The Bible is very clear that both of these ideas are at work in our lives. In His writings, Paul clearly uses the word “predestined” when referring to God’s actions towards the lives of men. So we must believe that God has set an order of events, a destiny if you will for His great creation. We must also accept, however, that God has created mankind with a free will. It was Adam and Eve’s choice to sin against God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Joshua challenges the Israelites to choose who they will serve at Shechem (Joshua 24:15). All throughout the New Testament the Gospel message is preached and men and women make decisions to follow Christ. Knowing that each of these elements are present in our existence, how do we understand them? Romans 8:28-29 is perhaps on of the most debated passage in the predestination/freewill debate.
Origen, an influential writer of the early church age wrote this passage about Romans 8:28-29.
“Let us, then, attend to the order of these statements. God first calls, and then justifies, and He does not justify those whom He did not call; and He calls, having before the calling foreordained, and He does not call whom He did not foreordain; 603 and the foreordaining is not the origin of His calling and justifying; for if it were the origin of all that follows they who bring in by a side wind the absurd doctrine of souls being "naturally constituted" 604 210 might very plausibly have claimed the victory; but the foreknowledge comes before the foreordaining, for "whom he did foreknow," says the Apostle, "he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son." 605 So then, God first surveyed the long series of events, and perceiving the will of certain men to be inclined to godliness, and also their efforts to attain thereto when their will was so inclined, and further, how they would wholly give themselves up to a virtuous life, He foreknew them, for He knows the present and foreknows the future; and whom He thus foreknew, He foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son. Now we know there is a Person, Who is the image of the invisible God,606 and it is His image which is called the image of the Son of God; and we think that this image is the human 607 soul which the Son of God assumed, and which for its merit became the image of the image of God. And it was to this, which we think is the image of the image of the Son of God, that God foreordained those to be conformed, whom, on account of His foreknowledge of them, He did foreordain. We must not therefore suppose that the foreknowledge of God is the cause of future events; but inasmuch as these events would follow the agent's own impulses, on this account He foreknew, for He knoweth all things before they be:608 and inasmuch as He knoweth all things before they be, He foreknew certain individuals and foreordained them to be conformed to the image of His Son; but others He saw 211 estranged. And if any one objects, and asks whether what God foreknows might possibly not occur, we shall say it possibly might not; but granting this possibility, there is no necessity that it should occur, or not occur; and the events will not in the least be necessitated, but there is also the possibility of their not occurring. The subject of possibilities, however, belongs to the science of the skilled logician; so that if a man will cleanse the eye of his mind, he may thus be able to follow the subtle arguments, and may understand how, even in the course of ordinary events, there is nothing to prevent the possibility of a given circumstance issuing many ways, though, in fact, there will be only one out of the many, and that not necessitated; and the foreknowledge of it means that it will be, but will not of necessity be; for though it may possibly not occur, the prediction of it will not be conjecture but real foreknowledge.”
Charles Spurgeon, the great orator and pastor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle had this to say about Romans 8:28-29:
“Our text begins by the expression, "Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate," and many senses have been given to this word "foreknow" though in this case one commends itself beyond every other. Some have thought that it simply, means that God predestinated men whose future history ho foreknow. The text before us cannot be so understood, because the Lord foreknows the history of every man, and angel, and devil. So far as mere prescience goes, every man is foreknown, and yet no one will assert that all men are predestinated to be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus. But, it is further asserted that the Lord foreknow who would exercise repentance, who would believe in Jesus, and who would persevere in a consistent life to the end. This is readily granted, but a reader must wear very powerful magnifying spectacles before he will be able to discover that sense in the text. Upon looking carefully at my Bible again I do not perceive such a statement. Where are those words which you have added, "Whom he did foreknow to repent, to believe, and to persevere in grace?" I do not find them either in the English version or in the Greek original. If I could so read them the passage would certainly he very easy, and would very greatly alter my doctrinal views; but, as I do not find those words there, begging your pardon, I do not believe in them. However wise and advisable a human interpolation may be, it has no authority with us; we bow to holy Scripture, but not to glosses which theologians may choose to put upon it. No hint is given in the text of foreseen virtue any more than of foreseen sin, and, therefore, we are driven to find another meaning for the word. We find that the word "know" is frequently used in Scripture, not only for knowledge, but also for favor, love, and complacency. Our Lord Jesus Christ will say, in the judgment, concerning certain persons, "I never knew you," yet in a sense he knew them, for he knows every man; he knows the wicked as well as the righteous; but there the meaning is, "I never knew you in such a respect as to feel any complacency in you or any favor towards you." See also John 10:14-15, and 2 Timothy 2:19.”
While Origen and Spurgeon are in almost opposite camps regarding the interpretation of this passage from Romans and seem to disagree on the doctrine of predestination/freewill, I do not believe that these two beliefs must be permanently separated as these two theologians would have us believe. While through their writings, it would appear that we must choose one or the other I choose both. I humbly accept God’s sovereignty in my life. I believe that he has predestined me to a relationship with Him. I also believe that I chose to follow Him. Past those two truth statements, I am afraid that we cannot fully understand the relationship between God’s predestination and our freewill. I once heard a very interesting analogy from one of my Seminary professors, Mark Stevens, who summed up this difficult relationship this way…You woke up today and put on the specific shirt that you have on right now…You picked it out for one of many different reasons…the color, the design, the fit, it’s position in your drawer…But you did pick it out…God predestined you to wear that shirt today. What do you think about that? Paul says it best: Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”
What are your thoughts on this issue?
Origen, The Philocalia of Origen, accessed at: http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/origen_philocalia_02_text.htm#C25.
Charles Spurgeon, “Glorious Predestination,” Sermon delivered March 24th, 1872 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Accessed at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1043.htm.