What Does The Bible Really Teach About Predestination?

Thoughts on predestination

The Bible tells us the “Father of glory” (Ephesians 1:17), the “Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8) and the “Spirit of glory” (1 Peter 4:14) are all three involved in a great endeavor to bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). This plan, appropriately called the “scheme of redemption,” both originated and culminates in eternity as Romans 8:29-30 points out:

29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

When one reads these verses, it is difficult to avoid the idea that this grand scheme is, in the mind of God, a “done deal.” But certainly not a done deal the way the Calvinists claim. Yes, it is true that the Greek word proorizo, translated in the KJV as “predestinate,” does mean to “predetermine,” “decide beforehand” or “foreordain” (cf. Strong’s Concordance). However, this does not mean that God made a choice of those He would save apart from of anything they would do of their own free wills, as Calvinists wrongly believe. Instead, God decreed in eternity (viz., He predestined or determined) that those who were going to be saved would be conformed to the image of His Son as pointed out un Romans 8:29.

Contrary to what determinists believe, God did not choose individuals to be saved unconditionally. Rather, and this based upon His foreknowledge, He predestined (i.e., determined beforehand) those who would be saved conditionally; namelythose who would be conformed to the image of His Son. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4-5:

…just as He [the Father] chose us in Him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.

Consequently, when the Divine Logos came to this earth as the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53 in order to “taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9), He did so for the primary purpose of redeeming those who would be the “many sons” and “many brethren” of Hebrews 2:10 and Romans 8:29. Although the Father foreknew those who would be conformed to the image of His Son (and I’m speaking here of not just the group but the individuals in that group), the actual work of atonement was not limited to just that group of individuals, for it is not now, nor has it ever been, God’s desire that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4). Even so, it is only those who are conformed to the image of His Son (i.e., those who are “predestined to…adoption as sons,” Ephesians 1:5) who will be saved. Concerning these, Paul wrote,

Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:30).

The theological concepts of either “universal salvation” or “once saved, always saved” are not taught in the Bible. However, the idea that God knows those who are His, not just now but forever, is something plainly taught in the Bible (2 Timothy 2:19; cf. Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Romans 8:29-30). In fact, it is this group, who are also individually known by God, that Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 3:18. There he said:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

In other words, as we see the glory of the Lord (i.e., the fullness of His grace and truth, John 1:14), we are being transformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Without the being “conformed” or “transformed” into the image of God’s Son experience, one can neither become a Christian nor remain one. This image, disposition, or mind to which all true Christians must be conformed is perfectly illustrated by the earthly existence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and is referenced in Philippians 2:5-8, which says:

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Like the Word who took upon Himself flesh, those of us who live in the flesh must humble ourselves just as He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death just as He did.

With all this said, anyone who thinks this means that the Christian must live perfectly to be saved is gravely mistaken. Yes, Jesus lived perfectly sinless in all His doings (John 8:29, 34, 46; cf. 1 John 3:5, 8-9) and we believe it is this perfection that Jesus was referring to when He told Philip:

Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ (John 14:6-11).

Plus, as we have already learned, the Bible makes it clear that we must be conformed to the Lord’s image. But the Bible teaches us just as plainly that the only way we can possess perfection is by the gift of righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21, 22; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9).

Addressing this point, Paul said to Titus:

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).

Then, when writing to the Ephesians about this very thing, he said:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Accordingly, these passages, if they mean anything, and they mean a lot, teach that a man isn’t saved by his perfect doing (i.e., “works,” as Paul uses the term), for, under such a system, all are found wanting. With this said, it’s time to notice what the Scriptures say about the “righteousness of God”; namely, the imputed righteousness that is ours by “grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (cf. Romans 3:21-24).

Sinless Perfection Vs. Imputed Righteousness

As some grudgingly admit, “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7) is not sinless perfection. I say “grudgingly” because after hearing a brother in Christ upbraid another for teaching that walking in the light is not sinless perfection, I talked with the one doing the upbraiding about what I thought were his misrepresentations of the position of the brother being critiqued. After discussing the issue for a while, I asked him, “Do you believe that walking in the light is sinless perfection?” After a long pause, he said: “No,” he admitted, “but it’s dangerous for us to say so publicly as those in the pews, who are not as studied as we are, will take this and run off into Calvinism.” I can assure you I was sickened by the hypocrisy and clericalism on display that day.

I do believe that some have gone too far in their interpretation of 1 John 1:5-10. In fact, some believe and teach what I think are glaring errors on this passage. Nevertheless, this does not give anyone the right to misrepresent either this passage or what someone might have said about it. With this said, let’s take a look at the passage:

5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

When we read 1 John 1:5-10, it is clear that God is not just “in the light,” as verse seven points out, but “God is light,” as verse five indicates. This means that righteousness is not a standard by which God is to be judged; instead, God is the standard! Sinful creatures that we are, we will always find ourselves coming up short of this standard (cf. Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). Now, it is true that when the Light of the world (John 1:9; 9:5) took upon Himself flesh and lived among us, He was perfectly righteous in all His thinking, saying, and doing. Nevertheless, we need to understand that as we, His followers, “walk in the light as He is in the light,” such will not be a perfect walk—we will make mistakes; we will sin, and to deny this, as some do, is to call God a liar (1 John 5:10). However, when we do sin—and again the Bible says we will—we will, if we are truly “walking in the light,” confess our sins (v. 9) and ask the Lord to forgive us, confidently trusting that He has, in fact, done so (v. 9; cf. 1 John 5:14-15).

