In Romans 9 Paul examines predestination. The doctrine of predestination says that before the foundation of the world, God chose who he would save. This doctrine has raised no shortage of questions. Why are some people saved by God and not others? Is it because some people did not choose God or because God did not choose some people? Is predestination connected to God’s foreknowledge of the choices we would make? If God predestines people to go to heaven, does he also predestine people to go to hell? Did Jesus die for all people or did Jesus die only for those predestined for salvation? Is God sovereign over our wills? If so, why does God hold us responsible for our wills? 

In church history there are two broad theological camps that answer these questions in very different ways. These camps are named after the two theologians who systemized the different theological perspectives. Calvinism is named after John Calvin, and Arminianism is named after Jacobus Arminius. Calvinism stresses the sovereign choice of God in human salvation, while Arminianism stresses human freedom to choose salvation. 

The debate between these two theological positions can sometimes look like a cat getting a bath. There tends to be a lot of hissing, scratching and fighting. Sadly, this has meant that a doctrine meant to evoke worship as we marvel at the mystery of God’s sovereignty while at the same time embracing the reality of our responsibility has brought no shortage of division. 

While it would be nice to avoid this divisive topic, Paul places predestination front and center in Romans 9. So in the next part of our series through Romans, we are going to explore what Paul reveals about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. 

Growing up, the kids in my neighborhood liked to play “duck, duck, grey duck.” You are probably familiar with the game. Kids sit in a circle, and one person gets to walk around tapping the other kids on the head and declaring them to be a duck or a grey duck. The lucky kid chosen to be the grey duck would then chase the leader around the circle. This game was fun, but there were a few rules we put in place about how hard you could tap someone and how many times you could go around the circle. These rules kept the game fun for everyone. Since predestination seems to suggest that God also enjoys a good game of ‘duck, duck, grey duck,’ I’d like to offer a few ground rules that will keep our time in Romans 9 productive.

Rule 1
Stay Humble. As we make our way through Romans 9, remember that no one in human history has figured out the mystery between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Most likely we won’t end the debate, but we can have fun and gain a bigger perspective on God if we stay humble and remember that God’s ways are higher and deeper than our own. 

Rule 2
Don’t make one truth about God the only truth. For example, don’t affirm God’s love to the point where you nullify his justice. Or more to the point: don’t emphasize God’s sovereignty to the point where his kindness is no longer seen or emphasize his kindness to the point where his sovereignty is diminished. This is important because the Bible reveals a gloriously complex God, which means part of becoming a good theologian is learning to embrace and enjoy the tension and mystery of God’s complexity. 

Rule 3
Ground your thoughts about God in what God has revealed in the Bible. At the end of the day, what we feel about the way God should be doesn’t really matter. What matters is what God has revealed about himself in his Word. This is why it is important to look at your Bible as you construct your understanding of God. Often what can happen when we get to complex truths about God is we say things like, “I can’t believe in a God who would do such and such.” Remember, what we feel we can or can’t believe about God doesn’t impact what is actually true about him. 

Rule 4
We will not divide over this issue. At Faith we have close-handed and open-handed doctrines. Close-handed doctrines are non-negotiable. These doctrines are in our statement of faith and include things like God being the Triune Creator of the world, humans being made in the image of God, Jesus being fully God and fully man and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. Every member at Faith must affirm these close-handed doctrines. These doctrines are what theologically unite us.

Open-handed doctrines are important beliefs that are non-essential for salvation and Christians are free to debate and disagree about. These include the age of the earth, the mode of baptism and communion, styles of worship music and the exercise of some spiritual gifts. At Faith, we see predestination as an open-handed issue. This means, you have great freedom to debate and discuss, but as you do, please do so with a sense of graciousness and charitability. This will not be something we divide over. 

It is the preaching team’s hope that the coming five weeks will lead you into deep theological reflection and discussion as you consider predestination. This doctrine is meant to be a pillow for the Christian, meaning that even with the two polarizing positions of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, predestination is intended to bring comfort and rest to the soul. It is our hope that, as you examine predestination with your friends, family and small group, you would do it in a way that is gracious, humble and loving, because the Bible is clear that we are to be known by our love and humility. 

As always, we trust God’s Word will meet you where you are and God’s Spirit will help you take your next step in your journey with Jesus. If there is anything we can do to help you take that step, let us know. We are here for you.

Charlie Sandberg is a Colorado transplant from Minnesota who enjoys writing, reading, running and spending time with his family. He is the teaching pastor at Faith and has been a member for 15 years. He loves helping people know and love Jesus by teaching the Bible.