Predestination And Freewill: “Is life predestined?”
I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we look at ourselves, where we are, what we’re doing, where geographically we’re now situated, what we believe, how we’ve travelled in life’s journey... and had the very strong sense that there is some higher hand in our lives. So many meetings, situations, coincidences- couldn’t have been mere chance. God was there, far over and above our own efforts, working through even our failings, and those of others, to do us good in our latter end.
And yet if we take this too far, we end up passive, thinking that what shall happen shall happen. That whatever we do, all the same, our fate and destiny will happen to us anyway. “Islam”- meaning ‘submission’- has taken this to its ultimate term. Grace, forgiveness, personal spirituality go out of the window, compared to the need to merely submit to the will of God. The Bible time and again teaches that personal behaviour is crucial; that we can alter our own destiny by faith and the works which are part of that faith- for faith without works is dead (James 2:17). There are conditions set for salvation- belief in the Gospel, response in baptism (Mk. 16:16). We must consciously decide for God and His grace as it is in Jesus; for there is no other Name apart from His in which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). We are His friends if we keep His commandments (Jn. 15:14).
And yet, again, if we go too far along this track of thinking, we end up with salvation being by works, by steel willed self control, rather than God’s grace to us who are fallen sinners. And without doubt the Bible teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). And not all men “have faith” (2 Thess. 3:2). Some just ‘don’t get it’. And the fact we do (after a fashion) isn’t due to our intellectual prowess nor any inherent righteousness in us that isn’t in the guy next to us.
To bring together these two strands- of salvation by pure grace, and yet the need for conscious human response to God’s grace- is perhaps impossible. We can find no trite form of words nor smart ‘quick explanation’ in a Question Box which encases these two profound realities. But Paul does come to our help in Romans when he starts writing about predestination. But of course he doesn’t just pull down a new leaf on his scroll and start writing about these things out of context with the rest of Romans. He has been arguing throughout that salvation is by grace and not of works; and he finds himself up against the Jewish mindset that ‘We were chosen, others weren’t’. And so he speaks of predestination in the context of demonstrating that salvation is indeed by grace and not works. If it were by works alone, then there would be no need for any concept of calling [“election”] nor predestination. But the fact that God does operate such concepts- Jacob was chosen rather than Esau before the twins were even born (Rom. 9:13,14)- is in fact a proof of His grace. Paul had begun Romans, as he did so many of his letters, by reminding his readers that both they and he had been “called” (Rom. 1:1,7). We cannot deny that we have been “called”. For the call is in the Gospel. If you hear the Gospel, you are called. If I call out to a man across the street “Hey you, come over here and share my sandwiches!”, he cannot walk on by thinking that I didn’t call him to eat my sandwiches. He heard. He was called.
We have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom. We are called. Therefore we were predestinated to be in God’s purpose (Rom. 8:30; 9:24). Now we have freewill, of course, and can fight against God’s will to save us, or kid ourselves that we never heard. But His will is to save us. Exactly why He called you and not someone else is the mystery of grace. It wasn’t because you were better. It was because this was the method God used to articulate His grace. And the end product of this is humility and zealous response on our part. There is a fatal fascination with the question of why some weren’t called. But who are we as the clay to argue with the potter’s grace? John’s Gospel closes by addressing this question. Peter was following Jesus, walking behind Him, in response to Jesus’ command to follow Him. But John was also following Jesus, and Peter turned around, turned back from following Jesus [just as he lost his focus on Jesus when he was walking on the water towards Jesus]... to notice John was also following. “Peter therefore seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (Jn. 21:19-23). The fate of others, the nature of their following or not of Jesus, is not [in this sense] directly our concern; our focus must be upon single-mindedly following Jesus as we by grace have been called to do. For we can be assured from the whole Biblical record that “the judge of all the earth shall do right” (Gen. 18:25); we should be relieved that actually the ultimate judgment of earths’ billions is actually not in our hands at all.