The apostle Paul says to the Romans: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).
Now, according to the apostle Paul, those whom God foreknew were predestinated to be justified. But what does this expression ‘God foreknew some and predestinated them to be justified’ mean? Does it mean, perhaps, merely that God knew that these people would repent and believe in Christ, and thus they would be justified? No, otherwise what would be the point of talking of predestination with regard to them? Is it not true that the verb ‘to predestinate’ means ‘to appoint beforehand’? Let me give you an example to explain this concept. If I decide to buy a certain field in order to appoint a certain part of it, let us suppose a tenth of it, to the building of a house; and another part, the rest of the field, to the citrus fruits growing; don’t I determine the destiny of that field beforehand? And when I have bought it and accomplished my purpose, cannot we say that that field was predestinated by me to be used in that way? Of course, we can. Therefore, if God predestinated us to be justified that means that even before we knew Him (that is, before we believed in Him) He purposed to cause us to believe in His Son Jesus Christ. In other words, He purposed to call us from all men He created. And therefore, at His appointed time, He overpowered us and prevailed, He persuaded us and we were persuaded, without us knowing absolutely anything about His divine plan for us. Perhaps you will say: ‘It was I who wanted to repent and believe in Jesus, it was I who made this choice?’ Then I would like to ask you some questions: ‘Who gave you repentance?’ Was it not God who gave you repentance, as it is written: “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18 – NKJV). And who gave you faith? Was it not God who gave you faith, for Paul calls faith “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) and says that it is not of ourselves? What do you have that you did not receive from God then? Nothing. Therefore, if you repented and believed it was because God gave you repentance and faith. He had ordained you to eternal life, that’s why you believed; just as the believers at Antioch in Pisidia believed in the Lord because they had been ordained to eternal life, as it is written: “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48 – NKJV). But at this point you may say: ‘But it was I who decided to come to Jesus!’ Well, you came to Jesus because you wanted to come to Jesus, that’s true; but it is also true that you came to Jesus because God wanted to draw you to Christ without you knowing anything about His will. Have you not read these words of Jesus: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him …. no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” (John 6:44,65)? Please, note that Jesus said ‘except’ twice. Therefore, I tell you that you would not have come to Christ UNLESS it had been granted to you by the Father. So you came to Jesus because God drew you to Christ, that is to say, because It was granted to you by God to come to Christ.
At this point you may say: ‘Then, do those who don’t repent and believe in Jesus go to perdition because of a decree of God toward them? Yes, that’s the reason why they go to perdition. You may say then: ‘This is an injustice, thus you make people believe that God is an unrighteous God, a merciless God, who makes fun of His creatures!’ Hear what the Scripture teaches and you will see that what you say is wrong. The apostle Paul, in order to explain why only a remnant of the Israelites has accepted God’s salvation while most of the Jews have rejected it, speaks of the birth of Esau and Jacob. He says that “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her [Rebecca], The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:11-13). The words of Paul show that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau even before they were born or had done anything good or bad. Their destiny had already been determined by God before they were born. Obviously, after their birth what God had foretold came to pass, for the older served the younger. But why did those things happen? Simply because Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, and Jacob deceitfully took away the blessing of Esau? In other words, did the older serve the younger simply because Esau and Jacob decided to act in that way (both Jacob and Esau acted wrongly)? Yes, of course, the fact that the older served the younger was the outcome of the behaviour of both brothers; however, behind all things there was the hand of God who directed all things, so that the word He had spoken to Rebecca might be fulfilled. Was God unjust by acting in that way toward Esau and Jacob? Certainly not. Is it not written that God does whatever pleases him in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths (Psalm 135:6)? Is it not written that God is proved right when He speaks and blameless when He judges (Psalm 51:4)? The apostle Paul, foreseeing that somebody would say that God is unjust, defended what God does, saying: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid [Certainly not!]. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:14-18). The words of Paul are clear, very clear, and certainly this clearness disturbs many people. Please, note that Paul takes the example of Pharaoh in order to state that God hardens whom He wants to harden. You will ask me then, ‘Do you believe then that God hardens some people? Yes, I do believe this, God hardens whom He wants to harden, just as the Scripture declares. However, in the Scriptures there is another example of hardening caused by God. For in the days of Jesus most of the Jews were hardened by God so that they might not believe in Jesus. Here is what John says: “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (John 12:37-40). Why didn’t those Jews believe in Jesus? Because they could not believe. The reason is clear, for God had hardened their heart and had blinded their eyes. In other words, because it was not granted to them to believe in Jesus or to come to Him. It was necessary that the words of Isaiah should be fulfilled, therefore those Jews could not believe. Whose are the words spoken by Isaiah? They are God’s. Therefore, God had purposed not to allow most of the Jews to believe. Jesus knew this, that’s why He spoke to the crowds in parables. One day His disciples asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables and He answered and said to them: “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:11-13). Nevertheless, Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it had rejected Him and He said that they did not want to turn to the Lord. Here are His words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37). “Ye would not”, said Jesus. Yet He knew that they were not willing to accept Him because God had hardened their heart and blinded their eyes. That shows that those who reject the Gospel are held responsible for refusing the Gospel, even though they reject the Gospel because they were appointed by God to be disobedient to the Word of God.
