Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How Does Foreordination Work?

Q:  If someone is preordained to do something...does this mean that they can still choose not to?  Or will they just do it regardless? Also, are people preordained to do good things as well as bad? Or is it the same concept as destiny?

A:  When speaking about this principle, I think "foreordained" is a better word to use when it comes to gaining a full understanding of the concept. I choose to stress the importance of the terms we use, because misunderstandings concerning the doctrine of foreordination have caused much confusion and disagreement among Christians in all ages, and even among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  However, foreordination is a doctrine which must be understood and taught correctly (and in the proper context), because it concerns where we came from, and what our purpose was in coming here.

“The combined doctrine of God’s foreordination is one of the doctrinal roads “least traveled by.” Yet it clearly underlines how very long and how perfectly God has loved us and known us with our individual needs and capacities. Isolated from other doctrines, or mishandled, these truths can stoke the fires of fatalism, impact adversely upon agency, cause us to focus on status rather than service, and carry us over into predestination.

“Yet, though foreordination is a difficult doctrine, it has been given to us by the living God, through living prophets, for a purpose. It can actually increase our understanding of how crucial this mortal second estate is and can further encourage us in good works. This precious doctrine can also help us go the second mile because we are doubly called.”  (Neal A. Maxwell, "A More Determined Discipleship," Ensign, Feb. 1979,

Before we were born on Earth, we lived as spirits with our Father in Heaven.  It is taught in the scriptures that certain individuals were chosen by Him as the elect (as well as called and ordained) before we came here, according to the foreknowledge of God.
1 Peter1:1-2  Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

Alma 13:3  And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

Note that those who were called and ordained in the premortal existence were called "on account of their exceeding faith and good works," and the righteous exercise of their agency in the premortal world. 

“God gave his children their agency even in the spirit world, by which the individual spirits had the privilege, just as men have here, of choosing the good and rejecting the evil, or partaking of the evil to suffer the consequences of their sins. … some even there were more faithful than others in keeping the commandments of the Lord. …

“The spirits of men … had an equal start, and we know they were all innocent in the beginning; but the right of free agency which was given to them enabled some to outstrip others, and thus, through the eons of immortal existence, to become more intelligent, more faithful, for they were free to act for themselves, to think for themselves, to receive the truth or rebel against it.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:58–59).

“… And it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish; therefore they were called after this holy order” (Alma 13:10, 11; compare McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 477.)  (Bruce R. McConkie in CR, Apr. 1974, p. 103.)

What does it mean for you and me if we were ordained in the pre-mortal existence to do certain things, and to enjoy certain blessings, during this life?  How does this fore-ordination work, especially as it relates to our personal agency and choices?  What does this doctrine mean to us as we try to discover our individual purpose in life?

Mine Elect Hear My Voice

In order to more fully comprehend the doctrine of foreordination, one must come to understand the doctrine of election as it is taught in the restored gospel, and what it means to be one of the “elect,” both as it is termed in the scriptures, and also what it means as a word in our modern usage (for the sake of comparison).  As I stated before, the terms we use, and the way that we use them is important, because the doctrine of election has caused some real confusion among Christians in general for hundreds of years, and more recently among members of the restored church of Jesus Christ.

Here is the secular definition (, n.d.), as it is understood outside of the gospel:

Elect:  adjective \i-ˈlekt\
1 :  carefully selected :  chosen
2 :  chosen for salvation through divine mercy
3 :
a :  chosen for office or position but not yet installed
b :  chosen for marriage at some future time

I find this definition to be fairly instructive, and as such, it makes for a good basic introduction to the concept of election.

