Predestination is the understanding that God has pre-determined or foreordained how events unfold in this world. This is completely true. However, some take this truth a step farther and claim that this also relates to how God creates mankind. They state that God has created some persons expressly for the purpose of being saved and others expressly for the purpose of being damned; leaving man with no choice in the matter. This belief is unScriptural.
This false doctrine is used to claim that we are unconditionally, eternally secure in salvation because we have either been designed by God to be saved or to be damned. This is an expansive topic, which I will surely not cover adequately in this post. However, in order to show how the Biblical understanding of predestination in no way implies Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS), I must address common misconceptions.
First, it must be stated that God doesn't need a reason to do anything. He does what He wants to do, when He wants to do it precisely because He is God and answers to no one. Yet, that does not mean that God has no reasons or that His actions are arbitrary.
What must also be noted is that - according to the word of God - predestination is the result of foreknowledge. In other words, God's action of election is based upon His foreknowledge. Some claim that God "foreknows" because He has predestined, but that is not what the texts say. The Scripture states that the act of predestination is the result of God's foreknowledge. He doesn't "foreknow" based on what He predestines, but He predestines based upon what He foreknew.
"Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Acts 2:23
"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." Romans 8:29
"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." I Peter 1:2
Foreknowledge is the Greek word proginōskō which literally means to have knowledge beforehand. It is the root of the word "prognosis" which means a prediction or forecast. The prognosticator does not force the action, but he predicts it.
God - being outside of time and space - is in the past, present, and future all at the same time. He knows the beginning from the end and works everything out for His purposes (Isaiah 46:10). It is rather like watching a movie. Once you have seen it through, you can easily know what the characters are going to do and how it is going to turn out; you've seen it all before.
For example, God knew Judas would betray Him, so He chose him as one of the 12 to facilitate the crucifixion of Jesus. God did not "make" Judas turn. God chose him knowing that he would turn (John 6:70); such a concept is what is meant by foreknowledge.
It is very similar to what we discussed earlier about Abraham.
"For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." Genesis 18:19
Integral to God's choosing of Abraham was the fact that He "knew" him and knew Abraham would be faithful to the work He had called Abraham to do.
Some might say that God "knew" Abraham because He had predestined him to be faithful while others He had predestined for damnation. This understanding is largely driven from a false interpretation of Romans Chapter 9.
Predestined for Wrath?
"Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?" Romans 9:21
In support of this false doctrine that God creates some for salvation and creates others to be condemned, some point to the text in Romans Chapter 9. However, this entire chapter deals with Paul grieving over the state of his brethren of the flesh, the nation of Israel and addressing why God is not unrighteous in bringing salvation to the Gentiles.
Even the text above in Romans 9:21 is addressing the nation of Israel and not individual believers, as seen in the Scriptures.
"O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them." Jeremiah 18:6-8
This failure to understand what is being addressed in this Chapter feeds into the error that God designs man to be saved or damned apart from any choice of man's own. Some individuals completely strip the chapter of its context in order to support this perverted view which is found nowhere else in Scripture.
In Romans Chapter 9, Paul starts out speaking of Israel's election:
"That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." verses 2-5
And he ends speaking of the same:
"But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;" verses 31-32
The entire Chapter is God confirming His righteousness in not only electing the nation of Israel, but in setting that nation aside to bring salvation to the Gentiles. God has every right to elect the Gentiles just as He did in electing Israel. He chose Israel for His own purposes and even rejected the nation which should have come first in doing so. Likewise, He can choose to set aside Israel (who came first in salvation) and offer salvation to the Gentiles so that the plan of salvation is made available to all.
This Chapter NEVER addresses any particular individual's election by God. It continually speaks of God's election of the nation of Israel. Yet some use this text to claim that God's discussion of national election is a pattern for how God deals with each individual's election. Yet, when we read the Scripture in context, it becomes clear that such an understanding goes well beyond a rendering of the text itself.
As for the overall premise that God's election of nations is a pattern for how He treats individuals, Scripture itself shows this to be false:
- In the days of Elijah, God was judging the nation of Israel for their idolatry, but such was not a judgment on each individual. Elijah was still righteous before God and so were 7,000 prophets who had not bowed the knee to Baal. So, while there was a response by God to the nation, it would be false to assume that this represented God's response to the individual.
- In Romans Chapter 11:7, God speaks again of the election of Israel as a nation saying, "What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded". Israel was cut off so that the Gentiles could be grafted in. Did this mean that all of the individual Israelites were cut off? No. Verse 17 clearly shows that only some of the individual Jews were cut off. Although the election of the nation was set aside, that was not a pattern for how God treated the individual election of Jewish believers in salvation.
- God elected the nation of Israel as His people, however this did not mean that each individual person in that nation was elect before Him because many died in rebellion against Him.
The confusion in trying to assert that the national election discussed in Romans 9 is a pattern for individual election often comes from misinterpreting the text. One example of this is the following:
"And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." verses 10-13
In reading this, some will say, "See, God creates some individuals to be vessels of honor and others to be vessels of dishonor." This understanding is faulty on two levels: 1) It disregards God's prophecy about Jacob & Esau; and 2) It ignores the Scriptural references cited in the text itself.
