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Ephesians 1:11

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

Mischaracterizations of the Augustinian, or Calvinistic, doctrine of predestination abound, including the idea that since God does not choose people for salvation based on foreknowledge of their faith or for any other reason in them, His choice must be arbitrary. There must be no reason why the Lord chooses those whom He chooses. It is as driven by purpose as any game of chance. God, as it were, played the cosmic lottery and certain people just happened to end up winners while others happened to end up losers.

In reality, however, those who make such a criticism have failed to make a crucial distinction between God’s choice as not being made based on any reason in us and God’s choice as not being made based on any reason. We cannot assume that there is no reason for divine election just because the Lord does not find the reason for choosing His elect in His foreknowledge of their faith, their own righteousness, or any other factor in them. Scripture never says that there is no reason or motivating factor behind the Lord’s choice of those He will call to faith and those He will pass over for salvation; it only says that this reason or motivation is not to be located in the objects of His affection, namely, His elect.

God’s predestination cannot be arbitrary because we know that our Maker is wise and purposeful. Passages such as Ephesians 1:11 inform us that the Lord makes decisions according to the counsel of His will. An arbitrary being would listen to no advice, would seek no wisdom from counselors. Certainly, the Lord does not seek outside counsel, but He does act according to His own counsel. He is the “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27). As a loving communion of three divine persons, He has within Himself all the wise counsel He needs. He has no need for outside input. Thus, although He has not revealed all the reasons for choosing those whom He has elected, His choice has not been made arbitrarily.

Our Creator has not revealed why He chose Sally and not Bob for salvation, but He has revealed that He has chosen to elect only some for salvation according to the “purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5), and this purpose is to reveal His character to His creation. In leaving some in their sin and judging them for it, He shows His wrath and power. In choosing others for salvation, He shows the glory of His mercy (Rom. 9:22–24). And this glory is also shown to us in order to give His Son an inheritance, to satisfy Him that His work has actually accomplished salvation (Isa. 53:11).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Sometimes the misunderstandings that people have about different theological topics are not really their own fault; rather, the church has not been clear enough in its teaching. No doubt, many think that Calvinism presents us with an arbitrary God because believers in the Reformed tradition have not always done an adequate job explaining Augustinian/Calvinistic doctrine. Let us be careful not to present a wrong view of God in our effort to affirm what the Bible says about predestination.

For Further Study
  • Proverbs 16:4
  • Isaiah 14:24
  • Ephesians 3:11
  • James 5:11

Justice and Mercy

Predestination and Evangelism

Keep Reading The Fifteenth Century

From the July 2015 Issue
Jul 2015 Issue