The following is a brief study on what the Bible teaches about predestination. References are made to a lecture by David Pawson.
David Pawson and several others taught by video during my YWAM Discipleship Training School in 1989. Our DTS was at Lakeside Montana where I watched ripples rise to my toes on Flathead Lake. I loved sitting on the pier a mile or two from the Youth With A Mission base. The boards under the seat of my pants were my friends. I talked to Jesus there many times. And watched seagulls drift overhead. And slide over waves.
At YWAM we were taught many things that had a clear basis in Scripture. And a few, of course, that did not. But, overall, I thank God for the experience! And the things I learned.
Not only that. We had a fun DTS group. We were small in number. Not more than twenty. But very close. Like family. I wound up supporting a sister’s foot with my palm and thigh as six of us “stacked” ourselves under Rio’s skyscrapers at the climax of our musical routine. The skyscrapers were holding up the sky. They gave that impression. Till you climbed Corcovado, the mountain bearing the statue of Christ. Then you realized it was holding up the sky.
David Pawson’s lecture on predestination
David Pawson is my brother in Jesus. I plan on sharing the streets of gold with him. And rejoicing together in our beautiful Savior!
Sadly. I was disappointed in a lecture he gave recently online.
I cannot help but respond. The Word of God is like the roll of drums in my heart, to which my feet are keeping step. As in days of old in Scottish highlands, I can hear bagpipes blazing! (I know. No one else hears them.) God’s truth marches on victoriously! And it will never stop. It will never break rank.
Mr. Pawson and I do not agree on the Biblical subject of predestination. Unfortunately, disagreeing on something is normal down here.
The problem I have with what he teaches on this subject can be summed up in two words: (1) misrepresentation and (2) definition.
(1) My view on predestination is misrepresented by David Pawson
For predestination to be misrepresented is common. It happens all the time.
But. We’d really like to see something different. Something creative. And true to fact. Right? Right. I’m glad you’re with me.
Unfortunately. Remaining “true to form” and “protocol,” I suppose, Mr. Pawson establishes a case for his theological position by misrepresenting what I believe. (And, I might add, what the Bible teaches.) So “the house he builds” has no actual foundation. Only an imagined one. As with any weak or even bad argument, it rests on false premises.
Anyone can knock down straw men they create. It’s easy and it looks good on an erasable board. And just about everyone who is listening is impressed. But thinking for yourself and truly seeing if Scripture actually says what is being taught is rare. After all. When “searching” for truth, we tend to look for someone who agrees with our sentiments: to take our own “sentimental journey” in search of truth. That is the nature of the problem in II Timothy 4:3. Of course, not everyone does this. But it is common. Still. There are Christians who faithfully plumb the depths for truth. That means putting on your gear and following your flippers into the blue. It is not the easy path. But it is the right one for anyone who is serious about studying the Bible.
The lecture begins
To start off, Mr. Pawson says we are not “robots or puppets. . . God has decided a destiny for you, but that does not mean that He will force it on you.” The problem is. . . I agree. Yet I am the one in the lecture whose position is the object of scorn. No one I know–that includes me–believes we are robots or puppets, or God forces His will on us. But we do not take the position on predestination Mr. Pawson holds.
Here is where it gets sad. By setting the tone of the discussion in this way, he has already achieved his objective. After all. Who wants to be a robot or puppet, or be forced to do anything? Especially in America. Suddenly. Mr. Pawson has everyone’s approval! Who dares to gainsay this? They would probably be either tossed or laughed out of the room.
So. You might say, “battle lines” have been drawn. But there is no opposing army on the other side! Only what exists in one’s imagination.
What the Bible teaches
Here’s what I and others like me actually believe. God works in such a way, those He calls will want to be saved. They are not saved against their will or treated like robots. The Bible says, “Your people will be willing in the day of your power” (Ps. 110:3). “Draw me, we will run after you” (Song 1:4). “Blessed is the man you choose and cause to approach unto you” (Ps. 65:4). “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jer. 31:3). “I drew them. . .with bands of love” (Hos. 11:4). Paul wrote, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12,13). Those who God has predestined desire to be saved. Why? Because God is creating this desire in them.
Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him, and I will raise him up in the last day” (John 6:44). Which is a clear reference to the resurrection of the saved (see the context: John 6:39,40,44,54; 11:24). So, we understand by this: all who are drawn to Jesus believe in Him.
Mr. Pawson himself is a good example of this “effectual call” of God which he disdains. According to his own testimony, when God called him, he accepted. Right? Yes he did. Why? Because Jesus also said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37). The called will not fail to come to Him. They may hold off for a while. But they will come. “Everyone, therefore, who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to me” (John 6:45; Ps. 22:30.31).
The nature of love
In light of this, let us look more closely at Mr. Pawson’s statement above. “God has decided a destiny for you, but that does not mean that He will force it on you.”
The Bible says, “in love [God the Father] predestined us” (Eph. 1:4-5; 2:4).
Consider, for a moment, the nature of love. Let’s say you have a child who wants to commit suicide. He has jumped into a lake and is determined to drown. You believe his choice to live or die is paramount. You will not violate that. So. Even though you are big enough and strong enough to jump in and save him, you say, “Okay. If you want to drown, go ahead.” That is not love. Certainly not God’s love, which is much greater than ours! To say nothing of His power to save (see John 17:2). Don’t kid yourself. If our eternal destiny depended on the choices we make, we would all be lost. Because of our sinful, fallen nature, we are not inclined at all to be saved, not even with “a little persuasion from God” that would not “violate” our “free will” (Rom. 3:11; Eph. 2:1-5).
Which brings us to point number 2.
(2) The problem with David Pawson’s definition of predestination
The second problem I have with what Mr. Pawson teaches relates to a definition he gives for predestination. This is so problematic, it virtually destroys his entire disquisition. He defines predestination by saying what it is not. He says predestination “is not predetermination.” That means God can predestinate in eternity, but man’s will in earth time determines whether or not that predestination actually takes effect.
However. In some English dictionaries the definition of predestine is “to determine beforehand, foreordain” (e.g. the Scribner-Bantam English Dictionary). In Funk and Wagnall the Latin for predestinate is broken down as follows: “prae– before + destinare to determine.” Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon gives as the meaning for the NT Greek word predestination: “to predetermine, decide beforehand.”
By saying predestination is not predetermination, Mr. Pawson is in fact saying predestination is not what it is. Interesting. Like saying “snow is not snow” and “a tree is not a tree.” You are not you. And I am not me. So. In reality, his entire “house of cards” falls because he cannot accept the real meaning of predestination.
However. Because it is in the Bible, he has a problem. He must acknowledge it is in the Bible. And try to explain it.
So it is rendered powerless. The lion’s teeth are pulled. Your kitty’s claws removed. Predestination becomes “harmless,” so to speak. Of no consequence. And, in reality, meaningless. What is going to happen would have happened anyway. Right? Man’s will determines that. Not what God predestined. (I’m taking his point of view.)
So why did God bother to do something that would be decided by us regardless of what He did?
To predestine is to predetermine
Predestination is predetermination. The determination or decision is made in the predestination. Not by man in time, but by God before time. Man responds, of course, through the work of God in his heart (Acts 16:14), by believing (II Thess. 2:13,14). Luke reveals this to us in Acts 13:48. He says, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (also Acts 18:27). He pulls back the curtain. So we are given a glimpse of God’s sovereign and gracious predestination directing the destinies of men in time.
See for yourself how the word is used in the NT, with or without the prefix “pre.”
In Acts 2:23 it is referred to as “the determinate counsel” of God. In Acts 4:28 as something “determined before.” In Luke 22:22 Jesus says, “The Son of Man goes [to be crucified] as it was determined.” Peter, in Acts 10:42, says God has “ordained”–or “determined“–that Jesus will be judge of the living and the dead.
