Predestination is the doctrine that the sovereignty of God determines the eternal destiny of all things, including the salvation of souls. It is a sometimes controversial doctrine, and there are many different interpretations of it. It is most commonly associated with the writings of St.Paul, Augustine, John Calvin, and Martin Luther.
Some people believe that predestination means that God has chosen an elect people to be saved, giving them the gift of faith in Christ and His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, while passing over others, leaving them in their sin and unbelief. Others believe that predestination means that God has chosen to save all people, but that some people will reject his salvation. Still others believe that predestination means that God has chosen to save some people, but that he will not force them to accept his salvation.
The doctrine of predestination is based on the Bible, which teaches that God is sovereign and just, and that he has a plan for the universe. The Bible also teaches that God is loving and merciful, and that he wants all people to be saved. How then, can God allow some people to perish? To answer that question, it’s necessary to understand the concept – and consequences – of sin.
A Protestant principle of Bible interpretation, or hermeneutics, is that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” This means that verses are not to be interpreted in isolation, but within the context of the whole Bible. What the Bible teaches, in both the Old Testament and New, is that we are born sinful, a result of the fall into sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden. This is called the doctrine of Original Sin. To make matters worse, we increase our guilt by sinning in thought and deed every day. In fact, the Bible says we are ethically “dead in our trespasses and sin.” Since all have sinned, all are guilty and condemned to eternal punishment. The story doesn’t end there, however, but unfolds into the glorious story of redemption, made possible when God’s Son offered His own life on the cross to redeem us from the guilt and power of sin, if only we believe.
So where does predestination fit into this story? The Bible says that, even though all have sinned, God has graciously given the gift of faith in Christ to His chosen people, enabling them to repent of their sins and be forgiven. In the fourth chapter of Ephesians, St. Paul explains this doctrine:
“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 the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will….”
Ephesians 1:3-5 NKJV
The doctrine of predestination can be a difficult doctrine to understand, and it can be either a source of comfort or anxiety, depending on how it is interpreted. It is important to remember that the doctrine of predestination is not the only doctrine in the Bible, and that it is also not the most important doctrine. The most important doctrine is the doctrine of salvation, which teaches that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save His people from their sins.
The biblical doctrine of predestination is most commonly associated today with Reformed and Presbyterian churches. If you would like to explore how the sovereignty of God and predestination can be a comfort to the believer, a good introductory book is The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, by Loraine Boettner. A free audio version is available here.