Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Why I Believe in Predestination
by Rev. Brian M. Abshire
I still remember the first time I encountered the doctrine of election. I was in my first semester at a Christian college, taking Theology 101. After dealing with the doctrines of God, Christ and Man, we finally got to salvation. And the professor turned out to be a CALVINIST! I was outraged! What a canard that God would choose some for salvation, and others for eternal condemnation. I felt worse than if someone had insulted my wife. It was reprehensible that my God's gracious and loving character should be so maligned.
Yet, now, twenty years later, I am writing a position paper defending the very doctrine that once made me so angry. What changed?
Well, simply stated, I learned how to study the Bible for myself. And what I learned personally from the Scriptures was so wondrous, so glorious, and so awesome that I had to change my convictions.
Let's go back a bit and look at some background before I went to college. I had been brought to faith in Christ through a parachurch ministry reaching out to military personnel. I knew first hand that the gospel of Jesus Christ changed lives. It changed mine. It changed my friends. Later on, as a faithful worker for another parachurch organization dedicated to evangelism, I wanted more than anything else to convince people to repent of their sin and receive Jesus Christ as Lord.
But I kept running into a problem. Some people accepted the message, but others did not. I thought perhaps it was my evangelism skills at fault. I was convinced that if I could only argue better, I could win more souls.
So I studied hard, learned answers to all the questions a person could possibly ask and prepared myself like a debater. I was ready to out argue anyone. And with all due modesty, I got real good at it. One night, in the city of York in Northern England, I met a fellow American. He was a student at Cornell University majoring in physics. He was brilliant. We spent the entire night discussing Christianity. And though he had some great arguments, it was no contest. He would throw up an objection to Christianity; and like a trap shooter busting clay pidgins, I would shoot them down. As night turned to dawn, he was like a weary boxer, staggering around after repeated body blows. He was finally out of arguments. I had answered every question, demolished every objection. I had him on the ropes. Finally I asked, "Look, we've gone round and round all night. Will you now acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord."
"No," he said.
"Why not?" I practically screamed.
"Well, if I accept Jesus as Lord, then I'll have to stop sleeping with my girl friend."
There was the real issue. It was not a problem with his head, but a problem with his heart. He didn't want to receive Christ because he knew that he would have to stop doing what God has forbidden. But couldn't he understand the consequences of his refusal to accept God's salvation? Couldn't he see that his way was suicide? Why would a person chose death over life? I shook my head at his foolishness and pondered his blindness. I remember mumbling something about "free will" and getting on with the next prospect.
Years later, after college, seminary and graduate school, I was back again in England, teaching hermeneutics to young Christians. We were studying the book of Romans when we got to chapter nine. Verse 16 was very troubling. Paul says, "So then, it does not depend on the man who wills, or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." Wow, troubling verse. So much for "free" will. I had always focused on convincing the man, but God was saying that salvation does not depend on human will. Verse 18 is even more difficult, "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires."
Now as a good teacher, I was in a real quandary. To make these verses mean something other then what they apparently said, would violate every principle of hermeneutics I had been teaching my students. I had consistently warned my students of hermeneutical "gymnastics" when dealing with troubling texts. "Let God be true and every man a liar" was my catch phrase. And now the teacher was caught. I hated (no other word will suffice) the doctrine of election. But here I was smack up against an entire chapter of the Bible that would not fit my prejudices. What was I going to do?
Well, like any good Christian, I hid my head and hoped it would go away. But my students wouldn't let me. Every single person in that class came in as an Arminian (i.e., believing that men choose God). Every single one of them came out reformed (believing that God chooses man). What a disaster!
So, I began my own personal Bible study. I did not read any good books, or study what the great thinkers of the past had written. I just opened my Bible and said, "Lord, teach me." And this is what I found.
First, for the first time, I started with the Bible's own assessment of unregenerate men. Romans 3:10ff says, "There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God." Do you see what it says here? No one, nobody, nowhere at no time seeks after God. But if that's true, how does anyone ever come to faith in Christ in the first place? Kind of explains something of the attitude of my friend in York. He wasn't looking for God, had no real interest in spiritual things, except as a chance to match wits with someone.
Secondly, 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, "but a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised." Here the natural man, the man without the Spirit of God, neither accepts or understands the gospel. In fact, the Bible says that he cannot do so because only the Spirit can explain them. Yet because he is a "natural" man, he doesn't have the Spirit! Thus when we share the gospel with unbelievers, they do not, they cannot understand the message. And that also helps explain my college friend. Even though he lost the argument, he remained unconvinced, because he just didn't understand what the real issues were. And nothing I could do, no argument I could offer could change him.
Thirdly, Second Corinthians 5 explains why the natural man cannot understand spiritual realities. Verse 3-4 says "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…" Natural men are not only spiritually foolish- they are spiritually blind. They can't see what we see so clearly. My friend just didn't see that his actions were leading to death. It was like trying to describe color to a blind man. How can anyone choose the way of death, when the way of life is so clear? Well, it is easily done if they cannot tell the difference. My friend was blind.
Finally, Ephesians 2:1 says, "And you were dead in your transgressions and sin." Not only is the unbeliever foolish and blind, he's dead! Ever tried to have a discussion with a dead person? Not much chance of changing their convictions is there? And that's why I won the argument but lost the soul. I was arguing with a Zombie, whose heart was dead and who therefore was unmoved by my arguments. He could not help but chose the way of death, because he was already dead!
