293: Do We Choose God or Does He Choose Us?

Andrea Schwartz

Podcast: Out of the Question
Topics: ,

A song that used to be popular, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” reflected a belief in the doctrine of God’s predestination. Sadly, there are those who fail to comprehend the magnificence of the biblical teaching on foreordination and election. This is the topic in this week’s Out of the Question Podcast.


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Welcome to Out of the Question, a podcast that looks behind some common questions and uncovers the question behind the question while providing real solutions for biblical world and life view. Your co-hosts are Andrea Schwartz, a teacher and mentor, and Pastor Charles Roberts.



Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the Out of the Question podcast. What is a doctrine? Web Webster’s 1828 Dictionary has five entries for this noun, which come from the Latin meaning to teach. First, he says, whatever is taught. Thus, a doctrine is anything that is laid out as being true and correct without it necessarily being true and correct. Webster then contrasts the doctrine of Christ with that of Plato. His second and third definitions or entries connote the idea of the act of teaching, such as Christ teaching by parables, and the learning that results in the listeners, their receiving of doctrine. Then the fourth and fifth entries are related and specifically call doctrine the truths of the gospel in general and the instruction and confirmation in the truths of the gospel. So it’s pretty obvious that Webster comes from a biblical world and life view. Doctrine Doctrine is so fundamental to believe that there are principles and ideas that form the foundation and architecture of what it is that we believe. The word of God in its entirety lays out certain doctrines that are stated and restated, implied or can be inferred throughout the Old and New Testaments.



We must receive these by faith as our mortal minds, and I might add our fallen minds, cannot fully fathom them. Yet we receive them as true. The Trinity, the doctrine of the Trinity, is one example. We believe that there is only one God, but that this God exists in three separate and distinct persons, and that all are equal in power and Majesty, and all are God. Now, if you try to reason that through, it seems like an apparent contradiction or a paradox, yet you go through the pages of scripture, and this is laid out. As noteworthy, most expressions of Christian faith, when you see statements of faith of most Christian denominations, will affirm the Trinity. Well, the doctrine we will be discussing today is one that often brings division. For this reason, Charles and I decided to talk about exactly what the doctrine of predestination consists of. The question we’ll be covering is as follows: do we choose Christ or does Christ choose us? And then as a corollary, is this doctrine something that brings comfort or does it bring somewhat of distress or is it a burden? Charles, let’s begin with a working definition of predestination and the related words we find in scripture, such as for knowledge and for ordination.



Well, that’s That’s a major topic. I think the first thing that I want to say about this is that predestination and its corollary doctrines or concepts, election for ordination, these ideas are inescapable. Dr. Rostuni reminds us of this in his discussions on this topic. So someone or something will forever and always be determining what is to take place. Almost always in an unbiblical society, it reduces down to man and a humanistic view of determinism about the present, the past, or the future. In the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:4, to speak to your question directly, he refers to Christ having chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, and to fill it out that we should be holy and without blame and love. That’s one of many places where Paul talks about predestination, election, and the term that is translated there that he chose us in him. Let’s be clear, the Lord chose us in Christ. He’s the one, the Greek term at the back of it is the term from which we get the English word, election. In this case, it has to do with on the individual level, our personal salvation, but the larger level, us having been chosen in that way to be included in the covenant family of God and a part of his kingdom that really began in the Garden of Eden.



But with the fall of man, there’s some complications obviously arose, but the Lord promised even there that his chosen seed, the seed of the woman, would eventually eventuate in the birth of the son, Jesus our Lord, who would crush the head of Satan. So even though you may not find the term in the Older Testament translated predestined or elected, although the idea is clearly at large there. I mean, just in that one statement from Genesis 3, that I have put inmity between you and the woman and between her seed and your seed, that is a declaration of what God is doing, not something that he hopes will happen. The basic definition of predestination is that there is a predetermined action that sets forth and sets in motion things that are unalterable and the plan of the person making the full ordination.



Okay. It’s probably easy for most people to think, well, of course, those who don’t believe in the Bible, those who don’t recognize and determine that they need to follow the covenant, would find this something that they don’t like. And yet I think it’s so interesting that People who don’t like this idea that God determines things always want to be the determiners in their own life. I mean, if we’re talking election, we’re talking God’s choice. Well, what do we hear all the time? I have a right to choose. I should determine what I want. So it’s not really that they have a problem with choice and determination. They have a problem with their not being the people who make the choice and the determination. And this rejection of God God, as you pointed out, stems back to Genesis 3:5, where the act that Adam and Eve did that basically was transferred to all of us had to do with who gets to determine and who gets to choose.



One of the things that Dr. Rastuni points out, he spoke about this issue in a number of places in his systematic theology. But in the great book, Salvation and Godly Rule, which has been reissued in a new format with a nice new cover, there’s an entire chapter on predestination. One of the really noteworthy points among many that he makes in this article is that although the idea of a divine being, in our case, God, the true God, may be absent. Nevertheless, predestination is never absent. There’s always a predestinating, determining factor. You just the fact that people want to decide for themselves, so they try to act as their own God. This is a divisive issue among people, and we’ll talk broadly in the evangelical world, between people who are so-called Calvinists and so-called Arminians or free will versus determined will. It really strikes at the heart of people’s presumption of autonomy. People don’t like the idea that they don’t have a Well, I mean, on some level there is choice involved, but the problem is, according to scripture, we are born into the world with our will to choose the good having been broken. We will never choose God on our own.



