If you're 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 those questions.
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 predestination.
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 6:39;17:9,24, NIV).
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 by sin.
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 between us.
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" (John 3:19).
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
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 sinful.
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 Cor. 2:14).
- 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).
How then 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 reject God.
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.
The 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 predestination.
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. 1:11).
- - makes us born again not by our will but by His will (John 1:12-13).
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).
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"
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 love!
6) God's Sovereign Election
God is 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..." (Acts 2:23).
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
With a 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.
8) Objections Answered
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.
3) Does this mean that even if you wanted to be saved
you couldn't if you're not predestined?
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.
4) Doesn't 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
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.
5) What 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).
6) But 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?"
7) What about verses like "I will draw all men
to Myself" (John 12:32)?
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
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
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 Men Saved."
8) But 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
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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 1998, 1999,
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