What Is the Difference Between Calling and Chosen in the Bible?

Are believers called or are they chosen?  What is the difference between these two?  Do they conflict with one another?

Chosen by God

R.C. Sproul wrote an outstanding book called “Chosen by God” and I highly recommend this book from one of the greatest theologians in the last 100 years.  He sees a believer’s election as an effectual one.  That is, when God calls someone He enables that person to respond to that call in faith.  Jesus Himself chose the disciples and God’s word also says that we are called.  Which is it?  Is being called the same thing as being chosen?  Do we choose Him or does He choose us?  It is actually both of these because God chooses those to who He will save and then He calls those same.

You are Chosen

Jesus called His disciples and He says that we are chosen.   There are dozens of Scriptures that testify to this fact.  Here are a few Scriptures that I have selected and after which will be followed by a commentary.

John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

Jesus clearly chose the disciples, they did not choose Him.  He even says “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

The way Jesus says this is that “no man can” meaning that no man, at any time, can, or is able to, of himself or herself come to Him.  The word “come” in the Greek is “erchomai” which means “to come from one place or another.”   So, no one can come to Christ unless something happens first.  That something is not a little nothing but a huge something.  That something is unless the Father…draws them.  The word for “draw” in the Greek is “helko” which means to literally “drag” or to “draw by an inward power.” I believe that “inward power” is that of the Holy Spirit.  So this sentence, if we insert the original Greek, should read “No one can come from one place (being unsaved) to the other (to Christ Who saves) me (Jesus) unless the Father who sent me (Jesus) drags him as by an inward power.

There are dozens of other Scriptures that show that God is the One Who calls and has even predestined us  before the earth even existed (Eph 1) but this theme of being called by God is not restricted to the New Testament but is found throughout the Old Testament.  God called Abraham out of paganism, God called Israel out of Egypt, God called Moses out of shepherding and when God calls, all follow, with no exceptions, showing that God has the power to bring about what He purposes.

God called Israel specifically as we read in Isaiah 41:4, 8-9

“Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he. But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off.”

Nowhere here is the idea that Abraham said, “Hey, I think I’ll give God a try” or Israel voted collectively and by an overwhelming majority vote, voted to choose God.  No, God says that “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:4-5).  How clear that is!

You are Called

There is no doubt that God does the choosing and we don’t really choose Him but are we also called by God?  Is our calling the same thing as being chosen?  Here are Scriptures that emphatically state that we are also called and the conclusion must be that being chosen by God results in being called by God and so if you are chosen by God you must be called.

Matthew 22:14 “Many are called but few are chosen.”

This seems to contradict what the Scriptures say that you can be called but not chosen but that is not what Jesus is saying here if you read the entire chapter.  Many are called and many come to Christ but only a few are chosen.  Why so?  Remember in the Parable of the Sower that many did come and were called to the knowledge of God but some fell on stony ground, others on thorns, while others never took root.  Some fell away after persecution, some got entangled in the affairs of the world while riches chocked the others from being saved.  They professed saving faith at one time but they really never possessed saving faith. They may have been called but if they were not saved and fell away as the seed never took root and this reveals that they were never really chosen.

Second Timothy 1:9 “God, who saved us and called us to [literally “with”] a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”

This seems to match what Ephesians 1:4-5 say that we are called with a holy calling but this calling began “before the ages [or time] began. “  God, the One Who saved us was also the One Who called us to a holy calling.  He is the One that initiated this calling, before the ages began (or time began), meaning before the earth even existed.

First Corinthians 1:26 “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.”

Here we see that we are called and to consider (ponder, think about) that calling and most of those who are called are not the powerful or born of nobility or in places of great power or prominence.

Romans 8:28-30 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

This is called the golden chain of salvation by many.  God works all things out for the best but only for those who are “called according to His purpose.”  He does not say that all things will always work out for good but they will always work out for our good but this good is only for those who are “called according to His purpose” and not according to our purpose.  He foreknew us and those Who He foreknew He also predestined to be saved “and those whom He called He also justified.”  The theme of being called is repeated in these verses and anytime words are repeated in the Bible, it is always for emphasizing something that is very import.  In this verse there is nothing about us or we or that we chose Him or we participated in this call.

Conclusion

When I was called to dinner as a child, I was chosen to have dinner and that we always sat in the same place at the dinner table.  We didn’t choose our parents any more than we chose God.  God chooses us and those He chose He calls.  They are like the left hand complimenting the right.  They go together.  One comes first…being chosen, like in predestination.  Next comes the calling, calling those who were chosen.  If you are not sure if you are chosen then please read Romans 10:9-13 or Acts 16:30-31 and if you believe this, then you have been chose and perhaps today God the Father is calling you to Christ (John 6:44) so that you might believe and be saved.

