Today's Broadcast

Everyone Believes This Doctrine

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Scripture very plainly uses the word "predestined" in reference to the salvation of God's people. Most denominations and some of the greatest theologians have wrestled with this issue through the centuries and have carefully formulated statements regarding this controversial topic. What do you believe about predestination? In this message, Dr. Sproul introduces us to the doctrine of predestination and explains that "Everyone Believes This Doctrine."

From the series: Chosen By God

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. blog-post

    TULIP and Reformed Theology: Unconditional Election

  2. blog-post

    Predestination: Why Do Some Believe and Some Don't?

  3. devotional

    Predestination and Foreknowledge

TULIP and Reformed Theology: Unconditional Election

R.C. Sproul

The Reformed view of election, known as unconditional election, means that God does not foresee an action or condition on our part that induces Him to save us. Rather, election rests on God's sovereign decision to save whomever He is pleased to save.

In the book of Romans, we find a discussion of this difficult concept. Romans 9:10–13 reads: "And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 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—she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'" Here the Apostle Paul is giving his exposition of the doctrine of election. He deals with it significantly in Romans 8, but here he illustrates his teaching of the doctrine of election by going back into the past of the Jewish people and looking at the circumstances surrounding the birth of twins—Jacob and Esau. In the ancient world, it was customary for the firstborn son to receive the inheritance or the patriarchal blessing. However, in the case of these twins, God reversed the process and gave the blessing not to the elder but to the younger. The point that the Apostle labors here is that God not only makes this decision prior to the twins' births, He does it without a view to anything they would do, either good or evil, so that the purposes of God might stand. Therefore, our salvation does not rest on us; it rests solely on the gracious, sovereign decision of God.

God does not foresee an action or condition on our part that induces Him to save us. —R.C. Sproul

This doesn't mean that God will save people whether they come to faith or not. There are conditions that God decrees for salvation, not the least of which is putting one's personal trust in Christ. However, that is a condition for justification, and the doctrine of election is something else. When we're talking about unconditional election, we're talking in a very narrow confine of the doctrine of election itself.

So, then, on what basis does God elect to save certain people? Is it on the basis of some foreseen reaction, response, or activity of the elect? Many people who have a doctrine of election or predestination look at it this way. They believe that in eternity past God looked down through the corridors of time and He knew in advance who would say yes to the offer of the gospel and who would say no. On the basis of this prior knowledge of those who will meet the condition for salvation—that is, expressing faith or belief in Christ—He elects to save them. This is conditional election, which means that God distributes His electing grace on the basis of some foreseen condition that human beings meet themselves.

Unconditional election is another term that I think can be a bit misleading, so I prefer to use the term sovereign election. If God chooses sovereignly to bestow His grace on some sinners and withhold His grace from other sinners, is there any violation of justice in this? Do those who do not receive this gift receive something they do not deserve? Of course not. If God allows these sinners to perish, is He treating them unjustly? Of course not. One group receives grace; the other receives justice. No one receives injustice. Paul anticipates this protest: "Is there injustice on God's part?" (Rom. 9:14a). He answers it with the most emphatic response he can muster. I prefer the translation, "God forbid" (v. 14b). Then he goes on to amplify this response: "For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion'" (v. 15). Here the Apostle is reminding his reader of what Moses declared centuries before; namely, that it is God's divine right to execute clemency when and where He desires. He says from the beginning, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." It is not on those who meet some conditions, but on those whom He is pleased to bestow the benefit.

In the next post, we will consider the L in TULIP, limited atonement.

See also:

Scriptures for further study: Romans 8:28–39; Ephesians 1:3–14; 2:8; 2 Timothy 1:9, 10

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Predestination: Why Do Some Believe and Some Don't?

Daniel Hyde

One of the things I hope you've noticed so far in this series on predestination is that before mentioning what we do and don't believe about it we need to be firmly grounded in several basic, biblical, and evangelical truths: we are sinners, God is just, and God is love. Not only do I believe this is a biblical method, I believe it is wise. There is so much misunderstanding and mockery of this doctrine that we need to lead into it gently.

