"Predestination or Free will?", this was the question put to me by one of my kids when I was serving in the Youth ministry. I had answered then and had tried to keep my answer short. I hope to elaborate on that answer here.
"In Him we were also chosen having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will." Eph 11:1
"We have been predestined..."; what does this actually mean? The Bible says that God has chosen us from before the foundation of the world. This clearly means that some people in this world have already been chosen to spend eternity with God. This also clearly means that some have not; these have been chosen for destruction! So now we naturally ask, "Is God fair? What kind of justice is this? Why does God claim to be just He will send some people to Hell only because He Himself did not choose them?"
Such questions may seem almost blasphemous but these are honest and reasonable questions and deserve honest and reasoned answers. But before this we need to answer one important question, "On what basis does God choose people for His kingdom?" For this we need to understand something of God's character.
God is God and can do anything He wants to. After all, does He not declare, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy."? But He also says that He is not willing that any should perish. This means that God does not want anyone to be lost! Yet He Himself has said, "Narrow is the way that leads to life and few be they that find it."
So we see that God does not want anyone to perish and yet many will perish. Then does this mean that God is not all-powerful after all? Certainly not!!!
Yes, God is all powerful and almighty but He is also humble. Even though we are less than a speck of dust when compared to Him, He respects us and respects the decisions we take. If during our life on earth we prefer to stay away from Him, we certainly could not stand being with Him for all eternity! God knows this and respects our decision to stay away from Him. So He grants us a place where there is absolutely no manifest presence of God- the lake of fire.
But wait a minute! Won't people go to Hell because God has predestined them for Hell instead of for Heaven? For example, wasn't Judas Iscariot "doomed to destruction so that scripture may be fulfilled?"
So on what basis does God predestine some people for His Kingdom and not others?
"For those God foreknew He also predestined..." Rom 8:29
"who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God..." I Pet 1:2
We are chosen and predestined according to God's foreknowledge. God sees the end from the beginning. Even before He created Adam and Eve, God knew which of His descendants would choose to follow Him and He chose such people. In other words He chose the people He foreknew would choose Him. Therefore predestination and free will are in fact complementary rather than contradictory!
But what about Judas Iscariot? Wasn't he destroyed just so that 'scripture might be fulfilled'?
Would Jesus have died had Judas not betrayed Him? Yes! The Messiah had to die for our redemption. Only instead of being killed due to Judas' betrayal, He would have died in some other way!
Judas did not betray our Lord because the scriptures prophesied it. Rather the prophet predicted this betrayal because the God who knew this decision that Judas would take, told the prophet about it.
On a more personal level, our future has not been written already. The Psalmist does say that all our days have been written in God's book. But what has been written is not a computer program that we have to live out whether or not we like it. What has been written is just a record of what God knows we will do.
So I believe in predestination based on God's foreknowledge about people's decisions which in turn are enabled by their free will. Only this makes sense in light of the character of God as revealed by the scriptures.
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Predestination is not conditonal upon any decision. If that were true, it would stand in direct contradiction with Romans 9:11, which states that God's love for Jacob and hatred for Esaue existed before the twins had done any good or evil. Choosing God would have been a good action, so election could not be based on a decison.
Furthermore, the theology that God looked down from heaven would not be compatible with Psalm 14, which states that God did indeed look down from heaven to see if any would seek Him and NONE would seek Him.
So yes, predestination and free will can live together in harmony, if it is understood that our free will is limited by our nature. When is the last time you bellied up to a big block of wood to chow down? My guess would be not recently. That's because it's not in man's nature to want to (or even be able to) eat wood. It's a termite' nature, but not man's.
The scripture is clear that man is totally depraved from conception - dead in trespasses in sin! (Ephesians 2) - which would limit our nature from choosing God. Luckily, God made us accepted in the beloved (notice that the word "accept" is used 15 times in the New Testament, always talking about what God has done for us, not what we should do for God.) and gives us the gift of faith, enabling us to believe in Him. Thus, belief is always a RESULT, never a CAUSE of salvation.
Isaiah 59:1 says, "The hand of the Lord is not shortened that he cannot save." If God wants EVERYONE to be saved but left the decision up to us, then inevitably some would not choose him; that would shorten the hand of God that He cannot save - which would not fit with scripture.