It was necessary for the Jews to reject Christ, so that Christ might die for our sins; that is to say, God had purposed to cause the Jews to persecute Jesus and to put Him to death, through the Gentiles, by nailing Him to the cross for our sake. For Peter said to the Jews: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:22-24 – NIV). Please note carefully the words “by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge”. Evidently the Jews did not know that by their conduct they would fulfil the words of the prophets according to which Jesus had to die for the unjust, yet God used their wickedness and unbelief so that Christ might die for our sins. Therefore, should we not recognize that God is wise and use those who have been hardened by Him to accomplish what He has purposed to do? And should we not also recognize that God gains glory for Himself by hardening the hearts of people? For both in the case of Pharaoh (I mentioned before) and of the Jews, who crucified Jesus, God gained very much glory for Himself. As to Pharaoh, he was deeply humbled by God through all kinds of signs and wonders first, and then he and his army were thrown into the Red Sea, and when the Israelites saw what God had done to the Egyptians they praised God for His greatness (Exodus 15:1-19). As to the Jews who killed Jesus, they were put to shame by God for He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and when His disciples saw Him alive in their midst they rejoiced in the Lord, and from that time on all those who have believed in the Lord have rejoiced in the Lord for God raised His Son from the dead. At that time God gained very much glory for Himself through the resurrection of His Son (Luke 24:53) and He is still gaining very much glory for Himself through it.
First Paul said that God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy and He hardens whom He wants to harden, then he said: “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24). Once again the words of Paul are clear. God reigns and He prepared in advance some men for destruction and some others for glory. Who are we to reply against God?
The will of man and the possibility of falling from grace
What shall we say then about the will of man, if all his ways depend on God and his destiny was determined beforehand by God? We shall say the following things: the will of those who still live under the power of darkness is moulded by God and turned in the direction He has appointed, without them knowing it; so those who were predestinated to be justified will be allowed or enabled by God (at God’s appointed time), through endless circumstances, to believe in Jesus Christ, while those who were prepared for destruction will not be allowed or enabled to believe.
And what shall we say then about the conduct of those who have believed in the Lord? We shall say this: those who have believed must see to it that they make their call and election sure by continuing in the faith and being zealous for good works, for this is the will of God. But can a believer lose justification? The answer is ‘Yes,’ because this is what the Scripture teaches us. For if a believer draws back, by committing the sin unto death (in other words, if he forsakes and denies the Lord who has rescued him), he will lose the justification he has obtained by faith and his name will be blotted out from the Book of Life. For God said to Moses: “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book” (Exodus 32:33), and the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:4-8) and again: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29)
How then can we ‘reconcile’ these doctrines (that is, the doctrine of predestination and the doctrine that says that a believer may lose his salvation and go to perdition)? Of course, we can, even though it seems the opposite. Actually, it seems that these doctrines nullify one another, that they contradict one another, however we know that both of them are true, both of them are part of the counsel of God. Therefore, do not deceive yourselves.
Some words in defence of predestination
We are really surprised to see that this doctrine, which is so much confirmed by the Holy Scriptures, is so much neglected among many Churches. Many pastors don’t speak about the purpose of God according to election, they never teach it. You may hear them speaking about certain things which were not revealed to us, but you will never hear them speaking about the purpose of God according to election, which was revealed to us. Why? The reasons are various.
