How would you respond if you heard a professing Christian say those words to you? Would you feel confident in your ability to answer that statement from the Bible? As I prepare to preach this Lord’s Day from Ephesians 1:3-6 on the topic of predestination, a few thoughts come to mind to help God’s people think about engaging in conversations about this difficult subject.
Practice humility in all situations. The knowledge of truth is a gift of God, but it’s very easy to allow knowledge to lead to pride. As Paul writes in I Corinthians 8:1-2, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Paul is not denying that we can have true knowledge of the truth, else he wouldn’t have written any of his letters at all. But he is saying that it’s possible to “know” something, yet have no love in your heart for other people. True knowledge always remembers that it doesn’t know everything, and so remains humble. And we must remember that it is possible to love God in sincerity, to have been born again and granted saving faith, but still to be ignorant of aspects of God’s truth. In fact, it’s not just possible, it’s guaranteed - none of us knows everything fully. Humility, patience, gentleness must mark us as we contend for the truth of God, especially in the area of the doctrines of grace (aka “the five points of Calvinism”).
If a person claims to believe that the Bible is God’s word and therefore true, but then claims not to believe that predestination is true, it is not inappropriate to point out gently that the word “predestine” or “predestinate” occurs in the Bible (Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29-30; I Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5, 11). So predestination or election must be true, and every Christian must believe in predestination - that is, they must believe something about predestination, because it is a biblical word that must mean something, it is an action in which God has engaged. The question is, what does the Bible teach about predestination? What does God mean when He says He has predestined events, or predestined people to salvation? This is the level on which you should seek to have the conversation.
At root of a denial of the truth of predestination is almost always a denial of the doctrine of total depravity. Usually people say predestination isn’t true because they don’t want to believe in a God who doesn’t choose everyone, or they want to believe that people are basically good who have the ability to choose God or to do good things to make it into heaven. So it’s important in conversations about predestination to make sure you talk about sin. Talk about the reality that none of us deserve to be chosen; that the Bible teaches God doesn’t choose us based upon anything we do (Romans 9; Deuteronomy 7); that all of us deserve judgment, and if left to ourselves we would all go willingly to hell; that God would be righteous to send everyone to hell, but graciously chooses to choose some for salvation in His Son; that His ways are higher than our ways, and past finding out.
Aim to show the unbiblical nature of the “defeaters” - that is, those stereotypes about what predestination “always” leads to. “Predestination always leads to arrogance” - no, it leads to the deepest humility, as we realize that we can take no credit for our own salvation (I Corinthians 1). “Predestination always leads to apathy in Christian living and in evangelism” - no, it leads to a passion for holiness and a passion to share the gospel with the lost (Ephesians 1:4; Matthew 11:25-30). It alone gives confidence that the God who has chosen us for holiness will sanctify us, and that the God who chosen us has chosen other sinners, and will call them to Himself through our words. “Predestination always leads to dry intellectualism” - no, it leads to heart worship and adoration of a sovereign God who acts according to the good pleasure of His will to do what we could never do for ourselves (Ephesians 1:3-14). To be sure, believing in predestination has and can lead some toward arrogance, apathy, and dry intellectualism. But it ought not. And so don’t only show from the Scriptures how these defeaters are wrong-headed, but show in your life as well that the truth of predestination changes us from the inside out.