How does God determine who he will save and not save?
If you ever speak about the doctrine of election and predestination, you are sure to get that question asked. Numerous times have I been asked this and numerous times the answer of “his glory”:
Isaiah 48:11 (CSB) I will act for my own sake, indeed, my own, for how can I be defiled? I will not give my glory to another.
Proverbs 25:2 (CSB) It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to investigate a matter.
… and his pleasure:
Philippians 2:13 (CSB) For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.
Furthermore, to answer that “the secret things belong to the LORD (Deuteronomy 29:29)” is merely a copout to most people. Fair enough.
Perhaps none of us can ever answer why God saves some and damn others. Perhaps I, as a believer and non-believer alike, don’t want to take Romans, chapters 9 through 11, at face value by making up all sort of excuses like “those chapters are concerning Israel only and not for us Gentiles” (although Paul will go on to say in Galatians 3 that because we have faith in the one seed of Abraham, that is Jesus Christ our Lord, makes all of us sons of Abraham—but I digress.)
I can sit and pour out every single passage where the elect, election, and predestination was spoken about in the New Testament. I can sit and point out in all the Old Testament and New Testament stories where there was not one single person who was out looking for God but instead, God found them (Romans 3:10-12). The Bible along with every single store, television show, play, opera and movie ever always shows the greater meta-narrative: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Yet, when the Bible speaks of certain individuals who were saved by God, it continuously shows one thing to be true: we were apart from God, we were not seeking after him and yet God saves.
Even this to be true, you could resist and say, “The Bible doesn’t explicitly say such things.” Fair enough.
So then maybe it is my American upbringing has taught me (and rightfully so) that all should be treated equally and therefore, God, being a loving God, should save us all even though every single one of us has waged war against the Almighty and we have all blasphemed his holy name.
So let me teach what the doctrine of Predestination really teaches. If we cannot see it from the macro level, let me do my best to explain it here on the ground level.
The path of humankind leads to destruction.
Exodus 22:20 (CSB) “Whoever sacrifices to any gods, except the LORD alone, is to be set apart for destruction.
…as oppose to:
Exodus 20:3 (CSB) Do not have other gods besides me.Exodus 20:3 (CSB) Do not have other gods besides me.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (CSB) “Listen, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Jesus speaks of two paths: one doorway leading to life everlasting or the highway to hell:
Matthew 7:13-14 (CSB) “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.
Paul clarifies Christ’s point out in Romans 8:3-8.
Romans 8:3-8 (CSB) For what the law could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering, 4 in order that the law’s requirement would be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on the things of the Spirit. 6 Now the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mindset of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it is unable to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
In other words, You cannot serve two masters. You cannot go down two paths at the same time. There is no third option.
And Exodus 22:20 speaks of it clearly: If you love and worship something other than the Creator God, you are headed for destruction.
To put it bluntly, we are all destined to die.
Keep moving through the Old Testament. When we get to Deuteronomy and Joshua, we see that God has commanded the Israelites to devoted entire cities to utter destruction due to God’s righteous judgment. Again, while “innocent before proven guilty” is just and merciful among mortals, limited in knowledge and wisdom, in the eyes of God we all have sinned and fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23) and the wages we earn for fallen short is death (Romans 6:23 cf. Genesis 2:16).
Romans 3:23 (CSB) For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;
Romans 6:23a (CSB) For the wages of sin is death…
Genesis 2:16-17 (CSB) And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
It is hard for us to imagine or understand how every single man, woman, and child can be condemned to death when we have no way of knowing if they lived good and decent lives. What if they were helpful, kind and understanding? What if they lived in peace and love? What if they were basically good? We think we are good and the Lord gets to the heart of the matter:
Proverbs 16:2 (CSB) All a person’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs motives.
Yet, those who believe in God know that none of us are good, no, not even one:
Romans 3:10-12 (CSB) as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. 11 There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.
We may have to undo our American upbringing when we approach the throne of God and begin to study the nature of God. This does not mean we condemn others for judgment is still on God. That doesn’t mean we seek out revenge for those who have harmed us because revenge is of the Lord. That doesn’t mean we stop bringing evildoers to justice, for God makes this abundantly clear that we are to submit to the authorities placed over us for they are servants of God’s justice:
Romans 13:1-2 (CSB) Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.
Yet, this is the life we live apart from God:
Matthew 7:13 (CSB) Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it.
God is omniscient in that He is all knowing and sees the heart:
1 Samuel 16:7 (CSB) But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the LORD sees, for humans see what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.”
Romans 8:27 (CSB) And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
God is holy for he does not have to tolerate sin. God is omnipotent in that He alone has the power to make all things right-standing with Him. And in order to make everything right with Him, God is perfectly just to remove our lives from the face of the earth and judge us to live apart from Him forever.
But God, who is rich in grace, abundant in mercy and pours out his loving kindness as a flood, predestines His people to not to destruction and not to die but to peace, joy, hope, and love and to finally live!
Matthew 7:14 (CSB) How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.
Our destiny lies in destruction. To try to control our own destiny is to forsake and forget the Lord your God:
Isaiah 65:11-12 (CSB) But you who abandon the LORD,
who forget my holy mountain,
who prepare a table for Fortune
and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny,
I will destine you for the sword,
and all of you will kneel down to be slaughtered,
because I called and you did not answer,
I spoke and you did not hear;
you did what was evil in my sight
and chose what I did not delight in.”
But God saves those who he foreknew and loved before the beginning of time and before the foundations of the earth were laid and he will do everything to make them like Him. For those who heed his call and listen to his voice when He said “Come to me” and love Him, all good and evil things in this world will work together for good. We might be heading to destruction but God will call those whom he predestines and in turn, justify them before Himself and raise them up to be with Him forever.
Romans 8:28-30 (CSB) We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.