Summary: If you’ve been a Christian any length of time at all, you’ve heard the term “predestination”. What is predestination and what does mean? What about free will? How does it all fit together? Let’s see if we can sort this out, shall we?
What About Predestination?
And, it is a subject that has come up in our discussions several times lately. As I was preparing for our time together today, it seemed as though God was prodding me to delve into this in order to help settle the confusion and put your hearts at ease.
What is predestination and what does mean? What about free will?
Predestination is a doctrine of the Bible the misunderstanding of which has caused a great deal of confusion and even severe divisiveness within Christendom for centuries.
Some might call me foolish; others might call me presumptuous to think that I can decipher this matter where so many have been at such odds for so long.
My response is simply this: any doctrine addressed by God in His Word so frequently and in so many different contexts is intended by Him to be understood – within the limits of our human capabilities – by His children.
Predestination is the doctrine that God alone chooses (elects) who is saved. He makes His choice independent of any quality or condition in sinful mankind. He does not look into a person and recognize something good nor does He look into the future to see who would choose Him.
He elects people to salvation purely on the basis of His good pleasure. Those not elected are not saved. He does this because He is sovereign. What that means is, that He has the absolute authority, the absolute right and the absolute power to do with His creation whatsoever He pleases. He has the right to elect some to salvation and let all the rest go their natural way: to hell. This is predestination.
Now for the protests of, "Unfair!" While it may seem that way at first, if you will bear with me for a little bit, you will see that the doctrine of predestination is actually a marvelous and gracious gift, not something to be rejected and spurned.
Let’s begin by looking at a couple of New Testament texts where the doctrine is spoken of clearly.
In the passage in Ephesians 1, we have the longest sentence in all of Scripture. In the Greek, there is no punctuation – Paul strings every pearl together in one long strand, as if seeking to make sure that we do not dissect his thoughts into a bunch of little pieces.
Albert Barnes, the American theologian from the early 19th century, gives an extremely useful outline of this passage in his "Notes on the New Testament". Here is his outline:
(1) The doctrine of predestination, and its hearing and design, Ephesians 1:3-14.
(a) It is the foundation of praise to God, and is a source of gratitude, Ephesians 1:3.
(b) Christians have been chosen before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4.
(c) The object was that they should be holy and blameless, Ephesians 1:4.
(d) They were predestinated to be the children of God, Ephesians 1:5.
(e) The cause of this was the good pleasure of God, or He did it according to the purpose of His will, Ephesians 1:5.
(f) The object of this was His own glory, Ephesians 1:6.
(2) The benefits of the plan of predestination to those who are thus chosen, Ephesians 1:7-14.
(a) They have redemption and the forgiveness of sins, Ephesians 1:7-8.
(b) They are made acquainted with the mystery of the divine will, Ephesians 1:9-10.
(c) They have obtained an inheritance in Christ, Ephesians 1:11.
(d) The object of this was the praise of the glory of God, Ephesians 1:12.
(e) As the result of this, or in the execution of this purpose, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, Ephesians 1:13-14.
The word “predestined” literally means, “to limit beforehand”. What that translates to in the context we are discussing is “to decree beforehand; to ordain.” Predestination, then, is the unchangeable purpose of an unchangeable God.
Predestination is not strict determinism (the belief that everything, including every human act, is caused by something and that there is no real free will), which would mean that every detail of our lives is fixed, but rather the view that God has personally chosen (predestined) those who would believe in Christ for salvation.
There are two main schools of thought about this doctrine within Christianity: Calvinism and Arminianism
Calvinism holds that God determined before the creation of the world who would and who would not be saved and that no one has any say in the matter.
Arminianism is on the other end of the scale and holds that God knew before the creation of the world who would and who would not accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and, from that knowledge, determined that those people would be saved or condemned, depending on what they would decide.