by R.C. Sproul
Why did God save me?
I know of no more difficult a theological question to deal with than this one. I’ve been studying theology for many years, and I still can’t come up with any exhaustive reason to explain why God would save me, or anyone else for that matter.
Some people give a very simple answer to this question. They say that God saved you because you put your trust and faith in Christ when you answered the summons of the gospel. On the surface that’s certainly a legitimate answer because we are justified through faith and we are called to make that response.
But the deeper question is, Why did you respond to the gospel when you heard it, but someone else who heard it — even the very same presentation at the same moment — did not respond to it? What was there in you that caused you to respond positively while others are caused to reject it? I ask that about my own life. I could say the reason I responded was that I was more righteous than the other fellow. God forbid that I ever say that on the Judgment Day. I might think I’m more intelligent than somebody else, but I wouldn’t want to say that either. Some might say that I recognized my need more than somebody else recognized his need, but even that recognition is a mixture of at least some measure of intelligence and some measure of humility, most of which would find its ultimate roots in the grace of God. I have to say with the ancient man, there but for the grace of God go I. I can’t give any reason other than God’s grace for why I am saved.
The Bible says many things about why God initiates salvation of people: He loves the world; he has a benevolent attitude toward his fallen creatures. We know that. But when we get down to the specifics, the Bible speaks of God’s sovereign work of redemption and uses the terms predestination and election. These are biblical words. What is behind God’s predestinating grace or his election? Some say that God foresees the choices of people. I think that takes the very heart out of the biblical teaching.
When the Scripture speaks about God’s electing people, God speaks of electing people in Christ; our salvation is rooted and grounded in Jesus. What that makes me think is this: You and I are saved not only because of God’s concern for us but chiefly and ultimately for God’s total determination to honor his obedient Son. We are the love gifts that the Father gives to the Son so that the Son, who lived a life of perfect obedience and died on the cross, will see the travail of his soul and be satisfied. That’s the main reason I think God has saved you: to honor Jesus.
When did God decide to give us eternal life?
“When” is a time word, and the Bible uses words like that. And when the Bible speaks about the time frame in which God’s decision is made in respect to our eternal life, it generally puts the decision at the foundation of the world; that is, from all eternity God has chosen us to be among the redeemed.
I think Paul emphasizes that very clearly, particularly in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. We were chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world to be conformed to Christ and to be brought into a state of redemption. This, of course, touches immediately on the very difficult and controversial doctrine of predestination. I will say in passing, as we skate over the surface of it, that every church has some doctrine of predestination. There are great variances among the churches in terms of how to understand predestination, but every church historically has had to hammer out and forge some doctrine of predestination because the Bible speaks of it. So there is a certain sense in which from all eternity God has chosen his people for salvation.
Now, obviously, that gets into some very complicated side issues. On what basis does God make a decision like that from all eternity? Did God make a decision from all eternity that certain people would be damned? Does he destine people for hell? Does he destine people to fall? I think the church has shrunk from that concept and rightly so. I think God knew from all eternity that man would fall, that man would rebel against him, and he also knew that he was going to make a provision to redeem people from all eternity. God’s knowledge is as ancient and his omniscience is as eternal as he is. Everything that God knows, he knows from eternity. We need to keep this idea in front of us.
I would say that God’s decision to choose us was made prior to the fall of mankind but in light of the Fall. Let me say it again. He made the decision before the Fall, with the knowledge that the Fall will come and with the knowledge of its consequences. In other words, God couldn’t possibly make it his choice to save persons who were in no need of salvation. Only sinners are in need of salvation, so God must have considered us as being sinners and fallen as we were considered in the divine mind for salvation. Ultimately, the decision to save us was made in eternity, according to God’s divine knowledge of us.