A (hopefully) Better Analysis of Predestination


I thought that the topic of determinism and predestination deserved a more thorough treatment than my last post, which I admit, was more than a little confusing. Sometimes it takes me a few posts to get going, but I hope this one does the topic justice for now. I'll begin by walking through a passage in Ephesians which is used as proof-text for the idea that God predetermines who will be saved and who will not be saved. As I aim to show, the idea that God chooses who will be saved comes from a misreading of the passage.



Ephesians 1:3-4

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

We were chosen in Christ to be holy and blameless. Take a pause here and notice that it does not say we were chosen to be in Christ. In this sentence (1:4), "In Christ" is what makes the rest of the sentence possible. We were not simply chosen to be holy and blameless.  We were chosen in Christ to be made holy and blameless. Another way of saying it is that We are chosen in Christ to be ... not chosen to be in Christ. Thus, we choose to be in Christ, and in Christ we are predestined ...

If we were in someone or something else, it would not be possible for us to be made holy and blameless. Put another way, God predestined Christ above all others to be the one who could make those in Him holy and blameless. No one but Jesus can do it!

Ephesians 1:5-6

In love 5 he[c] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 

God predestined us to be .... through Jesus. Paul is re-iterating that we are predestined in Christ to be something. It logically follows that we are not predestined to be this if we are not in Christ, but the choice itself to be in Christ is not mentioned as being predetermined.

Ephesians 1:7-10

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

God even purposed his own will in Christ! Take special note of the various clauses contained in these verses: (1) And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, (2) which he purposed in Christ, (3) to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment— (4) to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

So in Christ we are predestined to be holy and blameless, and adopted as God's children. That necessarily means that those who are not in Christ are also not predestined to be adopted or holy and blameless. However, as we have seen, since God does not predetermine who will be in Christ, but rather who those in Christ will become, we thus have the free choice to be in Christ or not. That choice is for us to make, and for God to be the final arbiter of.

But what about?


In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps - Proverbs 16:9

Doesn't that mean that no matter what we plan, anything we do is determined by God? In a word, no. I believe that this idea was created by our understanding of what "to determine" means in the passage. Sometimes, to determine can mean to decide something for someone else, and can be set up as a contrasting action. The fact that the proverb says "but the LORD determines his steps" lends to this possibility. To illustrate, say I want to drive north, but my wife determines we will go south - thus, we drive south. This is the predominant view of 'to determine' in the passage for evangelicals. Thus when we read this passage, we tend to think of God 'determining' steps as God choosing where the steps will land, regardless of what we had planned.

I don't believe this is what the proverb is talking about.

The definition of the Hebrew word we see in English as "determines" literally means "to make firm". So we could say "but the LORD makes firm his steps". Making something firm is quite different from our idea of determining something, but in one sense, these are in fact synonyms. To determine something, in the sense of this proverb, essentially means to establish it or to 'make it so'. Another translation says that God  "establishes his steps". So God establishes, determines, or firms our steps despite the fact that we planned them.

Why?

To draw a metaphor, think about your foot as the course you have planned in your heart, and God as a pathway made of newly poured concrete. As you place your foot into the concrete, your step (your plan made into reality) is established in a footprint. As the concrete dries, the footprint is made firm. If the footprint is ugly, an artist could come along and chisel it in various ways or paint it to make it beautiful. This is how God works: through concretely establishing the steps we take (good and bad), he then begins to work in them to bring about his will. His will is thus not accomplished by managing where we step, but rather by firming our step wherever it lands. He uses it to bring about good, even if we've made an ugly footprint.


When a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him - Proverbs 16:7

Does this mean that God will make people do things when our ways are pleasing to God?

The problem here is one of subject confusion. Who makes whose enemies live at peace with whom?
Is the LORD who makes the LORD's enemies live at peace with the LORD? Or is it the LORD who makes the man's enemies live at peace with the LORD? Or is it the LORD who makes the LORD's enemies live at peace with the man? Or is it the Man who makes the LORD's enemies live at peace with the man? I could go on.

I think the the most faithful interpretation here is that when a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, the man makes even his enemies live at peace with him. Why? Since the man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, the man will naturally and obviously go out of his way to be at peace with his enemies, since Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14). Read more allegorically, you could say that the LORD makes the man's enemies live at peace with the man through the man's obedience to the law of love. This isn't a formula for success, it's a compacted statement full of practical wisdom which is showing us how to interact with the world in a God honoring way.

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