(Reposted from August 2014)
Imagine that I walk into your church and say, “I am taking a group of people on a mission trip with me. We are leaving sometime soon, and you have to decide which group you’ll be part of: the one that goes or the rest that stay behind. I have a destination picked out, a way to get there, I’ve already paid the price to take a group with me, and I’m now asking for those who want to go. It’s up to you if you want to come or be left behind. And if you do not deliberately choose to come with me, you will be left behind.” This, in essence, is the way I view the whole “predestination or free-will” debate.
This debate has to do with the idea of whether we have the ability to choose salvation or if God has already made this decision for us in the very beginning. Are we simply puppets acting out pre-determined roles? Or do we have a real choice in the matter?
I think it falls somewhere in the middle, that we have free-will and that God has a predetermined plan already set up.
Twice in the past week, I heard the message that God has pre-chosen who will come to Him and who is destined for destruction. It was said that this actually highlights God’s love more because He didn’t have to choose any of us. But He did. So it actually makes His love shine more to those who are saved because He chose to make us the saved ones even though we didn’t deserve it. Totally unearned, undeserved mercy and grace.
Okay, I can understand that. But what about the rest of the people, the ones “created” to be unbelievers and who are destined for destruction? The ones who have no choice but to go to hell because God has decided it so? "Well, too bad, but that’s just the way it is and who are we to question God’s ways, I guess." Or so the reasoning might go.
And it was said that the reason we evangelize and pray for the lost – even though we have no real free-will to choose God or not because the choice has already been made for us – is because God told us to. Plain and simple. And because He knew that it’s how the lost would come to Him.
Really? So you’re saying that, even though we have no real free-will and we are destined to become what God pre-determined us to become, God still needs us to spread the Good News because that’s how the soon-to-be-believers will become believers? That God needs my cooperation in order to help them become the believers that they are destined to become? So I have to obey God’s command to pray and evangelize so that His Will gets done? But don’t you agree that if I have to obey this command, it means that I have the option to disobey? That I can either share the Good News with an unbeliever or I can chicken out and not talk about Jesus? And so the responsibility lies with me to obey or disobey the nudges of the Holy Spirit? Excuse me, I mean no offense, but doesn’t that bring us right back to free-will, the ability to choose to obey or not?
The messages I have heard recently do not sit well with me. While I agree that God is able to do whatever He wants (even handpicking who gets saved and who gets damned), I just don’t think this is the way it is. I don’t think it fits with His character, His Word, and the way He relates to people in the Bible.
I know that there are a lot of scholars and theologians on both sides of the issue, and I don’t expect that I have it all figured out. And theologians through the centuries haven’t been able to figure it out, so it would probably be irresponsible for any of us to be dogmatic about our position on this.
I have read people who act like, “If you disagree with my view on this, you disagree with the Bible and God because it is soooo clear.” No, we disagree with someone’s interpretation of what the Bible says about this. And if centuries of theologians don’t agree on it, then it is not “so clear” and we can’t act like “God told me the answer and you’re wrong if you disagree with me.”
Personally, I think acting like “disagreeing with me is disagreeing with God” is a sneaky, clever way of shutting-up any opposition because no one wants to look like they are disagreeing with God. It’s making it so that no one can disagree with your view. But this is one area that is not “so clear” and we need to be teachable and humble in our approach to this.
Another thing to watch out for is the “bait and switch” technique. Of course, I don’t think the person is being deliberately manipulative, but I do think it is a clever (maybe unconscious) way to stop opposition. This is when they present a truth and get you to agree to the truth and then they attach that truth to their viewpoint, making you feel like since you now agreed to the truth, you have to also agree to their view.
I noticed this technique recently in the writings of a well-known theologian who believes in predestination. He basically said something like “Our great Holy Father in heaven –the Creator of all - expects us to evangelize, right? And we are supposed to be obedient, even when we don’t understand, right? Therefore, we need to be obedient when it comes to evangelism even if we don’t understand how evangelism affects things since God has already pre-decided people’s destinies. But since God told us to evangelize, we need to do it without reservation.”
He presents some truths that no one should disagree with: God is our Heavenly Father, He created all, He commands us to evangelize, and we need to be obedient to Him. And once the writer gets you to feel appropriately humbled before God and to agree with these truths, then he applies these truths to his view on predestination, making you feel like since you already agreed with all those truths, you can’t now disagree and make it look like you are going back on what you just agreed with.
The problem here, though, is that you are not disagreeing with the truths but with what he is applying them to. Be aware of these kinds of manipulative techniques which will make you feel so unhumble that you will agree with “faulty logic” (which I think “predestination” is) just so you can’t be accused of disagreeing with clear, biblical truth.
I have also heard things like the idea that people from other countries have no problem with “predestination,” and that it’s only us entitled, power-hungry, un-humble Americans who have trouble with it. This makes it so that if you disagree with predestination, you are identifying yourself as “entitled, power-hungry, and un-humble.” And who wants to do that?
This is another “tactic” (most likely a tactic that the person is unaware they are using and that they have the best intentions about, truly trying to honor God) that only serves to shut up any opposition. Because no one wants to identify themselves as one of those Americans. Not when it makes you look like you just don’t get it and like you are too proud and self-centered to see it.
And one more tactic is claiming that predestination is a view that even children can understand and humbly accept, but it’s only us proud, self-righteous adults who have trouble with it. And that when God calls us to be “humble like a child,” He means that we simply accept this teaching in faith, without questioning His ways because it’s what the Bible says is true.