Certainly, one of the reasons is their ignorance; in other words, they don’t know the Scriptures. Unfortunately we see that they are ignorant of many other biblical doctrines as well.
Another reason is that the word PREDESTINATION makes them think at once of the doctrine ‘once saved always saved’, so it is better not to speak of predestination at all lest believers think that no matter how they may behave they will eventually be saved. However, this attitude is not right, because the apostle Paul, who said many things concerning predestination, warned in various ways believers not to think that since they had been predestinated to be justified they could do anything they liked. Hear, for instance, what the apostle said to the Romans about the fact that many natural branches (the Jews who are disobedient to God) were cut out of a cultivated olive tree and many branches of the olive tree which is wild by nature (the Gentiles who have believed) were grafted into the cultivated olive tree: “Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (Romans 11:20-22). Therefore, if Paul taught predestination to the saints of Rome and he warned them not to despise the goodness of God, we don’t understand why those who are appointed to shepherd the flock of God shouldn’t act like Paul. Why should we neglect or fail to teach such an important and fundamental part of the counsel of God because of a nonexistent fear? I am fully persuaded that if the doctrine of predestination is taught rightly, believers will not run the risk of deceiving themselves. In other words, if we teach that God predestinated us to be justified by faith even before the foundation of the world and at His appointed time He called us and justified us, but there is a sin (the sin unto death) of which a believer cannot repent and which leads the believer who commits it to eternal perdition, all sorts of deceitful thoughts will disappear from the believers’ minds.
However, there is another reason why predestination is not taught among many churches, here it is. Unfortunately in the heart of many believers there is some pride that keeps them from recognizing that they have been saved SOLELY because of the purpose of God according to election, that is to say, because God decided beforehand to cause them to believe. In other words, because they were ordained to eternal life. This means that all the things they now have were given to them by God; they don’t come from themselves. Both repentance (through which they humbled before God), and faith (through which they have obtained the forgiveness of sins and eternal life), were given to them by God. For this reason Paul asked the saints of Corinth: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 – NKJV), because he knew that all the things the saints did have had been given to them by God. These believers, however, stress much, I would say too much, the fact that it was they who wanted to repent, who wanted to believe etc.. To them it is hard to recognize that their will was simply moulded by the Almighty without their knowledge. They can’t accept the fact they were able to come to Jesus only because it was granted to them by the Father! That’s why they stop their ears, or prefer not to hear those who speak of predestination. This is a foolish behaviour on their part, because it means that they don’t want to acknowledge fully the sovereignty of God over all the universe, they don’t want to acknowledge the truthfulness of God; but above all because in this way they take away from God a part of His glory. Because, if I say that I believed because I wanted to believe and not because God wanted me to believe (and caused me to believe), I don’t glorify God for giving me faith. Why then should I glorify Him? Simply because after I chose Christ He saved me!! In other words, it was I who decided to come to Jesus (God did not do anything in order that I might come to Jesus), but as far as the salvation of my soul is concerned it was Christ who saved it. According to the arguments of these believers, therefore, we should say that the faith which allowed us to believe in Christ came from us, while the faith which allows us to continue in the faith comes from God. And as a result, we should say that actually our salvation did not depend entirely on the Lord! Pride takes a lot to die out in these believers! However, you, proud believers, must understand that through your pride you do not humble God but yourselves, even though God seems to be humbled. Tell me this: what’s the difficulty you have in recognizing that repentance and faith were given to you by God because of His purpose? Why do you admit so easily that you were born the first time not of your will but of the will of your parents, or rather, because God wanted you to be born, while when you speak about the new birth you say that it was you who wanted to be born again? But if we are born of God, this means that we were born again of the will of God and thus because of a decree of God, doesn’t it? Is it not written that He brought us forth of His own will (James 1:18)? Is it not written that we were born not of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God (John 1:13)? Therefore, humble before God, and give glory to Him, all the glory that He is worthy to receive from you.