Note the first definition, which describes the elect object or individual as one who has been “carefully selected” and “chosen.”  This most certainly applies to God’s elect, and as such, it helps us to understand that God’s elect have been carefully selected and set aside for some special purpose and blessing.  According to the second definition above, that purpose and blessing for which the elect have been chosen would be mainly “salvation through divine mercy.”  I included the two points under the third definition, because they both help to emphasize the expectant quality that accompanies the concept of election.  The elect must look forward to the fulfillment of certain promised blessings, which have been made available to them through covenant, much as a bride to be has made certain arrangements, by which she might reasonably expect to be made a bride in fact.  The realization of these blessings must also depend on certain actions on our part.  The bride-elect must agree to show up on her wedding day, and to remain faithful to her prospective husband until that time.  Similarly, God’s elect have made certain covenants to be faithful and true to God, in expectation of the realization of God’s promised blessings.  God has made such covenants throughout the ages, and most notably, he covenanted with the posterity of Abraham, that they might look forward to certain special blessings and an inheritance that is unique to those who are bound by this covenant.

In the Restored Gospel, election is “a theological term primarily denoting God’s choice of the house of Israel to be the covenant people with privileges and responsibilities” (LDS Bible Dictionary).  In other words, the elect are those who make up God’s chosen people.  God made promises to men like Abraham, that through their posterity the whole world would be blessed, and even that the Messiah would be born into the lineage of the house of Israel.  Moreover, these promises entitled those who are of the house of Israel to certain extraordinary blessings and responsibilities, not least “because that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (see Romans 3:2).  As God’s covenant people, the house of Israel had access to additional light and knowledge through revelation given to prophets of God, and they were also entitled to a number of other glorious blessings.

Romans 9:4  Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

Naturally, these promises were made conditional upon Israel’s faithfulness to God, and when Israel strayed into wickedness (as they were often wont to do) they lost the blessings attached to the covenants which they had broken.

In fact, it is for the reason of the wickedness of the house of Israel that the promises made to Abraham are no longer restricted solely to those who are directly descended from Abraham.  Paul taught that Israel had lost their birthright due to wickedness, and that consequently, God had given it to others, for righteousness sake.

(It should be noted that an important sign of this covenant, and of belonging to the House of Israel, was that of circumcision; so much so, in fact, that Paul refers to the natural born descendants of Abraham who make up the House of Israel as “the circumcision” and all others as “the uncircumcision.”)

Romans 2:17-18  Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;

Romans 2:23, 25-29  Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.  Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?  And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:  But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

In these passages, Paul teaches the beautiful and eternal truth that covenants with God must be made and kept with the heart, and that one cannot reap the blessings of such covenants solely on the strength of one’s ancestry or lineage.  In our day, there are those who suppose that is enough that they were “born into the church,” and they fail to put much effort into gaining a testimony for themselves.  Some of these people may attend church on Sunday, but they might not be recognized as one of God’s people during the rest of the week.  Paul wants those who feel secure in the (supposed) knowledge that they are one of God’s chosen people to know that it is not enough to be only nominal member of the church, who only goes through the motions of discipleship because it is more socially acceptable than leaving, or because it is just easier to just coast on the strength of the testimonies of others.

Another danger lies in the assumption that because one has been born into the church, as one of God's chosen people, it must naturally follow that such a person must be inherently more righteous or superior in some way to those who were not so obviously blessed.  The Jews, who boasted that they were the children of Abraham, and who relied on their (presumed) chosen status rather than upon their individual righteousness as evidence that their salvation was assured, tended to look down on the gentiles as inferior, and yet (as Paul taught)  the gentiles, who lived God's laws by nature, were more God's people than those who bore the mark of the covenant, yet failed to follow God from the heart.

Paul wants us to know that it is not enough to rest on the notion that we must have been more virtuous in the premortal existence because of the circumstances of our birth. No matter how we were born, or who our ancestors may be, we must each be diligent in keeping the Laws of God in this life, and in his letter to the Galatians, Paul again stresses that (under the New Covenant) anyone who is truly converted to the gospel, and who obeys the laws of God from the heart, will be accepted and adopted as part of God’s chosen people, or His elect, no matter what their lineage may be.

Galatians 3:26-29  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Under the law and liberty of the gospel, God’s elect are described as those who “hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (see D&C 29:7).

