Predestination Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Predestination

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According to the doctrine of predestination, God has eternally decided to elect some persons to salvation, gifting them with regeneration and saving faith, and to pass by other persons, leaving them in their sin and condemning them for it.

In Scripture

Into the Son's image "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:29 - 30).

God justifies "Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies" (Rom. 8:33).

God shows mercy "Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God's purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) [Rebecca] was told, `The elder shall serve the younger.' As it is written, `I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.' What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 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 it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, `I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.' So then he has mercy on whomsoever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomsoever he chooses. You will say to me then, `Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?' But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, `Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?" (Rom 9:11 - 24).

Destined for adoption "He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will . . . [H]e has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ . . . In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will (Eph. 1:5, 9, 11).

By grace "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8 - 9).

Chosen by Word and by Holy Spirit "For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake" (1 Thess. 1:4 - 5).

Not according to our works "Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (2 Tim. 1:8 - 9).

Points to Ponder

Controversial classic Christian doctrine One of the most controversial of classic Christian doctrines, the doctrine of predestination is also one of the most widespread — held in one version or another by Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and numerous others. Always accompanied by a strong doctrine of human sinfulness, the doctrine of predestination answers this question: How do people, dead in their sins and misery, nonetheless come to life and believe in Jesus Christ? Their original and actual sin conspire against regeneration and faith. And yet, in a move "not inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead" God regenerates dead sinners and gifts them with saving faith (The Canons of Dort, Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, Art. 12). He then nourishes and guides them all the way to their heavenly home. And God does this because God had eternally decided to do it. According to usual thinking, "the golden chain of salvation" in Romans 8:29 - 30 offers Paul's account of the process.

Important variants In important variants of the classic doctrine, certain Catholic statements lay more stress on human cooperation with regeneration and various Arminian statements lay more stress on God's foreknowledge of human faith. These moves ease the starkest statement of the doctrine.

Acknowledging controversy Some important twentieth century authors such as C. S. Lewis show ambivalence. Lewis was fond of saying that nobody is in hell who doesn't want to be there, and that the doors to hell are therefore locked on the inside. In such statements Lewis appears to say that human free will is essential in the process of separating the sheep from the goats. On the other hand, when describing his own conversion in 1929, Lewis sounds like the Augustinian he was: "The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? . . . The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation." Salvation by compulsion! Here human free will seems to exist only to be overpowered. But the real controversy over traditional predestination doctrine lies in its favoritism. Despite the fact that the main New Testament novelty is the revelation of God's wondrous impartiality (no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free) the doctrine of predestination teaches that into the whole ocean of equally sinful and drowning persons, God reaches to save just some. God lets the others drown — this despite God's possessing plenty of power to save all. Usually the statement is accompanied by an attempt at explanation: God needed to show both his justice (by letting some have the punishment they deserve) and his mercy (by saving others from the punishment they deserve). But haven't God's justice and mercy been once-for-all demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Why all these other justice and mercy exhibits?

Addressing the doctrine of predestination The classic doctrine of predestination is, in many contexts, addressed in teaching sessions or in theological treatises rather than in sermons. Preachers who do address the doctrine need to be extremely cautious about sounding smug or fatalistic.

N. T. Wright In recent years, the eminent biblical scholar N. T. Wright has cast doubt on the biblical justification of the classic doctrine. According to Wright, in Romans 8 - 11 and Ephesians 1:3 - 14, Paul is not talking about the election or reprobation of individual human beings. He's talking about Israel as an instrument for God's having mercy on all, a key to God's eventual healing of the whole creation.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.