Have this clearly in mind: Salvation is not based on predestination. Rather, predestination is based on salvation.
Many people get mixed up at this point. Some Christians see predestination as the key to salvation. We are saved (if we are) because of an irrevocable decision or “decree” that the Sovereign God made before the world began.
But what does the Bible say? Not that we are saved because of an eternal decree of God. That is warped way of understanding predestination.
Rather, we are saved by God’s gracious provision of salvation for all. We are fully convinced that Jesus Christ “died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” (2 Cor. 5:15).
Biblically, predestination means that those who fully trust Jesus Christ for salvation are “pre-destined” to be conformed to his image as they walk in the light. “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 within a large family” (Rom. 8:29).
In other words, predestination is the pre-determination of the “destination” to which salvation leads. Salvation means the restoration of God’s image in us, and ultimately it means that “universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21).
Biblically, predestination does not refer to God’s particular will for particular people, but rather to the certainty and sovereignty of God’s gracious plan of salvation in history, whereby salvation is offered to all and will finally fully be accomplished in justice, judgment, and mercy.
Doubts about Dordt
Many Christians understand Scripture primarily through the lens of the canons of the Council of Dordt, held in Holland in 1618-19. A few years ago I heard a theologian friend who defends this brand of Reformed theology say the Council of Dordt is the definitive statement of the meaning of salvation. He seemed to place this one council above Scripture.
This view of salvation was succinctly stated by the Dutch Reformed author Arnold A. van Ruler in his 1989 book, Calvinist Trinitarianism and Theocentric Politics: Essays Toward a Public Theology (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press). Van Ruler wrote: “In the matter of eternal election, everything depends on the free sovereign power of God. . . . God’s free sovereign power seeks to be mirrored in the willingness by which we approve of God in his sovereignty. That, after all, is what redemption is all about: plunging oneself into the abyss of God’s sovereignty, eventually in the form of resigning oneself to reprobation (resignatio ad infernum)” (p. 83).
This is not in fact what “redemption is all about,” however. This is a narrow view that makes what is second first, and what is first, second.
How different were John Wesley’s views! Van Ruler’s formulation can be restated in a more Wesleyan (and biblical) way as follows: “In the matter of eternal election, everything depends on the free sovereign love and grace of God. God’s free sovereign grace seeks to be mirrored in the willingness by which we responsibly accept and respond to God. That, after all, is what redemption is all about: plunging oneself into the abyss of God’s love, fully trusting in God’s loving character and sovereign power in full fidelity to his covenant promises.”
“That, after all, is what redemption is all about: plunging oneself into the abyss of God’s love, fully trusting in God’s loving character and sovereign power in full fidelity to his covenant promises.”
This then is the entryway to the fulfillment of all God’s marvelous promises to bring his kingdom in fullness.
God’s love and grace come first—God’s will that all be saved. Predestination guarantees the final destiny of all who accept and continue to walk faithfully in God’s grace.
Thank God that through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit we know the destination to which faithful following of the Savior leads. And thank God we are being transformed more and more into the image of Jesus Christ as we walk in this way.
“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).