When I was a little boy, the kids at my school liked to play the game duck duck goose. We would sit in a circle, and one person was given the unique authority to walk around the circle tapping each person on the head and declaring them to a be a duck or a goose. The person chosen to be the goose would then get up to chase the leader around the circle while the ducks remained seated.
Many years later, I became a Christian in college and was in one of my first Bible studies when a debate erupted with people throwing out words I had not heard before – like predestination, election, and free will. Things got heated quickly, and soon the Bible study was divided into two factions that reminded me of the Crips and the Bloods but called themselves the Calvinists and the Arminians. Unsure what was happening, I reverted back to my sports background, called a timeout, and asked everyone what was happening. They explained that there was a longstanding family feud within Christianity about whether we chose God, or God chose us. Suddenly, I was reminded of the kids game we played when I was little, and I told them it sounded like God liked to play duck duck doom.
This debate will continue until we all stand before Jesus in the Kingdom and He sorts it out once and for all. Until then, the heart of the debate is simple. Some people turn from sin to Jesus for eternal salvation while others remain in sin away from Jesus for eternal damnation.
One clue in Scripture is the frequent use of words that, in their Old Testament context, indicate God chooses some people to be saved, such as plan (Jer. 49:20; 50:45; Mic. 4:12), purpose (Isa. 14:24, 26–27; 19:12; 23:9), and choose. (Num. 16:5, 7; Deut. 4:37, 10:15; Isa. 41:8; Ezek. 20:5) Likewise, the New Testament uses a constellation of words, such as predestine (Rom. 8:29–30; Eph. 1:5, 11), elect (Matt. 24:22; Rom. 8:33; Col. 3:12), choose (1 Cor. 1:27; Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13), and appointed (Acts 13:48), to speak of God’s choosing to save some people but not all people.
The question that logically follows is: Why are some people saved by God and not others? Is it because they do not choose God, or because God did not choose them?
This leads to the topic of predestination. By predestination we are asking: is a person’s eternal destiny chosen in advance by God prior to their birth? Does God predestine people to heaven? Does God predestine people to hell? Theologian Millard Erickson clarifies the applicable theological terms: “Predestination” refers to God’s choice of individuals for eternal life or eternal death. “Election” is the selection of some for eternal life, the positive side of predestination. (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 921.)
Have you heard of predestination? What do you know about it and what questions do you have?
This is an excerpt from Pastor Mark’s Romans 8-9 commentary Duck Duck Doom. You can get a free e-book copy by clicking here or get a physical copy for a gift of any amount during the month of March here.
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