Question: Who did God predestine?
Answer: The Church of Jesus Christ
The question of when God predestined is not in dispute between Calvinists and other Christians, but the question of who God predestined is. Due to their misinterpretation of certain passages of scripture Calvinists have concluded that God, before the creation of the world, predestined certain individuals to be saved. But this is a misreading of the Bible and a misrepresentation of God’s eternal purpose.
The implications of this error are clear. If God has already decided which individuals he will save, and his eternal will is unchangeable and irresistible, than everyone’s eternal destiny is sealed before they are even born. This is great news for those lucky enough to be chosen and crushing news for those who were not. But thank God, this is error! God has not determined beforehand which individuals will be saved and which will be damned. Instead, “we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). Jesus came to “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). And he commanded his disciples to “tell everyone the Good News. Whoever believes… will be saved…” (Mark 16:15-16 – GWT). The truth is that God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9 – KJV).
Though God has not predetermined which individuals he would save, the Bible does teach that God determined beforehand that he would save people. Salvation in Christ is not an afterthought or a plan B. The error of Calvinism is not that they believe that God predestined to save people, but that they believe God predestined the salvation of particular individuals. When the Bible teaches about God determining beforehand who will be saved, it is not referring to particular people, but to a particular people. God determined to save a people for himself. Peter writes about the Church of Jesus Christ, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
To understand how God chose the Church in the New Testament we need to look at how he chose the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. In Genesis chapter 12 God chose Abraham to be the father of a nation. God chose one man and promised him that his descendants would be God’s holy people. In Deuteronomy 7:6 Moses tells Israel that God has chosen them to be his people. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” But the people of Israel were not chosen as God’s special possession when God sent Moses to Egypt. They were chosen centuries earlier (i.e. predestined) in Genesis chapter 12. God chose them because they were Abraham’s people. God chose them in Abraham (i.e. through him, for his sake, because of him). Deuteronomy 7:8 makes this clear. Moses explained, “The Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your forefathers.” They were chosen not for themselves but because of the oath that God had made to Abraham and later confirmed with Isaac and Jacob. Again, Paul makes clear in Rom 11:28 that they were “beloved for the sake of their forefathers,” not for their own sakes. The nation of Israel was chosen when God promised Abraham that he would create a great nation from Abraham’s descendants. So we see that God predestined to create a special nation for himself.
God chose a man, Abraham. Through him (i.e. for his sake, in him, because of him) his people were also chosen. They were not chosen individually, but as a group. The scripture does not teach us that God predestined which individuals would be born Jews. Instead it teaches that those who are born Jews, those that meet that racial requirement, would inherit the land of Palestine. So the individual’s election (i.e. chosen status) was founded on its legitimate connection to the chosen nation, namely, Israel. And the nation’s election was founded on its relationship to the chosen one, namely, Abraham.
In the New Testament God follows the same pattern as he did in the Old Testament. First he chooses a man. Christ “was foreknown (i.e. loved, chosen) before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Pet. 1:20). Christ is a “living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious” (1 Pet. 2:4). Christ is the Chosen One. But unlike Abraham, who was only chosen after the time of Noah’s flood, Christ was chosen before the creation of the world.
And just as he had done with Abraham in the first covenant, God chose Christ for the purpose of making a “holy nation” out of him. When God chose his Son before the world began, he also chose all those that would, in due time, have a legitimate connection with him. He didn’t just choose Christ, but he chose a nation in Christ. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). God chose the Church of Jesus Christ to be his special possession, his holy nation. He chose them for the sake of the Chosen One. Ephesians 1:4 states, God “chose us (i.e. the corporate Body of Christ) in him (i.e. through him, because of him) before the foundation of the world (i.e. the same time he chose Christ).”
So, God chose a man, Christ Jesus. Through him (i.e. for his sake, in him, because of him) his people were also chosen. They were not chosen individually, but as a group. The scripture does not teach us that God predestined which individuals would be born again Christians. Instead it teaches that those who are born again, those that meet that spiritual requirement, would inherit the kingdom of God. Before the world was made, God determined to form the body of Christ. So the individual’s New Testament election (i.e. chosen status) is founded on his legitimate connection to the chosen people, namely, the Church of Jesus Christ. And the “holy nation’s” election is founded on its relationship to the Chosen One, namely, Christ.
It is true that before the world began God predestined to save people. But this election (i.e. choosing) of people was not individual, but corporate (i.e. as a group). He didn’t hand pick people for eternal life, but he determined beforehand that he would choose a particular group of people to belong to him. When the Bible speaks about predestining people for eternal life, it is not speaking about particular individuals, but a particular group of people. God “chose us” corporately, not individually. The important thing for each of us, is to make sure that we are a part of the corporate “us” that is referred to in Ephesians 1:4. Exactly who enjoys the privileges of God’s eternal purpose for the Church depends on whether they belong to Christ or not.
Christ was chosen before the world began, just as Abraham had been chosen in the days after the flood. And God determined beforehand to choose a people in Christ even as he predestined to choose the descendants of Abraham. God predestined to save “a people for his own possession.” God didn’t predestine individuals to become members of Christ’s predestined Body, but he did predestine the Church of Jesus Christ to experience eternal salvation.