For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated… – Romans 8:29
There’s a lot of thoughts and confusion when it comes to election and predestination. As a young man, when I first began studying the scriptures, I was troubled regarding this subject. I encountered some Calvinists who began to explain to me that some people were elected to eternal life and some condemned to eternal damnation before the foundation of the world, and that aside from anything they could do about it. This didn’t sit well with me. However, they presented me with scripture that supported their position and it seemed to be clear. I later asked a mentor of mine about it and he presented me with scriptures that seemed to say the contrary. Beginning in those days, and going on up to the present day, I have weighed these things and studied them (sometimes spending too much time in conversation about them). Today I finally have an understanding of this subject that satisfies my mind.
The most important thing to me regarding this subject (and any subject) is to be honest with the scripture. Often, I see people cling to the verses they like and ignore, or attempt to explain away, the scriptures they don’t like. I did that for a long time. There are many scriptures that seem to support the traditional Calvinistic view of election and predestination, and there are many verses that seem to oppose it. Some of these verses might appear contradictory, but they are not. All the scripture is there for a reason and none of it is to be explained away. We must be honest enough to admit when we find a verse that seems to go against our current ideas. And when we do, it should be considered.
It is usually accepted by Christians that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. There are some Christians that disagree, but I’m not going to spend time proving these points.
It must also be understood that God is all-wise. Wisdom is the ability to make the best decision in any given circumstances. God always does what is most wise because a perfectly benevolent being will always choose what brings about the most good. Being all-wise limits God’s power. God can theoretically do anything that can be done, but His wisdom does not allow Him to do certain things that are possible for Him to do. God must do those things that are most wise and cannot do things that are not wise. Any easy example of this is in Titus 1:2. The scripture says that God cannot lie. Does this mean that it is physically impossible for God to lie? No, it means that it is unwise for God to lie. (All sin is unwise, for that matter). If God is perfect then He can only do what is most wise.
Understanding that God is all-knowing and perfectly wise is important for understanding this subject.
God’s mind is too great to be fully comprehended by humans. When we speak about it, we speak in part because of our limited minds. To God there is no beginning and no time, so for Him, there is no sequential events in His mind. All His thoughts about all things were fully present in His mind for all eternity. This is a hard thing for the human mind to grasp, but it must be true. Therefore, when we speak of God’s mind, we must reduce it to human terms in order to understand. The Bible does this so we may, as well. When I speak of God as thinking or making decisions, it is not meant that He had to do these things as a human does, but when we bring it into human terms it can help us to understand why He did what He did.
When God thought to create the world (i.e. everything that was made), it is impossible that He did not know the outcome of the world He would create. He would also understand the outcome of any different kind of world that He could have created. Every possible world and every possible outcome was fully present to His mind.
God could create a world in which He had full control of creation or He could create a world in which He allows genuine free agency (i.e. creatures that truly have the power to make choices). He has the power to create either. But either way, whether He secretly controls everything behind the scenes or allows creatures to genuinely have the power to make their own decisions, He would still know the ultimate outcome of the world He would create because He knows all things.
Not only this but if God created a world in which there is genuine free agency, He would know what actions He Himself could take (providence). He would know precisely what effect His influences would have upon free agents.
With all this being the case, and keeping in mind God’s precision in knowledge, no matter what world God would create, He would know the end from the beginning. In creating the world, He would know exactly how it would end. So in creating the world, He would be choosing the sure outcome.
Before creating the world (forgive the human terms), God saw all who would end up in hell and all who would be saved. He knew for certain which ones would be where and that His act of creation would forever seal their destiny.
Now, considering these things, can you see predestination in a different light? Predestination is not something that God chose to do among other good ideas. Predestination is a necessary act of a benevolent, all-knowing, and perfectly wise God (as we shall see later). By the act of creation itself, God sealed the destiny of all that would ever live.
Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m a five-point Calvinist. I am not! There is still more to consider. However, I think it’s important to understand the aforesaid truths. It will help to clear up a lot of Scripture that some have found troubling.
Now I want to come to man. Is man truly free to make his own choices? Does he REALLY have the power to make moral decisions?
