I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
Satan knows our salvation is found in the love of God. Therefore he does his best to skew the love of God that shines from the cross. One horrendous ways he does that is by presenting a “gospel” in which the unbeliever, instead of perishing, is burned and tortured throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Another way he skews the love that shines from the cross is by teaching that God’s sovereign will has predestined some people to be lost. They simply have no choice. This teaching suggests that because God knows the end from the beginning there is no way we could have any choice. John 8:36 tells us Jesus came to free us from Satan’s dominion over us. Thus the Almighty’s sovereign will and the purpose of the cross is to give us freedom so we can choose who we will serve.
So first, let’s look at choice.
In Genesis 24 Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. The servant prays for a sign showing who God picked to wed Isaac. The sign points to Rebekah. After much discussion and the family all agreeing God had picked Rebekah, look what happens:
Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” Genesis 24:58 NKJV
So even though God knew the end from the beginning Rebekah still had a choice! Did God know Rebekah would say, “Yes”? Sure! Did he force Rebekah to say Yes? No!
On the fourth Sunday of the month all my friends know I am going golfing. Do my friends make me go golf? No! So knowing what will happen is not necessarily forcing what will happen. In the case of Rebekah and Isaac, God did arrange the meeting with Rebekah, but Rebekah still had a choice.
Of course, God foreknows much differently than we do. He reminds us that His ways are not like our ways. (Isa 55:8) Thus we just have to accept what He tells us, even when it is outside our realm of experience. That, too, is a matter of submitting to His sovereign will. Over and over He gives us a choice, and He also tells us He knows the end from the beginning. It was not God’s will for Israel to wander 40 years in the wilderness, but because most of the spies chose not to believe, that is what happened. It is not God’s will for people to starve to death around the world. These are the results of sin which are a by-product of allowing freedom of choice for this planet, and not specifically the consequences of God’s sovereign will.
Remember that we are in this sinful world in the first place because God realizes that love without choices is not real love. That’s why He created Lucifer, even though He knew that he would become became Satan. God knew that, in order for love to reign in the universe, free choice has to reign too. Jesus says,
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” John 12:32
Jesus is drawing everyone to Himself. Everyone. Nowhere in the Bible do we see where God chose anyone to be lost. We will get to that in a bit, but for now we see that while Jesus draws everyone to Him, obviously everyone is not choosing to be saved. That is why Paul tells us in Hebrews 2:3 not to neglect this great salvation and in Hebrews 4:7 not to harden our hearts against this salvation.
Jesus is drawing the world to Himself, and the only way to be lost is to resist this love! You have to choose not to be drawn to Christ, otherwise, according to Scripture you will be drawn to Him.
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: Matthew 25:41 NKJV
Notice the fire is not prepared for anyone but the devil and his angels. Jesus does not say, “the fire prepared for the devil and his angels and those who I have not elected” or “those whom I’ve predestined to be lost.” He does not even say “Judas!” Clear and simple: The fire was prepared for the devil and His angels, and nobody else. Will Judas be there? Sadly inspiration tells us yes, but not by God’s choice. It will be by Judas’ own choice!
God’s choice is for us all to be saved, which leads us to the next point I want to share.
The Bible does teach predestination!
But it does not teach predestination without choice. Also, whenever the Bible mentions predestination, it is always predestination to be saved. The Bible nowhere teaches that God has preordained or predestined anyone to be lost.
“Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! Isaiah 45:22 NKJV
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved…1 Timothy 2:4 NKJV
“All” has to mean “All.” If God wants all humankind to be saved, that has to mean that He does not want anyone to be lost. Therefore He has not chosen or predestined anyone to be lost.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:29
having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself…Ephesians 1:5 NKJV
These and Romans 8:30 are the only times predestination is mentioned in the NKJV. God’s predestination always leads to salvation. Nowhere does the Bible teach that anyone is predestined to be lost. Some people reason within themselves, independently from Scripture, that since God knows who is going to be lost, that takes free choice away. But Scripture teaches we are all predestined to be saved. Therefore the only way to be lost is by using our God-given free choice to be lost, totally independent of God’s plan.
Wait a minute though! Didn’t God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Yes, in the same way that the same sun that melts butter hardens clay. When we choose to resist God’s love we actually use God’s love as a way to harden our hearts.
Exodus 8:15 says,
“But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.”
And again in Exodus 8:32 we read,
“And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.”
So we clearly see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, while God takes responsibility for what He allows or does not prevent, since He gives us all a free choice.
Does Romans 9 teach us God wanted Jacob to be saved, but Esau to be lost? Didn’t God even say, “Jacob I loved, Esau I have hated?” Yes, but by using the words love and hate, God was not saying He loved one and hated the other as we use those words today. Remember in Luke 14:26 Jesus says we must hate our families in order to follow Him. Of course He simply means we must prefer Jesus over our families. Likewise, in Romans 9 Paul is not saying God wanted Jacob to be eternally saved and Esau eternally lost. That was not the issue of Romans 9. The issue is clear:
it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” Romans 9:12 NKJV
The issue was clearly the temporal birthright and not eternal salvation. God wants all men, including Esau, to be saved.
Some say that God predestined Judas to betray Jesus, but while God did know what would happen, it was not God who arranged for Judas to betray Jesus. It was not God but Satan that entered into Judas.
Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” John 13:27 NKJV
So we have seen that God wants all men to be saved, and that predestination in the Bible always refers to salvation and never condemnation. While God wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) does that take away our choice or does God give us a choice?
choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…Joshua 24:15 NKJV
I believe Ellen White stated it well when she wrote:
The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him. Desires for goodness and holiness are right as far as they go; but if you stop here, they will avail nothing. Many will be lost while hoping and desiring to be Christians. They do not come to the point of yielding the will to God. They do not now choose to be Christians. Through the right exercise of the will, an entire change may be made in your life. By yielding up your will to Christ, you ally yourself with the power that is above all principalities and powers. You will have strength from above to hold you steadfast, and thus through constant surrender to God you will be enabled to live the new life, even the life of faith. -Ellen White, Steps to Christ Pages 47-48
Just as God worked everything out for Rebekah to be Isaac’s bride while she was still allowed to choose if she would “go with this man,” so today Jesus has worked everything out for us to be His bride, but He still gives us free choice. Will you go with this man?
You may study this week’s Sabbath School Lesson here.