The Controversy Over Predestination
If you mention the subject of predestination or election it almost invariably stirs up a controversy within most any religious discussion. The word itself often invokes spiritually immature people to anger and rage. Furthermore, for the person bringing up the subject within certain contexts of people or denominations the possibility of receiving scorn is as likely as finding water in a lake! The famous Baptist pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon once commented that when you bring up the subject of God's love to the Arminian advocate (a theologian who endorses man's ability as the key to salvation) his eyes and face glow with warmth. However, when you introduce the subject of election or predestination to the same person their eyes often turn red with fire. From those eyes comes a blazing fire of anger that often comes forth in a violent rage. Dr. William Crews of Spartanburg SC noted in his manuscript of this topic:
"The doctrine of election perhaps encounters stronger opposition than does any other Bible doctrine . . . . I have seen people become violent under the preaching of the doctrine of election. I was preaching a special meeting years ago when on the next to final night of the meeting a young man rose at the end of the service, after I finished preaching on God's sovereignty in election, furiously enraged. He made his way to the front of the church expressing before the congregation his disagreement and detestation of what had been preached. His appearance indicated that in his fit of rage he might become sufficiently violent to physically attack me. It was obvious that he was so mad that he was beyond the point of self-control. The man was not an infidel, agnostic, or atheist. He was not an irreligious person. He was a professing Christian" (The Bible Doctrine of Election, 4-5).
I hope to discuss and present this subject in a manner that does not provoke or entice someone to such an episode of anger. I realize that many Christians have grown up in churches whereby the subject has often been neglected. Many people today sit in churches whereby the pastor(s) pick and choose which subjects to teach from in the Bible. In these places many believers suffer from spiritual malnutrition because the leaders fail to teach the fullness of the Bible. That spiritual malnutrition exposes itself quickly when people begin to discuss the subject of predestination/election.
Hopefully, I can introduce this subject to you in such a way that you can make logical step-by-step advances in understanding the truth of this biblical doctrine. Sometimes, but not in all of the cases, believers dislike this doctrine by the way the subject is introduced. Sure, there are unbelievers who will oppose the doctrine because it cuts to the heart of their self sufficient, prideful, and haughty spirit that leads to self exaltation. A sinner that has never been converted will naturally by their own sin nature oppose anything that removes them from their life of selfism. The doctrine of election/predestination makes God really real and removes the person from the position of trying to be their own god. It cuts to the very heart and soul of a person's pride. But, nonetheless, saints still sometimes struggle with the idea for other reasons, which sometimes include issues of self reliance as well as issues of balancing this doctrine with other legitimate teachings of Scripture. For example, some people are confused or they misrepresent the doctrine as if people who believe in predestination deny God's universal love. The Bible is clear, however, that God does have a love for all people (see John 3:16, 1st John 2:2; 1st Timothy 2:6). Therefore, this introduction seeks to provide a balanced treatment that can progressively introduce you to an important theme in God's love book to us.
All Bible Believers Admit the Bible Contains the Subject of Predestination/Election
I. The Words Election and Predestination are Found in the Bible
No person, especially a believer, can honestly read Scripture for long without coming across the words "election," and "predestination." To ignore that these words exist in the text of the Bible is to lie against the truth. We are not talking about definition of these words just yet. The first step is to simply admit that the Bible does indeed use such terminology. Here are some verses that simply use the terminology of elect, election, chosen, and predestination.
"For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14 ESV).
"And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short" (Matt. 24:22 ESV).
"And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night" (Luke 18:7 NIV)?
"I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen" (John 13:18a NASB).
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit" (John 15:16a NKJV).
"this man [Christ Jesus] delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23a NASB).
"For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified" (Rom. 8:29-30 HCSB).
"though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad-in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call" (Rom. 9:11 ESV).
"just as 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, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. 1:4-5 NKJV).
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:1-2a NASB).
