a Christian, you've heard of predestination. You must have because the
Bible uses the word and teaches the idea. But what is predestination? How
does free will fit in? What about man's sinfulness and God's sovereignty?
Is predestination a fair doctrine or does it make God out to be
dispassionate and tyrannical? In this paper, I will attempt to answer
Predestination is the doctrine that God
alone chooses (elects) who is saved. He makes His choice independent of
any quality or condition in sinful man. 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; that is, He has the absolute authority, right, and ability to
do with His creation as He pleases. He has the right to elect some to
salvation and let all the rest go their natural way: to hell. This is
In response to this definition, some will
protest, "Unfair!" It may seem so at first, but you will see
that it is quite fair. More importantly, it is biblical. To help you
understand predestination, I would like to address several areas in order:
- The Eternal Covenant
- Man's Sinful Condition
- The Result of Sinful Man's Condition
- Man's Free Will
- The Necessity of Predestination
- God's Sovereign Election
- Objections Answered
1) The Eternal Covenant
Usually, the best place to start a study
is at the beginning, and in order to understand predestination better we
need to start at its beginning. Its origin can be found in what is called
the Eternal Covenant. Hebrews 13:20 says, "May the God of peace,
who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead
our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep." If you have
never heard of the eternal covenant, then you need to familiarize yourself
with it because it is vital to a proper understanding of one of the ways
God deals with His people. Essentially, God works covenantally.
A Covenant is a pact or agreement between
two parties. It is a contract. The Old and New Testaments are really the
Old and New Covenants. Testament comes from the Latin testamentum, which
means covenant. In the O.T. the Hebrew word for covenant is always b'rith.
In the N.T. it is always diatheke. There are OT covenants that God
made with individuals, i.e. Adam (Gen. 2:15-17), Noah (Gen. 9:12-16),
Abraham (Gen. 17), the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:28), and David
(Sam. 7:12-16), etc., and in the NT there is the New Covenant (Luke 22:20;
Matt. 26:28; Heb. 7:22) that was prophesied in Jer. 31:31-37.
The Eternal Covenant, then, is the covenant
made between God the Father and the Son with regard to the elect. This
covenant was made before the universe was created and it consisted of the
Father promising to bring to the Son all whom the Father had given the
Son. "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose
none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day...I
pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have
given me, for they are yours...Father, I want those you have given me to
be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me
because you loved me before the creation of the world" ( John
In the Eternal Covenant, the Father would
prepare the Son a body (Luke 1:35; Heb. 10:5); give the Son the Spirit
without measure (Is. 43:1,2; 61:1); always support and comfort the Son
(Is. 42:1-7; 49:8); deliver the Son from the power of death (Ps. 2); bring
to the Son all whom the Father had given Him (John 6:39; 17:9,24); and
give the Son a number of redeemed that no one could number (Ps. 22:27;
72:17). The Son's part was to assume human nature (Gal. 4:4,5; Heb.
2:10,11,14,15); be under the Law (Ps. 40:8; Gal. 4:4,5; Phil. 2:5-8); and
to bear the sins of His people (Isaiah 53:12; John 10:11,15; 1 Pet. 2:24).
In the Eternal Covenant we see that God has
given a certain number of people to the Son and that the Son came to
redeem them, to "lose none of them" (John 6:39). We can
conclude from this that God had in mind a certain people whom would be His
elect. Since God knows all things, He knows those whom He has chosen.
Hence, they are predestined from the very beginning of time.
2) Man's Sinful Condition
Man is sinful. He does not become a sinner
by sinning. He sins because he is a sinner. He is depraved, which means
that sin has corrupted all that he is: mind, soul, spirit, emotions, and
body. Man is so engulfed in sin, so thoroughly touched by it, that there
is nothing in him that merits or enables salvation. He, therefore, is born
into a state of condemnation: "...and [we] were by nature children
of wrath, even as the rest" (Eph. 2:3). This is not to say that
we are as evil as we can be, rather, that all of what we are is affected
The heart is often referred to in scripture
as the deepest part of man and the center of his spiritual nature (Esther
7:5; 1 Cor. 7:37; Rom. 6:17; Deut. 29:4). From the heart man understands (Prov.
