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Ashton raises some questions about predestination based on John 15:16.  The key question is whether it’s possible that God has predestined some elect to bring Him glory and spread the gospel, but that anyone can still come to faith in Christ of their own free will. Ashton suggests that perhaps it’s like how God chose Israel as His chosen people to bring Him glory but there were still foreigners outside His chosen people who CHOSE Him and brought Him glory (Ruth and Rahab to name a few). The questioner also wonders: If everyone is predestined, it seems that God does all the work, so spreading the good news seems pointless because God could do all of that without us. God did it with Paul. No one had to tell Paul anything. Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and then, according to Paul, with no input from the disciples, Paul was enlightened about Jesus Christ. 

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Hi Ashton,

Our website offers a couple of articles that are relevant to your question. See https://roomfordoubt.com/post/does-god-choose-who-will-be-saved-and-who-will-be-lost/ and https://roomfordoubt.com/post/what-is-faith/.

When I interpret John 15, I do not think that a Calvinist perspective on predestination is in view. One key thing is that Jesus’s comments about Him being the “True Vine” in this chapter are entirely consistent with (and may even strongly indicate) humans having a free choice about being connected to Him or disconnected. Jesus is speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper (right before His arrest and crucifixion), and He tells them that they are like branches connected to a vine and He is like the vine. Apart from their life-giving connection to Jesus, they will be withered and dead and fit for being burned (verses 4-6). So Jesus implores His disciples to “remain in [Him]” (verse 4). This implies that there is a choice. He tells them that they are “already clean because of the word [Jesus has] spoken” to them (verse 3), but there are dire consequences of not remaining in Him (bearing no fruit and being withered and dead and even being fit for burning). While Jesus urges them to remain in Him, He recognizes their continued life-giving connection to Him is dependent upon them choosing to remain in Him (verses 7 and 10 use the word “if,” or “ean” in Greek).

This is one of many passages in the New Testament that does not seem to fit well with the doctrine of eternal security. It is clear that one undeniable blessing of being a believer in Christ is the assurance of knowing that no person or thing can rob a believer of his or her salvation (Jn. 10:28-29; Rom. 8:38-39; 1 Jn. 5:13). The Bible is clear that God is certainly faithful in His promise to grant eternal life to those who are saved.  There is truly nothing that can snatch us out of God’s loving hand. We can have the blessed assurance of knowing with certainty that we are saved.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that no biblical text removes the possibility that the believer himself may exercise his free will and voluntarily abandon his faith and reject God’s saving grace. It seems possible (in John 15 and elsewhere) to disconnect from the life-giving connection to Jesus by committing apostasy (rejecting our own faith). There are a number of warnings given in Scripture against turning from the faith, and these warnings appear to indicate that one’s faith (and thus one’s salvation) can be abandoned if one so chooses (e.g., Heb. 6:1-12; Heb. 3:12-14; Heb. 10:35-39; Rom. 11:17-24; 1 Cor. 9:24-27, 15:1-2; Gal. 5:4; Col. 1:21-23; 1 Thess. 3:5; 1 Tim. 1:18-20; Col. 1:21-23; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). It just seems to me that if it were literally impossible to abandon the faith, then these warnings would be unnecessary. Committing apostasy does not mean that one can lose one’s salvation by failing to meet a certain standard of good works or because God or some other power has taken his salvation away. It just means that, just as a person is free to accept God’s grace by faith to begin with, one is free to reject God’s grace by refusing to continue in Christ through faith.

Returning to John 15:16, one thing to note is that Jesus is talking specifically to His disciples in this passage. Jesus says in verse 16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Clearly, Jesus did choose His disciples (as we read about in the Gospels). Unlike most Jewish rabbis who would have students come to them to be taught, Jesus chose the disciples He wanted for His inner group (the Twelve). So, just as John 15:27 refers only to the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking (they—and not all Christians everywhere—were with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry), I would suggest that John 15:16 applies to Jesus’s disciples and not to all Christians everywhere. Certainly the part about being connected as branches to Jesus, the True Vine, seems to apply to the disciples and all believers, but that does not mean that verses 16 and 27 necessarily have this broader applicability.

Also, as I indicate in the articles linked above (and in my book, Slipping Through the Cracks), I believe there is a sort of predestination. Since God knows what we will freely choose to do in any circumstances (life situation) and God puts us in certain circumstances (Acts 17:26-27), God knows whether we will be saved in those circumstances. So by putting each of us in the circumstances He does, God knows whether each of us will be saved. I am saved in the circumstances that God placed me into, but I am sure that there are other circumstances I could have been placed into in which I would have freely chosen to be lost. So God’s placement of us into certain circumstances ensures the outcome of our salvation (whether we will be saved or lost), but this predestination is consistent with us having a genuine free choice about whether to accept God’s grace or reject it. So it is proper to recognize that a certain sort of predestination is biblical, but I do not think it is biblical to hold to a sort of predestination in which humans have no choice about whether to accept the free gift of salvation that He offers us. We would not accept it without Jesus dying for us and without God drawing us to Himself (Jn. 6:44), but I think God loves all people and draws all people to Himself (Jn. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9)—and yet He leaves us with the choice about whether we will love Him and accept His gift.

Dr. Zach Breitenbach, Assistant Director of Room For Doubt and an adjunct teacher at Lincoln Christian University

Zach Breitenbach

Zach Breitenbach

Zach Breitenbach is the Assistant Director of Room For Doubt and an adjunct teacher at Lincoln Christian University (LCU). He has degrees from N.C. State (BS, MBA), LCU (MA in Apologetics), and Liberty University (PhD in Theology & Apologetics).