A FEW THOUGHTS ON PREDESTINATION FROM A LAYMAN

Most Evangelical Christians do not realize the extent which spiritual death has affected all mankind.  Our predecessors, Adam and Eve, chose for all of us, contrary to God’s warning to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

                   for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. – Gen. 2:17 (ESV)

Of course the word “die” is not limited to physical death, but includes spiritual death, since we are all born sinners.  When Adam sinned he died spiritually and passed on death to all his descendents – the entire human race and posterity.  And of course these facts are common knowledge to nearly any Christian since their first introduction to the rudiments of Christianity, that the human race has inherited a sin nature and spiritual death for all is the result.  Nearly all evangelicals are in agreement about this fundamental principle.  But the important question is, how extensive is this spiritual death?  As corpses, the remains of what were human beings on this earth, are no longer able to function physically to any degree, e.g., move any limbs or blink their eyes. Likewise, humans –who are the remains of Adam’s posterity, cannot function spiritually to any degree.  To question whether man is in actuality dead spiritually, is to emulate the serpent and mock the pronouncement of the Lord in the garden, “You shall surely die.”

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned . . . (Rom. 5:12)

The Scriptures are replete with unquestionable declarations making it absolutely clear that mankind is not only dead spiritually, unable to seek God, but is unwilling to seek God.  This spiritual death is further clarified in I Corinthians:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Also, in a crucial passage about man’s nature, Romans Chapter 3:

There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.

Contrary to those beliefs which most evangelical Christians hold in the twenty-first century, unregenerate people will not be convinced to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation by cleverly conceived persuasion from a believer who is adept at argumentation on spiritual matters.  In the above verse in Romans 3, a phrase appears which is so often quoted in addition to those phrases which, is seldom understood, and frequently ignored.  “There is none righteous” is the phrase which is so well-known, and even those who are the proficient in persuasion at presenting the Gospel usually know exactly where to go in the Scriptures to find “There is none righteous,” Romans 3: 10 & 11, will finish reading the remainder of the passage, taking little thought to the real implications of what the final phrase of the passage is, “There is none who seeks for God.”  In fact, if these evangelists actually did realize what that final phrase was saying, they would probably throw up their hands and say, “What’s the use, if no one seeks God, then why am I wasting my time!”

According to Scripture, the only thing that can save sinners from their hardness and impenitence of heart is not a human or anything human, even though that human might be the most persuasive of all people, and the most burdened and loving toward the sinner.  It is only the Lord Who is able to save:

Salvation belongs to the Lord. (Ps. 3:8)

And:

Salvation is from the Lord. (Jonah 2:9)

And to be more specific, it is only the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit Who does the “persuading,” that is, moves, or “draws” the sinful hearts of humans to “seek God.”  Jesus makes this clear in His discussion with Nicodemus:

Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Therefore, according to Scripture, it is only God, and not human strength, persuasion, or will power that brings salvation, delivering anyone from spiritual death.  Human initiative can never cause any other person or themselves to seek or pursue God.  This is what the Lord does.  No one can say of Lazarus that he had anything to do with his own resurrection.  He had been dead.  It would have been absurd for Lazarus to claim he had “decided” or willed himself to come back to life or initiated his own resurrection while he was dead.  Rather, he did not come back to life until the moment Jesus said, “Lazarus, Come forth!”

Only God, through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, is able to bring spiritually dead beings from death to life, out of their desperate state of total helplessness in spiritual death.  Scripture is absolutely unequivocal on this fact.   No person, by any means, can bring themselves or others, initiate a delivering of themselves or others, or in any infinitesimal way aid the Lord in the deliverance of themselves or others out of death and into life.  For Jesus said:

No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him.  (Jn. 6:44)

God does everything in accomplishing salvation for every sinner He brings from death to life. Not only does the Lord determine what eternity future (heaven) will be, He also has made all determinations before creation.  The works of salvation God accomplished in eternity past are listed chronologically in Romans chapter 8, verses 29-30:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

In eternity past, before even the creation of the world, the Lord had foreknown those he predestined, known and loved them in eternity past, aeons before their existence.  Those this passage speaks of, the elect, are spiritually dead individuals who were chosen – selected and agreed upon by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Every one of these individuals, foreknown by God were predestined to be conformed to the image of Himself (Ephesians 1).  He made this choice, not in a capricious, random, or whimsical manner, but “according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.”    And this choice was not made because He had foreseen any innate righteousness or faith in those elect.  These He called to Himself by the Holy Spirit, and then justified them through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

He predestined us to adoption, as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.