Luke writes in Acts 11:29 that the disciples in Antioch “determined to send relief to the brothers in Judea.” Paul says in Acts 17:26 that God “has determined man’s appointed times and the fixed boundaries of their habitations” (the second underline is the noun form of a closely related word). In Romans 1:1 and 4 Paul says he was “appointed [set apart by Divine will]” for the Gospel of God, and Christ was “designated [determined or shown to be]” the Son of God through His resurrection. In I Corinthians 2:7 Paul speaks of the wisdom of God “which God ordained before the world” was.
Many more examples can be given. But we’re pulling up the reins here.
Understanding the nature of our plight
Now we will address a big part of the problem.
We don’t seem to understand how serious our peril is. But God does. Because of our sinful disposition and spiritual blindness (we are devoid of any spiritual understanding: Rom. 3:11), He knew, unless He personally intervened and foreordained (predetermined) the salvation of some (a great multitude which no man can number), all would be lost. No one would believe. So those whom the Father chose before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6; II Tim. 1:9; Rom. 9:22-24) are a gift from Him to His Son for the Son’s matchless labor of love (John 10:11; Isa. 53:12; Tit. 1:2; I John 1:2).
This explains the nature of the following statements from Jesus. “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37). “This is the Father’s will, that of all He has given me, I should lose nothing” (John 6:39). “Other sheep I have: them I must also bring and they will hear my voice” (John 10:16). “You believe not because you are not of my sheep” (10:26). “You [Father] have given [your Son] power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as you have given Him” (John 17:1,2). “I have manifested your name [Father] to the men you gave me out of the world: they were yours [chosen in eternity] and you gave them to me” (John 17:6).
“Come, blessed of my Father”
Therefore. We find this declaration of Jesus in Hebrews 2:13: “Behold, I and the children which God has given me.” They are all accounted for and safe within the fold! And Jesus saw them all (Isa. 53:10) while He was on the cross! As He said in John 10. “I know my sheep and lay down my life for them.”
Accordingly. In the end, He says to them, “Come, blessed of my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Indeed. All their names were “written in the book of life from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 17:8). So. There are no “new names written down in glory” with the passing of time. No surprises for God. Only for us. As C. S. Lewis wrote: we are “surprised by joy” when we first meet Jesus Christ!
Preach the Gospel!
But. Regardless of what some may think or say. We continue to preach the Gospel to every person under heaven. That does not change. We offer it freely to everyone, and seek and pray for their salvation. That is our part. As for God, He will see to it that those He has chosen and given to His Son will believe the Gospel and be saved (II Thess. 2:13,14; John 17:20; I Pet. 1:1,2).
Not only that. We must also realize. Contrary to popular opinion. No one deserves to be saved.
. . . So let us take a walk with the governor.
Here he comes now. He walks down a hallway on death row. Scans eyes in the shadow of bars. Does he have authority to pardon anyone? And if he does, can the other inmates say he is unjust?
Yet our condition is such, we don’t even care about that when we are lost! We are enemies of God. And, by nature, we want nothing to do with Him.
Only the elect are concerned about their eternal welfare. Why is that? Because God shows them their need to be saved.
A simple question
So here is the simple question we face. Is our calling and election determined by God, or by us? In the ultimate sense.
Unfortunately, most responses to this question resemble Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid gunning from a door at the end of the 1969 movie! Only a few give thoughtful consideration to the question before answering.
Maybe I can help inform our answer. (Some may be thinking, “I’d rather you wouldn’t.”)
If our election, predestination, and calling are ultimately determined by us and not by God. . .
That would mean:
What Divine providence and wisdom settled before times eternal (II Tim. 1:9; Rom. 9:23), before even one grain of sand was created (Eph. 1:3-5,11), has no effect or force unless we say so. Therefore. In and of themselves, election and predestination are powerless. Like an unplugged TV. Not to mention meaningless. (I’ve been here before.) After all. What purpose do they serve if (1) they are intended for everyone without exception throughout earth history and (2) they have no bearing on the decisions people make (because “free will” must be preserved, no matter what, according to Mr. Pawson and others)?