These few verses reveal at the very least that the Bible contains the subject of election and predestination. No Christian can honestly avoid the subject. I like what the Southern Baptist Dr. Paige Patterson, who currently serves as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, had to say of the subject concerning the Bible doctrine of election. He noted in a chapel address that, "Any approach to soteriology [the doctrine of salvation] which omits the Bible doctrine of election is incomplete, inadequate, and misleading." The Bible talks about election and so the Christian must agree that it is indeed something taught in the Bible. What it exactly means is another issue. But first all Christians must agree it is a doctrine of the Bible.
II. The Doctrine of Election/Predestination Relates to Salvation
In the verses above the teaching of election relates to the concept of man's salvation. For instance, Romans 8:29-30 specifically relates the subject of predestination to the work of God in calling and justifying the person. Justification is another term used to mean making a person rightly related to God. Ephesians 1:4-5 talks about about God predestinating a portion of people to adoption. Adoption means becoming a part of God's family.
From these verses alone we can see that the doctrine relates to the salvation of individuals. Now again, note that I have not said how this predestination takes place. For now we are simply looking at the basic facts that this doctrine does indeed relate to the concepts concerning salvation. Election and predestination have a direct application to the issue of ones destiny and how that destiny is ultimately determined.
Of course, this is the very reason why the subject creates so much heat and tension. It is a serious subject. Anytime we talk about destiny, a person's eternal destiny, it means we are discussing a very serious and solemn subject. This is why the teaching and discussion of this doctrine causes a person's passion to rise high. The eternal destiny of a person is a highly emotional and sensitive subject.
III. All of the Main Line Protestant Creed/Confessions Speak of the Subject of Election/Predestination
Creeds or Confessions of Faith serve the community of faith with a guide or standard as to what the Bible teaches. Most all of the denominations that formed from the 1500s until today formulate some type of doctrinal guideline. A peripheral reading of all of the mainline denominational confessions reveal that the broad, evangelical, multi-denominational persuasions of Christianity teach on the doctrine of predestination.
Here are just a few examples of some of the creeds and confessions that mention the idea and concept of predestination:
- The Articles of Religion in 1571. Sometimes it is called the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. This is the confession of faith used by the Episcopal and Anglican church. Article 17 specifically teaches on election and predestination.
The Formula of Concord in 1577. This is the confession of faith that governed the Evangelical Lutheran Church. If you recall, Martin Luther was the main leader in Protestant Reformation. This confession of faith in Article II teaches on the subject of Predestination.
The Westminister Confession of Faith of 1643-1646. This is the main classic confession for the Presbyterian denomination. This confession of faith specifically deals with election and predestination under Chapter 3, Of God's Eternal Decree, in Chapter 9, Of Free Will, Chapter 10, Of Effectual Calling, and Chapter 11, Of Justification. In all of these chapters the Bible discusses predestination or related concepts.
The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. The earliest Baptist Confession of Faith in America discusses the subject of predestination and election in several places in the confession. In Chapter 3, dealing with God's eternal decree, Chapter 5, issues with Divine Providence, Chapter 9, which deals with man's will, Chapter 10, discusses God's work in calling people to faith, and Chapter 14 provides information in how God provides saving faith for people. All throughout these chapters references are made to election, foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and other related concepts dealing with salvation. Other Baptist Confessions follow suit with this as well. The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith in 1833 and the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention (all editions from 1925 to the current 2000 version) have sections that discuss the election and predestination subjects.
These confessions teach us one thing for certain, God's church seriously considers the subject. The doctrine of election and predestination must be dealt with as the subject comes directly from the pages of Scripture. If multiple denominations from various persuasions with historical and theological differences all speak to the subject it must be because the subject is clearly taught within the Bible. One cannot come to the Bible and ignore the subject. Though it may be controversial, a person must admit and interact with what the Bible says on this subject if he or she is faithful to the biblical text.
Election/Predestination is Related to the Omniscient Foreknowledge of God
What or Who Determines Who is Of the Elect?
What determines if a person is elect and one of the predestined people? This is the most serious question of this study. What exactly does it mean when God says we "are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:1-2a). When Paul says "those whom He foreknew He also predestined" (Romans 8:29) what does he mean? This is where the subject begins to breed deep controversy.
