Foreknowledge, Predestination, and Election: Part 2

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Romans 8:28-30

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom [those] he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom [those] he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

In our text Paul traces God’s saving purpose through five stages from its beginning in God’s mind (foreknowledge) to its ultimate consummation in the coming glory (glorification).

These five stages he names as

  1. foreknowledge,
  2. predestination,
  3. calling,
  4. justification and
  5. glorification.

In our last message, we looked at the Biblical teaching on foreknowledge. In this message we will examine predestination.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “predestination”? Do you picture a Supreme Being sitting on His throne arbitrarily determining who will be saved and who will be lost?

Sadly, human religious tradition has programmed that picture into many minds. Such a view was taught by John Calvin and widely propagated by his followers. He wrote:

“By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” [1]

But we shall soon see, this is not the New Testament teaching on predestination.

What is the Basic Meaning of the Term “Predestination”?

The first question one should ask is “How does the Bible use the term?” Frankly, the way it is used by most people is not the way the Bible uses it. The term “predestinate” (proorizo) occurs six times in the Greek New Testament 2 and is a combination of two words, pro, meaning “before,” and “horizo,” meaning “to mark out definitely.” Thus, the term conveys the idea of “marking out beforehand” or “deciding ahead of time.” In the KJV it is translated three different ways: “predestined” (Rom. 8:29, 30; Eph. 1:5, 11), “determine before” (Acts 4:28), and “ordained” (1 Cor. 2:7)

What Has God Predestinated?

From an examination of the six occurrences of proorizo (“predestinate”) in the New Testament, we can confidently say that God has “predestinated” or “decided ahead of time” the following:

  1. The events that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews perpetrated against Christ (Acts 4:27, 28).
  2. That all whom He foreknew would be conformed to the image of His Son through calling, justification, and glorification (Rom. 8:29, 30).
  3. The whole plan of salvation through faith in Christ (1 Cor. 2:7; Rom. 8:28).
  4. That all believers would be adopted as sons (children) through Christ (Eph. 1:5).
  5. That all those who hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:11, 12).

In sum, God predestinated certain events in relation to

  • His Son (Acts 4:28),
  • the plan of salvation (1 Cor. 2:7), and
  • three specific goals for His people
    1. conformity to Christ – Rom. 8:29, 30;
    2. adoption into God’s family as His children – Eph. 1:5;
    3. that His people would be to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:11, 12).

When and Why Did God Predestinate?

Scripture reveals that the time of God’s predestinating activity was “before the world” (1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:4-5). The basis of God’s predestination was His own “counsel” or plan (Acts 4:28). The “why” of predestination is simply “the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5).

What is the Difference Between the Sovereignty of God and “Predestine-ation”?

Much controversy and confusion has arisen in church history over the meaning of predestination. This is largely due to a failure to limit the term to the way Scripture uses it.

In the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) popularized a definition of predestination not found in Scripture. He confused sovereignty with predestination. He used the term “predestination” when he was teaching that God sovereignly, according to His divine decrees and to the praise of His own glory, has predetermined every action and event of everything that is to be and is to occur.

The fact that God has not predetermined every action and event is asserted by Peter who tells us God is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). If God predetermined the eternal damnation of anyone, then by that fact He would express His willingness that some perish. To assert that God predestinated some persons to be eternally lost contradicts the Biblical statement that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

Remember that the exercise of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence is guided by His own wise, holy, and loving will. God can do anything that is consistent with His character. Remember further that He reveals that He sovereignly chooses to operate on three levels:

  1. His decretive will;
  2. His desired will; and
  3. His permissive will.

God’s Decretive Will

There are some events that God has decreed, and no one or nothing can thwart His decretive will. Psalm 75:6-7 reminds us: “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.”

Isaiah 46:9-10 says, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”

An example of God’s decretive will is the law of sowing and reaping. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:7, 8).

Another example of His decretive will is His decision not to “predetermine” who will be saved and who will be lost. Instead, He provides grace to all men and women so that if they cooperate with that grace, they can be saved (Titus 2:11-13).

God’s Desired Will

The Scriptures not only reveal God to be sovereign, but they also tell us how He exercises His sovereignty. Psalms 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Thy throne; lovingkindness and truth go before Thee.” In His absolute sovereignty, God has chosen to rule according to righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, and truth.

As a result, He has sovereignly decided to have mercy upon all the lost (Rom. 11:32). In addition, God has sovereignly enabled us to accept or reject His offer of salvation and thereby to determine our eternal destiny.

To define God’s sovereignty to mean that God personally decides every minute detail or circumstance that ever has or ever will take place is to contradict Scripture and arbitrarily to place restrictions upon His sovereignty. God is no less sovereign in choosing to establish laws or operations which shall bring certain results and then enabling mankind to have the ability to choose which results each person desires for himself.

For example, God has established the means whereby a person can be saved. He says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Further, He provided for the salvation of all men. John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 makes it clear that God’s salvific love encompasses “the whole world,” and as a result provided Jesus as the propitiation for “the sins of the whole world.” He is the savior of all men (potentially and provisionally), especially of those that believe (1 Tim. 4:10). God does not desire anyone to be lost.

His Permissive Will

Through the exercise of His sovereign grace, God also has enabled mankind to accept or reject the means of salvation He provides. Those who accept are saved, and those who refuse are lost. The choice to accept God’s offer of salvation is not a meritorious work (Eph. 2:8-9). Nor is it man choosing to save himself. Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). It is the operation of God’s grace, creating

It is the operation of God’s grace, creating spiritual desire within mankind, that enables a person to repent of sin and savingly believe. However, God also sovereignly chooses to give mankind the ability to resist His “desired” will. He “permits” mankind to reject His offer of salvation. No one or nothing, however, thwarts His decretive will.

Predestination is God the Father’s act of determining before the world was created, according to the good pleasure of His will,

  1. His plan of salvation, including the death of Christ on the cross;
  2. that all those who believed the gospel would be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ;
  3. that the “called,” whom He foreknew, would be conformed to the image of His Son; and
  4. that all those who hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. Scripturally, predestination speaks of God’s plan about the method and means of salvation, and specific goals for all believers.

Predestination does not “predetermine” who will be saved or who will be lost except in the general sense that, “He that believeth shall be saved.”


Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.
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