Do We Choose God Or Does God Choose Us?

So which is it? Did I choose God or did He choose me?

It’s a sticky question – one that has divided people for centuries. If God chose me, does that mean that I don’t have any free will? Does that mean that my choices aren’t really choices at all? Does that mean that I’m nothing more than a puppet on a divine string?

On the other hand, if I chose God, does that mean that God isn’t really sovereign? Does that mean that salvation is the one area that falls outside of God’s total, sovereign control?

It’s tricky. So what does the Bible say? Surely the Bible makes one or the other clear.

Well, sort of. Scripture makes it clear that God chooses us for salvation. And scripture makes it clear that we choose God. It’s not either or, it’s both. John 1:12-13 is a perfect example of this.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Who received the right to become children of God? It was those who believed in Jesus. Those who made a real choice to put their faith in Jesus Christ. This isn’t a trick verse. Those who believed in Jesus made a real choice to really believe in Jesus as the Son of God. So yes, we choose God. No doubt about it.

But something else is going on here. Those who believed in Jesus were born again. How? Not of blood, meaning not of any sort of natural birth. They also weren’t born again by the will of the flesh or the will of man. I understand this to mean that they weren’t born again because of anything they did. They absolutely could not cause themselves to be born again. Being born again is something that God and only God does.

Now, here’s the crucial question: did they choose God and then were born again, or were they born again and then chose God? Acts 16:14 is very helpful in answering this question. Speaking of Lydia, it says, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” In other words, God made her spiritually dead heart come alive so that she could hear and respond to the gospel message. Another helpful verse is John 6:65, where Jesus says, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

So do we choose God? Absolutely. We make a real to choice to repent of our sins and choose to follow God. But, scripture is also clear that God chooses us before we choose him. The Bible doesn’t try to reconcile these two truths, but instead presents them side by side.

  • Kim

    Stephen–great post on a topic that is needlessly dividing. I love what I've heard in other circles, "God is the only One with free will." And even that is restricted to His own proclamations and descriptions about Himself in Scripture. (Example: He doesn't have free will to sin.) I also chuckle at John MacArthur's commentary on the matter. Does it hurt or burn when you try and reconcile both doctrines found in Scripture? "Then, feel the burn."

    Thanks Stephen! :)

    • @stephenaltrogge

      Thanks for your encouragement Kim. Great point about God being the only one with a true free will!

  • Emily Dixon

    Thank you for a well thought out post on this topic. It is so often approached with anger and defensiveness it is difficult to entertain the possibilities presented.

    • @stephenaltrogge

      You're welcome! Yeah, this can definitely be a sticky topic.

  • JackW

    Have you been reading R. C, Sproul again? ;-)

    Willing to Believe was the most helpful for me on this subject.

    • @stephenaltrogge

      Sproul always nails it on this subject!

  • kevin hurley

    Illustration #1: free will argument,( human chooses to believe).when evangelizing you cast the life preserver close enough where the drownee exercises free will to grab it
    illustration #2: God alone saves (human does nothing), when evangelizing throw that life preserver so that it plops right over the drownees head and flailing arms.
    In both cases throw that thing like you love the drownee.

    • @stephenaltrogge

      Our view of God's sovereignty definitely shouldn't affect our evangelism. You're right, throw the gospel like you love the person that is drowning!

    • bookeramez

      If God alone saves and the human does nothing, then what criteria is used to save some and not others?

    • Jason

      We are not drounding. We are dead. We are at the bottom of the lake. God chooses to pull us from the bottom and breathe new life into us through the power of His Spirit. We can't flail our arms when we are dead. The Bible is very clear about out dead state.

  • Bob

    One question that I find helpful for this issue is, "Why do some believe and not others?" If it's not the prior work of God, then it seems it would have to be something in man that caused one to believe and not another. It seems pretty arrogant to think that I chose God because I'm smarter than my unbelieving neighbor. Besides, that idea is pretty much decimated by the Bible, especially 1 Cor 1:26-31…
    For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. …Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

    Lots of "God chose" language in there too! I'm thankful that he overcame my foolish and rebellious free will so I would choose him.

