Few doctrines spark as much controversy or provoke as much consternation as the doctrine of predestination. It is a difficult doctrine that demands to be handled with great care and caution. Yet it is a biblical doctrine and therefore demands to be handled. We dare not ignore it.
Virtually all Christian churches have some doctrine of predestination. This is unavoidable since the concept is clearly found in Holy Scripture. Those churches, however, disagree, sometimes strongly, over its meaning. The Methodist view differs from the Lutheran view, which disagrees with the Presbyterian view. Though their views differ, each is trying to come to grips with this difficult matter.
What predestination means, in its most elementary form, is that our final destination, heaven or hell, is decided by God not only before we get there, but before we are even born. It teaches that our ultimate destiny is in the hands of God. Another way of saying it is this: From all eternity, before we even existed, God decided to save some members of the human race and to let the rest of the human race perish. God made a choice—He chose some individuals to be saved into everlasting blessedness in heaven and others He chose to pass over, to allow them to follow the consequences of their sins into eternal torment in hell.
Accepting this definition is common to many churches. To get to the heart of the matter one must ask, how does God choose? The non-Reformed view, held by the vast majority of Christians, is that God makes that choice on the basis of His foreknowledge. God chooses for eternal life those whom He knows will choose Him. This is called the prescient view of predestination because it rests on God's foreknowledge of human decisions or acts.
The Reformed view differs in that it sees the ultimate decision for salvation resting with God and not with us. In this view, God's election is sovereign. It does not rest upon the foreseen decisions or responses of human beings. Indeed, it sees those decisions as flowing from the sovereign grace of God.
The Reformed view holds that, left to himself, no fallen person would ever choose God. Fallen people still have a free will and are able to choose what they desire. But the problem is that we have no desire for God and will not choose Christ unless first regenerated. Faith is a gift that comes out of rebirth. Only those who are elect will ever respond to the gospel in faith.
The elect do choose Christ, but only because they were first chosen by God. As in the case of Jacob and Esau, the elect are chosen solely on the basis of the sovereign good pleasure of God and not on the basis of anything they have done or will do. Paul declares:
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calls), it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger." . . . So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. (Romans 9:10-12, 16)
A vexing problem with predestination is that God does not choose or elect to save everybody. He reserves the right to have mercy upon whom He will have mercy. Some of fallen humanity receive the grace and mercy of election. The rest God passes over, leaving them in their sin. The nonelect receive justice. The elect receive mercy. No one receives injustice. God is not obligated to be merciful to any or to all alike. It is His decision how merciful He chooses to be. Yet He is never guilty of being unrighteous toward anyone (see Romans 9:14-15).