Let’s tackle one of the hardest and most fiercely debated topics of Christian theology, shall we?
If you love delving into this type of thing or want to cover it in a group Bible study or Sunday school class, you can also download a free, printable Bible study version below. The download is written for use with youth or adult groups.
What is predestination?
The doctrine that every event is willed by God. It can lead to the belief that whether someone is saved by the grace of Christ or not is a predestined event. This is sometimes called “election,” and some Christians believe that certain people were chosen or elected by God and some were not.
Some Bible verses that talk about God choosing people include:
What is free will?
The doctrine that people have the God-given ability to make decisions free of His will for us.
The Bible also contains verses and stories that could be considered to illustrate free will:
Predestination versus free will
It’s not hard to spot the friction between these two doctrines. If God has known us and chosen us since the beginning of time, can we really have free will? And if we have free will, how is everything that happens in our lives in keeping with God’s plan for his people?
Theologians, scholars, and others have debated this for centuries. It’s divided the church, created various denominations and sects, and has the power to pit Christian against Christian.
But when it comes down to the nitty gritty, each person must make their own choices or peace with this debate. Do you personally want to take a stand on either side? Can you reconcile these beliefs for yourself? Does it even matter to your faith in the long run? All personal choices.
To get you started thinking about it, here are some thoughts from various theologians and some Bible verses that all lean toward a belief that God chose us and we have to choose him.
C.S. Lewis and a timeless God
C.S. Lewis believed that God existed outside of time. He said:
Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to him at 10:30 tonight, he need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call 10:30.C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Lewis theorized that God was always in the present. Our 10:30 tonight, the moment when Jesus was on the cross, your five days from now—all of those moments exist in the present for God and have for eternity. Because God is timeless and out of time, he is not subject to the rules of time and physics that we are while we live in this world.
It’s a complex philosophical concept, but Lewis uses the illustration of an author writing a book to give an idea of what he meant.
If Bill is writing a book, he may have a character called Mary. Bill can spend all the time in the world considering Mary’s timeline. He might spend four hours writing a single scene in which Mary picks up a box and looks inside it. But that moment is only seconds for Mary.
Bill also can consider the entire timeline of the book, which is greater than Mary and her single timeline.
Lewis notes that this is not a perfect illustration, because Bill the author exists outside of the timeline of his book. He exists in his own timeline. Lewis believes that God does not exist in some separate “God timeline,” because God is completely outside of time.
The metaphor does help explain Lewis’s belief that God can know something is going to happen before it does without necessarily deciding at some point in the past that it will happen. This is because God doesn’t have a past and a future according to Lewis. He always is in a timeless present.
A Greek word for election
Ephesians 1:4 is one of the reasons many people believe in predestination when it comes to salvation. The verse says:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.Ephesians 1:4, NIV
The original writing was in Greek, and the word for “chose” is “exelexato”.
Forms of this word are used in other places in the New Testament. Here’s a place from the Gospel of John where Jesus himself used the word:
Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?John 6:70, NIV
Jesus was talking to the 12 disciples, but he knew Judas was about to betray him. In the context of this verse, it seems like Jesus chose 12 people, but one did not choose him back. Jesus knew Judas would betray him, but he still chose him.
Applying that concept to the bigger picture, is it possible that God chose all people, but that all people did not choose him back?
God wants everyone to be saved
This is what 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says:
This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.1 Timothy 2:3-4, NIV
Charles Ellicott said this verse doesn’t say God’s will is to save everyone. If that was the case, said Ellicott, everyone would be saved. But it might also mean that free will didn’t exist.
Instead, according to Ellicott, God desires for everyone to be saved and made it possible through Jesus’s sacrifice. But it doesn’t mean everyone will be saved, because the method God chooses requires people to do some choosing too. Or, as Ellicott says:
Redemption is universal, yet conditional—all may be saved, yet all will not be saved, because all will not conform to God’s appointed condition.
What do you think?
I personally side with Lewis and Ellicott on this one. But Lewis also said that this was not an enormous matter of consequence when it all came down to it. He literally said in one of his writings that we should just leave it alone. I’m with him there too, insofar as this is not a hill of faith I’m going to die on. But I do love to consider the theology of it all.
Do you believe in predestined salvation or complete free will when it comes to being saved? What are your thoughts on some of these verses and illustrations?