THERE ARE FEW doctrines in the Word of God about which there has been so much heat and so little light as the doctrine of predestination. It has divided students of the Scriptures down through the ages, and theologians are wont to classify themselves on the basis of their interpretation of this one doctrine. On the one hand, there are those who emphasize the love of God and the freedom of the human will, and deprive God of sovereign authority over His creation and the right to predetermine the course of His creatures. On the other hand, there are those who so emphasize the predeterminative program of God that God is almost removed from the scene and all things work according to fixed, inexorable law and deliver us into the hands of fatalism. It is our desire to try to steer a middle course between these two extremes and present that which we believe to be the teaching of the Scriptures concerning this important doctrine.
These doctrines of the Word of God were not given to confound and to cloud the thinking of God's children, but rather they were given for our comfort and encouragement. Because we have not understood God's working in foreordination and predestination and election, we have been robbed of one of the comforting doctrines of the Word of God. There has been a tendency, on the part of men, to try to rationalize the Scriptures and to determine how they think God ought to work, instead of examining the Scriptures to see what they say as to how God did work. It is a natural tendency to humanize God; that is, to confine God to the limits of our thinking, and to preclude God from working outside the bounds of the limitations to which we are subject. . . the Apostle reminds us [in Ephesians 1:4] that God has chosen us in Him (that is, in Christ) before the foundation of the world; God's purpose was determined previous to the actual act of creation. This we could call "foreordination." The universe was no accident, nor was the program in the universe left to chance after it had been created. But God predetermined a purpose and a plan, and then chose just those things that would promote the purpose and plan which He had predetermined.
We recognize that God, as an Omniscient God, knew of the possibility of evil even before He brought creation into existence. God knew that evil would oppose itself to His own holiness; yet God was not responsible for the evil which came into His creation. God was not responsible for the evil which existed, and yet God was the Architect of a plan which included evil within it. God was not caught by surprise when Lucifer rebelled against Him, nor was He taken by surprise when Adam rebelled, nor was He taken by surprise when it had to be said of all creation, "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). Yet God, working a predetermined plan, worked out all of the details which were necessary to the fulfillment of that plan. In Ephesians 1:5, Paul tells us that God has worked all things "according to the pleasure of his will.
Then, in verse 11, He works all things "according to the purpose of him who worked' all things after the counsel of his own will." We discover that before any creative act of God, God predetermined what His plan was, what His program was, and the means by which that plan and program would be accomplished. God's purpose was to glorify Himself, and. He designed the kind of being necessary to receive the revelation of His glory, and the kind of being necessary to ascribe glory, and majesty, and dominion and power unto God. How foolish it would be for a congregation to embark upon a building program, and to begin to construct a building, without first having designed the building. What kind of a building would we have were the building committee to announce that on a certain Saturday each member of the church would be invited to bring some building materials to the lot, where mortar and nails would be provided, and all the materials would be incorporated into the building? What a monstrosity would rise on that lot! It is no less true with. God; He predetermines His purpose, His goal, His aim, and His end in creation, and then God brings into existence that program which will fulfill His purpose and aim. Paul makes this very dear in I Corinthians 2:7: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom; which God ordained before the world unto our glory." From that verse we discover that foreordination has to do with the determining of a plan before the plan is put into operation. The second word that contributes to our understanding of the work of God is the word "decree." It does not appear in reference to God in the Scripture, but, as used theologically, it has to do with the act by which God established the certainty of what He had planned, or predetermined. (Please note that I am not using the word "predestined." This word has a definition all to itself.) By foreordination God determines what the program will be. By God's decree God establishes the certainty of that which He has foreordained. The architect which we employed to draw up the plans, for our fictional church - to continue my earlier illustration, submitted a preliminary plan. The building committee sits down and evaluates it. We were given some general idea of the cost of erecting the kind of building initially designed, and it was the unanimous decision of the building committee to abandon that plan. The plan was good, but it didn't meet our needs. The committee instructed the architect to present another plan which, when presented, meets with the general approval and acceptance. The architect was given instructions to proceed on the basis of that plan and prepare final drawings. In the future we would enjoy the results.
God conceivably had a number of options as to how He would fulfill His purpose and program, but He settled upon one plan and one purpose; He established it as His plan, His purpose, and His program by an irreversible decree. Job 22:28 establishes the principle of a decree in these words: "Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee...." The decree of a king finalized a course of action. When God decreed a course of action, it finalized, solidified His plan and limited God to that specific course of action in the execution of His purpose to glorify Himself. In the prophecy of Daniel 11:36 we read, "...the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done." Daniel is recording the fact that God has issued a decree as to what His plan is; and God's decree will certainly come to fulfillment, for Daniel says, "...that that is determined shall be done." In Luke 22:22 it is stated, "....truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!" The word "determined" in that passage refers to God's decree by which God established what Jesus Christ would do during His earthly ministry, in His life, and in His death.