This is the testimony of scripture. When Jesus says in the gospel of John, No one can come to me except the Father draw him, the idea there, the literal meaning is nobody has the ability to come to him, except it’s given to them by his Father. So right at the very beginning and in the teachings of Jesus, we have this awareness that people of themselves, of their own free will, are not able to choose the good. That’s one of the marvelous things about the merciful grace of God, is that for some, for a vast multitude, as a matter of fact, he changes that and he extends his grace to them so that they have a desire and a will to believe.



So I’ve heard people comment on this doctrine. People who I have no doubt, and by my interaction, they love the Lord, but they can’t stomach it. They said, I just can’t embrace this idea. Of course, they will then establish, they don’t think it’s a biblical idea, that God would decide that some people would be saved and some would be judged. This goes back to this idea that a A lot of people want to determine them. Like, I can be whatever I want to be. You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not an authority in my life. And yet it seems odd that believers would have this idea that somehow or other, Just as they have the ability to choose things that they consider good, why wouldn’t they think that God also had this power, or do they think they’re more powerful than God?



Well, on some level, whether they would admit it or not, they do. In a church I served some years ago, there was an individual in that church. He was actually an officer. This is a church that was, at least on paper, committed to the doctrines of the reform faith in the Westminster Confession and Standards, which means predestination in the election. This man was an officer, and he totally rejected these ideas. I had a number of discussions with him, and these were, I’d say cordial discussions. I’d never forget He frequently told me, I don’t accept this idea about God choosing who will be saved and who will not be saved, because I think this is where God limits his sovereignty, he said. He limits it in terms of who will determine a person’s salvation. I heard R. C. Sproul put it this way once before, The devil votes against you. God votes for you. You have to cast a deciding vote. Well, if it’s not obvious to most of our listeners, the fact is that the man, the woman, sovereign over their own destiny. Now, that fits well with the modern humanistic understanding of things. But it also condems us.



If it’s completely up to our will, as I said before, the testimony of scripture is, our will is broken. We will never choose the good unless God changes us. But yes, people get very upset because it does strike at the heart of the autonomy, the pretended autonomy of the human being. I’m in control. Especially in these United States, where the tradition at least used to be, I’ll pull myself up on my own bootstraps. I’ll go out and homestead and plant my place and do it myself, that thing. A certain amount of self-determination is good. But you can see how in the progress of the religious traditions of the United States as it revolved around the civil realm, that frontier thinking found its way into the theology of what would become the Second Great Awakening and Charles Finney, and we can go way off track with that. But that’s where this idea comes from. But as Rastuni says, you can take God out of the picture, but you haven’t removed predestination. So people don’t mind predestination at all if they are the ones in charge of it, or in many cases, they’re glad for the state, the government, to be the one who determines everything.



Well, right. It’s either going to be, in the broadest sense, God or chance. And why anybody would take comfort in chance is beyond me, because by definition, it has no order, it has no rule, and yet people are very content to say, Well, this is just the way it is. I can’t do anything about it. But they do say they could do something about it because they don’t want to say that God determines. Now, one of the objections I’ve heard, and an adament objections, because I’ve had discussions with many people on this, is that, okay, if it’s already established, why bother do anything? And this person was sure this led to the irresponsability of Christians to go ahead and carry out the great commission. But like so many ideas that get reduced down to a meme or a pithy phrase, the doctrine of predestination does not alleviate man from his responsibility to be faithful to God’s law word. If you just extract one part of it, then it does look like it doesn’t matter what I do. I can sit home because it’s already determined. If God already knows, why should I do anything? Why should I even pray about it?



After all, it’s predetermined.



Yes. As I just said, the challenge for most people is recognizing that this predetermination simply doesn’t go away if you do away with the God of the Bible. You’re simply allocating it to yourself or to some other entity. Now, one area where people are fine with this doctrine is in the form that it’s taught in government schools. It’s the operating assumption of almost every aspect of our culture and so-called science, and that is naturalistic determinism. Marxism is another form of that in a somewhat removed sense. But the idea that there are these forces that have determined all things that are moving in inexorably towards certain ends, or that because of the course of nature, whatever that’s supposed to mean, it means something to modern people, that certain things are a certain way, and it’s determined by that nature that that’s how they would be. Now, it’s significant, I think, that… I hear this a lot from people, especially those who are of what what used to be, you’d say, the Oprah Winfrey crowd, is they ascribe absolute determinative authority to the, quote, the universe. You’ll see this even in some sitcoms in recent years. Well, I prayed to the universe, or I asked the universe to give me this, and there it is.



