April 27, 2008 Q & A

What is predestination?


Would you explain what predestination is? I've gone to several different churches and everyone tells me something different.


I will try to respond to your question concerning predestination and how that affects what different churches (and denominations) believe about the Bible's teaching on salvation. Let me first try to set forth the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism:

First, as to the names they bear in the history of the church: John Calvin (1509-1564) is the one after whom Calvinism was named. But the "Five Points of Calvinism" got their name as the response of those who opposed Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). He was a theologian in Holland who taught his seminary students to rebel against the teachings of John Calvin, the outstanding theologian of the Protestant Reformation. Arminius taught that Calvin was wrong in teaching that unsaved people were unable to believe in Christ until they were "born again" by the Holy Spirit. He taught that "election" in the Bible was not unconditional (that is, that God's election was conditioned on the choice of certain sinners, whether they altogether on their own choose to be saved or lost). Arminius further taught that the atonement (Christ's dying on the cross) was for everybody irrespective of whether they would die in Christ or out of Him and go to hell. He taught that God by the Holy Spirit is unable (or at least unwilling) to save anyone who is unwilling to be saved. Finally, Arminius taught that anyone could be saved and then lost again, so it is up to us who are saved to keep from being lost again.

There were many students of Arminius in the Reformed Churches in Holland, which till then had believed in Calvin's teaching which Arminius opposed. So the Synod of Dordt (a gathering of the ministers and elders of the Reformed Churches in Holland in the city of Dordt in the Netherlands) was held after Arminius died. The Synod declared these five doctrines of Arminius and his students to be heretical and false. From the Canons (official teachings) of Dordt the five points of Calvinism got their name. And they can be remembered by the letters of that which is famous in Holland: T-U-L-I-P.

"T" for Total Depravity. That means that unsaved people are "dead in trespasses and sins." Dead people cannot respond to the things of this life. Dead people can neither hear, see, feel, taste nor smell. Ephesians 2:1 says "And you (Ephesian Christians) [God] made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins." That is, before they became Christians, all members of that church were spiritually dead. They were not able to believe and be saved. It wasn't that they were literally dead. Verse 2 continues, "... in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (the devil), [who is] the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience." Yes, the heathen of Ephesus were very much alive to the things of this sinful world in which Satan rules in the hearts of unbelievers. But they are dead to Christ and to God and to the Holy Spirit. In other words, they weren't ABLE to repent and believe in Christ! I Corinthians 2:14 says that "... the NATURAL MAN (the unsaved person) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him (or her); nor CAN he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (known only through the Holy Spirit). So total depravity means that we were born in unbelief, and our state is hopeless until the Holy Spirit opens our understanding so that we can receive and believe God's Word. One more verse: Jesus, in John 6:44 says, "No one CAN come to me unless the Father who sent me DRAWS him; and I will raise him up (in the resurrection) at the last day." Total depravity does not mean that we are as bad as the devil. Some unbelievers are not totally wicked, or else we would all kill one another! But it means that, in the three parts of our souls, sin has taken over: in our THINKING, our FEELINGS and our WILL.

"U" for Unconditional Election. That means the same as predestination (which in Scripture is referred to as predestination to eternal life). The Bible speaks often of God's elect people. See Romans 8:33: "Who will lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" But we need to go to Romans 8:28-30. There Paul uses the word predestinate. Who are the predestinated ones? Those who love God. Who are those who love God? Those whom He has called according to His purpose. Verse 29 says "Whom He did foreknow, He also predestinated ...." That, by itself, could mean, God, who knows everything - past, present and future - knew that you and I would choose to be saved. Therefore He predestinated us, because he knew that we would, of ourselves, become Christians. But the word "know" in Scripture has different meanings, one of which is to place His love in us, bring us to life, even as Adam "knew" Eve (Genesis 4:1), resulting in the birth of Cain. It has that sense here. God's choice of us was from the foundation of the world. Look at Ephesians 1:3-5. Verse 5: "... having predestined us to adoption of sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, ACCORDING TO THE GOOD PLEASURE OF HIS WILL." Nothing in us poor sinners made Him set His love on us. It was out of the good pleasure of His will -- altogether in Himself -- a mystery to us!

"L" for Limited atonement. That doesn't mean the blood of Jesus was able to save only so many, so all the rest must perish in their sin. Christ's power to save is without limit (Hebrews 7:25). What it does mean is that God, through the blood of Jesus, INTENDED to save His people, not the whole world. Otherwise it could be said that God failed to do what He planned from all eternity to do! A couple of Scriptures should suffice. John 10:11, 14-16, 26-30. I know that there are other Scriptures that seem to contradict these verses. If that bothers you, get back to me and I will try to show you that there is no contradiction.

"I" for Irresistible Grace. This simply means that, because God is the sovereign God, He will succeed in saving those whom He has chosen. A perfect example is the salvation of Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul). See Acts 9:1-19. Saul was not coaxed into believing in Christ. He was told what Christ had in mind for him - a "chosen vessel" (verse 15). The same is true of the original twelve disciples: He said to them, "follow me," and they left all and followed Him. (True, Judas was a false disciple, but Jesus chose him to show how false teachers would creep into the church like wolves in sheep's clothing. But, because Jesus was the omniscient Son of God, He knew from the beginning that Judas wasn't a true disciple. (See John 6:70-71 & John 17:12.)

"P" for Perseverance of the Saints. God's true people are those who continue in following Jesus (believing in Him) to the end of their lives. There are hosts of people who "believe" and then fall away, never to return to Christ. But John 6:44, quoted under "T" above, ends by saying, "... and I will raise him up at the last day." Also, read again Romans 8:28-30. Those who really love God, are called, etc., will be glorified. It's like riding on a merry-go-round. Once on, you can't get off till it stops. God will not "half-save" anybody. Read 1 John 2:18-19. Like Judas who left the Lord during the Last Supper (John 13:30) and went out (to betray Jesus), those who betray Him will go into everlasting darkness! True Christians often "backslide," but they will repent and return to God's favor. "Apostates," however, never return because they weren't real Christians in the first place.

These Five Points are the background for the doctrines of sovereign grace. Evangelical Christians are divided over these doctrines. I don't claim that those who reject these are not Christians. But I would say that we must not take God's glory from Him. Since we are saved by grace, we must give Him all the glory. It's true that there are many things we can't understand or "figure out" in God's ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), but we can trust Him to do what He promises, so we can concentrate on doing what He commands. In a word, it's for us to follow Jesus; and it's for Him to do the saving and keeping (See Deuteronomy 29:29.) I hope I've not overwhelmed you with all this theology. I struggled with these doctrines when I was a lot older than you are. I wish I could have gotten hold of them when I was a sophomore in high school. But, believe me, it's WONDERFUL to be a child of God. Cling to Him and He'll never let you down.



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