It is to this fact that Peter refers in the Book of Acts where, in preaching to the nation Israel, he says (2:23), "Him, being delivered by the determinated counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." And again, in the same vain, we read (4:27-28) "...of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thous hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, where gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." God had foreordained a certain program, and then God had established the certainty and irreversibility of that program by issuing a decree as to what would take place. The Apostle, proclaiming the facts concerning the death of Christ, points out that Christ's death was no accident, that Christ was not subject, primarily, to the will of the Jews nor the will of the Gentiles, but that the Jews and Gentiles were doing that which God - who had foreordained the course of events -- had settled and established by His decree would certainly come to pass. God in foreordination lays the plan and program; God, by His decree and His determinative counsel, establishes the certainty of that program.
That leads us logically to the third word which contributes to our understanding of the working of God -- "foreknowledge." We have to draw a distinction in Scripture between God's omniscience and what God foreknows. God is a God who is all-wise, who knows with certainty the course of all events, past, present, and future. God is an omniscient God; yet foreknowledge is not synonymous with God's omniscience. Foreknowledge, as used in Scripture, refers to what God knows with certainty will come to pass because He has decreed that event. God knows all things, not only because he is an omniscient God, but because God by His decree has settled and established what will come to pass in fulfillment of His predetermined program. Foreknowledge, then, IS THE RESULT OF GOD'S FOREORDINATION, or God's decree of what would take place. God foreknows, not only what will take place, but the people who will be instruments in the fulfillment of His plan and His program. Foreknowledge has to do not only with WHAT will take place but WHO will be included within the scope of God's program.
It is that thought that is in mind when the Apostle writes to the Romans and says (8:29), "...whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son...." It is perhaps in connection with this verse, and in connection with the word "foreknowledge," that we have run into most of the difficulty in our interpretation. A widely-held interpretation is that God has elected those who He knows will accept Christ as personal Savior. This is an erroneous interpretation, for if God elected those who He knew beforehand would accept Him as Savior, then God has not foreordained, God has not decreed, God has not foreknown; but rather, God has exercised His omniscience, and has limited Himself by the will of man. God is no longer a sovereign God if He elects those who He knew would accept Him as a Savior, those who would put faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God is then subject to the whims of the human will, and God cannot act upon, nor go beyond, the limits of the human will. Rather, what the Apostle writes in Romans 8:29 is the fact that God did know who would be included in His plan because He had foreordained and decreed that they would be included.
We find the same truth is presented in 1st Peter 1:2 where Peter says that we were elect according to the foreknowledge of God. May I point out what Peter did not say? He did not say that we are elect because of the foreknowledge of God; that is, Peter is not saying, "God looked down upon the human race, and God said, 'I see faith and I will elect those in whom I see faith.'" Rather, Peter teaches that we were "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God..." The election is in keeping WITH the foreknowledge, not BECAUSE of the foreknowledge, or BASED UPON the foreknowledge. Foreknowledge says nothing of what God knew the individual would do, but foreknowledge has to do with what God knew He would do with men. God foreordained; that is, He drew the plan. God, by His decree or by His determination, settled, solidified, and finalized the plan. Consequently, God in foreknowledge knows what He will do because of His foreordination and His decree.
This brings us to the fourth important word, "election," which means "to call out." It has to do with selection. It has to do with separation unto Himself. And election has to do with the choice of the individuals who comprise those through whom the divine purpose established by foreordination will be fulfilled. God was going to work for His own glory, but God was going to work through individuals whom He separated to Himself. And election is the sovereign work of God, according to His own purpose and will, predetermined by His foreordination, in which He selects those through whom the divine purpose will be fulfilled. I refer again to Ephesians 1:4 - we were chosen, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him.
Election is the work of God. It is not a matter of the individual electing God, and then God electing him in response. We find this same truth presented in Romans where, concerning the national election of Israel, the divine principle in election was made very clear. The Apostle says (9:11-13), "The children [that is, Jacob and Esau] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." This passage is very important to an understanding of the doctrine of election. You will notice that God is the One doing the electing; further, election was based upon the sovereign will of God. It was not God's response to good or evil in the one elected, for this election took place while the twins were in the womb of their mother, before either had done good or evil as the basis for His selection or rejection. Election was to fulfill the purpose of God. God's foreordained plan was the reason for God's election of Jacob. God has separated unto Himself those through whom His program would be fulfilled.