    • @stephenaltrogge

      Yeah, when you put it like that…well it gets harder and harder to believe that I chose God. It seems to make me smarter or more willing than others. But of course I'm not.

    • bookeramez

      All humans are created equally, but all are not born equally.

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  • Petra Hefner

    Great post! Searching the Bible for answers should not divide. It's when people take sides with people that these divisions take place. Just my two pennies' worth.

  • dave

    nice post.. very thoughtful. — suggest to consider further : 1. what is the logical order of salvation and does it differ from temporal order?, and 2. when is a person actually saved? if saved before belief, how does that work? — peace

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  • doulos tou Theou

    Great Post

    One running thought for me is who get's the Glory in my salvation me or God?
    If i chose God it's me for making the right choice.(My pride wants this)
    If it's God coming along like He does in Ezekiel16 and says "live!"what can we do but obey.
    He gets all the Glory. Isaiah 48:11

    For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

    Thanks for the helpful post

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  • karen stoffberg

    Because of sin, man is imprisoned within a cell of corruption and wickedness which permeates to the very core of our being. Every part of man is in bondage to sin – our bodies, our minds, and our wills. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us the state of man’s heart: it is “deceitful and desperately wicked.” In our natural, unregenerate state, we are carnally minded, not spiritually minded. “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can it be” (Romans 8:6-7). These verses tell us that before we are saved, we are at enmity (war) with God, we do not submit to God and His law, neither can we. The Bible is clear that, in his natural state, man is incapable of choosing that which is good and holy. In other words, he does not have the “free will” to choose God because his will is not free. It is constrained by his nature, just as the prisoner is constrained by his cell.

  • karen stoffberg

    How then can anyone be saved? Ephesians 2:1 describes the process. We who are “dead in our trespasses and sins” have been “made alive” through Christ. A dead man cannot make himself alive because he lacks the necessary power to do so. Lazarus lay in his tomb four days unable to do a thing to resurrect himself. Christ came along and commanded him to come to life (John 11). So it is with us. We are spiritually dead, unable to rise. But “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He calls us out of our spiritual graves and gives us a completely new nature, one undefiled by sin as the old nature was (2 Corinthians 5:17). God saw the desperate and helpless state of our souls, and in His great love and mercy, He sovereignly chose to send His Son to the cross to redeem us. By His grace we are saved through the gift of faith which He gives us so that we can believe in Jesus. His grace is a free gift, our faith is a free gift, and our salvation is a free gift given to those whom God has chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

  • karen stoffberg

    Why did He chose to do it this way? Because it was “according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6). It’s important to understand that the plan of salvation is designed to glorify God, not man. Our response is to praise Him for the “glory of His grace.” If we chose our own salvation, who would get the glory? We would, and God has made it clear that He will not give the glory due to Him to anyone else (Isaiah 48:11).

    The question naturally arises, how do we know who has been saved “from the foundation of the world”? We don’t. That is why we take the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, telling all to repent and receive God’s gift of grace. Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us we are to be pleading with others to be reconciled to God before it is too late. We cannot know who God will choose to release from their prison cells of sin. We leave that choice to Him and present the Gospel to all. The ones who come to Jesus He “will in no way cast out” (John 6:37).
    author unknown but i agree entirely

    • karld1

      Very correct Karen ,we are nothing. Without the grace of God,Give all the glory to God Amen ,I thank him everyday for the grace he has shown.

    • trey

      Hi Karen. So what you're saying is that in our sinful nature, we are not interested in God but are blinded by the Prince of this age and it is only the Holy Spirit who can compel us to seek God after the veil of blindness has been torn away. That is what scripture teaches.
      So….my question is this….
      Obviously not everyone is chosen…compelled by the Holy Spirit to seek God. God does not choose every person to be saved. Is that fair? Does a loving caring God Choose to save a few while letting billions burn in an eternal fire? There's no mercy in that doctrine Karen. If I don't have the free will to choose without coercion and God never coerces me, how can be justly condemn me?
      And why is it those who claim election or predestination are always from those who are "In"? I never hear someone who isn't "In" claim this as truth.
      As a believer who is struggling to keep the faith, I find myself turning away because of this. I don't want to follow a God like this.
      God Bless you.

