Friday, May 18, 2012

Predestination

Predestination is often a topic of great controversy among the Christian community. Free will, the doctrine of election and God's Sovereignty...they are all points of dispute...mainly because they are not rightly understood. So what does the Bible say on these topics?

Lets start with the basics...if you are a Christian, how did you become one? You heard the gospel and turned from your sin right? Well why did you do it? Because you saw a need for a Savior? How did you see it? You were willing to see it? So were you more willing than others? This might sound a little confusing but if you think about it...you had nothing to do with your salvation. I know people are gonna hate me after this but I don't really care. The sovereign grace of God and his electing love are the reasons you became a Christian. You weren't more willing or more receptive and you more than likely didn't sit down one day apart from hearing the gospel (also God's sovereignty that you heard the gospel) and decide to become a Christian because it seemed logical. Not saying that it can't happen that way...but I'm 100% sure that the reason for the logical thoughts and the reason you sat down that day are because God was at work in you. I'm rambling and probably not making any sense, so I'm going to let Spurgeon and Packer say it better than I ever could:
When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul - when they were as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron; and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown all of a sudden from a babe into a man - that I had made progress in scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God ... I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, I ascribe my change wholly to God. - (Charles Spurgeon, Autobiography: 1, The Early Years, Banner of Truth, pp. 164-165).

The verb elect means “to select, or choose out.” The biblical doctrine of election is that before Creation God selected out of the human race, foreseen as fallen, those whom he would redeem, bring to faith, justify, and glorify in and through Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 1:9-10). This divine choice is an expression of free and sovereign grace, for it is unconstrained and unconditional, not merited by anything in those who are its subjects. God owes sinners no mercy of any kind, only condemnation; so it is a wonder, and matter for endless praise, that he should choose to save any of us; and doubly so when his choice involved the giving of his own Son to suffer as sin-bearer for the elect (Rom. 8:32). - J.I. Packer
Okay, so now that we've got that covered...the Bible DOES teach election cover to cover. It would be hermeneutical gymnastics to say that it doesn't.

Lets start with God's sovereignty(his will, plan, rule...etc):

Acts 4 speaks of God's rule...he is the ultimate ruler of all things and he is independent from his creation. He is in charge of nature, nations, history and every little detail.
Job 12 speaks on his sovereignty over the nations "He makes nations great, and he destroys them;
he enlarges nations, and leads them away"
Proverbs 21 and Job 12 both speak of the work of God's hands...everything is in his hands and his hands cause everything.
Acts 17:22-31 makes it obvious that God determines all things.
Isaiah 45:1-25 is the Lord speaking directly to us and saying that it is He who causes and forms and creates and destroys all things in his timing.
Matthew 6 tells us that God takes care of everything that birds need which makes it obvious that he provides and cares for every minuscule need of ours because aren't we more important to him than birds?
Proverbs 16:33 "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." - meaning that it's not fate, it's not our choice, it's not the roll of the dice...every decision is wholly from the Lord.
Acts 2:23 "this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." - Jesus was delivered up according to plan...it was all apart of God's plan for us.
Isaiah 53:10 "Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief" - The Lord's WILL, desire, plan...
Psalm 139 (especially verse 16: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.) - his book...he didn't just plan it out, he wrote it down...
Psalm 16 "The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot" - he assigned to you what your life holds.
Jeremiah 1:4-5 "Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”" - He chose you and appointed you to a specific life.
Proverbs 16:9 "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps" God directs and lays out every single step of our lives.
Daniel 4 tells us that everything is God's dominion and God's will.
Ephesians 1:11 "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will" - everything...all things are only according to His will.

The Bible says that God is sovereign repeatedly throughout. This is just a small sampling...every word in the Bible points to the sovereignty of God.

Alright, so we've covered that God is sovereign over all things and nothing happens outside of his will...nothing...not a hurricane or a tornado or a tsunami or a war or the fact that you ate a sandwich for lunch today...everything is according to his plan down to the tiniest detail.

Well...what about salvation? We've kind of come full circle now...back to how did you become a Christian...was that your choice or God's? Were you just willing or were you one of God's elect? Let's check out Romans 8:29-30:
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 among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Okay, we're going to go through this backwards...bear with me.

Glorified: perfected before the Lord.
before that...
Justified: conversion - God forgives us.
before even that moment, God already was at work in you...before you knew.

Notice the words foreknew, predestined, and called. Do you know what they mean?

Foreknew: Most people think it is God's foreknowledge...that he knew beforehand. BUT this is not right at all. To say that God knew beforehand implies that he is passively observing everything...this is not the case at all. In the Greek...the word they use means initiative, activity, relational. Foreknew is the active working of God whereby he sets his affection and in that way knows them. It is personal...he is aware of you and he loved you beforehand. There's a difference between knowing and KNOWING. God isn't just mentally aware of you...he distinctly and intentionally placed his affection on you apart from anything you ever did or ever could do.

Predestined and called kind of go hand in hand. Predestined is election. Predestination means that he chooses. It is an eternal choice based on his will and not on anything we do. The ultimately decisive factor is the grace of God...solely...nothing else.