Now here's the dilemma. How does this foolish, blind, dead person ever come to saving faith in Christ? I used to use an analogy when discussing salvation. I had people picture the Titanic sinking in the North Atlantic. The water is full of drowning survivors. Jesus rows by in a lifeboat throwing out the life preserver of salvation. Anyone who wants to be saved just has to grab on the life preserver and Jesus will reel them in. You grab the lifesaver by faith. It was a great illustration. But it was also dead wrong.
The problem was that it didn't deal with the Biblical description of men without God. According to the Bible, the people in the water were not just weak and helpless, who needed to trust that Jesus would really save them. They were already dead. They didn't understand what a life preserver was for, they couldn't see that the life preserver was being thrown out and they couldn't hang on because they had already drowned! Dead men don't have faith. That's the Biblical picture.
So then, how can anyone be saved? Ephesians 2:9-9 provides the Biblical answer. "For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." I had memorized that verse years before, quoted it hundreds of times, but never understood it. If anyone had asked me what the "gift of God" was I would have said, "salvation of course." But that is both linguistically and grammatically impossible. The relative pronoun "that" does not refer to "salvation" but rather faith! The gift of God in Ephesians 2:8-9 is not salvation (though salvation is certainly a gift) but faith. Even our ability to believe in God, is a gift from God. God has to change a person's heart, regenerate them, before they can believe in Him. Only when a man is brought to spiritual life can he trust in God.
2 Corinthians 4:6 says something similar, "For God who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness" is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." Remember that blind man? How does he ever see Christ? Not on his own, but only, if God causes light to shine in his heart. Jesus healed the physically blind, as an allegory of His Spirit giving us spiritual sight. But unless God does that, we cannot see.
A better analogy than the Titanic is the airplane that crashed a few years ago in frigid waters just after taking off from a Washington airport. Rescue helicopters let down life preservers into the water, and if the people would only hang on, they could be saved. But the cold waters drained the life out of them. Several poignant pictures show people clinging to life preservers, almost rescued, only to drop back into the icy waters. This was a horrible tragedy, but also an accurate picture of our state before God. In order for those poor people to be rescued, someone had to go right down into the water, drag them aboard a raft, and give them the kiss of life. They couldn't choose salvation, someone else had to save them.
Salvation is totally an act of God. Nothing about us allows us to contribute to salvation in anyway. We are dead in the water. Jesus doesn't just throw out a life preserver and say, "Whosoever will, may come." He literally reaches out, drags us into the lifeboat, and gives us life. We do not save ourselves with his help. He does it all.
But my objection here was, “doesn't that make God unfair?” Why should He save some and not others?
Let's go back to Romans 9 again. Verse 19 says, "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault for who resists His will?" "Fair question!" I thought, the first time I read it. And I was devastated by the Apostle Paul's answer. He says, "On the contrary, who are you who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this' will it?'"
And this is why election is so offensive to us. God says in His Word, that He is God. He created heaven and earth according to His plan and His purposes. He has the right to do anything He wishes with everything in creation. And we do not like that. We don't like a sovereign God; we want a nice comfortable god that will be there when we need Him. We want a god that will answer our prayers and get us out of trouble. We want a god that is like a rich, indulgent uncle who'll give us nice things and let us have a good time. But that is not the God of Scripture.
The One True God is the sovereign Lord and King of Heaven and Earth. Everything that He created was intended to display His glory and majesty (Psa 19:1ff). He is the standard of what is right and wrong, good and evil. In Him we live and move and have our being. He is the great "I Am that I Am."
Paul summarizes our position in Romans 9:22, "What if God, though willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction." Do you see what Scripture is saying here? God created some people as "vessels of wrath." Their whole purpose is to demonstrate God's power, righteousness and justice. They were prepared for destruction. That's why He created them.
Paul goes on to say in verse 23, "And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us…" Just as God created some people for wrath, He created others to demonstrate His grace, mercy and goodness. Notice the illustration please; one lump of clay, molded by the Maker into two different types of vessels. Out of the same lump comes one vessel for honor, one for dishonor; one for glory, one for destruction. You may not like it, but that's what God said. Deal with it. It's the way things really are.
But what about the “fairness” issue? But think with me for a moment; what does God owe any of us? "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rms 3:23). "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way" (Isa 53:6). And finally, "the wages of sin is death" (Rms 6:23). The only thing that God owes any of us is death. Everything else is a result of God's grace, mercy and patience. How then can God be called "unjust" or "unfair" if He decides, as is His sovereign right, to save some of us?
Thus, I believe in predestination because that is what the Bible teaches. "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…" (Eph 1:4) "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the kind intention of His will" (Eph 1:5). "having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11).
I don't have to like it, but I do have to accept it. God is sovereign. He will do what He will do. His Word is clear that from all eternity He created some for salvation, and others for damnation. Now we cannot see people's hearts and it is not for us to speculate about who belongs in either camp. "The secret things belong to God." But in His grace, mercy and sovereignty God can only do what is right. If what He does conflicts with what we think is right, guess who had better change? And that is why I believe in predestination.
After six years of military service, Rev. Brian M. Abshire graduated from Bethel College (Magna Cum Laude) in two years, with a double major in Psychology and Biblical Studies. He attended Bethel, Talbot, International and Covenant Seminaries, earning an MA (Summa Cum Laude - emphasis in Apologetics and Contemporary Culture) and a Masters of Theology (Magna Cum Laude thesis “The Use of Evidence in Presuppositional Apologetics”). His Ph.D. is from the International Institute for Advanced Studies, Greenwich University where he studied the Sociological Effects of New England Puritanism on the Development of American Cultural Values. He has been married to Elaine for 24 years and has six children. He is committed to developing a self-consciously Old School Presbyterian Church, Reformed in doctrine and practice and yet with the ability to minister in practical ways to people's real needs. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.