At the recent Eminence campout, I came upon a chance conversation with three younger men. We shall call them by their initials: A, R and C. During the course of our conversation, predestination came up. One of the young men grabbed his Bible and we looked at passages in Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. I left that conversation impressed with their study and thinking. Since I was thinking about what to contribute in this issue of The Gospel Message, I thought, here it is, my topic.
Predestination is often a difficult subject partly because of the many false teachings that surround it and partly because God’s ways are far above ours. But even with that, all serious Bible students must accept that predestination is a biblical truth. Passages such as Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:4-5 firmly place it in sound doctrine. As Paul identifies some specific spiritual blessings in Ephesians, he says God “chose us…before the foundation of the world…having predestinated (or foreordained) us” (Ephesians 1:4-5).
The word translated “foreordained” (ASV) or “predestined” (KJV, et al.) is from the Greek term proorizo. It literally means “to mark out before, to decide before, predetermine in advance” being a compound term (pro, before, horizo to mark out, to specify).
We see Paul addressing this also in Romans 8:29-30:
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
The word foreknew in Romans 8:29 is from the Greek term proginosko which means “to know before.”
Clearly God “predestined” or “foreordained” the saved. But what is the nature of this predestination? Is it conditional or unconditional? What did the Father determine? Did He determine who would believe and who would not believe? What does it mean to be predestinated and what does it not mean? How does it work with free will?
The concept of Predestination has been explained in multiple ways:
1) Individual- Some feel God has determined which individuals will be saved.
2) Apostles- Others feel it was the Apostles who were predestinated and not all men.
3) Destined-Some feel God predestined us to live on earth, predestined to eat and breathe as we do.
4) Group- Others feel God predestined His people to be saved but not who would choose to be His people that is our choice.
Calvinism holds at least to some extent to the first option. God has determined (predestinated) which individuals would be saved. This is a determinist view: God has predetermined who will be saved and therefore who will not. Our destiny is determined without our input or choice. It is certainly true that we are saved by God’s grace not our self-effort.
One of the arguments for this position is that God is Sovereign, therefore all that happens is guided by God. His will is always done. But is that true? What does man do the most? Sin. Is that God’s determined will for us? Of course not, He wants all to be saved, but we are told most will not be. Does this indicate a limitation on God’s sovereignty? No. God is sovereign. And in His sovereignty, He has given man choice or freewill. He has sovereignly delegated that to man. Only a sovereign (all powerful) being could delegate that ability to choose. God’s will is done in the sense that it is His will that we have choice. But our choice may not be in His will.
Even those who hold to the view that all that happens is God directed and that nothing we can do can change the outcome, still look before crossing the street. If all is already determined and nothing we do can change that, why look?
God wants our love and obedience but only voluntarily love and obedience have value. Only voluntary love and obedience give God true pleasure. He could have made us so that we had no choice but to love Him, but what kind of love would that be, certainly not “agape.” God forcing or predetermining people to be saved or condemned would go against His very nature. For God to override free will would be counterproductive for Him. God does not ravish or force, but rather He woos.
True love does not and cannot act coercively, only persuasively. A God of love cannot force people to love him. Paul spoke of things being done freely and not of compulsion, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). God does not want forced giving or forced obedience or forced love. Things that are forced are not authentic. Forced loved is not love at all.
The second option that predestination applied to the apostles has some merit, for the apostles truly were chosen by Christ. But even if one accepts the understanding that it refers to the apostles, it still negates the false teaching of universal individual predestination. But applying this understanding that it refers only to the apostles seems too limited. The Books of Romans and Ephesians were written to churches/Christians; therefore the references are best understood directed at the writer’s audience and not limited only to the apostles.
The third option, while true, places predestination within the physical realm while the context of scripture is clearly a reference to salvation and our spiritual relationship with God in the spiritual realm.
That leaves us with the fourth option which fits the text best. The predestination referred to in scripture is that God’s children are predestinated to salvation, but through free will we individually decide whether we will accept His gift of grace and be His children. Notice in Ephesians 1:4 “He chose us in Him.” Being in Christ is the key. God has therefore predestined the kind of people (His people, the church) which will be saved. God determined this before the foundations of the world, before creation. But each person must freely choose to obey and to be “in Him.”
When we hear teaching that God already knows who will be saved and who will be damned, and therefore anything we do is useless, we must remember four key biblical truths: God wants everyone (all) to be saved, no one is predestined to go to hell, Jesus died for everyone, and everyone has the opportunity to be saved.
God did not decide who would believe and who would disobey, though His foreknowledge has revealed that to Him. He did, however, determine that those who would believe and obey would be saved.
The Lord’s predestined plan does not negate the Lord’s gift of free will He has given each of us. God chose Christ (1 Peter 1:20; 2:4). But Christ exercised his own free will in offering Himself on the cross in the redemptive plan (John 10:17-18; Galatians 1:4). If we want to share in the glory God chose for the saved, we must submit to his conditions and enter His kingdom.