Discussing Predestination is like throwing live ammo into a campfire. You’d better run for cover as fast as you can.
Christian history is littered with wounded remains from all the conjecture surrounding what we believe about how God exercises his Sovereignty in bringing sinful people to the pearly gates. Few doctrinal positions are as explosive as that surrounding the apparent conflict within Scripture between the idea of an all-knowing God somehow maintaining his absolute authority while at the same time allowing for human free will to impact the outcome.
To say the least, it is a sad reality. Our family study through Claiming Christ continues to review the biblical footprints regarding what the Spirit likely means by calling Christians to be “in him”. Inevitably, that brings us to the twice mentioned concept of Predestination (Rom 8 and Eph 1).
I can’t say that I understand all the nuances surrounding the extent of God predetermining human destiny, but I do recognize a pattern in Scripture that might be worth considering.
To begin with, it might be worth identifying a few scriptural revelations. First of all, the Bible does support the idea of a few people like Moses, Isaiah, and Paul viewing themselves as pre-chosen prior to their physical birth. That said, there is absolutely no evidence that such individual selection is universal. What I mean is that God does not convey the idea that every human’s destiny is pre-wired and that we simply march to a predetermined, divine software routine. Their claims resulted from direct communication with God about their ministry, and are not presented as foundational to all human existence.
Secondly, the reality of predestination is not exclusive to salvation, even though that is the sole territory of discussion from the trenches on both sides of the debate. Consider that Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar were pre-determined to positions of power and influence over the affairs of God’s people Israel, but neither are said to be predestined to salvation.
Although it might surprise some Christians, the Bible teaches that many are called, but few are chosen. And so, when the prophets repeat the words of God by saying “I called, but you did not come”, it shouldn’t be a surprise to thereafter read within context that such rebellion will result in denial of that to which God said he willingly called them.
On the dark side, Judas and Pharaoh were predestined to their roles and fates, but few will argue that they are predestined to salvation. Some want to claim that predestination has a dual impact, with some guaranteed Heaven and others created simply to fuel the fires of Hell. But I think that view stems from an over-eager attempt to prop up the sovereignty of God as if it were suffering from the inclusion of free will.
Instead, God seems quite content with holding individuals responsible for submitting to him or for going their own way. If you have the stomach for it, try reading what God says about those he views as righteous, in light of their ultimate choices in Eze 33:13-16.
With all that out of the way, here is a brief hint with what is fleshed out in more detail in Claiming Christ: What I have observed in Romans and Ephesians regarding Predestination is a common thread that leans more towards the collective than the individual. Take a look at the use of the pronouns and how it changes within context. The emphasis in both cases is plural.
The point I believe Scripture is making is that God has pre-determined the existence of his Church, the body of Christ. He promises that the gates of Hell will not prevail against that collective entity. Although the Church is organized by how the Spirit places each individual, the wording surrounding the biblical use of Predestination appears more prophetic towards God’s pre-selection of this spiritual-gathering than of his apparent selection of specific individuals for heaven.
This gets us back to the hundreds of times the Bible presents the idea of believers being “in him”. Rather than some winning lottery ticket, Predestination is presented as an encouraging process of how God pre-chose his Bride in order to confound the authorities in high places, and that those who willingly submit to abiding in Christ (and all that the Bible means by that) will find themselves as the blessed participants in each unfolding stage that culminates in salvation.
It may have been live ammo that I tossed into the ring, but hopefully you have discovered that the campfire was never lit to start with, so you were perfectly safe.
How do you reconcile the biblical ideas of God’s sovereignty with human free will?