  • mary

    Why did Jesus die on the cross if we were chosen before we were born?

    • Michael

      to satisfy the wrath of God, the penalty of sin.

  • Kenna

    This explained things nicely!!!

  • Karen

    Excellent and balance approach to this very difficult topic. Thank you!
    I'm still rather confused about this "choosing", however. Is this grace that He sends us- this drawing to Him- a common grace to all of man (and therefore deniable) or given only to those He intends to save (therefore, undeniable)? If undeniable then in what way does man still have a choice? And what about the one's whom He created with no intention of saving? So distressing!

  • Kenneth Groenewald

    Question: If God did not intervene in the Apostle Paul’s life on the road to Damascus would Paul ever had come to a saving knowledge of the truth? Was it Paul’s reaching out to God or was it God that reached out to Paul?

  • Sithembiso khumalo

    Paul was zelous on his work thinking that he was working for God,so Paul did choose God and God used him in the right time James 4v7-8 remember christ died for all John 3v16 that who so ever believed.PAUL believed he was working for God that’s way God used him,remember our God does not force us to choose him if he was the God of force he should have forced Lucifer to obey him

  • rus787

    I did like the post yet with more study, I find John 15:16 where Jesus says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you…" I would think that a choice by us about salvation is not a choice at all.

  • Sarah Vogel

    I feel that we see both free will and God saving us in Scripture… Though some element of God towards us is always first. Jesus knocking on the door and us opening it reminds me of free will (Rev 3:20). Prodigal Son “comes to himself” when remembering the kindness of his father and “repents” and turns home – free will (Luke 15:11-32). Truly, His kindness leads to repentance. God choosing us is in the Parable of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep (Luke 15). If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are horribly lost and broken until Jesus came into our lives. Whether you believe in John 3:16 and that believing on Jesus is not a work, or Jesus just saves us… Both kinds of people are still in awe of God’s grace.

  • John Ainsley

    God chose me but not my wife. I have prayed for her salvation for nearly 30 years, yet she still rejects God. Why should I keep praying for her.

    • nora mohsen

      i know how you feel lol im married to a muslim man , i grew up catholic but never read my bible just grew up sinning then a was going to islam but jesus came to me in many dreams and brought me to christian , ever since it has been war between me and my husband , but i keep praying for him, but deep in me heart i know only god can open his heart to believe, but god said by the good conversation of the wife the unbelieving husband may be sanctified , so i think there might be a chance for him, so i would say keep praying for your wife, never give up maybe god is just testing our faith and how much we are willing to suffer for him before he make;s my husband believe , im not sure, but we must pick up our cross and follow him , jesus did say he did not come to bring peace but a sword, so we are all divided , because of jesus but its worthy in the end, let god chose who ever and we jsut give him thanks and praise for none of us deserved life, i know it hurts , but god is the creator who are we to question god as paul says , god bless

  • Randy

    You're thinking linear, in time. God sees in eternal. Revelation will tell you that Christ was slain from "before" the foundations of the earth were ever laid, let alone man being made manifest. A better question you might ask the Word is "What is the light on the first day?" The sun moon and stars are on the fourth day. And in that light on the first day, what, exactly, was separated in reference to the light and the dark? Are we not children of the light who believe? Does not God see all of our lives from beginning to end "before" we ever "are"? Does the Word not tell you that "it was finished from the beginning?" Ah… but "in time" you are now living it out, and in living it out, you "will" walk upon the path that HE has laid out for you. Man has been sinning since the beginning, even before the law, reaching out for control, to be god, still not wanting to believe that God is the One who conforms you into His image. There is nothing new under the sun. The election stands.

  • Daryl

    I believe the Holy Spirit enlightened us to except the gift of Christ.God choose us.Nobody living darkness is able to choose God.The apostle Paul couldn’t remove the scales…God did.Point is we can’t choose God.God doesn’t need us to agree with His terms of Salvation.The only thing we contribute to our salvation is sin.We do have a will.We use it daily.But its not for free.The only thing freely done is God sending his only son who shed his blood to save us.We can’t save ourselves.Saved by the grace of but not by our own works.I just cannot take credit in choosing my creator.Im not that powerful.:)