***DISCLAIMER***The following is far from an exhaustive post. Instead, it makes a best effort to answer the question.
Recently, someone told me about how John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (NASB). He then mentioned that Acts 11:18, Acts 13:48 and Acts 16:11 “seem to suggest” that God randomly saves some people and rejects others. Below is my response to the individual.
I noticed that you cite only single verses to support the belief that God randomly chooses to save some and reject others. One can cite single (or even half) verses to make essentially any point they wish.
In order to determine whether or not the aforementioned passages mean what they “seem to suggest,” one needs to read the verses in context. As a result, I will look at each passage in context.
Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me,6 and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10 This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. 11 And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here;14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’17 Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
This passage clearly shows no random act. Furthermore, God does not outright reject anyone in this passage. Instead, this passage shows how God granted the gift of repentance to the Gentiles (verses 15-18).
44 The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. 46 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us,
‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles,
That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’”
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Once again, no random act occurs. Instead, more Gentiles turn to Christ (verses 47-48). Furthermore, like the first examined passage, God does not reject anyone. Instead, we see that the Jews “repudiate” the Word of God (verses 45-46). Moreover, they contradict “the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.” One must understand that God is not doing the rejecting here. Instead, it is the Jews that are rejecting God.
The Macedonian Vision
16 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. 5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
6 They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
11 So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.
First Convert in Europe
14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
16 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” 18 She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.
19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, 20 and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.”
Like the first two passages, no random act occurs. Instead, in this passage, the LORD opens Lydia’s heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (verse 14; similar to the way Jesus opened His disciples minds to the things of the Scriptures). Furthermore, there is no mentioning of rejection in this passage. Therefore, one can hardly reasonably suggest that Acts 16:14 insinuates that God randomly saves some and rejects others.
In summary, the Gospel can hardly be called Good News if it is available to only some people. Jesus Christ Himself says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The Greek word for whoever is “pas.” This word refers to each, every, any, all, everyone, etc.. It does not refer to a select few. This gift of eternal life is free (Romans 6:23; see also 2 Timothy 2:25). Finally, God’s Word is all true, all-powerful, unbreakable and profitable for many great things (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 4:12, 13:8; John 10:35).
When God states that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life, He means exactly that. This Good News is available to everyone. As a result, God cannot possibly randomly reject others. Instead, He deals retribution to those who choose to both reject and disobey Him (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2:17; Romans 2:1-16; see also Acts 16:44-46). These actions, both salvation and retribution, are far from random.