I will begin by telling the reader that I do not believe that the Bible teaches the widely held view of hell as a place where unbelievers go to suffer eternal punishment. (Please see the paper on this web-site, A Study Of Hell for the Scriptural evidence of that belief). I believe that when the unbeliever dies that is the end of him, i.e. he will not suffer eternal torment.
We will discuss the following topics in our study of predestination:
What Is Man?
Does Man Have A Free Will?
Is God’s Will Sovereign?
“FOR WHOM HE DID FOREKNOW”
What Is Man?
Romans 7:14, “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin“.
Romans 8:7, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be“.
Eph. 2:2, “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience”. We read of the “prince of this world” in John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out”. The prince of the power of the air, is, of course, Satan. The Greek word translated “children” in this verse is “huios“. The Companion Bible gives this definition: “having reference to origin”. We learn from this verse that before these Gentiles came to believe in their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they were living their lives in accordance with the ways of Satan, and that they were the offspring of disobedience. It is no wonder therefore that the “carnal mind is enmity against God”.
John 6:44, “….No one can come to Me except the Father Which hath sent Me draw Him…..”.
John 6:65, “…..Therefore, I say unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father”.
It is clear that in his natural state, no man is naturally inclined to come to God.*
Does Man Have A Free Will?
Fortunately, as we read in John 12:32, God took into consideration the fact that man is not naturally inclined to seek Him. We are told that “I…..will draw all men unto Me“. We need to focus our attention on this truth, especially in regard to the question of predestination. God draws all men unto Himself. It is clear then, that all men have the opportunity to accept and believe in Him and would consequently inherit resurrection life. The fact that not all men choose to believe in Him proves that, in spite of the fact that God draws them, some men do not accept Him. This, in my opinion, proves that, in general, man has free will to choose God or not. (The question of those who do not have a free will will be discussed in more detail further on this paper).
Romans 9:6 is also helpful. “Not as though the word of God hath none effect”. Paul is making the point in this passage that he deeply desires his people Israel to accept Christ as their Messiah, to the point where he writes, “…I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsman according to the flesh” (verse 3). Paul wants all Israel to accept their Messiah, but some have not. But that doesn’t mean that the preaching of the word of God is of no effect, because some had accepted Him. This is free will; some have accepted Him and others have not.
If we assume that God had predestined some to be saved, and therefore others to not be saved, then the argument could be made that He had not died for all men, but just for the ones He predetermined would be saved. It is very clear in the Bible however, that Christ died for the sins of all men, not just for the chosen.
I Tim. 2:4, “Who (God) wills all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth”. God wills (the word is better translated “desires”) all men to accept Him. He desires all men to be saved, but some choose to reject Him and will not be saved.
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that…….. whosoever shall believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life”. God sent His Son to die for the world, not just some.
I Tim. 2:6, “….who gave Himself a ransom for all.”
II Cor. 5:14,” ……One died for all“.
II Peter 3:9, “….not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.
Rom. 5:8, “…..that brings life for all men…”.
Heb. 2:9, “….He might tamest death for everyone“.*
Is God’s Will Sovereign?
Having established that man, in general, has free will, it would seem contradictory to say that God’s will is sovereign. But there are many clear passages in Scripture that says that His will is indeed sovereign. But the two (man’s free will and God’s sovereign will) are not always mutually exclusive. That is to say, I believe, and will give the reasons for this belief as we continue in this study, that man, in general, is free to exercise his will in believing God or not, but at times God does step in and override that free will for the fulfillment of His purposes. Sometimes those purposes require His chosen vessel to be a believer, and sometimes it does not.
But for now let us focus on the fact of God’s sovereign will. Let us consider, for example Romans 9:11-25. “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purposes in election might stand: not by works but by Him who calls; she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger…'”. Some might say that God chose the younger twin (Jacob) because He knew that Jacob would believe in Him. But consider John 15:16, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you”. It is true that Christ is speaking to His apostles in this verse, but the precedence is set: God does choose some, and it is not because He knew they would choose Him. In point of fact, Christ chose Judas to be an apostle, and Judas was not a believer (see Jn. 6:64) which proves that God’s choice is not made on the basis of whether one would believe in Him.
We must also note that there is absolutely no scriptural evidence to support the view that God chose only those that He knew would choose Him. (Romans 8:28-30 will be discussed later in this paper).
Let us continue with Romans 9. In verse 15 we read, “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”. There are those who believe that God showed this mercy on those who would come to believe in Him. But the whole point of this passage of Scripture is that God is sovereign. If God must depend on man’s will to accept and serve Him, He is not sovereign, man is sovereign.
For those who might find God’s sovereignty “unfair” I would quote Rom. 9:20-21, “..who art thou O man that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, ‘why hast Thou made me thus?’ Hath not the potter power over the clay?”
