There is no doctrine taught that makes me want to jump out of my pew and yell “STOP” more than that of predestination. How many people on the brink of accepting the salvation of Jesus have turned away because they heard a message that God picks and chooses? “Obviously if God is going to hand-pick those He wants in Heaven with Him, He is going to choose the cream of the crop. I can’t meet that standard, so He must not want me.” And how many Christians do not share the good news of the Gospel because they have been taught, and believe, that God chooses the ones He wants, so, therefore, He will make sure they get to Heaven one way or the other. “Besides, how can I know who God has chosen? If Bob or Julie aren’t chosen, then I am just wasting my breath, and putting all of us in an unnecessarily uncomfortable position.”
So where does this idea of predestination come from, and what is meant by the doctrine? Allow me to answer those questions in reverse. The doctrine of predestination says that God has predetermined who will be saved and go to Heaven, and who will not be saved and will go to Hell. Simply put-- He decides. The Bible passage often used to support this doctrine is Ephesians 1:4-5 which says: “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.” (NKJV)
If we were to look at only this Scripture passage, the message would seem pretty clear cut. However, we can’t do that. No verse or passage in the Bible stands alone. How can what Paul says here to the church at Ephesus stand against what Jesus Himself said in John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If God loves the world (and that would be all of it, every human, past, present, and future), and if whoever believes (an open-ended invitation), then how can only part of the world receive God’s love, and only a select few be allowed to believe?
Let’s look at some other verses.
1 Timothy 2:3-4 – “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
These verses not only make it clear that God wants all men to be saved, but also that He is waiting patiently, holding back on His plans to establish His kingdom, so that as many people will come to Him as will choose to.
If God has predetermined who will be saved, why not just pick the lot of us, establish His kingdom and be done with it? The answer to that is free will. That I know of, there is no particular place in the Bible that specifically says we have “free will.” However, there are a number of passages that allude to the freedom that God gives mankind to choose whether to obey Him, whether to receive His salvation and serve Him, or not.
Adam and Eve, of course, are the very first example of that. God commanded them to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But when it came down to it, He allowed them to make that choice. Don’t fool yourself. He knew it was coming. He could have posted guards around it to prevent them from disobeying, but He didn’t. He gave them the choice, but, of course, also allowed them to suffer the consequences of that choice. Some other verses that talk of mankind taking advantage of that free will are listed below.
Deuteronomy 30:19 (God to the people of Israel) – “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”
Joshua 24:15 – And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Mark 8:34 – “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.'”
Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
Again I ask, if we have free will to choose, or not choose, God, how then could we be chosen by Him? Either He presents salvation to us so that we can make the choice, or He picks us and says, “Here, take this.” Either God so loved the whole world and offers salvation to all who choose Him, or He designed a path to salvation for only those of the world that He truly loves. It can’t be both ways.
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world preaching the gospel. What would the point be? Unless. Unless the Gospel is for everyone.
Romans 1:18-20 says the following: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”
Paul is saying here that God put in every human being the ability to recognize Him and know Him, so that they/we wouldn't have any excuse not to know Him. Why would He do that when only a select handful would be chosen? An excuse would not matter if the right to choose was not there.
Take a moment to scroll back up and re-read Ephesians 1:4-5. Now read these words from John 1:12 – “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”
So here it is. God has predestined all those who choose to receive Him and believe in Jesus to become His children. The predestination is linked to the adoption as a result of salvation, not as the salvation itself. From the beginning of time, God had a plan to offer salvation to all the world. Abraham was told that through his seed, all the world would be blessed. The knowledge of God and the desire to have a relationship is built into each and every one of us. The invitation to receive salvation through Jesus is extended to every single person in the whole wide world. And the promise is that everyone who receives it is already guaranteed, pre-determined to be, adopted children of God Most High.