Many are working very hard to build a closer relationship with God. We all have ideas and concepts that are not exactly where they need to be. One small step further in this relationship building is to understand better God’s personal plan for each of us. As individuals we tend to plan out our lives in advance. As we plan, questions arise: Were we, as individuals, chosen before the foundation of the world? Does God plan our life in advance? Has God predetermined our future?
We need some context to set the groundwork to address these questions. There may be some knowledge that we need to unlearn. Two areas of context that are important in theology are the “fall of man “and the “original sin” as they are commonly believed today.
The fall of man takes us back to the beginning in the Garden of Eden. This theology of the fall of man is an attempt to understand what happened when Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the tree God commanded them not to eat of. It presupposes mankind’s loss of an earlier, higher estate.
Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, views the fall of man as the positive development of human consciousness. You will be like God, knowing good and evil and Kant saw it as a positive. Others say it was the positive development of human sexuality. After they ate the forbidden fruit, they knew that they were naked. These views are about men putting their mind to reason through things in scripture and making it rational to the human way of thinking.
The Global Catholic Network describes the mainstream view of the fall of man:
“The chief gift bestowed on Adam and Eve by God was sanctifying grace, which made them children of God and gave them the right to heaven. Sanctifying grace is a supernatural gift which is a sharing in the nature of God Himself and which raises men to the supernatural order, conferring on them powers entirely above those proper to human nature.
“Together with sanctifying grace God gave Adam and Eve the supernatural virtues and gifts of the Holy Ghost. The other gifts bestowed on Adam and Eve by God were happiness in the Garden of Paradise, great knowledge, control of the passions by reason, and freedom from suffering and death. These gifts are not supernatural or above all created natures, but they are beyond the powers of human nature, though not above all created natures. If Adam had not sinned, these gifts would have been transmitted to all men as the possession of human nature.
“On account of this sin, Adam and Eve lost sanctifying grace, the right to heaven, and their special gifts; they became subject to death, to suffering, and to a strong inclination to evil, and they were driven from the Garden of Paradise.”
This makes out man, in his initial created state, to be almost approaching the nature of God Himself. However, scripture reveals the actual fall was not Adam and Eve’s fall. It states that the actual fall was Satan’s: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Heylel, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12). Heylel (Satan) held the position as a wonderfully, beautifully created cherub. He is the one that is fallen and who lost the glory, the greatness of the relationship he had with God in the beginning.
The theology of the fall of man placed man in the position of what is known as original sin. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God. That is a clear reference to the philosophical assessment of something that is metaphysical. And that’s where theology comes from.
We read in Romans 5:12 that “… just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—” The philosophers miss the implication that all have sinned, and simply attached everybody’s sin to the sin of Adam.
This error colors how man views God. It also colors what man thinks God is doing on this earth. It casts a very negative pall over man’s position relative to God: I’m not good enough. There are many people who struggle with that negativity in developing a positive relationship with God.
It presents predestination in a fatalistic manner. Mankind lives under an umbrella of condemnation. So, when we introduce the idea of predestination into the picture, it begins to weigh very heavily on man. “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (Romans 9:21). Does God do that?
Does He create one person with the idea in His mind, this person will be saved, will have salvation, have honor—but this person, no, I am not going to work with him in the same way. This person is a vessel unto dishonor? “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,” (Romans 9:22). Has God prepared some for destruction? Predestination, as it flows out of Protestantism, will tell you, yes, that is the way God works. But has God predetermined some to salvation as the result of the fall of man which resulted in original sin, while not including all people for salvation?
Man is very confused about God’s plan for individual humans. At the heart of predestination are the issues of how does God relate to me—and how am I to relate to God? Does God know in advance the decisions that we will make? Is our fate already predestined by God?
Adam and Eve sinned—they disobeyed God—they rejected God’s Spirit as the determining way of life. They were told not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were allowed to eat of the Tree of Life, which would have given them access to the Holy Spirit. They disobeyed; they sinned. And Death was introduced. Following generations were similarly separated from the Tree of Life. So man, separated from the Tree of Life and exposed to the attitude of the god of this world, Satan, would imbibe of his character, his nature of hostility and enmity against God and God’s law. Man would sin and bring the penalty of sin upon himself. Mankind does not have Adam’s penalty built in. Adam’s penalty was his own penalty. Our sin brings our own penalty.
God’s plan, from the beginning, was for the creation of a family through humankind. He created humankind after the God kind because He was going to build and construct a spiritual family. How did God plan to address this, given the decision that Adam and Eve had made?
The answer is in what we know as predestination, where God determined, from the beginning, certain things were going to happen. Satan did not thwart God’s plan of salvation. He just had to come at it from a little different way, because now there was sin, and there was the penalty of death. But God’s plan was going to come through to fruition, and God determined that from the beginning. Now that sin and death had been introduced, God’s plan called for the redemption of mankind—the restoration of a relationship that had been broken.
Man did not fall from that previous condition, but there was a broken separation. He was driven out of the Garden of Eden and not allowed back in. God’s predetermined plan was laid out through the physical nation of Israel. So, if we want to get a good grasp of predestination, we need to go back to the physical nation of Israel. God was laying out His plan of redemption through the physical nation of Israel. God predetermined the whole episode of Israel’s existence to begin with, by Israel as a nation going down into Egypt. Bondage; the release from bondage; the exodus; and the promised land were all predetermined by God.
Genesis 46:1-4 is one small indication of that: “So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” And he said, ‘Here I am.’ So He said, ‘I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes’.”
And so God predetermined this plan for ancient Israel. It was a working model of His plan. It was a plan predetermined for the redemption of all mankind. It was going to play out through Israel first, as a pattern. But did God’s predetermined plan of redemption mean that Israel was nothing more than a puppet in God’s hand?
If everything was predetermined, and God was wanting to take them into the land in the second year after the exodus, why didn’t they inherit the land for another 40 years? Numbers 14:26-34 answers that question. The point being that God’s predetermined plan of redemption does not preclude individual responsibility. And really, if you understand that, it takes the heart out of the Calvinistic approach. There is individual responsibility along the way in this predetermined plan of redemption.
In Hebrews 3:16-19, Numbers 14 is brought into the New Testament: “For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”
Why would we need to have faith if everything was predetermined? But we need to have faith because everything is not predetermined for us, individually, day in and day out. God’s predetermined plan of redemption and restoration is still in effect. It has simply entered its spiritual phase (Hebrews 4:1-2).
Ephesians 1:3-11 makes it clear that God did determine before the foundation of the world that some would be called in this age. God put in place from the beginning the plan of redemption to restore a relationship with mankind. God has purposed certain things. God did not decide to leave some in “original sin” to go into eternal damnation. He wants to gather all things together in Christ.
There are different times, however, when people will be called to be offered salvation. God did predetermine there would be a small first harvest—described as “first fruits” that will be harvested at the return of Jesus Christ. There is a second larger harvest that takes place at a later time. That is what is predestined. Not everyone is going to be called now, but everyone will have their opportunity. Everybody will be offered salvation.
Paul understood that the church represents the first fruits who are being judged now (Romans 8:28-30). At a given time in the past, God determined a calling of people, a predestination, to be conformed to be like Christ. What is not predetermined are the decisions that we will make. As with Israel, we must make decisions. Because along with God’s law comes the requirement to make decisions (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19). God has given us free moral agency because we have to build character, God’s character.
From the foundation of the world, God predetermined a plan of redemption and a plan of salvation. God will not change His mind on the predetermined plan that He has set forth. Calling, justification, glorification–they are all absolutely certain. Predestination has to do with being called—not with being saved or lost.