The references to Esau and Jacob are NOT references to individuals. Paul is referencing God's earlier prophecy to Rebekah about Israel's election as a nation.
"And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, TWO NATIONS ARE IN THY WOMB, and TWO MANNER OF PEOPLE shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger." Genesis 25:21-23
From the womb, God stated that Esau and Jacob allegorically represented two "nations" and two "people" groups: Israel and Edomites (or the Gentiles). Consistent with the rest of the text in Romans Chapter 9, this reference speaks to God being justified in presenting salvation to the Gentiles. God reminds them that it has always been His prerogative to set-up one nation over another, even making the older nation serve the younger, according to His purposes. In other words, no one can say that God is unfair because the principle used to bring salvation to the Gentiles (setting aside the nation which was first) is the same principle which was used to raise up the nation of Israel initially.
Outside of the context of the discussion, we have further evidence in the text itself that God is discussing "nations" and not "individuals". Verse 13 states, "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." In order to determine whether God is speaking of individual or national election, we must look to see where "it is written" that God loves Jacob and hates Esau. That answer lies in Malachi:
"The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved YOU, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: Yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, we are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, they shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel." Malachi 1:1-5
It is clear from Malachi that when God speaks of loving Jacob and hating Esau, He is speaking of two different people groups or nations, NOT individuals. God is addressing the nation of ISRAEL and its relation to the nation of EDOM. Both the context and the cited Scripture for this text confirms that it is consistent with the rest of the entire Chapter: addressing national election, not individual election.
The same assertion is also made by some in citing Moses.
"For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." verses 15-16
So again, we must examine the cited reference in order to truly understand the context being discussed. We must look for where God says this to Moses and we find it in Exodus Chapter 33.
The Chapter starts with God telling Moses to prepare the "people" (the nation of ISRAEL) to enter into the promised land as God drives out the existing tribes from before them. As we read in the Chapter, we see that Moses is nervous about how he will be able to lead this "nation" and what they may encounter facing the other tribes in the land. To reassure Moses, God says:
"And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy." Exodus 33:19
Is God explaining to Moses about his own individual election or why God chose Moses as an individual? No. He is reassuring Moses about how He will be with the NATION of Israel in taking the land from the other tribes which already occupied the area.
Another example people try to use in that text is the reference to Pharaoh.
"For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that MY NAME MIGHT BE DECLARED THROUGHOUT ALL THE EARTH." verse 17
Notice that God does not say He created Pharaoh to be damned. In fact, God is not even addressing the question of Pharaoh's election as an individual. God is saying how He purposed to use Pharaoh's authority in order to allow His name to be published through the world. Pharaoh as an individual did not proclaim God's name throughout the world. It is God's deliverance of the nation of Israel (His elect people) from Pharaoh that spread God's name in the world (Numbers 14:15-16; Joshua 7:9).
Some will also point out, "Well, Scripture says that God hardened Pharoah's heart." And this is true. Yet, there are issues with claiming that this supports the false claim that God purposefully creates some to be saved and others to be damned.
First, the text does not say that God created Pharaoh to be damned. Second, IF God had "created" Pharaoh to be damned, then He why would He have to "harden" Pharaoh's heart? If Pharaoh was designed from creation to be damned, then his heart would have already been irrevocably and completely defiled & rebellious against God by nature.
If we are to be true to the context and Scriptural references contained in Romans Chapter 9, then we must acknowledge that the entire chapter deals with national election alone. In order to justify applying an understanding that goes beyond the context of the Chapter, we would need either explicit indications in the text or supporting evidence from other Scriptures. Both are woefully lacking in this instance.
There is no Scripture which says that God has created some men for the purpose of being saved and others for the purpose of being damned. This is a perversion from the mind of man.
God REALLY IS Sovereign
Sovereign: Having supreme rank, power, or authority.
In citing God's sovereignty, it is sometimes claimed that everything which happens on the earth, including believers turning in faith to Jesus, is the work of God alone and man has no choices in the matter.
These persons apparently believe that God is awesome and powerful enough to do anything He wants...EXCEPT give man choices. It is interesting that many of the ones citing God's "sovereignty" as a reason why OSAS must be true, are usually the very ones limiting His sovereignty by proclaiming what He cannot do.
If we truly believe that God is sovereign, then we must acknowledge that He CAN choose to give man the option to make choices if He wants to. This in no way infringes on God's sovereignty for God alone is the one providing man with the choice. When we say that God cannot do this, we are in essence saying He is not sovereign after all. Such a position is contradictory at its core.
A major stumbling block here for some is semantics around what is meant by "free will."
Free Will: The ability or discretion to choose; The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will.
One can see by the definition of free will the confusion it brings. Does God give man the discretion to make choices? Yes, according to the Scriptures He does. Is the scope of those choices "unconstrained" by external circumstances such as divine will? Absolutely not!
It is similar to how we may operate with our own children. My children can "choose" what clothes to wear, but it is my husband and myself who decide what clothes to buy in the first place. The kids can decide what to choose for lunch, but it is we who decides what food is present in the house. Does their ability to choose infringe upon our sovereignty as their parents? Of course not. Our children are free to make choices within the realm of options we provide.