In summary, I am suggesting that God draws all men to Himself because due to his nature, man would not be inclined to come to Him on his own. I am also suggesting that, in general, man does have the free will to come to God, but there are times when God chooses some because He has a purpose for him or her. This choosing, however, is not primarily unto salvation, but for service. Sometimes salvation is required for God’s purposes to be completed, in which case God chooses that person to come to believe in Him. This last point will be made more clearly as we continue in our study.*
Too many Bible studies on this subject begin in the New Testament, and are doomed therefore to lead one to an incomplete, if not erroneous understanding. In order to understand what the New Testament writers were writing, we must understand the mind set of those to whom they were writing. For example, when our Lord said that He chose the twelve, would first century Jews have been surprised, or would they have had an understanding from the Old Testament of God choosing certain ones? Let us look at this question from the Old Testament point of view. Below are some examples from the Old Testament of God’s choosing some for His own purposes. Note, there is no suggestion that God chose these to inherit resurrection life, but only to fulfill His own purposes.
Deut. 7:6, “….The Lord your God has chosen you (Israel) out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession”. It is clear that not all of Israel were believers. We know from this that God did not choose Israel to be saved, but for service.
Deut. 18:5, “The Lord your God has chosen them (Levites-vs.1) and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord’s Name always.” Again, we know that not all Levites were believers. And again, we learn from this that God’s choosing was not unto salvation, but unto service.
In I Sam. 10:24 we read of Saul being chosen to be king over Israel. To argue whether Saul was saved or not misses the point. The point is that Saul was chosen to be king. He was not chosen for the purpose of being saved, he was chosen for the express purpose of being king.
David was also chosen by God to be king over Israel (I Chron. 28:4). Of course, David was a believer and saved unto resurrection life. But that was not the purpose in this context of his being chosen. He was chosen to be king over Israel.
Solomon was chosen to build the temple (I Chron. 28:10).
Abram was chosen to be the father of many nations (Neh. 9:7). Was Abraham a believer? Of course he was. But the point of this verse is that he was not chosen to be a believer, he was chosen to be the father of many nations.
Moses and Aaron were chosen to lead Israel (Ps. 105:26).
It is clear that in Old Testament times God did indeed choose a nation, a tribe, and individuals to fulfill His purposes. This would be understood by those to whom Christ and the New Testament writers addressed themselves. Let us now look to see if we find a difference in regard to God’s choosing certain individuals to fulfill His purposes in the New Testament.
Luke 6:13 and John 6:70, “…..He chose twelve…”. It is important to bear in mind that God did not choose the twelve disciples to be saved. Indeed, not all were saved. Judas was not a believer and therefore, was never saved. (“For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not…” John 6:64.) The twelve (including Judas) were chosen to fulfill God’s plans and purposes.
Luke 23:35, “…if He be Christ, the chosen of God“. This makes it very clear that being chosen was unto service, not unto salvation, as Jesus Christ was certainly not in need of salvation.
We read in Romans 1:1 of Paul who was “called to be an apostle”. And in Acts 9:15, “he (Paul) is a chosen vessel (lit. a vessel of election) unto Me.” Paul writes in Galatians 1:15, “When God, who set me apart from birth, and called me by His grace….”. Let us look a bit closer at this verse. God set Paul apart. For what reason? For service. But He also called Paul unto belief because Paul could not fulfill God’s purposes if he had remained in unbelief.
Did God call Paul because He knew Paul would accept Him? No, we read in John 15:16, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you“. The whole point in Romans 9 is that God’s will is sovereign and does not rest on man’s will. To say that God chose Paul because He knew Paul would become a believer is to say that God’s plans and purposes rests on man’s will. Even earthly kings have more power than that.
Did Paul have the free will to reject Christ on the road to Damascus? I believe that he did not, because God had set him apart from birth for service which only a believer could accomplish. So in the case of Paul, belief was part of, but not the primary reason for, the calling of God. In the case of Judas and of some of Israel they were not called unto belief. Israel had the free will to accept God or reject Him, but Paul did not.
In Acts 13:48 we read of Gentiles being appointed unto eternal life. I have said that God did not call anyone for the primary purpose of being saved, but to fulfill His purpose. In this instance, the salvation of these Gentiles was an inseparable part of God’s purposes, so they were appointed unto salvation. What was that purpose? The answer to that question is found in the next verse. “And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region“. The “region” in this context is the area around Antioch where Paul preaced his message recorded in Acts 13 (see vs. 14). Antioch was a city in the Roman Empire, far from Judea which means that there many Gentiles living in that region. With the exception of Paul who was the apostle to the Gentiles, none of the apostle were preaching the word of salvation to the Gentiles. God, in His wisdom appointed some Gentiles therefore, to preach the word to other Gentiles of that region.
Eph. 1:4, “…as He hath chosen us in Him ….to be holy and blameless in His sight”. The epistle to the Ephesians was written to believers. This verse therefore is saying that believers have been chosen to be holy and blameless. This verse does not say that they were chosen to be saved.
