Many Are Called, but Few Are Chosen

Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Called and chosen for what? What is God’s calling? Are you sure you are among those who are called?

Jesus Christ told His disciples, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). What did He mean by that? This article will explore:

“No one can come to Me unless …”

Earlier in His ministry, Jesus explained, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws [calls or invites] him” (John 6:44).

Can you imagine your telephone’s caller ID displaying “God calling” when your phone rings? Of course, His calling is much more subtle than that, but it is just as real. Jesus was telling the assembled crowds that no one can come to Him—that is, no one can become a Christian—unless the Father first calls that person.

Moments later, Jesus proved His own point. He told the crowds that His followers would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood (verses 53-60). Jesus’ teachings were shocking—so much so that John said many of Christ’s disciples took offense at His words and walked away for good (verse 66).

Seeing people struggle with His teachings, Jesus told His disciples, “Therefore, I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:65).

The called must choose to put on a “wedding garment”

The phrase “Many are called, but few are chosen” comes from a parable (a story with a spiritual lesson) that Jesus told to illustrate the coming Kingdom of God. In the parable of the wedding feast, a king “arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding” (Matthew 22:2-3).

Long story short, the original wedding guests rejected their invitations (verses 3-6), and the king ultimately sent his servants to “go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding” (verse 9). As a result, “the wedding hall was filled with guests” (verse 10).

But the story didn’t end happily ever after for everyone. The king discovered that one of the guests arrived without a wedding garment, and the Greek words of the original text imply that this was an intentional, deliberate choice the guest made (see Vincent’s Word Studies on Matthew 22:12). By coming to the wedding in normal clothes, the guest was snubbing the king, the king’s son and the son’s bride.

In response, the king ordered the guest to be tied up and thrown into outer darkness (verse 13). Jesus concluded the parable by reminding His audience, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

What is a calling from God?

A calling from God is the process by which the Father draws (or calls) a person to Himself. It includes God’s opening a person’s mind to understand spiritual truth, and it is literally an invitation to salvation for that individual.

There is much confusion about the meaning of salvation, so let’s simplify it. In the physical sense, salvation means being rescued, usually from death. A person pulled from a burning building has been saved from a terrible death.

Similarly, spiritual salvation means being rescued or saved from eternal death. The difference is that spiritual death is a death from which there is no return, literally ceasing to exist. Christians who are saved, even if they experience physical death before Christ’s return, will be changed to spirit and live forever when He comes.

(Discover an important key for salvation in our article “How to Repent.”)

The parable of the sower describes God’s calling

So what does it mean that many are called, but few are chosen?

Jesus told another parable about God’s calling—the parable of the sower. “Behold, a sower [a farmer] went out to sow [plant seed]. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.

“Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear [who can understand] let him hear!” (Matthew 13:3-9).

Do you know what Jesus meant? His own disciples didn’t. They were confused by the parable and privately asked for an explanation (Mark 4:10).

How to interpret the parable of the sower

In the parable, a farmer planting seed is likened to the work done by Jesus Christ and His Church. The seed is the gospel of the Kingdom.

Notice how Jesus explained it: “Therefore hear [understand] the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.

“Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23, emphasis added throughout).

This parable demonstrates that there are many people who have heard the message, now and throughout history. But God’s calling is something you have to respond to.

How is it possible to be called but not chosen?

Some people hear the gospel message, but Satan, “the wicked one,” snatches it away before they can even begin to process it. Some people hear it and receive it joyfully but without conviction, only to let go of it as soon as it creates a conflict in their lives. Others hear it but neglect to give it the time and attention it needs to thrive.

The seed only grows in those God the Father is calling and who choose to follow His way of life.

In other words, not everyone hears the gospel of the Kingdom. And of those who hear it, not everyone understands it. And of those who understand it, not everyone accepts it. Many are called, but few are chosen.

Not everyone who heard this parable understood what Jesus was talking about. Although the entire multitude heard the same words, different reactions were taking place in those who heard the message. Some did not “hear” the call. Some did hear, but chose not to respond to the call.

It is important to note that within the context of God’s plan of salvation for humankind, He is not opening everyone’s mind to the truth at the same time.

How early Church members responded to God’s calling

Another example of God calling only some during this age is found in the book of Acts. At the conclusion of Peter’s powerful sermon on the Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given, many who heard him were sorrowful and repentant, realizing that their sins required the death—the sacrifice—of Christ.

Notice their response: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart [they were repentant] and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37).

Real repentance requires the person to act on the knowledge he or she has received. Conversion is much more than an emotional reaction.This is critically important: Real repentance requires the person to act on the knowledge he or she has received. Conversion is much more than an emotional reaction.

