June 17, 2014 Broadcast

Everyone Believes This Doctrine

A Message by R.C. Sproul

The Bible very plainly uses the word "predestined" in reference to the salvation of God’s people. Yet most denominations, and many prolific theologians down through the centuries, have wrestled with the meaning of this term. In this lesson, Dr. R.C. Sproul explains the basics of predestination and helps us avoid common misunderstandings.

From the series: Chosen By God

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Chosen in Christ

  2. devotional

    The Order of Salvation

  3. devotional

    Foreknowledge

Chosen in Christ

Continuing his adoration of our Father for granting us many spiritual blessings, Paul in today’s passage explains that “he chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). The apostle is asserting divine election unto salvation — we owe our redemption ultimately to God, whose choice of His people in eternity past ensures they will believe in His Son Jesus Christ for life eternal (Rom. 9:1–29).

Even though predestination is typically associated with Calvinism or Reformed theology, all Christians affirm divine election, as Dr. R.C. Sproul has often said, because there is no escaping the Bible’s many references to God’s choice of a people for Himself. The real issue involves the type of election we affirm. Do we affirm God’s election of specific individuals to salvation, or do we believe He chose to save the church without necessarily selecting each member of this body? Did the Father choose people in order that they would believe or did He look into the future, see who would trust Jesus alone, and choose to save these people, basing His decision on their actions?

Regarding the first question, it is true that there is a corporate aspect to election, for God has chosen to save a people (1 Peter 2:9). Yet the Lord forms this people through His choice of particular persons. Individuals make up groups, and our Father could not have chosen that the corporate body of Christ would certainly be saved if He had not also chosen who would be united to Jesus by faith. Furthermore, since both groups and individuals commit sins, the promise that sins are forgiven in Christ found in Ephesians 1:7 makes sense only if the election of a group and individuals to salvation is in view. Therefore, Ephesians 1:4 cannot be used to affirm that divine election is exclusively corporate just because God chooses a people “in Christ.”

As for the second question, let us suppose that God did, in eternity past, look ahead to see if anyone would trust Jesus. Had He done this, He would not have seen living souls but individuals dead in sin, wholly unwilling and unable to believe in Christ (Eph. 2:1–3). The Father could not have chosen anyone based on His foreknowledge of their faith, for no one would have believed without His gracious initiative. No, our Father saw fallen humanity, choosing to elect some unto salvation and to give them faith. We believe because He chose us, not the other way around.

The Order of Salvation

In theology, we speak of the ordo salutis and the historia salutis. The historia salutis is the history of salvation, and most of the Bible is concerned with it. When we do theology from the perspective of the historia salutis, we consider what Christ our Head has done and what He has been given, and then we consider what we as members of Him participate in. He suffered and was glorified, and in union with Him so have we. He was raised, ascended to heaven, and sits enthroned; in union with Him we have these privileges in essence now, and look forward to their fulness in the world to come. He judges all men, and we in union with Him will also judge the world. This is the way theology is done in terms of the historia salutis.

The ordo salutis is the order of salvation. This focuses on the acts of God and the response of the individual in salvation. God calls us, produces regeneration in us, so that we respond with repentance, faith, and obedience. Behind the divine call is God's electing decree. The ordo salutis is not concerned with a temporal sequence of events, but with a logical order.

Paul provides a condensed form of the ordo salutis in Romans 8:29–30. He tells us that God foreknew certain people and predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son. Since God exists in eternity, foreknowledge and predestination are not sequential actions on His part, but logical aspects of His decree. Romans 8:30 says that God called these people to His kingdom, and that those who are called are justified. Since we are justified by faith, we can insert faith between calling and justification. In fact, God's inward call produces regeneration in us, which causes us to cry out in repentance and faith, so that we are justified.

There is no time sequence in this, as if we could be called for a while before we are regenerated, and then live regenerated without having repented, and then we could repent but not turn to Christ, and then finally come to justifying faith. No, they are all logical steps in the same event. When God calls us we are immediately regenerated, and we turn from sin to God in one action, which justifies us. And those who are justified are immediately glorified in the sense of being adopted as children of God.

Foreknowledge

Everybody believes in predestination. Secular humanists believe in predestination; they just believe man is the one who is to do the predestinating (and what a wonderful world that would be). Other pagans believe that the world predestinates itself, and that the future will lead only to the death of the universe.

All Christians believe in predestination by God. They believe in it because the Bible clearly teaches it. But not all Christians mean the same thing by it.

The most common error among Christians about predestination arises from a misreading of Romans 8:29. There we are told that God's predestination is grounded in His foreknowledge. This has been misunderstood to mean that God looked down the corridors of history, foresaw what you and I would do, and stuck that into His plan.

This view does not reckon with the fact that God created time, and therefore all events in time, when He created the world, so that He does not look down through history but looks at history as a complete whole. Apart from such a weighty philosophical objection, however, we can notice that Romans 8:29 does not say that God foreknew certain decisions on our part. It does not say that God foresees our faith, and on that basis predestinates us. It says nothing of the sort.

Rather, Romans 8:29 says that God foreknew certain people. A study of the idea of knowledge in the Bible will show that it usually involves a choice of intimate relations, as when Adam "knew" his wife Eve and she conceived. Romans 8:29 means that God "fore-loved" certain people, and predestinated them. He chose them; they did not choose Him.

Romans 9 makes this abundantly clear, because Paul goes into a discussion of God's sovereign choice of Jacob over Esau, a choice based on nothing either had done (Romans 9:11). The objection, "Is God unjust?" could not arise unless Paul were teaching real predestination; after all, nobody accuses the "foreseen faith" view of being unjust (9:14). And Paul's answer in verse 15, which stresses that God decides whom He will save and whom He will not, clinches the matter clearly.

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