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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Is it true that the New Testament teaches that some individuals are predestined for salvation and others for eternal perdition?
The question of predestination has been discussed for centuries in the Christian church. Its discussion raises such issues as human freedom, God’s sovereignty, and the relationship between those two. Some commentators, in order to preserve human freedom, limit God’s sovereignty in some form. Others make a special effort to emphasise God’s sovereignty and thereby sacrifice human freedom. And still others attempt to preserve both through intricate theological argumentation.
I suggest that we begin with a study of the word “predestination.” Since most of the argumentation is based on passages found in the New Testament, I will limit my comments to them.
The noun “predestination” isn’t used in the New Testament. What we find is the verb “predestine” (Greek, proorizo, “decide upon beforehand”). An examination of the six verses in which the verb is used reveals the following.
1. God’s act of predestination and eternity: The divine decision is said to have taken place “before the ages” (1 Cor. 2:7).* This expression probably designates the time before the creation of the world. The implication is that in the divine decision God wasn’t influenced by any of His creatures, because it was made before they existed. The emphasis is on divine freedom.
2. God’s predestination and His divine plan: Whatever God predetermines isn’t the result of an accidental decision; He had a plan, and those events formed part of it. Ephesians 1:11 states that what happened took place “according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.” This purpose or plan was conceived in the divine mind, was willed by Him, and was worked out in history according to that will. The foundation and motivating force of the plan is God’s love (verse 5). This indicates that the plan was intended to be for the benefit of His creatures.
3. God’s predestination and Christ: What Jesus experienced in the hands of Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel was what God’s hand and “plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). Notice that God didn’t predetermine the evil actions of God’s enemies, but the suffering of His Son in their hands. God doesn’t have to move people to do evil, because it’s natural for sinners to practice evil. Yet He uses even their evil to further His plan of salvation.
Romans 8:29 seems to suggest that Jesus was also predestined by God to be “the first-born among many brethren.” The incarnation of the Son of God is part of the divine plan configured in eternity. He was going to be one of us and in the process was going to make us His brothers and sisters.
4. God’s predestination and believers: There are certain specific things that God predetermined for His people. He established that His wisdom, revealed in the person of Christ, be “for our glorification” (1 Cor. 2:7). This isn’t something that God perhaps will do for us, but rather something that He has determined to do for us. We will be glorified through Christ.
God has also predestined us to be adopted as His children only through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5). This is a nonnegotiable for God. He acted one-sidedly creating a way for our adoption to the heavenly family before we existed. In addition, the plan includes God’s intention to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). This is His plan for those who love Him. Our Lord’s predetermined plan is to transform us.
5. God predetermined everything related to salvation: With respect to the salvation of His people God didn’t leave anything to chance. Predestination, based on His foreknowledge, once put into effect reaches us as a call for salvation. The acceptance of the call leads to justification and to our final glorification at the Second Coming (verse 30). There is no power on earth that can alter God’s plan for us except our rejection of it.
Predestination is a good word. The use of the verb indicates that it designates God’s unalterable plan for the salvation of His people through the incarnation and death of our Saviour. It knows only one positive use, and thus we can’t construct with this verb a doctrine of double predestination.