Predestination: Are You Just a Pawn?

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Are You Just a Pawn?

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Many individuals and groups think that everything that happens in life is inevitable and unavoidable. They believe that fate—the supposed force, principle or power that predetermines events—rules throughout the universe. A number even hold that a Supreme Being, the Creator God, is the author and controller of such fate. On the other hand, there are others who maintain that even God Himself is subject to this all-powerful force. What is the truth?

Is there really such a thing as fate, a set destiny reaching even beyond the grave? Are some people foreordained to succeed and others fail? Are only a few destined to be saved and the rest lost, as some religious groups teach? Or is this idea a distortion of what the Bible really teaches about "predestination"?

God and predestination

During World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain told the U.S. Congress, "He must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below" (Dec. 26, 1941). Many others throughout the centuries have certainly recognized this fact.

But who or what is "working out" this "great purpose and design"? Logic and reason would dictate that it must be an infinite Intelligence. And indeed, the Holy Bible names that Intelligence—God. Within its pages, the Eternal God is declared to be supreme in existence, for there is "no one greater" (Hebrews 6:13). Thus, if fate exists, God has dominion over it. For one who is supreme cannot, by definition, be subject to anything but himself!

The same great and infinite God tells us: "Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure'" (Isaiah 46:9-10, emphasis added throughout). This, then, should remove all doubt. God is supreme and nothing can prohibit Him from doing whatever He wants.

Perhaps even more interesting, though, is that from the beginning of history God has declared the end of it. But how can this be? Does the future already exist, so that God can merely look into a crystal ball and see it? Not at all! Rather, He explains how in the very next verse: "Indeed, I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it." In other words, God, who sits at the controls of the universe, so to speak, steers events and circumstances to bring about His plan and purpose.

And that brings us to predestination. Does the Bible directly mention this subject? Yes, it does. In fact, the word "predestined" occurs four times in the New King James Version. First in Romans, the apostle Paul wrote: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son . . . Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified" (8:28-30).

And then in Ephesians, the same apostle said that God "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself . . . In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11).

Notice that those who are foreknown and predestined are referred to as having been "called." In other places, the Bible refers to them as the "elect" (Matthew 24:24; Romans 8:33)—in fact, "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:2).

All of this, then, begs the question: Is an individual's eternal salvation a fait accompli—a done deal—before he is even born? And more disturbing still, if salvation is predestined for only some, does that mean the rest are already foreordained by God to eternal condemnation—having been doomed to a hopeless fate before even coming into existence?

Fate vs. free will

A major branch of Protestantism teaches that God, from the beginning, predetermined everyone who would be eternally saved as well as everyone who would be eternally condemned. Those who profess this religious view maintain that there is no choice in the matter whatsoever. According to them, whether a person ever follows God or not is based solely on what God decided in advance. It gets worse when you realize that these people also believe in an eternally burning hellfire for those He has already decided would remain unrepentant. This would mean that God created certain people—indeed, billions of them, as most who have ever lived have not even professed Christianity—just to torture them forever in unending flames! What a horrendously cruel God that would be!

Thankfully, the true God is far different. He is a God of infinite love and mercy, and the Bible reveals truths far different from these misguided human ideas!

For one, the real hellfire doesn't torture sinners forever, but rather incinerates the relatively few who ultimately refuse to repent and choose God's way of life (to learn more, download our free booklet Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?).

Furthermore, it is actually quite easy to show from the Bible that God has not predestined any individuals to condemnation. Paul states that "God our Savior . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4). And Peter says essentially the same thing: "The Lord is . . . not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

Peter also explained that "God shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34)—and Paul echoes this thought (Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9). So God is eminently fair. Moreover, as we've just seen, it is His expressly revealed will and desire that every person ultimately be saved.

Yet according to Revelation 21:8, some will indeed perish forever—be annihilated—in "the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

But these other scriptures make it absolutely clear that it is not God's predetermination that puts them there!

Rather, as God told ancient Israel through Moses, "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" (Deuteronomy 30:19; compare Joshua 24:15; Proverbs 1:29). Thus, the Israelites of old had a choice. For God had made them free moral agents, having the free will to make their own decisions. And so it is with us today.

But as clear as that may be, there are still some important questions to be answered. For, based on what we've already seen, weren't some people foreknown and predestined to certain actions? Yes. In some cases, specific individuals were ordained beforehand for certain roles and actions: the appearance of Christ as the Messiah (Daniel 9:25-26; Isaiah 7:14; 53:1-2); Jacob's ascendancy over Esau (Genesis 25:20-26); the triumph of King Cyrus of Persia over Babylon and his decree to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple before he was born (Isaiah 45:1; 44:28). The roles of certain other people—including John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-57), the apostle Paul (Galatians 1:15), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10), Josiah (1 Kings 13:1-2; 2 Kings 23:15-16) and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-20)—likewise were determined before their births.

