Free-Will and Predestination - The Two Sides of the Coin

This discussion started when a close brother asked the following question:
“Does our career matter to God? Does God have a definite plan on what we should be doing, or are we to be wherever we may be?”

While not directly answering the query, this question actually relates back to the age-old tussle between Freewill and Predestination. If Freewill is the order of the day, then our jobs do matter to us. If it is Predestination, then our jobs do matter to God.

Are the two compatible?

Before we begin our discourse, I would like to clarify some common preconceptions and misconceptions. We tend to associate “Freewill” with Arminism, and Protestant denominations which generally fall into this category include the Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics. On the other hand, “Predestination” is commonly associated with Calvinism, and denominations which follow this are generally the Presbyterians, Brethren, and Reformed churches. As a result of denominalization, the battle lines have been drawn between the Arminians and the Calvinists, so much so that the concept of Freewill has become taboo to the Calvinists, and vice versa, Predestination a taboo to the Arminians. How can this be, if “Freewill” and “Predestination” are both concepts which can be justified by Scripture? Are the two compatible?

To put the discussion in another context, let us consider the person of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Now, logically, we are asked to accept that 100%+100% = 100%. Yet we do so by faith. Those that did not, and wanted to swing to either side and insisted on an “either-or” situation, resulted in heresy, like the Arians (100% God, 0% man), and the Gnostics (0% God, 100% man).

Similarly for the case of our faith in the Trinity (1+1+1=1). Those that stuck to their human logic went into heresy, like the Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

If that be the case, why can’t the situation be the same for “Freewill” and “Predestination”? Why can’t we accept that it is something beyond our human logic? I suspect that it is because of our fallen human sectarian tendencies, which tends to cloud the issues surrounding “Freewill” and “Predestination”, and causes one aspect to be espoused to the exclusion of the other. It is no longer the attempt at understanding God, but a human struggle of “I follow Paul, you follow Apollos”. The fact of the matter is, Freewill and Predestination are not exclusive, but are two sides of the same coin. Let us cast aside whatever denominational preferences or prejudice we might have (or might have been indoctrinated with), and look afresh at the Biblical concepts of Freewill and Predestination.

How do we begin to explain such a difficult concept? As with the case of Jesus’ humanity and godhood, or the illustration of the Trinity, no explanation can ever be perfect or 100% satisfactory. However, we can attempt to use examples to throw some light and understanding on the subject. In this particular case, we will be using the example of whether our jobs/careers matter to God. As outlined above, both Freewill and Predestination come into play, depending on whose perspective it is viewed from.

The following is the result of an exchange of views with a few Christians on the original question of career. I will be using that as the basis of discussion on the topic of Freewill “vs” Predestination. If you would bear with me and follow the vein of the discussion, hopefully by the end of this article you would have come to a slightly better understanding of the issue.

“Does our career matter to God? Does God have a definite plan on what we should be doing, or are we to be wherever we may be?”

This was the initial reply by another brother to the question of whether God cares about our careers (I have edited some parts to clarify the trend of thought):

       Of course God cares about your career. More than that, God cares about you. What you do, be it in career, ministry, family, friends, etc, God cares. How you should prioritise them depends on the callings He has for you. God can call you to a “worldly” career and not “full-time” (i.e. pastoral) ministry. But God certainly does not call you to simply one aspect of your life but all. God uses them to mold you till you grow to mold them - ultimately you are a steward.

Examples of successful careers in the bible :
Daniel had a successful political career in Babylon, Joseph had a successful political career as second-in-command to Pharaoh in Egypt. Esther had a successful political status as Queen to King Xerxes. Joshua who started as an attendant to Moses rose to become the political and military leader of Israel. Jesus praised the faith of a Roman army commander who had a military career. Many successful business men and women are the people who funded ministries in the Bible if I am not mistaken. (I'm sure God will not exclude accounting, financial & engineering career...these being more of a modern day career).

Too often we associate career with corporate. However, a meaningful job on earth does not necessarily entail a corporate career.

Examples of meaningful jobs in the bible :
Paul as a tent maker to fund his own ministry. Sailors and skippers who sail the ship to send Paul to his missions. Shepherds of old, parallels of which are constantly being used in the bible. Even for slaves, Paul exhorts them to serve their masters as unto the Lord. Mind you, their masters are not necessarily Christians - so the parallel of it is serving in the secular world.

To this, the next question was posed:
“If I am not called to “full-time” (i.e. pastoral) ministry, does it matter where I work? i.e. Does it matter if I work for ABC company or if I work for XYZ company, after all I am called to serve God wherever I am.”

