And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30
- The Purpose of God
Before the universe existed, God’s purpose for it has always been existing. Predestination is according to God’s purpose. The universe is not like a train running along the tracks at full speed without a conductor. God is the “conductor” and He determines how fast the locomotive goes, what and where the tracks are made of and where they are going, and all of that runs smoothly based upon the “map” that always exists in His mind. In other words, He has a purpose for the universe.
Isaiah 46:10 states, “My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” The two ideas “purpose” and “good pleasure” are parallel ideas in this verse. God always does what is pleasing to Him, and His pleasure is linked to His purpose. Thought God does all things freely, He does not act in an arbitrary fashion, but instead, He acts with a predetermined (from our standpoint) purpose. God acts on purpose as the next verse points to, “Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.” God’s purpose, then, is His plan: “Therefore hear the plan of the LORD which He has planned against
In the New Testament, the word most used in this context is boule, meaning “counsel” or “purpose.” The idea is the wise counsel upon which a decision is made. Sometimes it speaks of human plans based on deliberation. But regarding God, it is used several times of His predestination of all things or of specific things in particular. Four passages are especially pertinent:
NAU Acts 2:23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
NAU Acts 4:28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
NAU Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" In a future study, we will examine the context (reprobation). As for now, notice that the objection is based on a valid truth, namely, that God has an over-arching purpose even for the non-elect. Paul does not answer the objection by denying that God has a definite purpose for the reprobate.
NAU Ephesians 1:11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
The last passage mentioned above (Eph. 1:11) includes two words which are more or less synonymous. One is boule, the other is prothesin. We have been “predestined according to His purpose [prothesin] who works all things after the counsel of His will . . .” This word is used later in 3:11, “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Note that it is eternal and that it is carried out in time. The verb form is used in 1:9, “according to the kind intention which He purposed in Himself.”
Prothesin is also used in two important passages in Romans. First, Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This beloved verse contains an explicit proof of absolute predestination, and yet it is the favorite verse of many who explicitly and vehemently oppose the doctrine! But look closely at it. How do we know all things will work out for our good? Because God is working them that way. And why does He work that way? Because He decided to do so. And that decision is His purpose. If God could change His mind, then all assurance is undermined and we would do well to erase Romans 8:28 from our Bibles. But the text is inspired and proves that God has a purpose for all things, including the good of His saints. You will also notice that this verse precedes the “Golden Chain” of verses 29-30. The predestination and foreknowledge of verses 29-30 are but aspects of His purpose.
Prothesin occurs in the next chapter as Paul discusses the non-elect. Notice v. 11 “for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls . . .” The whole argument of this chapter is that God elects and rejects solely on the basis of His own will and purpose. His eternal purpose, therefore, is not in any way based on man’s will but on God’s. The word also appears in 2 Timothy 1:9, “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity . .”
In theology, we speak of this ultimate purpose as God’s decree. Sometimes this is mentioned in Scripture (e.g., Psa. 2:7). Because it has several aspects to it, we also speak of the decrees of God. But basically, it is only one decree that has several aspects. Just as God’s essence is one but nevertheless we describe Him by His various attributes/characteristics, so it is with the decree/decrees of God.
- The Program of God
In modern technological language, the universe has been pre-programmed. God’s predestination and purpose is His program. Scripture teaches that God created all things (Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; 1 Cor. 8:6, etc.). But God did not create in a happenstance manner. He created according to a previously determined blueprint – predestination/God’s eternal decree. In Luke 14:28-30, Jesus said that a wise builder first counts the cost in his plans before building and that is exactly what God did. Luke 14:31-32 continues Christ’s words. A general first has a battle plan, a strategy for winning. Proverbs 20:18 says, “Prepare plans by consultation, And make war by wise guidance.” God’s strategy is wise; He will win (cf. also Pro. 24:6).
- Eternal Predestination
Several of the verses we have already looked at tell us that God’s predestination is eternal. It is predestination, not postdestination. The destiny of all things in Creation and in time have already been settled in eternity. Now, God’s purpose is eternal (2 Tim. 1:9). We do not deify the decree of God. Only God and His essence is eternal in the ultimate sense. Still, the purpose of God goes back into the depths of the everlasting past (if you can really think of it that way) in a sense in which we cannot comprehend. It would help if we could first understand just what eternity is; but then, we are finite (limited) and temporal creatures (locked into the time, space, universe created order) and as such, we cannot comprehend the infinity of eternity. But God can and does so without any problem (Rom. 11:33-36).
