Articles on predestination frequently address God’s omnipotence and foreknowledge, and man’s free will or lack of it. Many of these lines of thought can be traced back to classical thinkers like Augustine. My studies on predestination purely from the Word of God have unearthed an emphasis absent in debates on predestination. The Bible links predestination to a sanctifying process where one by faith becomes more like Christ. Let’s look at a few passages where predestination and this process are tied together.
In Romans 8:29 we find foreknowledge and predestination linked to the process of “being conformed to the image of His Son.” Paul has written much in Romans of the law, the flesh, and works. He has also warned us of the consequences if we were to persist in these. Seeing the bondage of the flesh and its results, we turn to being yielded to the Spirit. See the unrighteousness that remains no matter how fervently the Law is followed, we turn to grace. Since our works will never take away sin and make us righteous, we turn to faith.
We’ve learned that it is our responsibility to die to the flesh, to repent of sin, and turn from dependence on our works for righteousness. We learned that if we don’t change, we’ll appear guilty before God (3:19–20), know God’s wrath (4:15), and we’ll sin to death (6:16, 8:13). We have a choice. We do have free will. This is implied throughout Romans, the same epistle where the word “predestination” occurs.
Faith is the only assurance we have of victory. So are we to have assurance because we’ve been chosen ahead of time to end in glory? This assurance does not follow Paul’s line of thought throughout Romans 1-7.
Predestined means “to foreknow” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words). What did God foreknow? Perhaps He saw that when Adam fell, he and those after him would need to follow a process to recover their faith. Jesus’ life before God showed us what the end result of this process looks like—a loving relationship with God. God predestined a process: “to be conformed.” That process has an end in view: “to the image of His Son.”
In other words, when we choose to live by faith, we are on the fast track of God’s process of conformity to Christ. If we choose to live by the law, we are outside of God’s predestined process of conformity to Christ. God has determined beforehand a process, not individuals. The process involves turning from confidence in works to confidence (faith) in God, from living according to the flesh to living according to the Spirit, and from reliance on Law for righteousness to resting in God’s grace for acceptance. In Romans, this is the salvation Christ won for us—that we should live as He lived, free from the slavery of the flesh, sin, and law: free to serve God from the heart.
In 2 Peter 1:4 we find that we may be “partakers of the divine nature.” This phrase echoes Romans’ “image of His Son.” Furthermore, the successive passages from 2 Peter 1 covers the sanctifying process: “But for this very reason [that we may be partakers of the divine nature], giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge . . . and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter (1:5, 7). Because of the promise that we may be like Christ, God invites us to participate, with necessary diligence, in working with Him to that end. We don’t assume that predestination means it will happen no matter how we live.
If we are participating in this process, we are responding to God’s calling, and confirming that our “calling and election [are] sure” (2 Peter 1:10). We are making God’s purpose our own. Then we will enter the coming kingdom with abundance. If we are not dealing with sin, and desiring to be conformed to the image of His Son, we have forgotten how deep-seated sin is. We will not be diligent to make God’s promise our own. Then we will enter the judgment with loss of reward and with shame.
God has predestinated a people who are like His Son. Therefore it’s inappropriate to judge who is predestined based on the beginning of the Christian life, on whether one has received Jesus some time in the past. Assurance of one’s election will be found in one’s participation in the sanctifying process. If I am resting on merely being a good person, but not being conformed to the image of His Son, I have no assurance of entering the everlasting kingdom with abundance (2 Peter 1:11).
In Ephesians 1:4-5 we find that God has “chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” for a purpose: “that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” The chosen and predestinated in Ephesians 1 have undergone the sanctifying process noted in Romans and 2 Peter 1. The Ephesians have been making their calling and election sure. They are emerging from that process with a life centered on a “love” for and love of God. They are “holy,” knowingly giving themselves to the Lord for His purposes. They are “without blame” because they deal with sin in confession and repentance. (Remember that righteousness is not only a legal standing, but a practical life: “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous”—1 John 3:7. The one who is living in righteousness based on God’s love is “without blame in love.”)
Christ’s commission to His followers in Matthew 28:19-20 goes further than calling us to tell others about Jesus. He calls us to make disciples and teach them His commandments. Jesus is looking for people who will go through the process—who will deny themselves, take up their cross and follow the Lord. As they follow Him, they’ll learn what eternal life really involves, and will turn from law to grace, from flesh to Spirit, from works to faith.
Some argue that we cannot save ourselves because our wills are too depraved and corrupted by sin; so we are entirely dependent on God’s choice already determined before we were born and in spite of all our current efforts. With this scenario, we must wait until the judgment before we know we are saved. I believe we should consider our participation in the sanctifying process rather than conjecturing about whether God has chosen us or not, or whether we have enough free will or not. If we are undergoing the process of being conformed to the image of God’s Son, we are already ahead of the game.
What about the “purpose of God according to election” in Romans 9:11? Context gives us the answer. In Romans chapters 1-8 we learned that we cannot be saved by following the Law. Sin has condemned us. All our efforts to follow The Ten Commandments cannot remove the condemnation. Only faith in Christ saves. Then what about the Israelites who have been adhering to the laws all these centuries? Has it been in vain for them? In Romans 9:6-8, Paul notes that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel. . . . That is, those who are the children of the flesh [of mere ethnic offspring], these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” Of those Israelites who let the law lead them to faith as it did Paul in Romans 7, they are children of God, and are counted as the seed.
God chose Jacob over Esau before either had done good or bad (Rom. 9:11-13). Before either had followed the commandments, God in mercy (Rom. 9:15) chose Jacob. God has determined that the elect will come through Jacob, not Esau. Literally and figuratively, they will be of the seed of Isaac (Rom. 9:7). God gave Isaac to Abraham because Abraham and Sarah believed God’s promise (“At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son”–Rom. 9:9). In the same way, God imputes righteousness to us when we believe God’s offer of salvation through faith in Jesus. By believing God’s promise, we and the Jews become “children of promise.”
In Romans 9:30-32, we learn that Israel did not attain righteousness because they did not seek it by faith. Neither predestination nor election are listed as reasons for their lack of righteousness. If the Israelites would seek righteousness by faith as the Gentiles have, they would be righteous.
We cannot lean on predestination, but on faith in Jesus, for eternal glory.