Note: This was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
No matter what Greek manuscripts you find or what translation you use, the terms “predestination” and “elect” are used. There is not a debate among the learned. God does predestine and elect those who are saved. It is pretty obvious to any serious reader of the Bible that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) so that it would be accurate for Paul to say “God … set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace” (Gal 1:15).
No one is debating whether predestination is there. It is. You won’t find any serious Bible student who disagrees with that. The debate is whether God chooses those who He sees in the future will choose Him of their own free will or if God chooses His people not taking their future actions into consideration, hence the impetus is on God’s choice which leads to the person having faith, not the other way around.
Now, there are all sorts of issues with the idea that God merely chooses those who choose Him first. First off, the Bible never says this is how it works. People have come up with this explanation, because any other explanation would seem unfair.
Second, you have all sorts to statements in the Scripture that would explicitly preclude man from choosing faith in God on his own.
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God (Rom 3:11).
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Cor 2:14).
Lastly, you have this inconvenient passage in Romans 9 which in explicit terms, precludes the notion. Let’s text crawl through it:
For though the twins [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:11-13).
Why did the older serve the younger? So that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand. How so? Neither twin was born yet and have done neither good nor evil, so God’s choice is “not because of works but because of Him who calls.” This means that God’s choice had nothing to do with how good either twin was or what they would do in the future.
The above is a pretty straight forward, simple interpretation. I make no exceptions and work only with the words the Scripture gives me. Yet, some will add that God did not choose by what their future deeds would be, but as if choosing faith in God were not a deed in of itself, God chose the one whom made the right choice, Jacob. It is interesting they read all this into it, because it would seem all the emphasis on God’s choice being before they “done anything good or bad” seems to preclude God having any such considerations. Hence, those who say this are adding a consideration on behalf of God that the Scripture does not. That should raise a flag right there!
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Rom 9:14-16).
If God chose the good people out there, would we ask whether there was “injustice with God?” No. If God chose the people that made the right choice, would we be as likely to ask whether there was “injustice with God?” No! Obviously, Paul anticipates such a question simply because He knows what he just said in the previous few sentences. Man does not choose, God chooses before man is born so it would be “not because of works but because of Him who calls.”
Now, if Paul meant to say that God does not look at deeds but our future faith decision, he would have answered “There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! God chooses those who He knows will choose Him!”
However, Paul doubles down and does not say that at all! Instead, he responds:
For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
Paul could have not given an clearer response. He quotes the Scripture to shows that God does not depend “on the man who wills” but rather, on whom He alone decides to have mercy upon. If we were looking for Paul to endorse the “God predestines those who choose Him” line of thought, Paul shoots it down emphatically. Ironically, Paul then ups the ante and pushes the issue of predestination to its uncomfortable, but logical extreme:
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will” (Rom 9:17-19)?
As proof that God has mercy on whom He desires, Paul quotes Scripture again and picks on Pharaoh. What does he say? God raised up the Pharaoh, not Pharaoh raising himself up by his own decisions or works, and so that He can bring Him low. “He hardens whom He desires.” Anyone who has read Exodus knows God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. In fact, the Bible goes into greater detail and explicitly says, “He turned their heart[s] to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants” (Psalm 105:25). It was God turning the hearts of an entire nation of Egyptians, not the nation turning themselves against Israel on their own. If it were the nation doing it on its own, it wouldn’t even be worth bringing God into the conversation and ascribing Him with doing anything.
Now, we know this is the correct interpretation, because Paul responds, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault?'” If Pharaoh hardened is own heart and God had nothing to do with it, then Pharaoh merely got the punishment he deserved for his own evil choice. The only way Paul’s rhetorical question makes sense is if we admit the obvious: “How can God find fault with people like Pharaoh if God hardened him, in effect being complicit in Pharaoh’s evil!”
Now, in another article I already covered how God is not the author of evil, but He does use Satan to tempt people to evil. If this be the case, there is some level of complicity. However, Paul does not seem very concerned with this question. His response to “how can God find fault” is simple:
On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:20-23).
Paul says God as the potter has the right to mold man into anything He wants. Further, we already presume that God has a good reason for what He does, even if we don’t understand, because:
The Lord is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.
The Lord is righteous in all His ways
And kind in all His deeds (Psalm 145:9, 17).
If God is righteous in everything, even His molding of vessels for “common use” so that they can be “prepared for destruction” is righteous as well. Paul then gives the reason why: it magnifies God’s glory in the sight of the vessels of mercy.
In summation, Romans 9 obviously does not lend itself to the understanding that God chooses people based upon their choices or will, otherwise “God’s purpose according to His choice” would not stand. Further, the reason why God choosing, and no one else, is so important is because it glorifies God in the greatest possible way.
Before making the promise of giving us hearts of flesh so that we may walk in His ways (Ezek 36:26), something that those who think God chooses us based upon our future decisions think that God gives new hearts to those who want new hearts, God says this:
It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name… (Ezek 36:22).
This lays waste to the idea God saves those who He knows will choose Him on their own. If He did this, He would be choosing us for our own sake, because we did the right thing. Perish the thought! God does not do it for us, but for Him! And God has predestined you to glory if you have faith in His Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. There’s nothing more to it!