8:5), reflects (Luke 2:19), feels joy (Isa. 65:14), and experiences pain (Prov.
25:20). Because of his depravity (sinful condition), man's heart is not
only impure but desperately sick: "The heart is more deceitful
than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?"
(Jer. 17:9). Also, it is out of the heart that we speak "...out of
the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34), and
what is in the heart of the person is what comes out of him: "For
from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, fornications,
thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as
deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil
things proceed from within and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23). It
follows then that man's understanding, reflection, feelings, and
experiences are all stained by sin.
The unregenerate person is a slave of sin:
"For when you were slaves of sin you were free in regard to
righteousness" (Rom. 6:20). That means that doing good is not a
concern or need of the unbeliever--and naturally so for a person with a
sinful nature. The unregenerate is inherently against God: "by
abolishing in His flesh the enmity...thus establishing peace"
(Eph. 2:15). Enmity is hatred, bitterness, and malice toward an enemy.
That was our relationship to God prior to salvation; there was enmity
So, the Bible reveals the true nature of
man. It is evil (Mark 7:21-23), sick (Jer. 17:9), a slave of sin (Rom.
6:20), at enmity with God (Eph. 2:15), and, of course, naturally belongs
in hell (Eph. 2:3). It then follows that out of his utterly sinful
condition, only sinful desires and effects will follow. The question must
then be asked, "How can a sinful person ever desire God?"
3) The Result of Man's Sinful Condition
Because of man's sinfulness, he is unable
to understand God, seek God, or do any thing good: "...both Jews
and Greeks are all under sin as it is written, 'There is none righteous,
not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for
God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is
none who does good, there is not even one'" (Rom. 3:9-12).
Because of his sinfulness, he loves
darkness rather than light; he loves evil rather than good: "And
this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved
the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil"
Because of his depravity, he is incapable
of accepting the things of God or understanding them: "But a
natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are
foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are
spiritually appraised" (1 Cor. 2:14). The natural man is the
unregenerate man. The natural man cannot understand the things of God.
Notice it does not say, "has trouble understanding," or
"can if he's sincere," or "will be able to if he chooses
God." It says he cannot understand. Salvation is one of those
"things of God," and so is the understanding of being lost, of
being a sinner, of needing repentance, etc. All of these are out of reach
of the natural man. He cannot understand them.
So, in light of these scriptures, how can
an unbeliever come to an understanding that he needs salvation if the
Bible teaches that he cannot understand his need (1 Cor. 2:14), that his
nature is evil (Mark 7:21-23) and that he does not seek God (Rom. 3:11)?
It would seem that man's sinful condition does not permit him to desire,
understand, or want God. What effect, then, does this condition have upon
his free will?
4) Man's Free Will
Many believe that man, by his free will, by
something that resides in him, is completely able to independently accept
or reject God. But this belief is not supported in scripture. As I stated
above, man's will by nature is sinful. What then will a sinful free will
choose? It will choose sin. His free will, then, would never allow Him to
reach out to God.
But we must ask, "What is free
will?". Generally it is accepted to mean the freedom to choose
according to one's desires. This seems true. But someone is only as free
as his nature is free. His will is limited to that which is within his
nature. The unregenerate can only choose what his nature allows him to
choose. Since he is full of sin, not goodness, his choices can only be
In other words, a person can choose to do
only that which his nature allows him to do. He cannot simply will to
suddenly vanish into thin air or fly like Superman because he is incapable
of such feats; his nature limits him. So too with the nature of fallen
man. He is severely limited by what he can and cannot do.
The sinful man:
- cannot understand spiritual things (1
- is full of evil (Mark 7:21-23).
- does not seek for God (Rom. 3:11).
- is lawless, rebellious, unholy, and
profane (1 Tim. 1:9).
can the good desire to want God come out of the unsaved's evil heart? It
cannot! How is he able, in his sinful free will, to desire God when his
inclinations are always to reject Him? He cannot. How can he, with his
blind and sinful will that is deadened, hardened, and enslaved by sin
(Rom. 6:20) ever choose God? He cannot! It is impossible. That's why Jesus
said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are
possible" (Matthew 19:26, NIV).