Moreover, eternal predestination covers all things in time. Job 14:5, “Since his days are determined, The number of his months is with You; And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.” Our birthdays and deathdays are “appointed” to us by God. Hebrews 9:27, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment . .” What occurs in time was determined in eternity, from the largest to the smallest detail of the universe, from seconds to centuries. Furthermore, predestination in eternity covers all things, including future events (they are not future from God’s eternal perspective). Psalm 33:11 “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.”
- Absolute Predestination
Predestination is absolute and definite, not contingent (i.e., dependent upon man) or merely possible. It is important to note that predestination is not to be confused with God’s commandments in time. God’s commandments can be broken (in fact, they usually are), but God’s decrees cannot be broken. They will be fulfilled, for they have the force of omnipotent power behind them.
Predestination is irreversible, like the laws of the Medes and Persians (Esther 1:19; 8:8; Dan. 6:8, 12, 15). Psalm 148:6, “He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away.” In Hebrews 6:17 we are told that God confirmed “the unchangeableness of His purpose” with an oath. And God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
Jeremiah 23:20 says that God will not turn back until He has accomplished “the purposes of His heart” (cf. also 30:24). God does not decide to change the decree simply because it is now in operation. Isaiah 14:24, “The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand . .”
Proverbs 19:21 “Many plans are in a man's heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.” Man changes his mind, but God never does. 1 Samuel 15:29, “Also the Glory of
As you can imagine, our Arminian friends have a very difficult time accepting all of this. They believe that God forms His decrees but that we can change them by our sins. This is to confuse the decrees of God with the commandments of God. No mere man can change or thwart God’s predestination. Job 42:1 “Then Job answered the LORD and said, 2 ‘I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.’” Isaiah 14:27 “For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” No one, no man on earth, nor any demon in hell can thwart God’s predestinated plan.
- Predestination of All Means and Ends
As we saw earlier, God is the First Cause of all things. “From Him . . . are all things.” (Rom. 11:36) Predestination is universal, God Himself being excepted (as in 1 Cor. 15:28). Nothing happens that was not foreordained to happen. However, here is where we differ with the ancient philosophy of Stoicism and the modern religion of Islam. God is the First Cause of all things, but not always the immediate cause of all things. What does this mean? It means this: God usually causes things mediately rather than immediately (meaning, God uses means to bring about His sovereign decree rather than actually doing it Himself first-hand).
So, the First Cause of the universe (God) uses second causes which He has caused. Anyone who has played pool knows what I’m talking about. You hit the first ball and it strikes the second, third, so on and so forth. And so, the whole of creation is a vast network of second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth causes and so on. For example, the good works that believers do have been predestined by God, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
God has foreordained all things, large, small, seen and unseen. He has predestined all means to all ends. He is the First Cause and the Last End of all things (Isa. 46:9-11; Rom. 11:36; Rev. 1:8, 22:13). Later we will discuss how all the details of what He has predestined work back to Him.
Finally, though God predestined all that is, God did not predestine all that He could have predestined. Like in Creation, He did not create all that He could have created. With God, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26) but not all things are actualized or definite. In fact, if you can grasp it, God even determines what is possible. God created the realm of potentiality/possibility; even those things which will never be realized. And to further daze and confuse you, try grasping this concept: God did not have to predestine anything, nor did He have to predestine it exactly as He did predestine it. He could have done some things differently or not at all.
There are two concluding things that need to be said. First, though this great truth is revealed in Scripture, it is not exhaustively revealed to us (Deut. 29:29). We cannot pry into the unrevealed secrets of predestination beyond what has been revealed to us. In later studies, we will further into areas of predestination and discuss some things about it that are directly revealed and others that can be legitimately deduced from what has been revealed in Scripture. But we need to heed the wise caution of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care,” (III:7). Properly handled, this doctrine humbles men and causes them to worship God in thankful awe and loving praise. Improperly handled, men become proud or bitter against the sovereign God of heaven. So, be careful.
Second, we are obliged to believer in predestination because it is in the Bible. It is true whether we understand it or not (and nobody fully understands it). It is true whether we want it to be true or not. He who rejects it tampers with divine truth and imperils himself, while the one who accepts it wins many blessings. Believe it, and give God the glory!