In this post I want to lay out another of these foundational truths, which is one that leads us into the actual subject of the who, what, when, and why of predestination. Given humanity's sin and both God's justice and love, why is it that some believe in Jesus Christ and some don't? These are the two responses to Jesus' call:

"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:18, 36)

After Jesus fed the five thousand (this number does not include the women and children) the entire crowd left Him except for His twelve disciples, and one of them was Judas (John 6). The question of why leads us into a consideration of faith and its relation to predestination.

What Is Faith?

The essence of faith is found in John 3 when Jesus speaks of believing in Him. To believe "in Him" is to put all your confidence, all your hope, and all your trust in Him. It's putting everything that you are in Jesus and not in yourself.

Our forefathers spoke of faith as "receiving" the gospel or more personally as "embracing" Jesus (e.g., Canons of Dort 1.4). This is important because all too often we can think of faith as just some mental gymnastic you do or an ethereal connection to an ethereal thing called God or Jesus. But what do the ideas behind the words "receive" and "embrace" communicate? They should evoke personalness because faith is personal. When I put my faith in Jesus this means that I receive Him and all that He is for myself. This isn't theological Christianesse, but what John says earlier in John 1:11–12: "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name . . ." That's faith. Does this describe your relationship to Jesus? Do you receive and embrace all He is for yourself?

Why Is Faith Necessary?

Most simply, faith is necessary because with it we will not perish (John 3:16), we will have eternal life (v. 16), and we will be saved (v. 17). In other words, faith is necessary because without it we will perish (v. 16), we will be condemned, (v. 18) and, in fact, the wrath of God is already upon us (v. 36).

Faith in Jesus is necessary because it's how we, as members of "the world" of sinners in opposition to God, receive the remedy for our sinful condition, for our sinful actions, and for our impending condemnation. Faith is so important because without it, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).

What Are the Blessings of Faith?

When Jesus speaks of believing "in Him" (v. 16) and "in the Son" (v. 36) He is speaking of the blessings of faith. The blessing—singular—is Jesus Himself. The blessings—many—are what Jesus gives to us. In John 3 Jesus speaks of the blessing of eternal life in contrast to eternal condemnation and wrath.

This means that through the means of faith we are delivered from something to something: from condemnation, wrath, and destruction to eternal life. When we receive and embrace Jesus He delivers us from the wrath of God. As Paul says, "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Rom. 5:9). When we receive and embrace Jesus He delivers us to eternal life. As Paul says, "For the wages of sin is death"—meaning eternal death or condemnation—"but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). As the hymn says:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Where Does Faith Come From?

With this basic biblical teaching under our feet, we are ready to speak of how faith relates to God's predestinating work. We can do this by putting it this way: if faith is receiving and embracing Jesus; if faith is so necessary that apart from it we will perish everlastingly; and if by faith we receive all the blessings of Jesus Christ, where does this faith come from? John answers this question at the beginning of his Gospel when he says all who receive Christ, that is, believe in Him, become children of God (John 1:12). He explains this further by stating what happened prior to their believing: "who were born (past tense), not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). And what does it mean to be "born of God?" That's Jesus' teaching in John 3:6. To be born again is also to be born from above, that is, to be given new birth by God Himself. Therefore, those whom God gave new birth are those who believe in Jesus.

The natural implication of John 1 and 3 is that unbelief has its cause and fault in sinful humanity. It cannot be in God or else He cannot be God: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). As James says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one" (Jas. 1:13). It must be in us, who were born dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1–3). In our natural state we are like an untrained dog—wild, out of control, acting on instinct and according to its dispositions and nature. You don't need to tell an untrained dog to run away, it does that anyway. This is what we are like apart from the Lord's working in us, to "train" us to place faith in Jesus.

On the other hand, faith's cause is not in us but in God Himself. Only God makes alive: "But God . . ." (Eph. 2:4). In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read: "for by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast." In Philippians 1:29 Paul writes that God has "granted" that we suffer for the sake of Christ as well as believe in Him, and Luke says in Acts 13:48 that all who were "appointed to eternal life" believed in Jesus.

So, some are given the gift of faith while others are not. Why? It is certainly not because children get it from their parents or that some adults are better than others.

