Are We Predestined to Believe?

Are we predestined to believe? Has God selected who will come to faith and who will not? Do we not have a choice in the matter? That’s the issue that I’d like to address in today’s blog.

If you’ve been following along on my blog lately, then you know that I’ve been dealing with issues related to Calvinism, which I had held to for almost twenty years. As I began to look at the Bible without a Calvinist take on it, passages that I had read one way for a long time, suddenly no longer seemed to say the things I thought they had once said. I was forced then to rethink what I thought had been true. One of the things that I had to rethink was the concept of predestination. As a Calvinist, I had believed with John Calvin that before the foundation of creation, God foreordained who would and who would not come to saving faith. This process is known as the Election of God. God elected, or predestined, those whom he foreknew to be saved. Those that didn’t make this cut were predestined to be damned. Now Calvinism insists that this predestination isn’t based on anything that we were ever going to do. In other words, God didn’t look down the corridors of time and see which one of us would do good things and then pick us based on that. Rather, he elected us based on His own hidden counsel – whatever pleased Him.

One of the chief passages from which Calvinists get this doctrine is found in Ephesians chapter 1, verses 3 through 6, which reads, “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, 4 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, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

You’ll note that the word predestined appears in that passage. The word is found four times in all of the Bible, twice here in Ephesians 1, and twice in Romans chapter 8.

Now when I was a Calvinist I kind of had this notion that only a Calvinist would talk about predestination, as if they’re the only ones who weren’t afraid to use that word. And, maybe I was right; perhaps some non-Calvinists do shy away from the word predestination. However, I’m not afraid to talk about it, since as a non-Calvinist I certainly do believe in predestination. Today I’m going to share with you what I believe that the word implies, and why as a Calvinists I had it wrong.

Paul wrote in Ephesians that God has predestined “us.” The identity of “us” is very important. Obviously “us” is a plural word, it’s more than one. Calvinists believe that the “us” is a reference to a group of individuals, and that each individual was predestined by God to be in that group of “us.” So, when Paul says that God predestined “us” to be in Christ, Calvinists believe that this is a reference to whomever God has picked. But, I don’t believe that’s the case.

In verse 4 which reads, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…” Note that Paul didn’t say that “He chose us to be in Him.” If he did, then I’d have to side with the Calvinist. But he didn’t say that. It says that He chose us in Him. The “us” here refers to a group, but to what group is Paul referring?

Well, first, it should be noted that God has chosen Christ. In the opening chapter of Hebrews the author writes, “[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things…”(2)

So, Christ is God’s appointed, or chosen one. Who then are the “us” in Ephesians? Well, who is in Christ but, the church? He’s the head, and His body is the Church. You can’t choose the head without choosing the body. And so, because Christ has been chosen, we who are in Christ are also chosen in Him. And that’s the point that I believe Paul is trying to make in Ephesians 1. He’s not saying that God has predestined some to believe, rather, I think he’s saying that any of those who are in Christ He has predestined to be holy and blameless.

Let me share an illustration with you. It’s not mine. Actually, the first time I had ever heard this illustration it came from Steve Greg of the Narrow Path. I had mentioned him in an earlier video. Steve’s teaching was instrumental in bringing me out of Calvinism.  And he used an illustration, and since then I’ve heard something similar being used by others and I think it’s a really good one.

Imagine the President of the United States is coming to your hometown to give a speech or something. The White House contacts your church and asks your music director if he or she would have your church choir sing at the speech ceremony. Now let’s say that you really dig the President and so you want to be able to stand on the platform with the President and just belt it out. But you don’t belong to the choir. And, there’s some people in the choir who don’t like the President and they decide they just aren’t singing for him. So, they quit the choir, but you join the choir. Now the White House doesn’t care who’s in the choir, they just want your church’s choir at the ceremony. And let’s say that there are several other local church choirs in your town, and they get jealous because they weren’t ask to sing. But your choir director calls them and says, “hey, we don’t have enough singers, so why don’t you come join our choir?” Because, again, the White House doesn’t care whose singing, they just want your choir.

You see, in this illustration, the chosen – or the elect – is your church choir – it’s a group. The actual individual members who make up the choir weren’t picked by the White House, just the choir itself. You could say that your church choir was predestined to sing.

I believe this is a good illustration of God’s election and of predestination. Just like the White House has chosen your church’s choir, so God has elected the Church. And just like the White House didn’t chose who gets to be in the choir, so God does not predestine who is to be in or out of the church. It’s the choir that is predestined to sing, not the individuals.

Where does this come from? Well, I believe we can see this model in the Old Testament, as we look at God’s chosen people, the Jews. Abraham was chosen by God among the other perhaps millions of people on the earth to fulfill a destiny. Of the sons of Abraham, and he ended up having about eight of them, God chose one, and that was Isaac. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau, and God chose Jacob. Eventually, the children of Jacob – or Israel as he would later be called, became the nation of Israel. They were God’s chosen people. He chose this group to bring forth the Messiah. And it’s this group with whom God had made a covenant.

Now, did you know that if you were born a Jew that you always had the option of leaving Judaism? You could decide not to keep the covenant. Many Jews, especially after the Babylonian conquest, decided not to come back to their homeland. Instead, they chose to remain behind in Babylon and just be sort of assimilated into their new land and country. They just kind of disappeared and we never heard from them again. They turned in their Judaism and quit the covenant. And, did you know that if you weren’t born Jewish that you could become one of God’s chosen? This point is often missed by the Calvinist. The Old Testament law allowed for a Gentile to become circumcised and enter into the covenant with God. That Gentile would then become one of God’s chosen. They would be counted Jewish. Their individual choice allowed them to be one of God’s chosen people; to join His group. God never restricted anyone from leaving Israel OR anyone from joining Israel. Anyone could come sing in that choir. Do you get where I’m going with this?

Before the foundation of the world, God chose to pick the Church to be in Christ and to be ultimately glorified with Him. He didn’t predestine any other group of people, just the Church. And, just like He didn’t pick which individuals would remain part of the Jewish nation, He didn’t pick the individuals who would become part of the Church. He chose the group, not the individuals. That’s why Paul said, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,” that’s why he said, “having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.” The “us” is clearly a group. It’s the group that God had picked.

When I was a Calvinist, I had it wrong. I believed that God handpicked people to put them in the choir. He didn’t. He picked the choir.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 35 years.




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