But some still maintain that God works on a
person and slowly teaches and guides him or her into believing. Others say
that there is something in a person's free will that enables him to choose
God. They maintain that everyone is equally able to accept or reject. But
if they are equally free and equally able, then why don't they all equally
accept God, or why don't they all equally choose to reject Him? Why are
there variations in choice? Are the variations a result of a tendency that
God gave them? But God made them that way. Is it because of their
environment? But God put them there. Is it because of some physical
inclination? But God gave them their bodies. Is it because of their
parents' influence? But God gave them their parents.
The fact remains, man is not entirely free;
he is sinfully free. The unsaved can act freely, but only within the
limits of their sinful nature which cannot understand spiritual things (1
Cor. 2:14), does not seek for God (Rom. 3:11), hates God, and is in
slavery to sin (Rom. 6:17,20), etc. That is why Jesus said, "No
one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him..."
(John 6:44), and, "No one can come to Me, unless it has been granted
him from the Father" (John 6:65). These are not the statements one
would hope to find if the sinner were so free to choose to accept or
5) The Necessity of Predestination
I've laid the foundation: Man is completely
a sinner who is incapable of understanding and coming to God and has a
sinful free will capable only of rejecting God. Therefore, in order for
salvation to occur, God must predestine. It can be no other way. If this
is so, then there should be verses supporting it. There are:
- Acts 13:48: And when the
Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of
the Lord; AND AS MANY AS HAD BEEN APPOINTED TO ETERNAL LIFE BELIEVED.
- John 1:12-13: But as many as
received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God,
even to those who believe in His name, WHO WERE BORN NOT OF BLOOD, NOR
OF THE WILL OF THE FLESH, NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN, BUT OF GOD.
- Philippians 1:29: FOR TO YOU IT
HAS BEEN GRANTED FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, NOT ONLY TO BELIEVE IN HIM, but
also to suffer for his sake.
- Romans 8:29-30: FOR WHOM HE
FOREKNEW, HE ALSO PREDESTINED to become conformed to the image of His
Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He
predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also
justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
- Ephesians 1:5: HE PREDESTINED
US to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to
the kind intention of His will.
- Ephesians 1:11 Also WE HAVE
OBTAINED AN INHERITANCE, HAVING BEEN PREDESTINED ACCORDING TO HIS
PURPOSE who works all things after the counsel of His will.
preceding scriptures clearly show that the Lord is very active in
salvation. He did not simply provide the means of salvation, the cross,
but He also ensured the application of the blood of Christ through
Please consider that it is God who:
- - draws people to Himself (John 6:44,65).
- - creates a clean heart (Psalm 51:10).
- - appoints people to believe (Acts 13:48).
- - works faith in the believer (John 6:28-29).
- - chooses who is to be holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4).
- - chooses us for salvation (2 Thess. 2:13-14).
- - grants the act of believing (Phil. 1:29).
- - grants repentance (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
- - calls according to His purpose (2 Tim. 1:9).
- - causes us to be born again (1 Pet. 1:3).
- - predestines us to salvation (Rom. 8:29-30).
- - predestines us to adoption (Eph. 1:5).
- - predestines us according to His purpose (Eph.
- - makes us born again not by our will but by His will
It is man who:
- - is deceitful and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9).
- - is full of evil (Mark 7:21-23).
- - loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19).
- - is unrighteous, does not understand, does not seek
for God (Rom. 3:10-12).
- - is helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6).
- - is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).
- - is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3).
- - cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14).
- - is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:16-20).
How can it
be any other way than God's loving predestination to make our salvation
not only possible, but also a reality? Left to man, salvation is
impossible: "When the disciples heard this, they were greatly
astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and
said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are
possible'" (Matthew 19:25-26). That is why it must be God who
opens the heart: "And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city
of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was
listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken
by Paul" (Acts 16:14).
