I received a letter asking a great question: “Does the doctrine of predestination destroy one’s assurance of salvation? How can he ever have assurance if he is not sure he is predestined to be saved?”
The short answer is that he can’t be sure he has everlasting life.
Predestination to salvation is a doctrine held by most Calvinists. But it is broader than that. Most Calvinists believe that everything which happens is predestined by God. Did you hear about the Calvinist who fell down a flight of stairs and yet escaped serious injury? He said, “Thank God that’s over.”
When I was at DTS, a seminary student broke his femur in four places while riding his motorcycle to school. He was in a cast for months. At a prayer and praise chapel, he stood up and said that he would have broken his leg in the same four places even if he had been driving a Mack Truck. I remember Dr. Walvoord spoke with him after the service and explained that God often allows us to reap the consequences for risky behavior that we engage in. I heard the young man did not get another motorcycle.
Predestination to salvation is part of a logical system of thought that goes like this—before God created, He elected a small portion of those humans who would come from Adam and Eve. They were chosen to have everlasting life. For many Calvinists, election and predestination to salvation are close to synonyms. Those whom God chose, He predestined.
God decreed to send His Son to die on the cross for the sins of the elect. Only for the sins of the elect.
God decided that He would regenerate the elect at various stages of their lives and then either at the very point of regeneration (as most Calvinists hold) or some time later, He gives the regenerate elect the gift of faith, and they believe. First, they are born again. Then they believe.
A small number of Calvinists believe that a person knows when he believes in Christ for his salvation. These Calvinists have assurance of everlasting life because they think this way: I believe in Christ for my salvation. All who believe in Christ for their salvation are elect. Therefore, I am elect (and predestined).
However, most Calvinists believe that saving faith is unknowable. That is, no one can be sure he believes in Christ. They think that there are false believers who mentally believe the same doctrines as the true believers. What separates the true believers is that they will persevere in faith and good works until death. Many Calvinists think that saving faith is more than believing facts but includes a willful decision to submit to Christ and to follow Him. But even that is unknowable. The proof is in the perseverance. But since no one can be sure he will persevere (e.g., 1 Cor 9:27), Calvinists who think this way are not sure where they will spend eternity.
Before I close, I should comment on what predestination refers to in the NT. The word predestine (Greek, proorizō) occurs only six times in the NT: Acts 4:28; Rom 8:29, 30; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:5, 11. It is probably safe to say that predestination is not stressed in the NT.
The word predestine means “to decide upon beforehand” or “to predetermine” (BDAG, p. 873).
But what is it that God decides in advance or predetermines?
First, God determined in advance that Jesus would die on the cross for the sins of the world (Acts 4:28).
Second, God decided in advance that He would hide certain truths (“a mystery, the hidden wisdom”) from mankind until the Messiah came (1 Cor 2:7). Alan F. Johnson says, “But now God has revealed this wisdom in the gospel of the crucified God-man” (1 Corinthians, IVP, 2004; p. 65).
Third, he predestines some to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29-30). Most understand Rom 8:28-30 to refer to all believers. If so, then this looks at our future glorification when we will be fully conformed to the image of His Son. In that case Paul would mean that God determined in advance that all who believe in Jesus will one day be conformed to His image.
However, I think it likely that Paul is talking specifically about a select group of believers. According to Rom 8:17, those who suffer with Christ will be co-heirs with Christ. I think that is what Rom 8:28-30 is talking about. We are conformed to His image when we suffer with and for Him.
If that is the point of Rom 8:29-30, then what Paul is saying is that suffering for Christ is something which God has predestined overcoming believers to endure. Suffering for Christ is not something that unbelievers or disobedient believers experience. Believers who love God are privileged to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41).
(Gotquestions.org suggests that Rom 8:29-30 means, “Essentially, God predetermines that certain individuals will be saved.” See here. However, they conclude saying, “God predestines who will be saved, and we must choose Christ in order to be saved. Both facts are equally true.”)
Fourth, He predestines some to adoption as sons (Eph 1:5, 11). Most think, and I agree, that Paul is here referring to all believers. God predestined that all who believe in His Son are at the moment of faith adopted by Him as sons. Piper says, “He [God] didn’t discover one day that against his plan and foreknowledge humans had sinned and orphaned themselves in the world, and then come up with the idea of adopting them into his family. No, Paul says, he predestined adoption. He planned it.” (See here.)
None of these passages refer to predestination to everlasting life. That is because God did not do that. God did not decide in advance who would be born again and who would not. For proof, see Matt 23:37-39 (“but you were not willing”); Acts 13:46 (“you…judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life”); Acts 16:31 (“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…”). While He certainly knew in advance all who would believe in Christ and all who would not, He did not predestine that.