Choose to be Chosen

This represents a conscious choice, made with our individual agency, to come unto Christ of our own free will and volition, and so the elect could be characterized as “choosing to be chosen.”

D&C 29:7  And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;

The best illustration of this principle at work is actually something as simple as the practice of attending church every Sunday:

“The word church comes from the Greek word kuriake, which means “of the Lord.” The New Testament writers most often used the word ekklesia to refer to the church as a whole, and also in a more specific local sense. Ekklesia is actually descended from two words: ek-, which means “out”, and kaleo-, which means to “call”. This “calling out” is understood to mean a summoning to an assembly, congregation, or council. The writers in the New Testament knew what they were doing when they chose to use the secular word ekklesia to represent a religious gathering of saints, as ekklesia had a special political connotation that, in this instance, implied that this assembly of saints was a political apparatus that operated within the larger political entity that was the Kingdom of Christ on earth. The secular definition (and original use of the term) implies that the ekklesia is a group or a council of citizens that come together to make decisions that affect the local community. More importantly, the use of the terms ek- and kaleo by the writers of the New Testament has direct (and no doubt deliberate) reference to the calling of the faithful out of the world as the elect of God. Thus the word Church can be said to mean a “calling out” to gather those people who are chosen “of the Lord,” so they might take an active part in the government and building up of the Lord’s kingdom (Michael Maier, “The 7 REAL reasons why you need to go to church,” ScriptureSight, January 13,  2010).

When the missionaries preach the gospel to everyone they meet, they are participating in the gathering of God’s elect.  You too can (and should) participate in calling the Lord’s elect to gather for worship each Sunday, and to join God’s kingdom as one of His elect.  Inviting people to church is an important way that members can share the gospel.  Don’t worry if some (or most) people you know turn you down, remember that God’s elect will hear His voice, and will not harden their hearts.  Our job is to make sure that those people with whom we share the gospel can clearly hear the voice of the divine through us as we invite them to join us in worship.

Note that an important part of missionary work and of church attendance is this concept of being called out of the world to join the Lord’s people.  This is such a central part of the concept of election as it is taught in the New Testament, that those who are the elect of God through Christ are often referred to simply as “the called.”

Romans 8:28  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

This scripture jibes well with the definition of the elect which is provided in the LDS Guide to the Scriptures:

“The elect are those who love God with all their hearts and live lives that are pleasing to him. Those who live such lives of discipleship will one day be selected by the Lord to be among his chosen children.”

Paul goes on to teach the Romans that those who are the elect are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, that they might receive the blessings which have been reserved for God’s chosen people.

Romans 8:29-30   For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

Note, however, that those whom God did “predestinate” (or rather “foreordain”) were those whom the Lord called (which in this day and age is pretty much everyone, as we have been instructed to preach the gospel to all men), and only those who exercise their agency to answer that call can truly be considered God’s elect, and as such be entitled as heirs of God according to the promise.

(On a side note, Paul uses a word that is translated as  "predestinate" in Romans chapter 8, whereas True to the Faith, an official publication of the LDS church, points out that this word could perhaps be translated more clearly:

"In Romans 8:29–30, the Greek term translated as predestinate means “to appoint beforehand” and refers to the foreordination some people receive, based on God’s foreknowledge, to follow Jesus Christ and become like Him" (“Foreordination,” True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 69).)

The Foreknowledge of God

This brings me to the principal difficulty surrounding the doctrine of foreordination.  Unfortunately, difficult passages, such as the one from Romans quoted above, have given rise to much confusion, and too often we mistake the principle of foreordination for the notion of "predestination" or the concept of "fate" in which our lives and actions have been determined beforehand without our input, and in spite of (or negating entirely) our free will. This is false doctrine, and it flies in the face of the very purpose of God's plan of happiness and salvation.