This is a somewhat scary one because it is telling you to abandon all sense of reason and research and deep understanding, to just accept what you are being told or risk looking like a proud, self-righteous adult who isn’t “humble like a child” as the Bible calls us to be.
Well, here’s the thing: Children also believe in Santa Claus. And why do they believe in Santa Claus? Because adults have convinced them that he is real. Children trust adults and will believe what we tell them, especially if we tell them that it’s what the Bible says is true. So they have no problem accepting predestination if that is what a trusted adult tells them the Bible says. [When I told my nine-year-old about predestination, he said, “Then why do we even have this life anyway? Why not skip it all if God already knows where He is going to put us and there’s nothing we can do about it?”]
But what if it’s not what the Bible really says?
I think we need to be very alert to these kinds of tactics that are used to silence opposition and make others fall in line. Christianity is not a “blind faith” where we are required to suspend all reason and research and just accept whatever someone else tells us. (That is a “cult.”) No, Christianity is actually a very intelligent and reasonable faith with lots of history to back it up and evidence to prove its validity. And we would be wise to dig deeply, to search for the evidence that backs it up, to exercise reason and intelligent thinking and come up with answers and views that hold up under scrutiny and attacks.
Being “humble like a child” does not mean that we have to accept whatever is told to us and that we shouldn’t question it. It means that we set aside our self-sufficient, “adult” ways and humbly bow before Him, admitting that we cannot do it on our own, that we cannot save ourselves, and that we need Him. A child knows that they need someone bigger and stronger to take care of them. A Christian knows that they need Someone bigger and stronger to take care of them.
Another part of being a child is not “ not questioning or doubting.” It’s bringing our questions and doubts to the One who can answer them. It’s digging deep so that we can grow in our understanding and mature in our faith and have real answers for real questions.
If you notice these kinds of tactics – the kind that make you feel like you are an unhumble Christian for questioning God like that and like you need to just be quiet and fall in line with what you are being told – do not be intimidated into silence and “submission.” Just because someone else thinks this is what the Bible says doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what the Bible really says. Research it for yourself. Dig deeply. It’s how you will grow in wisdom and understanding and faith.
I am not trying to criticize those who genuinely feel they are trying to honor God because they really believe that the Bible teaches predestination and that they need to help others “see the light.” (And I am sure that people who disagree with my view can find some unintentional “tactics” in my own writing. Happy hunting!)
What I am trying to do here is to help those who are confused and who are struggling with feeling bad about themselves, their faith, and their “Christian-ness” because they don’t agree with what they are being taught and who feel like they are being manipulated into agreeing with something they don’t think is true but they can’t put their finger on why they feel manipulated. (Wow! Long sentence. Read it again if you need to.)
So I wanted to share some ways that I think we try to stop opposing views and to put the pressure on others to see things our way. This way, you can notice it when it happens and evaluate it, instead of just being made to feel like you are an unhumble Christian for not agreeing.
[And for those who are deliberately trying to block any opposition and to manipulate others into agreeing with you . . . What are you afraid of? If your view is biblical, it will hold up under scrutiny and opposition. So in a way, you should welcome it. Because it will only strengthen and support your position . . . if it really fits with what the Bible teaches.]
I don’t mind when we hold different views on controversial, debatable subjects or when we try to explain to others why we think our view is right. What I mind is when someone gets really heavy-handed about a controversial, unclear subject, acting like their view is “What the Bible says” and trying to strong-arm you into agreeing with them, through mocking or intimidation or implying that you are less humble, less godly, or less intelligent. This is what gets me angry. And this is what I am countering here. (And if it’s coming from the pulpit, it makes you want to stop inviting new people to church.)
All that being said, everything I say in these posts is my opinion, what I think the Bible teaches. But I could be wrong. And many godly, intelligent theologians would whole-heartedly disagree with my view. And many would agree. This is why we can’t be dogmatic about this, even if we’ve settled the matter in our own minds. Research it for yourself to see what you think.
But I wanted to do a post on why I think that “predestination” does not mean that we don’t have free-will, why I think that predestination and free-will go hand in hand, and why it makes the most sense when you consider God’s character and the way He deals with people in the Bible. I simply can’t ignore a message that I think hurts our mission to evangelize and our message of God’s love, His forgiveness, and His offer of salvation. And so I want to do my part to share what I think is the better way to understand this issue.
Verses on Predestination?
Let’s take a look at some of the verses (in no particular order) that are used to support predestination and the idea that our decision is really made for us by God. And I will share what I think the verse is really saying. (Also, check out the predestination section at gospelway.com. When I was looking up verses that support predestination, I ran across this site and was pleased to see that they hold the same view I do.)
1. Isaiah 43:7: “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
First of all, God made all of mankind for His glory. He made man in His image. He made man to know Him and have a relationship with Him. And when man fell, He made a way for all people to be saved. But while He made everyone for His glory and provided salvation for all, only some will choose it. And those are the people He is talking about here. Actually, this verse speaks specifically of Israel, the race through whom He chose to give Jesus to the world. It does not necessarily mean that people were formed and made and created to be believers, for God’s glory. It’s just zeroing in on Israel here and the special role He gave them.
