Did God predetermine every detail of every person's life, including whether he or she would be saved?
Many religions teach some form of predestination, but is this teaching biblical? There are variations of the doctrine, but among the most common is the idea that God long ago predetermined every detail of every person's life, including whether He would save or condemn that person. However, doesn't this approach deny a fundamental teaching of the Bible—that we have freedom of choice and that God holds us accountable for the choices that we make?
Notice how God has consistently worked with His people down through the ages. God instructed Israel, urging them to make right choices with that knowledge and then holding them accountable for the choices that they made. Deuteronomy 30:19 illustrates how God works. He told Israel, "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live." He didn't predetermine the outcome; they had a choice.
God works the same way with Christians today. Christ said: "For every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36). This is but one of numerous scriptures that assure us God will have us answer for our actions. Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 show that we are all to appear before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ to be judged according to what we have done. If God had predetermined our judgment, this would make no sense.
Thus we see from the Scriptures that God did not predetermine everyone's course of action or everyone's salvation. God could not justifiably judge anyone for failing to make a right choice, if He predetermined the choice that the person would make.
There are some who will argue: "God is omniscient. Therefore, He knows in advance what choice people will make." Just as a parent has an idea in advance what choices his children will make in a given situation, God has a good idea what people—His children—will do. But having an idea of what choice people would make is far different from predetermining it. Because He grants mankind free choice, He cannot know what individual choices will be until a person actually makes his or her choice.
What does the Bible teach about predestination?
God predetermined that He would call humans to salvation. "Salvation" involves a conversion process, not merely a passing emotional decision to "give one's heart to the Lord." The process begins with God's calling; is followed by repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Spirit and living a life in submission to God's instructions; and concludes when God changes Christians to immortal spirit sons and daughters in His family.
He predetermined that He would call and choose a select few to salvation before Christ's return (Matthew 22:14; 1 Corinthians 1:26-27).
He also predetermined that He will give everyone a chance at salvation—which means that most will have to be brought back to life to receive not a second chance but their only chance for salvation.
There were rare instances where God predestined or chose certain individuals for specific responsibilities or even physical inheritances prior to birth—Jacob, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, etc. But those had nothing to do with their salvation.
God didn't predetermine the existence of every person, for that would take all free choice away from the conception of every life from Cain and Abel on down. Nor does it mean that God guarantees everyone He calls to salvation will be in His Kingdom. Once God extends His invitation or calling to a person, that person must choose whether to respond, and must choose to continue to be faithful. God does not force His Spirit on anyone.
Each Christian continues to exercise free choice, making decisions every day to resist temptation and to live by God's way of life. If a Christian makes poor choices or drifts away from God, he or she can lose salvation (Hebrews 6:4-6).