Peter responded, “Repent [turn your life around], and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (verses 38-39).

Notice the phrase “as many as the Lord our God will call.” Did everyone who heard the call positively respond that day by repenting and being baptized? No. “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized” (verse 41). Not everyone gladly received Peter’s words.

To be sure, God added about 3,000 people to His Church that day, but even so, many others who heard the call chose not to respond.

God is calling people in stages

Does the idea that God isn’t calling everyone today strike you as strange? If it does, it might surprise you to know it’s a truth you have most likely read many times—even though you might not have realized it!

You might be familiar with the biblical phrase the elect. An election is a means of choosing people for specific jobs or offices. The result of any election is that some are chosen or selected, and some are not. The biblical use of “the elect” has a similar meaning, only a spiritual application (see Romans 11:7; Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 2:10).

Only some people hear God’s calling in their lifetime. When they respond to that calling with repentance, they are selected, or chosen, by God to receive His Holy Spirit in this age.

This is what Christ was telling us when He said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Of all the people who hear God’s calling, only those who respond with repentance become His chosen people—His elect.

What happens to people who aren’t called or chosen in their lifetime?

But this does not mean that most people are lost! God is working through a carefully laid-out plan whereby every individual who has ever lived will eventually hear and understand God’s calling. Those who respond in faith and obedience will be saved from eternal death.

God will not give eternal life to those who did the best they could with whatever religious beliefs they practiced—but He will give every human being the opportunity to hear and respond to His calling.

(Our article “Resurrections: What Are They?” covers the when, where, why and how of this part of God’s plan.)

Is God calling me?

How can you know if God is calling you—if you truly are being called to become a Christian and follow Jesus Christ? Answering the following questions will help:

  • Have I accepted Christ as my personal Savior (for salvation from the death penalty for sin—breaking God’s laws)?
  • Do I understand the Bible when I study it?
  • Have I developed a relationship with God through prayer?
  • Do I recognize that my natural inclination is to do things contrary to what God expects?
  • Has my mind changed from resenting God’s laws to appreciating those laws as standards to live by?
  • Do I recognize the need to live according to God’s laws in response to Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins?
  • Do I put knowledge I gain from the Bible into action?
  • Am I striving to obey God in every area of my life as I learn how He wants me to live?
  • Have I discovered that the more I learn and act on biblical truths, the more I desire to learn still more?

The first awakening to this need for personal change often begins with the discovery of some element of God’s comprehensive truth in the Scriptures. Paul explained it this way: “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification [setting apart] by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

A person being called might suddenly find himself or herself understanding part of the Bible that he or she never grasped before.

You can know if God is calling you

If you understand what you are learning from the Bible and you see the need to change your life, God is beginning to work with you. If you see a need to obey His Commandments at the same time that you see how hard it is for you to do so, God is working with you.

He is drawing you—calling you—toward His Son and His way of life. He is showing you that you, too, need to repent, just like those who heard Peter’s instruction (Acts 2:37-38).

God will not force anyone to respond to His calling against his or her will. He never does that. It is up to you whether you will respond to His invitation to be part of the “firstfruits,” the first group of humans who will be changed to spirit and enter His Kingdom.

If you do not respond, God will eventually stop working with you in this age. If you respond, God will open your mind even more, and you will begin to build a stronger and stronger bond with Him.

(Looking for the church behind Life, Hope & Truth? See our “Who We Are” page.)

Responding to God’s calling is a lifelong commitment

We mentioned above that there is more to conversion and God’s calling than a fleeting emotional reaction to hearing God’s Word. It truly is a process that requires time, prayer, study, effort, change—and more. But every step you take is greatly rewarding!

Your actions don’t earn your salvation any more than the process of a stalk of grain growing from a seed earns life for the plant. But the growth process is still necessary, or else there would be no grain—and no salvation.

Choosing to respond to God’s calling means embarking on a life of personal, spiritual growth. We explain that process in many of the articles listed below. There you will find detailed biblical instructions on conversion, repentance and baptism. You will find specifics about how God wants you to live as a Christian.

We encourage you to read and study these articles to get a more complete picture of what God expects of you. If you have additional questions after reading this material, please contact us. We are always here to help.

About the Author

Harold Rhodes

Harold Rhodes

Harold Rhodes was a pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, who died in 2021. He was ordained a minister in 1969 and served congregations in Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama and Florida.

Read More

Continue Reading


Discern is published every two months and is available in digital and print versions. Choose your preferred format to start your subscription.

Print subscriptions available in U.S., Canada and Europe


Please choose your region:


Discern Article Series

Christ Versus Christianity
Walk as He Walked
Christianity in Progress
Wonders of God's Creation
Ask a Question