The Bible does use the terms “chosen”, “elect” and “predestined” (Ephesians 1:3), therefore we need to clarify at the outset what we are going to discuss in this lesson. The issue is not whether God can foretell the future or cause His purpose to be fulfilled in the future, for He can (Isaiah 44:26-28; 46:10 “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done”). The issue is not that certain things in the future had been predetermined. God predetermined that salvation would be in Christ, that those in Christ would be His sons, and that they would live a life of purity (Ephesians 1:4-5). He predetermined that Jesus would die for our sins (1 Peter 1:20), and that the body of the saved would be known as the church (Ephesians 3:10-11).
The particular theory of predestination that this lesson will seek to address and refute is the following idea:
“The doctrine of election declares that God, before the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals to be the objects of His undeserved favor. These, and these only, He purposed to save. God could have chosen to save all men (for He had the power and authority to do so) or He could have chosen to save none (for He was under no obligation to show mercy to any), but He did neither. Instead He chose to save some and to exclude others. His eternal choice of particular sinners unto salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will. Thus election was not determined by, or conditioned upon, anything that men would do, but resulted entirely from God's self-determined purpose” (The Five Points Of Calvinism, by Steele & Thomas, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., p. 30).
· In contrast to the above claim, other passages assert that God indeed offers salvation to all men, and not just a particular group that He has previously selected (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4 “who desires all men to be saved”; 2:6 “who gave Himself as a ransom for all”; Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men”).
· Why would Jesus have the gospel preached to all creation (Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:19), if God has already decided who will be saved and this has nothing to do with their response to God or His truth?
· Why would God give definite conditions for salvation, if His eternal choice of particular sinners unto salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will. Why then all the commands to “believe” (John 3:16; Mark 16:16; Hebrews 11:6); repent (Luke 13:1-3; Acts 17:30; 2:38; 2 Corinthians 7:10-11); confess (Romans 10:9-10); be baptized (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21), and live a life of faithfulness (Hebrews 5:9)? All of these passages are both false and unnecessary is the denominational theory of predestination is true.
· Why is God waiting for men to come to repentance, if repentance has nothing to do with one’s salvation? (2 Peter 3:9). Remember, this is not the repentance of the predestined, for God saves people without any consideration of their future response.
The elect that ended up lost
There are many instances in the Bible where someone is spoken of as “elect” or “chosen”, and that person or persons ends up losing their salvation. The nation of Israel is spoken of as a chosen people (Deuteronomy 4:37; 7:6-8;10:15; 14:2 “The Lord has chosen you to be a people for His own possession”), yet many of these Israelites ended up lost (1 Corinthians 10:5 “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased”; Romans 9:1-5; 10:1-3). At this point many Calvinists will seek to argue that there is a difference between Israel as a people being chosen by God for special favor and privilege and the election that is connected with salvation. Yet it must be noted that the same exact terminology that was used in reference to Israel as a chosen nation, is used of God’s people in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:9-10). Actually, the election in the Old Testament and New Testament are very similar. In both instances, obedience to the will of God was and is the condition for remaining in right standing with God, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then…” (Exodus 19:5; 2 Timothy 2:11-13). This argument about two different kinds of election creates the situation in which obedience is necessary to remain as God’s chosen people and enjoy blessings in this life, but obedience has nothing to do with going to heaven.
Nadab and Abihu: Leviticus 10:1ff
T.W. Brents makes a wonderful observation concerning these two sons of Aaron and the denomination doctrine of predestination: “Now, if the doctrine of eternal unconditional election and reprobation be true, to which class did Nadab and Abihu belong? If the destiny of all is unalterably fixed before time began, it follows that these are of the eternally elect, or of the eternally reprobate. Did God elect them of the non-elect, or eternally reprobate, and anoint them priests to officiate in the tabernacle, having previously determined upon their destruction, and unchangeably fore-ordained the wickedness for which He intended to kill them?” (The Gospel Plan of Salvation p. 19). If these two priests were non-elect, then why did God select them to serve in His worship?
