Summary: God is supremely sovereign AND we are responsible for our response to Him.
Making Sense of Predestination
Rev. Brian Bill
Note: I have benefited greatly from the insights of my friend and ministry mentor Ray Pritchard. Parts of this sermon are taken from “Straight Talk about Predestination” and are used by permission: www.keepbelieving.com.
Our youngest daughter Megan and I have been reading the Book of Revelation before she goes to bed at night. She’s asked me several times over the last couple years if we could read it and I’ve put it off because it can be difficult and even confusing, plus I wasn’t sure if this was the best book to read before going to bed…and I was just worried about whether I’d be able to sleep! We’re about half-way through and she’s asked me a lot of questions. This past Wednesday night I decided to ask her how many questions I’ve actually answered. Megan smiled and said, “Maybe two.”
My guess is that this passage of Scripture in Romans 9 has raised more questions than answers for you. You’re not alone in this regard. Even the Apostle Peter, when referring to inspired Scripture written by the Apostle Paul, recognized that his weighty words were sometimes difficult to comprehend in 2 Peter 3:16: “…His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Let’s state right up front that there are some hard things to understand in the Bible – like predestination. Here are three passages to ponder:
Romans 8:29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…”
Ephesians 1:5: “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ…”
Ephesians 1:11: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…”
The word predestination is composed of two parts: “Pre” meaning “before” and “destination” meaning “point of final arrival.” To predestine something is to determine beforehand where it will end up. If you contemplate this doctrine for awhile, you’ll have to face some difficult questions:
* If predestination is true, what happens to human responsibility?
* Are we just robots, doing what God has ordained?
* If some are predestined to heaven, then why bother with evangelism?
* How can people be guilty of sin since they are doing only what they were predestined to do?
This topic has caused friendships to fracture, churches to split and divided Christians into different doctrinal groups. Before going much further, let me give you my understanding. I have a simple mind, so I recognize that this might not be satisfactory to everyone, but here goes: God is supremely sovereign and we are responsible for our response to Him. The word “sovereign” means one who has absolute authority and complete control. I love the answer that Charles Spurgeon gave when someone asked him how he reconciles God’s sovereignty and human responsibility: “I wouldn’t try,” he replied, “I never reconcile friends.”
You can find both of these friends in the Bible. In fact, we could say that Romans 9 emphasizes the sovereignty of God while Romans 10 provides the framework for human responsibility. However, Paul doesn’t seek to relieve the tension because they are friends. He doesn’t fully explain the working out of election and responsibility in this chapter because he’s more interested in addressing the haughty heart that dares to question the Creator.
Election and responsibility are taught by Jesus in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, [divine election] and whoever comes to me [human response] I will never drive away.” Here are just two verses from Acts 13 where these two friends are found: Verse 39: “Through him everyone who believes is [human response] justified” and verse 48: “…and all who were appointed [divine election] for eternal life believed.”
In his commentary on Romans, John Stott offers this quote from Charles Simeon, who lived during the time when the Calvinist-Arminian controversy was quite bitter. He warned his congregation of the dangers of forsaking Scripture in favor of a theological system: “When I come to a text which speaks of election, I delight myself in the doctrine of election. When the apostles exhort me to repentance and obedience, and indicate my freedom of choice and action, I give myself up to that side of the question” (Stott, page 278).
I like how Ray Pritchard puts it: “God is in charge of what happens, when it happens, how it happens, why it happens, and even what happens after it happens. This is true of all events in every place from the beginning of time. He does this for our good and His glory. He is not the author of sin, yet evil serves His purposes. He does not violate our free will, yet free will serves His purposes. We’re not supposed to understand all this. We’re simply to believe it.”