Were YOU predestined to be saved, before the world was? Did God plan a certain number of people, and prepare their souls, and then plan out their entire lives all the way up to resurrection as an immortal spirit being, before He laid the cornerstone of the planet Earth?
There are two schools of thought on this question. One says “Absolutely! God is SO big, and SO powerful, and NOTHING is impossible to Him, and He foresaw everything that would ever happen before it began! So either we’re predestined to be saved, or we’re not!”
The other school is more skeptical. They’ll admit that God is big, and powerful, and all that. But their thinking goes like this; “If God is so powerful that He foresaw everything from the beginning, then why tell us to make a choice? Because, if we are predestined to be saved, then we don’t really have any choice in the matter; God has already made the choice for us. If God made the choice for us, then why did He tell us to choose? Do we not have free moral agency at all? Are we nothing more than wind-up dolls that God wound up and then have no choice but to follow our program until the spring winds down?”
The first school responds to these questions by saying that God is big. And who are we to speak against Him, after all. They’ll quote the scripture about the potter and the clay, and say “There! We are that clay, and God either predestines us to be a vessel to honor, or a vessel to dishonor – either saved, or not! And we have no say in the matter!”
The second retorts with something along the lines of this… “Well, that sure makes it a lot easier, doesn’t it? God either saved you, or else He didn’t, thousands, perhaps millions of years ago. If you’re predestined, then by definition, you can’t change your fate. So nothing that you can do matters! If your name was written in the Lamb’s book of life all those years ago, then you can go out and murder people and you can’t change your fate!”
Of course, the other group hastens to say that that isn’t how it works at all. “No,” they say, “anyone whom the Lamb wrote in His book isn’t the sort of person who would do a thing like that. He knew what we are like, and so He pre-saved us based on that. And no good person would do that sort of thing.”
The second group will naturally jump on this statement and say that a good person is a person who made good choices – and if they make good choices, they must have free will to make good choices… therefore they couldn’t have been predestined to make good choices if it’s the good choices that got them predestined… etc. The argument can go back and forth for hours like this – trust me, I’ve been there – without either side gaining headway or in any way denting the other’s mental armor. So who is right? What is the big flaw in this argument – on both sides?
Like most arguments I’ve witnessed, no one ever stops to go back to the SOURCE of the other’s argument. We deal with the argument as a fully developed entity and argue back and forth based on that. Which is all well and good with simpler arguments, but anything as complex as predestination requires clear thinking on both sides, if any hope exists of resolving the issue.
So let’s step in the old wayback machine and go back to where the idea of predestination came from. Let’s look at the scriptures that sired the idea, and THEN we can see if those scriptures really do say that, or if they… don’t. At the risk of repeating myself, an argument can go on indefinitely if neither side establishes a foundation for their argument.
Mind you, I don’t mean quoting a scripture that supports the idea – a scripture that AGREES with your idea – that isn’t how Bible study works. I mean to find the scriptures that REQUIRE this belief. The scriptures that, when taken in tandem or collectively, indicate that this is the most logical answer. THOSE are the scriptures on which rests every doctrine, be it right or wrong, and those are the points of the argument which must be fortified by the dogmatist and attacked by the skeptic.
So to find those poles which are sunk into the Earth as the foundation for the idea of Predestination, let’s look at the scriptures that they quote as their strongest proofs.
Revelation 17:8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
That is a pretty powerful scripture. It sounds like it says that there were people whose names were written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. And if your name was there, it’s a good indication that you were predestined to be saved.
But then again; if you’ll read what I just said, you can count no less than three assumptions. “It sounds like it says…”, “and if your name was there…”, and “predestined to be saved”. To put it another way, it assumes that there were names IN the book, it assumes that your name being in that book means you WERE predestined, and it assumes that that predestination cannot be altered and can ONLY end in salvation.
None of that proves anything, except that we need more scriptures. And so the companion scripture, which is almost identical, is found four chapters previous.
Revelation 13:8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
This differs primarily in that it adds “of the lamb slain” between “book of life” and “from the foundation of the world”, which totally alters its meaning. This scripture doesn’t say that your NAME was in the book from the beginning, it just says that the book belongs to the Lamb WHO WAS SLAIN from the foundation of the world. But again, this proves nothing, so, moving right along.
