The Dilemma of Predestination


Colin and Russell Standish

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The concept of the divine predestination of the saved was central to the theology of Augustine. It proved to be a very tenacious and powerful error in Catholicism, and subsequently in Protestantism. Unquestionably the prestige of Luther and Calvin, both of whom espoused this doctrine, is such that modern-day adherents to this doctrine believe that it has strong Protestant roots. There are Biblical texts which, on superficial reading, seem to support the Augustinian concept. Such texts, if they did in fact support the notion of predestination, would contradict the overwhelming testimony of Scripture which emphasizes human choice as essential to the reception of God's saving grace. God, however, is not the author of confusion. Scripture is never self-contradictory.

John Calvin, himself, acknowledged the unanswered questions of the doctrine of predestination.

If it be evidently the result of the Divine will, that salvation is freely offered to some, and others are prevented from attaining it,-this immediately gives rise to important and difficult questions, which are incapable of any other explanation, than by the establishment of pious minds in what ought to be received concerning election and predestination-a question, in the opinion of many, full of perplexity; for they consider nothing more unreasonable, than that, to the common mass of mankind, some should be predestinated to salvation and others to destruction (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. III., p. 140).

Calvin believed this was the reason some did not have the gospel preached to them, while others rejected the gospel when they heard it. He could not grasp the import that those who reject the gospel do so because of a conscious decision, nor could he understand that God judges the heathen who have not heard the gospel according to their response to the Holy Spirit's promptings.

For when the gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another (Romans 2:14-15).


In dealing with the predestinarian dilemma we must also look at its concomitant concept of "once saved, always saved." This concept states that once we are saved by Christ we can never lose that salvation. Here are some of the texts that have been used to support this Augustinian concept.

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will (Ephesians 1:5). In whom we also have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11).

What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (Romans 11:7).
And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom He hath chosen, He hath shortened the days (Mark 13:20).


In examining these texts we want to do two things. First, we want to examine the way in which Scripture uses the words chosen, election, and predestination; and then evaluate those texts which make it plain that God is not an arbitrary god, a god who manipulates the human race. He is a God who has given to man reason and decision-making capacities, the ability to choose, to accept and to reject. We understand this clearly in everyday life, that God has not limited our ability to choose and decide to the common activities of life. This gift pertains also to the capacity of each person to choose Christ or Satan as his Lord, to decide to follow a course of right or wrong, to believe truth or error, to accept salvation or destruction, eternal life or death. Once a choice is made for Christ it affects even the smallest decisions of life. Our choice for Christ will affect what we eat and drink, it will affect the clothes we wear, it will affect the kind of car we purchase, it will affect how we use our money and how we use our discretionary time. It affects our conversation and what we read. Indeed there is nothing that is unaffected by our surrender to Jesus Christ. Some of the many texts which bear significant relevance to this issue demand examination.

He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; and when I spake, they did not hear but: they did evil before Mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not (Isaiah 66:3-4).

Men who do wrong have chosen their own ways. As a result the Lord permits delusions to come upon them. He has called them but they have not responded, for they continue to choose to do evil. This is the basic understanding of God's calling and His choosing. God calls but He chooses only those who obey Him. He rejects all those who have rejected His call upon their lives. Thus Jesus could say,
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen (Matthew 20:16).
For many are called, but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14).

The biblical concept of election is built upon the conditions of salvation. As we have emphasized earlier, those conditions save no man, for we are saved only by the death, resurrection and ministry of Jesus Christ. But human choices decide whether or not the free salvation of God is accepted in the life. That is consistent with the promise that God gave to the eunuchs in the days of the prophet Isaiah.

For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep My sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and take hold of My covenant. Even unto them will I give in Mine house and within My walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:4-5).

This truth parallels Paul's explanation to the Roman believers. And He that teacheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified (Romans 8:27-30).

Verse 28 expresses one of the conditions of God's calling. It is a calling to those who love God. It is noted in verse 29 that these calls are made according to the foreknowledge of God. Now theologians have debated for centuries over the issue of foreknowledge as opposed to predestination. There are those who claim that if God has foreknowledge, then He has total control, for the destiny of God cannot be otherwise. But indeed foreknowledge in no way demands that God has intervened or made an arbitrary decision in terms of the human race. Foreknowledge simply recognizes that God knows how every human being will respond to His free gift of salvation and to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Such foreknowledge does not imply a causal relationship where God determines or ordains the fate of His creation. Judas did not have to betray Christ. He chose through his own decision-making process to betray his Lord and Saviour. He had not responded to the full dominance of Christ's love in his life.


Yet our God who sees the future as clearly as He sees the past and the present, knew from the days of eternity. Thus the Lord could prophesy Judas' fateful decision.

Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of My bread, hath lifted up his heel against Me (Psalm 41:9).

But as we read Christ's loving pleas to Judas we can but recognize that as with all humanity, Christ treated Judas as if He did not possess such foreknowledge. Only our God could demonstrate such love. Another example of human choice is witnessed through the record of Paul. For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10).

