Christian fanatics zealously announce, “Jesus Saves!” In this article, I will decisively argue that Jesus is powerless to save the converts. Let us begin with an understanding of what free will and predestination mean in Christianity.
Does one accept Jesus as the messiah out of free will or is it all predestined? In other words, are we saved from eternal damnation in hell by exercising our free will or is it a chance outcome decided by the divine grace of god (or his son Jesus, if you so prefer)? There is no problem in using these two interchangeably for they are one and the same.
There is some scriptural support for free will. Paul admonished his followers to make use of the freedom Jesus had bestowed upon them and not to misuse it again, thereby at least implying some role of free will. Irenaeus (c. 180 CE) was more direct: “Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.” Origen (184-253 CE) believed in reincarnation and advanced the most coherent (i.e., logically consistent on a limited scale because it neither explains why the cycle of rebirth should be terminated in favor of an eternal heaven or hell nor is it scientific or correct) Christian argument by asserting that one’s deeds from previous lives predestine one to heaven or hell.
Why does Origen talk about free will as well as predestination? Free will always remained a marginal idea within Christianity, which is an apocalyptic faith system. As a result, Christianity accorded the writ of providence precedence over personal freedom. Hence free will was always seen as a challenge to the divine will. Augustine of Hippo (c. 426 CE) confirms that free will has by this time become a controversial subject and discusses it at length in his work On Grace and Free Will.
Augustine is aware of the paucity of references to free will in scripture. So, even though he asserts that god has revealed the idea of free will in scripture he also adds a caveat that such a revelation is not in human, but divine language. However, he quickly forgets this caveat and invokes John 15:22 to argue in support of implicit free will. In this verse, Jesus claims, in a language quite comprehensible to humans, that since he has revealed himself to the Jews (who were hitherto sinless) they are now guilty of inheriting sin if they do not follow him. Evidently, the author of John 15:22 who implies that the Jews in discussion were not born in Original Sin was unaware of what the author of Romans 5:12 had written – that everyone since Adam is born in Original Sin. So, he unwittingly dismantles the foundational premise of Christianity. Augustine also argues, citing Proverbs 19:3, that a sinner cannot escape punishment claiming to have acted as predestined because he has free will. He also cites Matthew 16:27, “Jesus shall reward every man according to his works,” as an argument in support of free will.
He then cautions one not to deny the grace of god in favor of free will and advances his arguments in support of predestination by the grace of god. Now it is time to discuss predestination as the means to salvation.
What happens to a child born to Christian parents who dies un-baptized? What happened to those who lived before Jesus came to earth? Are they in hell? These categories of people could not have sought Jesus as their savior out of free will. Is it fair to condemn someone to hell without giving an opportunity? Predestination is a response to these ethical questions that confronted early Christians as much as it is a product of the Christian tendency to privilege the will of god over any human agency and effort.
Christianity teaches that one can be saved from eternal damnation entirely by the grace of god without any initiative on one’s part. In other words, by the grace of god, one is predestined to go to heaven or hell. Jesus claimed to have saved a criminal who was dying on the cross with him even though he had not professed his belief in Jesus. The Ethiopian Eunuch, Apostle Paul, and the Philippian jailer were also saved by Jesus before they proclaimed their belief in him. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard Jesus announces that “those who are last (to believe in him) will be the first (to be saved)” and since Jesus is the master of all humans he can do whatever he wants with them, i.e., he can arbitrarily grant some salvation while letting others burn in hell and their rewards need not be commensurate with their deeds. The conclusion here is that one could be saved by the grace of Jesus because of predestination even without proclaiming one’s belief in him by the agency of free will.
Augustine too privileges predestination by grace over free will when he cites Matthew 26:41 where it is said that a man can only avoid falling into temptation by receiving the grace of god. There are semantic differences in how various orthodox Christian sects define predestination but there is no substantive difference in their understanding.
However, the fact that the opposite concepts of free will and predestination find support in scripture did not escape the attention of some Christian theologians. The apologetics of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are examples of Christian efforts at harmonizing these conflicting ideas.
