Predestination

Predestination. The word itself provokes all sorts of images in people’s minds. Some will see this austere God who is sorting people out as impersonally as a CPA working with numbers on a page. These go over here in the “going to heaven” group. Those go over there in the “going to hell” group. Those groups are set from before the foundation of the world. Consequently, there is nothing you can do to get out of one group and into another. Your decisions mean nothing. Even if you were to love God with all of your heart, if you are in the “going to hell” group, your destiny is fixed by the big Bureaucrat in the sky.

The reaction to this image of God is, understandably, negative. Understanding God in this way is anything but comforting, and it certainly doesn’t take into account the personal relationship that involves love and choices revealed in Scripture. As a result, there are Christians who will throw the predestination baby out with the sovereign bath-water.

This is not the Scriptural picture of predestination. But we must be careful not to discard the whole idea of predestination. The Scriptures do teach that God predestines events, the course of the world, and the lives of people.

Predestination is just what the word denotes: it is determining destinies beforehand. The Scripture is quite clear that God is sovereign and does, indeed, set the destinies for all things, including people. Paul says clearly that God works all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph 1.11). It is quite clear in Romans 9 that God chooses people for his own purposes before they are born (Rom 9.10ff.). Predestination can’t be rejected without doing violence to an important Scriptural truth: God’s absolute sovereignty. Trying to protect man’s sovereignty at the expense of God’s sovereignty leaves us with a God who is subject to the whims of man. Nothing is certain.

However, the Scriptures don’t present predestination in impersonal terms. We serve a personal God who, in his mysterious sovereignty, deals with us personally. Predestination is (primarily) presented in Scripture as the expression of God’s love for his people. His absolute sovereignty over all men and our destinies is a comfort for those of us who love God.

This is how Paul presents predestination in Romans 8.29-30. In a world that looks like it is coming apart at the seams, a world in which the creation and we in it are groaning because of the effects of sin, God’s predetermined purposes to bring everything and everyone to a certain end means that all of this makes sense in the plan of God ... even when it all looks completely random to us. As we suffer with Christ, we need certainty that it is not all in vain. We have that certainty. God set his love upon us before the foundation of the world, establishing a relationship with us. He foreknew us; he foreloved us.

Foreknowing us he predestined us that we should be conformed to the image of his Son. For those of us who love God, he has determined that we will be conformed to the image of his Son. This means that we will share his character. We will be holy as he is holy. We will love what he loves.

This also means that we will share his vocation. The Son is God’s appointed ruler of the world. We as sons of God in the Son of God are predestined to rule with Jesus. We will inherit glory with Christ Jesus.

While we cannot pry into the secret counsels of God concerning every aspect of predestination, we can be sure of our predestination unto glory by how we relate to Jesus now. Do you live in allegiance to Jesus as your Lord? Do you love what he loves? Do you fight sin and cultivate righteousness in your life? These are evidences of the Spirit’s working in your life.

As you are fighting the good fight, the Scriptural teaching of God’s predestination undergirds your faith, helping you not to lose hope. God will not fail you in keeping his promises. All of those who are loyal to Christ will certainly inherit the promised glory. It has already been determined.