“President Joseph Fielding Smith once warned:

“It is very evident from a thorough study of the gospel and the plan of salvation that a conclusion that those who accepted the Savior were predestined to be saved no matter what the nature of their lives must be an error. … Surely Paul never intended to convey such a thought. … This might have been one of the passages in Paul’s teachings which cause Peter to declare that there are in Paul’s writings, ‘some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction’” (Neal A. Maxwell, "A More Determined Discipleship," Ensign, Feb. 1979,

Many who misunderstand the doctrine of foreordination often wonder how it is that we can be free to make any of our own choices concerning our fate or our destiny, if God, in his infinite foreknowledge, already knows all that we will do and say, even before we know it. They see this as a contradiction, as it clashes with the doctrine of agency and free will, and they suppose that we are essentially marionettes who are manipulated and controlled by some mysterious and inscrutable hand, and that life must therefore be some obscure shadow-play whose purpose is solely to amuse a bored deity.

However, as was stated before, foreordination does not constitute an unalterable or inescapable fate, nor does it represent divine manipulation.  A good way to think about it is to compare "foreordination" to an ordination in the here and now. If I am ordained to be a deacon, I have been ordained to fulfill the duties and obligations of a deacon, and if I do I can also receive the blessings attached to faithfully magnifying my responsibilities. However, I am perfectly at liberty to elect to stop attending church, or to goof off during sacrament meeting instead of passing the sacrament, or skip out when asked to serve the Bishop or ward members in some capacity. I can also choose to commit real sins, and violate my baptismal covenants and my commission as a deacon. I have my agency, and I am not "fated" to do my deacon duties just because I was ordained to it. However, I should not expect to obtain the blessings of faithful service as a deacon if I do not serve faithfully.

You and I have been ordained to fulfill certain duties and obligations, and also to receive certain blessings attached to the faithful fulfillment of those obligations in this life, but we are free to choose for ourselves to defy that ordination, and to forfeit those blessings. In this way our agency is preserved, and we are allowed the full exercise of our free will.

Note that in Alma 13:3 we are taught that, while we may be chosen and ordained before this life according to the foreknowledge of God, we are nevertheless allowed the exercise of our agency, which allows us to choose good or evil, and it is only as we choose to exercise our agency to choose the good that we will be called of God to “that holy calling which was prepared” for us in the pre-mortal existence.

Alma 13:3  And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such

However, this does not directly address the central concern of many regarding foreordination and the infinite foreknowledge of God, which concern causes many to view the doctrine of foreordination with an eye of perplexity and bewilderment.

Psalms 147:5  Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite

We believe that God is all-knowing, and that He sees all, and is over all.  However, if God truly knows all things, including all the choices and actions we will make and take (even before we ourselves know what those choices will be) how can it truly be said that we have free will and control over our own destiny?

C.S. Lewis explained that much of this difficulty arises from our own misconception concerning the way that God views and interacts with time as we perceive it:

“Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow’s actions in just the same way— because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him.”  (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 170-171.)

What Lewis gives here as his opinion actually resonates well with what is taught in scripture concerning how God views and exists in relation to time:

D&C 38:1-2  Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made; The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes;

D&C 130:6-7  The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.

Alma 40:8  Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise it mattereth not; for all do not die at once, and this mattereth not; all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.

At some point we may have to trust that God’s understanding and perspective is greater than our own, and that certain doctrines may be beyond our full comprehension, given the facts as they have heretofore been revealed.

“Of course, when we mortals try to comprehend, rather than accept, foreordination, the result is one in which finite minds futilely try to comprehend omniscience. A full understanding is impossible; we simply have to trust in what the Lord has told us, knowing enough, however, to realize that we are not dealing with guarantees from God but extra opportunities—and heavier responsibilities. If those responsibilities are in some ways linked to past performance or to past capabilities, it should not surprise us.” (Neal A. Maxwell, "A More Determined Discipleship," Ensign, Feb. 1979,

However, when we at least understand that God’s perception of time differs greatly from our own, it becomes clear that the infinite foreknowledge of God is in no way a contradiction to, or a contravention of, our individual free will and agency.

