Question from a Site Viewer
I was recently baptized into the Christian faith . . . it was a wonderful experience and a true blessing to me. I have been attending the same church for the past two years and the joy of knowing God and learning everything has changed my life considerably.
The question of “predestination” recently came up with a friend on mine.
I know that I had gone over these verses from the Bible with my pastor and hearing the way my friend explained them just did not make sense to me.
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 likeness of Him.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so no one can boast.
I discussed these with my pastor before my baptism as the Ephesians verse was one I memorized. My friend explained these verses by saying that “God has pre-picked those who will be saved. So it does not matter what you believe, or how much you do (works). If you are not one of the ones God picked then you will not be saved.
This thought really hit me hard; I do not think God is like that. I was told that Jesus died on the cross for all our sins and when we give ourselves over to the Lord and do his work we are doing good.
We are all His children and He loves us all.
Maybe I am way out to lunch, but I was upset thinking the way my friend does. No one seems to want to discuss this. My friend attended a Presbyterian church for a while and this is where he said he finally came to understand this. He also said it is misleading to say we all have a choice.
If you could add any insight into this I would appreciate it. I believe in the Lord and believe that He does love us all and is opening the door to all who knock.
Your friend, having been in a Presbyterian church, was exposed to a theological system of thought known as “Calvinism” or “Reformed Theology.” There are many concepts that go together in that system of thought, but for purposes of understanding predestination, your friend’s explanation is only partly correct. That is, those who follow that theological system say that all of the world is lost in sin. They say that God, through His grace, decided to save some out of that lost condition; none of us will ever of our own will turn to God. In addition, they say that God has mercy on some and reaches down and converts them; those are the people to whom God imparts faith so that they might believe. Those people turn to become followers of Jesus Christ. The rest of the people continue in their sin, never choosing to come to God, and end up in condemnation. Most people who follow this theological thought would not say that it does not matter what you believe or do. But they would say that if you believe in Jesus, it is because God chose to give you the faith. There are many wonderful Christians who believe in some variant of this teaching. There are many Scriptures that they use to support this viewpoint and there are entire books and volumes of books written on the subject. Christian groups generally associated with this system are Presbyterians, Reformed churches, some Baptists, and some independent groups.
There is another system of theological teaching put forth by a Dutch Reformer that is known as Arminianism. Arminianism teaches that God has made provision for salvation for all and that though man is corrupted by sin, man still has a “free will” and is able to chose God. This system of thought also has numerous variations. Churches such as the Methodists, Wesleyan, some groups of the Brethren, many of the Holiness churches like the Nazarenes, some Pentecostals and charismatic groups fall into this system of thought.
God has used both groups to further the kingdom of Christ. Therefore, I do not want to cause any sense of hostility for either group of people. Nevertheless, I think it is important for each believer, individually, to seek truth in this matter, without letting one’s knowledge of that truth become a tool of Satan to cause division in the church.
I do not believe like your friend believes. The Greek word we translate as “predestination” is found three times in Scripture (Romans 8:29; Eph. 1:5; and Eph. 1:11). In each time, it is setting forth that believers have a certain destiny (to be conformed to the image of Christ; to receive the adoption of sons; and that we should be to the praise of His glory). This is our destiny that has been predetermined. As much as I struggle, I cannot find a good logical basis for reading any of these three verses to say that I was predestined to be saved. There are other verses that may indicate this, but these verses do not. But they do say what is the destiny of believers. We will be conformed to Christ’s image (see also 2 Cor. 3:18); we will receive the adoption of sons (see Rom. 8:23); and we will be to the praise of His glory. I do not see the reference to adoption in Ephesians 1:11 being a reference to salvation. We are saved by a new birth, not by adoption. Paul, who wrote Ephesians, makes it clear, or so it seems to me, what he has in mind by the use of the word “adoption.” He explains that in Romans 8:23. Adoption is when we receive full rights of being children of God; that is when our bodies are resurrected. We become children by the new birth; we gain the full inheritance of that Father-child relationship when we are resurrected. That is our predetermined destiny. That is my thinking on predestination.
However, it is not original with me. A. W. Tozer explains predestination as being two great ships in New York harbor. One is scheduled to sail to London, the other to Paris. You can choose which ship you will get on, but you cannot choose the destiny of either ship. The destiny is already set. I like that explanation.
This brings us back to what I see as your basic question. Does God pick and choose certain persons to go to heaven and let others go to hell without giving them a meaningful choice? I do not think so. Where I disagree with strict Calvinism is that I do not see the ability to believe as being either a selective gift of God or a work of man. I think Romans 4 makes it clear that faith is not a work. Faith is carefully distinguished from work. For us to believe in Christ does not mean that we are working for our salvation. It means that we are not working but simply believing.
Further, the reference in Ephesians 2:8-9 where it says that “it is a gift of God” is not a reference to faith, as I read the passage. The simple reason for this is that in the Greek “faith” is a feminine gender noun and the “that” in the Greek is a neuter gender pronoun. To read “that” as referring back to faith would be to force the “that” toward a specific word with which it does not agree in gender. I think the better reading is to see the “that” to be a reference to the whole of the preceding clause or to the idea of salvation; not to the specific word “faith.” Faith is something we do in response to the great sacrifice of Christ and the defeat of the enemy who bound us in sin. These events happened at the cross. I take Paul’s words to reflect this truth in Romans 10:14-17; that people cannot believe unless they are presented with the truth. Once they are presented with the truth, faith comes out of hearing the word of God.
As I believe, God has not created mankind to be robots who can only do what He has programmed them to do. We sometimes limit God’s creativity to man’s creativity. God is not so limited. I believe that God has created free, moral agents who can choose between good and evil, between right and wrong. Jesus taught that us that evil people do good. We give good things to our children, even though we are evil. We all have choices to make. When presented with the power of the gospel, we have a choice to make. This is our choice. No one will ever be able to stand before God and say: “But God, you did not give me a choice. I was born in sin; had no choice but to sin; and You did nothing for me.” I do not think that will ever happen. God calls Israel to “chose life” (Deuteronomy 29). God again says to Israel,
I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?”
The Spirit and bride say ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
There is a choice given to all humanity. I do not see this as a meaningless choice. As I read Scripture, God calls us, pleads with us, and asks us to come to Him. All who heed His call and come, He gives them eternal life.
There is so much more that can be said on this subject. As I said earlier, there are volumes written. Again, it was A.W. Tozer who told a young fellow starting seminary that when he got to seminary he would find a room where young students were debating the great issues of God’s choice or man’s free will. Tozer’s advice was for the fellow to avoid that room, to go to his own room, get down on his knees and open the Scripture, to study and pray. Tozer said that after 3 years of seminary, the young students would still be debating those great issues, but that the young fellow would know God. That young fellow went on to be a great man of God who has now left this world to be with the God he loved.
I think Tozer’s advice was very good. I try to avoid the debate, but I want to know Jesus and I want others to know Him. I encourage you to read the Bible and seek to find the character of God in those pages. Learn to love Him with all of your heart and soul and to love others in practical ways as He asks us to do. In doing so, you will be a blessing to your God and to others.
May the Lord Jesus continue to lead you.