The questions are like dominoes. . .
Why, then, did God bother to elect, predestinate, and call? As I said before. . . He could have just as well not done anything and it would all turn out the way it does anyway. Election and predestination don’t change anyone’s future. Right? We do. According to David Pawson.
Finding an answer to the simple question
So. As for the question above. Is our calling and election determined (generated) by us or God?
To answer this, consider what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1:26-31.
“For you see your calling, brothers, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble [are called]. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, God has chosen, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are. That no flesh should glory in His presence. . . That, according as it is written, He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
Notice how there is a Divine purpose behind our calling and election, and our predestination. That’s why there are certain types of people around us in church on Sunday morning. Just as it was in Corinth. Ever notice how not many of them are that impressive in human terms? Unfortunately, they feel the same about us! Let’s face it. Generally speaking, the world is not dazzled by Christians. Most college professors and others who have distinguished themselves culturally and socially think we are stupid.
So. Observe carefully.
The element of design evident in what Paul writes reveals that our calling and election are the result of a higher, sovereign plan. And though the plan is sovereign, it is not arbitrary. There is a reason. That reason is found in the infinite wisdom of God. And His good pleasure.
Anyone care for a turnover?
So, as it turns out. Our election, predestination, and calling have in fact been removed from our hands. It matters not how dearly we cling to them or how much we insist our free will has given them to us! They are not based on what God knew we would do. They’re not ours because the “foolish” are more clever than the wise. Only “the fool on the hill” can claim that distinction.
We cannot congratulate ourselves. That’s the whole point. (Here is a box of Kleenex if you need one.) No flesh can boast in this or any other way. Why? Because God planned and designed it. And He did it.
James and Matthew agree with Paul.
“You’re kidding, right?” you ask.
No. I’m not.
James says, “Has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom He has promised to them who love him?” (James 2:5). It is by design the poor are chosen rich in faith.
Likewise, Matthew, along with Luke, shares something Jesus said to His Father. “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and have revealed them to babes” (Matt. 11:25,26; Luke 10:21).
First of all. The “Lord of heaven and earth” can do whatever He wants. Do we all agree?
Looks like it’s unanimous! Though some seem to be hesitating.
But why does God do this?
Why does God hide these things from smart people and reveal them to “babes.” Is it because He knows it’s going to turn out this way if it is left to man’s “free will”? No. It is because “it is pleasing in [His] eyes” to do it this way (compare Eph. 1:5,9).
God’s will is on display here. Not man’s. A Divine purpose stands at center stage. Sorry. It’s not you and me.
Therefore. The foolish, weak, despised, and poor (the “babes”) will fall in line through the narrow gate by sovereign design.
Collecting our marbles
After playing marbles in the schoolyard, we used to stuff our winnings in our pockets. As a boy, I looked forward to admiring my new cat eyes and purries when I stepped off the bus.
We’re going to “gather our marbles” now. And bring this to a close.
I have just two more things to say. I’ll go easy on you.
(1) In a negative reference to eternal security, Mr. Pawson calls the phrase “once saved, always saved” a “horrible” saying.
But isn’t it simply a question of being saved or not saved? If you’re saved, you’re saved. If you’re not, you’re not. And if you’re saved, isn’t it forever? What good is “being saved” for ten years or three months or two days? That is not being saved at all if you end up in hell. Besides. It smells fishy. Won’t Jesus say to the lost, “I never knew you”? In other words, there was never a time in your life when I knew you. You were not saved for a while, then lost again.
In days gone by, banners like “Jesus saves” and “Jesus keeps” used to hang on church walls. But a lot of Christians don’t believe that anymore.
Please tell me, brother David. What is so terrible about being saved forever?
(2) He also said my belief in predestination and election “creates havoc” in the church.
But these are God’s words. Not mine.
And here are some closing words from His Holy Book. “[God] does according to His will among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stop His hand or say to Him, ‘What do you think you’re doing?'”
Can you guess where they are?
© James Unruh 2018 and beyond