The strongest scriptures of predestination, such as Romans, Ephesians, and Revelation are commonly – and, I must say, reasonably – understood to mean that everyone who is “in Christ Jesus” was PERSONALLY predestined to be saved before the world existed. For example…
Ephesians 1:4-5,11 According as he hath chosen US in him before the foundation of the world, that WE should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated US unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, … 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
That is, again, a powerful scripture for the defense; a casual, or even an in-depth reading of that verse looks like it is saying that you, _Insert Name Here_ (if you are one of those who will be a part of the first resurrection), had an entry with your name in it in that great book of the saved before God ever created Adam.
But the problem is that it is ASSUMED that the Bible is referring to specific individuals. Go back and look at that verse carefully. I have capitalized every indicative pronoun used – Paul doesn’t say “I, Paul, was written in the book of life from the foundation of the world”. He says, instead that “WE were chosen before the foundation of the world”.
That is a small difference, but a rather important one on a subject of this vast importance and potential scope. You see, most people read that verse and understand “WE” to mean “You and I”, individuals. And if that is indeed what Paul meant, then it would definitely indicate that predestination is a fact.
But what if… what if you interpreted “WE” as “Americans”? It makes just as much sense in the context for “WE” to mean a group, or a nation, OR an individual. Without context and other scriptures we can’t determine which is intended by the author. It could be either one. So, following our golden rule of Bible study that the Bible – and only the Bible – is allowed to interpret the Bible, we run on down a few verses and see if Paul goes on to define the “we” that he used so vaguely here.
Verses 18-19 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward WHO BELIEVE, according to the working of his mighty power,
So then, the context of “US” is defined as THOSE WHO BELIEVE! That means that when he said that “WE were predestined to be adopted”, or that WE were predestined to see His glory, or that WE would be holy, that what he MEANT was that the TRUE CHURCH OF GOD WAS predestinated from the foundation of the world, and that those in it would be saved!
Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Christ had for a long time planned, decided, or FOREKNOWN that He would build the Church upon the foundation of Himself, the Rock. In fact, He had to symbolically die before the foundation of the world, and from that point, this Church was PREDESTINED to exist!
1 Peter 1:19-20 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
So based on the context of those scriptures, and the others, it is much more reasonable to say that YOU weren’t personally predestined, but that what WAS predestined was Christ and a group of people WHO WOULD BELIEVE!
But just like a group of Americans, or a group of Israelites, or a Chess Club, the group is planned often long before it is created, and it will exist REGARDLESS OF THE INDIVIDUALS WHO MAKE UP ITS MEMBERSHIP! You might well say that you and your wife predestined your family to exist, when as yet there was none of them, and then you bring them into existence – and regardless of whether they are male or female, good or bad, or whether they live a decade or ten, that GROUP can say to one another that their parents “predestinated US”.
An oversimplification? Perhaps. But we still have a few scriptures to examine.
Romans 8:28-29 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 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.
Again, the “we” and “they” must be defined to understand this scripture correctly. Again we look at the context, and again we find them defined as “THEM THAT LOVE GOD”. And here it also tells us WHY He foreknew “them”… why? SO THAT He would be the firstborn of many brothers! He wanted to make sure that that family EXISTED to that He could have brothers, and presumably, sisters. If He hadn’t died before the foundation of the world, and sworn that He would build His Church, He would have had no family to bring into the first resurrection!
Romans 8:30 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.
This scripture then goes on to talk about these people who make up that pre-planned, fore-ordained, or predestined group. Those people consist of three groups, or more accurately, three stages. The Called, the Justified, and the Glorified. Now compare that thought to this other scripture…
Revelation 17:14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
Clearly, we’re speaking of the called in both places. At the point when you are “chosen” is when God justifies you, at the point of repentance. And finally, and equally clearly, faithful and glorified are interchangeable since those who are faithful are glorified. So then the true church, the church that was predestinated to exist, has as its membership the called, chosen and faithful.
