose Him. Thus, salvation is entirely a work of God and it is God's sovereign, free choice of whom to save.

However, many objections can be raised against this interpretation. They are good ones, so investigating them will make us more familiar with the thought of the passage.

It seems that the best objection would be that since Christ is talking to His twelve original disciples, it is only them that He chose. For every other person, God leaves it up to them to decide for themselves if they will be believe. In other words, Jesus' disciples were chosen be cause of their important place in God's plan, but He doesn't deal that way with everyone.

I do not think that interpretation works for several reasons. First, there are many other statements Christ makes in this context that seem to apply to all Christians, not just the disciples. If the rest of what Christ said in this passage applies to every Christian, it would seem strange to say that His words "You did not chose Me, but I chose you" do not apply to every Christian.

For example, in the very next verse Christ says "This I command you, that you love one another." Sure, Jesus was only physically speaking to His disciples at this point. But clearly His command nonetheless applies to all Christians, not just some! In verse 26 Jesus says that He will send the Holy Spirit. Clearly this applies to all Christians as well. In verse 14, Jesus says "You are my friends, if you do what I command you." This also applies to all Christians.

Perhaps the best evidence is in verse 16 itself. Let's look at the whole verse: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He may give to you." Christ's choosing and appointing disciples seems to be the ground of their bearing lasting fruit and the ground of God answering every prayer that is prayed in Christ's name. Does every Christian have the privilege of having their prayers answered in Christ's name (see 14:12-14)? If every Christian does have this privilege -- and they do -- it seems that every Christian must have the same ground of this privilege--predestination. But in the very least, it does not make sense to interpret the last part of this verse ("God will answer your prayers") as applying to all Christians, but the first part ("I chose you") only to the disciples.

To all of this, there is perhaps one more objection. A person may say, "Look at the verse again (v. 15). It doesn't say that they were chosen for salvation, just that they were chosen to bear fruit. Therefore it was only an election to service, not salvation." In other words, could the verse simply teaches that God elects the main people who will serve in His plan -- such as the disciples -- and since not everyone is a main player, not everyone is chosen like the disciples? This is a good question.

In response, I would first ask how God could choose a person to serve Him without first choosing to save the person. Doesn't a choice to service imply a choice to salvation? So we are still dealing with salvation. Therefore I would next refer back to our previous discussion on how this verse must refer to all Christians, not just the eleven disciples disciples (Judas was not present in this chapter because he had left in chapter 13 to betray Christ). Furthermore, I don't think that the "service" mentioned in this verse is anything other than daily Christian living and obedience--which all Christians are commanded to do. This verse is not speaking of special service. All Christians are to "go and bear fruit" and to bear fruit "that remains, that whatever you ask the Father in [Christ's] name, He may give to you." Therefore there is still no reason to apply this verse simply to the disciples but not to all Christians.

Investigating the passage further, I think it becomes even more clear that God first chooses us. In verse 19 Jesus tells us where He chose us from. He did not choose us out of the "vast majority of those who are seeking God." He did not choose people who were first inclined to Him. He did not choose people who had already chosen Him. No, He says that "I chose you out of the world." The world is described in this passage as being against God and hating Him. "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (vv. 18-19).

Very simply, all people are by nature haters of God and at war with Him. No one in the world would therefore ever seek God on their own. But God, in His mercy, chooses people out of this world to be saved. Those who are "seeking" God are perhaps better described as people who are being drawn by God to Himself. God must cause a person to seek Him. And He must choose a person before they will ever believe.

Many other passages in John confirm this interpretation that God chooses who is saved. See 5:21; 6:37-40, 44, 65; 8:47; 10:26; 18:37.

One last point. For the sake of argument, let's concede for a moment that verse 16 does simply refer to Christ's disciples, and not every Christian. This still implies God's sovereignty over salvation. Why? Since Christ says "I chose you out of the world" it seems clear that the disciples would not have chosen Him at all unless He had first chosen them (He didn't choose them out of those who already loved Him, but out of the world). But if Christ was able to choose His disciples out of the world and bring them to faith, couldn't He do it for anyone? If He can do it for anyone, why is everyone not saved? It must be because He has chosen not to overcome everyone's rebellion. To say that "God doesn't want to violate anyone's freedom" does not solve the issue, unless you want to hold that the disciples had their freedom violated by virtue of the fact that Christ first chose them. So it seems that Christ caused His disciples to irresistably choose Him without violating their wills. If He can do this with them, then He can do it with anyone. Thus, even if verse 16 applied only to His disciples, it would still entail that Christ has chosen to leave some people in their sins; He would still be sovereign over salvation. The only other alternative to this would be to say that Christ chose His disciples because He knew they would accept His choice, which of course goes against His words "you did not choose Me, but I chose you" as well as His statement "I chose you out of the world."

In conclusion, it seems clear that John 15:16 applies to all Christians. Therefore, Christians can rest in and take joy in the encouragement that Christ's decision is the foundation of our faith, not our decision (see John 1:13). Christ's love is a powerful, strong, trustworthy love that cannot fail. He loves each individual Christian with this awesome love (cf. John 13:1). The statement that "God will love you straight to hell (in order to preserve your "free-will")" is just not true. God's love saves. It causes you to willingly come to Him. Finally, we can take encouragement that if Christ has chosen us, we will bear fruit.

All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.


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