This is what truly glorifies God, that in
His infinite mercy He is gracious enough to save those who would always
reject Him, always hate Him, and always malign Him. Praise Him and His
sovereign. Sovereignty means that God is supreme in power and authority,
that He answers to no one, and that He may do as He pleases for whatever
reason He chooses. "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'" (Isaiah
46:10); "...to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to
occur" (Acts 4:28); "...this Man [Jesus], delivered up by
the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross..."
Out of a people of utter sinfulness and
inability, God has chosen, by His sovereign grace, to elect some into
salvation and not others. Remember, there is nothing in man that merits
any favor, blessing, or mercy whatsoever. For there is no favoritism with
God (Rom. 2:11). Each and every person is entirely worthy of wrath and
incapable of saving himself. That is why God has chosen a people to
Himself out of the good pleasure of His heart. Because without His
choosing, none would ever come to Him. Therefore, predestination is a
loving doctrine: "...In love He predestined us to adoption as sons
through Jesus Christ..." (Eph. 1:4,5).
He chooses some and ignores others not
because of what the person has done, or what is foreknown that he would
do, but simply because of God's sovereign choice: "[God] who has
saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works,
but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ
Jesus from all eternity" (2 Tim. 1:9); and, "for though
the twins had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose
according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of
Him who calls, it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.'
Just as it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'" (Rom.
9:11-13; see also, Psalm 11:5).
Sovereignty is why God has mercy on whom He desires and hardens whom He
desires: "For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have
mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it
does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who
has mercy...So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom
He desires" (Rom. 9:15,16,18). This is sovereignty! It is God who
is in control.
Some He has elected to salvation, others He
has not: "...for they stumble because they are disobedient to the
word, and to this doom they were also appointed" (1 Pet. 2:8);
And, "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 in order that He might make known
the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared
beforehand for glory" (Rom. 9:22-23). It seems quite clear that
God prepares some for mercy and not others. That is sovereignty.
better understanding of scripture, predestination is not the tyrannical
doctrine that so many make it out to be. Predestination is really the
manifestation of God's mercy and love. It ensures the salvation of the
ones He has called. It properly reveals the true nature of man to be
utterly sinful, rebellious, and antagonistic to God. It puts God in total
sovereign control, where He rightfully belongs. It removes man's ability
to take any credit at all for salvation, because even the act of believing
could not be self-authored in a sinful free will. And, finally, it reveals
the greatness of God's mercy and love and causes the saved to rest in the
knowledge that it was God who made their salvation sure, and not their own
faulty, sinful wills.
1) How does this doctrine of
predestination fit in with a loving God?
But predestination is loving. Without the
loving predestination of God (Eph. 1:4,5) no one would ever be saved. All
would go to hell.
2) If God predestines us, and our sinful
wills would never allow us to seek God, then wouldn't God be violating the
wills of those He calls?
No, because He doesn't violate their wills
when He regenerates them first. Since God calls (Rom. 8:28-30), He first
regenerates the nature of the person called. Since the person is then
regenerate, with a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17), he is then able to desire
God. Therefore, God does not violate his will.
But some say that faith brings
regeneration. Again I ask: How can an unregenerate person have faith in
the true God? He cannot. It is regeneration that brings faith.
this mean that even if you wanted to be saved you couldn't if you're not
This question doesn't reflect a proper
understanding of the condition of man. The unsaved don't want salvation or
the true God, so they wouldn't ever seek salvation. Also, anyone who truly
desires salvation is only wanting it because the Lord is drawing him.
Romans 8:29 prove that God looked into the future and foreknew who would
accept Him?: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to
become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born
among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called."
There are two reasons why these verses
cannot be used to support that idea. First, if you read the verse, there
is a key word that is often missed: "also." The verse says that
the ones foreknown are ALSO predestined. In other words, the same ones
foreknown are the ones predestined. It does not say that He foreknew all
and predestined some; otherwise it would say, "Of those He foreknew,
some He predestined." It says He ALSO predestined those whom He
foreknew. The foreknown are the group He has predestined to be saved.
Second, God only "knows"
believers. He does not "know" unbelievers. Matt. 7:22-23 says,
"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.'"