To me, this shouldn’t be a debated topic. Every person who has ever lived knows that he has free agency. With every decision that we make, we are all aware that we well could have made a different decision. Only by too much thinking can we overcome this simple truth. The Bible everywhere assumes this and implies this. Every time a command is given it is implied that it can be obeyed or disobeyed. If this is not the case, then God is deceptive and unjust. Sometimes the Bible uses figurative language that could imply the opposite (e.g. “The Lord has not given you a heart to perceive…” Deut 29:4), but these are the exception rather than the rule. And these sayings are figurative, not literal, and are meant to impress upon the minds of the people their great, self-inflicted hardheartedness, as the context clearly shows.
It is clear from an abundance of scripture that man has the power to truly make moral decisions. Here are only a few proof texts:
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live – Deuteronomy 30:19
Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. – Joshua 24:15
Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you..because you have forgotten the law of your God; I also will forget your children. – Hosea 4:6
He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire…for I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink…” – Mat 25:41-42
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe with be condemned. – Mark 16:16
Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. – Romans 9:31-32
In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:8
Notice that in these verses (and many others) the blame is squarely laid upon man for his disobedience. It is impossible for man to be truly blame-worthy unless he truly could have chosen otherwise. And any reader of the Bible knows that God regularly lays much blame upon Israel and upon all of humanity. He also praises those who do good. All of this is sure evidence that man is free. If man is not free then God is deceptive and cruel. Not only would He be damning man for no fault of His own, but all the while blaming him for not doing what is impossible for him to do.
Now, it certainly is true that man places himself in positions where he cannot fully obey the law of God (e.g. ‘the carnal mind is…not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be’ -Romans 8:7), but this is no indication that man is powerless to do anything. On the contrary, these very verses give us the instruction of what we should do (i.e. ‘walk in the spirit’). In all things, we are obligated to do what we can do and not what we truly cannot. This is what I mean by free moral agency.
Election and Predestination
Now considering what has been said already, we can move into the topic at hand. Election and Predestination. These terms are basically synonymous. Election simply means to choose. Predestination means to predetermine. Both imply God choosing a certain people for an ultimate end. The fact that God has chosen a people for Himself is undeniable in scripture. These individuals have been chosen before the foundation of the world. They will ultimately be saved, persevere, and populate the new heavens and the new earth. The following are a few proof texts:
You did not choose Me, but I chose you… – John 15:16
Whom He foreknew, He also predestined… – Rom 8:29
for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls… – Romans 9:11
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…having predestined us to adoption as sons – Eph 1:4-5
knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God… – 1 Th 1:4
elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father… 1 Peter 1:2
whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world… – Rev 17:8
Knowing these things are true, we must consider why God has chosen those that he chose and how He goes about securing their salvation. We also need to consider God’s justice in choosing some rather than others.
First of all, it must be stated that there is no injustice in choosing some rather than others for salvation if there is a good reason for that choice. Often we have heard that God chooses whom He does for some mysterious purpose that no one can know. But this is far from the truth. Choice always implies a reason. When kids choose players for their ball team, they choose by who is the best player. When we elect presidents, we choose based upon whom we think will be the best candidate. There’s always a reason for choice, otherwise, it’s not choice, but random selection.
The Bible declares that God ‘chooses.’ It’s no random selection. If such things are true, we should ask ourselves why God chooses whom He does.
In His choosing, God chooses those whom He does because of what He knows about the individual. Calvinists don’t like this, but the scriptures clearly teach that God’s foreknowledge precedes His election (Jer 1:5, John 6:64, Rom 8:29, 1 Peter 1:2). God knew Jeremiah and then ordained (predestined) him as a prophet. The knowing came first, then the choosing. That being the case, what does God know about those whom He chooses?
To consider this properly, we must consider how God saves those that He saves.
1 – First of all, we have established that man is free. God does not save men by controlling their will in any respect (whether directly or indirectly).
2 – We know that He does not save men based on their good works (Eph 2:8-9). We know that He doesn’t regard the appearance of man, or social status, or wealth. Those things mean nothing to Him.
3 – Instead we see that God values a humble heart and simple faith (Mt 18:3-4).
4 – But we also see that man is not humble, but proud. And man is not inclined to believe, but to disobey.
5- In conclusion, if anyone is to be saved they must be induced to humble themselves and believe the gospel by means of preaching, and by the convicting and drawing power of the Holy Spirit.
So who does God choose? God chooses those whom He knows He can induce to humble themselves, repent, believe the gospel, and persevere until the end.
