The parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14) tells of a king who prepares a feast for his son’s wedding and sends servants to invite the guests. However, after refusing the invitation once and being invited a second time, the guests either blew off the invitation and went about their business or mistreated and killed the king’s servants. After sending out his armies and wiping out those who were originally invited (them and their city), the king sends out servants once more, this time to invite to the feast anyone and everyone they can find. The servants do so and gather many people, bad and good, so that the wedding hall is full. When the king comes out to see the guests, he notices a man who is not wearing a wedding garment (that is to say, he is not dressed for the occasion). When confronted by the king, the man has nothing to say for himself and is cast out of the hall into the outer darkness where, “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Christ concludes the parable with the words, “For many are called, but few are chosen”.
When Christ says that many are called, He refers to the open invitation to life with God and living out the kingdom of heaven. In the parable, invitations to the feast were ultimately given to everyone regardless of who they were, their status, etc. Likewise, through the gracious and mighty work of God on the cross, everyone has been invited to be with God. John 3:16-17 reads,
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Consider also the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) in which as many as possible are gathered and later separated, being either placed in vessels or thrown away. The door to salvation stands wide open despite being on the narrow path.
Now, it is also true that the Bible contains much talk of “the elect” or “the chosen” and this must be addressed if one is to credibly speak about there being an open invitation to salvation and the kingdom of heaven. The word used in these instances carries the connotations of being a higher quality; similar to choice cuts of meat or choice parts for a car or computer. Perhaps, then, we might say that the elect are those chosen by God because they are of a certain quality. However, we know that we not saved by works or achievement (Ephesians 2:8-9), so what is this quality and how is it found out?
While not a comprehensive study, the parable can help us to begin to get our minds around this. We can first conclude that the man who was thrown out was called but not chosen while those who remained were called and chosen. The man was thrown out because he did not wear a wedding garment and therefore he was not dressed appropriately. (FYI, this is not a lesson on what we should or shouldn’t wear to church.) He did not put off his old clothes and put on those befitting a wedding feast. Likewise, we are called to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Although the man was called and came to the wedding feast, he did not respond to it. He did not allow himself to be conformed to the nature of the feast. We may show up at church or Bible study, but that alone does not mean that we’ve responded to God’s invitation to us. To respond to that invitation is to believe in Christ who God has sent (John 6:27-29) and whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). So it seems that the quality that separates the elect, that makes them God’s chosen, is to believe in His Son which means to submit to His lordship over our lives and to allow the Holy Spirit to shape us into Christ’s image. That is what it means to be called and chosen.