“It does no violence even to our frail human logic to observe that there cannot be a grand plan of salvation for all mankind, unless there is also a plan for each individual. The salvational sum will reflect all its parts. Once the believer acknowledges that the past, present, and future are before God simultaneously—even though we do not understand how—then the doctrine of foreordination may be seen somewhat more clearly… Quite understandably, the manner in which things unfold seems to us mortals to be so natural. Our not knowing what is to come (in the perfect way that God knows) thus preserves our free agency completely” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Meeting the Challenges of Today,” BYU Devotional, October 10, 1978).

The Lord has blessed us with the ability and the freedom to determine our own destiny, and to create a future based on our own decisions and the natural consequences thereof.

“I can’t stress too strongly that decisions determine destiny. You can’t make eternal decisions without eternal consequences” (Thomas S. Monson, “Decisions Determine Destiny,” Church Educational System fireside, Nov. 6, 2005).

Christ died so that we could be free to exercise our own free will in choosing eternal life through him, or in making choices that will eventually lead us to eternal misery and endless woe.

2 Nephi 2:26-27  And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall.  And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.  Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man.  And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.  And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;

Christ’s atoning sacrifice empowers and enables us to exercise our agency and free will to (in effect) choose to be chosen (and elect to be elected), by answering the call of the Savior to exercise faith unto repentance, to be baptized by water and by the Holy Ghost, and to endure to the end.  Each time we make a decision that leads us closer to God, we are choosing to be chosen, and as one of God’s elect, we have been promised that we will receive eternal life, if we choose to remain faithful to God.

Titus 1:1-2  Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;

Does God Foreordain Individuals to do Evil?

In the King James Version Romans chapter 9, Paul talks about Pharaoh, who opposed Moses, and oppressed the people of Israel.  Here Paul seems to teach that Pharaoh was "raised up" by God and "Hardened" by Him against Israel in order to bring about God's purposes:

Romans 9:17-18  For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

This raises the logical question: if God foreordained Pharaoh to do evil, then How can God Judge him so harshly for doing what he has been predestined to do?  Doesn't this violate his personal agency?

Romans 9:19  Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault?  For who hath resisted his will?

Paul was using the example of Pharaoh to illustrate the Lord's reasons for permitting Israel to reject the gospel and to persist in wickedness in Paul's time. Nevertheless, this is one of the more confusing teachings contained in Paul's Epistle to the Romans; however, it is not so complicated once it is placed in the context of the restored Gospel:

"In Romans 9:17, Paul quoted Exodus 9:16, which states that God raised up Pharaoh in order to show His power. Paul also said, “Whom [God] will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:18). These passages do not mean that God caused Pharaoh or other people to be wicked. Such an interpretation would contradict truths taught elsewhere in the scriptures about how God desires the salvation of all people (see 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Moses 1:39) and how God’s gift of agency makes us free to choose to follow Him or reject Him (see 2 Nephi 2:27; 10:23). A key to understanding Paul’s statement is to recognize that he was reasoning from the book of Exodus, which tells of the Pharaoh who opposed God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The Exodus account, which would have been familiar to Paul’s readers, speaks of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (for example, see Exodus 9:12). The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies that the Lord did not harden Pharaoh’s heart, but that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (see Joseph Smith Translation, Exodus 9:12 [in Exodus 9:12, footnote a]).

Paul’s point was that even though Pharaoh fought against God, this did not frustrate the Lord’s work of delivering Israel. Ultimately, Israel’s deliverance in spite of Pharaoh’s stubbornness served to reveal the Lord’s power (see Romans 9:17). Similarly, God did not cause Israel to reject the gospel of Jesus Christ, but He permitted it. Israel’s rebellion was something God “endured with much long-suffering” (Romans 9:22) so that He could “make known the riches of his glory” to those who accept the gospel, “not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles” (Romans 9:23–24)" (New Testament Student Manual, 2014).