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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  • Michael Pearcy

    This article is misleading…. and conveniently arranged to fit a mindset and philosophy of fatalism.

    • Jack Wellman

      Thank you Mr. Pearcy. So God did not call us and choose us? Is Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 incorrect?

    • sandrajune

      The biblical fact that God has an eternal plan that will not be thwarted is not fatalism. It is an omniscient, all-powerful, sovereign God that is carrying out His plan to glorify His Son. Those that subscribe to this being fatalism tend to put too much emphasis on man. We are just a part of God’s great metanarrative, not the point of it.

      • Geoff

        Let’s hope he picked you. Just because you’re aware of unconditional election doesn’t mean you’re elect.

        Wheat and tares also indicates that the elect/non-elect are so similar that they are indistinguishable and only the harvester can know their true heart (since it was him who decided which would be his anyways). Further still – the tares are so indistinguishable that even they themselves believe they are the elect. They will only find out when they cry “Lord Lord”… to which they get;

        Bad news, fool – I never knew you.

        Many ARE called. But few of those who are called are chosen. Not many find the way to life. Few take the narrow road. The way to destruction is wide and popular… etc etc…

        So yeah – the odds are against you but the best of luck. Just because you THINK you’re elect doesn’t mean jack. So just be aware – the probability is you will burn. It’s not for sure. But it’s most likely.

        Unlike most calvinists, I’m not under the impression that just because I’m aware of unconditional election means I am elect. It isn’t true. Wheat and tares also explains you can be whole heartedly convinced you’re saved. But guess what? You’re not.

        Best of luck.

        • sandrajune

          Geoff, please allow me to shed some light. At first glance it can seem like one can never know, never be assured that they are chosen so I get your misunderstanding!

          You will notice that those who say, “Lord, Lord…” in Matthew 7 are referring exclusively to their works. Yes, those who are in a church (any church) and think that God accepts them based on what they DO will be surprised to finally learn that it is not about what they do, but rather what Jesus has DONE. Eph 2:8 explains this perfectly.

          The wheat and the tares exemplify this. Some people attend churches because it’s checking off the “to-do-so-I’m-a-good-person” box. Some because it’s a nice, clean community social club. Some because they have nefarious intents. However, God does not want His children wondering if they “made it.”

          The bible gives many ways we can be assured of our salvation. We are actually told to make sure of our salvation. (2 Peter 2:10) So obviously we can be assured. 1 John 5:11–13 states emphatically that we can KNOW we have eternal life. In Romans 8 Paul says he is “convinced” that nothing will separate us from the love of God.

          Of course, there are things that we can see in ourselves that confirm or deny whether we are among chosen people of God. In John’s first letter alone there are TWENTY evidences of salvation for you to check yourself against.

          One is the love for the brethren. Another understanding of the scriptures. A love for the things of God. A new outlook on life: realizing that the way current culture defines right and wrong is meaningless compared to what God says is right and wrong. Seeing your life changed by sin becoming less and less of a temptation — true believers walk in the light, not darkness. Therefore we become more holy, set-apart for the purposes of God. Having the peace of God. Being led by the Holy Spirit. Doing works for God out of love and gratitude (as opposed to seeking justification). And sometimes being chastised by God.

          Another simple test: do you have the following? One should be displaying the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love for everyone. (2 Peter 1:5-6) These are things a believer should be demonstrating. If not, either you aren’t saved and you need to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, or you have forgotten that you were forgiven. You have taken your eyes off Jesus and His work on the cross.

          If you have these things, you can be sure you were chosen from before the foundation of the world. (Eph 1) The bible is clear that you can be 100% sure of your salvation.

          Your assurance of salvation does not need to be based on a past decision or an experience. It rests on one’s faith in the objective truth of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Secondly, it should rest on the reality of a changed life marked by obedience, a love for Christ and His righteousness, a love for the brethren and a hatred for sin. Take heart if these things are true in your life, and trust God to continue to work out His salvation in your life.

          I hope this helps you.

          • Geoff

            This all sounds like Arminianism but I know you didn’t intend to make it so. I don’t think you’re branching into humanism on purpose (if at all).

            No – you’re chosen by God or not. All of this is a result of his choosing you for election, not the way you attain election.

            I understand what you’re saying, though. This is a way to know you are elect on surface level, but election is clearly defined biblically as unconditional. This would all be a condition.

            The bible tries its best to make clear:

            1: You are elected by no merit or criteria other than his pleasure (He does as He pleases because he has no needs so anything he does is really not for anything other than entertainment or just “pleasure”, really), you are.

