It is one of the oldest and perhaps most fiercely debated topics in church history; does the Bible teach that God predestines some to salvation, or can man choose to follow God with what is known as his “free will.” But for all the debate, the answer is actually given quite plainly and clearly within the text of Scripture, and the answer is yes, the Bible does teach predestination; that God Himself chooses to save some from their just punishment of Hell, in a great act of mercy.
This article will by using scripture, prove that the doctrine of predestination is truly what the Bible teaches, but first it will address with scripture the fact that man is totally incapable of choosing God on his own; for without the doctrine of total depravity, predestination is utterly worthless and accomplishes nothing of value.
The doctrine of total depravity/inability, teaches that man is so completely fallen, such a slave to his sinful nature, that he not only will not, but cannot choose God on his own; he is in fact, completely incapable of doing anything other than rejecting God. Scripture backs this up in multiple places; for example, in Romans 3:10 where it says:
“As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
This verse by itself should put to rest the entire notion of free will in the realm of salvation; Paul is clear that even after the death of Jesus, there is no one who understands God, nor is there anyone who even seeks after God on their own. They have become worthless and cannot search for God by their own volition, for there isn’t even one who can do good in the eyes of God.
Paul continues on this subject in his first letter to the Corinthian church where speaking of the natural and sinful man, he says:
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14)
Paul is once again explicitly clear on the issue; the natural and unsaved man according to the Apostle does not accept what is of God, because he sees them as foolishness. An unsaved man left to his own devices categorically does not accept God. Paul goes further and says that not only does the natural man not accept them, he doesn’t even understand them. It is contradictory to think that man can freely choose to follow a God that he does not accept or understand.
When the Pharisee Nicodemus, came to Jesus and questioned Him, Christ told him something very interesting:
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3)
What Jesus is telling us in this verse is that unless we are already born again, unless God has already done a work within us, we can’t even see the kingdom of God! How can it be that one could make the free choice to follow someone whose kingdom they cannot see? Biblically speaking, they cannot, and this is where the free will argument fails in light of God’s word.
But in the book of Ephesians, Chapter 2; Paul goes even deeper, explaining why the natural man cannot search for God, why he rejects Him so:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (1-4)
Paul, as per his style, again does not mince his words here; he tells us that we are dead in our trespasses and sins, not sick, not dying, but dead. Our being dead in our sins according to Paul means that we are children of wrath, we are the damned. This also leads to the question: “How could someone who is dead, choose to be made alive?”
Imagine for one moment you walked into a cemetery filled with tombs, and as you gazed out upon the landscape you yell to the graves “Attention everyone; I have good news! I have a way to make you all alive again, to save you from death, and I have even better news than that; all you have to do to receive this offer is to choose to accept it!” What do you think would happen? Of course the answer is nothing, because your target audience is dead! They say that dead men tell no tales, but the Bible stipulates that dead men make no choices.
It should be understood that the picture of salvation in the Bible is not that of Peter sinking beneath the waves, crying out for the Lord to save him, and grabbing Christ’s saving hand; it is more clearly seen in the story of Christ and Lazarus. In this story, Jesus comes to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, and raises him from the dead. Now Lazarus had been dead for four days, and the Bible says that he “Stinketh”, he was fully dead, no question about it. But what happened? Did Christ say “Lazarus, please come out of the tomb, I want you to come out but it’s up to you friend,” Of course not; Jesus said to His dead friend: “Lazarus, come out.” And Lazarus, because of his savior’s call, was made alive and came out. He was raised from death and made alive, not because of anything he did, not because of any choice he made, but because Jesus called him and made him alive. Ephesians 2:4-9 says it best, proclaiming:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
God, through His loving and merciful grace made us alive through and with Christ. But notice what these verses say about the gracious faith that saved us; Paul tells us that the faith that we are saved by is not a faith that comes from us, but rather that this faith is a gift from God, so that we may not boast in ourselves, saying “Look what I did, I chose God.” God makes it clear in scripture that we are dead in sin, and we despise God, we cannot see, comprehend or accept Him of our own volition, what hope is there then of receiving God’s gift of salvation? Romans chapters one and eleven provide even more insight into man’s inability to choose. Fortunately, this is where predestination come in, giving an answer to that question.