All Christians who believe the Bible recognize that God is omniscient. This means that God knows everything. The Bible is very clear about this. For example, in 1st John the Bible says, "for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything" (3:20).
I. The Only Three Options Available to Foreknowledge and Election
1. God simply does not know the future; he makes educated guesses. This view teaches that God simply does not have omniscience. God has to grow and develop. God, according to this view, is limited and he has to make educated guesses based upon probability. In this view the elect are those whom choose God. God discovers this only when the person actually believes.
2. God knows because he has to learn who chooses him. This view says that election is based upon God's omniscient foreknowledge of learning or looking to see who will choose Christ. God in this version has a unque ability to see into the future from the vantage point of eternity. Those whom God foresees accepting Jesus Christ are then elected. In this model God has knowledge of who will choose but not from all eternity. God has to learn or look into the particular history of a person to see what man will do before he, God, determines what he will do in regard to election.
3. God knows because he has eternally determined his own knowledge of history. This view says that God does not have to look or learn the future events of history from eternity. God has known all things eternally by thinking up history in his own mind. Those whom God foreknows are those whom he has eternally thought up in his mind as his eternal children. These are the elect ones. People elect to love God because God elected to first love them in his own mind in eternity.
Only one of the three options presents the real God of the Bible. If God is truly eternal and all knowing, and if he is all knowing without having to learn anything, then only option number three represents the true God of the Bible.
In other words, if we believe that God is fully omniscient, meaning that he does not have to look or learn anything whatsoever, then the only option left is number three. God knows his children because he has eternally thought of them in this light. In other words, God thought up a certain portion of humanity as his own from eternity, not because he had to learn who would or would not choose him, but because he decided to think (determinately foreknow) his own. Maybe this explanation will help. God's elected/predestined children are elect in accordance to what he thought up in his own mind. God, before the foundation of the world, determined by his own mind, his own cognitive processes to think up in his mind a certain group of people who would be called and adopted into his family. God eternally thought of them as his elect, his children, his predestined people.
II. All People Who Believe in God's Omniscience Struggle with why God Created Those Who Will be Eternally Lost
Some people try and argue that God's election is based upon man's will instead of God's foreknowledge. In some cases this is argued because the person is lost and unrenewed. An unregenerate heart desires to place salvation in the hands of man. Lost people like to think they can do something to earn and gain God's favor. The natural mind does not accept the things of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). Grace, a work of the Spirit, cannot be earned. However, the sinner wants to obtain God's favor on his own terms and conditions. In essence the sinner wants to be his own god and because of that drive he or she will naturally seek to justify himself/herself before the eyes of God by their own actions, efforts, or meritorious deeds.
But sometimes even believers get confused about this subject because of false teachers who teach a skewed idea of God's election. Some people introduce the idea of man's will into the equation because they want to alleviate God of the responsibility of creating someone when he knows the person will eventually go to hell. The argument goes like this: "It is unfair for God to create someone and not give them an free will to be saved or damned." But, normally these people have not thought through what they are saying. The idea behind this is that if we introduce election based upon man's will instead of God's omniscient foreknowledge then it alleviates God of creating someone with the end destiny being hell and condemnation. But this reasoning still does not remove the problem.
For example, if a person truly believes God is all knowing then it does not change the issue whether or not we believe that election is based upon God's foreknowledge or man's will because the end result is the same if God truly does know all of history. Free will does not change the final outcome. If you believe in election based upon God's omniscient foreknowledge, or election based upon man's will, the outcome is still the same. God has chosen to create some knowing that in the end their destiny is going to be hell. Let us look at some logic for moment.
Scenario #1: If You Believe God Knows Everything then You Believe He Created Some with No Hope of Eternal Salvation.
A. Do you believe God knows the future of every person before he creates that person? YES!
B. Then no matter if you believe in election based upon God's foreknowledge or upon man's free-will you still have God creating someone who will go to Hell. HOW SO?
C. If God knew that the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 would never come to believe in Christ then could God have chosen not to create him? YES, God could have chosen not to create this man. At the very moment when God thought out this man's history he could have opted to refrain from creating him since he knew the man's final destiny. But did God still create the rich man found in Luke 16 knowing that in the end he would never believe? YES.
