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What is the Difference Between Election and Predestination?

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    What is the Difference Between Election and Predestination?

    Kevin DeYoung

    I had someone ask me this question recently. My short answer is: in popular usage, not a lot.

    The terms election and predestination are often used interchangeably, both referring to God’s gracious decree whereby he chooses some for eternal life. In Romans 8:30 Paul speaks of those whom God has predestined, called, justified, and (in the end) glorified. In 8:33 Paul references “the elect,” apparently a synonym for the predestined ones described a few verses earlier.

    A sharp distinction between the two words is not warranted from Scripture, but if there is a distinction to be made, predestination is the general term for God’s sovereign ordaining, while election is the specific term for God choosing us in Christ before the foundation of the world. That is, predestination is the broader category of which election is the smaller subset. Calvin defined predestination as “God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man…Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death” (Inst. III.xxi.5). For Calvin, predestination encompasses the entire eternal decree. Election and reprobation, then, represent two different aspects of the decree. The Canons of Dort Article 1 makes the same distinctions.

    This delineation is not without merit. The “elect” is always a positive designation in Scripture (e.g., Matt. 24:31; Titus 1:1), suggesting that election implies eternal life (though Rom 9:11 may be an exception to this rule). Predestination, on the other hand, can be used more broadly. Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and people of Israel, did to Jesus what God’s “plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). Indeed, all of our days are written in God’s book before one of them comes to pass (Psalm 139:16 ). Every form of prosperity and affliction comes to us not by chance, but from God’s fatherly hand (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 27). Or as Augustine put it, “The will of God is the necessity of all things.”

    Does this mean we are “predestined” to marry so-and-so or take a certain job? In one sense, looking back at God’s providential care, we can say “Yes, that’s was God’s plan for my life.” And yet this notion of divine superintendence is not meant to undercut personal initiative and responsibility. Everything happens after the counsel of God’s will (Eph. 1:11), but this is no excuse to neglect the use of means, nor is it a reason to think every decision we make is automatically pleasing to God. God’s sovereign unalterable will of decree is not be confused with his violable will of desire.

    After carefully reading this, I find no real error. Put simply, everything is predestined, people are elected by God. Nothing we do surprises God or is out of His control and foreknowledge. Part of His divine plan is to hold us accountable for what we do and who we are, and yet it is all His plan. He is God of all, the one and only God. How could He not know and be in control of all things, and as is in Romans, He creates those fitted to destruction for the sake of showing His wrath on them to those made for eternal life. In any case, the Bible does not teach free will doctrine. We freely sin, but with consequences of sin. Still, God knows of all that as it is part of His plan, not that God sins, as we do that, but that He defines sin and corruptible people who then sin. Tough to wrap our brains around, but that He knows, allows, controls all things, yet sin exists... the very thing that separates the unbeliever from God. By design, we are created to need a Savior, God's Son, to save us from our sins. Revelation 13:8 states "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" reveals that God planned on creating corruptible man who need Jesus for our salvation or all would perish. God tells us He chooses (elects) certain people to be saved by grace, not of works and gives us saving faith freely, as Jesus paid for it on the cross. Is this not the Gospel of salvation?


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