Does the Bible really talk about predestination? Absolutely; in fact, as it does with many other subjects, Scripture not only speaks of it directly in the New Testament, but it also foreshadows it in the Old Testament as well; and that is where we will start in proving the truth of this wonderful doctrine.
The pretty obvious example of God choosing or predestining us is God referring to Israel as His “chosen people”, but besides this example the Old Testament provides an excellent foreshadowing of predestination in the book of Numbers, chapter sixteen verse five:
“…and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him.”
This is a clear reference of God choosing (or predestining) people and calling them to Himself; when the Bible wants to emphasize something, it repeats it often, and both the term predestined, and the choosing of man by God are subjects the Bible speaks about often enough to warrant belief.
Furthermore in Psalms 65:4, the Psalmist writes to the Lord his God:
“Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!”
Once again, the Bible clearly references in the Old Testament that God chooses and draws near to Him certain individuals so that they may dwell in his presence; what’s more, is that the persons that God chooses to dwell in His courts and presence are called blessed by the author. To be chosen of God is a blessing and is something that God should be praised for, not looked at with contempt.
But the Israel issue must be revisited; some would ask: “What about Israel, they are God’s chosen people and yet obviously not all were saved; you see it in the Bible and you see it today…so what about Israel then, doesn’t that prove predestination false?” Fortunately, the Apostle Paul answers this question directly in Romans 9:6-13, which is also a perfect transition into the New Testament’s handling of predestination:
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
There is so much to be gleaned from this section of scripture, it his perhaps one of the most “meat filled” areas of the New Testament, if not scripture itself. The first nugget of information that Paul gives us in answer to the Israel question is that not all of descendants of natural Israel are actually Israel; rather, true Israel are the children of the promise, those who like Abraham, have faith and believe in [Christ] are part of true Israel no matter what tongue, tribe, people, or nation he or she comes from.
The second nugget of truth to come out of this verse is Paul’s statement of God’s choosing and election of individuals. Paul, in order to portray a truth about those people whom God chooses, draws upon the historical example of Jacob and Esau. Paul tells us that in order for God’s purpose of [divine] election to continue, before they were even born or had done anything good or bad, God chose one brother over the other. He chose Jacob over Esau, not because of anything they had done, but because of His will only; before their time on earth had even begun, God loved Jacob, but hated his brother Esau.
This is the Bible’s teaching on predestination at its finest, but it doesn’t stop there; some may look at that passage and say that God isn’t just, and by doing such a thing, he is being unfair. But Paul once again addresses this in Romans 9:14-18, which happens to be the very next verse:
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”
Paul says there is no injustice on God’s part because as God, He has the right to have mercy on whomever He wills, and He also has the right to harden whomever He wills. Paul will address more on this later, but in this section he makes one more great point; the Apostle tells us plainly that salvation depends “not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy…” Paul’s intention cannot be mistaken, as he says that salvation does not depend on human will or effort, rather it is all a result of God and His mercy; so much for the free will of man to choose.
Some are still not satisfied with this answer and wonder why God would still find fault in humans, who cannot choose God, because God did not choose them; and once again, Paul answers this in the very next passage (Romans 9:19-23):
“You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist His will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience, vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…”
Paul’s answer to the question of blame is that it is not up to man to question God’s will, nor His plans. The creation does not have the right to question the creator as to why He was made that way; it is God’s right to make “out of the same lump” some people for good use, and others for bad use; some to be saved, and others for destruction, so that God can show His wrath, power, and glory among all the earth. The Christian who finds fault with God over this action of predestination are withholding admiration and glory from God that is rightfully His.
Paul revisits the issue of Israel and election in Romans eleven, seven, where he tells the Roman church that:
“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened…”
This is another clear example of Paul not only speaking of the Israel question, but also showing that God has His elect that will obtain belief, and that those who are not His elect (the rest) will be and were hardened. The phrase “were hardened” is also interesting, because it seems to teach that some outside force (such as God or their sin nature) hardened them, and that they had no real choice in the matter.
