There is no doctrine which generates more emotion, and more debate, in Christendom, than the Biblical Doctrine of Predestination.
For any serious student of the Bible, it is impossible to avoid the discussion, for the concept of predestination is clearly set forth in Holy Scripture.
Writing to the church in Ephesus, Paul says, “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” The term, “predestinated”, (Gk. proorizo) means “to limit in advance, i.e., predetermine”. It is translated “determine before”; “ordain”; “predestinate”.
Writing to the church in Rome, Paul says, “For whom 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. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29, 30).
The Bible declares that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all present in the universe which He has created. If God were not in complete control of every facet within the universe of His own creation, then He would not be sovereign. He would not be God.
The Big Question is how can God in His sovereignty control all things that come to pass, without eliminating human choice? Are individuals merely robots, who are programed without any real choice or free will? An answer to The Big Question has occupied the minds of men for centuries.
Two prominent views have emerged. One is known as Calvinism, which argues that God will show mercy and grace by effectually saving those whom He elects to save. The other view, known as Arminianism, insists that a person’s free will is the determining factor in the matter of salvation. God’s saving grace can be resisted through a free choice, to the point that the soul is eternally lost.
Some have tried to reduce the two positions with a simplistic summary by saying, “In Calvinism, God chooses the believer; in Arminianism, the believer chooses God.”
In the discussion on predestination, there are some points of agreement within both views.
First, there is agreement that the purpose of God in all of creation is being fulfilled. “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3). “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:16,17).
Second, some people will be saved, and others will be lost. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13, 14).
Third, every one who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The two major points of disagreement concern who will believe, and how a person comes to have faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The Calvinist appeals to Romans 8:28-30 and notes that individuals are effectually called to salvation, according to God’s purpose because they are intimately loved by God, and predestined by Him to be conformed to the image of Christ. Because God calls those whom He has predestinated, He justifies, and ultimately glorifies them.
The Arminian appeals to a person’s responsibility to properly respond to the gospel when it is heard. There is a firm belief that every person has a free will to choose God, or reject Him. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15). To the Arminian, the Doctrine of Predestination seems unloving, unfair, and too harsh.
Jacob Arminius, the 16th century Dutch theologian promoted a “conditional election” that allowed both man and God to have a part in the salvation process. God has done His part by sending Christ to die for sinners; a person must do their part by repenting of sin and believing the gospel. A person can believe because their natural depravity is only partial, not complete, as Calvinism maintains. Though people are fallen in nature with an inclination to sin, they are still able to make a spiritually good and wise decision to follow Christ, because of the grace that God bestows on all people. Because God does bestow grace on all people, He chooses those whom He knows will choose to believe. “
This is called Conditional Election. God looks down the corridors of time to see who is going to choose Him, and on that basis individuals are elect. ““Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:2).
The ability of the natural person to freely choose Christ of their own free will is rooted in Arminian theology, because of a belief in Universal Atonement. It is believed that the death of Christ was for all of humanity. Any person can be saved simply by believing in Him. Jesus made it possible for everyone to be saved, but Christ did not actually secure salvation for anyone in particular. Scriptural support is believed to be found in 1 John 2:2. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Additional support for Arminian theology is found in their teaching of Resistible Grace. A person can say no to the Holy Spirit when He calls the soul to salvation. Any person can thwart the calling of God and harden himself. ““While it is said, ‘Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Heb. 3:15).
Because a person has the determining part in their own salvation, Arminian theology teaches a Fall from Grace. “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). How many sins a person must commit before they are lost after their salvation is uncertain in Arminian theology. What is certain is that a person who has been blood bought by Christ can fail to have a perfect faith and be forever lost after salvation.
So, who is right? Is the Arminian correct when he sets forth his doctrines of Human Free Will, Conditional Election, Universal Atonement, Resistible Grace, and a Fall from Grace?
Is the Calvinist correct when he insists on the doctrine of Total Depravity which enslaves the will to sin? “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34, NKJV).
Is the Calvinist wrong to teach that God’s grace will effectual draw those to Christ who are the heirs of salvation? “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
Is it not a glorious truth that Jesus gives eternal life, not a temporary life, to all who believe, a life that can never be lost? “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:39).
“Some think that Christ died and yet that some for whom he died will be lost. I never could understand that doctrine. If Jesus my surety bore my griefs and carried my sorrows, I believe myself to be as secure as the angels in heaven. God cannot ask payment twice. If Christ paid my debt shall I have to pay it again? No” (Charles Spurgeon).
When you discuss The Big Question, do not stop studying until you find the whole counsel of God on the matter. Put your faith, not in your decision, or human ability, but in Christ. Rest fully on Him. Depend upon His faithfulness to you, and not how strong you think you might be spiritually.
Know that “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s love is an eternal selective love, a love that is set on the heirs of salvation before they are born, so that the gifts received—salvation, sanctification, and glorification— is not according to something they have done. It is all of grace. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).