Predestination or Free Will?

Published by DonDavidson on

In about 1535, as Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation was gaining traction in Europe, John Calvin published The Institutes of the Christian Religion, in which he argued that God has predestined every person on earth to either eternal salvation or eternal damnation, and that no one can change their eternal fate. Calvin’s position was accepted and adopted by John Knox, the founder of Presbyterianism in Scotland.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, later rejected Calvin’s doctrine of predestination and preached that God has given every individual the free will to accept or reject the salvation made possible by Jesus Christ. To my knowledge, Calvinistic predestination has now been rejected by most, if not all, denominations and churches in the United States and most Christians around the world.

But was Calvin right?

Scripture strongly supports Wesley’s position, but with a few exceptions.

The New Testament uses words like repent, believe, faith, and love, which would be meaningless if we lacked the free will to repent, believe, trust, and love.

On the other hand, when God chooses to use someone for his own purposes, does that person truly retain the free will to resist? Paul didn’t think so. In Ephesians 1:3-12, he expresses his belief that he and some of the other early Christians were chosen by God “before the foundation of the world” and predestined for salvation. And it is certainly true that Paul and Jesus’ earliest disciples witnessed astounding miracles that left them little choice but to believe and follow.

But the next verse, Ephesians 1:13, makes clear that predestination was not universal, for there Paul says: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of the promise. . . .” Paul believed that he had been chosen and predestined, but we and the Ephesians are part of the “you also” of Ephesians 1:13—we reach salvation through listening to the gospel, believing it, and placing our faith in Christ.

So while a few were apparently chosen and predestined for salvation—and suffered a great deal on this earth because of it, by the way—most of mankind were not. We are to seek salvation through repentance, faith, and love.

For a deeper dive into this topic of predestination vs. free will, check out Chapter 10 of my book, Beyond Shallow Faith, entitled “Is Free Will an Illusion?”


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