Once again, God does not force, or "predestine" anyone to do anything against their will.  Moreover, He would never encourage or promote evil in anyone.  If, however, through your own agency you choose to defy the will of the Lord, and fight against His work and His Gospel, you will find it difficult to frustrate the course of the Lord's work, and your opposition may only serve to demonstrate God's power to the faithful. I think I would rather be found on the Lord's side, to be used as a willing instrument for good in His hands, than to be used as a demonstration of His power in spite of myself and my actions.

“When, in situations of stress, we wonder if there is any more in us to give, we can be comforted to know that God, who knows our capacities perfectly, placed us here to succeed. No one was foreordained to fail or to be wicked.”  (Neal A. Maxwell, “A More Determined Discipleship,” Ensign, Feb. 1979, 

A Peculiar People

You may be familiar with the phrase “a peculiar people.”  President Gordon B. Hinckley was fond of using this phrase to refer to the members of the church, in a number of contexts:

“Each time I have stood before such a group [the youth of the church], there has come into my mind the great and prophetic statement made by Peter of old. Said he: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9.)

I know of no other statement which more aptly describes you, nor which sets before you a higher ideal by which to shape and guide your lives.

Some time ago I read a letter to a newspaper editor which was highly critical of the Church. I have forgotten the exact language, but it included a question something like this: “When are the Mormons going to stop being different and become a part of the mainstream of America?”

After outlining the results of some major studies which presented some sobering and fairly negative statistics concerning the state of young people in America, Hinckley quoted one that concluded that “The challenges to the health and well-being of America’s youth are not primarily rooted in illness or economics. Unlike the past, the problem is not childhood disease or unsanitary slums. The most basic cause of suffering … is profoundly self-destructive behavior. Drinking. Drugs. Violence. Promiscuity. A crisis of behavior and belief. A crisis of character.” (Imprimis, Sept. 1991, p. 1.)

Upon reading this frightening statement, President Hinckley related that he “said to myself, If that is the mainstream of American youth, then I want to do all in my power to persuade and encourage our young people to stay away from it” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Chosen Generation,” General Conference Speech, April 1992, Retrieved from

President Hinckley often referred to the idea that we Latter-day Saints are indeed a peculiar people, in many senses, and it is precisely this peculiarity that sets us apart and protects us from the sin and misery in which much of the rest of the world finds itself entangled.  President Hinckley often emphasized the fact that, as time progresses, and the world grows more wicked, the righteous members of the church will only become more peculiar; however, he stressed that this peculiarity is an incredible blessing:

“We are a peculiar people. There is a wholesomeness about you that is beautiful and wonderful. We don’t smoke, we don’t drink, we don’t even take tea or coffee. That is strange for a lot of people. We do vicarious work for the dead. We teach that marriage in the house of the Lord is for time and for all eternity, that families can actually be forever. We are a peculiar people, and thank heavens we are. If the world continues to go in the direction it is going, families breaking up, pornography everywhere, drugs and things of that kind, we will become an even more peculiar people. God has blessed us generously and kindly and greatly. How thankful we ought to be” (Fireside, Sydney, Australia, 14 May 1997).

As individuals, and as a church, we are often pressured to “get with the times,” and to avoid being “left behind by the sweep of history.”  We are told that our beliefs and practices are strange, and that perhaps we should take steps to make them more palatable to the rest of the world.  However, in echo of President Hinckley’s sentiments, the scriptures are quite firm in teaching that as the chosen elect, we must keep ourselves pure and separate from the wickedness and worldliness that surround us every day, and that we cannot afford to compromise our beliefs and our promises to God, for the sake of popularity or pleasing others.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18  Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial?  or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

Alma 5:57-58  And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people; For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand.  And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this?  I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled.

Why is it so important that we keep our selves pure, and separate from those individuals, movements, philosophies, and practices that would lead us to compromise our beliefs?  Why must we persist in being such a peculiar people?

