Friday DIVE – 27October2023

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A.  Several weeks ago, we were reminded of the time when Jesus said “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

B.  That prompted a bit of discussion that included questions about what it means to be “called” and what it means to be “chosen” and which led to the idea of “predestination”.  So, tonight we want to take a look at the subject of “predestination”.

C.  While the Bible may not have the word “predestination” in it, the concept of predestination is certainly in it … as evidenced by the following passages …

  • Romans 8:29  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
  • Romans 8:30  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
  • Ephesians 1:5  having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,
  • Ephesians 1:11  In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,

D.  Clearly, the concept of predestination is something that the Bible speaks to.

E.  So, why is it that predestination is not a topic that many people want to talk about?

  • I think it has to do with the implications of the idea of predestination, if it is not properly understood.
    • IF, for example, some believe that God chooses persons to be saved, THEN it follows, logically that He has determined that some will be lost (or, as some would put it, go to Hell).

F.  The problem with that understanding of predestination, however, (certainly for me) is that it puts God in a very bad light.  In my mind, it paints a picture of a god who is comfortable with the idea of some going to Hell for all eternity (including, possibly, some that He never called and none who asked to be born).

G.  So, is that the case?  Does the doctrine of predestination mean, simply, that God has predetermined that some (a selected few) will go to Heaven … and that some (the majority, it seems) will go to “Hell”?

H.  Tonight, in our Bible study, we’re going to explore (possibly discover) what GCI has written on the subject of predestination.  To that end, we’re going to examine an article by Mike Feazell, a theologian/Bible scholar at GCI.


by J. Michael Feazell

“I am wondering about predestination.  Are some people predestined to be saved and the rest predestined not to be saved?”

The doctrine of predestination is sometimes referred to as “election,” in the sense that God chooses people for his own purposes.  For example, Abraham was chosen, or elected, by God, as were his son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob.  Other chosen ones included Moses, Joshua, David, the prophets, and the Israelites were the “chosen people.”

The apostle Paul wrote about predestination, or election, in several passages.  In Romans 8:28-30 and Ephesians 1:3-6, he emphasized that election is “in Christ,” and that it is a matter of God’s own choice for God’s own purposes.  In Romans 9-11, Paul takes the topic of election further by exploring Israel’s rejection of her Messiah.  In the course of his argument in Romans 9-11, Paul asks the question,

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24)

This passage has been much debated over the centuries.  Taken out of context, it might sound as though some people are predestined to be saved and the rest are predestined for destructionBut that is not what the passage says, nor is it the argument Paul is making.  Paul argues in Romans 9 and 10 that Israel has failed to be found righteous before God because they sought after righteousness their own way instead of putting their trust in Christ (Romans 9:31-32;10:3).  This does not mean that God’s covenant promises have failed, however, because God is free to have mercy on whomever he chooses (Romans 9:15) and is using Israel’s unfaithfulness to draw the Gentiles to himself though faith (Romans 9:16, 22-26, 30; Romans 10:11-13).

Next, Paul asks, “Have they stumbled so as to fall?   By no means!  But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.  Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (Romans 11:11-12).  Yes, Paul argues, Israel has rejected Christ and therefore, except for a believing remnant, falls under the covenant judgments.

But that is not the end of the story, even for those who rejected Christ.  Paul declares in Romans 9:23, “And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.”  These people rejected Christ, yet God does not abandon themThe God who is forever faithful to his covenant love is so powerful that he can and does provide opportunity for unbelievers to become believers, even dead unbelievers (many of the unbelieving Israelites were dead, but God’s work of mercy involves all of them, see Romans 11:32).  We aren’t told how or when God does it, only that it is so.