A lot of people don't believe in predestination and the doctrine of election. They don't believe that the Bible teaches this or that a loving God wouldn't have every single person come into the kingdom of Heaven. Let's look at a few passages of scripture.
Ephesians 1:3-11 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.
Romans 9:10-16 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? 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 then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Matthew 11:27  All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.
1 Peter 2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious. 
I think it's pretty clear that it has nothing to do with us...nothing we did saved us...it's God's saving grace and unconditional election. God goes after people who are not after him...think about it, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul...none of them were actively trying to be saved...in fact they were all running the opposite direction.

So now we come to the point where you're probably thinking "well election isn't fair...what if someone wants to be saved but isn't God's elect...it's not fair at all that he gets to choose." Well just to put it in my own terms...no one runs hard after God apart from his saving grace.
Romans 9:19-21 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
In essence...it's not up to us. God gets to choose because he is God...if no other reason.
Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LordFor as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
God is not accountable to us. He doesn't owe us anything. Remember what Packer said earlier?
God owes sinners no mercy of any kind, only condemnation; so it is a wonder, and matter for endless praise, that he should choose to save any of us; and doubly so when his choice involved the giving of his own Son to suffer as sin-bearer for the elect (Rom. 8:32). - J.I. Packer
Some get justice, some get mercy. The wonder isn't that he chooses some, it's that he chooses any. I can't say it any better than Mark Webb...this is one of my favorite quotes/explanations of the doctrine of election and I think it definitely helps put things into perspective.
“After giving a brief survey of these doctrines of sovereign grace, I asked for questions from the class. One lady, in particular, was quite troubled. She said, ‘This is the most awful thing I ever heard! You make it sound as if God is intentionally turning away men and women who would be saved, receiving only the elect.’ I answered her in this vein: ‘You misunderstand the situation. You’re visualizing that God is standing at the door of heaven, and men are thronging to get in the door, and God is saying to various ones, ‘Yes, you may come, but not you, and you, but you, etc.’ The situation is hardly this. Rather, God stands at the door of heaven with His arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction toward hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to Himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams.’ That kind of response, grounded as I believe that it is in Scriptural truth, does put a different complexion on things, doesn’t it? If you perish in hell, blame yourself, as it is entirely your fault. But if you should make it to heaven, credit God, for that is entirely His work! To Him alone belong all praise and glory, for salvation is all of grace, from start to finish.” –Mark Webb
Election keeps no one out of heaven who would have otherwise been there. We are dead in sin and cannot come to God apart from him reaching out, giving us life and saving us.

So...what about free will? Yes...you have it...BUT no one is autonomous. Free will is the ability to choose according to our desires...we have the free will to choose what we desire most. We freely do this all the time. You had the free choice where you sat today, the free will to give your wallet to someone who is pointing a gun at your head...etc. We are free to choose God and come to Christ if we desire to...BUT because of our spiritual deadness, we will never desire him...we won't choose him because we won't choose what we don't desire. Every moment of the day, you freely say no to God until someone changes your desires, enabling you to freely choose God...freely desiring to do so. He does something. God takes the initiative and goes after your heart. No one comes to God on their own and is turned away. God changes your heart...he does the work.

So how dead are you really?
Ezekiel 36:26-27 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
He gives us a new heart...John 3 tells us we must be born again.
Ephesians 2:5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved.
GOD made us alive...we cannot make ourselves alive. Dead people rot, they don't make anyone alive. Why did he make us alive? I have no idea...because He is God and in love he set his affections on us before time began. Consider how you came to Christ...before you went after him, he came after you...he tracked you down.
"The Spirit recreates the human heart, quickening it from spiritual death to spiritual life. Regenerate people are new creations. Where formerly they had no disposition, inclination, or desire for the things of God, now they are disposed and inclined toward God.In regeneration, God plants a desire for himself in the human heart that otherwise would not be there." - R.C. Sproul
Did you create a desire or did he change your heart?

So, we've covered all of this and I'm sure if you are anything like me when I first heard all this, your brain is smoking and starting to leak out of your ears. We've talked about doctrine and the how and the why but there's still a few questions you have...maybe why doesn't God choose everyone? What about John 3:16? - Well, in response...let me ask you something...What does God love most? He loves the world for sure...but he loves his glory more. He loves me because he loves his glory. There are those who will exalt the glory of God and others who won't.

The Bible presents this:
  • as a matter of praise not a debate...it's a matter of wonder and praise
  • as a matter of comfort...to those in Christ, he chose you - you were his before the world began
  • by making it a motivation for mission - to go and preach the gospel...we don't know who the elect are so we need to go!
Also seek comfort in the fact that you cannot change people...God is the only one who can change a person's heart and give them a desire for himself. It's also a comfort that we don't have to get life right before coming to Christ...Christ got his life right for you. Just share the gospel...God will take care of the rest.
2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
Paul endured more than most of us could even imagine...all for the sake of sharing the gospel. None of it was in vain because God is at work. The gospel is unstoppable and God's plans will not be thwarted.

So, your brain is about to explode...what are you supposed to do with all this information? How in the world can you apply all this knowledge and doctrine to your life?
  1. Make it a matter of ceaseless praise if you are a Christian.
  2. Take great comfort in your God
  3. Preach like you've never preached before.
That's it...that's all I've got for you. I hope this was helpful and maybe cleared up a few things for you. If you have questions, feel free to contact us or your local pastor. There are also plenty of resources out there...chapters 16 and 32 of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem would be extremely helpful to read. After all this, there's only a few things to do, praise God, take comfort in him and go preach the word.

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