Reasons to love predestination

If there was one doctrine you’d remove from the Bible, what would it be? For some it would be ‘predestination’. For many Christians today, this teaching is not only hard to understand, but even hard to accept. Most pentecostals and charismatics tend to avoid or work around this topic. I've written previously in depth about the problem that predestination poses to Pentecostalism generally. But what are the benefits of this doctrine for us?

Without denial the Bible again and again insists that God’s people were chosen by him to be saved; and chosen according to his sovereign pre-determining grace.

“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.” (Rom 8:29-30)

“He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons.” (Ephesians 1:4)

Why has God told us about predestination? Does this bible word deserve the ‘dirty’ image it has among many today? I’ll never forget a sermon I heard by tape from a local Presbyterian, Rob White, who gave five reasons why God gave us the biblical doctrine of predestination:

1. To humble us

When we see that salvation is attributed wholly to God we realise there is nothing to boast about, for then even our very faith is a miraculous gift from God (Eph 2:8-9). Rather than causing boasting, this truth excludes it; it actually works against our pride. Understanding God’s sovereign grace should eliminate arrogance. We only believe because he breathed his Spirit into us who were dead, and gave us faith; and he gave us faith because he called us; and he called us because he has chose us; and he has chose us because he fore-knew us, fore-loved us even before we existed, before the creation of the world.

If we have understood grace, we will be forever astonished and humbled that God has had mercy on us, completely unlovely sinners, yet loved by God even while we were against him and his enemies.

2. To give us assurance

Predestination gives us great assurance because we know that we are going to get there. And because it’s not that we are going to get there ourselves. God is going to do it and our salvation depends entirely on him; and he will never let us go.

The way some preachers appeal to Christians we’d be forgiven for feeling as though our lives were forever oscillating between ‘falling away’ from God and ‘coming back’; forever wavering between ‘with him’ and wandering ‘away’ from him.

But if God has brought us to faith in Christ, he has put his Spirit in us as a guarantee that he will keep dwelling in us by his Spirit; continually working in us and walking with us and keeping us in his love.

Even when we pass through periods of weakness in our faith and obedience, we can have the security of knowing that our salvation lies purely in the predestined will of God; like children who because incomplete in our obedience experience loving discipline, we always repent in full knowledge of our Father’s presence and love. This knowledge is the gift of Christian assurance. But despite this gift of knowledge, even if you don’t have full assurance as a Christian, that won’t stop God doing it, for, he is faithful.

3. To uphold our responsibility

Incorrectly understood, this doctrine is said to encourage apathy, because if salvation is entirely God’s work, then we don’t have any responsibility before God. But actually, God’s predestination upholds our responsibility before him. Jesus who said: ‘no one can come to me unless the Father draws Him’, also said to those who did not come to him, ‘you refuse to come to me and have life’.

Apathy is inconsistent with mature Christianity and an understanding of sovereign grace: it is when we are taking responsibility for our sin and life before God that it is evident that God is working in us by his Spirit and has therefore chosen us to be his own.

4. To motivate our holiness

Incorrectly understood, the doctrine of predestination is said to encourage complacency, because if God has destined us to have eternal life, his people have a license to live however we please.

But truly understood this teaching is the true motivation for holiness, because the purpose of God’s election is our holiness (Ephesians 1:4). We have been predestined to be conformed into the likeness of Jesus. If God’s Spirit is in us we will be living by the Spirit, and that means putting to death the misdeeds of our bodies; we are dead to sin, and alive to God.

Understanding that we have been chosen by God’s grace is the only real fuel for holiness and antidote for complacency.

5. To give us confidence

Incorrectly understood, election is said to encourage narrow-mindedness, because the chosen of God will become self-absorbed with this knowledge. This teaching is said to stifle evangelism, because if no one can be saved whom God has not chosen before time began, then there should be no point in our efforts to win the lost.

But actually, this knowledge shows us that salvation is so much bigger than ourselves and our lives. The reason God chose Abraham, Israel, Christ and his people is to bring his salvation to the ends of the earth. So actually, this teaching is the real fuel for our evangelism and missions.

It’s only when we understand God’s sovereign plan of election that there is any point in evangelisation. If God is working with us and he has promised that our work will be effective, and if he has ordained that through the preaching of the gospel that he himself will call his elect people to salvation, then we can have confidence in our praying and our preaching, and not become discouraged.

God’s word will accomplish his sovereign purpose, drawing his people to himself and condemning to judgment those who do not believe. It’s a sobering and humbling task because we are guaranteed to succeed, whether our message brings forgiveness of sins or not, because the gospel message itself was predestined to bring both salvation and and condemnation:

Just as Simeon said to Mary about the predetermined plan of God for Christ:

“This child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34-35)

Though pierced with grief ourselves by those who reject Christ, we are always rejoicing as partners in God’s work, because as we labour in the word and in prayer, we always know that ‘as many as are appointed to eternal life [will] believe’ (Act 13:48).

Dirty bible words (such as predestination)

The knowledge of God's predestination is without doubt an unspeakable blessing to us as children of God our Father. Like all it's teaching, there are no doctrines in the bible that are not vital. They all interdependently arise from the one true God who has inspired the Scriptures by his Spirit, and given us in his Word everything that we need for our salvation, for our good and for our holiness.

We must not play ‘favourites’ with doctrine; we must not be 'choosy' with any truths of God’s word. In fact, being 'selective' at all with the Bible poses great dangers to Christian maturity. This is one of the major limitations with memory-verse systems and the like. We invariably give the upper-hand to our biased preferences which influence how we approach the Bible. We end up imposing our systems above the bible which are based upon our limited understanding, presuppositions and worse still popular appeal. 

But it is God who is speaking and we should be listening. And he speaks through all of his Word. It is all given to us for our instruction and our good. We must not ignore or silence anything that the Bible says to us. It was original sin to doubt that God’s word was good and for our good, and to cease listening to everything that God had said to us.

There should be no doctrine we’d even dream of sidelining in the Bible, much less changing or removing; and least of all the doctrine of ‘predestination’, which to the Christian should perhaps be the grandest and sweetest of all truths. Though for many Christians today, this teaching may remain hard to understand, we should do more than simply accepting this doctrine. We should embrace it with two hands from our heavenly Father, with childlike faith, knowing that by grappling with it and growing up into this doctrine, it will come with all the rich rewards we’ve learned to expect from our good, gracious and loving Lord and God.

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