Augustine begins with a citation of Zechariah 1:3 where god says, “You turn unto me and I will turn unto you,” and argues that here the act of a man turning to god symbolizes free will whereas the reciprocal act of god turning to man symbolizes grace. However, he hastens to add that it is an anathema to claim that the grace one receives is according to one’s deeds performed out of free will and insists that the very act of one turning to god is the result of god’s grace. He corroborates this point by citing 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 where Paul informs us that he received the grace of god while he was still persecuting the Christians. He again invokes Paul, “But be a co-laborer with the gospel, according to the power of God, who saves us and calls us with His holy calling—not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus.” In other words, one’s free will itself is the product of divine grace. Augustine does not realize that if free will is predestined then it is no longer free will. I wonder whether Augustine was speaking in “divine language” when he made this statement. After this, Augustine slides into meaningless gibberish by uttering such phrases as “eternal life is grace for grace.”
Some Christian theologians correctly recognized that free will and predestination are irreconcilable and mutually exclusive. Suppose that you are predestined to hell. But, you sincerely believe in Jesus out of free will and attain heaven as a reward for the deeds performed out of free will. This scenario would be a damning repudiation of predestination and falsify it. Recognizing this, Thomas Aquinas reiterated the conventional Christian position that every soul is predestined to heaven or hell and that deeds performed out of free will cannot alter this outcome. He also rebutted Origen’s opinion which we encountered earlier by citing Paul, who says in Romans 9:11-12 that God predestines one even before one is born and not by the deeds one performs. In doing so, Aquinas inadvertently refutes Matthew 16:27 where Jesus had promised that he shall reward every man according to his works. Aquinas then makes his own uniquely nonsensical explanation that deeds performed out of free will were themselves predestined, a statement which is as much of an oxymoron as “a planned spontaneous act.”
Aquinas might have been a mediocre philosopher and poor logician but his stance of discarding free will for predestination is biblically supported as the following verses illustrate:
- “Jesus chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to son-ship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
- “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
- “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
- “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”
Apologists such as Augustine and Aquinas were forced to indulge in verbal sophistry and make illogical statements because they were attempting the impossible in trying to reconcile free will and predestination. They were unable to explain away the fact that their scripture provides two mutually exclusive and contradictory means to salvation. Inadvertently, they end up discarding free will in favor of predestination.
Predestination delivers a fatal blow to the core Christian doctrine requiring one to believe in Jesus. Here is the reason. To predestine a child (or an adult) to go to heaven or hell, Jesus has to be omniscient. In that case, nothing, not even Jesus’ omnipotence, would be able to change the destiny of that person. If Jesus uses his omnipotence to reverse the destiny of a person, then it automatically follows that he was not truly omniscient to begin with because what he foresaw has now been annulled. For Jesus to remain omniscient, which is a precondition for predestination, he cannot be omnipotent. This means that Jesus can never change your fate based on your beliefs.
Hence, your acceptance of Jesus as your savior has no effect on whether you go to heaven or hell. In other words, professing your belief in Jesus is totally unnecessary. You can also commit the foulest offenses against Jesus or the Holy Spirit without worrying about the consequence because Jesus has anyway irreversibly predestined whether you go to heaven or hell! Now you also know that the common Christian assertion that Jesus is omnipotent and omniscient is false!
 Galatians 5:1
 Against Heresies 4:4:3
 Luke 23:43
 Acts 8:26-39
 Ibid 9:18
 Ibid 16:25-33
 Matthew 20:1-16
 2 Timothy 1:8-9
 St. Augustine: On Grace and Free Will, Kindle Locations 2, 10, 33, 141, 153, 164, 176, 196-198, 279-281, 306
 Ephesians 1:4-5
 Ibid 2:8
 Romans 8:30
 2 Timothy 1:9
Adapted from What Every Hindu Should Know About Christianity
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Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer, an atheist, a practicing orthodox Hindu, and author of the book “What Every Hindu should know about Christianity.”