2. Jeremiah 1:4-5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
This one is easy. It is the word of the Lord coming to Jeremiah about Jeremiah and his role as a prophet. It’s not meant to be taken as “I have pre-determined which people will choose Me and which won’t.” The message of hope that Christians can take away from this passage in general is that God knows us all before He creates us. He knows who we will become. And we are not cosmic accidents. We are thoughtfully- and deliberately-made creations.
3. Matthew 22:14: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
First off, notice at the beginning of the chapter that those who were originally invited to the wedding banquet (i.e. those who were offered salvation, invited to heaven) chose not to come. They were invited, but they refused. It was their choice. So the king told his servants to go out and invite anyone they could find who might be willing to come. Once again, they were invited, not forced or just gathered up because they were on some sort of “saved by predetermination” list. And when the guests arrived, the king found one who had snuck in, who was not really an invited guest (i.e. he wasn’t a true believer). And he was thrown outside. This is when we read that “many are invited, but few are chosen.”
I don’t think this is saying that the guests are pre-chosen and have no choice about being believers or not, but that not everyone who shows up is chosen to stay. Only the true believers will really make it into heaven. This echoes the idea in Matthew 7:22-23 that there will be some who say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” And Jesus will say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” If someone isn’t a true believer – if they are only acting like believers or have a “religion” of their own making – then they will not be chosen to stay at the wedding banquet (i.e. they will find out that they do not have a true, saving faith).
4. John 15:16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit . . .”
Jesus is speaking here specifically to the disciples. He handpicked his disciples and gave them the task of going out and spreading His message and making more disciples. It’s not a verse on salvation.
5. 1 Corinthians 2:7: “No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”
This “wisdom” is about the salvation that God offers to all people. From the very beginning, God knew that when He created people, they would fall. So He pre-planned Jesus’ sacrifice for our salvation, for our glory. But this doesn’t mean that it was only given to some people, that He only destined certain people to receive salvation. It’s available for all, but only those who accept it will be glorified by it.
6. Galatians 1:15: “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace . . .”
This has nothing to do with salvation in general or the idea that God pre-chooses who gets salvation and who doesn’t. It’s talking specifically about Paul and the special role to which God called him, to preach to the Gentiles. God set him apart for this role. It is not saying God sets apart certain people to be saved and others to be damned.
7. 1 Peter 1:1-2: “To God’s elect . . . who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood”
I don’t think this is talking about specific people being chosen to be saved, but about God planning to help those who believe in Him to grow in their obedience to Jesus with the Spirit’s help. It’s like saying that God knew from the beginning that He was going to send Jesus to save us and be our example and that He would send the Holy Spirit to help us become more like Jesus. It’s not that we were “chosen for salvation according to His preference,” but that those whom He foreknew would become believers are “chosen according to His foreknowledge to be sanctified, to become more obedient to Jesus, and to grow to be more like Him.”
I know that we stumble over the words “chosen” and “elected,” thinking that it must mean that God chooses us based on nothing but His own preference. However, when it comes to salvation, I think this “choosing/election” is based on us, on our willingness to turn to Him.
Look at Romans 11:4-5:
“And what was God’s answer to him? ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”
God did not arbitrarily choose a remnant. He chose those who had not chosen Baal. The people influenced their future themselves, by choosing to turn from God or toward God. And He chose those who chose Him. And likewise, He hardened those who chose against Him (Romans 11:7-8). But it was the people’s choice. They chose first, then God responded to them according to their choice. I think it’s the same with us. God foreknows who will turn to Him and who will turn away. And in His grace, He chooses the group that turns to Him. Yet whether we are chosen or not is still based on us and our willingness to believe in Him.
I have to admit, as I reread this passage (1 Peter 1:1-2), I really began to wonder if it means that God determines who will believe and who won’t. And so I decided to see what else Peter says. And in 2 Peter 1:1, he says “To those who . . . have received a faith as precious as ours.” And I looked up “received” in the concordance to see what I could learn. But in this verse, the word is actually “obtained” which basically means to get something because God “allotted” it to us, through no control of our own. Yikes! Maybe I have been wrong.
But it’s true. It’s true that faith is given to us as a gift. We have done nothing to create it or deserve it or earn it.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
It is wholly by God’s doing that we can have faith. So in that sense, it is right. But I think that while we could not create it – that God has to be the one to give it to us, to make it possible – we still have the option to accept it or reject it.
“For if, by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)
In this verse, the word “receive” (according to the concordance) basically involves the idea of consciously reaching out and deliberately grabbing ahold of what is offered to us. It is active, not passive.
The free gift of faith and salvation that God has offered and made possible through no effort of our own becomes ours only when we take hold of it – accept it, reach out and grab it. It is then that we receive it.
[Update: In the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, 1 Peter 1:1-2 says this: “. . . To the exiles of the dispersion . . . chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for the sprinkling of his blood . . .”
Maybe you won’t see it this way, but to me it sounds like Peter is not writing to the “elect,” as in “those predestined by God for salvation.” It sounds like he is writing to those Christians of the day who have been scattered under the persecution they were experiencing, to “dispersed exiles.” And remember that Peter is writing to the Jews, God’s chosen people. This may be what he means when he says “chosen.” Not that they were pre-chosen to be saved but that they are Jews, God’s chosen people. And not only are they Jews but they are Jews who have put their faith in Jesus. They are “sanctified Jews.”
Neither this interpretation nor the first one point to “salvation by predetermination.” The first points to the idea that those of us who God foreknows as believers are destined to be obedient to Christ. And the second points to the idea that Peter is simply writing to believing Jews who have been scattered under the persecution of the day.
