This past Sunday I preached from Ephesians 1:5-6 on how God “predestined us for adoption.” (Watch/Listen here) I’ve had a number of very kind and important conversations with people who are processing the implications and asking questions.
One recurring theme from some questioners is the assumption that because I’m affirming what Paul is teaching about predestination, I’m necessarily denying other important biblical teaching.
We actually make these kinds of assumptions in life all the time:
I think the church needs to focus on reaching young men.
So you don’t care about women?
I didn’t say that.
Our society has a long way to go to improve racial injustice.
So you don’t support the police?
I didn’t say that.
I can’t in good conscience support Donald Trump / Hillary Clinton.
So you love Hillary Clinton / Donald Trump?
I didn’t say that.
I think the New England Patriots are cheating scoundrels.
So you want the Eagles to win the Super Bowl?
Of course. — OK, sometimes these assumptions are correct.
Affirming that God predestined his people for adoption before the foundation of the world does not deny these truths:
1. We make real choices and are accountable for them.
Sometimes people think affirming predestination is also affirming a kind of robotic fatalism. But it doesn’t. The Scriptures insist that we make real choices:
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15, ESV)
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19, ESV)
The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak (Matthew 12:35–36, ESV)
But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed! (Luke 22:21–22, ESV)
2. We should pray for and share the gospel with those who don’t yet love Jesus.
The Scriptures repeatedly insist that we should pray for God to work among unbelievers and that we should boldly share the gospel with them, as it is the very means by which they will come to faith.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1, ESV)
And [Jesus] said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2, ESV)
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:13–15, ESV)
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2–4, ESV)
3. God truly loves humanity.
We must never say that God only loves some people, because the Scriptures emphatically declare that God loves all humanity.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3–4, ESV)
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23, ESV)
4. We can have real hope that our loved ones can be saved.
One dangerous assumption some people make when they first hear about predestination is that if somebody hasn’t yet embraced Jesus then that person must not be chosen. NO!
The apostle Paul is a prime example. In Galatians 2, he shares his story and describes how the Christians in Judea were saying, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (Galatians 1:23, ESV). At one point, he surely seemed lost. Nobody would have predicted that he’d become a Christian. But, in God’s timing, Paul became a Christian.
Most Christians did not become Christians the very first time they heard the gospel. For most of us, it takes years and many times of hearing gospel truth before our eyes are opened. So we must not dismiss those who are currently rejecting Jesus, but must pray and share and love with the hope that God will open their hearts like he did with Lydia in Acts 13:48. If anything, the doctrine of predestination can give us even more hope that those who are far from God can be saved as he is able to soften the hardest of hearts.
But wait… this doesn’t make logical sense!
Some will say these things don’t make logical sense.
How can God be sovereign over salvation, choosing who he will graciously save while at the same time saying that our choices are real and we’ll be held accountable?
How can God have already made a choice and still talk like our prayers make a difference?
How can God choose only some for adoption but still say he loves the entire world?
Here’s my answer: We must affirm what the Scriptures say, even if we can’t fully understand or articulate it.
The Bible is full of things that don’t make perfect logical sense. God as Trinity is a wonderful example. I can’t explain very well how there is one God who eternally exists as three persons. But if I deny it, I’m a heretic.
Our demand for everything to make logical sense is imposing our value of the West’s tradition of Greek logic on the biblical text. Surely we don’t think that if we can’t logically understand something it can’t be true?
The doctrine of predestination invites a great deal of tension and faith. We must learn to live in the tension.
As one scholar says, “Try to explain election and you may lose your mind. But try to explain it away and you may lose your soul!”
May we keep wrestling through these truths together, held fast by our love for Jesus and desire to honor his word!
The upcoming class, Introduction to Reformed Theology, will explore these questions in depth and allow participants time and space to wrestle through the Scriptures together.