Predestination is a popular teaching that says God has pre-determined (or “predestined") who will be good and who will be bad. Free will, they say, is a figment of our imagination. Some of us have been "chosen" to be saved, and some have been "chosen" to be damned. There is nothing that we can do to change it.

Stated like that, the doctrine is, to the average mind, ludicrous. Whether I have the freedom to misspell the next word I type, or to change it to a different word (or delete this whole paragraph, for that matter), all of my experience tells me that I *do* have such freedom. Just saying that I don't have freedom to choose does not take away my overwhelming conviction that I do.

But more than that, the people who teach predestination continue to act as though they can change fate (theirs and the fate of others as well) merely by teaching the doctrine of predestination. They continue to call on people to say a little prayer or do some other ritual that will supposedly alter their destiny. Why would they bother to do this if they really believed in predestination?

Regardless of whether we have been chosen to be damned or chosen to be saved, what each of us really wants to know is whether we belong to the first group or to the latter. But any criteria we use to determine which group someone is in immediately changes the focus away from predestination and onto the criteria that is being discussed.  I’ll explain.

Many of us in the Endtime Survivors movement believe that those who are going to be saved when Jesus returns will be “followers of the Lamb” or servants of Jesus.  So let’s say that we also believed in predestination, i.e. that some people are destined to obey Jesus whether they like it or not, and others are not going to obey him, no matter how hard they try.  What we would still focus on would be obeying Jesus.  We might even try harder, in order to prove to ourselves and others that we are the ones who have been predestined to be saved.  The doctrine of predestination will fade in preference to our concern about which group we are in… the saved or the damned.

The "destiny" concept is meaningless in the dimensions where most of us live. If I choose to have orange juice for breakfast, one could say that it was predestined by God. And if I change my mind and have tomato juice instead, then one could just as easily say that that too was predestined by God. On the human level, our destiny can only be known after the fact. Any claim about what we are predestined to do before we actually do it, can almost always be met with a change of plans, which would immediately disprove the theory.

So how did such a theory become so popular?

Because it is so "convenient". (See our article Convenient Doctrines.) People want to be reassured that they will be taken care of after this life. Religions all over the world provide formulas to convince people that they are eternally "safe". Telling them that they are so safe that even their own will cannot undo their salvation is the ultimate offer. They can do anything they like, and they will still be saved.

Of course, in reality, the predestinationalists never quite say that. They always have some criteria for identifying those who will be saved.  They bring in ritual prayers, church attendance, Bible reading, etc. as evidence that you are one of the saved, at the same time that they do a verbal sleight of hand with these things.  Not doing them will not take away your salvation; but doing them kind of proves that you are one of the saved.  It’s the same thing I just described with regard to obeying Jesus, except the criteria changes to something much easier (like going to church regularly).

There are churches over-flowing with people who believe they are going to heaven because they said a ritual prayer.  Their salvation, mind you, was (according to this teaching) predestined even before they said the prayer, yet on-going religiosity (especially preaching the predestinated doctrine) continues to be reasonable "evidence" that they really are one of the chosen.

Never mind whether that conforms with anything that Jesus taught. The teachings of Jesus are, to them, a bit of a heresy in themselves, because from beginning to end Jesus talks as though salvation is something that is at least slightly related to whether or not one trusts and obeys him. They (the predestinationalists) continue to use the name of Jesus, but their official position is that the teachings of Jesus are part of the Old Testament “law”, from which we have been freed.

To be fair, there are a few verses (including a couple from Jesus) which use terminology that would appear to support the predestination teaching. Problems only arise when you try to fit them into the rest of what Jesus and the Bible say.

Take this one, for example: "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit." (John 15:16)  It’s a good verse to support predestinationism.  You did not choose to be a Christian; God chose you.

Fair enough. But it’s equally fair for someone to say that water should be coming out of the stomachs of those who have been predestinated: "He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38)

But could the second verse be saying something more subtle than a strictly literal reading would indicate? Is it literally talking about rivers of living water flowing out of a person's stomach? Or could it be describing an overwhelming satisfaction for a spiritually thirsty soul?

By the same token (given that the rest of what Jesus said seems to indicate that we can freely choose to obey him or not), isn't it reasonable to think that Jesus was saying that the initiative for our salvation has all come from him? The same disciple who recorded these two statements from Jesus also said, "Here is love: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and gave his Son to be the payment for our sins." Nobody teaches that we should not love God because of the love that he showed for us, on the basis of this verse.  It’s just that our love is nothing by comparison, for he is the ultimate source of all love.

In a couple of epistles, the word "predestinate" (at least in the King James version) actually appears. In Romans 8:28-30 we are told that those whom God "foreknew" he "predestinated" to be conformed to the image of his Son. So is it possible that God could see the future and "foreknew" who was going to choose him and who would not? And would it not be his will that such people should be conformed to the image of his Son?

In fact, the whole chain reaction starts with verse 28, which says that these people are ones who "love God". As John has already told us, we must be careful about thinking that we invented this thing called love. But Paul did not seem to have a problem with thinking that our decision to "love God” (Romans 8:28) fits into the overall process.  In other words, there is a lot of initiative on God’s part, but a bit of decision-making on our part as well.

It's a bit like Jesus including in his prayer formula the words: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This is an extreme statement on the other side.  Are we really the ones who initiate our own forgiveness (by forgiving our debtors first)? Yes and no. It all depends on which verses you decide to quote, and which ones you leave out.

In the other predestination passage (Ephesians 1:4-13) Paul says that, even before the foundation of the world, God predestinated us to be adopted into his family and to be "holy and without blame" before him. Of course, the passage finishes with a reminder that part of this predestination is that we should trust/believe Jesus, after hearing his teachings, which themselves are called the "good news of our salvation". (verses 12-13)

If you can get people to make these passages their cornerstone (and keep them away from verses 12 and 13 of Ephesians 1), then yes, maybe the teaching that some people were destined to be good and others destined to be bad could be substantiated. But from where I stand, looking at everything that Jesus said, it appears that what God "predestines" does not take away anyone's free will. It is, in fact, what he has DESIRED since before the world was made, and that is that we should ALL come to believe the good news that Jesus taught.

It kind of goes along with the verse that says, "Many are called, but few are chosen." Calling and choosing sound so very similar, but it seems that the "chosen" people only differ from the many who are called in that they are those who have RESPONDED to the call. That involves a choice on our part. You cannot get around that. In fact, as far as I know, the predestinationalists teach people to respond too. Most of them encourage people to (choose to?) say the ritual prayer which seems to be a necessary ingredient in their formula for salvation.

I personally prefer to get people to respond to the Jesus of the Bible, by accepting his teachings... "Being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of his own will, that we, who first TRUSTED IN CHRIST after we had heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, should be to the praise of his glory."

So let us praise and glorify God for having revealed his will through the teachings of Jesus. Let us trust those teachings and the One who spoke them as the means of our salvation. And let us recognise that this whole process was part of his plan long before the world existed.

For ever and ever, Amen.