“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
The biblical concept of divine predestination can encourage the Christian, but only if they truly understand it. Unfortunately, many have taken Paul’s words about predestination to the Romans in this passage to mean something which doesn’t go along with what the rest of the Bible teaches. Predestination is taught by many to mean that God has already made up His mind to step in and choose to disregard the unrepentant sin of some among us and give them salvation anyway. The Bible teaches otherwise.
For example, God shows no partiality or favoritism of any kind (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11; 10:12; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25). However, that cannot be true if God has predestined some of us to be saved unconditionally rather than all of us. God also wants everyone to be saved. The reason He gave His only begotten Son was because He loved the world (John 3:16). God desires all to be saved and for none to perish (1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9). That being the case, why would God predestine only some of us to be saved regardless of whether we repent of our sins as some say? If God has already determined that some of us are predestined for salvation unconditionally, that means He has also predetermined that the rest of us are destined for an eternity in hell regardless of whether we strive to serve Him or not. Why would He have already decided that some of us are going to hell regardless of whether we repent if He doesn’t want anyone to go to hell?
If this interpretation of predestination which says that God has unconditionally predetermined that some of us are saved regardless of our faithfulness to Him is true, why is the Bible filled with so many warnings to Christians? There are warnings about Satan and his deceptions and temptations (1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 4:27; 6:11; James 4:7), warnings to avoid sin so one can avoid hell (Matthew 5:22, 29-30) and warnings about falling away from one’s salvation (Hebrew 10:26-31). If God has already predestined someone to be saved or condemned no matter what, why would any of these warnings be in the Bible? If He has already decided that I’m going to be saved unconditionally, why warn me to be on the alert for Satan? If He already predestined me for salvation unconditionally, what can Satan do about it? Why would He warn those whom He has already decided are going to spend eternity in hell that they better not sin or else hell will be the result? Why the warnings about falling away from one’s salvation if He has already decided that hell is going to be where I end up no matter whether I obey Him or not? In fact, why go to church or read my Bible or uphold any sort of morality if God has already decided that I’m going to be saved unconditionally?
Here’s what the Bible actually teaches about predestination in the Romans passage above. In verse 28, Paul tells us that God causes all things “to work together for good” (which would include going to heaven) for two specific groups: “those who love God” and “those who are called according to His purpose.” One cannot love God without choosing to obey Him (John 14:15; Joshua 24:15). His purpose for those whom He calls is to follow Christ’s example (1 Peter 2:20-21). He calls us through His gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). That gospel requires us to obey Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). So when Paul says that God predestined, justified and glorified those whom He called (Romans 8:30), he’s referring only to those who love God through their obedience to Him, those who obediently respond to the gospel call He gives by His grace.
God’s predestination is not random or unconditional. He has already predetermined that Christ will save those who obey Him (Hebrew 5:9). Is that you and me?