How does God's gift of human free will work with His Foreknowledge, predestination, and election of those to be saved?
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He Predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8: 29-30)-NKJV.
From the times of St. Augustine and reformation times of Martin Luther, the senior, the arguments surrounding the theology of predestination have tremendously been on the agenda of all Christian seasons, including this season of ours. Actually, the truth regarding predestination has always been sought by the forefathers of our faith up to the present.
The other day I was preaching to a brother and he narrated how hard he had tried to get saved but troubles and dangerous challenges had always brought him down, and so he read me a verse that said, “I will have mercy on who I wanna have mercy upon and I will punish whoever I wanna punish, I am the Lord” (paraphrased). From that day, I became quiet, I was calmed, I knew there was no point in preaching or encouraging someone to find Christ, it was all useless unless God Himself has chosen that person. However, that truth (seemed to be the whole truth at that time) did not settle me or set me free, my heart kept pondering about the above verse and I wondered if our God was that selective.
Fortunately, as I grew up in faith and kept coming across those greater in faith, I came to the real truth and here I am to give you the answers you have always sought in vain. And believe me so many Christians out here have no clear understanding of predestination; they are just throwing a dice to land among the chosen ones, which is a tragedy.
2. Defining the terms.
Before we expose the clear meanings of the above verses in Romans and so many more of the kind, let us first look at the definitions of the important terms;
Foreknowledge (God’s omniscience): According to Ken Birks, a teacher at Foundations for Christian Maturity, foreknowledge simply means that God knows beforehand what the future holds. In other words, He knows each one of us from our beginning to our end. After all, He is the Alfa and the Omega, the beginning and the last. He knows even what we need before we speak, He sees the future and nothing is hidden from Him (See Matthew 6:8).
Predestination: This simply means to foreordain, determine or dictate an event. In other words, not only does God see and know the future events, He also determines how they have to unfold or happen. So while foreknowledge is to know beforehand what will happen, predestination is to determine and command how those things will happen and nothing can change.
Election: To elect is to choose. The bible is very clear that God has chosen a group that is special and different from the rest because of their rebirth by the Holy Spirit. In the words of Henry Clarence Thiessen, ‘election is the sovereign act of God's grace whereby He chose in Christ Jesus for salvation all those who He foreknew would accept Him”. According to Romans 11:5-7 and 2Timothy 2:10, what is clear is that election is by grace whether it is that of the Israel before Christ or this one in our days.
Free will: Free will simply refers to the man’s ability to control his thoughts and actions and achieve that which he wants to do. The oxford dictionary defines free will as the power to make your own decisions without being controlled by God or fate.
3. Analyzing the terms in their context.
According to our introductory verse, foreknowledge comes first, predestination next, and then election, justification, and lastly, glorification. What does that mean? It simply means that both predestination and election follow God’s foreknowledge of future events. Simply put, God foreknew what would happen in the future, then orders or predetermines how it will happen and who should be involved. From this explanation, it is clear God does not predetermine everything (clearly put, he does not predetermine things before they themselves reveal how they will be).
Taking an example of man and sin, God foreknew that man would sin through his free will and He then predetermined Jesus Christ before hand to be the savior. In other words, God did not predetermine man to sin, no; he foresaw it and predetermined a way out.
Election is God’s will of selecting some as His own special people. This one also bases on His foreknowledge that some will accept His grace and others will reject Him. Long time before the foundations of the world, He foresaw this and has elected that group that will believe in Him to be His. So do not get puzzled!!! Even those who are not yet saved, God knows those who will end up being His because he can see in their future what their free will shall decide to be (1 Peter 1:1-2 brings it out well, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God)
Recapping the story of St. Paul, Brandon Peterson elaborates St. Augustine’s view; “Nevertheless, lest the will itself should be deemed capable of doing any good thing without the grace of God. St. Paul, after saying, ‘His grace within me was not in vain, but I have labored more abundantly than they all’, he also added the qualifying clause; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. In other words, Paul is saying that it was not God’s grace or his will alone, but God’s grace with him.
There are so many verses in the bible that can mislead if they are not read considering their context. Some of them can be suggestive of God’s power dictating our decision to accept Christ (John 6:37, 44, 65), limited atonement or Jesus dying for many but not for all (Mark 10:45; John 10:14; John 10:26-27), and so many other verses especially in the book of Acts, but reading these scriptures with an open mind and examining them from their context makes it clear that there are no contradictions and no such thing as limited atonement.
Before, we summarize our belief, let us look a little at the doctrine of predestination in reference to bible theologian John Calvin;
Calvin based his explanations on five points (TULIP) as explained below;
T-Total depravity; in this assertion, Calvin emphasizes that due to the consequences of the fall of man, he is totally unable to choose to please God. In other words, man is by nature a sinner. It is so useful to note that the word ‘total’ used here simply refers to all man’s part being affected by sin, and not the total absence of goodness in man. Modern writers interpret it in the way that it means total inability of man to save oneself from sin.
U-Unconditional Election; in this assertion, Calvin emphasized that God already has chosen those that are his not basing on any foreseen virtue, merit, or faith. God, from eternity has chosen to extend mercy to some and withhold mercy from others (double predestination).