My reply was:

       We're all called to a full-time career as Christians, the only difference being the workplace, whether it be in a church setting, or in the world. Whichever the case, we're all full-time. I think the problem with labeling church workers as full-time gives the implication that all others are part-time, and hence those of us who are in that position tend to shirk and shift responsibility to those who work in church (who would then by default "full-time"). We're Christians first, workers second.

Someone has put it quite succinctly, "Imagine, ABC company is paying you to do God's work in ABC company". Of course this statement can be applied to every Christian in every workplace.

“To push the argument further, does it matter if I stay a journalist, or become a janitor? That is what I meant when I said does it matter to God...”

       It does matter to God where you are. However, we have to be careful how we define "matter to God". We cannot assume that God's "feelings" and decisions, etc are conditional to our response and actions. The most "famous" verse here is "You did NOT choose me, but I choose you" from John 15:16. Also, Rom 8:28 & Phil 2:13 says the He works in us to will and to work according to His good purpose. Therefore, whatever we do, or will do, is a consequence of God's action and will in our lives, and not the reverse. In that sense therefore, it does matter to God where you go and what you do, because it is a result of His action and will. (please note that I am not advocating here the "insh'allah" fatalism of the Muslims)

“I am asking if God put an emphasis on my job. Is there such thing as a calling with regards to our job? (I keep hearing about teacher being a calling, or journalist being a calling)”

       While we do not understand the process of predestination (Rom 8:29), we just have to take each day by faith, and act according to faith. After all, this is the basis of our "religion", which is solely by faith. We believe in our salvation by faith, we believe in the concept of Trinity by faith (contrary to logic), we believe that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man by faith (contrary to mathematics), we believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God by faith, etc. The basis of Romans, like that part about eating food offered to idols (Rom 14:23), is by faith. We make decisions, work, act, talk, which when looking backwards, was "willed" by God, but looking forwards, is by faith.

We don't have to spiritualize the whole thing by calling teaching a "calling", a journalist a "calling" etc. Everything is within God's will and plan for us. We make good decisions, we make bad decisions, but we know that in the end, all things work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).

Now, this next part may be a bit difficult to accept - when we make decisions, of course we endeavour to make those which are pleasing to God (or the reverse, if we are rebellious), but God will act to put the circumstances in place whereby we will make the decision which He has planned and willed for all along, in order that His greater picture for us will be put in place. I know that we will most of us ask "how about free will?", etc. But then, this is the only way to explain Rom 8:29, Phil 2:13, and John 15:16.

We do have free will to make decisions. On going forward, we act on free will based on faith; but on looking back, we discover that it has been predestined all along. This is the same as with our salvation.

“My personal thinking is that God has every detail of our plans all mapped out from promotions to increment many times we blame bad bosses or circumstance for our current predicament well - they certainly make up the environment but I believe God allowed it and it is all for a purpose to me - no matter how bad the boss is - if I'm supposed to be given an increment or promotion it will come. If it doesn't, it's that God did not deem me suitable or ready for it.

Else, situations would be left all to a chance - whether one gets a good boss or not - where does God fit in? Sometimes also I realise we must ask ourselves - are we walking in His plan? Are we really seeking after what He wants us to do? How's your personal relationship with Him? Is Christ your whole life or is your career?”

       This is basically the crux of the matter, that God has every detail of our plans all mapped out. His will will be done.

“Sometimes bad bosses and etc. are a result of disobedience so you have you know where you stand with Him”

       While life may seem like that, I don't think our God is a petty "cause and effect" God. True, He may have said to the Israelites that IF they did this and this, they would be blessed, and IF they did that and that, they would get punishment. But does that mean that God did not know what would happen? On the contrary! He fully knew and planned that the Israelites would fall, and His judgments were planned for. Similarly for blessings. Why for? So that His entire plan for the salvation of mankind will be seen.

If one takes the "cause and effect" theory logically backwards to Adam & Eve, then one would have to conclude that Jesus' coming into the world was the "effect" caused by Adam's sinning, i.e. if Adam chose not to sin, then Jesus won’t need to come into this world. Jesus' coming then becomes a consequence, rather than the reason. That goes against the Bible's testimony that Jesus' coming was planned even before the foundation of the world.

