PREDESTINATION OR FREEWILL
(CALVINISM VERSUS ARMINIANISM)
Apostle Paul made a statement in his letter to the Roman Christians which has created controversy within the Christian community for centuries. Paul wrote:
Romans 8:29-30: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
The Greek word translated predestinate in the New Testament is proorizo. Its basic meaning is “to decide upon before hand” (See A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature by Arndt, Gingrich and Bauer). What is it that God has decided upon before hand?
Let’s take a look at just the first part of Paul’s statement where he says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” It is this statement that has historically created controversy within Christianity. It has led to two primary ways of looking at the issue of predestination. Both these ways were articulated during the Reformation of the sixteenth century and have continued to be foundational to present day sectarian theology. One way involves the teaching of John Calvin while the other way involves the teaching of Jacobus Arminius. Let’s begin by looking the teaching of John Calvin on the issue of predestination.
John Calvin was born in 1509 and died in 1564. Calvin taught that some are predestined by God to receive salvation and others are predestined to condemnation. Calvin taught that those who God, in His sovereignty, chose to be saved will be saved and they have no choice in the matter. They cannot resist God’s grace. Those not chosen for salvation cannot be saved even if they wanted to. This teaching pictures God as foreordaining some to salvation and the rest of humanity as having no opportunity to be saved. Today this teaching is found in what is called "Covenant" or "Reformed" theology. It is taught in Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Dutch and German reformed churches, some Baptist groups and a variety of other Christian domination's.
Basically, this theology teaches that man is so totally depraved that he is unable to in any way participate in the granting of salvation. Man does not have the capacity to choose God. This teaching assumes that free will plays no part in man coming to Christ and receiving salvation. The Calvinist teaches that God, in exercising His sovereignty, has predestined certain individuals to salvation and other individuals to condemnation before the world began. Paul statement to the Ephesian Church is often cited.
Ephesians 1: 4-5: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.
Under Calvinism, the sacrifice of Christ was not meant to apply to everyone. It only applies to those predestined to be saved. This teaching has God extending grace only to those He has chosen before creation of the world. Those who are being saved have absolutely nothing to do with their receiving salvation. God choose to save them, caused them to believe and willed that they receive salvation. Those chosen for salvation are unconditionally and irrevocably saved.
Calvinism can be summarized with the acronym TULIP. T stands for Total Depravity. Man is seen as dead in trespasses and sins as a condition of being born human. Jeremiah 17:9 is often quoted where it is recorded that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (NIV). Man is seen as in a state of total depravity as a result of being born with a sinful nature.
The U in tulip stands for Unconditional Election. Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate response to God. In His sovereignty, God elects certain people to respond to Him and receive salvation. This election is unconditional. Nothing man can do has any bearing on this election. Pail’s statement to the Ephesians is often cited.
Ephesians 1:11: In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.
The L in tulip stands for Limited Atonement. Because God determined that certain ones should be saved as a result of God’s unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All those God has elected and for whom Christ died, will be saved.
The I in tulip stands for Irresistible Grace. Those elected by God and for whom Christ died, will be drawn to God. They have no choice. For them God’s grace is irresistible. God calls those predestined to salvation and those called have no choice but to respond. Christ’s statement recorded in John 10 is used to support this position.
John 10:1: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
Finally, the P in tulip stands for Perseverance of the Saints. Those God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith. They will never turn their back on God because God won’t allow it. God has willed that they be saved. None whom God has elected will be lost. They are eternally secure.
John 10:27-29: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.
Calvinism stresses the sovereignty of God and teaches that God’s sovereignty requires He pull all the strings relative to mans salvation. While acknowledging mans ability to make choices, such ability does not operate relative to salvation because man is to depraved to seek God.
This view states that God decided before all time that he would create some people for salvation and some people for damnation. In other words, since nothing happens that God did not personally decide and design to happen, God not only knew all along who would be saved and who would be lost, he is the one who decided it. In some circles this view is called "double predestination." The saved are predestined to be saved and the lost are predestined to be lost.
Some theologians who teach predestination of the saved do not take a stance on predestination of the lost. They teach that since all humans are sinners and lost without God’s grace, those who are not elected to be saved simply receive the just reward 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."
One may ask how, under this perspective, one ever knows if one is saved or lost. Calvinists will say your good works are a sign that you are saved. So do lots of good works. The more you do, the more likely you might be in the saved group. But you can’t know for sure because it is all in God’s sovereign hand and your good works may not be a sign of your being in the saved group. Under this system you can’t be sure of eternal life.
