Check out the biblical backing for each side! Theologians throughout history have debated the topic and various church denominations have different views. Reflect on what resonates with the overarching biblical message of God's redeeming love. How can an all-powerful God, who loves all people, pre-destine some to salvation and not others?
God loves all people and desires that all people be reconciled to God (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). Predestination is the doctrine that God elects only some to salvation, and God's purpose overrides God's desires, Predestination can mean that humans lost the ability to make choices for good, in the Fall. We cannot decide to follow God unless God acts first. Double predestination is the belief that God also predestines certain people to go to Hell. Jesus's sacrifice was to save God's elect and pass over the rest. Some believe God’s predestines not only salvation, but divine providence governs our daily lives. Early Protestant reformers believed the human will is in bondage to sin. John Calvin believed man is totally depraved and has no capacity to do good unless God has given it to them.
"Free will does not enable any man to perform good works unless he is assisted by grace" - John Calvin
Martin Luther said that humans have free will for human matters, not spiritual ones. His teaching focused on being saved by faith alone, not by good works and not by human choice.
"He that will maintain that man's free will is able to do or work anything in spiritual cases, be they ever so small, denies Christ." - Martin Luther
Protestant denominations following Calvinist, Reformed, or Lutheran traditions tend to accept predestination.
The historic position of the church is that God wants humans to come to believe and follow out of their own freedom of choice. Prior to Augustine, all of the Church fathers believed the Bible supported free will:
"Man was constituted free by God...master of his own will" -Tertullian
"God made man a free agent from the beginning, possessing his own power"
"If they are irreligious...made such not by nature but by their own choice"- Ignatius
Protestant denominations such as Anglican, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, Anabaptist, Brethren, and charismatic churches believe humans have the freedom to choose to do good or evil and to believe or deny God. Humans are made in God's image and have free will as God does.
"For he created man in his own image: A spirit like himself; a spirit endued with understanding, with will or affections, and liberty; without which, neither his understanding nor his affections could have been of any use, neither would he have been capable either of vice or virtue. He could not be a moral agent, any more than a tree or a stone." - John Wesley.
Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having." - C. S. Lewis
"God gives us freedom to choose our own path" - Billy Graham organization
God does not want to pull all the strings with us as puppets but gains pleasure when we run to our heavenly Father as loving children. God knows that some will choose not to come, and has foreknowledge of who will decide to believe and be saved. God loves all people and desires that all people be reconciled to God (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). Jesus's sacrifice was sufficient to save all humanity, and God is patient, waiting for all to repent and be saved. Human love and obedience to God mean more when it is voluntary.
Free Will in the Trinity
The historic position of the church as expressed in the Nicene Creed is that Jesus is "begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father.
Jesus had free will and the freedom and authority to either lay down his life or not. Jesus is not subordinate to the Father. The Father is God; Jesus is God, the Spirit is God. This is nothing new; it's the essence of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Recent preaching shows Jesus as eternally subordinate. Christians support predestination by saying that Jesus obeyed the will of the Father and is therefore subordinate to the Father. This is different frmo the Nicene Creed and presents the Father as God and the Son and Spirit as obedient deities of a lesser nature. The Son may function as a mediator and the Spirit as an advocate, but they are also God. The Holy Trinity has always been three persons forming one God. The Father, the Spirit, and the Son are each God.
Jesus is not subordinate to God. Jesus is God. Imagine you are both a father and a business owner. Your daughter is working for you and asks for a raise. Do you say 'As your father, I'll petition the owner on your behalf'? No - you are the business owner and the father.
Jesus does not petition God on your behalf. Jesus is God. The three persons of the Triune God are equal, have been since creation, and have the same goal: to love and redeem all humanity. In a separate post, I discuss whether or not the Holy Trinity is a hierarchy.
The Bible indicates that the Father, Son, and Spirit work together with one goal: the redemption of humans and the restoration of our relationship with God. The Spirit and Son are not subordinate to the Father. All three are God. The Bible shows that all of the three persons of the Trinity are involved in raising Jesus from the dead.