Unfortunately, many Evangelicals refuse to believe man is thoroughly dead spiritually and is incapable of contributing to his own salvation.  They refuse to believe God does 100% of the work of salvation, especially in eternity past.  If sinners actually turn themselves to God (choosing Him) by their own instigation or that of another, then God does not do the total work of salvation, and will have to share the credit and glory for the works of salvation with those who “turned to Him.”  These Evangelicals cannot stomach the idea of any God who would predestinate anyone.  Many extract the word “foreknew” from the aforementioned Romans 8 passage, distorting its meaning according to their preconceived notions of how they prefer to view God.  Today’s Evangelicals usually rationalize the word “foreknew” from Romans 8:29 to indicate God knew before time that certain people would respond to His call, choosing salvation through Christ.  Dr. John MacArthur explains the actual meaning of this word in this context:

The word foreknowledge is not to be confused with foresight, thus making man sovereign,          deserving some credit for making a good choice, seeking God on his own terms, and making God some kind of reactor who is heaven saying, “Oh, come guys, please!  You know I’d like it to work out this way.”

These beliefs which are held by the 21st Century majority of Evangelicals are a total misinterpretation of the meaning of “foreknew,” that is, that meaning of the word which is in the original Greek text.  In his commentary on I Peter, John Calvin brings to light the phrase “elect according to the foreknowledge of God”:

We must consider carefully the nature of this foreknowledge.  In order to obscure the grace of God the sophists (philosophers & radical theologians) imagine that the merits of each are foreseen by God, and that the reprobate are distinguished from the elect, as each one proves himself worthy of this or that fate; but everywhere Scripture sets the counsel of God, on which or salvation is founded, in opposition to our merits.  Hence, when Peter calls them elect according to the foreknowledge of God excludes any worthiness on the part of man.

The belief that God chose those before the foundation of the world to be made believers through the working of the Holy Spirit, not because of any merit or willingness of their own, but simply because of His divine pleasure has been the belief coveted by the greatest of saints since the time of Christ.  Those saints include the entire early Church and martyrs of that time, Augustine, upon whose writings the Church based its doctrine, the reformers, particularly Luther and Calvin, also John Wycliffe, John Bunyan, John Knox, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon.  It is important to note that, before the mid-nineteenth century, this orthodox belief in predestination was by far the prevalent position, before humanism, universalism, and Neo-Orthodoxy became predominant.

Also the nineteenth century was greatly affected by the preaching and literature of Charles Finney, the true founder of the modern evangelical movement. In America, the so-called “Second Great Awakening” (1865-1920) was brought into existence by Finney.  This movement strongly encouraged emotional preaching and emotional responses to preaching was considered extremely important.  The persuasive powers of the speaker was central to this movement.  Finney was very talented in the art of persuasion, knowing how to sway large crowds and record many “conversions.”  In explaining Charles Finney’s influence, Dr. Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary said, “It was Finney who declared, ‘There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature.  It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature.  It is just that and nothing else.  When mankind became religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions, which they were unable before to put forth.  They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God.’  So, for Finney, even revival – the corporate conversion of sinners – is ‘not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense.  It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means – as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.’  This meant, said Finney, that the evangelist could only be successful by employing ‘powerful excitements.’”

So, according to that which most Evangelicals have been influenced to think, salvation is predicated upon how much emotion can be brought upon the listener, not the work of the Spirit, and predestination was not conditioned upon what God would do, but upon what God knew beforehand that man would do.  God, His will and His salvation was being interchanged for man determining everything and man saving himself.  The bottom line is that the will of man determined what God did – whom He predestined before the foundation of the world!  These aberrant beliefs exult man to become the decision maker of the universe, thus God is subject to the whims of mankind.  This belief system is called Arminianism, which is also slightly modified Pelagianism, and can be termed semi-pelagianism (Pelagius was an apostate British monk of the fourth to fifth centuries who denied original sin, believed man could keep the Ten commandments, and also believed there was no need for divine grace for salvation.)  Both pelagianism and semi-pelagianism have been declared heretical at the ancient Council of Orange (A.D. 529).  It is startling how easily many Christians will adopt the Arminianism/Pelagianism philosophy without having searched the Scriptures, accepting the majority opinion, regardless of how humanist it actually is.

This brand of humanism is the belief that God’s work of predestination is contingent upon those He foreknows or foresees would of themselves believe the Gospel, a self-initiated salvation.  And what of the rest?  They apparently lack any innate righteousness, so they do not possess that preliminary spirituality, or  “spark” that would cause them to turn to Christ.  Thus those that do turn to the Lord are in their minds spiritually superior to those who lack that spiritual initiative.  What elitism!  That idea could not possibly be true of God, because “There is no respect of persons with God.”  A return to the passage in Romans 3, “and no one seeks for God” is another reminder of the fallacious nature of this philosophy.

