Foundation for Reformed Theology


"How do you hold together predestination and free will?" As I am able to visit with congregations and to talk with them about, for instance, the writings and teachings of John Calvin and their application to our faith and life today, this question often arises.

It sometimes seems, even among those who may want to believe in predestination, that their experience of free will is more immediate, more convincing, and more compelling to them. And this belief in the freedom of the will is often coupled with, and expressed as, a sense of the necessity of our response to what they call God's offer of salvation.

How do we begin to answer such questions?
On Predestination and Free Will

First, let us look to, and so begin with, the cross of Jesus Christ. His death was horrible. Surely it was not capricious, gratuitous, or superfluous! That would be too horrible to contemplate. Surely, instead, it was for a reason, and for a good and important reason. So it is that the cross leads us to a question: What occasioned such great sacrifice, the willing death of the Son of God?

Second, and only second, let us consider the human situation and predicament which this addresses. Given the horrible death of Jesus Christ, it must be the case that we humans are beyond any form of self-help. Or, to say this another way around: If we were at all capable of returning to God on our own, wouldn't that very capacity mean that we did not need the death of Jesus Christ to be saved?

It is this singular incapacity that Martin Luther and John Calvin understood to be the terrible sounding "bondage of the will." We may enjoy other freedoms of the will, such as what to eat for dinner this evening. But in this one important thing that we most need to do, to choose to return to God, or, technically, "to will the good in regard to salvation," we are not free so to choose or to act. Jesus tells us this from and by his cross.

Third, given the first and second together, "All of is God; the only thing of my own which I can contribute to my own redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed" (William Temple, Nature, Man and God, p. 401). That is to say, our salvation depends entirely upon the grace, initiative, and action of God. Entirely! If only one percent of one percent of it were to depend upon me, then I would be lost forever. Of that I am sure.

And it is this saving grace, this initiative of God that is worked out in the accomplishment of Jesus Christ on the cross, that we understand to be predestination. God chose us as his own before we were. If sin were a small matter, a little grace would suffice. But given that sin is incapacitating, then great grace is required. And predestination is the strongest expression of the grace of God.

Even faith is a gift. Again, if I were capable of believing on my own, why did Jesus have to die? But given that he did die and that he died the way he did, I realize that even my believing is not my own accomplishment but is itself a gift of God worked in me by his Holy Spirit. So, salvation is not merely offered. That would be of no help to me. Salvation is accomplished, promised, proclaimed, and given! Therefore, believe and rejoice.
Dr. James C. Goodloe IV For suggested readings about predestination and free will, please visit our website:

Option XX: Election

Grace and Peace,

Dr. James C. Goodloe IV,
Executive Director
Foundation for Reformed Theology
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