So again, you can remove Jehovah God from the picture, but you haven’t removed the concept. It’s always going to be there. If people are okay with this idea, they may call it by a different name, but we should challenge people to think. You already believe this. Now, you may not like the idea that the Bible, Holy Scripture, ascribes this exclusivity to Almighty God, but that doesn’t mean you have escaped the concept. And The fact is, the only place where you find predestination done or executed in a way that contributes to human freedom, as odd as that may sound to the modern era, is to From the God of the Bible. If we look at all the other examples of determinism as fostered by humanistic man, they inevitably lead to tyranny always.



You brought up the concept of free will. Again, this is an area where it’s really important to define what we even mean by free will, because if you say there is no free will and I say to you, Well, I decided to put on a purple shirt this morning. I could have decided on a yellow one or a blue one, but I decided on the purple one. Obviously, I have the ability to choose things.






But what I don’t have the ability to do is to mandate the consequences of what it is I do. So the Bible is full of, if you follow my law, if you keep covenant, if you are faithful, I will bless you. There’s a consequence. If you are unfaithful, If you violate my law, there are curses. So yes, man is free to fornicate. He is free to lie, cheat, and steal. Well, he’s free since he comes into the world with original sin. He can’t really do much beyond that. It takes a intervention from God that makes it so the person who’s self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish in all his ways, whether or not he does a good job of cloaking it so people don’t see it immediately, the transformation that comes isn’t because of anything that we’ve done that merits God’s grace. And that’s the other aspect of this whole idea, you just can’t take an isolated part of what somebody says this doctrine is and remove it from the context of scripture. So yes, we’re free to sin if we want to. However, we’re not free of the consequences of that sin. So therefore, in a sense, and you can correct me theologically if I’m wrong, Charles, we don’t have the ability to do anything else besides sin.



Noah, and that’s the universal testimony not only of holy scripture, but those confessions of faith that are solidly based on scripture on this particular topic. Again, this is something that people struggle with, but they do so because it’s at the heart of what they think, as you’re just saying, is their so-called free will. So yes, it’s important to say that when we talk about, as Luther called it, the bondage of the will, we’re not talking about the fact that you don’t have the ability to decide to wear a certain thing or to get in your car and drive down to the grocery store and come back. That’s not what we’re talking about. But we are saying that on a much larger metaphysical scale, that everything that you do is in the determined of God. The fact is, people have this idea that when we start talking about this, there must be thousands and thousands of poor souls out there who are just walking around with their face cast down because they so, so really want to believe in the true God and follow his law. But that mean old God is predetermined that they can’t do that.



He’s predestined them to hell, so they can’t do it. They’re so upset about that. I’m being sarcastic about it a little bit because The fact is there is no one like that.



Yes. All those people who are walking around saying, I’m just so unable to do this, and God has destined me for this. Very rarely are you going to see someone who is not happy, or at least short time happy in their sin, and saying, I have the right to do it. Here’s another doctrine. We’re all sinners, we’re all depraved, and we wouldn’t be anything else besides God intervening in our lives. So the doctrine of election says, you’re not capable of anything other than what you are. But because God is merciful and just, it’s not that you get away with all the bad things you do. If God has chosen you, then Jesus took that punishment. This idea that Jesus took the punishment for everybody and only those who ask him into their heart are saved, really puts, as you put it earlier, human beings in the driver’s seat. Jesus went through all this, died for the sins of the world, but unless you ask, you don’t get. That seems a very weak and feeble God.



I think that we see in stark relief today, one of the logical outcomes of the presupposition, the assumption of the autonomy of man and his desire to predetermine all things for himself and in the collective sense, by the state or the government. The thing that I’m going to mention represents, frankly, a disgusting collusion between the two. I mean, the modern transgender movement. People have been told, and there are a variety of reasons they’ve been told this, but the outcome is the same. Your three-year-old can determine for him or herself what their, quote, gender is. And the state, the government school, the medical-industrial complex, they’re all right there to help you to make this so-called transition to another, quote, gender. And who would I’ve never imagined. I was watching something with my wife today at lunch, and this topic was up for discussion, and how the government schools and the many doctors’ offices are coming right alongside young people, I mean, very young girls and boys who’ve been told they need to struggle with this issue about their sexual identity. I said, Who would imagine? I can remember when I was in high school in the 1970s.



I think it was somewhere around ’72, ’73, ’74, at least in the government schools, guidance counselors were given the ability to hand out birth control prescriptions to young girls without their parents’ consent or even awareness. Now, I think if you had said something to a 14 or 15-year-old girl in 1973 or whatever it was, that this is laying the plank that will eventually lead to someone like you, 60, 70 years from now, deciding they don’t want to be a girl anymore. They want to be a boy. I think they would laugh in your face. They would never believe it. But one leads unalternably to the other. And it’s this whole idea of what we’re talking about. I will I am predestined to decide here for myself what is right and what is wrong, what sex I am. It is ultimately my will and my authority. The problem is without the renewal of God’s grace in the Holy spirit in a person’s heart, they will inevitably choose that which is not good for them, not good for their family,