Also, this 1 Peter greeting sounds a lot like Paul’s greeting in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14: “But we always ought to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This could definitely sound like God hand-picked who would believe and who wouldn’t. And it would sound especially so if the verse simply said, “God chose you to be saved!” But I wonder if this verse is not saying that God chose specifically who to save . . . but that God chose to save people (mankind) through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through our belief in Jesus.
Furthermore, in various translations of the Bible, it doesn’t just say “from the beginning God chose you to be saved.” When we read this, it makes it sound like God has chosen who will be saved from the beginning of time.
But other translations say something like, “God chose you as His first-fruits,” basically that “God chose you to be among the first of those who believe in Jesus and who receive the Holy Spirit.”
Maybe all along, it’s not saying that God chose who to save from the beginning of time, but that He chose them to be the generation that would be the first of the believers, the first believers of the church’s history, after Jesus died and rose again and the Holy Spirit was sent to live in believers.
And maybe this is the same kind of greeting we see in 1 Peter. Maybe Peter is saying not that they were chosen for salvation, but that they were chosen to be the generation that saw Jesus’ death and resurrection. They would be the first believers of history to have Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
This makes it so much clearer to me. These might not be verses on being pre-destined to be saved, but verses about that generation being chosen to be the first to believe in Jesus, simply because their lifetime coincided with His coming.]
8. 1 Peter 2:8: “They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for.”
Anyone who is part of the group that doesn’t choose God and doesn’t believe is destined to disobey and stumble. It doesn’t mean you are forced to be in that group but that if you don’t choose to be on God’s side - if you don’t believe in Him - you are automatically on the “disobey” side. The disobedient group itself is destined for that end, but it’s up to us if we are part of it or not. It is still by God’s mercy and grace and work that we can have faith, but only if we have eyes to see God’s truth, are willing to believe, and respond to His call on our hearts. If not, we remain in the group that we are born on, the group that is destined to disobey.
9. Philippians 2:13: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
This is not talking about salvation but how God helps us grow in Him after becoming believers. He doesn’t force His Will, but He works in us to conform us more and more to His Will and to do the things that He wants us to do. You could also apply this explanation to Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” We might plan, but the Lord determines what the best course for us is. He reveals to us the steps we should take . . . if we will listen. It doesn’t mean He forces us to take that course, but the wise will follow Him in it because He knows best. (Psalm 25:9, 12: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.” Emphasis is mine.)
10. Proverbs 16:4: “The Lord works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for a day of destruction.”
This doesn’t say that He causes everything to happen, but that He takes everything that happens and works it out for His plans. And He knows best how to use everything because He knew ahead of time everything that would happen. He isn’t making up the plans as things happen, going, “Oh, gee, I didn’t know she would do that. Now I have to figure out how I can weave that into My plans.” He already knew what we would all choose to do, and He was able to figure out how He would use it all for His glory and purposes, even when it comes to “the wicked,” to those who choose against Him.
I think a lot of confusion and misunderstanding happens when we think that just because God is all-powerful, He always uses His power to force whatever He wants to happen. And yes, I think there are instances when this happens and there is an over-arching plan for mankind that He is working out over the course of history. And yes, He is sovereign over all, holding all things together in His hands, working through all things, and deciding what to allow to happen (not always necessarily cause to happen) and what to not allow. But when it comes to our individuals lives, I think He allows us a certain amount of freedom. He allows us to obey or disobey, to believe or not believe, to walk with Him on the path He wants to lead us down or to walk our own way and earn eternal consequences (i.e. hell).
The thing is, just because He has the power doesn’t mean He always uses it. I think He voluntarily restrains His use of power to allow us to make our own decisions about how we will live and whom we will serve. But it is only by doing it His way – bending a knee to Him, accepting Jesus’ death on our behalf - that we will end up in heaven with Him.
11. Romans 9:22-23: “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory . . .”
Ah, the big chapter! The one that really does make it sound like God decides who to make for heaven and who to make for hell. But this chapter isn’t talking about our eternal destinies in heaven or hell so much as it is talking specifically about the difference between two bloodlines: the Israelites (descended from Jacob) and the Edomites (descended from Esau). God chose Jacob to be the favored bloodline, the chosen people through whom He would glorify Himself and bring Jesus and salvation to the world. These verses are saying that God has the right to decide which people to favor (to give a special role to and have mercy on) and which to not, who to use for great purposes and who to use for common, menial purposes.
It’s also saying that God has the right to “adopt” anyone He wants to be His sons, even those not from Israel, and that He has the right to condemn even Israelites if they did not come to faith in Him. Being part of Israel does not guarantee salvation nor does being a Gentile guarantee damnation. God has the right to have mercy on whoever He wants, even a Gentile.
I don’t believe this passage is talking about individuals being specifically, deliberately created for destruction, but it’s talking about the eternal destinies of two different groups: Israel (representing those who will believe in Him, who are adopted as sons, and who will experience glory) and non-Israel (those who won’t believe and who will experience wrath).
He’s made a “going to heaven” team and a “going to hell” team. The eternal destinies of these two teams have already been decided from the beginning: one to glory and one to destruction. The path has been laid out. The team captains have been set before us (Jesus and Satan) and they are saying, “Which side do you choose to be on?” The different groups were created, the destinations were planned, but the individual people choose which team they want to join.