John 10:27 says, "My sheep hear My
voice, and I KNOW THEM, and they follow Me";
John 13:18 says, "I do not speak of
all of you, I KNOW THE ONES I HAVE CHOSEN..."
Gal. 4:9 says, "But now that you
have come to know God, or rather TO BE KNOWN by Him..."
2 Tim. 2:19 says, "...The Lord
KNOWS those who are His..."
These verses show a "knowing"
that is related to salvation. Only Christians are "known." Only
the foreKNOWN are predestined. God foreknew; that is, He foreloved His
chosen ones and predestined them into salvation. God knows believers,
hence the word "foreknown." Therefore, Rom. 8:29 doesn't support
the idea that God looked into the future to see who would pick Him.
In addition, God would not look into a
person to see if he would pick Him, because if that were so, then God's
choice would depend upon Man's choice and God would not be sovereign.
about the verses that suggest you choose God?
"Whosoever will believe...He who
receives... etc." We see in Scripture both God's and Man's hands in
salvation. God elects, predestines, draws, and saves. Man chooses, but
only after God has saved him (see objection number 2). We experience and
understand the act of choosing, but this is because we do so after we're
regenerate. If someone says that he freely chose to accept God and that
predestination is untrue, then he is establishing doctrine by his
experience. This is something that is to be avoided.
Acts 13:48 describes the
"whosoever." They are the ones who are appointed to believe:
"...and all who were appointed for eternal life believed."
It is obvious from this verse that the ones who believe are the ones who
are appointed by God to believe. Remember also Philippians 1:29: "For
to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him,
but also to suffer for His sake." God grants that the elect
believe. That is why we are born again not of our wills but of the will of
God (John 1:12-13).
it isn't fair to only choose some.
Fairness is that we all go to hell. ALL
people deserve damnation (Eph. 2:3). God would be perfectly just to let
all slide into the eternal abyss of damnation--and He would still be just
as loving, because that is His nature. God doesn't owe us anything. The
question isn't "Why would He only choose SOME?"; but rather,
"Why did He choose ANY?"
about verses like "I will draw all men to Myself" (John
The "all" are only the
Christians. This may sound absurd at first. The Bible says that Jesus is
the only way to the Father (John 14:6) and that there is no other name
under heaven by which a man may be saved (Acts 4:12). Can the
"all" here mean everyone? What about those who never heard the
gospel, like the Aborigines 100 years before Christ? Does the gospel
message apply to them? I ask this because how can anyone be saved apart
from Jesus, especially when they haven't had the opportunity to hear the
gospel? It seems to me that the "all" of this verse must apply
to the elect.
Incidentally, a discussion of Romans 5:18
sheds light on the biblical usage of "all" when it says, "...there
resulted justification of life to all men" (NASB). The
"all" there obviously cannot mean everyone, but only a select
group, i.e., "the many" spoken of in the following verse.
In addition, other verses worth examining
in this context are 1 Cor. 15:22 and 2 Cor. 5:14. It says in 1 Cor. 15:22,
"For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."
Adam represented everyone in his death. Christ represented the elect in
His death as is evidenced by the fact that the only ones who are made
alive in Christ (Rom. 6:11; 8:10) are the Christians. The "all"
can only be the elect.
2 Cor. 5:14 says, "For Christ's
love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and
therefore all died." The only ones who die in Christ (Rom. 6:8)
are the Christians. The "all" can only be the elect.
If you are interested in a more thorough
analysis of verses that say things like "God wants all men to be
saved" then click on "All
I actually did choose to accept God.
That is right. You did. But only because
God first regenerated you, freed your will from sin, and thereby allowed
you to be able to choose Him. Regeneration precedes faith. The regenerated
person is no longer the slave of sin (Rom. 6:6) and is therefore able to
desire God. He then DOES choose God.
This act of regeneration is what God does.
Remember, your believing is something God has given you: "For to
you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but
also to suffer for His sake" (Phil. 1:29); Also, "Jesus
answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in
Him whom He has sent'" (John 6:29); And, "...and as many as
had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).
This is also why we are born again not by
our own wills, but the will of God: "But as many as received
Him...[these] were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of
the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12,13).
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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 1998-2006
I welcome your comments via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org