Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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Predestination: The Great Doctrine of Comfort
By Dr. Richard P. Bucher
Before the foundation of the world, God in Christ chose certain people to come to faith in Jesus and be saved for all eternity. That is a simple definition of the Biblical teaching of predestination (also called eternal election). This marvelous teaching is one of the most comforting in all of Scripture. Yet because it is so often misunderstood, it has unsettled the faith of many a Christian.
Where is it Written?
The New Testament speaks of predestination in many places. Yet it teaches it most clearly in Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:3-6. Romans 8:29-30 declares: "For [those] whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, [those] whom He predestined these He also called, whom He called these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (NASB). Ephesians 1:3-6 teaches: 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love, having predestined us to adoptions as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved" (NASB).
The Bible also teaches about predestination in Acts 13:48, Ephesians 1:7-8, 2 Thess. 2:13-14, and 2 Tim. 1:9. The "elect" are mentioned in Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:22, Luke 18:7, Romans 8:33, 11:7, Colossians 3:12, 2 Timothy 2:10, Titus 1:1, I Peter 1:2, 1 Peter 5:13; 2 John 1:1, 13.
Foreknowledge vs. Predestination
So what is predestination? Predestination is not foreknowledge. God's foreknowledge is that God knows everything before it happens. He knows in advance what is going to happen to everyone, both good and evil, both Christian and non-Christian. The Bible talks about God's foreknowledge in many places (Ps. 139:1-6; Romans 8:29a). But God's foreknowledge and God's predestination are two different things.
Predestination was an act of God from eternity, before time began, by which God not only foreknew but actually chose some to be saved for all eternity (See Eph. 1:4-6). When God predestined us, He not only knew that we would be saved, He caused it to happen by His choice of us in Christ.
What has God Predestined?
Predestination does not mean that God has charted out every detail of our lives beforehand so that we are programmed robots, forced to obey. In fact, such a teaching cannot be found in Scripture. Whenever the Bible speaks about predestination, it is concerned only with salvation. According to sacred Scripture, what God has predestined is not every detail of our lives; He has predestined our eternal salvation and everything that pertains to it.
That last phrase, "and everything that pertains to it" is important. For God's election of us before time not only insured that we would be finally saved at the end of time. His predestination of us covers every step of our salvation history. When He predestined us, He insured that (1) Christ would shed His blood in death as ransom for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2); (2) we would be called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel; (3) we would be moved to repentance and converted through faith in Jesus; (4) we would use the Word and Sacrament and persevere in the Christian faith in this life; (5) we would be finally saved and glorified forever in the life to come. God's predestination of us insured that everything that needed to happen for out eternal salvation would happen (See Romans 8:29-30 on the previous page).
Who are the Elect?
Who, then, are those who have been predestined for salvation? Is it possible to know? And, is it possible for us to know if we are among the elect?
Yes, and again, yes! We must follow the Bible's way of speaking about predestination. The Bible teaches this: If you currently trust in Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who took away your sins, who alone is your Savior and the way to heaven, then the Bible addresses you as one of the elect. This was Paul's method of teaching in his epistle to the Ephesians. He addressed the members of the Ephesian church at that time, those who had been saved by grace through faith in Jesus, as chosen, "before the foundation of the world .... predestined" (Eph. 1:4,5). Paul does the same thing in his epistle to the Romans. He calls those members of the church of Rome who had been justified by faith 'God's elect.' (Romans 8:33). If you now believe in Jesus as personal Savior, the Bible addresses you as the elect. You are predestined for salvation!
The Bible doesn't teach, "Now you are a believer in Jesus Christ - but whether you are pre destined to be finally saved no one can know for sure, only God knows." Such a teaching would plunge even true Christians into deep doubt and despair. For how could they ever know for sure if they were going to be saved, if the identity of the elect was shrouded in mystery?
Why is Predestination in the Bible?
Why is the teaching of predestination in the Bible? This question may strike you as strange, but it shouldn't. For if we believe that every word of Scripture has been inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16), a corollary of this teaching is that the Holy Spirit has included everything in the Bible for a reason.
The Bible itself teaches this - it even goes a step further. It says in Romans 15:4 that everything in the Scriptures has been written for our good: "For whatever things were written before, were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." According to this statement, the Scriptures have been written for our learning, for our patience, and for our comfort. Whenever the topic of election appears in the Bible it is always presented as Gospel, not Law, comfort not threat.
Consistent with this, then, we can confidently say that the doctrine of predestination is in the Bible for our comfort and hope! Predestination is not in the Bible to lead us into fruitless speculation, or even worse, to drive us to fatalism and hopelessness. If the topic of predestination is leading or driving you in these directions, this is proof positive that you do not understand predestination at all.
At the risk of redundancy: the teaching of predestination is in the Bible for one reason: to bring comfort and joy to Christians. It is a teaching that says to Christians, "Do you want to know how much God loves you? This is how much He loves you. He loves you so much that long before you were born, before the foundation of the world, He predestined you in Christ to be eternally saved! Did He do this because you deserved or earned it? You weren't even born yet! You had done nothing to deserve it - nor could you have! He chose you to be saved by His free grace. And by His choice of you He insured that everything that needed to happen for your salvation would happen: that you would be called by the Gospel, justified by faith, continue to believe in Jesus to the end, and finally be glorified forevermore. That is how much your God loves you in Christ Jesus!"
Some Final Thoughts
Predestination is intended to be a teaching of the greatest comfort for Christians - but only for Christians. Not predestination, but "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" is to be preached to the lost. It is most foolish to talk to non-Christians about predestination, for this teaching is not intended for them. Rather, unbelievers should be pointed to "Jesus Christ and Him crucified," to the Gospel that says that God offers reconciliation, forgiveness, and eternal life, to everyone who believes, regardless of their social status, race, sex, or past life (See John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 John 2:1-2; Galatians 3:27). "He died for all" (2 Co. 5:15) is the message the non-believing world needs to hear.
For Christians, predestination is the doctrine of comfort and hope. I hope this little tract has helped you understand this wonderful truth.