Finally, there is another reason. According to these believers who deny predestination, the doctrine of the purpose of God according to election makes people think that God is unjust because He determined beforehand to save some and to send others into perdition (or to let all the others go to perdition). However, I would like to ask these people: ‘Why is He unjust? Is He unjust because He lets wicked people, who deserve to go to perdition because they rebelled against God, go to perdition? Is this an injustice? If God gave salvation to some by their good works while to some others by their faith alone, then, in this case, He would surely be unjust; but the fact that He has decided to have mercy on whom He wants to have mercy is not an injustice at all? Doesn’t the Possessor of heaven and earth have the right to do what He wants with His own things? No, God is not unjust in having mercy on whom He wants to have mercy and in hardening whom He wants to harden. I ask you a question, ‘Do you think, then, that even the antichrist may repent and believe in Jesus Christ?’ If your answer is ‘Yes’, you should explain to me the meaning of these words “will … go to perdition” (Revelation 17:8 – NKJV), and you should explain to me why the Scripture states that the Lord will consume the antichrist with the breath of His mouth and will cast him into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. How can the antichrist have a chance to repent and believe, if he was appointed to be destroyed and to go to perdition? You may say now: ‘That’s a special case!’ Let us suppose you are right, you have to admit, then, that the antichrist will be hardened by God. Why then should God let this man come into the world in order to let him go to perdition? Why will God keep him from believing and being saved? Therefore, if you admit that this human being is to go to perdition, why don’t you want to admit that many other human beings (God alone knows who and how many they are) are to go to perdition? If God can send one man into perdition, is there anything that may keep Him from sending a billion or ten billion of human beings into perdition? What is the difference between one and a billion? Isn’t a decree of God anyway? Therefore, if you say that God is unjust in hardening whom He wants to harden, is He unjust in hardening also the antichrist then? Listen to me, it is just as the Scripture says, that is, God hardens whom He wants to harden and He does this in order to accomplish His impenetrable purposes that we who are dust and ashes don’t understand fully at the moment. But the day is coming when all the purposes of God will be manifest as well as all the reasons of all His decisions, and then all of us will have to recognize that even those incomprehensible and seeming ‘unjust’ hardenings had a definite purpose, that is, the purpose of glorifying His holy name. I know that if God, by hardening the hearts of most of the Jews in the days of Jesus, provided salvation for mankind, whose fruits we enjoy today, for sure any other hardening caused by God is for our good; even if we may not understand it now, for sure one day we will have to recognize that it was caused for our good and not for our ruin.
I have said so far why some don’t teach predestination. However, I want to tell you why we teach it. The reason is that it is a biblical doctrine and thus it is a sound doctrine which does good to those who accept it. The good that the brothers receive from it is this; they can see in the way God led them to Christ a wonderful manifestation of the power of God, of His wisdom and above all of His unconditional love towards them. So they can recognize that God loved them while they were still in darkness and at a certain point of their life He revealed Himself to them through Christ. It was God, therefore, who decided to make Himself known to them, without them believing (before their conversion) in His existence or knowing God’s plan for them. Furthermore, considering their past lifetime which they spent in serving iniquity and vanity, they will recognize how God in an incomprehensible way directed their steps even when they were serving sin with all their strength, so that in the place and at the time appointed by God they might accept Christ. Every believer has his own story, and he knows that had it not been for endless circumstances created and linked together by our great God, today he wouldn’t be what he is by the grace of God, that is, a believer, but he would be an unbeliever, and perhaps he would be in hell. Therefore all those who recognize that God loved them and guided them and delivered them from death even when they were sinners say with a loud voice ‘God is love!’, and ‘God reigns, and both deceived and deceiver are his’. A believer, therefore, knowing his election, will make all efforts to make his heavenly call sure and will perfect holiness in the fear of God, in order to honour Him who decided to call him to His glory. Such an excellent call must be honoured at any cost, even by dying for the sake of the Lord. Besides, a believer even during the worst moments of his life, knowing that God chose him before the foundation of the world, feels relieved and comforted greatly, because he knows that He who did not forsake him when he was still lost, will not forsake him now either, because he belongs to the Lord forever. It is evident, therefore, that the doctrine of predestination is a doctrine which edifies the church; the non-edifying doctrines are others. Perhaps, someone will say that the doctrine of predestination is ‘not very edifying’, thus I would like to ask these people: ‘How can a ‘not very edifying’ doctrine edify so much the brethren?