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  • Writer's pictureMarco Inniss

10 Things You Should Know about Predestination

1. Predestination should result in humility, praise, and comfort.

Sometimes Christians passionately disagree with each other about predestination. But it is pitiful how we can take a Bible teaching that should result in humility, praise, and comfort and instead talk about it with sinful pride, divisiveness, and anxiety. We unreservedly affirm and cherish whatever God has revealed (cf. Isa. 66:2b).

2. Predestination has two parts: choosing to save some (election) and choosing not to save others (reprobation).

Predestination means that God predetermined the destiny of certain individuals for salvation (election) and others for condemnation (reprobation).

Election is positive predestination: God sovereignly and graciously chose to save individual sinners. God predestined certain individuals (i.e., predetermined their destiny) for salvation—“vessels of mercy, which [God] has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:23); “the elect” (Rom. 11:7); Jesus’s sheep (John 10:27–29).

Reprobation is negative predestination: God sovereignly and justly chose to pass over nonelect sinners and punish them. God predestined certain individuals (i.e., predetermined their destiny) for condemnation—“vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22); “the rest” (Rom. 11:7); not Jesus’s sheep (John 10:26).

3. The goal of election is for God to save us so that we praise him for his glorious grace.

The Bible says in various ways that the goal of election is for God to save us. For example, Paul praises God because “he [God the Father] chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). One goal of election is that when we stand before God we will be morally pure and blameless. He predestined us “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29).

The ultimate goal of election is to praise God’s glorious grace. Negatively, it is to shame the elite so that no human might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:26–29). Positively, it is to praise God’s glorious grace and God’s glory (Eph. 1:4–6, 11–12).

4. God chose to save humans before he created the world.

Paul exclaims that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4a). That means that God chose to save humans before he created the world (cf. John 17:24; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8; 17:8).

5. The basis of election is God’s forelove.

There are two basic (and mutually exclusive) ways to explain how God’s foreknowledge is the basis of God’s election:

Foreknowledge according to Conditional and Unconditional Election

Conditional Election (Arminianism)

Unconditional Election (Calvinism)

Foreknowing = foreseeing

Foreknowing = foreloving

God foresaw that specific individuals would first freely choose to believe in him, and then afterwards he chose to save those individuals.

God intimately knew and loved specific individuals beforehand—that is, he personally committed himself to certain individuals before those individuals even existed. Those are the individuals God chose.

Election is conditional. It depends on whether a human freely chooses Christ.

Election is unconditional. It does not depend on any human condition but solely on God's sovereign good pleasure.

God chose to save specific individuals because he foresaw that they would choose to trust him.

Specific individuals choose to trust God because God chose to save them.

The Bible teaches that God did not choose to save individuals on the basis of his foreseeing that they would freely choose to believe in him. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that the basis of election is God and not man (e.g., Rom. 9:6–19; Eph. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:9; cf. John 10:16, 26–27).

6. Unconditional election is merciful and gracious.

A common objection to unconditional election is that it is unfair. But God is always fair. God is fair when he sovereignly has mercy on whomever he wants (Rom. 9:14–18). And God is fair when he is undeservedly kind to some and not others (Matt. 20:1–16).

Does anyone deserve God’s kindness? No. When God is undeservedly kind to some people but not others, he is still fair to all people without exception. We deserve God’s wrath, and yet he sovereignly chose to be merciful and gracious to save his people.

7. Unconditional election does not mean that our wills are like robots or puppets.

We do not have a free will in the sense that we can equally make alternative choices (Rom. 9:19–23). We have a free will in the sense that we always choose what we most want. That does not mean that God has programmed us to be robots or that God is a puppet master who forces us to do things against our will.

A good analogy for God’s sovereignty is a novelist and the characters in his story. In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the character Edmund betrays his three siblings and Aslan. Who is responsible for that betrayal—Edmund or C. S. Lewis? Do they share responsibility—50% Edmund and 50% Lewis? Or maybe 75% Edmund and 25% Lewis? No, Edmund is fully responsible, and Lewis is fully responsible. But they are responsible in different senses. Edmund is fully responsible as a creature—a character in a fictional story; and Lewis is fully responsible as the creator—the author of the fictional story. Lewis (the author) ordained what Edmund (the character) freely chose to do. Edmund has moral responsibility for his choices, and Lewis does not. That’s something like what we mean when we say that God (the Creator) ordained what humans (the creatures) freely choose to do. The Creator has authority over his creation like a novelist has authority over his story.

It is clarifying to distinguish natural ability (natural freedom to choose what I want) from moral ability (moral freedom to choose what God wants). All of us—unregenerate and regenerate—have the natural freedom to choose what we want. But we do not all have the moral freedom to choose what God wants. Moral freedom—true freedom—is a gracious gift from God. (John 6:65).

God’s meticulous sovereignty (particularly regarding predestination) is compatible with human freedom (particularly the God-enabled freedom to believe in Christ and the moral responsibility for not believing in Christ). The most remarkable example of this is the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23; 4:27–28). God is so amazing that he ordained both (1) what we choose and (2) that we freely choose what we most want. How? It’s a mystery. We do not fully understand.

8. God’s sovereign choice to save only some humans is compatible with God’s desire that all humans be saved.

It is helpful to distinguish two aspects of God’s will—what God would like to see happen (e.g., Matt. 18:14) and what God actually wills to happen (e.g., Matt. 11:25–26). God values something else more highly than saving all humans without exception. According to Arminianism, God more highly values a genuinely loving relationship, which requires us to have a free will in the sense that we can equally make alternative choices. According to Calvinism (and I think according to the Bible), God more highly values displaying his glory in mercy and wrath (Rom. 9:22–23) and receiving all the glory for sovereignly saving individuals (1 Cor. 1:26–29). God’s choice—not our choice—is the deciding factor. That is why Paul writes, “God may perhaps grant them repentance” (2 Tim. 2:25–26).

9. God ultimately causes reprobation (but not in the same way that he chose to save individuals).

God the potter prepared vessels of wrath for destruction (Rom. 9:6–29). God destined certain people to disobey the word and thus stumble (1 Pet. 2:7–8). God designated certain people for condemnation (Jude 4). God intentionally did not write the names of certain individuals in the book of life before he created the world (Rev. 13:8b; 17:8b). God hid Jesus’s message from the wise and understanding (Matt. 11:25–26; Luke 10:21).

But when God chose or passed over individuals, he did not think about those individuals as unfallen and morally neutral. Rather, he thought about them as fallen and sinful (Rom. 9:22–23; Eph. 1:4).

10. The goal of reprobation is to glorify God for his wrath and power and especially to glorify God for the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.

We do not know all the reasons that God sovereignly and justly chose to pass over nonelect sinners and punish them, but God has revealed two of his goals: (1) to glorify God for his wrath and power (Rom. 9:17–18) and (2) to glorify God for the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy (Rom. 9:22–23). Those goals are not parallel. The first is subservient to the second. The second is ultimate.

We unreservedly affirm and cherish whatever God has revealed.


Andrew David Naselli is the author of Predestination: An Introduction.



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