Noah J. Greer Pastor Matt Round

Noah Greer & Pastor Matt Round

March 17th, 2023

Episode 21

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What is Predestination? - Part 1


This is a vast and highly debated topic, and it's not something we can cover in only one podcast episode. We cannot cover it exhaustively, even in a few episodes. But we’ll get a start at it today, and we'll see whether that takes two or three episodes or if we have to cut this off at some point because we could do the rest of our entire podcast about this. There's lots and lots written and talked about.

What is predestination to begin with? Predestination deals with God's knowledge and will as it relates to salvation. There are a lot of different understandings and interpretations of that principle, and it almost always brings out discussion and debate and sometimes just plain fighting among believers. When we look at this and any contentious topic, we must ensure that our foundation is set and in the right place, especially when emotion and passion are involved in an argument.

Debating as Christians

It can get really easy to lose our sense of where truth comes from because when we get involved in discussions like these, the loudest voice sometimes comes across as the most authoritative, and the last one shouting usually means they won the argument. But as believers, we're called to do something different. We're called to discuss and disagree differently than those common worldly standards.

We have to come up with something that serves as the standard, something that is the final word. As believers, that's the word of God. We can't take verses, rip them out of context, and make them say whatever we want. Our final authority is the Bible: carefully studied and rightly interpreted, not just the Bible as an appeal to a particular verse.

We must base our understanding on something other than what we want a passage to say. We can't establish our understanding on things like experience, feelings, or preferences. We have to form our foundation based on what God's word says, its intent, the context, and how arguments develop over all of scripture.

All of those things tend to cloud the issue of what we want to be true and what we've heard to be true, and it can be tempting to appeal to those things instead of submitting to an outside authority like God's word. When believers discuss these things, we must ensure we're talking about the same things. Sometimes the words we're using to describe what we think everybody understands we’re describing can be used to mean different things.

We also must understand that believers won't agree on every point of doctrine, even when we appeal to the same authority. It should change how we disagree because we know we're not the final authority; God’s truth is, and that stays the same across every Christian point of view.

It should remind us that we are dealing with an infinite God and above and beyond all that we could think or imagine. We can know true things about God. His ways are higher than our ways, and we can know God truly and sufficiently. He has given us everything we need to know about Him for life and godliness, but we can't understand and express God to an infinite extent.

There's an element to theological discussions and debate that should drive us to a place of humility. Often in our flesh, we push aside that humility in our desire to be correct. When we're talking about the things of God, no matter how our arguments may be oriented, everything should bring us back to a place of worship.

It reminds us that we're dealing with a holy, powerful, omnipotent God who demands and deserves all of our worship and that we're dealing with other believers: people who genuinely want to follow after God. If your view of predestination doesn't lead to worship, you're starting off on the wrong foot anyway.

There are wrong answers to theological questions. Sincerely held beliefs don't make them accurate. Not every theological position has equal merit; however, especially when encountering other believers, we need to remember that we are dealing with people following the same God and striving with the same Spirit's help to understand these things. That should temper and guide our discussions in general.

Understanding Terms

It can be confusing when discussing predestination because many theological terms overlap and come into play. If we're not careful, we can start talking about similar things using different language or thinking that we're talking about the same thing when in reality, we aren’t.

There are words like election, and when it comes to theology, election involves the idea of choice. Election talks about God choosing a people for salvation, and many nuances and specific discussions accompany that. We need to be able to see things like election and predestination distinctly overlap, but they're not synonymous terms. We're using very different words and must understand that terms are related but not necessarily the same. They don't mean the same thing.

Beyond terms like election, you have foreknowledge. Foreknowledge is the idea that an all-knowing God knows what will happen before it does. Does that relate to predestination? It absolutely does! But again, it's not a one-for-one overlap. We can't use these terms and think they can slide in for each other.

When we bring in these other terms like foreknowledge and election, it starts to move us toward thinking about different attributes of God. Attributes like omniscience, the idea that God knows all things, and omnipotence, the idea that God has all power to do whatever He wants. We transform our discussion on predestination as a standalone term in a debate involving other terms, attributes, and aspects of how we talk about how we think about how we describe God. It's essential for us, especially in these things, to communicate clearly what we're talking about.

Understanding Predestination

What is predestination itself? Simply put, predestination is the idea that God predetermines who will be saved. We’re talking about predestination, not just God’s general knowledge. We're talking about it explicitly concerning who will be saved and the will that moves them towards salvation, not just the object of salvation, but how they attain salvation.

We have an understanding, or a cultural assumption here in the West, that we are a very free, autonomous, self-determining people. When someone says something is determined for us, we don't like that it infringes on our sense of independence and freedom. That's important, and when we put it that way, it's very easy to see why it's so contentious.

