Updated: Oct 19
The last few weeks, our church has been walking through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In this letter, Paul uses the word “predestined” (Ep 1:5). Understandably, many have asked the question, “What is predestination?”
If you find yourself asking this question or having to answer this question for someone asking, here are five quick thoughts to consider. Following these five quick thoughts, I have includes several resources you might want to consider for further study.
1. Predestination Belongs to God.
If an event or occurrence was "predestined" it was fixed to happen ahead of time. In the Bible many events are ”predestined." A certain king's rise to power, another king's fall (Da 2:21), the adoption of God's elect along with their justification and glorification (Ep 1:3-6; Ro 8:30). The return of Israel from exile into Babylon (Is 45). The death of Christ at the hands of evil men (Ac 2:22-23). God predetermined all of these events. He predestined them.
2. Predestination Shows the Trustworthiness of God’s Word
In the Scriptures God's predestination comes about through the following (see Is 46:8-11):
A) God plans what will happen.
B) God decrees what will happen.
C) God works to make it happen.
D) God succeeds in making it happen without any alteration.
Sometimes God reveals ahead of time what He has decreed to happen. Examples include Sara's being pregnant with Abraham's child in old age (Ge 17:15-21), His raising up King Cyrus to send the Jews back to Israel after 70 years of exile (Is 45), and the virgin birth of Christ (Is 7:14). In each of these instances, God declared His plans ahead of time so that when they happened just as He said men and women every where might know the power of His trustworthiness of His Word.
3. Predestination by God Has No Limits.
By "no limits" I mean that God does not predestine some events while not planning, decreeing, performing, and succeeding in others. The wind's direction and strength (Mt 8:27), the role of the dice (Pr 16:33), the alignment of the stars, the rise and fall of nations, the faith and repentance of sinners (Ac 13:48), the number of hairs on one's head, and the success of the salesman (Jam 4:13-17) - each has been set by the LORD. Calamity and well-being along with light and darkness are performed by God. He does all of these things (Is 45:7).
4. Predestination Does NOT Rob Man of His Agency.
Some contend that predestination strips mankind of his agency. Agency refers to man's ability to make real decisions and take real actions that shape the real world in accord with their own will and desires. Those who reject or alter the meaning of predestination often assert that if God predestines the events of human history men and women possess no capacity to operate according to their own will and desires to shape and affect the world and their situation. In this view, men and women are little more than robots pre-programmed to carry out acts pre-determined by God.
This critique of predestination is reasonable and understandable although incorrect. We tend to conclude that if someone predestines an outcome he must do so by controlling others by force. If I am to achieve my own ends ahead of time I will have to subject others to my will through force by stripping them of their own freedom so that they through exercise of their own will do not thwart my aims. If others keep their freedom to do as they please I can in no way predetermine anything, for at any moment the free actions of others might alter or even negate my plans without warning. If God is like me, He too must negate human agency in order to predestine His plan and will.
Thankfully, God is not like me or any other man. He predestines in a way that preserves man's agency. Men and women do act in accord with their wills. They operate out of the abundance of their hearts. They have real thoughts and real feelings which govern their real actions which affect the world in real ways. If they sow good seed they will reap good fruit, and if they sow evil seed they will reap evil fruit (Ga 6:7-9). If they obey God they will know blessing, if they disobey God they will know cursing. They must choose whom they will serve, and each will be held responsible (Ro 14:12). None will say to God, "You forced me according to Your predestination to act wrongly against my will.” Though God swung the king of Assyria like an axe in His own hand to judge the nations, God held the Assyrian king accountable and responsible for his violent acts and proud heart (Isaiah 10). Though God predestined that Christ be crucified at the hands of evil men, those evil men stood guilty before God with their bloodstained hands (Ac 2:22-23).
Admittedly, the union of God's predestination and the preservation of human agency remains clouded in mystery. Our beliefs and our understanding at this point must be shaped by revelation rather than speculation. We must submit our reason to God’s revealed truth, and ask Him to grant us understanding.
5. Predestination Strengthens Hope and Increases Joy.
So often I encounter those who experience the opposite of what the Scriptures reveal as the proper effects of predestination. If God loves you steadfastly, if He with infinite wisdom ordered the few days of your life, if He with great power governs all things in heaven and earth, and if He makes glorious and noble plans - do you and I not have every reason to live our days with unwavering and certain expectation that all things will indeed work out for our infinite good (Ro 8:28-29)? If God makes plans for our glory and if He possesses the power and resolve to accomplish them without failure in any aspect, should Christians not possess an enduring hope that remains undeterred even when cancer is discovered, death comes surprisingly for a loved one, war breaks out, a hurricane smashes into a populated city, and the other political party rises to power? The answer of course should come in the form of a resounding, "Yes, and Amen” (Ro 8:31-39)!
This hope - not wishful thinking but certain expectation - sustains the Christian's ability to rejoice always in the Lord (Phil 4:4). This life knows many hardships, many reasons for sorrow, but though sorrowful the Christian has access to inexplicable joy. He and she can rejoice in all things. This joy belongs to the hopeful. This kind of joy belongs to the sick who hear the good news of an affective cure and begin to shed tears of joy as they with hope anticipate healing. This same joy comes to the athlete who celebrates victory even before the clock runs out as the prospect of winning grows to 100% certainty. The believer has this joyful hope. In all things, they may rejoice in hope for all they experience in this life has been predestined by God according to His will and guaranteed by His might to accomplish their good.
For Further Study
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer
Chosen by R. C. Sproul
21 Servants of Sovereign Joy by John Piper
The End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards
Perspectives on Election: Five Views by Robert Reymond, Clark Pinnock, Jack Cottrell, Thomas Talbott, Chad Brand, Bruce Ware
“Does God Control Everything” by Timothy Keller [Sermon]
“The Sovereignty of God” by John Piper [Sermon]
“Predestination” by R. C. Sproul [Audio Series]