This is a huge question of debate among Christians, and truly, it can't be thoroughly answered to everyone's satisfaction. I am making no promises that you will be able to make a decision one way or another by the end of this post, but hopefully this will give you some perspectives to consider.
Argument #1: Predestination. God chooses who will be saved and who will not (Ephesians 1:5; 11). Those who are not saved do not have their names written in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:15), which is a list of all the people who will go to Heaven.
Argument #2: Free Will. Because God has given us free will, we have the ability to choose to follow Him or not (Romans 10:9-10). Those who choose will have their names written in the Book of Life. Those who do not will be judged and cast into Hell (Revelation 20:11-15).
The Bible never describes God rejecting anyone who believes in Him or turning away anyone who is seeking Him (Deuteronomy 4:29; 1 Timothy 2:4), so this shows that we indeed have free will to choose. Yet, you have verses like Ephesians 1:5;11, which clearly state that God's children are chosen.
I believe this is one of the greatest mysteries of God's mind right here—that the answer is this: BOTH are true. We are both chosen AND we have the right to choose. Those who will believe in their lifetime are drawn by God (John 6:44) and eventually this drawing leads to their choice of accepting salvation (Romans 1:16). Therefore, those names are pre-written in the book of life because they are God's chosen. How can this be possible? Here's another way to look at it:
Hard to wrap your head around it, right? Well, this IS God we're talking about, and while we do have some of His qualities as His creations, there is no way we can fully fathom the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of being God. Romans 11:33 tells us, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!"
Yes, it's hard to wrap our human minds around it, I know. But it's not unreasonable to say it's impossible to fully understand the mind of God. As Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"
We have a hard time comprehending these things because we have such a limited existence. We are bound by time, location, and experience. But God is not bound by time for He is the One who set the universe in motion. He is not bound by location because He is everywhere at once. He is not bound by lack of knowledge because He knows the infinity of all that has happened and that will happen.
One of our Got Questions writers wrote a beautiful fictional story that might be helpful in illustrating this idea of predestination vs. free will. Sometimes seeing an explanation from another angle can really help bring the main point to light. Jesus used allegories to teach all time because He knew that stories often resonate in the human heart better than outright explanations. Read the story here: The Golden Heart
In the end, since we are not omniscient beings, we cannot give a definitive answer to this debate. But your personal salvation all comes down to your answer to one question: Do you believe and trust Jesus Christ? 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us that we are to "examine ourselves" to be sure that Christ is our Savior and that the Holy Spirit is in us. Your faith will be evident through works (James 2:14-26) and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is how you will know if you are truly saved.
Following God is both YOUR choice AND evidence that He has CHOSEN you to be His child.
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org and loves to write novellas with local young writers at her workshops. She also contributes at GotQuestions.org, Blogos.org, and GQkidz.org. When Catiana is not writing or hanging out with teens, she loves spending time with her two kids, five socially awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.