Paul continues:

So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.  And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 9:25-27)

God works in his own ways and in his own times, but his work is aimed toward one final outcome, his desire for all people to be saved:

God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.  O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 9:32-33)

Even if God were to predestine some to destruction and some to salvation, it would be his right; pots don’t tell the potter how to make them.  But the good news, the gospel truth, is that even though God has every right to destroy us all, he instead takes our sins on himself in Christ and forgives us and saves us.  The “objects of God’s wrath” who were “prepared for destruction” in Romans 9:22 are unbelieving Israel, the same unbelieving Israel who will be “grafted back in” if they don’t persist in unbelief (Romans 11:23).  In other words, Romans 9:22 is not a proof that some people are predestined by God for damnation.  We need to read the context to see Paul’s full teaching on it.


Common ideas

Probably the best-known view on predestination is the one called “Calvinism.”  This view of predestination is named after the Reformation theologian, John Calvin.  It was constructed in this form by some of his followers at the Synod of Dort in 1618, and is found in most Reformed churches, which includes many Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Dutch and German Reformed Churches.  (However, many of the members of these churches are unaware of the doctrines that were so crucial in the formation of these denominations.)

Though there are variations, the Calvinist view is usually defined using the acronym TULIP. It looks like this:

Total depravity
Unconditional election
Limited atonement
Irresistible grace
Perseverance or preservation of the saints

Because TULIP has five points, its adherents are often called “five-point Calvinists.”  Let’s look at each point of the TULIP.

Total depravity” refers to the sinful condition of human beings.  It means that there is no part of the human condition that has not been touched and tainted by sin.  Therefore, all humans are unfit for the kingdom of God apart from Christ.

Unconditional election” means that through his free sovereignty God chose some people before the world was made to be saved by grace without any conditions being required or met for that choice.

Limited atonement” means that Jesus’ sacrifice is not effective for all humans.  It is effective only for those who were predestined to be saved, not for those who are predestined to be damned.

Irresistible grace” means that the grace God gives to the elect cannot be resisted.  God’s grace has saved them no matter how hard they might resist it.  The idea is that if a human could ultimately refuse God’s grace, then it would mean that God’s will could be thwarted by humans, which would undermine the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty.

Perseverance of the saints” means that those predestined to be saved will not only become believers, but they will remain under the grace of God and cannot ever permanently fall away, no matter what they do.


Practical terms

Let’s look at how TULIP plays out in practical terms: First, it is based on a certain concept of the sovereignty, or ruling power, of God.  In this concept, nothing can ever happen that God did not, before all time and creation, decide and design to happen.  God knew all along who would be saved and who would be damned because he is the one who decided it.  This is sometimes called “double predestination.”

However, some theologians who teach predestination of the saved do not take a stance on predestination of the damned.  They explain it along these lines: Since all humans are sinners and lost without God’s grace, those who are not elected to be saved simply receive the just results of their rebellion.  It is not that God specifically predestined, or elected, them to be damned, it is just that since God didn’t elect them to receive grace and be saved, they simply wind up getting what they deserve. This view is sometimes called “single predestination.”  Whether single or double, it boils down to this: God made lots of people; they are all sinners and can do nothing about that themselves; God extends grace and mercy to a select few and all the others are condemned.

In practical terms, it works like this: If you’re saved, you’re saved, but if you’re damned, you’re damned, and there is nothing you can do about it either way.  Further, there is no way of knowing for sure whether you are saved or damned.  However, you can have some evidence that you might be saved — good works.  So, it is a good idea to do lots of good works.  The more you do, the more likely you might be saved.  If you don’t have any good works, it is good evidence that you are probably damned (but even that is not certain).  So what this doctrine gives with one hand (assurance of salvation for the elect), it takes away with the other (the only evidence you have that you are saved is your changed life in terms of good works, and you can’t even be sure that proves anything).

This doctrine is bad news for most of humanity (the damned, the non-elect), and it is hard to call it good news even for the elect (they never know for certain in this life whether they are elect or damned)The real gospel, on the other hand, is good news.