We must understand that at least a part of our culture, particularly even a part of our flesh, finds predestination potentially very offensive. It doesn't determine whether it’s true or false, but we must recognize that it plays into our view of the subject. If we don't talk about things like that, then we're not being honest with the discussion at its heart.

If predestination talks about God determining who will inherit salvation, then before we go and look at specific verses that deal with predestination itself and the use of that particular word, we have to think about the foundation of this idea. What is God like? What is He able to do? What do we see him do in his word?

Understanding God’s Attributes

As believers, we say that God is all-powerful, and we don't have a problem with believing that, until we want Him to do something for us that He doesn't do. Then I start to wonder if he's able to do those things. We have to ask this question biblically. We say that God is all-knowing, and we don't have a problem with God being all-knowing until it comes to Him not only knowing facts about me but also knowing my thoughts and the intentions of my heart. We say that God is sovereign, and we don't have a problem with God being sovereign until it means that he sovereignly decides that we should do something difficult, maybe even something that'll bring us pain. When it comes to predestination, we're talking about salvation and determination.

The Infinitude of a Limitless God

We have to ask the broad question: Does God determine things? Not even salvation at first, but does God determine what things will happen before they do, without any input from any person or people involved in the situation? Does God do that? What we see absolutely does. We see that all through scripture. It's the foundation of our understanding of prophecy. God tells us what is going to happen. He then moves circumstances and situations so that exactly what he said would happen comes to pass.

There are hundreds of examples. We could go through Genesis 15:13. God told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years, and this is before his children or grandchildren or even born. It's before a famine drives the people into Egypt, before Joseph is put as second in command over Egypt, before he's reconciled to his brothers, and before a single person in that family that would go down into Egypt is even alive! God tells Abraham, “This will happen to your people for this particular time.” This is evidence that God moves circumstances because that's precisely what happened. We see that with literally hundreds of prophecies throughout God's Word. That's why God says in Isaiah 46:8-10:

““Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you wrongdoers. Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My plan will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;”
Isaiah 46:8-10; NASB

God tells us Himself that He determines things, that he has a plan, and that his plan will be accomplished. Does God predetermine events? The answer is clearly biblically, absolutely yes. But what about when it comes to salvation? Because it's one thing for God to determine historical events or something like rain or droughts or wars and the rise and fall of nations, but what about when it comes to matters of the heart and faith? Does God determine things of that kind? Once again, we see that he does. Before there was sin, there was a savior.

"[…] you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for your sake"
1 Peter 1:18-20; NASB

Ephesians 1:4 talks about God choosing us before the foundations of the world so that we might be holy and blameless before him. The context of those verses makes it clear that salvation in Christ was determined before the world was created. It's not just the reality of a Savior, but a group of people who would find salvation through that savior.

In other words, a choice had already been made before the world was formed and filled in Genesis 1. Before Adam breathed his first breath out of the dust, before a single believer had been born, God had made a choice. Paul says that pretty clearly. We must understand that God has the authority, ability, and will to change people's hearts.

“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He pleases.”
Proverbs 21:1; NASB

God can and will turn the hearts even of kings. Why use kings? Because they're an example of a powerful, independent person. Kings do what they want to do. And yet the author of that Proverb says that God can turn even the heart of a king, even someone independent in their decision-making.

God can turn the heart of that person. And we read in Exodus the account of Pharaoh and God turning and hardening Pharaoh's heart. We read in Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and other places about God softening, renewing, and turning the hearts of his people. So, does God determine things according to salvation? Yes. Does God have the ability, authority, will, and history of turning people's hearts? And the answer is still yes.

Purposes for Foundation

So why go through all of that? We have to get our foundational ideas straight before we work through something contentious like predestination. First, we must be grounded on the idea that the Bible is our ultimate authority. The Bible uses words like election, foreknowledge, and predestination, so we can and should interact with those words, but we have to develop and understand their truths. We have to do it in a way that submits to the authority of God's word and acts out of love for those we interact with.

Second, God has complete control over every aspect of His creation, sovereignty, wisdom, foreknowledge, and absolute knowledge. These aren't little pieces of who God is that we brush off and bring out when convenient; they’re part of understanding God’s perfection and power. He's made it clear that nothing happens by accident and that he accomplishes his will in everything.

Third, we see that the will that God exercises also extends to the area of salvation and the intentions of the human heart. God is not caught off guard by sin. Jesus Christ, in his death on the cross, isn’t an afterthought. They're not a plan B. They’re not something that was planned after the fall of Adam. Christ, set as the Savior, was in place before sin and was a reality. God has the right, will, and ability to move in the human heart. With all that said, I think next time, what we'll do is we'll put those things together and begin to build on that foundation as we move through specific passages that talk about predestination.