Another thing is that if we exercise the "cause and effect" theory, then imagine the probability of the multitude of "cause and effect" events occurring since Adam in such a fashion and sequence that would result in the "effect" of Jesus' death on the cross. If God couldn't control the events but instead depended on man's reaction & response, then the mathematical probability of the event of Jesus' death on the cross would be an impossibility. Fact is, God did plan, will, and control every event. In which case, it is then not a "cause and effect" situation, but one single plan. Jesus knew what God's plan was, therefore he strove and planned to fulfill His will ("Get behind me satan", "not my will but yours be done"). Paul knew what God's plan for him was when he disregarded his companions and instead strove towards Jerusalem. How did they know what God had already decided on? Well, that is another matter better discussed in the Jigsaw Illustration.

“I feel it boils down to the talents issue - you're blessed, you multiply it, for His glory. At the same time maintaining balance in life. If the janitor feels his talents are put to best use there, so be it - to God's glory!”

       Does this imply that if you're not blessed, then you don't multiply? It is not a talents issue. Remember the parable of the talents (Matt 25). The servants did NOT ask for the talents (or the respective quantity). It was the master who decided, and gave, each according to who He decided would make use of it. The prerogative is the Master's.

Does Paul seem like someone with a maintained balanced life? Did Ezekiel, who laid on his bed on one side for 390 days and then 40 days on the other side seem to have a balanced normal life? Was being martyred like the early church a balanced life? What, then, is a so-called "balanced" life? It is a life which is lived according to God's plan and will, not our concept of what is balanced (i.e. allocating time with family, church activities, work, etc).

“If you're a loafer, you would choose an easy job and waste your brains. That's not pleasing to Him. However, if you choose an easy job so that you can invest time with family, or serving God - then the answer is clear - you choose to steer clear of a cluttered life with worldly distractions to focus on pleasing Him.”

       This is a possible dangerous presupposition. People have used that excuse to either turn ascetic, bum around, or simply escape from the realities of the world, justifying it with the "spiritual service" reason. One doesn't choose an easy job to invest time serving God (again a "cause and effect" situation). You serve God first, and fulfill whatever job He gives you, whether easy or hard. I don't think Daniel or Joseph had an easy job being the respective prime ministers, yet they served God fully and wholeheartedly. Look at Christians in starving Africa or India or even parts of China. I don’t think they even have a choice to choose an “easy” job.

“Dunno whether there's a calling on our jobs, but I'd love to believe my choice is in line with God's plan for me, ‘cos I sought Him for it”

       God's in charge, and to put it crudely, if a job's yours, its yours. If its not to be, it never will be. Its not a calling. It's God's choice and plan. No amount of praying in tongues will change that.

So, at the end of this rather lengthy exchange of views, we see in the example used - that of choosing our careers - the interplay of making “freewill” decisions on our part, and God’s “predestined” plan on the other part. Both come into play as the two sides of one coin. Now, what then is the coin which has “Freewill” minted on one side, and “Predestination” minted on the other? What is the common denominator (or material)? The answer is “Faith”. We can look at this in two aspects - the temporal, and the perspective.

On the temporal aspect, imagine that our life’s events is a road on which we walk. Each time we come to a fork in the road, we make a freewill decision in faith on which path we will take, whether to take the left fork or the right fork. However, after we have passed that fork, we look back, and in faith know that that decision was what God had predestined us to make all along. Please note that this is not the same as the commonly-held concept that God foreknew which decision we would make and therefore acted accordingly - this would return us to the “cause and effect” idea of God, which in effect denies the omniscience and omnipotence of God. This would place the cart before the horse. God foreknew because He predestined our decision.

On the perspective aspect, it goes back to what we asked right at the beginning - in relation to our career, who does our job matter to? If Freewill is the order of the day, then our jobs do matter to us. If it is Predestination, then our jobs do matter to God. Are they compatible? Yes! They are both the same coin, looked at from different perspective, but having the same element that is faith. Because our job matters to us, we need faith to make the freewill decision for it. Because our job matters to God, we need faith that God has predestined us to the job (Rom 8:28).

By faith. This is the way it has always been, for us men and for our salvation (Rom 5:1). It is interesting to note that after Jesus’ admonition that we should not worry (because of our lack of faith)(Matt 6:30), he goes on to make his most insightful command - “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). By implication Jesus is saying that by faith, if we freely make the decision to seek His kingdom and His righteousness, by faith God has predestined us to receive all that is to come.

Freewill and Predestination - two incompatible concepts? Nah. By faith they are one. Accept that by faith. And go and do your job. By faith.

© Nicholas Tay 1998

Back to Main Page