The church has debated the doctrines of Predestination (also called Election) and Free Will at least since the fourth century, when Augustine created the first doctrine on Predestination. The doctrine of Predestination claims that God chose all who would be saved from the foundation of the world and assigned the rest of mankind to hell. In other words, no one has a choice whether or not they are saved or go to hell because that has already been decided by God.
The other view, often called Arminianism after the Reformer who disagreed with Calvin’s view of Predestination, believes that people can decide for themselves whether they want to be saved or not. The main problem with this view, according to those who believe in Predestination, is it leaves man’s salvation up to man’s will instead of God’s grace. They say that to use their will to accept God’s call is salvation by works instead of grace.
Concerning this topic the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says that the Cumberland Confession of 1829 suggested an intermediate plan between the two opposing views:
Unfortunately the 1829 Confession omitted to tell us precisely what the “intermediate plan” is, and in subsequent theology has proved far more adept at repeating old arguments than attempting or even desiring new answers.
In this series I will be presenting “new answers” that our theologians over the centuries have overlooked. I am not a theologian and I thank God for that!
A few years ago I wanted to purchase a book on doctrine to get a general idea of what the church believed on different issues. I saw a popular book called Bible Doctrine by theologian Wayne Grudem and bought it. I was hoping it would give me differing views of what the church believes. However, I was disappointed that it mainly contained his own views which were very slanted Calvinistic on Predestination. This is his definition of Election:
Election is an act of God before the creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.
This is to say in effect that God chooses the vast majority of people to go to hell before they are even born. I can neither accept that as being the nature of God based on the Scriptures nor as being what the Bible teaches about election. This teaching makes God out to be a monster instead of a loving, merciful, and just God. Too many Scriptures go directly against the traditional teachings of Predestination. These Scriptures include but are not limited to the following:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16-17).
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3-4).
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:14).
The Doctrine of Predestination comes mainly from a few passages in the book of Romans by Paul. Here they are:
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 (Rom. 8:29).
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (Rom. 9:14-21).
We will examine these passages in this series. Fortunately, I am not a theologian and thus not locked into their mind-set of basing theology on previous arguments down through the centuries by people who are famous. The Holy Spirit is my teacher and should be yours as well:
However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak (John 16:13a).
We all should seek what the Bible itself says along with insight from the Spirit through prayer. I also have something the theologians don’t have: a revelation from the Holy Spirit on how to get sound doctrine. This revelation can be found in the book on it titled The Bible’s Test for Truth: How to Get Sound Doctrine on this web site. It contains a test for truth on New Testament doctrines based on the Scriptures themselves and not on what men have written throughout the ages.
This would apparently come as a strange idea to many theologians and church leaders, but I base all New Testament doctrine on, first and foremost, what Jesus said. It may seem strange to many; but He is my main teacher of New Testament doctrine, not Moses, Paul, Peter, nor John or any other writer of the Bible. Paul himself said about Jesus,
And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence (Col. 1:18).
When Paul said that Jesus is head of the body and He has preeminence in all things, that includes New Testament doctrine. Therefore, I assert that Paul and the other New Testament writers were only trying to expound on what Jesus said or expounding on what was written in the Old Testament. He was not trying to create his own new doctrines. Thus, when we look for the foundation of the doctrine of Predestination, we cannot begin with Paul; but we must start with either the Old Testament Scriptures Paul was using on which to base his teaching or with the words of Jesus Himself. Therefore, the very foundation of the doctrine of Predestination, which begins with Paul and has been propagated by theologians and church leaders throughout the centuries, is in error.
The first question we should ask ourselves is, “What did the Master Teacher say about Predestination?” That is easy enough to answer – absolutely NOTHING! The word is not found in the Gospels or even the Old Testament for that matter. Therefore, it should not be a major New Testament doctrine. I do recognize that the election of Israel, as well as the Patriarchs who preceded the nation, was taught in the Old Testament. However, the doctrine of Predestination as has been taught has to do with individual salvation, not just the special election of Israel.
Next question: Did Jesus say anything about free will? Yes He did – quite a bit actually! Now we at least know which way the wind (Holy Spirit) is blowing between these two opposing doctrines. Listed below are just some of the Scriptures of Jesus speaking of free will using the words “will,” “willing,” or “desires.” For the sake of brevity, I did not list many others that could have been used to show the concept of free will that did not use these two words.
“And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet” (Matt.10:14).
“And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 11:14-15).
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26).
“He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went” Matt. 21:29).
“. . . and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come” (Matt. 22:3).
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matt. 23:37).
Jesus, who was our example, also claimed He had a free will,
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
Notice in this verse that the Pharisees and others rejected God’s will for them. It was not God’s will that they reject His will for themselves. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him (Luke 7:30). By their own will they overrode God’s will for them to be saved.
And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will (Luke 23:25).
If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority (John 7:17).
He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light
But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life (John 5:40).
The Lord also said in the book of Revelation,
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17).
The concept of free will is also spoken of by other writers of the New Testament, but for this article I just wanted to establish what Jesus said concerning predestination and free will. In the next blog I will begin to examine what Paul was saying about predestination. Now we have a foundation from Jesus for at least Free Will – they very thing proponents of Predestination say we do not have. Yet our Master Teacher didn’t say anything about predestination. At least we now know what was more important to Jesus.