Predestination or Free Will?
by Dave Brown
Return to the Alleged Contradictions page
Return to Understanding page
Harmonizing Alleged Bible Contradictions Series ...
This alleged bible contradiction is between the following two passages:
For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained (to be) conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. [See also Eph. 1:5, 11, which is quite similar.]
… but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasure up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works: …
What? The same writer, in the same letter saying that God is going to judge us according to our works turning around and saying that certain individuals are predestined to be saved??? A red flag should go up; obviously, both concepts cannot be true.
These two passages would seem to be totally contradictory on the surface, so let’s go beneath the surface to see how they harmonize. Before exploring the context, let’s apply the principles of our general article on harmonization. Recall the general principles:
- Milk and meat. In this case the milk is a matter of common sense. Has God not held men responsibility for the decisions they made and their behavior throughout the bible? Do we have to go back to Adam and Eve? Did God predestine them to eat the fruit that He told them not to eat? Go through all of the Old Testament bible stories, and then read a few chapters at random from the New testament. It shouts out FREE WILL on almost every page. God has given us free will – many believe this is what is meant by being made “in God’s image” (Gen. 1:26, 27; 5:3; 9:6). Skip over on through to the last couple chapters of Revelation to see free will being taught there as well. Intuitively we know that we have free will, and the bible teaches that we will be judged by how we use our free will. This is almost something that we do not need the bible to know – you and I know we have choices and that we are free will agents.
- Consider figurative language. There is figurative language used in Rom. 8:29 – that of the first century Hebrew family and the privileges of the firstborn. That metaphor is projected onto those who are in God’s family, i.e., the saved. However, this does not change any of the meaning with regard to the concepts of predestination.
- Comprehensive approach. This was covered above when talking about the milk and the meat. At this point we might just ask ourselves, what is the preponderance of scriptural evidence in this regard. Does God predestine who will be saved and lost before any of us are even born? Or, does God allow us to exercise our free will and determine for ourselves whether we are going to accept the free gift of eternal life or not. Virtually every verse in the bible relates in some way to this subject, so the more you study and understand what is written, the greater will be your ability to harmonize these passages. We have called this a comprehensive approach to bible study. Those who wish to believe in total predestination make one or two verses their entire bible and ignore the rest of it.
Definition. Before we go on it is important that we understand what predestination is. Clearly, as will be shown below, some things are predestined, and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to prevent those things. Some have argued with us that if mankind has free will then there can be absolutely no restrictions on what any person can do. Not true, and quite illogical. Why would it be that if God restricts a man from doing one thing (e.g., destroying the world with nuclear weapons) that this would mean that this man has no free will at all? The logical flaw is one of hasty generalization. God restricts what we can do in a variety of ways (e.g., government, laws and police). However, that does not mean that we do not have considerable latitude on those things that are not so restricted.
This leads to a consideration of only two possible alternatives:
- God predetermined who would be lost and who would be saved, and for that reason we have absolutely no control over it, and what we decide and do, whether good or bad can have nothing to do with our salvation; OR
- God has given us both free will and His word so that we can determine what is good and what is evil. He expects us to believe what He has revealed, and in believing it to live accordingly (Romans 1:16-17) – effectively this is the meaning of having faith in Jesus Christ. We will be judged accordingly.
Let us evaluate the first alternative from a biblical point of view of God’s love and God’s justice. Some might reason that God is showing love to those that he predestines to be saved. But do they realize that if that is true, God is predestinating all the rest to go to hell? Irresistible grace necessarily implies irresistible damnation. The lost may try to serve God, but there is no hope for them whatsoever. Is this a just God? Is this a loving God? That is NOT the God of the bible, and there is nothing in the bible that would ever lead us to think that God would act in this way. This is not the God that I believe in, and I expect that you do not either.
So then how do we explain passages such as:
29 For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained (to be) conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren:
30 and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Recognize first that the “whom he” in verse 29 does not have to be referring to specific individuals. In fact, the second clause in verse 29 indicates that he is not talking about one but “many brethren.” This passage is talking about the totality of all those who would be saved. God foreknew before the creation of the world that there would be some who would accept his free gift of forgiveness of sins, and they would have eternal life with Him throughout eternity. He did not force anyone into or out of this group. But he knew that there would be some who would be saved and others who would be lost.
Hear some of the final words of the bible.
16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning star.
17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that hears, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely.
So when we sing the song “whosoever will may come” we are reflecting this basic truth. God knew that some would respond, but he did not force any particular person one way or the other … “he that will, let him take the water of life freely.” The voice of a loving and just God makes this offer quite clear.
As a final thought – did you ever wonder why those who believe in total predestination want to convince you and me that their view is right? Will my belief in predestination save me? According to their belief, can anything that I believe or do save me or have any effect on them. According to them, no – God has already predestined it, and there is nothing we or anyone can do about it one way or the other. So we re-ask the question … why are you so anxious that I should believe as you do, when it has to be your belief that my thoughts and actions have nothing to do with either my or your eternal destiny. This is an unfathomable paradox that cannot possibly be answered logically, but it is interesting to think about.
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?
Return to Understanding page