Predestination, Part 2: Defining Terms

Defining Terms: Predestination, Election, Reprobationand Compatibilism

As we said in the first article in this series (, “predestination” speaks of a plan that has been set beforehand. In the context of the Bible, it refers to the sovereign will and decree of God regarding man’s salvation. It means that God has sovereignly planned for all people to be saved or not. God has predestined all people either to election or to reprobation.

Election means God’s saving choice of a people. Reprobation refers to God’s condemnation of a people. You can think of God’s predestination as a “fork in the road” – God either predestines “unto election” or “unto reprobation.” Theologians often refer to this as “double predestination,” but it is most helpful to think of it as God’s one sovereign plan of predestination, leading either to election or reprobation. 

The term “predestine” is used five times in this sense in the New Testament (Rom 8:29, 8:30; Eph 1:5, 1:11; 1 Cor 2:7). The similar terms “marked out” (Gr. pro-grapho) in Jude 4, “appointed” (Gr. tasso) in Acts 13:48, and “appointed” (Gr. tithemi) in 1 Peter 2:8 also describe the same reality. 

Predestination means that God has chosen – before the foundation of the world, and before any human has ever acted upon anything – who would be saved and who would not be. This doctrine puts all the weight of a man’s salvation on the sovereign will of God alone, not on the free will of man. But at the same time, belief in predestination does not in any way deny the reality and importance of human responsibility. 

God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are compatible realities 

Again, while predestination highlights God’s sovereignty, it does not deny man’s responsibility. In order to understand the Bible texts about predestination, we need to understand that God’s sovereign predestination and man’s responsibility are compatible realities. These realities go together; they do not contradict one another. This is called the doctrine of “compatibilism.” For more on this doctrine, see here:

Below, I will highlight a few Bible passages where we see God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s human responsibility on full display – and often in the very same breath! 

Example 1: Deuteronomy 29:29 

Deuteronomy 29:29 reads: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” As explored in article 1 (…), this astounding text helps us to think about God’s will as it relates to man’s responsibility. God’s will can be seen from many angles, and His will is very complex because He is God. God has a “benevolent revealed will” and a “sovereign secret will.” In terms of God’s “secret will,” He is in control of everything and free to do whatever He pleases. In terms of God’s “revealed will,” He puts the stress on humans to make responsible choices. Rather than presenting a contradiction, Deuteronomy 29:29 presents two entirely compatible realities. 

Example 2: John 10:25–30

John 10:25–30 reads: “25 Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.’”

In this passage, our Lord speaks of God’s sovereign decrees and of man’s responsibility in the very same breath, and He proves that these two realities are completely compatible. 

For example, in verse 25, Jesus speaks of his listeners’ responsibility to believe. 

In verse 26, Jesus says that the reason they do not believe is because of God’s sovereign will of reprobation – they do not belong to Jesus. 

In verse 27, we hear about their human responsibility to follow Him. 

In verses 28 and 29, we hear that God’s sovereign decree lies behind that responsibility and God is the one who ultimately gives eternal life, ensures eternal security, and keeps His people.

Rather than presenting a contradiction, John 10:25–30 presents two entirely compatible realities – divine sovereignty and human responsibility. 

Example 3: John 6:43–47 

John 6:43–47 reads: “Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God”. Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.’” 

Here we see that human salvation is entirely dependent on divine sovereignty: God must do the work of “drawing” and “raising up at the last day.” But at the same time, humans must “hear and learn from the Father,” must “come to Jesus,” and must “believe.” Again, rather than presenting a contradiction, John 6:43–47 presents two entirely compatible realities – divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the salvation of souls. 

Example 4: Acts 13:48 

Acts 13:48 reads: “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” 

Here again we see the intimate compatibility of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. God has “appointed” some to eternal life. And the very same people who were appointed to eternal life now began to believe. 

Example 5: Matthew 11:25–30 

Matthew 11:25–30 reads: “25 At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’” 

Here again we see our Lord displaying divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the very same breath. 

In verse 25, the Father sovereignly hides and reveals things to humans. 

In verse 26, the Father’s doing so is shown to be backed by “what seems good to Him” – His sovereign will and desire. 

In verse 27, saving knowledge of God is shown to be entirely dependent upon the Son’s will to reveal the Father to souls. 

In verse 28, we see humans commanded to “come to Jesus,” thus exercising their human responsibility – all the while under the sway of God’s sovereignty described in verses 25 through 27. 

This human responsibility is again emphasized in the commands to “Take upon you” and “learn” in verse 29.

In all of the above texts, we see that there is no contradiction between God’s sovereign will and man’s responsibility. The two are taught side-by-side all throughout the Scriptures. It would be wrong, then, to ever assume that God’s sovereign decree of predestination in any way violates human responsibility or is in contradiction to humans making real choices either to obey or disobey God.