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What predestination is really about

Now it's time to talk about what predestination is, not just what it isn't. But I'll start with the isn't on my way to the is.

One problem with Calvinsim is that its supporters refer to a few biblical passages that mention predestination – especially Rom. 8 and Eph. 1 – and take them out of context. They ignore the fact that the Bible never really explains what it is, and that Paul’s purposes in those contexts are not to expound a new doctrine of predestination, but he mentions it to make more important points in these passages. In Romans, he mentions it to make a point that salvation is entirely an act of God, to which none of us contribute anything or earn anything. In Ephesians, he mentions it to emphasize God’s purpose in saving us. So Scripture never really explains it, because predestination itself is not the main point, but God's purposes and sovereignty in salvation. Thus, it is misguided to build major theological constructs, make a big deal over it, and create controversies and debates over such a minor, technical point. Those who lose sight of the context of these passages and the more important points that St. Paul is making.

The general, standard view among the majority of evangelical scholars (and Christians in general who ever bother to worry about this) is that God chooses to save people based on his foreknowledge – the fact that he knows that they/we would believe at some point if given a chance to do so. He knows how people will respond, and chooses us to save those whom he knows would respond in faith3. Furthermore, he chooses in a technical sense of saving us and making us his children, and this is all for specific purposes. We are all saved for a purpose, which is ultimately to serve and glorify him, as Eph. 1 explains. Incidentally, this choosing took place sometime in eternity past, in conjunction with God’s planning to create this world, knowing what would happen, and planning to send Christ to die for us. God knew it all and planned it all long ago, if not always.

So how do we derive this more balanced concept predestination from the from the biblical text? We consider what 'foreknow' and 'elect' and such in the context (see previous posts on this). The context has to do with how salvation is wholly from God, to which we contribute nothing. It also has to do with God's purposes in salvation. What are his purposes? So we can know him and glorify him. It's all about him, not us; it's for his honor and glory, not ours; it's for our benefit, but more importantly, for him. Thus, predestination has to do with why he chose us, not how he chose us. Based on his foreknowledge that we would respond, he chose us for his specific purposes. He didn't just save us just for the purpose of saving us and that's that; so we could be free and continue living for ourselves, but to live for him.

So here’s my simple, neutral, no-nonsense definition of the term:

Predestination’ is a technical term meaning ‘(for God) to choose for a specific purpose’, that is, to choose to save certain people for particular reasons. This refers to God’s choosing us to be saved for the purpose of being his children, enjoying a relationship with him, glorifying him, and bringing everything under his will. This is based on his love for us, and his foreknowledge that we would respond in faith to the gospel, given a chance to do so.

'Elect' is a technical term for God's chosen people, all the predestined ones, who are saved and will be saved, for his purposes, for his honor and glory. 'Predestination' refers more to an individual's calling and salvation, while 'elect' focuses more, I think, on God's people as a whole, and his more general purposes in saving us, for us as a body to glorify and to know him.

So ‘elect’ does not refer to Calvinistic predestination; in the context of these passages and Old Testament history, it simply means “to choose out of, to select”. It refers to how God chose us from out of the world, to be his people – to be different from the world and set apart for God. This is just like how the Old Testament talks about the Israelites as God’s chosen people. From here on, we can use the terms ‘predestination’ and ‘elect’ in a non-controversial, sensible, and biblical sense.

The main implication then is practical: I am not my own; I belong to him. I am saved for his name's sake, for the sake of his honor and glory, to serve him, to fulfill his specific plan, will, and calling for my life. That is wonderful, and really practical.

Understanding why we were saved is important, as so many believers focus on themselves when they talk about salvation, as salvation primarily for their sake alone, in a self-focused manner rather than a God-centered manner. And sadly, they live their Christian lives accordingly, never getting beyond a superficial and somewhat self-focused form of spirituality and thinking. We must live our lives submitted to the lordship of Christ, realizing we were bought with a price and belong to him. Our salvation and everything we do is for God's purposes, his will, his honor and glory. As a result, we should stand in fear and awe of God - his power in salvation, his sovereignty in our lives and salvation, how he uses us meager beings in his grand scheme of things, the purposes for which he has called us - standing in awe and reverence before him, with our jaws dropping to the ground, and our souls enraptured by his beauty and glory.


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