The Eternal Source of Faith

Why some believe and some don't finds its ultimate answer in God Himself, the eternal source of faith. In Ephesians 1 Paul blesses God because He has blessed us with every blessing (v. 3), described under the headings of the blessing of predestination (vv. 4–6), the blessing of Jesus Christ's redeeming work (vv. 7–12), and the blessing of the sealing work of the Holy Spirit that guarantees our salvation in eternity (vv. 13–14). Not only is God blessed for choosing us in Christ before the foundation of the world (v. 4) and predestining us in love (v. 5), but He did so "according to the purpose of his will" (v. 5). God's eternal choice of us was not arbitrary, by chance, or random, but was in accord with His intentional will.

Again in verse 11 we read that in Christ we have obtained "an inheritance." This is speaking of our coming into possession of Christ and all His benefits by faith. How did we come to obtain this? Verse 11 continues: ". . . having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will." This was one of those verses that literally jumped off the page in my life when I was wrestling with truth and faith. Not only does Paul say that we came into possession of Christ because we were predestined to obtain Christ, but that the God who predestined us to faith also works out everything according to His will. Do you see what Paul is saying here? Everything is ordained and purposed by God, including your faith in Christ.

The Temporal Softening Unto Faith

A common objection or a misunderstanding of this is, "If God predestines everything, including faith, there's no need to worry about any of this because there's nothing you can do about it anyway." The answer is that the God of eternal predestining is also the God of temporal softening. The God who chooses us apart from our faith enables us to come to Him in faith.

How does God as the eternal source of faith lead to the temporal faith of sinners? Remember Acts 13:48? Paul is preaching the gospel to Gentiles when we read, "as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." Do you see the connection? You may ask, "But how, practically speaking, did this eternal appointing lead to their believing in time?" In Acts 16, Paul preached the gospel to Lydia, and we read this: "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul" (Acts 16:14). The same God who predestined that she would believe opened her heart to believe. This is why the Canons of Dort says so wonderfully, "According to which decree He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe" (Canons of Dort 1.6).

God, who requires faith as the necessary means of receiving the blessings of His Son, is the same God who gives that faith by graciously softening stone-hard hearts and inclining those hearts to believe in His Son. Isn't this a wonderful assurance to us who have believed? Isn't this a wonderful promise to us for the hard-hearted we know? Isn't this a wonderful encouragement to pray to the God who is able and willing to do such a thing?

See also:

Predestination and Foreknowledge

Defining our terms allows us to communicate with one another in everyday conversation, providing us with a common frame of reference in regard to the meaning of what we are saying. When we study the things of God, we also work with definitions, so as we continue our discussion of the biblical doctrine of predestination, we need to define what predestination means. The English terms predestine and predestination come from the Greek word proorizō, a compound word that means "to determine beforehand." Essentially, predestination refers to setting the destiny, goal, or end of something before it happens. The concept of predestination can refer to anything that happens in history; however, the most common usage of the term among Christians is in reference to salvation.

What we are talking about here is the fact that God chose our final destination long before we existed. Though our arguments with others over predestination might not always reveal it, all Christians actually believe that God predestines some to heaven and some to hell. We only differ on the basis of that predestination. Does God look into the future, see who will respond positively to Jesus, and then choose that person for heaven (the prescient view), or is predestination based entirely on God's will such that God chooses who will believe, and that choice finally gives them saving faith (the Augustinian or Calvinistic view)? In the prescient view, the ultimate deciding factor in our salvation is us. God chooses us for salvation only after knowing how we will respond to His gospel. The Augustinian view makes the Lord the final, decisive agent in salvation. His choice establishes who will believe and who will not.

Those who hold to the prescient view typically appeal to passages such as Romans 8:28–30, noting that since God predestines those whom He foreknew, it must be that the Lord chooses for salvation those whom He foreknew would believe. The problem, of course, is that the text does not say "those whom God foreknew would believe." In fact, Paul is not talking about our Creator's knowledge of facts but rather His knowledge of individuals. That might seem to be a subtle distinction, but it is significant. The New Testament's references to God's knowledge and foreknowledge of people have to do with His knowing them in an intimate, salvific way (John 10:13; 1 Cor. 8:3). In other words, when God foreknows a person, He sets His love upon him. Our Lord's choice of men and women for salvation is based on His decision to set His love upon them, not His knowledge of what they will do.

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