This is a repost from June 4th, 2008. A friend of mine and I were discussing this tonight and I was trying to recall where I’d read this reconciliation of the two viewpoints. Funny I should find myself the author.
This is only the lightest of treatments of what has muddled many a mind and rankled many an argument over the vast span of history between Christ’s walking on earth and out present day.
Let me begin by putting all my cards on the table:
Predestination (or election) and choice and free-will in salvation are not mutually exclusive and in fact are both true throughout both the moment of salvation and the life-long process of sanctification.
First up in the list of evidence is that passage many evangelicals love to hate, Romans 8. This excerpt from verses 28 through 30 contains the most difficult bits:
(28) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (29) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
The meaning of this verse is not open to much discussion or debate, it is rather clear on it’s face: we are not responsible for our salvation or sanctification. We are merely fortunate to have been chosen.
Next up, Romans 9: 6-22:
(6) …it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, (7) and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” (8) This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (9) For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” (10) And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, (11) though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— (12) she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” (13) As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
(14) What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! (15) For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (16) So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (18) So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
(19) You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (20) But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (21) Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (22) What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
This is very similar to God’s ultimate response to Job at the end of his complaining. God tells him his mind is too small to understand all the purposes behind His working in the world. Trust is not trust when we see the whole picture or comprehend the entire situation.
But then what of choice? It seems that Paul has not left any room for choice and free-will in either salvation or sanctification.
So then we get to the “friendly” passages. The ones that are quoted every Sunday and most every other day from thousands of pulpits and soap-boxes around the world promoting the ease of access to God’s redemptive plan, John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
As we can see, there is little debating this scripture either. “Whoever” is an inclusive word with the only limiter being one of undebatable choice: “believes”. The choice is obviously ours to make when it comes to salvation.
So then there is a paradox, there are two apparently mutually exclusive claims made regarding salvation and it’s cause and effect.
Using these verses and their context, it is not difficult to see how they fit together like two sides of the same coin.
John 3 begins with the account of Nicodemus’ talk with Jesus. Jesus was telling an unsaved and searching man how he ought to find salvation.
Romans 8 and 9 are revealing a greater understanding of salvation, sanctification, and the Christian walk to those already saved.
When God speaks to those who need Him and who He desires to come to Him, that is all of us, He speaks of our need and choice. And when He speaks to those of us who are working out lives defined by His process of sanctification, He speaks of His own supremacy and unmatchable ability to reach out to us, draw us, save us and sanctify us and of our own inability to accomplish any of the same.
God’s omniscience and His perspective seeing our entire lives, He sees our beginning and our ending at the same ‘time’ and therefore knows how we will choose before the choice is even presented. This is confirmed and expounded upon by Paul’s statement that “He works all things together for good to those called”. However, in much the same way an observing scientist’s knowledge that a mouse will eventually reach the cheese in the maze does not negate the free-will in the choices that mouse made reaching the cheese, God’s knowledge and awareness of our entire life-path at all times and His active work in our life-path do not negate the fact that we are responsible for the choices he has given us.
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.
By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.
Neil at 4Simpsons links to an article attempting to reconcile Predestination and Free Will at the blog Winging It. David argues that God’s predestination and election awakes the heart to experience the free will capable of accepting salvation.