100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

#25: What is predestination, and does it deny my free will?

To summarise yesterday's post, we all have a sinful nature which leads us away from God and into disobedience. But God intervenes in our lives to reveal His Law to us, His holiness to us... to reveal Christ to us. The sinful nature in us, or the “flesh”, is always opposed to God. Yet we all still do good things. This is the work of Christ in people’s lives as He “draws all people to Himself.” (John 12:32). The Bible says “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Likewise, we read how God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

Yet we cannot deny certain passages which speak of “predestination” to salvation...

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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

There is admittedly a spiritual dimension to this issue which makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for us to understand. But as for predestination affecting our free will, I don't see it as necessarily affecting it at all. Let's consider it this way... I go out to the mall, and while I'm there I feel hungry for a Subway sandwich. But there isn't a Subway at the mall. Though I want Subway, I settle for McDonald's instead. My will is limited by my circumstances. Next, I'm walking along the bottom floor of the mall, but I can look up and see the electronics store I want to visit on the second floor. I can take the elevator, or I can take the escalator... but I cannot leap up to the second floor. My will is limited by my ability. When we read about some being “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”, we are reading about being given that new nature which replaces our old, sinful nature. The new nature replaces our very wills, and those wills are then subject to different limitations. These limitations are not physical abilities, such as being able to leap to the second story of a building. Instead, our sinful nature limits our ability to submit to God and to obey God. Instead of physical limitations they are spiritual ones, but are just as much an attribute of a created being as our arms or legs are. Jesus offers to replace our sinful nature with a new one, and promises to also replace our physical bodies with new ones as well! But in a sense, the freedom of our will is not affected, if we consider that we maintain the freedom to will within the limits of our nature.

But if one is predestined to receive this new nature, then was their salvation their choice at all? I would say that it was their choice, but that they were only able to make this choice because they received the new nature which took away a limitation of their ability to choose. The new nature renews our very wills so that we desire to follow Christ and to submit to Him and to do His will. Our love and obedience for Christ is not against our will; it is precisely our will – the will that God has now given us. As Christians, we exercise that will every day. As the Bible says, we are “set free”...

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

So we might say “This isn't fair... to put it in physical terms, if God needs me to leap to the second story in order to be saved, but hasn't given me the ability to do it, why am I condemned by Him?” Answering this very objection, Paul says:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 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.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:14-18).

Now you object “But I thought the Scripture said that God 'desires all people to be saved'? (1 Timothy 2:4)”. Oh, He does. Pharaoh, deserving condemnation as we all do, was used by God to glorify God through the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, rather than through the repentance of Pharaoh. God is glorified even in the condemnation of the sinner as we see His righteous justice. Furthermore, God did this to Pharaoh “that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” God did no wrong – He gave Pharaoh the condemnation he deserved, He was glorified, and He used the events of the Exodus to spread the knowledge of God far and wide so that people might turn to God and be saved. God will be merciful on whom He will be merciful; and He is merciful to all to some degree, else we'd all be sent to hell the moment we first sinned. But condemnation is justly given to all who have not been given a new nature, because even the old nature has the ability to choose evil.

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.  (Joshua 24:15)

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