And we come to what seems to me to be one of the favourite debate topics among Christians: predestination. I'm going to approach this using the Two Questions framework that I wrote about a while ago.
Question 1The first question: What should we believe about predestination?
There are various verses in the Bible that use the word 'predestined' or some other form of it. Some of these are:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. - Ephesians 1:4-6 (NIV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. - Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)
If God has foreknowledge of what will happen, then He already knows who will be saved. But that doesn't mean that He has chosen some specific people to be saved and some not to be saved. We see this in this passage, which says: For those God foreknew he also predestined. We see here that his predestination of us is determined by his foreknowledge of our salvation.
And some other verses that could refer to predestination:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. - John 15:16 (NIV)
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. - John 6:44 (NIV)
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. - Acts 13:48 (NIV) [emphasis mine]
From these verses, it looks to me as though there is an element of God's election in salvation. And I totally agree with that. We can do nothing to save ourselves. It is only by God's grace and the faith that He gives us (Ephesians 2:8-9) that we can be saved.
But at the same time, God can't save us by Himself. Well, actually, He can, since He is all-powerful. But He has chosen to draw His people to Himself by a different means than forcing them to believe. So there is a critical element in salvation that is our repentance and faith in Christ to save us - and without that, God chooses not to save us, even though he wants to:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
But remember the promise in John:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16 (NIV)
It doesn't say "whoever believes in him and has also been predestined". It says "whoever believes in him".
Question 2What about the second question? How then shall we live?
For ourselves, there is no Biblical basis (that I know of, at least) for wondering whether we are one of the elect. The Bible says,
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. - Romans 10:9 (NIV)
There is no basis for wondering whether we are one of the elect to see if we can be saved or not.
But what about for others? One of the arguments against predestination is that it renders evangelism worthless. If God has already decided who is going to be saved, and they are going to be saved, then there is no point in evangelism.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. - Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
I don't see any Biblical basis for questioning whether someone is one of the elect or not. Instead, we are commanded to go to the lost.
So the commands I see in the Bible are more in line with free will than with predestination. This could be used as an argument against predestination, but it is important that we do not base our beliefs off their results. If we do, then we have fallen into pragmatism - "whatever works".
SummarySo do I believe in predestination? Yes.
Do I believe in free will? Yes.
How do these two things work together? I don't know for sure.
If I could only believe in one, I would believe in free will.
What do I know? God has commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations, and he has promised that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The truth matters. We should strive to discover the truth. But when some truth is unclear, it is not an excuse to neglect other, clear truths. In this instance, searching out the truth about predestination is a good thing to do. But it is important that it not overwhelm the clear commands that God has given us.
S. D. G.