Of course, these were all positive roles. There are some who were preappointed to play negative roles. Examples include the pharaoh at the time of the Exodus, whose heart God hardened (Exodus 9:12; 10:1-2; Romans 9:14-18), and Judas Iscariot, Christ's betrayer (John 6:70; 17:12; Acts 1:16-20). Consider also that God has prophesied in Revelation of the coming of a great evil dictator called the Beast and his accomplice known as the False prophet—both of whom will be destroyed at Christ's return.

Here, then, is where many become confused. And this is quite understandable. For how can it be that God has predetermined such unenviable roles that seem to end in condemnation while saying, as we've seen, that it is His will that none should perish?

Moreover, the Bible emphatically states that only through the name of Jesus Christ can anyone be saved (Acts 4:12). Yet two thirds of the world's population does not profess a belief in Him as the Messiah. And, lest anyone jump to the notion that these 4 billion people are entirely responsible for their blindness to the truth, notice the words of Jesus Christ: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44; see verse 65).

But has the entire world been drawn to God? No! Remember that only some are specifically referred to as the "called" and even fewer as the "elect"—that is, "chosen" by God.

Though much of the world may learn about salvation by hearing or reading the gospel that Christ and His apostles preached, not all can comprehend it at this time. Jesus told His followers, "It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [the rest of humanity] it has not been given" (Matthew 13:11). How then can the Bible be true in saying God shows no partiality and wills that none be condemned? And how can it really be that we have free will? For the answer we need to know the rest of the story.

The divine plan

The difficulty in understanding this subject is based on a mistaken notion common to mainstream Christianity—that God is in a great soul-winning contest with Satan and trying desperately to save the world now. That, it must be understood, is simply not the case. Rather, God is merely allowing this world to be deceived by Satan—for the time being.

Notice how the apostle Paul put it: "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ . . . should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). The omnipotent God allows Satan to preside over this present age, deceiving those who would otherwise understand the truth!

As recounted in Genesis 1-3, mankind got off to a bad start in the Garden of Eden. Because of their wrong choice, God has cut off mankind in general from understanding the knowledge of salvation—letting human beings go their own way to learn the lesson that any way of life other than what God has revealed to us to be the right way ultimately brings only misery, heartache and death.

Since that time, every human being except Jesus has sinned—that is, broken God's law—and fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23; 1 John 3:4, King James Version). We all, therefore, deserve the death penalty (Romans 6:23). In that sense, the vast majority of the world is "perishing," as the verse quoted above describes. For unless they ultimately are redeemed, they are doomed.

But remember that it is God's will that none should perish! And so Jesus Christ, the One through whom the Father created us (Ephesians 3:9), gave His life as an atoning sacrifice to pay the death penalty for the entire world—whoever would accept it (John 3:16).

Yet in the face of such widespread lack of understanding even in professing Christianity, how is the world at large to be saved? The wonderful answer—shocking to the majority, who have never heard this biblical truth—is that this is not the only day of salvation!

God is calling just a few now. In fact, the Greek word translated "church" in the New Testament—ekklesia—means "the called-out ones." And those now in God's Church are referred to as His "firstfruits" (James 1:18, KJV; compare Romans 8:23). This clearly implies that there will be later fruits to come! And so there will be.

When Jesus Christ returns, He will put down all resistance and establish a Kingdom that will rule mankind for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4; compare Isaiah 2:2-4). Reigning with Him will be the saints—those who are called in this age and remain faithful to the end—who are raised to immortal life in what is called the "first resurrection" (Revelation 20:5-6). During that period known as the Millennium (meaning 1,000 years) the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the oceans are full of water (Isaiah 11:9), and the vast majority of mankind will be saved.

But what about the billions who have lived and died throughout the previous ages without understanding God's truth? A parenthetical sentence in Revelation 20:5 answers: "But the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended" (New Revised Standard Version).

At that time, 1,000 years after Jesus returns, these people will be resurrected to a temporary physical life (see Ezekiel 37) and given God's Spirit (see verses 12-14). They will then go through a judgment—not sentencing—period (Revelation 20:11-12), just as God's Church is being judged today (1 Peter 4:17). And most will repent at that time, as they would have, according to Christ, if His work had been done among them when they first lived (see Matthew 11:21-24; 12:41).

It should be noted, however, that this does not mean they are given a "second chance" to be saved. Although it will be their second life in human flesh, it will be their first opportunity to really understand and live by the truth of Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ.

Amazingly, then, God has foreordained three judgment periods: this present age, the Millennium and the Last Judgment. Therefore, to answer one of the major questions of this article, predestination does not concern whether or not individuals will be ultimately saved or condemned. Instead, it refers to when people are offered salvation!

Some—in fact, most—will not be offered it until the Millennium or the Last Judgment. But God predestined that a few would be called in this age and given the opportunity before Christ returns. Yet these people—as in all ages—still have free will. The decision of whether to truly repent and accept Christ is each person's choice to make individually. And even then, whether or not that person remains in God's grace or chooses to reject Him is also ultimately up to that individual (see Hebrews 2:1-3; 10:26-27, 35-36).

