Predestination is a term that refers to God’s determination in advance that something will happen in accordance with His fixed purpose. Although the noun predestination is never used in Scripture the verb predestinate is used four times (Romans 8:29,30, Ephesians 1:5,11) and refers to God’s determination that the Christian will be blessed as a result of salvation. God’s choice of individuals who would be saved is referred to by the word election.
Two seemingly opposite concepts are involved in the idea of predestination and election. First, God, who is sovereign in the universe, is in complete control of human events and the lives of individuals. If that were not so, He would not be sovereign, and, thus, would not be God. Second, God has given people a freedom of choice to do as they will. We are accountable for our own actions and nobody can say, “When I sinned, I just did what God wanted me to do, and so why is He holding me accountable for it?”
Scholars have struggled with these seemingly opposed concepts for centuries, and two major views of predestination have developed. Calvinism holds that God offers irresistible grace to those whom He elects to save. If you are among the elect, you cannot say “no” to God. Arminianism, on the other hand, holds that God’s grace is the source of redemption, but it can be resisted. In Calvinism, God has chosen the believer; in Arminianism, the believer has chosen God.
The apostle Paul, in explaining the obstinate refusal of Israel to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, could have given a synthesis of predestination and free will that appeals to human reason and fairness. Instead, he said, “God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden” (Romans 9:18). Then he described Pharaoh, King of Egypt, about whom the Bible says, God hardened his heart (see Exodus 9:12). We must remember, however, that sunlight hardens clay and melts wax. It all depends on the substance being dealt with. If Pharaoh’s heart had been tender, God’s power would have softened it, not hardened it. Therefore, the concept of predestination and election is never an excuse to sin; as the apostle concludes, “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His paths beyond finding out” (Romans 11:33).