Now, although no flesh has any cause to glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:29) and this because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), as we become obedient to Christ, we do receive a “righteousness of God” that is not our own (Romans 1:17; 3:21, 22; 10:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). (For those of you who will think what I’ve said here isn’t true, please take the time to read the passages cited before you actually say so!) The New Testament refers to this as imputed righteousness (cf. Romans 4:11, 23-25). Some, and the Calvinists are notorious for this, have mistakenly thought that the righteousness imputed to the obedient believer entails Jesus’ perfect life (i.e., perfect doing). In other words, these think that God no longer sees the sins of His saints when He views them. Instead, He sees only the prefect doing of Jesus imputed to us. This view is totally false! The righteousness imputed to the obedient believer is not derived directly from the Lord’s perfect life. Instead, it derives from the fact that Jesus’ sacrificial death satisfied the debt we owed for our sins (Romans 5:18). According to Romans 4:5, it is in this way, and this way only, that we, “the ungodly,” have been justified. (Acts 13:39; Romans 3:24; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:4-7). Thus, if God has so justified us, who is it that can bring a charge against God’s elect and make it stick? (Romans 8:33).

But, and this is another critical point, even though we are no longer under a system of perfect law-keeping for justification, we are “under law toward Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21). As we follow Jesus as absolute Lord of our lives (Acts 2:36; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:6), we are under obligation to be conformed to His image while He was here on earth so we can one day be conformed to His glorified image in heaven (Romans 8:29). As we do so, we become involved in those works (i.e., righteous deeds) God previously prepared for us:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

By doing so, we are able to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). In fact, the Bible teaches that the Lord redeemed us from “every lawless deed” and purified us as His own special people that we might be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). These good works reflect the glory of God, just as Jesus of Nazareth reflected the glory of God in the works He performed while here on this earth.

Today, as we develop the mind of Christ, we reflect God’s glory. Although the reflection of this glory is not perfect as it was in the case of Jesus of Nazareth, it is glorious nevertheless. Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Notice that Paul wrote, “from glory to glory.” I believe this expression means that, as we follow Jesus as Lord, we are being transformed from the glory we now reflect in Christ to the glory we will eventually have in heaven. Neither this passage nor any others in the Bible teach that once we have been saved from our sins by our obedience to Christ, we will always be saved. On the contrary, like Jesus, we are called upon to be faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10). The Bible teaches a child of God can be eternally lost (Hebrews 10:26-31; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Revelation 3:5). At the same time, the Bible teaches that the same foreknowledge that allowed God to know His plan for redeeming man would not fail (Acts 2:23) is the same foreknowledge that allowed Him to know beforehand that “many sons” would be brought “to glory” through His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:10). We believe that the “to glory” in this verse is equivalent to the “to glory” of 2 Corinthians 3:18. Consequently, it refers to the eternal glory that we will one day share with our glorified Lord (Romans 8:18-23; 2 Corinthians 4:17-5:5; Philippians 3:20, 21; Colossians 3:4; 1 Peter 5:1-4, 10). These passages refer, of course, to the glorified human body (i.e., the “it” of 1 Corinthians 15:42-44) which Jesus now partakes and which we, if we remain faithful unto death, will one day share. (It bears pointing out that the faithfulness under discussion here is not our “perfect doing,” but a continued walking in the light.)

Jesus, The Man, The Firstborn Among Many Brethren

Contrary to what some think, Jesus did not quit being a man when He returned to heaven but continues in heaven, even now, as a “man” (1 Corinthians 15:48; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 10:12, 13) who, as our Mediator, lives to make intercession for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). In this regard, it is interesting to note that Jesus, in Colossians 1:18, is referred to as the “beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” “Beginning” here, I believe, has reference to Jesus being the “Beginning of the creation of God” (Revelation 3:14), which is not a reference to the old creation that the Lord, as Logos, was very much involved in, but the new creation which exists only in connection with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). Therefore, I believe the expression “the beginning” refers to His position as the “firstborn from the dead” which, in this case, means not only preeminence but also first in occurrence.

Specifically, Jesus’ resurrection was the first ever of its kind in that He is the only one who has been raised from the dead, never to die again (Acts 13:34; Romans 6:9). But the time is coming when His saints will be resurrected and glorified as well (see again Philippians 3:20-21). Therefore, Jesus’ resurrection and glorification may be viewed as the beginning of the “new heavens and the new earth” of 2 Peter 3:13. The process (cf. Romans 8:29-30) which will be accomplished when death has been totally destroyed by the resurrection of all the dead and the glorification of those justified by the precious blood of our Lord has already begun! In His declaration to John in Revelation 1:17-18, the Lord said:

17 Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. 18 And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

Without The Resurrection, We Have Absolutely No Hope

Jesus’ resurrection is not only the beginning point of God’s new creation, it is, instead, the very foundation of it. The power of His endless, indestructible, indissoluble life, according to Hebrews 7:16, is the life upon which all life depends (John 5:21, 26; 14:6; Acts 3:15; Galatians 2:20). It infuses into our souls, sustains a living church in the midst of a lost and dying world, and offers hope for the new creation to come (cf. Acts 23:6; 1 Corinthians 15:19; Ephesians 1:17-22; Colossians 1:5.) It is this Paul calls “the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). It does not surprise us, then, that in the midst of a description of the nature of the resurrected body, Paul refers to Jesus as the second and last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). Jesus, our elder brother (Galatians 4:4-7; Hebrews 2:10, 11; 12:1-8), as the result of His resurrection, is the beginning of a new family that, like those of the first Adam, will be like their progenitor. When we are raised with transformed bodies, we will bear His likeness, “that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). Again, this is the reason for our hope (1 Peter 1:3; 3:15). Consequently, at this very moment, “…we all, with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Then again in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Paul said it this way:

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

As we conclude this section of our study, it needs to be pointed out that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the guarantee of the judgment that will one day take place upon all those who reject Him, for God “…has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11a). Finally, with Peter, we say:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).

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