Summary: The doctrine of predestination and the comfort that it gives to believers
"…You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.”
Destiny is an awesome thing. Some years ago a platoon of Marine trainees was double-timing out to the rifle range at Camp Pendleton, California. It was qualification day, a test of marksmanship that all Marines have to pass in order to go to the next phase of training. As the drill instructor was calling cadence he interrupted and asked, “Which private thinks he will be the platoon high shooter?” Immediately, fifty privates yelled out their names. All had hopes of gaining that honor. All except one... The drill instructor noticed that one private had not yelled out his name. “How come I didn’t hear private Rehtlaw’s name?” He barked. There was a pause. Then the drill instructor said, “I guess Rehtlaw doesn’t think he’ll be high shooter. He knows he’ll be high shooter.” He was more than right. Rehtlaw was not only platoon high shooter, not only company high shooter (four platoons), he was battalion high shooter (four companies). Destiny is an awesome thing.
I want to talk to you today about one of the most important teachings of the Bible, the teaching of predestination. This is a teaching found throughout the Scriptures. Yet it is often ignored, or misunderstood, or undermined. But the correct teaching is powerful and is one of the greatest gifts the God has given to His people.
1. This Doctrine is Found Throughout the Scriptures.
The teaching of predestination or as the Lutherans prefer to call it “election” simply means that God has chosen ahead of time all who are saved. Here are just a few examples of this teaching in the New Testament:
Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 20.16 & 22.24). In our text this morning, Jesus is acknowledges the work that the Father has given Him, “that He (the Son) should give eternal life to as many as You (the Father) have given Him (the Son)” (John 17.2). The Apostle Paul instructs us in Ephesians 1.4-5: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself...” Peter affirms this same thing in His first letter: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people...” (1 Peter 2.9). These are just a few examples. In fact the doctrine of predestination appears on virtually every page of the New Testament either directly or indirectly. And this is why: The doctrine of predestination is an essential part of the Gospel of salvation. Take it away, and you destroy the doctrine of salvation!
2. Correcting the Misunderstandings
One of the reasons people dislike this doctrine is because it takes away human free will when it comes to the question of salvation. Human beings instinctively feel that they have a role to play in their own salvation, and so they have developed the idea of “cooperation.” It usually comes in two forms. The medieval idea of cooperation is that God gives you a little faith which is not actually able to save you. That’s the first part of salvation. The second part involves your efforts of trying to obey God. If you cooperate enough with God’s grace, then eventually you might be saved. This is why people with a medieval faith are never sure of their salvation. The modern teaching of cooperation is that God offers you full and complete salvation if you’re willing to choose it. One really bad way this is explained goes like this: Satan casts his vote against you. God casts His vote for you. But you have to cast the tie-breaking vote in order to be saved. (W. Brian Wheeler, Sermoncentral.com) This undermines our confidence by placing that confidence in ourselves.
In either case the doctrine of predestination has to be toned down. It can’t be that God really chooses people or destines them to be saved. All those passages I quoted earlier have to mean that God simply knows ahead of time the ones who will either do enough good works (medieval) or who will choose to accept His promise of salvation (modern). But the passages that I quoted do not speak of God simply knowing. They clearly speak of God choosing.
To say that we cooperate with God in anyway in our salvation undermines the doctrine of salvation, robs our confidence in God, and tempts us to pride. It is like the man who collapses from a massive heart attack and is rushed to the hospital. The doctor doesn’t ask, “Sir, would you accept my help to save you by performing heart surgery?” Nor does the doctor ask in the middle of the surgery, “Sir, I need you to cooperate with me a little here.” No. The doctor is doing all of the saving, and the doctor gets all the credit for doing so. After the surgery the man can surely say, “Doc, you saved my life. I will be forever grateful.”