Paul also preaches predestination in Romans 8:29-30, where he tells us:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Paul says that those whom God foreknew he predestined, but predestined to what? According to Paul, those God foreknew have been predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, which is what happens when we are saved, justified and glorified (as Paul mentioned those who are predestined become).
Some would argue that this verse is saying that God “looked down the corridors of time” and saw who would choose Him and who would not, and so He decided to predestine us based on the choice we were going to make with our “free will.” However, this is completely illogical on its face, and contradictory to the God of the Bible; if God were to do this, it would make Him a reactionary God, one who sees and then reacts to what His creation does. This is not at all the all powerful and sovereign God of the Bible; the biblical God is not controlled, nor does He react to the actions of His creation. On top of this, if God were to look into the future and see that someone was going to be saved, it means that that person would have to be saved, no ifs, ands’, or buts’; which means that their salvation has still been predetermined, even if it wasn’t by God. Therefore there would still be no free will choice; but if God is not the “predestiner”, that means there is something out there that is stronger than Him, for it is able to predestine salvation. Once again, this is in no way the God of the Bible, and Christians should reject this flawed argument.
It is also interesting to note that the word foreknowledge in this verse is the Greek word “proginosko”, which according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, means: “to know beforehand – foreknow (ordain), know (before).” In other words, God foreknowing those He predestined does not only mean He knew about them, but that he personally ordained their salvation. Ordain coming from the Greek “kathistemi” which means: “to designate…appoint [or] set.” Those who wish to say that the English translation must be flawed or misinterpreted will have to contend with the Greek, which says the exact same thing.
Paul continues to champion the doctrine of predestination in Ephesians chapter one, where the Apostle greets the church with:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved…In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…” (Eph. 1:3-6, 11)
This is another passage of scripture that is full of great information; it tells us that before the world was even created, God chose us in Him. He chose us so that we would be holy and blameless in His sight, and predestined us to be adopted as sons of God; and the best part? He did it in love! Those who do not view predestination as an act of love do not properly understand the scripture in terms of this subject. Finally this passage also tells us that not only is predestination an act of love, but also that it is done according to God’s purpose, according to His will.
But Paul is not through touting the election of man by God, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tells them without hesitation:
“For we know, brethren beloved by God, that He has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4-5).
The Apostle John also had a lot to say about God’s choice of man:
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
John followed the consistent and repeated theological path the Bible lays out, showing us that God gave the right of salvation to those who don’t come to Him by their own will, but by the will of God alone. But John does not stop there, he continues on in chapter fifteen, verse sixteen quoting Christ:
“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”
And John continues this line of reasoning in verse nineteen of the same chapter, where he quotes Jesus once again:
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Jesus Christ Himself teaches the doctrine of predestination in this chapter, telling believers plainly and clearly that we have not chosen Him, but rather He has chosen us out of the world; this is why the world hates us, and this is why we must bear fruit, because it was He who chose us, and designated a duty to us. John also speaks of the names of the elect being written in the book of life before the foundation of the world in the book of Revelation (13: 7-8, 17:8); couple this with Paul’s teaching of us being predestined before the foundation of the world, the evidence is undeniable.
Jesus’ choosing of His disciples is another excellent and practical example of predestination; these men are off doing their own thing, some are fishermen, one is a tax collector, all of them have lives of their own, and at least some (if not all) had families. Along comes Jesus, who most of them probably have not heard of, or at least did not recognize, and He says to them something along the lines of: “Drop what you are doing, give everything up, and follow me.” Now unless the 12 disciples were clinically insane, and there is no proof that they were, they are not going to decide to follow this guy of their own volition; it would be by all rationale thought, foolish to do so, and yet they did. Why? They followed Christ into the unknown, because God had predestined them to follow Him, and when He called, they came (Judas is the one exception, as he was destined not to actually follow, but to show that not all those who claim to be followers of Christ actually are).
Jesus also spoke of Predestination/Election when He was brought up before Pilate in John 18:37:
“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
We must understand that “listens” is not just speaking of the act of hearing a literal voice; Christ is speaking of not only hearing, but understanding and believing His words. Jesus tells Pilate (and us) that there are a certain kind of people who listen to His voice, and those are people who are of the truth; a condition that has already been placed on them. They do not become the people of the truth after they listen to Christ, rather, they only listen to Christ if they are people of the truth already; predestination in a nutshell.