God gives man a choice, not in how His plan unfolds, but in how we participate in the unfolding of His plan.
As a dear friend once put it:
I might say to my children, "I want you to get your chores done on time. Please be obedient. If you get your chores finished on time this week, we will go out for ice cream. If you don't get them done on time, you will be denied any dessert at all."
I am completely in control of whether they get ice cream or not. I have a high purpose in teaching them to do what is right with diligence. They have a choice to make, and an obedience to fulfill. They have freedom to choose to disobey (which is contrary to my will). But they are not free to choose to have the ice cream ANYWAY if they disobey. That part has been "predestined" if you will, by their mother. Their free-will is indeed limited. It is not that God cannot force man to do His will; it is that He chooses not to. The decision to give man choices is not a sign of weakness on God's part; it is the prerogative of a sovereign God. The question is not whether God can give man freedom to choose, but whether Scripture indicates that He does?
The purpose of this section is not to prove that free will exists. We believe that the previous sections of this series on OSAS has shown quite adequately that man has choices to make in salvation. However, the point here is to dispel the myth that man having choices in some way makes God less sovereign. Such is clearly not the case.
Man having a choice does not compromise God's authority and sovereignty; if anything, it upholds it because - apart from God's presence - man has no ability to choose.
Back to Normal
The creation of man in the Garden of Eden represents the "normal" state of man. It shows man as God designed him to be: led by His Spirit and serving as God's emissary by having dominion over the earth. It is clear that man was originally created with the ability to make choices, otherwise he could not have chosen to disobey.
Once he did disobey, man became a slave to sin and was made captive to this world - and the god of this world (Romans 6:16). Cut off from God, we had no power in and of ourselves to change. Some people call this the depravity of man, and that notion sums it up quite well.
It is this concept, however, which causes much confusion in the Body of Christ. If fallen man is depraved and can do no good thing, then how on earth can such a person "choose" to serve a holy and righteous God?
The answer is very simple: The power of God intervenes.
While man cannot save himself or do what is righteous in and of himself, the power of God (through the presence of God) can intervene and give man the clarity to choose. God can get past the bondage of sin, speak to the heart, and give us the ability to choose life in Him by the power of His Spirit.
This is why it is so important to preach the Gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). When the power of God is brought to bear in a person's life, they are placed spiritually in a place of decision. They are not only given the ability to choose by God, they are held accountable for that choice.
"When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? Are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye." Ezekiel 18:26-32
A perfect depiction of this is in I Kings Chapter 18. In this text, the prophet Elijah is confronting the prophets of Baal, but before the confrontation begins, Elijah asks the people to choose whom they will serve.
"So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word." I Kings 18:20-21
Elijah asked the people to choose who was the true God between God and Baal, yet they could NOT. They answered Him not a word because they were enslaved to sin and in bondage.
"Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken." I Kings 18:22-24
The prophets of Baal go first, pleading and cutting themselves to get their god to respond to Elijah's challenge; yet he does not. Then Elijah prepares to appeal to the True & Living God.
In a symbolic representation of Godly authority, Elijah repairs the altar of God (establishing a foundation of self-denial and sacrifice), sets up 12 stones (a restoration of patriarchal authority), planted seed in the trenches around the altar (the word coming in pure form), laid out the cut-up sacrifice (you and I as living sacrifices), and doused it with 12 barrels of water (the Spirit of God bringing life to the word sown).
Once Godly authority has been re-established, he cries out to God:
"And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God." I Kings 18:36-39
Once the power of God is manifested, the Scripture says two things happened: The people were able to know that the LORD is God and God turns their hearts back to Him. As we saw in Ezekiel 18 above, if we repent and turn away from sin, God will give us a new heart and a new spirit.
We see the significance that the power of God plays in a believer's ability to come to the faith reiterated in the New Testament.
"And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." I Corinthians 2:4-5
"For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." I Corinthians 4:2
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Luke 4:18-19
Our faith must stand in the power of God and it is that very same power which presents captives with the opportunity to be set free; to repent and know Jesus as Lord.
Predestination is not a defense of the OSAS position for there is nothing in the Biblical understanding of predestination which requires unconditional, eternal security.
- God does predestine His creation, but he does so based on His foreknowledge.
- Scripture does not teach that God has purposed individuals for salvation or damnation apart from their choice.
- An accurate understanding of free will does not conflict with God's sovereignty
- When the power of God is presented, it bypasses the bondage of sin and allows man to choose life in God.
This article is part of a 6-part series evaluating a doctrine referred to as Once Saved Always Saved, Eternal Unconditional Security, or Preservation of the Saints.
- God Doesn't Mince Words
- Salvation is a Result of Covenant
- God's Relationship With Man is Based on Covenant
- Was the Abrahamic Covenant Unconditional?
- Covenant Responsibilities
- Eternal Life is a Gift
- Nothing Can Separate You From the Love of God
- You Cannot Be Unborn
- You Can Only Lose Fellowship with God
- You Can Only Lose Your Reward
- Predestined by God
- Eternal Life is "Eternal"
- All means ALL