(The following was written in response to a question about predestination.)
Regarding predestination, there are passages in the Bible that talk about God actively choosing, or predestining, people for salvation.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
There are also passages that seem to talk about us choosing God.
But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)
I think that Christian teachings about predestination are connected to teachings about God’s grace.
The Bible talks about universal grace in passages such as John 3:16. Universal grace means that God has made salvation available to all people.
“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. (John 3:16 ) (emphasis added)
The Bible also tells us that salvation is by grace alone. Grace alone means that salvation is 100% God’s work and a totally free gift from him to us.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ) (emphasis added)
Some of our Christian brothers and sisters emphasize grace alone and see predestination as the way that God, by grace, gives us salvation. He chooses us for salvation. Therefore our salvation rests upon God’s sovereignty.
If they try to answer the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” the answer that they come up with is “those who were not saved were not chosen by God for salvation.” Taken to an extreme, one can end up with double predestination which says that God chooses some for salvation and others for condemnation, but I don’t think that this position is very widely held these days.
Some of our other brothers and sisters in Christ would say that such a stance denies universal grace. They emphasize universal grace and say that the salvation won by Jesus is available to all people. They would say that our decision to choose Jesus as our Lord and Saviour is the way that God’s salvation is applied to us personally.
If they try to answer the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” the answer that they come up with is “those who are not saved did not choose Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour.”
The first group would say that the stance of the second group is denying grace alone because it requires human choice in addition to God’s work to accomplish our salvation.
The Lutheran position is biblical, but not logical. Lutherans emphasize both universal grace and grace alone. On the cross, Jesus paid for the salvation of all people in the world over all time (universal grace). And that salvation is ours when we trust in Jesus for forgiveness, salvation and everlasting life. However, Lutherans see that trust (aka faith) as a gift from God. So when we believe, it is us who is believing, but it God who has given that ability to believe to us. He does this as the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion to create faith in our hearts and to build up the faith that is already there. So salvation is 100% God’s work (grace alone).
Lutherans say, in accord with the Bible, that God does actively choose us for salvation. But this is meant as a doctrine of comfort. When we begin to doubt whether we really are going to go to heaven, we can take comfort from the promise that God has indeed chosen us for salvation.
If we want to look to a moment in time when God choose us, we can remember our baptisms. That is where Jesus washed us clean of all our sin, made us a child of God, connected us to himself both in his death and in his resurrection, gave us new life and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Lutherans would say that the question “Why are some saved and not others?” is an unanswerable question. The Bible doesn’t provide an answer to the question. At best it says that when we are not saved, it is our own fault, and when we are saved, God gets all the glory.
I hope that this is helpful! If you have any further questions, please let me know!
God’s peace and joy,