The theological system initiated by John Calvin in the sixteenth century was challenged by a man named Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609. Arminius was born slightly before John Calvin died and was actually taught by Calvin's son-in-law. Arminius was a Calvinist until one day he was forced to defend his beliefs and found that he could not totally square Calvinism with the Scriptures. This caused Arminius to modify his Calvinistic perspective and proceed in a different direction. The teachings of Arminius became known as Arminianism and his basic teachings are embraced by many Christian fellowships to this very day.
He presented the view that God was indeed sovereign but in his sovereignty He has given man the ability to exercise free will in choosing to accept or not accept the grace of God as manifested in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Arminius rejected the idea that God predestined who will be saved or lost and he rejected the idea that the sacrifice of Christ is limited to only those predestined to be saved. He taught that God indeed has foreknowledge of who will be saved or lost but does not predestine such outcome. Because it is believed God is omniscient (all knowing), He knows how everyone will choose but He doesn’t force such choice. Arminius insisted that Christ died for all men and saves all who receive Him by faith. Paul’s statement to Timothy is often quoted to support the Arminian position.
1 Timothy 2: 3-6: This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men--the testimony given in its proper time.
Being a proponent of free will, Arminius also believed man can lose his salvation if at some point in his life he should turn his back on God. Under Arminianism, one can know that one is saved simply by never turning ones back on God. Under Calvinism one can only hope they are in the predestined group. Because of the Arminian emphasis on mans ability to choose or reject God’s grace, some Arminians place a great deal of emphasis on works as a vital dynamic in God granting salvation and appear to suggest that salvation is a matter of grace and works.
EVALUATING THE TWO POSITIONS:
Both of these positions have been controversial for hundreds of years and remain so to this very day. Both these positions see Paul’s statements about foreknowledge and predestination from different perspectives. What is Paul talking about in these statements to the Roman Christians and in similar statements to the Ephesian Christians? Is Paul reflecting a Calvinistic, or an Arminian perspective?
First of all, nowhere does Paul or any other Scriptural writer say that God predestined some to be lost. The Calvinistic assumption appears to be that when Paul speaks of predestination he is saying God has predestined some to be saved and since it is assumed not everyone is saved He must have predestined others to be lost. Many Scriptures fly in the face of this conclusion. I already quoted Paul’s statement to Timothy where he shows God wants all men to be saved. Let’s look at what Apostles John and Peter wrote.
1 John 2:2: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Scriptures such as these make it quite clear that the sacrifice of Christ is not a limited atonement as Calvinists teach but was meant to be available to everyone. So what is Paul talking about when he speaks of foreknowing and predestination?
Calvinists assume that the sovereignty of God requires that God is responsible for everything that happens in the universe. Nothing can happen unless God wills it. Being saved or lost is therefore seen as the exercise of Gods sovereignty. This perspective of God’s sovereignty does not square with Scripture. Scripture teaches that God hates sin and it is against His will for us to sin. But we do sin. God doesn’t prevent us from sinning. He has given us the ability to resist His will and choose to sin. Even though He allows us to behave contrary to His will and sin, in His love and mercy He has provide a way for us to avoid the eternal consequences of sin. But even here He doesn’t force us to accept that way. We do have the ability to reject God’s grace.
While it is true that nothing can happen outside of God's will and therefore it is God's will that we can sin, this doesn't mean it is God's will that we do sin. There is a great difference between what God permits and what He approves. God permits sin. He doesn't approve of sin. God doesn't predetermine our sin, He predetermines our ability to sin.
When Paul speaks of God foreknowing, he is not speaking of God predetermining. God has the ability to see what will happen in the future. Seeing the future is not predetermining the future. Can God predetermine the future? Of course He can. Does He always do this? No He doesn’t. If He did, it would make a sham out of the Scriptural statements that show we have free choice as to our relationship with God. God made it very plain to Israel that they had free choice when He told them to choose life rather than death.
Deuteronomy 30:19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.
Ezekiel 33:11: Say to them, `As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?'
God told Israel to choose life. Did Israel choose life? Much of the time they didn’t. Was it God's will they choose death? Obviously not. But the people of Israel were not puppets on a string having their every action determined by a sovereign God. Having sovereignty does not require that God predetermine how everything in the universe happens. Just the opposite is true. Because God is sovereign, He can do anything He wants to do at any time He wants to do it. Scripture clearly shows that one thing God has chosen to do is to grant man free choice. God has chosen to allow man to make choices even if such choices are contrary to what God would rather have man do. Jesus clearly shows man has the ability to choose God.
John 7:17: If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.
Let’s go back to Paul. Paul says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29). God is able to look into the future and see who will respond to the gospel. Paul is simply saying that those God saw as responding to the gospel He predestined to be conformed to Christ.
