Think about the last time you were really struggling. Like really–as in you had a hard time rolling out of bed and facing the day. What truth do you cling to in those moments? When life is filled with defeat, and your spiritual walk feels like a slog, and you are facing opposition from all sides, where do you turn? Would you believe that predestination is meant to help believers have confidence to fight another day?
A quick search on your Bible app will reveal that the word predestination isn’t actually in the Bible. That’s because the word προωρισεν (“He predestined”) is not a noun but an action verb–an action verb that appears six times in the NT (Acts 4:28; 1 Cor. 2:7; Rom. 8:29,30; Eph. 1:5,11). Let’s take a look at what ties these passages together. What we will see is that predestination is not simply a doctrine for academic debate. God has revealed his predestined plan to bolster our faith and to give us confidence to persevere in the midst of persecution, difficulty, and apparent defeat.
Predestination and foreknowledge.
Perhaps this is new to you, but predestination and foreknowledge are not the same thing. These doctrines are often conflated, but they are quite distinct in Scripture. Consider Romans 8:29–“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” When Paul writes that “He also predestined,” he means that God has charted out an intentional plan for his saints. It is a path that leads each of them to being just like Jesus.
Think of the difference this way. Foreknowledge is like the artistic rendering of a proposed building. An architect visualizes the beauty of the structure before it is ever built. He uses all of his artistic skill to sketch and paint a visual representation of what he envisions in his mind. The architect sees his finished product, and his sketch shows us what it will look like.
Predestination is like the blueprint. An architectural blueprint maps out the foundations, shows the structural engineering, and gives precise dimensions. The blueprint establishes all of the plans beforehand for executing the architect’s vision. Only by making sure everything goes according to plan will the building project accomplish the architect’s foreknown purpose.
God, the Great Architect, perfectly planned the end from the beginning. Paul says as much in Ephesians 1, where twice he emphasizes God’s predestined plan which is “the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” God finalized the blueprints beforehand to ensure that Jesus and his perfect Bride will arrive at that New Heavens and New Earth.
The Mystery Revealed.
A common theme in the six occurrences of this word “predestined” is the revelation of God’s hidden mystery. Paul writes to the Corinthians,”But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God predestined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this…[but] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit…we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:7-10,16). God is a God who hides his glorious plan from his enemies and reveals it to his saints.
To the powers of Darkness, the cross seemed like God’s colossal defeat. To the early church gathered to pray in Acts 4, the cross was the glorious climax of God’s predestined victory: “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). God hid his plan from his enemies–a plan to use their violent attack on his Son to bring salvation to all nations. The glory of the cross remains hidden from God’s enemies, but the revelation of his predestined victory at the cross displays the power of God to those of us who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Hope in the face of apparent defeat.
Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” What about Peter and John when they were threatened for preaching in Jesus’ name? What about Paul when he was whipped and beaten? What about you in your life filled with persecution and difficulty? How can you be sure that “all things [will] work together for good”?
We look to the cross. Jesus suffered humiliation, beating, mocking, rejection, execution, and it was all according to God’s predestined plan. Through his plan, God forced even his enemies to bring him glory as they hung the Son of God on a tree for the salvation of His people. If God’s predestined plan turned the gruesome cross into glorious victory, surely his predestined plan will also turn whatever persecution, difficulty, or apparent defeat in your life into certain victory on the Last Day.
Our faith in God’s blueprint for salvation history gives us the confidence to trust and obey. Like Peter and John, we may not immediately understand why we are suffering. However, we can trust the Lord to take care of our enemies: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). We recognize with the early church that God’s hand and God’s will are actively working to accomplish what he has planned for us (Acts 4:28). We walk in bold obedience, entrusting our souls to his predestined plan.
Our Lord is one who revels in turning weakness into strength, apparent defeat into unexpected victory, suffering into sanctification, death into eternal life, and the Slain Lamb into the Savior King.
If life is difficult or you feel defeated, don’t worry. Everything is going exactly according to plan.