Predestination is not a dirty word

It’s been a while since I visited the doctrine of predestination and thought about just how good this doctrine is. Yesterday at church, we watched Mark Driscoll’s sermon on predestination, with its lengthy introductory overview of the beliefs of important church figures throughout history and the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism. Driscoll had some very, very good points…and I would like to share them those who have never really thought about predestination because they thought it was a dirty word or something that is too complicated to figure out. I want to make his insights (which he probably learned from others) my own that I may be able to explain to other believers the joy and comfort that we can have in knowing the sovereignty of God in election. In Bible study yesterday, we covered Ephesians 1:15-23, where Paul prays that God would enlighten the eyes of the hearts of His people, that they would know the hope to which He has called us. May our love for God grow even more as we reflect on His love in predestination.

God does not choose us after looking down the corridors of time and seeing that we would choose Him. The Bible is clear: if that was the condition for salvation, God would choose none of us, because none of us would choose God. In Adam, all are born sinners, none is righteous, no, not even one. No one does good, no one seeks for God out of their own “free will.” There’s that word that perplexes many people because it seems to contradict predestination. Free will is a funny thing and people must be careful to define it. Because only God truly has free will. Only God can create the heavens and the earth by mere fiat. Only God can literally do whatever he wants. I on the other hand, no matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself run a mile in a minute or make LA traffic disappear. No human has true free will. Our wills are bound to our natures. A fig tree will always produce figs. A sinner will always sin. Consider this: are we sinners because we sin or do we sin because we’re sinners? We sin because we’re sinners! A baby will always cry. A dog will always bark. A sinner will always not choose God.

Out of the heart of the unregenerate sinner comes only sin: pride, greed, lust, malice, anger. John 8:34 says that anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. No slave can simply will himself out of his bondage. No dead man can make himself rise from the dead. Did Lazarus shoot his hand out of the grave and call out to Jesus? No! His lifeless body lay rotting in the tomb, offering nothing but filth, decay, and death to the glorious miracle that Jesus saw through from beginning to end. Likewise, we were dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:1). The picture is not that of drowning swimmers frantically reaching out to God but that of drowned bodies on the ocean floor. It is God that lifts our bodies from rock bottom, breathes into us life, and gives us the ability as well as the desire to reach out and accept His helping hand.

Is not believing in predestination a license to sin or an excuse not to evangelize? To use the apostle Paul’s words, by no means! Romans 8:29 says that we were predestined “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” We were predestined to love God, and God, in choosing us, gives us the heart to love Him and seek after Him rather than our fleshly desires. Remember, we were given a new nature! Behold, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)! God takes out our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). There’s a line in the hymn “Jesus Paid It All”: “Lord now indeed I find / Thy power and Thine alone / Can change the leper’s spots / And melt the heart of stone.” Why did Paul write more explicitly about predestination than any other author in the Bible? Perhaps it was because he himself experienced the power of predestination, the love of God in His sovereign mercy. Paul knew more than anyone else that only a work of God could have saved him. He would never have chosen God. Only God’s initiative could have rescued him from his depravity. Did this appreciation of God’s sovereignty suppress Paul’s passion for evangelism? You know the answer. Predestination leads to more evangelism, for we know that those whom God has chosen He will save, no matter how far off they seem, no matter how badly your conversation with them went, no matter how poor your witness was and is. God has not only predestined the end but also the means, and He has called us to be the means by which He will save the remaining lost sheep.

In love God predestined us to receive the gospel with faith (Ephesians 1:4-5). In love! Too many people who believe in predestination point way too quickly at Romans 9:20 and say that God can do whatever He wants. God is God and we are not. Yes, that is true, God can do whatever He wants, but the Bible tell us that God is just, and unless the Bible also tells us how God remains just despite saving some and not all, it will be hard to love such a God. Is God unfair in saving some and not all? No, God is unfair in saving any at all. Unfair is Jesus dying our death. Unfair is Jesus’ righteousness imputed to us.

In love God pursues His bride, the church, calling His people to Him. In love God sincerely calls sinners to repentance knowing that many will not submit out of their own will. In love God chose us!

A few last things I wanted to mention. First is something that Driscoll said regarding God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The Bible says both that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Did God harden his heart against his will? Driscoll suggests that through love God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. With patience and compassion, God sent Moses repeatedly, warning him with each worsening plague to obey. There’s the old Puritan saying: “The same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay.” The same love that cuts opens the hearts of the elect sears shut the hearts of the unchosen. But no one can blame God for showing love and patience. Those who reject God and go to hell have only themselves to blame. The Justifier has been justified!

And lastly, I want to point to an essay John Piper wrote that grapples with and attempts to reconcile all the seemingly conflicting verses regarding God’s will and concludes that it is biblical to believe that God has two wills, a will of decree and a will of command. God can both sincerely love and have compassion on the lost sinner and yet also choose that he will not be saved. I first became aware of election and predestination (they mean the same thing) during my sophomore year of college through Piper’s book The Pleasures of God. That one chapter, “The Pleasure of God in Election,” was mindblowing to me (the two wills of God essay was also included in the book as an appendix). It changed me forever, and learning about God’s love for me in election caused my love for God to grow immensely. Since then, I have prayed often, in love, “Lord, have mercy on me,” knowing that absolutely nothing I did deserved God’s love.

You were predestined to read this! Be blessed! :)

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