Does God choose us or do we choose God? We should immediately feel the tension in that question. “He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), and yet we are implored, “choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Josh. 24:15); “choose life” (Deut. 30:19). A simple answer does not tell the whole story. But if we had to answer one way or the other, we should say, “God chooses us,” for God’s choice is first.
In God’s Pursuit of Man, A. W. Tozer affirms that man’s choice is a real choice:
God has made us in His likeness, and one mark of that likeness is our free will. We hear God say, ‘Whosoever will, let him come.’ We know by bitter experience the woe of an unsurrendered will and the blessedness or terror which may hang upon our human choice.
But Tozer goes on to press his main point:
But back of all this and preceding it is the sovereign right of God to call saints and determine human destinies. The master choice is His, the secondary choice is ours. Salvation is from our side a choice, from the divine side it is a seizing upon, an apprehending, a conquest of the Most High God. Our ‘accepting’ and ‘willing’ are reactions rather than actions. The right of determination must always remain with God” (emphasis original).
“Our ‘accepting’ and ‘willing’ are reactions rather than actions.” (Tozer)
God’s redemption narrative is depicted as a divine romance in which it is always God who does the pursuing. It is the Son of man that comes to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19:10); among men, “no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Ro. 3:11). The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to seek the one who is hopelessly astray (Matt. 18:12).
In our zealous opposition to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election, we have nearly lost this crucial Biblical emphasis. We have emphasized man’s “accepting” and “willing” to the extent that most view these primarily as actions of a determined will rather than reactions to a pursuant God. It is an affront to grace to say that an unbeliever, of his own doing, rises up and wills his way to God. He is utterly incapable to do so, for he is (apart from God’s grace), as John Wesley insists, “by nature filled with all manner of evil…void of all good…wholly fallen…totally corrupted…[with] every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually.”
God must come to where we are, in our wretched condition, as he did to the Apostle Paul on Damascus road, and apprehend us in a divine conquest. Tozer explains:
God has always indeed lent to every man the power to lock his heart and stalk away darkly into his self-chosen night, as he has lent to every man the ability to respond to His overtures of grace, but while the “no” choice may be ours, the “yes” choice is always God’s. He is the Author of our faith as He must be its Finisher. Only by grace can we continue to believe; we can persist in willing God’s will only as we are seized upon by a benign power that will overcome our natural bent to unbelief.
“While the ‘no’ choice may be ours, the ‘yes’ choice is always God’s.” (Tozer)
A strong conviction of man’s natural bent to unbelief persuades us to eagerly embrace the primacy of God’s choice and the necessity of prevenient grace. We are far too unlovely, clumsy, and ignorant to conceive of initiating a romance with the Beloved. We need the one who is utterly lovely, complete in all his perfections, to condescend in overtures of grace and apprehend us. The testimony of Christ’s bride is, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). Jesus has said it, and surely it is so: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” (Jn. 6:44, 65).
Clarke explains, “Unless God thus draw, no man will ever come to Christ; because none could, without this drawing, ever feel the need of a Savior.” Wesley notes, “No man can believe in Christ, unless God give him power: he draws us first, by good desires. Not by compulsion, not by laying the will under any necessity; but by the strong and sweet, yet still resistible, motions of his heavenly grace.”
“Salvation is from our side a choice, from the divine side it is a seizing upon, an apprehending, a conquest of the Most High God.” (Tozer)
God’s calling grace is strong and sweet, but it is resistible. It is our responsibility to react, respond, and receive, for “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). When He knocks on the door of our heart, we must welcome him, for God has given us the power to turn the lock, draw the blinds, and remain alone.
If we receive Christ by faith, we are united to him and become part of God’s chosen people, for “He hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). Those who are chosen are those who are in Christ; those who are in Christ are those who have received him by faith in reaction to God’s prevenient grace.