Now some might say, “If that’s the case, what’s the difference if someone is predestined or not? Isn’t this just as if there were no election in the first place?”
I say no, and this is where it gets good!
Predestination is God’s way of maximizing His resources to save as many people as He possibly can. He desires ‘that none should perish,’ so it is reasonable to infer that He seeks to save as many people as possible (Luke 14:23). But knowing the hearts of men, he knows who will ultimately yield to His influences and who will not. He also knows what means it will take to cause those who will yield to yield.
For example, some of you came to Christ the first you heard of Him. Others came to Christ after much wrestling. Some of you have testimonies of God speaking to you for years and years, not giving up on you. This is predestination. This is God ‘seeking that which was lost.’
The truth is that for many of you if God had not continued to send people along your path to pray for you and to preach to you, you would not have been saved. But in God’s abundant grace, He kept after you! Why? Because He knew He could save you and He wasn’t about to lose you!
This is evidenced in the scripture. Observe 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5:
knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in world only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance… – 1 Th 1:4-5
How did Paul know that the Thessalonians were among the elect? It was because the gospel came to them in such power. This was God using extra means to save those that He knew He could save. When Paul saw that God was bending over backward (if you will) to save them, it was clear evidence that God had chosen them.
This is also evidenced in the Macedonian call (Acts 16). Paul attempted to go to several other places, but the Holy Spirit forbid him. Why? Because God knew that He could save those in Macedonia, which is precisely where Thessalonica was.
God, in His infinite wisdom, and in consultation with His foreknowledge, pools His resources in one area and neglects other areas to maximize His effect.
Wouldn’t you do the same thing? If you owned a business and somehow knew that more sales would be had in such and such a city rather than the others, wouldn’t you advertise there and send your salesman there? Of course, you would. Predestination is God doing precisely that.
Predestination will also send one man on a long journey to save one soul. If God knows He can save someone, He’ll send someone. We see this with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).
But it also must be understood that God has limited resources. God leans upon man to do His work and oftentimes its ‘like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint.’ (See my blog on that subject here.) There are many more that could have been saved but will die in their sin because of man’s failure to faithfully preach the gospel (Eze 33:8). All these things were fully played out in the mind of God before the world ever was.
Considering all these things, we see that:
- God always does what is most wise.
- God knew the result of any world He could have created and chose to create the one that He did.
- That being the case, creating the world that now is was the best choice out of all potential worlds, and a better choice than not creating at all.
- In God’s wisdom, God created man as a true free agent. Every single person can potentially be saved. God’s foreknowledge and/or election is no prevention from any man to be saved. Anyone can be saved by obeying the light that they have.
- God desires all men to be saved, and if there was such a world in which He could wisely save all free agents He would have created that world instead of this one.
- Because God is all-knowing and all-powerful, He knew precisely what all free agents would choose to do, what He Himself would do, and how free agents would respond to what He would do–all before the world was formed.
- Predestination is nothing more than what God, in His foreknowledge, would choose to do in the world that He created. Because of His exact precision in knowledge, He would know the exact outcome before the world was created. In His act of creation, He sealed the destiny of all that would ever be.
- This is no injustice upon God’s part because man is free to choose good or evil. God’s foreknowledge does not affect man’s choice. It is man’s choice that affects God’s foreknowledge. If you humble yourself before God then God would have foreknown that and purposed to save you.
- God thought it unwise to forgo creating the world because of those that would perish. Seeing the end from the beginning, He considered the blessing of those that are saved to be a greater good than the evil of those who are lost. Those that are lost are not lost because of God’s act of creation but because of their own stubbornness and pride. Everyone in hell could have been spared if they had repented, but they did not.
- None of this excuses man from his duties to preach the gospel. Remember, God’s foreknowledge does not determine what man does, but the opposite: man’s choices determine God’s foreknowledge. Predestination is God acting upon what He knows man will do. What man does matters and will truly result in souls either being saved or lost. To say this in a crude way: If you had done differently, God would have foreknown differently and predestined differently. This is why Paul said, “I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:10). If he hadn’t endured those things then those he endured them for might not have been among the elect.
I hope this has cleared some things up for you regarding election/predestination, etc. I believe this view fits very well with all scripture, not just the ones on one side or the other.
If you have any thoughts, please leave them below. I would love to hear from you.
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