D. Therefore, we know that in either position (election based upon God's omniscient foreknowledge, or man's free-will) that God still chose to create those whom he knew would go into eternal condemnation. Inserting free-will into the equation does not solve this difficult truth. If God knows someone will never believe before he creates that person then what God knows must actually happen. History cannot happen in any other way than by what God already knows.
III. Inserting Man's Will as the Reason or Cause of God's Election Turns Salvation into a Works Orietented Gospel
Salvation according to the Bible is by grace alone. Grace alone means man did not deserve the favor. The Bible teaches that "for by grace through faith we are saved; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9 NASB). Some people, for whatever reason, pride, misunderstanding, ignorance due to false teaching, etc., insert man's will as the basis for God's election. However, if a person does this then grace becomes something the human earns by making the right choice. That turns the gospel message into a message of justice instead of a message of undeserved grace and favor. If God demands that a person believe in order to be saved, and if this belief is the basis of why God elects/predestines a person then the person who obeys the command/law earns God's grace and favor by his obedience.
Scenario # 2: If You Believe that God's Election/Predestination is Based Upon Man's Will then you believe in a Works System of Salvation
A. Do you believe that God commands all people to repent and choose Jesus Christ for salvation? YES
B. Do you believe that God elects those whom first elect/choose him? YES
C. If God commands man to believe in Christ, and then when man obeys this law/command he is then elected, it means he earned the favor of God by his obedience to the command.
D. Therefore, the gospel in this system is one of justice for doing what is right in the eyes of God.
Scenario # 3: A Practical Application of a Message of Justice
A. A company boss promises that if you obey his request to trust his company's product he has for sale that you will recieve a financial blessing. If you trust his product he will give you a commission for choosing that product.
B. You determine to believe him and you choose that product.
C. On the spot he gives to you a financial commission for trusting him and his product.
D. This then means that you earned the commission because of your obedience. Your good choice earned you that commission. You obeyed his request, and in the process of this you earned the favor of that boss.
Likewise, those who teach God's election is based upon our obedience to make the right choice have introduced a small but very real element of justice into the equation. In these two scenarios above the person receives the reward for making the right choice. When a person chooses to obey the command/request he or she then is blessed or rewarded. This turns the gospel into a mesage of justice and works. That is not the gospel of free, undeserved, and unconditional grace.
Election/Predestination is Conditioned
Upon God's Determinate Foreknowledge,
Not Man's Will and Obedience
God Determines What He Eternally Knows
God does not learn, grow, or develop. The Bible teaches us that God knows all of history because he has planned, purposed, or thought up all events of history in one single eternal thought. In other words, God thought one thought for all of history. Yes, I know that is a deep thought. Realizing that God does not think in steps boggles the human mind. Nonetheless, history flows from the mind of God. God does not learn history by looking into history. Rather, God knows history because he has planned all of history from his own mind. Dr. Wayne Grudem correctly says, "God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act" (Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 190).
Scripture to Support this Conclusion
Psalm 139:4 "Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord You know it all."
Psalm 139:16 "Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The Days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them."
Isaiah 46:9-10 "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'"
Ephesians 1:11 "We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."
Note that in the Ephesians text that predestination follows "His purpose." God's purpose to know or to plan or to set forth something comes from his own purpose. And furthermore, we see here that all things, not some things, not almost everything, but actually ALL THINGS (that leaves out nothing and includes every single event of history) flow from the "counsel of His will." All things that are holy occur because God planned it actively. He is the cause of it. All things that are sinful occur because God planned it passively. In one sense God determinately knows because of his plan what holy events in history will take place. In another sense God determinately knows the sinful actions of others from all eternity.
God Eternally Knows Some, But Not All, As His Children
The chosen vessels, the predestined ones who are eternally known by God, have been foreknown by God from all of eternity. These children have been in the heart and mind of God from the very moment of his plans for all of history. They are there because God thought of them as his own from the moment he purposed to create them in his own mind. These are the elect.