L-Limited atonement; we looked at this briefly. Here, Calvin asserts that Jesus’ substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its purpose. In other words, He died and saved those he had already elected and not everyone. This is not because His atonement is not valuable enough to cover everyone, but He just chose some to be covered.
I-Irresistible grace; also called efficacious grace. In this, the elected people cannot resist God’s grace that ultimately brings them to faith. In other words, if God elected someone to be saved, that person will be saved no matter what for he will be directed or inwardly convinced to accept the gospel and believe.
P-Perseverance of the saints; in this, it is asserted that since God’s will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, then those he willed to save will be maintained in faith till the end. In other words, those who later fall away had no true faith in the first place (1John 2:19) or, if they are saved and somehow lose the way, they will be brought back through the divine intervention (1John 3:6-9).
Unless misinterpreted, the five points of Calvin hold a lot of truth. The only problem, which can easily be ignored, is that they limit God to some kind of formula yet our God is beyond in his thinking and ways. But since that is a weakness of every human writer (no one can totally finish up God’s ways or options), then we can forego that weakness and look at the real issue.
Indeed man is totally unable to save himself from sin. Actually, St. Augustine asserts, “ For a man who kills himself, of course must be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life”. In other words, when we sinned, the power of our free will to choose good got sick, oh no, got killed, and only God’s grace can restore that. Does this mean that, for those who do not believe in God, God has not yet willed so?
The answer to the above question is No. God has willed or is willing for any man to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), but He knows those who will choose to follow his will by their choice and those who will never. That is the deduction. About unconditional election, it is really true we are all saved not by our works or any merit but his grace only. However, this does not mean that we have no responsibility, at least to believe in that. So it is unconditional to come to Jesus yet it is impossible to inherit anything minus coming to Him first. Clearly stated, we are saved by grace through Christ Jesus yet we have to participate in at least believing and living that faith.
About limited atonement, the blood of Jesus or his sacrifice is only effective for those elected or, directly put, for those who decide to believe in it. In other words, His atonement can work as far as man’s faith or closeness seems to be. Otherwise, the death of Jesus was not even for Israel but for the whole world (John 3:16).
About Irresistible grace, there is so much to understand here. When we look at the story of St. Paul, we will pick something (Acts chapter 9). After reading that chapter, it looks as if Paul has no say in matters of his conversion which is partially true. Partially true? Yes, because I sense some form of acceptance when Paul asks, who are you, Lord? In other words, even though there was divine intervention, he still had time to decide basing on first knowing who he was persecuting. It is clear that Paul had not yet known who the missionaries were truly serving till that day. However, it is true that sometimes and in some situations, God intervenes minus our choices being consulted first and this is his own knowledge.
Does it mean God’s grace can be rejected? Yes, but only possible among those who indeed are not part of him from the beginning according to his foreknowledge. Otherwise, for those who he foresaw choosing Him, he also predestined to be conformed to Jesus and elected according to his grace (Romans 8:29). How about the perseverance of saints? Yes, GOD is the only one who keeps us in faith. This does not mean that even when we sin and live our own way, we will still be saved, it simply means we cannot actually be able to sin once we believe in Him for it is the faith that keeps us from sinning and not our own strength. So indeed, He preserves us in faith.
Does it mean that it is possible to get saved and then lose out? Literally yes, but this is not possible for the truly saved ones according to His foreknowledge and election for they are kept in salvation by Himself. To lose out simply means we were originally not part of His selected generation. So to our eyes, we are dropping out, but to the eternal foreknowledge of Him, we had never been part of his team. Very teasing but so great to understand these points; they affirm God’s whole plan to save mankind.
Summary and conclusions:
Both predestination and election come after God’s foreknowledge and are all under his omnipotent control. God predestined the happening and order of some things or events, but not our lives or individual’s fate. For example, those who choose to accept Christ were predestined to be conformed to him, Jesus’ death was predetermined, there is a predetermined day of judgment and so more, but there is no single life predestined to destruction apart from that of the devil himself (his judgment was passed long time ago, he is no longer in grace period).
God uses his foreknowledge power to see the past, future, and present, and then predetermines how they will happen to meet his whole purpose. For example, he might have known how Judas would betray Jesus, and then predetermined how such actions would make his purposes come true. In other words, even when we seem to be opposing God in our choices and actions, we are still working towards his goals and purposes. Man’s free will is very much respected by God and before his divine interventions; he always considers our personal responsibility.
Finally, let us borrow some words from the writer Klbirks:
"The purpose of predestination language in John's gospel is not to expose the exclusion of certain men from salvation because they were not chosen by the father, but to emphasize that from start to finish eternal life is the gift of God and does not lie under the control of men. A person who tries to gain eternal life on his own terms will find himself unable to come to Jesus because it has not been granted to Him by the Father. He has in fact been resisting the Father. God does not predestine some to be saved and some to be lost. He knows the future, but gives us the choice. God has given every man a free will to accept God's grace when he decides to meet the conditions which God has established for receiving it. Everyone who has heard the father speak and learned from Him comes to God" (John 6:45).
God be with you.
The Complete You Ministry, www.nemvicx.blogspot.com