(Actually, to be accurate, as fallen humans, we are all born on Satan’s team, born separated from God. But Jesus offers the chance to get off that team and join His, to obtain salvation. But if we do not make a choice to join His team, we automatically stay on Satan’s side and will remain separated from God for eternity. So not making a choice to join God is making a choice to stay separated from Him. John 3:18: “Whoever believes in [Jesus Christ] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” This warning is for all those who think, “I didn’t deliberately choose to be against God, so I guess I’m okay.” Heaven is not our default destination. Hell is. Take this seriously.)
From the very beginning, God determined that there would be a group that chooses Him, a group that was created for eternal glory. And He knew that there would be a group that would not choose Him. And this group would follow Satan to hell. Yet He still lovingly made and patiently deals with those who will end up rejecting Him.
He’s not going, “Okay, Brian, John, and Sue, I’m making you for hell. Jane, Tony, and Jenny, I’ll make you for heaven.”
He’s going, “Brian, John, and Sue, I created you and I deeply love you and I made salvation available to you, too, even though I know you’ll never choose Me and that you are headed for destruction because of your unbelief in Me.”
God chose the Israelites as the favored people who had a special future. And we have the chance to be adopted into that group. And those who choose not to be adopted are headed for destruction. That’s what this passage means, not that He created specific individuals with pre-determined futures that they have no choice about, some destined for wrath and some for glory.
I’ll be honest, as I reread this Romans passage recently, I was still a little disturbed about the “prepared for destruction” phrase. It really does make it sound like they were deliberately made to be destroyed. And as I went to bed last night, I prayed that God would give me eyes to see. I really do want to understand what He means here, even if I am wrong. And the thought came to me (Thank you, Lord) that I need to look up this phrase in Strong’s concordance. And now this phrase does not trip me up anymore.
Apparently, older Bible translations say “fitted” for destruction, not “prepared” for destruction. And according to Strong’s, “fitted” in this verse indicates a strong correlation between someone’s character and their destiny. It is written in such a way to imply that the objects of wrath prepared themselves for destruction by their character, by who they chose to be. Not that God fashioned them that way.
Thankfully, this confirms what I think the rest of the Bible teaches, the idea that we determine our eternal destiny by our choice. We cause ourselves to go to hell or heaven based on whether we choose to be adopted into Israel or not. Mankind was “prepared in advance for glory,” but we destine ourselves for destruction when we reject God’s offer of salvation. Honestly, I am so excited to have looked this up. Thank you, Lord, for the guidance!
But what about Romans 9:16-18, “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden”? Doesn’t that mean that He decides who will become a believer and who won’t?
I don’t think so. First of all, remember that this passage is talking about God choosing one bloodline over the other for a special role and purpose, not necessarily about choosing who will be in heaven and who won’t. It is talking about God’s right to choose to bless and to use certain people for His special purposes, such as using Pharaoh to display His power.
Yet did God override Pharaoh’s free-will to do this? Did He create Pharaoh to have a hard heart? No. If you read about Pharaoh and the plagues, you’ll see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and wouldn’t listen during the first several plagues in Exodus. And it wasn’t until the sixth plague, the plague of boils, that God hardened his heart. Basically, God handed him over to the hardness of his heart, gave him what he wanted. It’s not that God gave him no choice, but that He actually gave him over to the choice he made to harden his heart. And maybe God raised him up to be Pharaoh specifically because He knew that he would harden his own heart? God didn’t force him to be what he was. God knew what he was and what he would decide, and He chose to use him because of it. God doesn’t force us to be who we are; He simply confirms who we are and the choices we make and uses it for His purposes.
Once again, look at Romans 11:4-5: “And what was God’s answer to him? ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand [Israelites] . . .” Does this mean He arbitrarily chose seven thousand people to become believers against their will, without their input or choice? No. Look at the rest of the verse: “ ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So, too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”
God did not choose to make some people bow a knee to Baal or to Himself. He did not place them in one group or the other. He let them choose which group to be part of, those who chose Baal or those who did not. And then He chose the group that chose not to bow a knee to Baal. By their beliefs, actions, and choices, they either ended up in the chosen group or in the condemned group. And so, too, are we part of either the “remnant chosen by grace” or those headed for destruction, by our belief or unbelief, by our bending the knee to God or to some other god.
Romans 11:20 says, “ . . . they were broken off because of unbelief . . .” In this verse, “unbelief” (from what I understand the concordance says) implies the idea of dis-believing something or being unfaithful to it. It is not “I didn’t believe because I was ignorant.” It’s “I knew and yet chose not to believe.” This confirms the idea that the people themselves decide which group they are part of, whether they are “connected to the root” or “broken off.”
We are not broken off from God or grafted to Him because of His pre-decided, arbitrary decision to graft us in or break us off, without any response, input, or choice on our parts. Yes, the whole plan to “break-off or graft-in” was His idea, with no influence or planning from us. But who gets grafted-in or broken-off is influenced by us.
It is our belief or unbelief that determines whether or not we are part of the saved group or the unsaved group. Of course, it is only by God’s grace that we can find salvation at all, but it is not His grace that decides who will be saved and who won’t. It is His grace that makes salvation possible for all, that paid the price for all sin. But it is our faith – our willingness to believe in Him - that gains us access to His saving grace and that justifies us. And this grace is available for all because everyone’s sin was paid for by Jesus on the cross. But it is our responsibility to accept that sacrifice, to believe and have faith. And if not, we miss out on that saving grace.