However, there are those whom God has eternally thought up as the non-elect. These are those whom he has never known as his own. These are the creatures that he has never known from all of eternity. These are the sinners whom God has thought of as choosing to live in sin forever. These are the vessels that God thought up in his mind as the Christ rejecting sinners who refuse to believe in the gospel of grace.
Look at these two verses below:
Matthew 7:22-23 "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; Depart from Me, You who practice lawlessness.'"
Who are the ones whom God has never known? These are the ones whom he has eternally thought of as not being his children. When God says never known it is the reverse of those whom he has foreknown. Some are foreknown as his. Others are not known as his, or in the words of Christ, "never known." That means from eternity to eternity (which includes history) some are never known to be the children of God.
Romans 9:21-23 "Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessles of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory" (NASB).
The New Living Translation captures this thought in a very vivid way: Romans 9:21-23 reads in the NLT: "When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn't he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? God has every right to exercise his judgement and his power, but he also has the right to be very patient with those who are the objects of his judgement and are fit only for destruction. He also has the right to pour out the riches of his glory upon those he prepared to be the objects of his mercy."
In other words, God's elect, his vessels of mercy are eternally known as his own children. These elect vessels, such as with Jacob (Rom. 9:13), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), and Paul (Gal. 1:15) are those whom God "foreknew" which "He also predestined" (Rom. 8:29).
However, the vessels of wrath, those whom God has eternally not known as his children, such as with Esau (Rom. 9:13), are those whom God has never known (Matthew 7:23; Romans 9:13, 22; 1 Peter 2:8). These are those whom God leaves, those whom he passes by and allows to have their own will and way. God does not predestine someone to hell; he does not make them do evil or reject Christ. People do this own their own will of choosing to live in sin.
Election Is Only for the Positive: People Suffer Condemnation Because they Reject Christ and the Offer of Salvation
Those whom God foreknows, the elect, receive grace and mercy. Election is the cause of a person obtaining grace and favor in the eyes of God. Election does not send someone to hell. Election is only for the good. Those whom God eternally does not know simply live out their own sinfulness and prepare themselves for destruction by their own rejection of God, Jesus Christ, and the offer of salvation. Some are known by God, and others are not known by God. We, however, as humans do not know who is or is not of the elect until they believe in Christ. Only believers and those whom persevere in the faith are of the elect.
Fear Being a Vessel of Wrath and
Flee to Jesus Christ for Salvation
This is a very solemn subject. Maybe after reading this there has been a severe fear growing in your spirit. You may now be wondering something like this: "Oh my God, how can I know if I am eternally known as a vessel of mercy or a vessel of wrath?" Dear friend this is a question worth more than all the goods on this earth. In actuality, eternity will hinge upon how you personally answer that question.
The only way to know if you are of God's eternally known children, an elect predestined child of God, is by making your calling and election sure. 2nd Peter said it this way, "be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall" (1:10 ESV). How can you know if you are one of the elect, one of the vessels of mercy?
Repent and Receive Christ Today by Faith
First, repent of your sins and turn to Jesus Christ in belief and faith. Trust in him and him alone for the salvation of your soul. The Bible tells us that "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever is believing in him right now will not perish but will have everlasting life" (John 3:16 my translation of the Greek text).
Evaluate Your Growth in Grace: Are You Seeking to Live a Pure Life?
Second, check up on your life. Are you growing in the faith. Is there any known sin that you are continually living in? The Bible says, "No one who is born of God will continue to practice sin" (1st John 3:9). If there is continual sin, sin that you do not desire to repent of and seek to turn from, then it means you are not regenerate. It may then mean you are not of the elect. Vessels of wrath continually live in sin with no repentance. Vessels of mercy when regenerated will repent of known sin under the conviction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. They grow in the qualities as given by 2nd Peter 1 verses 5-7.
Flee from sin today and turn to the Savior so that you can have the assurance from the Holy Spirit that you are one of the eternally foreknown elected children of God (Rom. 8:16). Do not waste any time, turn to the Savior right now and believe upon Christ for the remission of your sins. Then confess your belief to others (Rom. 10:9-10).