The Burning Question about Predestination
by Jacob Hudgins
Since God knows all things, he by definition knows the future. This means that his plan of saving people through the sacrifice of Jesus and preaching of the gospel was planned long before it took place. One term New Testament writers use to describe this is predestination—the idea that God has appointed and determined certain things before they happen.
Predestination reminds us that God is in control. The emphasis of predestination is that it is God’s will that matters. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”(Eph 1:4-5). Christians have an inheritance because they have been “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will”(Eph 1:11). If God has purposed something, it is certain to come to pass because he is in control.
Predestination reminds us that people cannot stop God. When the apostles are threatened by the Jewish rulers, they praise God. All the rulers had “gathered together against your holy servant Jesus” yet they end up only doing “whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place”(Acts 4:27, 28). Paul calls the gospel the “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”(1 Cor 2:7-8). God’s wisdom and plan are inviolable; he will use people in whatever way they choose to be used, but they cannot stop his purposes.
Predestination reminds us that God always planned to bless certain people. God planned beforehand that certain people would receive salvation. “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”(Rom 8:29-30). The “pre” in predestination shows that God has planned this blessing, but not for everyone. The New Testament emphasizes that Christians are the ones God was thinking about long ago.
The burning question about predestination is not whether it is true, but on what basis God determined which people would be saved. Consider some options:
Was it random? Did God arbitrarily decide that certain people would be saved and others lost?
Was it based on character? Did God decide that only the good people would be saved? Was it based on the works they did that showed their righteousness?
Was it based on response? Did God decide that people would be saved based on their acceptance or rejection of Jesus—and later of the gospel of Jesus?
The New Testament record shows that God’s salvation was never random. It is quite easy to document who is saved and lost in reading, for example, the book of Acts. Those who believe the message, change their lives, and are baptized are saved (Acts 2:41). Those who reject are condemned (Acts 18:6-8). This is not random.
The New Testament record shows that God’s salvation is not based on character. Jesus repeatedly interacts with and accepts tax collectors and prostitutes (Luke 18:9-14, Matt 21:31-32, Luke 7:37-50, Luke 15:1). Some of the very people who murder Jesus—and his followers—become some of the first Christians (Acts 2:36-38, Acts 9:1, 18). We are not saved because of our works—as if we are good enough to be worthy of salvation because of what we have done. This is not the basis of God’s predestination.
The New Testament record shows that God’s salvation is based on response. Who are the Ephesians? Those who “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”(Eph 1:13). Where did Paul find these people? Someone preached to them and they responded to this message and became disciples of Jesus. These are the people God chose. They are not chosen on the basis of their goodness, but on the basis of their willingness to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and lordship.
None of this takes away from the fact that God is always the author of salvation. It is according to his grace (Eph 1:7) and he deserves glory for it. So when we see that he predestined for flawed, sinful people like us to be adopted as sons, we must give him the praise.
Praise God for predestination!