A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 8:29-30: Objections to predestination answered.
1). Predestination is said to foster arrogance, since (it is alleged) God’s elect boast of their favoured status. But on the contrary, predestination excludes boasting. For it fills God’s people with astonishment that he should ever have had mercy on undeserving sinners like them. Humbled before the cross, they desire to live the rest of their lives only ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ (Eph.1:6, 12, 14) and to spend eternity worshipping the Lamb who was slain (Rev.5:11ff.).
2). Predestination is said to foster uncertainty, and to create in people a neurotic anxiety as to whether they are predestined and saved or not. But this is not so. If they are unbelievers, they are entirely unconcerned about their salvation, until and unless the Holy Spirit brings them under conviction of sin as a prelude to their conversion. If they are believers, however, even when passing through a period of doubt, they know that in the end their security lies only in the eternal, predestinating will of God. Nothing else can bring such assurance and comfort. As Luther wrote in his comment on verse 28, predestination ‘is a wonderfully sweet thing for those who have the Spirit’.
3). Predestination is said to foster apathy. For if salvation is entirely God’s work and not ours, people argue, then all human responsibility before God has been undermined. But again this is not so. On the contrary, it is abundantly clear that Scripture’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty never diminishes our responsibility. Instead the two lie side by side in an antinomy, which is an apparent contradiction between two truths. Unlike a paradox, an antinomy is ‘not deliberately manufactured; it is forced upon us by facts themselves…We do not invent it, and we cannot explain it. Nor is there any way to get rid of it, save by falsifying the very facts that led us to it’. A good example is found in the teaching of Jesus, who declared both that ‘no-one can come to me unless the Father…draws him’ (Jn.6:44) and that ‘you refuse to come to me to have life’ (Jn.5:40). Why do people not come to Jesus? Is it that they cannot? Or is it that they will not? The only answer which is compatible with his own teaching is, ‘Both, even though we cannot reconcile them.’
4). Predestination is said to foster complacency, and to breed antinomians. For, if God has predestined us to eternal salvation, why should we not live as we please, without moral restraint, and in defiance of divine law? Paul has already answered this objection in chapter 6. Those whom God has chosen and called he has united to Christ in his death and resurrection. Having died to sin, they now live a new life to God. And elsewhere Paul writes that ‘he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight’ (Eph.1:4; cf. 2 Tim.1:9). Indeed he has predestined us *to be conformed to the likeness of his Son* (29).
5). Predestination is said to foster narrow-mindedness, as the elect people of God become absorbed only in themselves. The opposite is the case. The reason God called one man Abraham and his one family was not for their blessing only, but that through them all the families of the earth might be blessed (Gn. 12:1ff.). Similarly, the reason God chose his Servant, that shadowy figure in Isaiah whom we see partly fulfilled in Israel, but specially in Christ and his people, was not only to glorify Israel but to bring light and justice to the nations (Is. 42:1ff.; 49:5ff.). Indeed these promises were a great spur to Paul (as they should be to us) when he courageously broadened his evangelistic vision to include the Gentiles (E.g. Acts 13:47; 26:23). Thus, God has made us his own people, not that we should be his favourites, but that we should be his witnesses, ‘to proclaim the glorious deeds of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (1 Pet.2:9f. REB).