This question is a biggy. Right up there with what is our purpose in life? (to glorify God) what will happen when I die? (heaven or hell) or what will I have for breakfast tomorrow? (cereal and toast).
The answer to the above question resolves around the concept of predestination. I know, long work, but the good news is that it means exactly what it looks like it means. People were destined to become Christians and the ‘pre’ means that this happened before they came into existence.
But that’s throwing you right in at the deep end. To truly understand predestination we must go right back to the beginning…
Man is sinful
This is a pretty self evident point. Let’s run a quick test: have you for the whole of your life perfectly kept the two commands to love God with your heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbour as yourself? If that’s a no then you’re a sinner.
But sin is more than that. We’re not sinners because we sin. We sin because we’re born sinners.
“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful natureand following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
Ephesians 2 v 3
By default we’re sinners, ‘by nature and choice’ as Mark Driscoll says. Jesus gives a damning assessment of a sinful man’s heart:
“For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.’”
Mark 7 v 21 – 23
That is the state of all of our hearts (the biblical term for our inner spiritual nature). On one of the occasions when Paul talks about sin he says:
“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.”
Romans 6 v 20
Sinful man is a slave to sin, unable to do anything but sin. Even the good he does is motivated by wrong emotions. There is more I could say to labour the point – everyone is a sinner and this is a huge deal!
Sinful man cannot come to God
Bearing all this in mind is it really any surprise when Paul writes in Romans:
“We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Romans 3 v 10 – 12
Man’s sinfulness affects his ability to come to God. He cannot, he will not, he will never seek God. He is unable even to understand God.
As Jesus says:
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
John 3 v 19
As Paul says again:
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they [the things that come for God] are spiritually discerned.”
1 Corinthians 2 v 14
There is no way to disguise the fact that Paul is making a black and white statement. The sinful man cannot understand God. End of. It’s not that the sinful man will have trouble, or that a lot of effort will overcome his inability it is the simple fact that we cannot understand God as sinners.
Man’s free will
Again, building on all we have discussed then it should come as no surprise when I say that man by his own free will cannot choose God. Ever.
Stay with me here. A man’s freedom is constrained by nature (laws of physics, gravity, etc) but it also constrained by his own nature. Since man is a sinner by nature (and choice) then he cannot choose God. As we’ve seen from various Bible passages sinful man cannot understand God, is full of evil and will never seek God. How then could he ever choose God? It is impossible.
But, I’m a Christian/ I want to be a Christian – explain that!
Like I said man in his sinful free will cannot come to God. It is impossible. Don’t we then ask with the disciples:
“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."”
Matthew 19 v 25 - 26
Again, taking in all that the Bible says about man and his sinful nature we see the necessity, the absolute necessity for Predestination. Man cannot choose to come to God. Therefore God must choose to come to man. This vital, incredible, glorious truth is repeated time and time again:
Acts 13:48: When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
John 1:12-13: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of god.
Romans 8:29-30: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Ephesians 1:5: He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.
Ephesians 1:11 Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to his purpose who works all things after the counsel of his will.
What more remains to be said? Could the Bible be clearer on this truth? God predestines Christians to believe. Before the creation of the world he chose his elect, chosen not on merit but out of mercy, to be his people.
But how does this work in practise?
“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Psalm 51 v 10
God works in a person, regenerating them, making them able and willing to repent and believe. God gives them the faith, the ability, the desire, the will and the means to accept the offer of salvation that is freely given in the gospel.
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”
Philippians 1 v 29
Predestination is how God has always worked
The briefest of glances through the Old Testament show God at work choosing people rather than people choosing him. Did Abraham go to God? No, God went to Abraham. Did Moses chose to lead the Israelites out of slavery? Nope. Did the prophets chose to be prophets? No, God chose them.
Paul deals with the case of Jacob and Esau. Remember God chose Jacob over Esau.
“Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."”
Romans 9 v 11 – 13
Isn’t predestination unfair?
Paul answers this question on right after the above verse:
“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.”
Romans 9 v 14 - 16
Why does God still blame us?
Again, Paul answers this question in the same chapter:
“One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”
Romans 9 v 19 – 21
What should are attitude be to predestination?
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
Ephesians 1 v 3 – 4
Our reaction to the truth of predestination should be one of praise to God. Our second response is that it should encourage us to preserve with evangelism:
“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.”
Acts 18 v 9 - 11
God tells Paul that he has many people in the city. People not yet converted but who would be. How can God say this? Because he knew his people already because he predestined. And it is interesting to note that Paul didn’t put up his feet and relax saying: “they’ll become Christians with or without me because they’re predestined.” No, Paul stayed there a year and a half teaching them! This is the correct response to the truth of predestination - it should encourage us to do more evangelism!
Has anyone ever done anything to deserve to be predestined?
In other words does God only predestine the goody two shoes, the holy than thous, the good guys? In a word: no. For if you were paying attention in the first half of this post you would have realised that “there is no one good, no not one.” Literally nobody has ever deserved to become a Christian. In fact, the essence of predestination is that God chose the unworthy and makes them worthy.
“But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time”
2 Timothy 1 v 9
What a truth! It is plain to see why it is written:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55 v 8 – 9
Predestination is a hard truth to wrap your head around. But it is so obviously a biblical truth. All of church history screams predestination. All of world history proclaims God’s sovereignty over all things. So it is of no surprise that his complete sovereignty extends to deciding who will become a Christian and who will not.
Predestination brings man’s own effort to nothing and glorifies God above all as the one who saves. It reveals God’s true power, mercy and love to his people. It humbles Christians to the knowledge that it is only by God’s work that they are saved. It is a truth that humbles man and glorifies God. And what a wonderful truth it is.