In the New Testament several individuals whom Paul mentioned by name are said to have been chosen. For example in Rom. 16:13 we read of Rufus being chosen in the Lord. We can only assume that he was chosen because God had a purpose for him. That purpose required Rufus’s salvation and so he was a believer. But once again, the point is that Rufus was chosen, not primarily to be saved, but to fulfill a purpose of God. We are not told what that purpose was, but it is clear from the Old Testament that God chose some to fulfill His purpose. Some of those purposes required belief (as in the case of Paul) and some did not (as in the case of Judas).*
“FOR WHOM HE DID FOREKNOW”
“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. 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”.
Many have said that the phrase, “whom He did foreknow” refers to those that God knew would accept Him. Again, there is no Scriptural evidence to support this view. But let us consider Acts 13:48, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed”. This tells us that those who had been chosen unto eternal life believed. Note this does not say that as many as God knew would believe were ordained to eternal life, but as many as were “ordained”. In other words, they were not ordained unto eternal life because God knew they would believe, they were ordained and therefore, they believed. Just as Paul had been set apart from birth unto God because Paul fulfilled some of God’s purposes, so too those whom God foreknew were called. Let us therefore, look to the Old Testament for the true meaning of the phrase, “whom He did foreknow”.
In the Old Testament we read of God knowing Moses and others. But those He chose to know were not always believers. We read in Is. 45:3-4, “….so that you (Cyrus) may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel who calls you by name. For the sake of Jacob My servant….I call on you by name and bestow on you a title of honor though you do not acknowledge Me”. God chose to know Cyrus, not for salvation, but for service. It was Cyrus who ended the seventy year captivity of Israel.
But Rom. 8:29 uses the word “foreknow”, “For whom He did foreknow”. God knew them because He had a specific purpose for them to fulfill. That purpose required them to be justified. So God foreknew those for whom He had a specific purpose. Because His purpose required these people to believe in Him He predestined them to be called and justified. But again, this calling was primarily for service to Him. We must not take this passage out of the context of what the entire Bible teaches about predestination. The testimony of the entire Word of God, as we have seen in the sections above, tells us that many were chosen to fulfill a particular purpose that God had for them. But nowhere do we read that God had ever chosen someone for the sole purpose of being saved.
A discussion of foreknowledge would not be complete without a consideration of I Peter 1:2, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father….”. This verse does seem to indicate that the elect were foreknown by God. That is to say, this verse, as translated in the KJV, may be interpreted to say that God elected those unto salvation that He knew would believe in Him. But as we have seen above, in the case of Cyrus, for example, foreknowledge did not imply salvation. How are we to understand this passage in I Peter?
The note in the Companion Bible on the word “elect” reads, “Read ‘before strangers’. See vs. 1”. In other words, verse one should read, “Peter….to the elect strangers scattered throughout Pontus…”. And verse two should read, “According to the foreknowledge of God….”. Let us put this together, “Peter….to the elect strangers scattered throughout Pontus……according to the foreknowledge of God….”. The most natural reading is that God foreknew that they would be scattered. (“Peter….to the elect strangers scattered ……according to the foreknowledge of God….”.)
But then the rest of verse two would make no sense, “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”. That is to say, the fact that God foreknew that they would be scattered strangers has nothing to do with sanctification and sprinkling of blood. Therefore, I suggest the following translation, “Peter….to the elect strangers scattered throughout Pontus ……..according to the foreknowledge of God. (Full stop.) Through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, grace unto you, and peace be multiplied”. In other words the grace and peace that Peter prays will be given to the scattered strangers would be given through sanctification of the Spirit and through the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. This suggestion is in keeping with the fact that the sanctification of the Spirit is “unto obedience”. That would be a matter of great concern to those who were scattered among the heathen.*
We all know that the question of whether God chooses some to be saved and leaves others to not be saved is one that has been debated for some time. I believe that one of the main reasons that honest, Bible-believing Christians can not agree on this issue is because the question is approached solely on the basis of the teachings of the New Testament. As I have mentioned above, such an approach often leads to error.
We must understand the teachings from the Old Testament, that God does indeed choose a nation, a tribe and certain individuals for the completion of His plans and purposes. And that sometimes the completion of those plans and purposes require the ones chosen to be believers. God has the right and the authority to choose some individuals to be saved when the completion of His plans require belief.
We must also understand that God’s plans and purposes do not depend on the will of man, and that, while His will is sovereign, He does allow most to exercise their free will to accept or deny Him.
I am not suggesting that all that are saved are chosen. Some may be chosen and some may have come as a result of their own free will allowing God to draw them to the truth. We who are saved don’t know if we were chosen or if we were only exercising that God given free will. But if He did choose us, we know that He will accomplish His will in that choosing.*
*The bold type in the quotations were added.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. I would appreciate hearing your views. Please e-mail me at:email@example.com