Predestination: Why do We Battle Over It?

Predestination. A topic of immense popularity among Christian circles. This topic has been studied, debated for or against, supported by some, and ridiculed by many. I am not here trying to argue for predestination, nor to trample it. Please don’t get me wrong. As someone who has grown up in a Reformed Church and is attending an Australian Presbyterian one (which is, N.B., very much into Calvinism), I think the idea of predestination is, to a large extent, biblical. Nonetheless, here I merely want to invite everyone, particularly those die-hard Calvinists, to step back from the battle over this problem and learn a little bit from the Apostle Paul. After all, the word for predestination (προορίζω) in the New Testament mostly occurs in Pauline epistles.

Rom. 8:29-30 is one of the most-used passages to argue for predestination. Indeed, the word predestination occurs twice here. But, instead of arguing what predestination means or what it entails, let’s look at what the purpose of predestination is. This is what v.29 says in the ESV, “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.” In other words, God predestined us so that we can be conformed to be like Christ. It is ultimately for Christ’s glory, and for us to be little “christs” (as also, in the beginning, we were intended to be the image of God).

We can see this idea also in Eph. 1:3-14, where, again, the word predestination occurs twice (in only one lengthy sentence of eulogy in the original language – 202 words). In v.4, the purpose of our calling before the foundation of the world is for us to be holy and blameless. In v.5, the purpose of predestination is for our adoption in Christ, and this results to our praise of his grace in v.6. Note also O’Brien’s comment on this passage:

The goal for which God chose his people in Christ is that we should be holy and blameless before him in love…… The divine purpose in our election was not simply to repair the damage done by sin but also to fulfil God’s original intention for humankind, namely, to create for himself a people perfectly conformed to the likeness of his Son (Rom. 8:29–30) (1999, p.100).

Also, in v.10, there is the idea of unification of all things in Christ, and this is the mystery of God’s purpose. There has always been a plan to restore harmony and unity in all things in Christ, and this plan is related to our predestination to be adopted in Christ. In vv.11-12, where the word predestination occurs again, the idea is somewhat similar to the previous part; i.e. because we have been predestined to be adopted in Christ, we obtain an inheritance along with him, and this results to our praise of his glory.

Despite the complexity of ideas in these two passages, we can take one simple message here. Our predestination carries a purpose, which is to unite us in Christ so that we can be conformed to his image and be little “christs”. Predestination carries an implication; i.e. we are heirs of all things united in Christ, and this results to our praise of his glory and grace. Therefore, three values are crucial: holiness as a result of conformity, unity and harmony as the implications of adoption, and praise as the response of predestination.

However, it is a pity that, in this “holy war” over the issue of predestination, we don’t operate according to those values. In debating over this topic, we fight with our brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with us as if they are our enemies. We argue over predestination but forget what it is all about. Instead of becoming like Christ who was crucified for us “while we were God’s enemies” (Rom. 5:10), we are more like those people who yelled: “Crucify him!”. Instead of pursuing unity and harmony, we build a fence between “us” and “them”, and we make others stumble from faith by making them see our lack of love towards each other. Instead of praising God for our adoption, we praise Calvin for “getting it right” and condemn Arminius or whoever follows him.

Remember this: In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:16-17).

Our battle is with the spiritual forces of evil, not with each other. Let us use the sword of the Spirit that is the word of God to slay evil and to defend our brothers and sisters from it, not the other way around.

Soli Deo Gloria

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