The book of Matthew teaches us that “many are called, but few are chosen”; and in Second Timothy one, verse nine it says:
“Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began…”
This verse continues in the vein of Ephesians, telling believers that we have been saved by God, who called us according to His graceful purpose before the world had even begun, not according to our works or anything we have done. It must again be reminded that when the Bible wants to stress an issue as important, it repeats itself often, as is seen with these verses. There are two more verses that drive this point home, the first being in Philippians, and the second in the book of Acts. Philippians says:
“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for his sake.” (Phil. 1:29)
This verse is very explicit in telling us that our belief in Christ is something granted to us by God, not achieved through the supposed free choice of our will; and in Acts thirteen, forty-eight, scripture once again talks of salvation being out of our hands, and in the hands of God:
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
There is nothing ambiguous about this language in Acts; when the Bible says that all those who believed were specifically appointed unto eternal life, there is no room for a free will choice for salvation to be included in the text. If someone were to try and look for a caveat in this verse, they will not be able to find it without reading something into the verse that simply isn’t there.
Before closing, there are two verses in particular that must be addressed, as they are (wrongly) used to try and disprove predestination. The first is 2 Peter 3:9, which says in part that God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance…”; but what is the context of this verse? The context is that Peter is speaking about a time where scoffers will come (verses 1-10) and mock believers that Christ hasn’t come back yet. The passage goes on to say that we must remember time passes differently for God, and He is not slow to fulfill His promises, and that He is being patient towards us. That is something that must be understood, as this verse is not talking about salvation of the unbeliever; this verse is talking to believers ABOUT believers. Notice the language that Peter uses;
“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved…that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles…”
This is clearly a statement to believers, as he calls them beloved and reminds them of what the Lord and Savior has commanded. But we know that 2 Peter 3:1-10 is written about believers as well, for Peter says in verse eight:
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. “
This is not a verse about salvation, but rather, a verse that is speaking of perseverance of the saints and repentance. Peter tells the beloved that God is being patient with us, wishing that none should perish; in other words, Peter is writing to the church, about the church, saying that God is wishing that none in the church shall spiritually perish (and by not perishing, persevere) in order that they may reach repentance (possibly for believing the scoffers for a time).
The second verse that must be addressed is 1 Timothy 2:4 which says that we should pray for all people because God is a savior: “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Once again context, and in this case, grammar is essential to understanding this verse. Verses 1-4 instruct us:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Consider the grammar used at the beginning of the passage, where it says that prayers should be made for all people, and the words immediately following this are “ for kings, and all who are in high positions.” So when this verse says to pray for all people, and that God desires all people to be saved, it is not talking about every person to ever live, rather, it is speaking of all KINDS of people. God wants every kind of person; King or pauper, President or the common son of a plumber to come to a saving knowledge of Him, our earthly status does nothing to influence our salvation. The grammatical structure of this verse is key in understanding what it is talking about, for without it, we are led to believe that it is saying something that it is not. Now we should pray for all people as well, as it is the loving thing to do, but we must also understand that this verse is dealing with kinds of people, not amount of people.
Famed Theologian Charles Spurgeon once said of the doctrine of predestination:
“I believe that nothing happens apart from divine determination and decree. We shall never be able to escape from the doctrine of divine predestination – the doctrine that God has foreordained certain people unto eternal life.”
Spurgeon was absolutely right in his opinion; as has been shown extensively in this work, the Bible provides no fewer than thirteen verses showing that God chooses and predestines us unto salvation and adoption, as well as at least seven verses which show the total inability of man to choose God on his own. As Ecclesiastes 6:10-11 says: “Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?”
Those who preach the dogma of man’s free will choice in salvation are sadly pushing an ideology that is more focused on man than on God; on the creation instead of the Creator. Free will takes away God’s glory and gives it to a fallen man, in direct contradiction to the Bible’s teaching. Predestination on the other hand is not only what the Bible directly teaches, but it is also a doctrine that takes the glory away from undeserving man, and gives it fully to it’s one rightful recipient: God.