Romans 5:18 says that Jesus’ death on the cross (“the one act of righteousness”) brought “life for all men.” This doesn’t mean that all men will have eternal life, but that eternal life was made available to all men through Jesus’ sacrificial death. I think God means “all” when He says “all.” It is possible for all of us to be saved, if we are willing to believe.
And Romans 10:9-13 talks about how everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And God blesses those who call on Him. There is a responsibility on our parts to call on Him, to respond to the Good News that we hear.
As 10:16 says, “Not all the Israelites accepted the good news.” It doesn’t say that they were pre-programmed to not accept it, but instead makes it sound as though the responsibility was on them to accept or reject the truth. According to 10:9, we have to confess and believe and then we will be saved. Confess and believe are acts of our will. We have to choose to do them. They are not done for us.
12. Romans 8:28-30: “. . . 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 his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
This is another tricky one. But “being called according to his purpose” doesn’t mean that He only chose some people to receive salvation. It just means that it was His plan and purpose to call people to Him (to offer salvation) and to work for the good of those who love Him. He puts the call out there, but not everyone hears and responds and chooses to love Him.
And I don’t think it says that we were predestined to be believers or not, but that those who He knew would love Him and believe in Him were predestined to become more and more like Jesus. (Just like 1 Peter 1:1-2)
Remember the “Away from me, I never knew you” verse. It’s as though God “knows” believers but doesn’t “know” unbelievers. So when this verse talks about those “God foreknew,” it’s talking specifically about believers because He doesn’t even “know” unbelievers. It’s not talking about pre-choosing who would believe but about the path of all believers. Our path as believers should lead to being more and more Christ-like. This is the destiny to which God calls all true believers. He knew who’d become believers and He called them to be more like Jesus, He justified them through Jesus, He will show His glory through them, and they will reach glory in the end.
It’s not saying anything about Him choosing who will believe and who won’t. He’s just talking here about the plan He has for those who do choose Him, how He will work things out for their good and how He will help them grow to be more Christ-like. This whole chapter is meant to encourage believers during trials and to instruct them about living in the Spirit.
13. Acts 2:39: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
This, too, isn’t meant to say that God only calls some people. God calls all people to Him. And the promise (of the gift of the Holy Spirit, verse 38) is available for all. But it will only be acquired by those who “Repent and [are] baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” The call has been given to “every one of you” (verse 38). But, of course, Paul didn’t mean that every one of them would be saved. But the offer is there for everyone and the promise has been made to everyone that if they believe, they will receive the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins.
Important note: the word “call” (in the concordance) involves the idea of summoning someone, calling them toward you, bidding them to come, inviting them. This does not sound like a call is irresistible, like God is forcing you to come to Him. It is more like He is inviting you to come to Him. Big difference.
14. Ephesians 1:4,5, 11: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will . . . In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will . . .”
This is one of the key passages that makes it sound like we are predestined to choose Him or not, like He hand-picks who becomes His sons, according to His pleasure and will. However, I have no problem looking at it this way: God has predestined mankind in general to be His people. He made us to know Him and choose Him. This was His plan for mankind from the very beginning. However, He doesn’t force us. It’s up to us which side we choose to be on (and remember that it’s actually that we are born on Satan’s side and that’s where we will stay if we do not choose to cross over to God’s side). It was His Will to choose mankind before the world was created to have a relationship with Him. He laid out that destiny for all of us. But He doesn’t force us to follow Him in it.
It’s like parents preparing the way for their child to go to law school and pre-paying for all the years of higher education. It’s all set. The child has been destined for law school. But the child can refuse to go. He has to decide if he will go down the pre-set path or not. The parents can do all they can to prepare the way, but the child has to choose to follow.
It’s also like my earlier illustration about forming a group to go on a mission trip. God walks into the world and says “I am taking a group of people with Me to heaven. This is My plan and My Will, for My pleasure and glory. I have the path all laid out. The ticket is paid for. Will you join this group or not?”
The thing is, His Will will still be done. His ultimate Will is to be surrounded by those who love and choose Him for all of eternity. And He will have a group of people with Him in heaven. But it’s up to us if we are part of that group or not.
And Ephesians 1:13 says “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, . . .” We have to hear and believe. Hear and believe a message that is shared with all people. It’s like radio waves in the air. The radio waves are there, available to all. But only those with the “ears to hear” will hear it. And only those with the desire to believe will respond.
Of course, salvation is only possible because of Jesus’ sacrifice and because the Spirit calls us, illuminates the eyes of our heart, and gives us the gift of faith. But I think this gift is offered to all, but not accepted by all. The light is available to all, but many keep their eyes closed or prefer the darkness. The radio waves are there, but many don’t bother to tune in or they flat-out refuse to tune in. Everything has been done for us, but our responsibility is to respond to the call. To reach out and accept the gift.
15. John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
This one scared me for awhile. It sounds like Jesus is saying that all the people that God pre-chose to be believers are destined to come to faith in Jesus. But I don’t think that’s what this is really saying.
First of all, this verse doesn’t explain who God gives to Jesus or how He decides who to give to Jesus. And there is nothing in this passage that says that God pre-picks people to give to Jesus, that He overrides mankind’s will to force some people to be believers.
So how does God decide who to give to Jesus?
