What’s so great about predestination?
There are few issues that have caused greater controversy in the Church’s history than the doctrines of election and predestination. From Augustine and Pelagius, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius, George Whitefield and John Wesley, and more recently Michael Horton and Roger Olsen, Christians have argued for and against God’s sovereign election.
Yet when Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he seems to think that this doctrine is precious to the believer and should be a source of blessing and encouragement to them. Given the number of questions and comments I received about this after my first sermon on Ephesians, I thought it may be helpful to take a few Contact articles to define what the Bible teaches about the subject and to clarify how it benefits our Christian lives.
My concern is not merely that you land on the right side of a historical debate (Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism were all condemned as heresy) but that your Christian lives are enriched and strengthened by the Bible’s teaching. I want you to see the life-changing beauty of the biblical doctrines of sovereign grace.
What is predestination?
Lets begin by clarifying what predestination actually means.
“(Gk. proorízō).* The divine determination of human beings to eternal salvation or eternal damnation.”
“the theological notion that God has planned history and things take place according to God’s predetermined plan.”
“God’s foreordination of persons to a particular end, most commonly to a particular eternal destiny and less commonly to a particular vocation or to a particular task.
These three definitions, taken from Eerdman’s, HarperCollins and Lexham Bible dictionaries respectively, make it plain that predestination refers to God’s sovereign work of predetermining our eternal destiny according to His purpose.
So what is the problem?
Christians have struggled with the idea of predestination because it seems to be at odds with “free will”. Some have also raised objections on the basis that it undermines God’s justice, saying that it is not fair for God to choose some and not others. Others have objected on the basis of God’s love, asserting that God would not “predestine” people for judgement.
The evangelist John Wesley, under pressure from George Whitefield on this subject, famously summed up these objections when he said that predestination…
“…destroys all His attributes at once. It overturns both his justice, mercy and truth. Yea, it represents the most Holy God as worse than the devil…. But you say you will ‘prove it by Scripture’. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never can prove this…”
Is it really worth the hassle?
The comment by Wesley sums up the difficulties for both sides of the debate. On the one hand, to embrace predestination seems to create difficulties for our faith in God’s love and justice. On the other hand, to ignore predestination is to ignore the plain teaching of the Bible.
God’s sovereignty in election and predestination is a fairly major biblical theme. It doesn’t just come up a few times in obscure passages but is the major thrust of some very important sections of the Bible.
For example, here are a few of the passages outside of Ephesians that explicitly teach us about predestination and election: Matthew 11: 27-30; Mark 4: 10-12; John 6: 44-46 & 63-65; 1 Peter 1:1 & 2 Peter 1: 10; Romans 8: 28-30; Romans 9: 6-24.
So yes it is worth it. Even though we may find it difficult to get our heads around some of these passages, Christians are people who take the Bible seriously. No matter how hard, we should always live in the light of the Word of God, trusting His goodness and wisdom even when His thoughts are not our thoughts.
In the next article we will begin to look more closely at what the Bible teaches about predestination and why it is so essential for Christian life and faith.