During a recent Bible reading and teaching meeting in which the subject of God’s sovereignty and predestination came up, someone asked a question that might be paraphrased this way: Are believers predestinated to be a member in a particular fellowship of Christians? It was a sincere and well-intentioned question, and thankfully there were others present who were able to clear up the misconception that gave rise to the question.
Scriptural predestination is neither fatalism nor determinism, both of which are hyperbolic “straw man” concepts set up by some teachers in order to detract from the real truth of the complementary doctrines of election and predestination. The principle of the flesh in man (including fleshly religion) does not care to receive or attain to anything that it has not worked for and achieved by its own effort, and therefore doubts or downplays God’s sovereign electing and predestinating grace.
The Bible gives us the truth of predestination in two passages. “[God] has chosen us in [Christ] before the world’s foundation . . . having marked us out beforehand (predestinated) for adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5 Darby translation). “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” (Romans 8:29). The blessed truth is that God marks us out beforehand as individuals for the dignified position of sonship that He brings us into. The consummation of our adoption as sons of God will occur when our bodies are redeemed and we are fully conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:23, 24, 29), but we have already been given a “spirit of adoption”. We who are Christ’s own can actually know even now in our spirits¹ that we will certainly experience that final aspect of our adoption to sonship, which is the redemption of our bodies. A destination is at the end of either a journey or a process, and we have simply been marked out for that “destination” of sonship beforehand, so that we can already live in the conscious enjoyment of it!
But what about the intermediate steps of the journey, of the pathway of faith? Are those ever spoken of in the word of God as being determined beforehand?
There is one sovereign act that the Spirit of God does in us by the Word² of God, according to His own will, and in which neither our will nor inclinations had a part. It is new birth, or quickening (John 1:13; 3:1-12; James 1:18). Before that point, we operated entirely according to our own will and desires, according to the spirit of the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-3). When once we who were spiritually dead sinners are born again by His sovereign choice and will, God continues His work in us, using whatever internal promptings or external circumstances He chooses in order to facilitate our desiring and then doing His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 3:10). Some might call this joint work “synergism”.
The work of the Spirit of God in quickening a soul by the Word² is a perfect work, in that an incorruptible, sinless life or nature is imparted to one who was once only a willful sinner (I John 3:9; I Peter 1:23, 25). But after that point in a new-born soul’s life here on earth, the level of conformity to Christ and the progress of growth in the soul are dependent upon the believer’s cooperation with the Spirit, upon obedience to Him. God now has the new nature to work with, but the extent to which the believer allows the flesh (the old nature) to act determines the spiritual progress he makes, as well as the amount of fruit he or she bears in this life while waiting for the Lord Jesus to call believers home. Only then will perfect conformity to Him be attained.³
When we who are Christ’s at last realize that glorious destiny, there will be rewards given out for faithfulness, including what the scriptures call “crowns”.* The Bible does not teach the deterministic or fatalistic notion that every deed done over the whole course of our lives was predestinated to occur just the way it did. However, the very fact that we will even be there with Christ in glory to receive any reward is solely because of God’s unilateral, sovereign work in quickening our souls so that faith and fruit for Him can result. Our Father so much desires that His children bear fruit for Himself as a result of the atoning sufferings of His Son on the cross of Calvary (Isaiah 53:11-12), that His work in our souls by grace, and His control of our circumstances according to His mercy, will continue until the day of Christ. In that day of the glory of the Lord Jesus, and the “revelation of the sons of God,” I believe that you and I will look back with wonder, and praise Him alone for His sovereign grace in shepherding us all our lives long until that day.º
¹ His Spirit bears witness with our spirit as to our place in God’s family. (Romans 8:16)
² Logos in Greek
³ II Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 2:10; 4:13, 30; I John 3:2-3
* Matt. 25:23; II Cor. 5:10; II Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; I Pet. 5:4; II Pet. 1:10-11; Rev. 3:11; 4:10
º Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28; Genesis 48:15 (Darby translation)