God's guiding hand

Of course, some will claim that even this is not fair. And they still wonder how a just God could preappoint individuals to negative actions. Notice how Paul explains this in Romans 9:17-24 (New Living Translation):

"For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, 'I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you, and so that my fame might spread throughout the earth.' So you see, God shows mercy to some just because he wants to, and he chooses to make some people refuse to listen. Well then, you might say, 'Why does God blame people for not listening? Haven't they simply done what he made them do?' No, don't say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to criticize God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who made it, 'Why have you made me like this?'

"When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn't he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? God has every right to exercise his judgment and his power, but he also has the right to be very patient with those who are the objects of his judgment and are fit only for destruction. He also has the right to pour out the riches of his glory upon those he prepared to be the objects of his mercy—even upon us, whom he selected . . ."

In other words, God had every right to shape and mold Pharaoh to be the way he was. After all, God created him and Pharaoh was, like everyone else, a sinner worthy of death—so God hardening a heart that already was sinful and blinded by Satan did not worsen his predicament in the overall scheme of things.

However, the Lord, it must be noted, did not directly make Pharaoh sin, for God does not tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13). Rather, it was part of Pharaoh's rebellious nature all along, as he had at first hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32). In further hardening the Egyptian ruler's heart, the omniscient God merely knew how to "push his buttons" as it were—that is, how to direct circumstances to provoke him to a particular reaction.

For example, by letting Pharaoh get away with his retractions of his promises for a time, Pharaoh became more set in his ways. And the longer Pharaoh could make a promise and then rescind it with no unfavorable consequences, the harder his heart became. Finally God used circumstances to destroy the entire Egyptian chariot force that had gone out to re-enslave the Israelites—turning the hubris of Pharaoh to utter humiliation (Exodus 14).

Pharaoh will, of course, be given his opportunity to repent and receive salvation during the Last Judgment. Ultimately, God's fairness will be extended to him just as much as to any other human being.

God, then, sometimes steers events and circumstances—even seeing to it that certain people are influenced into particular actions—to make sure His overall plan and purpose is fulfilled. But He clearly doesn't directly bring about all that occurs at any given moment with all people. For, as His Word tells us, "time and chance happens to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Most of the time, God simply allows people to become ensnared by their own wrong inclinations and choices. Thus God has not mapped out every detail of a person's life.

As to why God calls a particular individual —perhaps even you if you are beginning to really understand what you are reading in the pages of your Bible and The Good News magazine—God alone knows that answer. And He, as the Creator, has the prerogative to call a person at whatever time He chooses.

We should trust that whatever time He decides to call a person is the best time for that individual. And though being called now is a wonderful privilege, it does not make one better than those called later (compare 1 Corinthians 1:26-29). After all, even if we are being called now, all of us still have free will—and therefore we can still fall away if we don't continue to repent and obey the truth. For we are not just pawns on a chessboard.

So let's take hold of the wonderful salvation offered to us now by our Creator, allowing the awesome future that He wants for us to become a reality. GN


  • Ivan Veller
    Hello Mel, “Most people just ‘leave it to God’ to decide what their fate will be for the eternity that stretches ahead of us all” (“Why Were You Born?”): “This kind of thinking…means you don’t have to accept responsibility for what you do” (“Destined for a Moment”): However, “In Deuteronomy 30:19, God encouraged the ancient Israelites to…choose His way of life” (“Does predestination mean…?”): “If a Christian makes poor choices or drifts away from God, he or she can lose salvation (Hebrews 6:4-6)” (“Does the Bible teach predestination?”): “The Bible simply does not teach that God predetermines our lives, especially in the sense of ultimate salvation” (“In Psalm 139:13-16…”): Sermons on Predestination:
  • mel7905
    the bible speaks clearly of those predestined to be chosen. it also speaks of those destined for destruction. yes we have free will but God is always in charge. `fate` is really just God`s will
  • Skip Miller
    Hello again mel7905, I'm not sure that 'fate' is really just God's will. And I'll tell you why I feel that way. The word itself comes, as you probably know, from Greek goddesses. But the real problem I have is that if the true God is actually compelling me to play His game, then I really do not have free will. I believe God could do that but I think that would work against His purpose to have us understand the rules & then, on our own pretty much, choose to do them. God is completely in charge but He is fair.
  • fishindon

    Very helpful article. Thanks for sharing your insight...

  • Ears14U

    But remember that it is God's will that none should perish! And so Jesus Christ, the One through whom the Father created us (Ephesians:3:9), gave His life as an atoning sacrifice to pay the death penalty for the entire world—whoever would accept it (John:3:16).

    This is not a correct statement on this article. Jesus Christ gave his life for the "Elects" sake, and nobody else. And you cannot accept Jesus, like many mainstream churches teach. The Father brings you nigh. And the Father is responsible for the elect that he gives the son! In John 3:16, the SO in greek describes "in what fashion" God loved the world. Not that he "loved" the whole world. He never said he "loved" Jacob, now did he? John 1:13 proves the reality of being foreordained, or elected into God's family. And mankind being elected by God the father, has absolutely nothing to do with his salvation. This would be considered robbery from God. 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

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