            2: No one knows who is elect and they are indistinguishable from those who are non-elect at times. The non-elect are also so similar to the elect that they believe themselves to actually be saved whole heartedly but in fact, they are born for disgrace (see wheat and tares and the reasons why the master didn’t allow anyone to uproot the weeds since they are too similar to wheat).

            3: Many people will be sure that they are saved and will cry out Lord Lord only to be told the truth – they were never saved. God simply doesn’t want them. And he has every right to do that to anyone.

            This fits the entire theme of scripture; things of this world are utterly meaningless (ecc), not even marriage survives (Matt,Mk,Lk) and everything is a means to an end for God to enjoy (entire bible).

            He saved us for purposes to glorify himself. Not relationship. He doesn’t need that. He has perfect relationship in himself. Like you perfectly put – we just get to be along for the ride but we are not a priority and we are not important. Heaven is about God – not us.

            So the previous statement still stands; IF election is true, then I wish you the best of luck. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

            So it is.

            Hard pill to swallow but he is God and he does what he wants. I do not believe our opinions matter to him and I don’t believe he is sentimental in the least.

          • sandrajune

            I can assure you that it is definitely not Arminianism. God alone chooses based on nothing in us. Your first point is entirely biblically correct. But that does not mean that He has not given us assurances. Your second point has the one qualifier: “at times.” The bible gives us many ways to tell the difference. There will be absolutely no one before God WHO DISPLAYS THESE BIBLICAL REQUIREMENTS that Jesus will decline. That is the purpose for the multitude of scriptures giving us assurance. Otherwise, how do you categorize the scripture that mandates to examine yourself to see if you are actually in the faith? (2 Cor 13:5) Or the ones that I previously mentioned that give us observable indicators inclusion among the elect?

            What you are proposing is something called hyper-Calvinism and it’s not biblical. God chooses. And He gives us His word in which we find assurance of our salvation. Both are true. Our opinions don’t matter to Him and we can’t anthropomorphize and place human emotions onto God, but His word is His word and I believe I have given enough scriptural evidence to show this.

          • Geoff

            I more or less agree with all of this but, those who get to display the fruits of the spirit are those who are elect. And the non elect don’t get those. So it still stands; I hope he picked you. Good luck.

    • PrinW

      Where do you see fatalism in this article? I am asking respectfully, as I don’t, I see some hope in the article, just wanted more.

  • Kristie Patterson

    In john 6:44 the Greek says to drag or draw by inward power. Isn’t dragging and drawing 2 different things? I ask because I hear evangelicals say God’s a gentleman and doesn’t force Himself on us. Dragging seems to depict force.

    • sandrajune

      Only evangelicals with bad theology say God’s a gentleman and doesn’t force Himself on us. Those with biblical theology say God is sovereign and does what He pleases.

    • PrinW

      I would say yes they are different! And evangelical or not, G-D, our lovingkindness Creator made us all with that mind boggling gift of ‘will’. Our puny ‘no’, He respects, because He made us in His image, not robots.
      However, if you have been drawn to and by the unconditional, no strings, wild LOVE of our gracious Maker and Master, it could be described as a wonderful, gentle at times and overwhelmingly powerful connection you really don’t want to resist….and scripture does tell us that even we King’s kids sometimes grieve His great heart when we go against His will.
      While I appreciated the article, especially all the scripture, it seemed more confusing in the end than enlightening.
      The scripture I love most for this is many are called, few are chosen…And He is the one who chooses us and gives us that gift of grace to accept Him and His forgiveness.
      Before we get to caught up in arguing, or slamming our brethren, it may be wise to ask what a person means first.
      We church people have a culture and vocabulary all our own and sometimes we don’t even all understand one another, or speak truth clearly or in love.
      Rather than study for study sake, how about we study to grow, to be a light, to draw others to His wonderful light.

    • sandrajune

      Next time someone says, “God’s a gentleman and doesn’t force Himself on us” ask them for a scripture reference. There isn’t any. That word translated “draw” is also translated “drag” when they drag Peter out to stone him. In other ancient texts at that time, the word is used to “draw” water from a well. A purposeful, force-exterting act that produces the intended result.

  • sandrajune

    Thank you for this concise explanation! I intend to direct anyone with this question straight to it. Please continue to contend for the faith. God bless.

  • Eric Parry

    Since there are vast numbers of people throughout the ages (including me) who have neither been called or chosen to be saints the question arises, “Are they excluded from salvation?”.

    I think the answer is in the book of Revelation.

    But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. (Revelation 20:5).

    And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12).

    And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15).

    The ‘rest of the dead’ would include those who were not raised at the resurrection of the saints at the return of Christ. These sinners are to be judged by their works and the standard of behaviour required is the golden rule.

    And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the
    commandments. (Matthew 19:16-17).