This word has suffered from much misconception, for the picture is commonly drawn of a capricious God who brings all men (who are in a neutral state) before Him, and arbitrarily says to some men, "I accept you to Myself"; and to the rest of men, "I condemn you to hell forever." Observe that when God elects, God elects out of men who were lost. Election does not separate some to heaven and some to hell. Election separates from among men, all of whom are under condemnation, come to fulfill God's purpose and program. Election is of grace because all men were under the curse and the wrath of God. God, to fulfill His predetermined, foreordained, decreed program, has selected those instruments He chooses to use by which that purpose and program should come to fulfillment. That any man should have been elected by God is a manifestation of the infinite grace of an infinite God. - Things Which Become Sound Doctrine, pp.137-38, © 1996, Kregel Publications
The next word following election is "predestination," which means "to determine beforehand." This has to do with the end to which those who have been elected are set apart. This word, when used in Scripture, is always qualified by a statement of the end or the aim in view. In Ephesians 1:4-5 we read, "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of th e world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love; Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children...." He predestinated us -- and what was the end, or the aim? The adoption of children. Notice in verse 11: "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." Predestinated - for what end? To obtain an inheritance. See it in Romans 8:29: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinated [and what was the end?] to be conformed to the image of his Son..." Or we see it again in 1st Cor. 2:7 where we were predestinated unto glory. The Apostle says, "... which God ordained before the world unto glory." From these Scriptures I emphasize again the important fact that when predestination is used in the Scripture it determines the end, or the goal in view, for those whom God has elected unto Himself. I find no place in Scripture where it is said that we were predestinated to faith, that we were predestinated to belief, or that we were predestinated to accept Christ. No.. We were predestinated for glory. We were predestinated unto sonship or inheritance.
The word "predestination" is logically followed by the word "called," which is to be understood in its normal designation in which God summons those whom He has foreknown, those whom He has elected, those whom He has predestinated, to Himself. The call of God to the elect of God -- who have been predestinated unto glory -- is the consummating act of God's foreordination. God sees to it that His purpose will be accomplished. Those whom He has chosen for Himself will be brought to Himself, that His foreknown and predetermined program might be brought to consummation. The Apostle, in Romans 8:30, said, "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." The call, then, is a summons to Himself, because they have been predestined to glory by His foreordinated purpose and program.
God's call is not a call to the human will, asking the human will, unaided by divine grace, to respond. God's call is also God's enablement; and God, who issues the call, imparts the power through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to respond to the call, so that the sinner who is dead, who is without life, who is under condemnation and judgment, may hear God's call; and although he has no power in himself because he is dead, and no desire to respond because God has been put out of his life, he is enabled by the Holy Spirit to respond to the gracious invitation: "Whosoever will may come." Christ made it very clear that the call was part of God's purpose and program, for in John 6:44 He said, "No man can come to men, except the Father which hath sent me draw him..." And the drawing of the Father is the call of the Father to those who have been elected by God's grace, to those who have been predestinated or set apart unto glory, to those who God has foreknown would be the instruments to accomplish His foreordained purpose, which is settled and sure by the eternal and unchangeable decree of God.
Does this mean that the sinner has no responsibility? Far from it, for Christ has died for the sins of the world. Christ has made a propitiation (became the mercy seat Himself), or a covering over, for the sins of the world. Our Lord said, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). The "whosoever" is unlimited. While only those whom God has called will respond to God's call, yet God's invitation is extended to all men. All men were rendered savable by the death of Christ, but only those will respond whom God calls to Himself through His efficacious grace.
To me these particular doctrines are the most comforting in the Word of God. We delight to know that nothing happens by chance. We are not creatures subject to circumstance, dependent upon luck. There is no such thing as "good luck" for the child of God. An infinite, sovereign God, has FOREORDAINED every minute detail of our lives from before the foundation of the world. God has settled His purpose and His program by His unalterable DECREE. God FOREKNOWS exactly what will take place each moment of each day in our lives because it has been determined according to His purpose. God has elected us, not because of what we have done or haven't done, but because it suited His infinite purpose. God, who has elected us, has set us apart by PREDESTINATION to share His glory forever. God, in infinite grace, CALLED us out of night into His love, out of death into His life, and set us apart unto Himself, not because of what we are, but because it suited God's eternal, sovereign purpose so to do. Every moment of every day we are under His care because He is working ALL THINGS according to the counsel of His own will, so that we might be found unto the praise of the glory of His grace. We can be more than confident, and rest in these teachings of Scripture.
Source: - J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine, pp.134-143, Kregel Publications © 1965 J. Dwight Pentecost