Paul does not say God predestined those He foreknew to be saved. Paul is not talking here about salvation or being predestined to be saved. He is talking to a group of Christians who have already accepted Christ. Paul is talking about what God has predestined them to become as already saved followers of Christ. The word "conformed" means "to be made unto like fashion." God intends for believers to be made in like fashion to Christ. Predestination has nothing to do with which individuals are saved or lost, but what salvation would bring to those who are saved. Ephesians 2:10, states "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
When Peter gave his sermon on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given, he made this very profound statement: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” Acts 2:21. Calvinists will tell you that only those predestined to be saved will call on the name of the Lord, thus yielding to irresistible grace. However, Peter goes on to tell this same group: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Peter is telling every one in his audience to repent and accept Christ as savior. Peter invited every one he was speaking to, to repent. He admonished everyone to make the choice to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and have their sins forgiven. By inviting everyone to whom he was speaking to call on the name of the Lord and repent and be baptized, presupposes that everyone had the ability to accept Christ as their Savior and receive salvation. Calvinist theology would conclude that the “every one” Peter was addressing must have been predestined to receive salvation, and so were being exposed to God’s irresistible grace and therefore had to respond to Gods gift. But look what happened:
Acts 2:41: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Those who accepted his message were baptized.
The implication is obvious. Not every one accepted the message. There was no irresistible grace here. No predestination to salvation. Some made the choice to accept the gospel message from Peter and others chose to resist the gospel message even though it is apparent Peter was inviting all those He was addressing at the time. It would have been the rankest of oxymoron’s to conclude that some that Peter was addressing and asking to repent were predestined not to be saved so they were unable to repent.
God does not predestine anyone to be saved or lost. What God has predestined is that everyone and anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. What God has also predestined is that such salvation comes about not because of what we do but because of what Christ did. The Calvinist approach is correct in so much as it points to our sinfulness and inability to atone for that sin through anything we do. The Arminian approach is correct in that we have the freedom to choose to accept or not accept God’s gift of salvation. While we can’t do anything to atone for our sin, there is one thing God does require us to do. God requires us to choose! Inter-weaved into all of this is God’s predestined desire that we become “conformed to the likeness of his Son”.
I Corinthians 5:14-15: For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Paul writes that it is God’s love that compels us to no longer live for ourselves but live for Him who died for us and was raised again. Living for Christ is what God has foreordained us to do. Living for Christ means living the law of love. Living the law of love facilitates proper relationships with our neighbor which in turn gives glory to God who established the law of love.
Calvinism teaches that once chosen by God for salvation you can never lose that salvation. Arminianism teaches that you can lose salvation if you turn your back on Christ. Apostle Paul teaches that God has predestined us to become like Christ. Apostle Peter teaches that God has given us everything to accomplish this.
2 Peter 1: 3-10: His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall.
Notice Peter does not say by doing “these things” you will earn your salvation. He is telling his audience they have already been cleansed of their past sins. Salvation has been granted. Peter is saying that by doing “these things” they express the Divine nature and in so doing insure their eternal salvation. Peter is saying we should be doing “these things” in response to the grace of God. Focusing on behavior that reflects the Divine nature fulfills God’s predestined desire for us to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Predestination (to decide upon before hand) is not about being saved or lost. Predestination is about what God intends for us to become in Christ Jesus once we are saved. We should not conclude, however, that because God predestines that we be conformed to Christ that God will enforce such conformity whether we want it or not. God doesn’t remove choice from us at any step in the salvation process. Yes, God is able to see in advance and therefore foreknow those who will choose to turn to Him. Foreknowing does not equate with predetermining. God does not determine in advance what choices we make. God has predetermined that all humanity, of their own free will, come to accept Jesus as Savior and become conformed to the image of Christ. Christ said to Nicodemus:
John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The implication is clear from this statement that God has predestined (decided upon before hand) that all of mankind have opportunity to make the choice to believe in Jesus Christ and escape perishing. This does not mean that all of mankind will make this choice. Predestination has to do with what God intends for man to become. It has nothing to do with God forcing that intention upon man. Jesus invites all to come. We must choose whether to accept the invitation.
Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Calvinism would limit the atonement of Christ to those predestined to be saved. Since salvation is facilitated through faith in Christ, Calvinism virtually teaches that you can only have faith in Christ if God predetermines you have such faith. Since it is apparent that the great majority of humans who have lived and died have not expressed faith in Christ with billions never having even heard of Christ, under Calvinism the great majority of humans have no chance for salvation.
By not being predestined to receive salvation, this view has the great majority of humanity condemned to eternal death and being virtual throw-aways in the plan of God. God created them for no purpose other than to have them live a physical life and die with no opportunity to live forever. This perspective flies in the face of Scriptures that teach Jesus died for the sins of all humans and that God desires all humans to be saved.
It is apparent from the Scriptures that the salvation facilitated by the sacrifice of Christ has far greater efficacy than either Calvinists or Arminians understand.