This brings me to the true sense and meaning of the phrase “a peculiar people” as it is taught in scripture.  It is so important for us to be peculiar because Christ gave himself in order that he might purify himself a people, but not just any people: a peculiar people.  A people that have had all wickedness and impurity burned out of them, who are zealous of good works, and who can overcome the world because Christ overcame the world for them.  The chosen people of God have the inner strength that comes from passing “through [the] refiner’s fire”.  They have been purified by Christ and the furnace of affliction and so “the insignificant and the unimportant in [their] lives can melt away like dross and make [their] faith bright, intact, and strong” (James E. Faust, “The Refiner's Fire,” Ensign, May 1979, 53).

Titus 2:13-14  Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

1 Peter 2:9-10  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:  Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

As Peter taught, those of us who have accepted the Gospel, and made covenants with God to live according to its precepts have effectively made the choice to be chosen and numbered among God’s people. As God’s chosen generation, or rather, as His elect, we have an obligation to follow Him without apology, and without compromising our beliefs for the sake of popular opinion.  In order that we might truly be the elect of God, we must be set apart from the world.

We must hold ourselves to this standard of purity and good works, because our lives are not our own, for we have been bought for a price.  The Savior purchased His people with His blood, and as such we are considered to be a particular treasure in the eyes of God, seeing as we are the purchased possession of Christ.  Peculiar doesn’t only mean “strange.”  In the gospel, to be peculiar in the Lord’s eyes means that you are special!

““In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term from which peculiar was translated is segullah, which means ‘valued property,’ or ‘treasure.’ In the New Testament, the Greek term from which peculiar was translated is peripoiesis, which means ‘possession,’ or ‘an obtaining.’

“Thus, we see that the scriptural term peculiar signifies ‘valued treasure,’ ‘made’ or ‘selected by God.’ For us to be identified by servants of the Lord as his peculiar people is a compliment of the highest order” (Russell M. Nelson, “Children of the Covenant,” Ensign, May 1995, 34).

As the Lord’s chosen “peculiar people,” we have been given special blessings and knowledge that the rest of the world does not have or appreciate.  However, this added light brings with it added responsibility.

Many are called, but few are chosen

I wish to stress that “Being a member of God’s church does not make a person superior to (or even necessarily more righteous than) another who is not a member. It does make you "peculiar," and it does afford you special blessings conditioned upon your righteousness, as Peter taught in 1 Peter 2:9-10…

“Simply being numbered among the "people of God" is not an automatic guarantee of salvation however, as Christ declares in Matthew 22:14: "For many are called, but few are chosen." The only thing that gives people in the church a leg up on salvation compared to the people outside of it is that the people in the church are fully aware of just how far they have left to go, and also that they have access (through the priesthood of God) to the necessary infrastructure (namely the principles, covenants, and ordinances of the gospel) with which they can do something about it. It then falls to each individual to choose whether or not to follow Christ by living the gospel. In this sense those within the church do have an advantage over those who are without, and yet they also have a greater responsibility to the Lord, as He states in D&C 82:3 (see also Luke 12:48):

“For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.” (Michael Maier, "Do all roads lead to God? Why does there have to be one true church?ScriptureSight, March 30, 2010).

“Premortality is not a relaxing doctrine. For each of us, there are choices to be made, incessant and difficult chores to be done, ironies and adversities to be experienced, time to be well spent, talents and gifts to be well employed. Just because we were chosen “there and then,” surely does not mean we can be indifferent “here and now.” Whether foreordination for men, or foredesignation for women, those called and prepared must also prove “chosen, and faithful.” (See Rev. 17:14; D&C 121:34–36.)

In fact, adequacy in the first estate may merely have ensured a stern, second estate with more duties and no immunities! Additional tutoring and suffering appears to be the pattern for the Lord’s most apt pupils. (See Mosiah 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:19.) Our existence, therefore, is a continuum matched by God’s stretching curriculum.

This doctrine brings unarguable identity but also severe accountability to our lives.”  (Neal A. Maxwell, “Premortality, a Glorious Reality,” Ensign, November 1985,

“Foreordination is like any other blessing—it is a conditional bestowal subject to our faithfulness. Prophecies foreshadow events without determining the outcome, because of a divine foreseeing of outcomes. So foreordination is a conditional bestowal of a role, a responsibility, or a blessing which, likewise, foresees but does not fix the outcome.

