Predestination is one of the more mysterious and controversial ideas we find in the bible. It’s the idea that God chose, from eternity past, those whom he would and wouldn’t bring to a saving relationship with himself. In other words, it was God’s sovereign choice who would and wouldn’t come to faith in Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul says that no one can say that Jesus is Lord (meaning that no one can come to faith and be saved) except if the Holy Spirit causes them to say it. And that’s because our sin and brokenness are so deep that we can’t even respond to God in faith unless God himself helps us to do it.
This is where the idea of predestination comes in.
But does God offer that help to everybody? Or just some? Let’s take a look at what the bible has to say about it.
Some Key Passages
We can draw from so many different passages of scripture that illustrate and exemplify the idea of predestination. But for the sake of brevity, here are two where Paul explicitly uses the word.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:3-5)
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)
So any way we slice it, predestination is something that God has done. But what is the nature of that predestination? And what does it mean for us? Here are 3 views.
View #1: God predestines individuals based an unconditional choice.
In this view, God predestines individuals, independent of anything they have done or would do, to come to faith in Jesus. They were elected by God’s own sovereign choice to be moved by the Holy Spirit to put their faith in Jesus. This is what’s often referred to as the Calvinist or Reformed view.
But many in this camp would argue against double predestination. In double predestination, God elects those whom he will bring to salvation, and he elects those whom will experience damnation.
Most who hold this view of God’s sovereignty would only affirm the predestination of those who would be saved. But they would argue that God does not actively predestine or even send people to hell. Their own rejection of God has done that.
One major sticking point with this view is that if God chose those whom he would save, he necessarily chose those he would not save by passing over them. Therefore, it’s hard to escape the idea that he is active (and some would say arbitrary) in choosing them for damnation. This view also makes the idea of free will somewhat tenuous.
View #2: God predestines individuals based on how he knew they would respond (a conditional choice).
This view states that while God predestined individuals to salvation from eternity past, he did so based on the knowledge of who would and wouldn’t respond to him in faith. They take this idea from Romans 8:29. “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined.” Holders of this view take foreknowledge as knowledge of what a person would be like and whether they would have faith.
The difficulty of this view is that it reads into the text a bit. Whenever knowledge of a person is spoken of in the bible, it’s tied to relationship. It’s a relational kind of knowledge rather than a more forensic kind of knowledge–of just knowing what a person will do.
Certainly God knows everything, including whether a person will respond in faith or not. But Paul doesn’t explicitly say that God made his choice of election based on whether he knew a person would respond in faith.
And the whole process doesn’t really seem worth mentioning if it’s really the people, and not God, who are self-selecting.
View #3: God predestined groups, not individuals, to be saved.
This view pays close attention to the two main groups that coexisted in the early Church: Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). When Paul writes to the Romans, he’s writing to a church that has difficulty reconciling the two groups together. When he writes to the Ephesians, he writes to a group of mainly Gentiles about their inclusion in the promise that God originally made to Israel.
Thus, when Paul speaks about predestination, he isn’t talking about the pre-destiny of individual people, but of groups. And what he says is this: From before the foundation of the world, God predestined Israel to become a nation that would bring salvation to the whole world.
In other words, the nation of Israel had a very special place in God’s plan. Not because they were anything great, but because he would use them to bring about salvation to all peoples through Jesus. And God’s endgame was always about saving all peoples.
This is the promise that God made to Abraham.
“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:17-18)
Therefore, predestination speaks of God’s sovereign election of Israel, and his plan to bring salvation to all peoples through the offspring of Abraham–namely Jesus. From before the foundation of the world, the destiny of a Church full of people from all nations was set.
This framework also fits better with the more collectivistic understanding of identity that was present in the culture of the first century audience.
The hard part about this view is that it has not traditionally been held in many Christian circles. This by no means makes it a poor interpretation. But this view simply doesn’t have the support of the scores of theologians and denominations like the other two views have.
4 Important Takeaways
These are some big ideas. What do we do with them? Here are 4 important takeaways from this discussion that apply regardless of which view you land on.
1. God is gracious and just.
God is mysterious to us in so many ways. Sometimes, from our vantage point, we can’t see or understand why he does things the way he does. He doesn’t always seem fair to us. He doesn’t always makes sense to us. But that’s because we don’t have a perfect knowledge of the entire situation the way he does.
In Isaiah, God tells us this:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
Simply put, God is smarter than us. So we can continue to trust him that he is just and gracious. He has done enough to earn our trust. So we can trust him in the things we don’t understand.
2. Your choice to follow Jesus matters.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of views, your choice to follow Jesus really actually matters. We will all be held accountable for the actions we have taken and the ways in which we have stepped toward God in faith or stepped away from him in rebellion.
So choose to follow Jesus, and urge others to do the same.
3. You are responsible to share your faith with the lost.
At the end of the day, we don’t really know who is or isn’t “elect.” So we need to share our faith with everybody.
It may be tempting to think that if God has already elected those whom he will save, then they’ll come to faith whether I share the good news of Jesus with them or not. But if your view of predestination makes you less urgent about evangelism, then you need to change your view.
At the end of the day, we don't really know who is or isn't 'elect.' So we need to share our faith with everybody…if your view of predestination makes you less urgent about evangelism, then you need to change your view. Click To Tweet
4. God wants people to be saved.
As we follow Jesus, we need to have the same heart of God–that all people would be saved.
“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
We serve a God who wants to be reconnected with the humanity he created in his image. And he has gone to great lengths to see it happen. This is why Jesus came and gave his life. He wants all people to be saved. And all means all.
God’s actions in this world are intended to bring about the salvation of his people. And if you call upon the name of Jesus, you are his people.