What Is Predestination?

Predestination is never used in the sense of divine determinism, that all, or any, our actions are determined by God. Rather, God has predetermined that all who are in Christ would be conformed to the image of Christ and adopted as children of God.

Contributing Writer
Updated Feb 23, 2024
What Is Predestination?

Predestination is the idea that God, being omniscient and omnipotent, has predetermined the fate or destiny of individuals, including their salvation or damnation, before the foundation of the world. It's a topic that has widely disparate views, even among Christians. Some see predestination as essentially synonymous with divine determinism. That God determines all your life choices and happenings.

Others view this idea as non-existent, a non-biblical doctrine. Yet predestination is mentioned in Acts and some of Paul’s writings, so it is biblical. But what does the Scripture mean by the use of this term?

Predestination: Table of Contents

Predestination Definition

The Greek word proorizō is used six times in the New Testament. In the NIV, it is translated as:

The word itself means to predestine or to decide beforehand. Of course, that raises the question of what it is that was predestined. And for that, it will be necessary to examine the biblical text where this term is used.

Predestination in the Bible

In Acts 4:28, Peter and John are reporting back to the church on their trial before the Jewish ruling body. And in this report, they mentioned that Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jewish residents of Jerusalem had conspired against Jesus. And “they did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

What was it that God had decided beforehand would happen? At the very least, it refers to the crucifixion of Jesus. Did God’s predestination extend to the role that these other players would perform? Or was it limited to the act itself?

That is a question that divides scholars today. But I would understand it to be the narrower interpretation; that the predestination concerned Jesus’ crucifixion and not the specific actions of those conspiring against Jesus.

In Romans 8:29-30, Paul uses this term twice. In verse 29, he says, "those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Regardless of how one might understand the word foreknew in this verse, the matter of predestination is clear.

It is that the elect would be conformed to the image of Christ. God’s pre-determined plan is that those who are in Christ would become like him. Predestination in this passage is very narrowly defined. Not as relating to all my choices or actions. Nor even who would be saved. But that the saved would become like Christ.

Verse 29 in this passage goes on to say that those who were predestined would be called, the called would be justified, and the justified would be glorified. So, the sequence is foreknown —predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ — called — justified — glorified.

We are not called, justified, and glorified because we have been preordained. Instead, we are predestined, called, justified, and glorified because God foreknows us. As mentioned above, what is meant by foreknow is hotly debated in some circles but beyond this article's scope.

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-7, Paul talks about a message of wisdom, God’s wisdom, that was hidden in the past. A message “that God destined for our glory before time began.” Here the predestination concerns the gospel message that Jesus came to earth as God incarnate, died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and offered salvation to all who would believe.

This is similar in nature to the passage in Acts 4:28 that we looked at earlier. While the Acts passage looked at the crucifixion itself, it refers to the message of the cross, and the significance of the crucifixion. God preordained that the gospel message would be the means of bringing us to salvation.

The two passages in Ephesians 1 are a part of Paul’s description of the spiritual blessings we have “in Christ.” And I believe that context is essential. The things he describes are for those who are “in Christ.”

For many, myself included, this is a reference to the corporate election. These blessings are bestowed on those who are a part of the body of Christ. They are given because of where we are, not the means of getting us there.

In Ephesians 1:5, Paul says, “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” Without the context, it might seem like God has predestined us for salvation. But since the context repeatedly refers to these blessings coming to those “in Christ,” it would seem more likely that those who have come to faith and entered into Christ are destined for sonship. God preordains that all who come into the body of Christ enter that family relationship as the children of God.

In Ephesians 1:11, Paul uses this term again saying, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” In this verse and the one that follows, Paul appears to be speaking of himself and the other early believers, the first to put their hope in Christ.

Within the body of Christ, Paul and the other early believers were chosen by God to proclaim the message of truth, the gospel. And by this proclamation, to bring others into the body of Christ.

So, here, predestination would seem to be limited to specific individuals within Christ for a specific purpose. By extension, you might see that each of us within the body of Christ is predestined to fill a specific role within the body.

Who Believes in Predestination?

The belief in predestination is most prominently associated with Reformed or Calvinistic theology. However, there is a spectrum of beliefs regarding predestination, and not all denominations hold to the same views. Here are some denominations and traditions that generally affirm the concept of predestination:

Reformed Tradition & Calvinism:

The Reformed tradition, rooted in the teachings of theologians like John Calvin, emphasizes the sovereignty of God, particularly in the salvation of individuals. Reformed theology often includes the doctrines of predestination and election, asserting that God has chosen certain individuals for salvation according to His sovereign will, apart from any merit or foreseen faith on their part. Reformed churches, such as Presbyterian, Calvinist, and some Congregationalist denominations, adhere to these theological principles.

Presbyterian Tradition:

The Presbyterian tradition, influenced by Reformed theology, is characterized by a system of church governance led by elected elders. Presbyterians affirm the doctrines of predestination and election, as articulated by John Calvin. They organize their churches around elected bodies known as presbyteries, synods, and general assemblies, with an emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the authority of Scripture.

Certain Baptist Traditions:

Some Baptist denominations, particularly those associated with Reformed or Particular Baptist theology, share in the Calvinistic understanding of predestination. However, Baptists, in general, are a diverse group, and beliefs on predestination can vary widely among different Baptist congregations. Reformed Baptists often emphasize the doctrines of grace, including the idea that God has elected certain individuals for salvation.

True Meaning of Predestination in Christ

As you can see from the discussion of the above passages, predestination should not be used in the sense of divine determinism, that all, or any, our actions are determined by God. Instead, it is used in a more limited sense. God has predetermined that all who are in Christ would be conformed to the image of Christ and adopted as children of God.

God also determined from the creation that Christ would be crucified and that the message of the cross would be the means to bring us to glory. Finally, God predestined a specific place for believers within the body of Christ.

Predestination Bible Verses

"Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will" ~ Ephesians 1:4-5 

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." ~ Romans 8:28-30

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." ~ John 15:16

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." ` John 6:44

"Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" ~ 2 Timothy 1:9

"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." ~ 2 Peter 3:9

"The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble." ~ Proverbs 16:4

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Ed Jarrett headshotEd Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.


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