There have been those who have failed or who have been treasonous to their trust, such as David, Solomon, and Judas. God foresaw the fall of David, but was not the cause of it. It was David who saw Bathsheba from the balcony and sent for her. But neither was God surprised by such a sad development.

God foresaw, but did not cause, Martin Harris’s loss of certain pages of the translated Book of Mormon; God made plans to cope with failure over 1,500 years before it was to occur! (See preface to D&C 10 and W of M)

Thus, foreordination is clearly no excuse for fatalism, or arrogance, or the abuse of agency. It is not, however, a doctrine that can be ignored simply because it is difficult. Indeed, deep inside the hardest doctrines are some of the pearls of greatest price.

The doctrine pertains not only to the foreordination of prophets, but to God’s precise assessment, beforehand, as to each of those who will respond to the words of the Savior and the prophets. From the Savior’s own lips came these words, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). Similarly the Savior said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Further, he declared, “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7).”  (Neal A. Maxwell, "A More Determined Discipleship," Ensign, Feb. 1979,

My Sheep Hear My Voice

Election and foreordination can be best understood in the terms used by the Savior, and others, when describing our relationship to him as that of sheep to a good shepherd.  As treasured possessions of the Lord, for which He gave all to gain, we are of incredible value to the Lord, and he will go to incredible lengths to save even one of us.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.

Luke 15:4-7 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

Isaiah 40:10-11 Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

John 10:11-14, 27 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

As Christ taught so beautifully, His sheep know Him and recognize and respond to his call to follow them.  Therefore, if a sheep does not recognize and respond to the voice and call of the Savior, and if that sheep refuses to follow Him, then it follows that such a sheep cannot belong to the good shepherd.

Alma 5:38-39 Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd. And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.

Alma 5:57-60 And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people; For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand. And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this? I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled.

If we  refuse (or neglect) to heed the call of the Savior, which often comes to us in the form of the teachings of His prophets, or the gentle rebuke of priesthood leaders such as our Bishop or stake president, then we effectively choose NOT to be chosen, and we will no longer be numbered among His elect.  Then it will not matter what we may have been fore-ordained to do and become in this life, because we have used our agency to defy the good shepherd, and thus we have disqualified ourselves from receiving the blessings which were promised to us by the Lord from the foundation of the world.

Unfortunately, many who have been ordained in the pre-mortal existence to perform special tasks, to fulfill certain promises, and to obtain certain blessings, will (through their agency) elect to forgo these things by making bad choices, and choosing to follow the world, and wickedness, and especially by refusing to repent and return to the Lord’s path.

If we wish to be counted among the sheep of the Good Shepherd, it falls to each of us to elect to be elected, and to choose to be chosen, by becoming fully converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and obeying God’s laws from the heart.  As we exercise faith and repentance to conform ourselves to the example and teachings of the Savior, and make such covenants as are required of us in order to follow in His footsteps, and as we endure to the end in faith and faithfulness, we will find ourselves numbered among God’s elect, and as such we can look forward to the inheritance of eternal life and happiness as God’s children in His kingdom, which is the greatest gift which God can give.

John 10:27-29 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.

D&C 14:7  And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.


  1. Thank you for this post. I can't say that I have ever heard or read a more complete explanation of the topic. It all rings true in my ears. I marvel that you could keep it all straight in your head at one time. I have a much shorter attention span. I suppose that is why I write a basics column. :)
    Thanks again. I enjoyed this.

  2. Thanks Kelly! I'm glad it was of value to you. I write these posts as much for my own edification and understanding as I do for that of others. Sometimes the only way that I can keep it all straight so I can understand somethings is by writing it down. I have found that when I have to explain something to others, my own thinking about a given subject becomes much more focused and clear. In any case, feel free to share with your friends.


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