“There is scripture supporting the idea that the Lord desires all to be saved, but there is also scripture supporting the idea that those to be saved are predestined. Which is right?”
So, here we have one of the most hotly debated topics in scripture. This is one that splits churches, and causes all kinds of fights in the Christian world. I want to start out by saying that I have definite and firm beliefs about this question, that may have come out a little bit last week, but I have intentionally not preached on this topic because I know a few things that may happen. 1. Depending on your background, you may misunderstand a phrase to mean something I do not mean, and immediately turn of if I use certain words. For example, the word Arminism, or Calvinism. Those words have been used so widely and extensively, and most times are quite misunderstood from an academic perspective that to use them is entirely unhelpful unless they are very well explained.
So, for the first time in my three years at ECC, I am going to preach on Free will vs. Predestination. Also, this may take more than one week, so please hang with me and if you have some questions that aren’t answered today, I may get to it next week. I also want to say that while I try and answer this question, I have no intention or delusions that when we walk out of here, we will all see these things the same way. One of the things that I love about pastoring this church is that we are free to have discussions about hot topics like this one and since there is no set “party line” people don’t feel like they have to say what they think other people want to hear. That is a truly unique thing, and I hope that we don’t lose that…
Before I get into this I want you to know I am going to open and close with two quotes from Charles Simeon, the first is this,
“Many there are who cannot see these truths [the doctrines of God’s sovereignty], who yet are in a state truly pleasing to God; yea many, at whose feet the best of us may be glad to be found in heaven. It is a great evil, when these doctrines are made a ground of separation one from another, and when the advocates of different systems anathematize each other. . . . In reference to truths which are involved in so much obscurity as those which relate to the sovereignty of God mutual kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion”
Now, before we start, what I want you to do is this: no matter what side of this debate you tend to fall on, let me ask you a huge favor. RELAX!!! I assume that in this brief introduction some of you have already dug your heels in on this topic. So, if that is you, and you feel that coming on, let me remind you of something. God does not need you to defend His truth. If we all come to this place of discussion with charity in our hearts and a desire to seek truth, we may not get everything all right, but hopefully we will grow in our love of one another and our love for Jesus.
I want to say at the outset that while these discussions are super important and not small, they are not ones that divide true Christians from non-Christians. These are in house conversations. We are in the same household discussing important matters, but believing one side or another will not cause me to believe someone is not saved.
Also in this conversation, it is important to remember the guiding principles of hermanudics. the first rule is this: “scripture interprets scripture.” The other thing I want to remind us of is context is everything.
My approach in answering this question is to let the question guide the answer. So instead of launching into my own outline of presenting this material, lets breakdown the question. The first part of the question is, “There is scripture supporting the idea that the Lord desires all to be saved…”
So I am not sure what your understanding of this question is, but there are assumptions in this question that at least need to be looked at. When you hear the word “all”, what does that mean to you? I am reading this that the person asking the question means all people, as in every single person. Now, that is the basic distinction that the two sides of this debate disagree over. What does “all” mean. To me, this is the real issue on this side of the debate.
First thing, lets look at a few of the scriptures that would support the idea of God desiring “all” to be saved:
John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9.
Now, without giving any interpretation, let’s look at the second part of the question, “but there is also scripture supporting the idea that those to be saved are predestined.”
Lets look at a few verses that talk about predestination:
Ephesians 1:3-11, John 6:35-44, 60-71, Acts 4:24-31, Romans 8:28-30 9:6-24
So, here we have some verses that may seem to be in conflict with one another. Before I try to explain the way I make these work together, lets look at a few stories from scripture that may help illuminate these texts. Now the reason that I share these is because the question revolves around God’s sovereignty over our salvation. So what I want to do is look at some “conversion” stories from scripture. Now, as I read these, look for something. Look for any reference to free will, and ask yourself this question. Did God give them a choice?
1 Samuel 16:1
So, the final part of the question is: “Which is right?”
OK, so without getting too nitty gritty in details, let me just say this plain and simply.
I believe that scripture teaches that God has predetermined who will be saved, they are called the elect in scripture. These people upon hearing the Gospel are compelled by the beauty of it when the Holy Spirit opens their eyes, and they desire nothing more than to pursue this beautiful truth. So, in effect, God does not save them against their will, He gives them a new will that desires Him.
I believe that there will be no one on the last day that desires to be in heaven who is shut out because they are not elect. I believe that the call to Jesus should go out to all, and those who respond in faith that is real are those who God has predestined to do so. I do believe that the “all” in the first texts we looked at were intended to be read, either “all the elect” or as in the case of 1 Timothy, “all types of people”.
So, what does this mean for me? I understand there are practical questions that surround these ideas that I want to address.
If you believe in predestination you:
Still need to pray for those you want to see saved, because God delights to use the prayers of His people as the process by which someone is saved. He also commands it, so if you claim to love God, you also need to obey his commands.
Do not have to feel the weight of someone else’s decision to accept Christ. if it is God who does the saving, He uses us, but if someone does not respond to the gospel, it is not because we weren’t persuasive enough.
Should be the most humble Christians there are. Because when it comes down to it, your salvation has absolutely nothing to do with you, God gets all the glory.
Are still responsible for every sin you committed, and cannot blame anything on God.
In closing, I want to reiterate the need for charity in this discussion. There was a great Pastor named Charles Simeon who was a Calvanist, and he had a conversation with Charles Wesley, who was an Arminian.
The conversation went like this:
Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
Yes, I do indeed.
And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
Yes, solely through Christ.
But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.
Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.