What Does the Bible Teach about Free Will and Predestination?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Are those who are saved by God still left with free will?  Are we saved against our will?  Is free will opposed to predestination?  If we are predestined to be saved, how can free will still be relevant or exist?  Since we are free, moral agents, how can we be predestined to be saved by God before the earth even existed?  Can humans reject their call to salvation even if God has predestined them to be saved?

What is Predestination?

For the believer, predestination is such an incredible thing that it is hard to grasp our finite, human minds around.  Predestination and Calvinism seem closely tied to each other.  John Calvin was of the mind that God is sovereign over all that happens.  God predetermines who He will call and brings it to pass since what God wills can not be changed by humans.  The idea is that God, before the earth was created and any humans were ever born, preordained that some would be saved and some would be condemned to an eternal judgment. For those who are “lucky” enough to be called by God, God calls them effectually; that is He completes what He ordained by His sovereign direction of that believers life.  They can not help but be saved since He effects what He wills.  Predestination is a common thread thorough the Old and New Testament.

Scriptures About Predestination

Jeremiah states that God knew us even before we were born in chapter one, verse 4-5: “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart, I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Isaiah 43:7 also presents evidence that God knew us before hand and had plans for us, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Job 23:14 declares, “He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store.”

I Corinthians 2:7 says “…we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”

Paul understood that he was called by God as evidenced in Galatians 1:15, “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased.”

There is no book in the Bible that contains more references of predestination than in the book of Ephesians and no chapter more so than chapter one:

Verses 4-11; “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 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 Ephesians 1:5, where it says, “he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…” the Greek word for adoption to sonship is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture.

God’s Predestining Your Life

How can freewill fit into the framework of God’s sovereignty and God’s predetermination to save us?  Just look what God planned for you before the earth even existed:

  • God had planned you even before you were born or before you were in our mother‘s womb (Jer. 1:4).
  • He planned things for you in the future before the earth or time existed (I Cor. 2:7).
  • He had made plans for your life to give you His grace before you were born (Gal 1:15).
  • He chose you and called you to redemption to be saved and be made holy (Eph 1:4).
  • He chose you before your birth to bless you and save you through Christ (Eph. 1:3-4).
  • He planned your adoption prior to your birth (Eph. 1:5).
  • And according to His good pleasure, revealed the secrets things of God to you (Eph.1:9).

Predestination vs. Freewill


… He knew it, He planned it, He purposed it, He desired it, and He predestined the very thing that you are now reading.

If you have freewill, how can God be sovereign over your life?  If God has planned your salvation and planned to save you, predetermined to call you, and chose you to before earth existed, how can you still have freewill?

I am a father and grandfather.  When my wife and I counseled before marriage, we planned to have children.  We predetermined to have a certain number of children.  We planned before their birth to start college funds.  We planned on living in a small town where we were raised.  We chose before their birth particular toys that our girls and boys would like to play with.  Knowing boys and girls preferences, we knew in advance what they would like to play with.  Knowing this we predetermined to buy toys that girls and boys would want to play with; dolls, tea sets, toy trucks, and so on. Our children had freewill to choose which toys to play with and which to reject playing with.   It was our good pleasure to do this.  We did all of this before they were even conceived.  This was all done well in advance but we knew what they would like for the most part.

Freewill and God’s sovereignty are not opposed to each other but run parallel with one other.  Imagine that you are a slave on a ship.  You are chained to the deck below.   It is determined that you row for the captain of this ship.  You have no choice but to be chained to this ship.  This is like God’s sovereignty.  But even here you have freewill.  You are free to row or not to row.  If you do not row you choose to receive beatings by the quartermaster, but if you row, you choose not to be beaten.  You might even chose to break free of the ship by escaping your chains, but God’s sovereignty is not diminished.

God’s sovereignty does not diminish man’s freewill.  God never twists anyone’s arm into heaven.  God is all knowing of the past, present, and future.  He alone knows what we will do.  One example is that there are said to be over 600 prophecies in the Bible regarding Jesus Christ.  God alone is able to know the future and the means to bring about what He desires to come to pass.  God knew that I would be saved and come to a saving faith in Christ.  The very fact that you are reading this may be an indication that He is or has called you for salvation.  You have freewill to either reject Him or to accept this saving grace. Either way, He knew it, He planned it, He purposed it, He desired it, and He predestined the very thing that you are now reading.  My prayer is that you could come today to the Savior and not reject the free gift of His grace that is found only in Jesus Christ.  You are free to choose it or you are free to reject it.  The point is that the will of God will be done either way.

Here are some more articles that explore frequently asked questions with answers straight from the Bible.

What is Speaking in Tongues? Jack Wellman explores this sometime controversial topic and uses the Bible to answer common questions.

Does God Still Work Miracles Today? You will enjoy how this article explores the character of God and how mighty He is as our gracious Heavenly Father.

Do Animals or Pets Go To Heaven? Our pets are beloved to us and many people even consider them to be part of the family. This article explores some questions that you might have about what happens to your pet when they leave this planet.

The Holy Bible, New International Version
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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