The false interpretation of the Holy Trinity as a hierarchy of power and authority has been used to tell women to be subordinate to men, with men interceding to God for women. However, the Bible says men and women are equal, and each can approach God directly, without a human intercessor.
What is the biblical evidence for Predestination and for Free Will?
Look at these references and decide for yourself how to read the passages that are used to back Predestination vs. Free Will.
God had foreknowledge of who God would elect for salvation (1 Peter 1:1-2)
God did not decide but had foreknowledge of human choices (1 Peter 1:1-2).
Those God foreknew, God predestined to be shaped into being Christ-like, justified and glorified. Romans 8:29-30
If you declare Jesus is Lord and believe God raised him from the dead, you will be saved and justified. God shapes the lives of anyone willing to be Christ-like Romans 10:9-13
All people who believe in Christ are made right with God through their faith Romans 3:22
There is no favouritism among God’s elect Colossians 3:11-13, 1 Corinthians 12:13
God shows no favouritism and blesses all who call on him. Romans 2:11, Acts 10:34, Galatians 2:6, Galatians 3:28-39, Colossians 3:11-12
God chose us before the creation of the world to be adopted as children of God. Eph. 1:3-14
God chooses everyone; You are chosen and made heirs when you accept God's offer and believe Jesus. Eph. 1:3-14
The elect are chosen by God to follow God's example, walk in love, just as Christ loved us (Eph. 5:1-2).
Believers are urged to avoid idolatry, immorality, injustice or greed and live a life worthy of God. Eph. 4:1, Eph. 5:5, 1 Cor. 6:9-11
You, believers, are chosen to be God's elect and show God to the world. Colossians 3:12
You are to choose to be compassionate, kind, humble, patient, loving. Colossians 3:12-14
God cares for the elect (Matthew 24:22) and will gather the elect (Matthew 24:31).
Everyone who asks, receives (Matthew 7:7-8), and those who deserve to come are those who respond to the invitation (Matthew 22:1-14).
No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them John 6:44-47
Everyone who hears and obeys the Father comes to Jesus (John 6:44-47) Anyone who chooses to believe has eternal life
John 3:15-17 God did not send Jesus to judge the world but save it. If you love Jesus, do what he commands John 14:15
We know God chose you because we could see the Holy Spirit in your lives. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
You are God’s chosen because you welcomed the message and imitate Jesus 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7
God chose you to inherit God's blessing. 1 Peter 3:7-9
God wants everyone to turn to him, receive God's blessing and share it by changing the way they live. 2 Peter 3:9
Paul says Jesus and the Father sent Paul as an apostle. Galatians 1:1. Paul says he is God's chosen instrument to preach to the Gentiles. Acts 9:15.
You are free but asked to love and serve one another; you won’t inherit God’s kingdom if you choose to use your freedom for evil. Galatians 5:13-21
Pauls says God called him to be an apostle (1 Corinthians 1:1-2).
God calls each one to do their own part; Pursue the greater gift: love.(1 Corinthians 12:28-31)
No one can say the early baptismal creed "Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3) so God decides who comes to believe.
Everyone who says the early baptismal creed “Jesus is Lord” is expressing their belief. Whether you have gifts that are seen as important/unimportant, everyone who believes this creed has accepted the gifts of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3
We may look at Jesus as representing a combination of free will and predestination. The orthodox church teaching is that the three persons of the Holy Trinity are equal in substance and in essence. Some passages seem to infer that God has authority over Jesus:
For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NLT).
"[Jesus] humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, (Philippians 2:8-9 NLT).
However, other passages show that Jesus has full authority over himself. He voluntarily chooses to humble himself:
"No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18 NLT)
"The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30 NLT)
"Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.11 Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do. (John 14:10-11 NLT)
Paul's letters state that God adopts all people, Jew or Gentile, male or female, into God's family and gives each one the rights of sons (Romans 8:17, Galatians 4:4-7).
May you be blessed as you work out what you believe.
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:
Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold
The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role