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Like foreknowledge, predestination is a simple term made obese with theological lard. This is perhaps most evident in the “UL” of the Calvinist TULIP.[1] The doctrine of Unconditional Election holds that God chose, before the foundation of the world, certain individuals to be saved. Their salvation is not based on any action of the sinner whatsoever, but rests solely on His sovereign will. The doctrine of Limited Atonement holds that Christ did not die for the sins of the whole world, but only for the elect whom God, in an act of sovereign will, predetermined would be saved.[2]

Unconditional election and limited atonement are the pillar dogmas of the Calvinist definition and understanding of predestination. The position is further entrenched through negative affirmation. If the Calvinist understanding of predestination (election in Reformed theology) is rejected, then so too must be jettisoned any belief in God’s sovereignty and the merits of Christ.[3] It can be difficult to arrive to clearheaded conclusions within the confines of this type of intellectual atmosphere.

Words have meanings. They can be elevated through holy use, but their ability to communicate resides in the plain meaning of the word. For instance, we know what a body is. When the apostle Paul writes that we “are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another,”[4] we can understand the assertion because we know what “body” means.

Suppose we decided to abandon the clear meaning of “body” and instead opted to give it a new, theological definition. In our re-formation of the concept, “body” becomes the “mystical immaterialism” of the saints. We could then state our dogma as follows:

Mystical Immaterialism – The church is the body of Christ, the mystical immaterial substance of His being, His expression in the world, through the Spirit directed mind-consciousness of the saints.

If we did this, we would have abandoned the clear teaching of Scripture—that as a physical body has different tangible parts, each with its own function and connectivity to the whole, so the individuals in the church are each a part of the body of Christ—for an intellectual construct of less value and power. I believe this is what happened to “predestination.” Through theology, we have redefined it to mean “fate,” unavoidable and inevitable.

Romans 8:29-30
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. KJV

The Greek word translated “predestinate” in the verses above is prooórisen, which is the aorist tense of the verb proorízo. It is formed from the prefix pro-, meaning “in front of or fore,” and the word horizo, which means “to mark out or bound.” We get our English word “horizon” from horizo. Thus, to predestinate means “to mark out the boundary or limit ahead or in front.” Predestination means that our limit or boundary has been set in advance. It does not mean “you will absolutely do thus and so.” It means “you can go or should go thus far” or “farther than this, you should not go.”

A field colonel gathers his captains. “Jim,” he says, “I want you to take Hill 138 and stay put. Bill, you and your boys flank west by southwest two klicks and take the bridge by the river. Josh, once Bill’s boys have the bridge take your troops across and push into the west bank. Jim’s crew will cover you with artillery from the hill.” Now, once this plan was conceived (note, once it was conceived – which usually happens long before it is communicated) Jim was predestined to take Hill 138, Bill was predestined to take and hold the bridge, and Josh was predestined to occupy the west bank. Their boundaries and limitations were set in advance, but the captains and their units still had to move forward and fulfill their destiny.

What were we predestined for? Romans 8:29 tells us that we were predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. The destiny God sets before us is to be like Jesus. Reaching this destiny involves our active will and participation in this life[5] as well as the decisive exercise of the power of God in the life to come for “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”[6]

What else does Scripture say we have been predestined for?

Ephesians 1:3-5
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, KJV

We were predestined to be adopted as children of God. Our appointed boundary or limitation, the room we were to fill, is to be adopted as children of Father God by the redeeming work of Jesus Christ according to what seemed good to God. In other words, it seemed good to God (foreknowledge) to have children by adoption (predestination). This condition, the adoption of children, is entered into by an act of the will on the part of the repentant sinner. It is a pre-destiny because access to the Father’s house and the kingdom is laid before us.

Ephesians 1:11-14
11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. KJV

Verses 11 and 12 tell us that we were predestined to be to the praise of His glory. Note how this is going to transpire: “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” In other words, the fulfillment of our preset boundary condition takes place in accordance to the plan that God actively implements in agreement with His will. It is an active process, not passive fatalism.

God had the plan (foreknowledge) and set the boundary for the place (predestination). We choose to live in accordance with His plan and He works to bring about His predetermined counsel. Thus, to fulfill my destiny is to walk into the plan that God has set out for me. This is the essence of predestination.

[1] TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints.
[2] The summary of each of these points is taken from H. Wayne House, Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 99-100.
[3] Monergism, “Predestination and Reformed Theology,” https://www.monergism.com/blog/predestination-and-reformed-theology (accessed September 2, 2019).
[4] Rom. 12:5.
[5] Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:21-24; Col. 3:8-10.
[6] 1 John 3:2.