Predestination. Foreknowledge. Election. Free Will. Reprobation. These are among some of the most controversial and misunderstood terms that come up in theological discussions amongst evangelical Christians, and they are the concepts that Dr. Sproul addresses in his most influential little book, Chosen by God. All of these concepts are linked very tightly to one truth that most if not all orthodox Christians claim to accept: the Sovereignty of God. This topic, though, can lead to another whole discussion, as the question is raised: Just how sovereign is God? This, in my opinion, is rather a pointless question, because if God is not completely sovereign in every area of life, both material and spiritual, then He’s not sovereign, period. And if He’s not sovereign, then He’s not God. But the next question becomes: Can or does God choose at times or in certain situations not to exercise His sovereign control?
Many believers are willing to accept God as sovereign, until the subject of salvation is raised. To say that God is completely sovereign in the salvation of individuals seems to offend them, stepping on the toes of their precious free will. Sproul explains that he didn’t always hold to the view of predestination, election and God’s sovereignty in salvation. In seminary, one of Sproul’s professor, John Gerstner, challenged his students with this idea: “You are required to believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bibles says is true, not what you want the Bible to say is true.” As Sproul the student seriously studied the Scriptures, he gradually became convinced:
Once I began to see the cogency of the doctrine and its broader implications, my eyes were opened to the graciousness of grace and to the grand comfort of God’s sovereignty. I began to like the doctrine little by little, until it burst upon my soul that the doctrine revealed the depth and the riches of the mercy of God. I no longer feared the demons of fatalism or the ugly thought that I was being reduced to a puppet. Now I rejoiced in a gracious Savior who alone was immortal, invisible, the only wise God.
Sproul jumps right in at the start of this book by identifying one problem that exists: the varying views and understandings of the doctrine of predestination held by different Christian groups. To sum up:
The Reformed view of predestination teaches that before a person can choose Christ his heart must be changed. Non-Reformed views have fallen people first choosing Christ and then being born again. Here we find unregenerate people seeing and entering the kingdom of God.
Actually every Christian has a personal view of predestination, whether or not he is able to articulate it or to defend it biblically. Since the subject is addressed in the Scriptures (see for example Eph. 1:4-5, 11; Rom. 8:28-30, Acts 4:27-28, John 6:33-34, 44, 65; Rom. 9:14-18), it cannot simply be ignored and pushed to the side. Sproul comments,
It is not enough to have just any view of predestination. It is our duty to seek the correct view of predestination, lest we be guilty of distorting or ignoring the Word of God. Here is where the real struggle begins, the struggle to sort out accurately all that the Bible teaches on this matter.
Throughout his book, Sproul often makes a distinction between reformed (or Calvinist) teachings and non-reformed (or Arminian). If you don’t understand what these two camps hold to doctrinally, you will have a pretty good idea after reading the book. Perhaps you have negative perceptions of Calvinism as a system of theology, or you may be a person who has championed man’s free will and strongly opposed the ideas of election and predestination. I strongly recommend that you read Chosen by God with an open Bible and an open mind if your doctrinal stance is represented by any (or all) of the following statements:
- God gave man a free will; it’s our choice whether or not to believe and accept Christ.
- Foreknowledge means that God looked ahead, “through the corridors of time” to see who would choose Him, and those are the ones He elects to save.
- If God is sovereignly in control of everything, then we are nothing but puppets.
- Unless we freely choose to love God, it’s not authentic love.
- It wouldn’t be fair if God chose only some people to be saved.
- Jesus died on the cross to make salvation a possibility for everyone.
- How can God hold anyone accountable for their sin, when they were born with it and have no choice or ability to do anything about it?
In this short book, Dr. Sproul addresses each of these statements. He discusses such important issues as God’s mercy vs. God’s justice, the fall of Adam/Man, man’s sin nature/depravity, spiritual death & rebirth, double predestination/reprobation, the unpardonable sin, and assurance of salvation/eternal security. Dr. Sproul walks the reader through the process of analyzing these topics in a logical order and showing what the Word of God says. He anticipates the questions and objections that may be raised and masterfully answers them using the Scriptures as his foundation.
The following excerpts provide a little sampling of some of the key ideas Sproul expands upon:
“Our nature is so corrupt, the power of sin is so great, that unless God does a supernatural work in our souls we will never choose Christ. We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again in order that we may believe.”
“People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.”
“God gives mercy to the elect by working faith in their hearts. He gives justice to the reprobate by leaving them in their own sins. One group receives mercy. The other group received justice. No one is a victim of injustice. None can complain that there is unrighteousness in God.”
“Do we love a God who is sovereign? Do we love a God who sends people to hell? Do we love a God who demands absolute obedience? Do we love a Christ who will say to some on the last day, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you’? I am not asking whether we love this God and this Christ perfectly; I am asking whether we love this God and this Christ at all.”
Each chapter ends with a summary of key points and a list of scripture passages to help review the material just covered. In Chosen by God, R. C. Sproul examines some of the weightiest theological subjects, biblically and with clarity and conciseness. It’s important that, like the Bereans, we each, “search the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so,” that we may be able to recognize the false gospels that are all around us and become knowledgeable and firmly convinced of what we believe.
Finally, I will close with one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Ephesians 1:3-6:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
Solo Deo Gloria!
Note: Chosen by God is a book I’ve included on my list of non-fictional works I believe every Christian should read.What do you love most about the doctrine of predestination? Or on the other hand, what do you find most difficult or offensive about this doctrine?
Related Sites and Articles
- 10 Great Quotes from Chosen by God (www.challies.com)
- Another review of Chosen by God (thetheologynerd.com)
- Also by R. C Sproul: The Holiness of God (www.ImAllBooked.com)
- Ligonier Ministries (www.ligonier.org/)
- S is for Sproul (thetheologynerd.com)
- Predestination (www.theopedia.com)
- John Calvin bio and works (www.theopedia.com)
- Misunderstandings of Calvinism (www.cbtseminary.org)