This Arminian belief system makes God’s love its primary tenet, rejecting the Biblical doctrine present throughout Scripture that God would make any choice regarding any of His creatures’ eternal destinies.  The fact is, it is God’s love that moved Him in eternity past to choose wicked sinners and grant them the faith to believe because they are neither willing nor able to do so.  The Arminian emphasis on God’s love, making it seem impossible that He would predestinate anyone, leaves sinners to their own volition though their choices will always lead to a very negative result, and eventually eternity in hell.  The overemphasis of the love of God by Arminians diminishes His other attributes which are equally crucial, such as His holiness, justice, and sovereignty.  It is no insignificant coincidence that this philosophy of the Arminians has been a mainstay of ultra-liberal denominations, Neo-Orthodoxy and Universalists for years.

The following is a text from Romans 9 concerning God’s determinations for Jacob and Esau:

though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call – she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”   

Paul did not invent this text himself to support his personal bias on election, but extracted it from the Old Testament, where it is found in the first few verses of Malachi 1.  This passage in the Old Testament uses the same terminology with each of the twins, God loved Jacob but hated Esau yet this text is much stronger than Paul’s use of it.  The complete passage explains how extreme God’s hatred for Esau is, what Esau and his descendents (Edom) and territories will perpetually receive from God, beyond making their lands desolate and appointing them to live with jackals, demonstrating God’s hatred of Esau:

Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the Lord, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory . . .”

It is axiomatic, Paul’s use of this passage from Malachi is mild in comparison to the original source.  But this examination of these New and Old Testament texts reveals how absurd it is to speak of God’s love and ignore His holiness, hatred of sin, and justice.  It also causes us to realize God’s love is an electing love, not a general love for every sinner ever born.

The following Scriptural text speaks of the worship of the beast, and makes it indisputable that the Lord has determined eternal destinies before the beginning of time:

and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written                           before the foundation of the world in the book of life in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.      

And Revelation 17:

And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast . . .

Upon hearing these passages and others, which make it absolutely indisputable that the Lord is an electing God, many Evangelicals use the following text to “shield” them from the reality of this truth:

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

The phrase that is repeated counteract the truths of predestination & election is “not willing that any should perish” from II Peter 3.  Since Peter wrote this epistle to “those who have received faith of the same kind as ours . . .” this epistle unquestionably having been written to Christians will reveal keys to the third chapter of this epistle.  In verse one of chapter 3 Peter addresses those he wrote, “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.  In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder . . .”  This reminder is of the Second Coming of Christ.  Since this epistle was written exclusively to Christians, this portion of Chapter 3 will be considered for evidence that demonstrates to whom it has been written.  All nouns in this passage that address those to whom Peter is speaking are italicized.  Those include:  “beloved”, “us”, “any”, and “all”. The phrase so often brought out of context, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” contains the words “any” and “all.” It is important to note that these two nouns are qualified by the word that immediately precedes them, “us.”  This makes it clear that the context proves who Peter is addressing, “any of us” and “all of us.”  Plus the entire chapter is revealing since it is addressed to those who are the “beloved.”  Peter is not stating that the Lord is not willing that any person in the entire world should perish, but that the Lord is not willing that any of us (those Christians Peter is addressing) should perish, but that all of us should come to repentance.

The meaning of another passage used frequently by many evangelicals, Ephesians 2:8 & 9, also should be examined more thoroughly.  This passage will be left for the readers to examine for themselves:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.

A thorough reading of the ninth chapter of Romans, and exhaustive readings of any commentaries available on that is extremely important before drawing any conclusions.  This document is not meant to contain conclusive arguments on Reformed doctrine, but simply gives this writer’s ideas on related topics.  For an excellent presentation of these doctrines from an expert, see Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Dr. Michael Horton (Baker Books).

A portion of the first chapter of Ephesians is appropriate to close this study:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before he foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

The application is from Tabletalk magazine, November, 2000

How did God draw you to Himself?  Was it a slow awakening to your need of Him?  Or was it more sudden?  Each salvation experience is different, but all are alike in that God is at work, drawing to Himself sinful people who never would come otherwise.  Thank and praise Him today that He acted upon your heart out of His love and mercy.  (Tabletalk, 2000, p. 46.  Orlando:  Ligonier Ministries, Inc.)

by D. B. Reeder

 

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