But we also know that “…many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14). This means that those people who are in that group of predestined people, the CALLED, have a great attrition rate before they reach the CHOSEN stage, and likewise those who are CHOSEN, or justified, have a great attrition rate before they reach the FAITHFUL stage, and die in faith, as those did who are found written in Hebrews 11.
What this means to the predestination argument is that you CAN be in that group of people predestinated before ever the world was, at the CALLED stage, and have access to the truth and understanding you need to become CHOSEN, and CHOOSE TO REJECT IT, and that, as a matter of fact, MOST of the people who are called will never be CHOSEN! And that the vast majority of the CHOSEN will never stay FAITHFUL!
And that means that you were NOT predestined to be saved, and that in effect the pylons of the predestination doctrine have been dynamited into splinters!
But I’m not done! I’ve showed you why predestination ISN’T true by taking their strongest scriptures and explaining why they can’t be used to support the idea. But there is a completely new line of attack that I want to pursue, for those who are still a bit stubborn about the idea. This first part could have been called “Predestination: Why it isn’t true”. The next part is titled…
Predestination: Why it CAN’T be true!
2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
On the foundation we have established – a far more solid foundation, you’ll agree, than what we started with – we can now understand the various scriptures like this one, which as I said up front, CAN agree with that idea, but which don’t require it; this one, for example, merely means that the US here, the church people Paul is talking about, have been called and chosen, or justified, or as it’s called here, “saved”. And we weren’t called by works, but by grace. Now John tells us that “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). So all that this scripture is saying is that this Grace was set aside for US (the church) by Christ, whose death was ordained before the world existed (1 Peter 1:19-20 again).
It was rather pointless to mention this up front, as it would have seemed somewhat… unfair to their argument, but really, all predestined means is planned. I predestine to go shopping this week. I predestine to build a house next year. You predestine to have rice for dinner. These are plans. You set up the destiny (future intended use) of that rice now, and it will come to fruition about 8pm tonight. It really doesn’t need to be spiritualized into this huge, unknowable doctrine that men can’t understand. But enough rambling, I promised to explain why predestination CAN’T be true.
Romans 11:1-2 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. …
These people – again, a group of Israelites – were foreknown. God planned this group out way ahead of time. That doesn’t necessarily mean He knew that Ahab would be evil when He made the promises to Abraham, however. Which leads me into one of my favorite objections…
Luke 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
John the Baptist was telling these unrepentant Pharisees, Israelites, these same people whom God foreknew and predestined to exist, that they needed to go off and repent. And not to think themselves all that special because they were Abraham’s children and therefore predestined or somehow better than anyone else – because God was ABLE to raise up from that pile of ROCKS children to Abraham!
Now if God can cast away those Pharisees and raise up rocks and make them into children for Abraham to populate his church, which WAS predestined to exist and never to die, then unless those were special predestined rocks, predestination CANNOT be true! For they say that you either are saved or not, and nothing you can do affects it one way or another!
Whereas John said that IF YOU DON’T REPENT (a choice, an action) God can raise up ROCKS to take your place!
Another important point is that since God isn’t in the habit of wasting effort, why does He hunt for righteous people, so He can save them? If He planned them all before the foundation of the world, has He since become so senile He forgot where He put them? I’m referring to these scriptures…
2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.
Zechariah 4:10 … those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.
John 6:44-45 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.
So God hunts through the whole Earth, to find people with a clean heart. And when He finds one, God teaches him a bit and then draws him to Christ. But if these people were all predestined to be saved, God needn’t hunt for anyone! In fact, the universe could basically run on autopilot if it was all planned from the beginning, and we really needn’t think or have a God at all!
And this doesn’t even discuss such scriptures as those which admonish us to CHOOSE LIFE, and not death – a pointless choice, if it’s all a done deal. Or those hundreds in which God BEGS us not to sin – like
Jeremiah 44:4 Howbeit I sent unto you all my servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate.
Why should God have wasted His time begging a rebellious nation to CHOOSE RIGHTLY if He had planned not only their choices, but their eternal destinies a billion years ago during His coffee break?
So NO, He didn’t know me, or you, personally from the foundation of the world. He knew that his church, with people in it who were righteous and trustworthy would exist.