Question: "What does it mean for something to be foreordained?"
Answer: The word foreordained is used primarily in the King James Version or Revised Standard Version of the Bible. It is usually a translation of a Greek word meaning “to know beforehand.” Foreordained is used in that sense in verses such as Romans 8:29–30 and 1 Peter 1:20. However, the Greek word is more commonly translated “foreknew.”
In verses such as Ephesians 1:4–5, foreordained has a stronger meaning, implying more than knowledge: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (ERV). In this case, “foreordained” is a translation of a different Greek word that means “predetermined” or “marked out beforehand.” Other passages also state that God not only foreknew certain things, but He determined beforehand that they should be so. Acts 4:28 says that God had “decided beforehand” what should happen when Jesus was put on trial. Ephesians 1:11 says that believers were “chosen” and “predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
When foreordained is used in the sense of God’s determining of events before they happen, we enter the tension between human will and God’s sovereignty, as played out in His predestination or election of believers. Volumes have been written about this tension, with the two main positions coming under the labels of Calvinism and Arminianism. Extreme Calvinism, or hyper-Calvinism, asserts that everything has already been determined by God and that human beings are little more than robots playing out our roles, making evangelism unnecessary. Extreme Arminianism, on the other hand, places all decisions in human hands and renders God as little more than a spectator, lacking omniscience and the power to do anything without our permission. Most Christians understand that this tension between God’s sovereignty and human will is only resolved in a supernatural combination of both positions, the truth being somewhere in the middle.
Isaiah 46:9–11 is God’s statement on the matter of things being foreordained: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ . . . What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” Clearly, God is sovereign. If He were not, He would not be God. How does the fact that He foreordains things fit with the fact of human choice? In the end, we must be humble enough to admit that there are many things about God that are too high for us to comprehend (see Psalm 131).
What we can know for certain is that God has foreordained the way of salvation for “whosoever believes” in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16–18, 36; Acts 10:43). God has foreordained that believers will be adopted into His family as children of God (John 1:12) and that He will take the responsibility of transforming us into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29–30). God has foreordained that all those born again by grace through faith will spend eternity in heaven with Him (John 3:3; 17:3; Ephesians 2:8–9). We can rest in the knowledge that we have a Father who is in charge of His universe and that His plan is perfect. “Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not!” (Romans 9:14).