King Saul was chosen by God Himself to be king over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1; 24), in fact the Holy Spirit even came upon him (10:10), a situation in which Calvinists would be forced to concede proves that God elected him for salvation. Yet Saul is rejected and cast off, not because God had eternally determined that he would be lost, but rather because he rejected the Word of the Lord (1 Samuel 15:23). Here is an elect man, whom the Holy Spirit comes upon, whom God ends up rejecting.
1 Corinthians 10:12
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall”. Note that Paul applies what happened to Israel in the Old Testament to Christians in the New Testament. Here is another Scripture that parallels Israel and the church, just as Israelites forfeited their salvation, so can Christians (Hebrews 2:1-3; 10:26-31). “But why this admonition, if the numbers of the elect and reprobate are so certain and definite that they can neither be increased nor diminished?” (Brents p. 27). In addition, to whom does the above verse apply? If predestination is true, then this verse cannot apply to the non-elect, for no matter how hard such people try, they will always fall. Neither can it apply to the elect, for their salvation in no way depends upon anything that they do in this life. So to whom was Paul speaking?
Warnings about falling away
The Bible is filled with such warnings. Brents notes that the doctrine of once-saved-always-saved is the necessary outgrowth of the doctrine of unconditional election and reprobation. “If God has unchangeably fixed the destiny of every man before time began, then it follows that such destiny cannot be changed by any act of the creature—nay, not even by the Creator; for that which is unchangeable cannot be changed even by God Himself. Therefore none of the eternally elect can fall if that doctrine obtains; and whenever it is clearly shown that a Christian may apostatize, and be lost, the whole theory of unconditional election and reprobation is exploded” (p. 28). Here is an addition selection of passages that teach that the Christian can lose their salvation (1 Corinthians 9:27; John 15:5-6; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Galatians 1:6-9; 5:1-4; Revelation 2:4-5; 3:15-18).
What did the early Christians believe?
From the previous passages it is clear that the New Testament church taught that man had free will and that the eternal destiny of no man had been predetermined. Some have noted that the doctrine of Predestination is actually a pagan teaching, in fact Martin Luther wrote: “But why should these things be difficult for we Christians to understand, so that it should be considered irreligious, curious, and vain, to discuss and know them, when heathen poets, and the common people themselves, have them in their mouths in the most frequent use? How often does Virgil (a pagan Roman poet) alone make mention of Fate? ‘All things stand fixed by unchangeable law’. Again, ‘Fixed is the day of every man’. Again, ‘If the Fates summon you’. And again, ‘If you will break the binding chain of Fate’. The aim of this poet is to show that in the destruction of Troy, and in raising up the Roman empire, Fate did more than all the devoted efforts of men….From which we can see that the knowledge of predestination and of the foreknowledge of God was no less left in the world than the notion of divinity itself. And those who wished to appear wise went so far into their debates that, their hearts being darkened, they become fools (Romans 1:21,22). They denied, or pretended not to know those things which their poets, and the common folk, and even their own consciences, held to be universally known, most certain, and most true” (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, p. 70). In like manner, the Presbyterian Confession of Faith has noted, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass”.
· A major problem with this view is that many things come to pass on a daily basis that are sinful and evil. If man truly does not have a freewill and God ordered everything that comes to pass, then God becomes the author of all the evil in the world, an idea that we must reject (1 John 1:5; James 1:13-15; 17).
· If the above confession is true, then what do we do with Adam? On the one hand Adam is commanded to refrain from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17), but on the other hand Adam’s sin has been preordained. In addition, God has given many laws and commands in the Bible, yet these laws are broken on a daily basis. Is God both the lawgiver and the lawbreaker if He ordains whatsoever comes to pass?
· There are a number of places in Scripture, where God commanded something, gave a decree, and what was decreed (because of human repentance) did not come to pass (Jonah 3:4,10; 2 Kings 20:1, 5-6; especially note 1 Samuel 23:11-12). Had David remained at Keilah, Saul would have gone there and the men of the city would have betrayed David, but none of this happened because David left. Hence circumstances (human free will), and not immutable decrees or Fate, controlled this event. Rather than ordaining everything that happens, God reminds us that the future is flexible and that our choices today, whether good or bad, can alter our future (Jeremiah 18:7-10).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017