I think we can get a sense of who God gives to Jesus when we look at Romans 11:4-5 again. In this passage, as we already saw, God reserves for Himself seven thousand people who have not bowed the knee to Baal. God chooses those who did not choose Baal. And He says that “so, too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”
This is not an arbitrary “choosing.” It is based on what man chose first. Could this not also explain how God decides which people to give to Jesus? That God gives to Jesus those who willingly choose Him? Those who turn to Him in faith and believe?
I wonder, does “All that the Father gives me will come to me” have to mean that those who the Father gives to Jesus “will come to faith in Him because God makes them have faith”? Or could it mean that the Father gives to Jesus all those who choose to believe in Him, and that we believers are assured that we will not be left behind? That we will all “come to Him” in the end, entering into His presence on the day we are resurrected to meet Him in the air?
I think this passage is best explained when you look at it in context. And I think the context shows these two things: that salvation is found only in Jesus and that true believers are given the promise that they will eventually be with Him in heaven, eternally.
Those who God gives to Jesus – those who choose to put their faith in Him – found salvation in Jesus alone. True salvation is found in no one else but Jesus. You have to “come to Jesus” to find salvation, not so some other god. And those who choose Jesus and believe in Him are assured that they will obtain salvation and be permanently with Him in heaven in the end.
Look at John 6:38-40: “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 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. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
These verses emphasize the truth that all true believers will be raised up with Jesus on the last day to be with Him forever. No true believer will be left out. And it also specifies that the responsibility to believe is on man, that those who look to the Son and believe in Him will have eternal life. There is nothing here to indicate that God makes that decision for us. We make that decision. And we are assured that if we do, we will not be left behind.
And then there is John 6:44-45: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. . . . Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”
I explain more about John 6:44 in the post “Controversial Predestination Verse.” But for now, I will simply say that I don’t think it means that God forcibly draws us to Jesus, that His call is irresistible, that those He calls are pre-chosen to be believers and there is nothing you can do about it.
I think it means that none of us could possibly come to Jesus unless God made it possible, unless He put the desire to know Him in the hearts of mankind and made it possible for us to find Him. It’s not that God draws specific, pre-chosen individuals, but that He draws mankind to Him by planting the knowledge of Him and the desire for Him in our hearts, for us to respond to or to resist. But no one is able to get to God on their own, apart from God making it possible. Salvation was His plan, not ours. And He made the way, not us.
And once again, those who come to Jesus will be raised up in the last day, which further confirms that John 6 refers to the promise that believers will find eternal security in the Lord’s presence.
And I think “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me” means that if you listen to and respond to the call that God places on everyone's heart, you will find the truth. You will know that Jesus is the only way to God and to salvation, that no other god will save you. And so if you are really listening to God and learning from Him, you will “come to Jesus.” God’s truth will lead you to Jesus, not to anything else. So if you are led to anything else, it’s not God who was leading you there.
All of this makes up the three-fold explanation of what John 6:37 means. It doesn’t mean that God pre-chose certain people to give to Jesus and that they are destined to come to faith in Him. It means that God chooses to give to Jesus those who choose to believe in Him and that they are promised eternal security in His presence and that if you are truly listening to God, you will come to Jesus and know that salvation is found only in Him, instead of in any other god or way.
It’s not the easiest passage to understand. But it makes more sense if you read it in context and as a whole.
The Israelites in the Desert
I think we can get an idea of God’s offer of salvation when we look at the Old Testament, how God regularly lays out the “blessing path” and the “curse path” for the Israelites, and He tells them to choose which path they want to take. (Check out Deuteronomy 30 as an example.) He has the plans - the destinations - clearly set for both choices, but He leaves it up to the people to decide which path they take. And I think these are real choices, not the illusion of having a choice.
Also, we get a clear picture of how God works when we look at how God called the Israelites out of Egypt and took them to the Promised Land. His predetermined Will and plan was to take the Israelites from Egypt right to Canaan. And He would have done that. But the people rebelled against Him. And so He allowed them to die off in the desert. And then He took the next generation - those who were willing to go with Him - into the Promised Land.
His ultimate Will and plan was still accomplished. He planned to take Israel into the Promised Land. But He allowed them to reject Him or to follow Him obediently. He didn’t force them to go into the Promised Land. He only took those who were faithfully and obediently willing to follow Him.
This is the perfect balance between “pre-planning/predestination” and the free-will of mankind, the right to go down the path God laid out or not. His ultimate plan to have people with Him in heaven for all of eternity will still be accomplished, but we have to choose if we will accept or reject the pre-paid ticket to heaven, if we will follow Him to the Promised Land or not.
Some Problems with Predestination
Those who believe in predestination – the we don’t have a real choice about salvation – say that we have to evangelize and pray because God told us to and because God knew that this is how the lost would be saved. This is a pretty flimsy reason for evangelizing, given that (according to predestination) no one really has a choice in where their souls end up anyway.
If evangelizing didn’t really make a difference, then doing it just because God told us to do it would just be “going through the motions,” acting out a part just for the sake of acting it out. We would just be “pretending” to evangelize because it wouldn’t really be needed or have an effect anyway. This really waters down the Christian message and the urgency to reach the lost. And I think it can cause believers and unbelievers alike to not take seriously God’s call to salvation and Jesus’ sacrifice for them. What does it really matter what you think about these things anyway if it doesn’t really matter what you think and if you are just going to end up where God assigned you? It kind of makes a mockery of thinking and of faith and of sharing the Good News.