Demas chose the love of this present world above the love of God. It was his personal decision. God most certainly did not impose that choice upon him. Christ has chosen the entire human race, but we still must make our choice to accept His calling. When Jesus told the disciples that He had chosen them, He included Judas with the rest of the disciples, but tragically Judas did not fully respond to Him.

Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you (John 15:16).


The concept that Christ ordained some to eternal salvation and others to eternal destruction is a false theory built upon pagan concepts of a god in total and unwavering control. This concept leaves the human race without power to decide or to choose. God gives us unequivocal evidence that we must make choices along the pathway to salvation. This power of decision is His gift to us. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him (1 Kings 18:21).
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:15).

Jesus opens His heart to all men. In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink (John 7:37, emphasis added). Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28, emphasis added).

In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus specifies the choices that we must make. Our decisions determine whether we accept the free gift of God's salvation. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23).

It will be noted that those who have failed to receive the gift of eternal life will be those who continue to sin. The sin and live theology so prevalent in evangelicalism today is certainly the deception of Satan as he seeks to gather all whom he can under his banner. The promises of God are too clear. God has not preordained some to eternal salvation, while others are capriciously condemned to eternal destruction.

Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely (Revelation 22:17).


When we understand these things, we can understand the wonderful counsel of Peter in his second letter.
According to His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3-11).

Here is recorded what is sometimes called Peter's ladder. A careful examination of this text leads to the conclusion that if we do not "climb" this ladder we will lose our calling and election and fail to obtain eternal life. Peter's ladder, in many ways, is similar to the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Galatians 5:22-24).

If we do not grow in these Christian attributes we are blind, we have forgotten to be purged from our sins, and Peter calls for diligence to make our calling and election sure, that we might attain of everlasting life. If God predetermined our lives it would be worthless for Peter to offer the advice given. Now we can understand Paul and Peter's concept of election. Paul cites the condition of election.

Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness (Titus 1:1). Faith, truth and godliness-there is no election without these characteristics. In God's power they must be exercised by the believers. To the church in Colosse Paul wrote: Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man hath a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness (Colossians 3:12-14).

Those who feel eternal security while they are living a life of sin and selfishness face terrible tragedy on the day of the Lord when they realize they are lost for eternity. Peter presents the true understanding of God's election according to His foreknowledge, for such election comes through sanctification of the Spirit and obedience.

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied (1 Peter 1:2).

Again we must emphasize that it is not obedience that saves, but those who have accepted the fullness of the sacrifice of Christ in their lives have sought Christ not only for forgiveness, but have asked Him to transform their lives so that they may live lives in daily conformity to the will of God.


There is another implication worthy of our investigation. The Bible offers clear testimony that those who once followed in the pathway of righteousness, but who have returned to their lives of worldliness and sin, will not be saved. The Bible most decidedly does not teach the error of "once saved, always saved." Consider these passages of Scripture:

But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die (Ezekiel 18:24).

Again, when a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand (Ezekiel 3:20).

Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness: neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth. When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust in his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it. . . . When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby (Ezekiel 33:12-13, 18).

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).

For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27). For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:20-22).

There is an urgent need for those Evangelicals who hold to the concept of divine predestination and who proclaim the concept of "once saved, always saved" to reevaluate them in the light of the Scripture. Our relationship with Christ is a day-by-day relationship as we surrender to Jesus, asking Him to take our lives and through His ministration to give us victory over every satanic deception.


Our God is able through Christ to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the throne of God (Jude 24). To hold to the doctrine of predestination is to deny the infinite love of God. What a monster God would be if the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the world were preordained to eternal burning torment, when they had not the slightest opportunity to choose salvation. Such persons without the choice to be born or not, without a choice once they are born, to have to suffer, not for a thousand years, a million years, a billion years or even a trillion years, but forever and ever and ever in the excruciating agony of hell fire at the arbitrary decision of a god, would be the most telling evidence against the Biblical truth that God is love, which could ever be provided. There is but one god who would desire thus to treat poor mortals, and that is the one who styled himself the god of this world-Satan, himself. Tragically, myriads over the centuries have rejected Christ because they saw in this the concept of an arbitrary and wholly fiendish god when, had they been taught the truth, they would have known that God is love (1 John 4:8).

In recent times Colin has twice traveled on airplanes with evangelical ministers. In both conversations, the concepts of predestination and eternal burning torment have been discussed. While both affirmed their belief in these teachings, neither seemed to have given the slightest consideration to the diabolical consequences of such teaching. We serve a God who so loved the world that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). The very heart of the gospel dispels any concept of an arbitrary god, for such a god might induce servitude because of fear, but never grateful obedience because of the reciprocation of love. Surely the linkage of predestination with eternal burning punishment is one of the most vulnerable doctrines of Evangelicalism, one screaming out for redress. That all Scripture denies predestinarian theology provides the pressing motivation for such a change lest more clear-thinking men and women reject this shameful caricature of our dear Saviour