Aristotelian influence

The TULIP viewpoint on predestination is based on a Ptolemaic/Aristotelian concept of the way in which God is sovereign.  That is, it rests on a marriage of Christianity with the earth-centered concept of the cosmos formulated by Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer, and on a concept of God that was formulated by the Greek philosopher AristotleIt does not rest on the concept of God we can read about in the Hebrew Bible.  To put it another way, it is rooted in Greek philosophy and not in God’s revelation of himself in the Bible.1

Aristotle taught that God is “the unmoved mover.”  God is not only the original source or fount of all things, he is static, unmoved and unmovable, because, Aristotle reasoned, in order to be the original source and fount of all things, God cannot be capable of being acted upon, or moved by anything else.  Further, God cannot change, since any change on his part would render him not God, because, after all, God causes change, not is changed. (In Aristotle’s view, God was an impersonal force.)

With this “unmoved mover” idea of God lying behind our reasoning, how are we to understand the way in which the Christian God is sovereign, that is, the way in which God controls the universe?  The TULIP idea is that if God is sovereign, he must be in complete control.  If something happened that was not ultimately caused by God, then God would not be in complete control.  Since God is in complete control, then everything must ultimately be caused by God.

Further, God is not only omnipotent, or all-powerful (sovereign), he is also omniscient – all-knowing.  Nothing can ever happen that God has not always known would happen.  

What do we have so far?

  • First, since God is sovereign, that is, completely in control of everything, nothing happens that God is not ultimately the cause of.
  • Second, since God knows everything that is going to happen, nothing can ever happen that 1) God doesn’t already know about, and 2) that God hasn’t caused to happen.

This means that God is “immutable” – he cannot change.  In this view, if God could change, it would mean he was not already perfect to begin with.



TULIP presents a picture of a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and immutable.  It appears to have safeguarded God’s sovereignty with an airtight formulation of what it means for God to be completely in charge of the universe.  But several dilemmas appear.  First, if the creation is not eternal, then God has not always been a creator – he had to become a creator.  And if God the Word became a human being, part of the creation, then there was a change within God.

A third dilemma is that there is evil in the world. How did that happen?  In this world in which God 1) is the cause of everything that happens, 2) knows everything that will happen from the beginning because he is the cause of it, and 3) cannot change because any change would mean he is not perfect, how did sin get in?

Did God want evil in his universe?  If he did, then he would be the ultimate cause of the evil.  On the other hand, if God did not want evil in his universe, but it is there anyway, then God must not be in complete control.  And the dilemma gets bigger. If nothing happens that God has not caused to happen (including catastrophes of nature, birth defects and acts of terror), then somehow God is also the cause of human sin.  Even more disturbing, if people are sinners because God made them that way, then on what basis can we say that God is righteous when he condemns them for doing what he caused them to do?  The idea of free will among humans becomes a matter of special definitions.

TULIP plays out in some startlingly non-biblical ways.  The Bible says God hates sin, yet this construct says he made some folks damned sinners on purpose.  The Bible says “for God so loved the world” (John 3:16) and that God wants “all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and Christ says “I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), yet the TULIP construct suggests a God who “loves” some (most, as it turns out) by damning them before they ever drew breath.  This does not fit our normal definitions of “love.”

The Bible, in contrast, presents God as interacting with humans in meaningful ways and even records some conversations with people in which God is said to learn something or change his mindThe concept of prayer suggests that God is sometimes willing to change what he does based on what we ask.

Where does five-point Calvinism leave us?  It leaves most of us predestined human wretches in hell, where God supposedly created us to go, and, according to this construct, he enjoys our eternal torment as a tribute to his supreme justice and righteousness.

The Bible draws the picture rather differently, thank God.  It might be a good idea for us to draw our picture from the Bible, instead of reading the Bible with our assumptions about God being colored by philosophies alien to the biblical world.  Let’s see what we can learn about how the Bible unpacks God’s sovereignty.





Three questions arise.

  1. Can God be sovereign and perfect, and also be able to change?
  2. Can God be in control of the universe, and also give humans freedom?
  3. Can God create a universe in which he is an active partner with humanity, without determining every choice humans must make?

The answer to all three questions, from a biblical perspective, is Yes, God can.


To be continued … in our next DIVE






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