And if it’s that God really does need us to evangelize and pray because it has an effect on what happens, then this means that there is the possibility of being disobedient. If God expects us to obey then that means that there is a chance that we could disobey. And if there is the possibility to choose between the two, we are right back to free-will and the responsibility of man to respond to God’s calls.
Either He doesn’t need our obedience because He’s already determined where people will go and it doesn’t really matter what we do (which means that evangelism and prayer are just meaningless formalities) . . . Or He does need us to be obedient and to evangelize and pray because it makes a difference and has a real effect (which confirms the idea of free-will and choice, of God working in and through mankind’s cooperation). It can’t be both.
Personally, I think that having no choice about choosing or rejecting God cheapens God’s love, His gift of salvation, Jesus’ sacrifice, and the joy that comes with creating a heavenly family to spend eternity with.
It also cheapens the Bible and this life. The Bible is all about sharing God’s love, Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, and His offer of salvation and drawing people back to Him. But if we have no real choice to choose or not then the Bible is superfluous. It’s really not needed because whatever is going to happen will happen regardless of what we think. And this life is superfluous, too, because nothing we do or decide here would really matter or make a difference if God already has our eternities planned. He may as well just skip this whole time period and plunk us down in the places we were already determined to go to.
But I simply cannot believe that this life is just for show and that what we do or believe or decide doesn’t really matter, not when the Bible clearly tells us how important obedience, faith, and our decisions are.
Personally, I think . . .
Personally, I think that when God calls us to be obedient, to pray, to evangelize, and to decide who we will follow, it’s because there is a real reason for it. Our choices matter and have real consequences. It’s up to us if we will follow and obey Him or if we rebel and reject Him. And we choose the eternal resting place of our souls. It is not pre-decided for us. This life matters and what we decide during this life matters. The Bible matters, and the calls, challenges, and warnings that He gives us through it matter. They are real. God has given us real calls, real warnings, and real choices. And we need to take them seriously.
He desires that all of us come to Him. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. But He allows it, if that’s what we choose. And I think this fits best with His character. What kind of glory would there be for Him to spend an eternity with robots who were forced to choose and love Him? Any of us can understand the specialness of being with someone who wants to be with us, who chooses to love us. None of us would find any real joy in being with a robot who was programmed to love us.
And would His love really mean that much to us if we had no choice but to accept it? It’s the ability to choose it, to accept it, and to value it that makes it worthwhile, beautiful, heart-filling, and that makes us truly thankful.
And what would His forgiveness, grace, and mercy really be if we were just robots, forced to choose what He created us to choose? Our obedience or disobedience in this lifetime would just be part of the grand play where we are acting out our pre-written roles for the sake of acting them out. We wouldn’t have any choice to do anything else. And so His forgiveness, grace, and mercy – His response to our obedience or disobedience - would just be part of the play, too. Like a young child playing with dolls and acting out scenes, causing one doll to do something wrong, putting them in jail, and then showing “mercy” on them and letting them out. Do forgiveness, mercy, and grace really mean anything if God determines our decisions and forces us to behave accordingly?
If the person had no choice, if we were pre-programmed to respond to His love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy, then would we really be able to be genuinely thankful for them? Would they have any real, meaningful value? They would just be part of the act, the role we are forced to play, and our response to them wouldn’t mean much because we had no choice but to respond. And there would be no real joy in that, for us and for God.
Now, of course, maybe I am wrong. But given the way that God interacts with people in the Old Testament and all the invitations He gives (and warnings and challenges and calls), I do not think I am wrong. I think He has set up the two teams, and He says “Decide for yourselves whom you will serve.” (And not making a choice for God automatically means you make a choice against God.) And I think these are real choices with real consequences and a real need to pray and to share our faith.
I think that when the Bible says, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24:15) it means that we really do have a choice. We have to choose between accepting the Lord or rejecting Him.
I think that when it says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” (Romans 10:13) He means that salvation is available to all, but our responsibility is to call on His name. Besides, why put the emphasis on us calling on His name if it's actually about Him choosing us or not?
I think that when it says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20), He means that He knocks on all hearts but that we have to hear it and respond and open the door. The responsibility for the decision is ours.
I think that when it says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20), it means that everyone has the same chance to come to Him and no one has an excuse for why they don’t. (You sure would have an excuse if God made you reject Him.)
I think that when it says that God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4), it means that He really wants everyone to come to Him and to accept the truth, that this is an option for everyone. And if they don’t become saved and accept the truth, it’s because they chose not to.
I think that when it says that He doesn’t want anyone to perish but that He wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), it means that He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wishes everyone would be saved. Why would He specifically create some people to be destroyed, and then go and say that He doesn’t want anyone to perish but that He wishes everyone would be saved? When He knows it’s not possible?
I think that when He says that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that He desires that they turn from their ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11), He means that this is indeed possible. That they do have a choice to turn from their ways and that He didn’t just program them to be wicked. There is no joy for Him in the death of the wicked because it wasn’t His plan for mankind. He wants all mankind to be saved. But He allows everyone to choose for themselves.
I think that when it says that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11), it means that it is available for all men to see and accept. What would it matter if it appeared to all people if people couldn’t really accept it unless they were programmed to?
I think that when He says that Jesus died for all (1 Tim 2:6, Romans 5:18), it means that Jesus died for all and that salvation is available to all, but only those who accept that sacrifice will be in heaven.
I think that when God says that He so loved the world (John 3:16), He meant the whole world, all people. And that whoever believes in Him will be saved.
He who has ears, let him hear!