What is ‘God’s Decree’?

The decree of God is a notion I’ve found puzzling since I first heard it while watching Calvinists discussing theology on YouTube. I simply didn’t understand the term. To me, a decree is a kind of command or order. But this didn’t seem to be the meaning of the term conveyed by Calvinists when using it in a theological context.

With my curiosity piqued, I decided to do a little research, a summary of which I’ll recount below. Then I’d like to open this one up to my readers to get your insights, if you would be so kind…

God has been working for thousands of years on His plan or decree of redemption for mankind, particularly those who submit to God in repentance and faith.

(www.patheos.com)

Okay, this is helpful. So God’s decree is just a way of describing the Gospel. Or is it broader than that? Perhaps God’s decree is His plan for humankind. Or actually, is it broader still? Does it mean His eternal plan for the entirety of creation?

The Decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to His will, whereby He has foreordained whatever comes to pass.

(www.carm.org)

I understand by this that God’s decree is His plan for the entirety of existence throughout all eternity. So is the word ‘decree’ just a synonym for ‘purpose’?

The decree of God is His purpose or determination with respect to future things. We have used the singular number as Scripture does (Rom 8:28, Eph 3:11), because there was only one act of His infinite mind about future things.

(www.theopedia.com)

Romans 8:28 talks of God’s ‘purpose’ and Ephesians 3:11 talks of God’s ‘eternal purpose’, providing further evidence that we’re honing in on the meaning of the term under investigation.

It’s worth noting that Calvinists talk about God’s decree (singular) rather than decrees (plural). I found this confusing as well. If we take the literal meaning of decree (order or command) then it’s somewhat illogical to apply this to God (what would it mean to speak of God’s single eternal command? The plural ‘decrees’ – commands – would make more sense). So again the point is that ‘decree’ is being used by Calvinists in a non-literal sense.

So my conclusion, based on this (admittedly, limited) research, is that when Calvinists talk about God’s decree it’s just a fancy way of say His ‘plan’ or ‘purpose’. The word ‘decree’ isn’t used often in Scripture in the context of God’s plan or purpose, which I think is why I felt somewhat frustrated and confused hearing the term used by Calvinists in this non-literal and not necessarily intuitive way.

Got something to add? Feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!

26 comments

  1. Regarding such things, in 31-plus years as a Christian, I never concerned myself with what Calvinists, Arminians, or Dispensationists have to say. I find it much more beneficial devoting my time to study of the Bible. It’s worked pretty well!

    1. Woo-hoo! (That is my officially celebratory/affirming/gladdence proclamation/pronouncement/decree as to the priority you present in this comment!)

      The survey of uses of “decree” was also interesting. I don’t know that I’ve paused to listen to that word as Calvinists or others talk, either.

    2. My thoughts exactly. But also…because we are born again Jesus has given us the power to decree His Word. For example, His Word says I am prosperous & I declare that. I decree that I am victorious because His Word has decreed that I am. What God has decreed I now must make personal in faith for these things to work in my life & my family’s life as well.

    1. Hi Mel, thank you. Yes, I think this is why I was confused. It seems that Calvinists (and perhaps others) use the term in a non-literal way. Everyone’s insights (including yours) are helping, though.

  2. Steven, Welcome to the world of Theo-babble. While I have always had issue with many of the Calvinist TULIP ideas, I am in agreement with dettinger that the scriptures rather than “higher theology” should be in the forefront f a believer’s study efforts. Theo-babble of course is an occupational hazard for me as a religious teacher, but where ever possible (except where it is necessary for academic reasons)I try to stick to plain English in instructing my students, and congregations.

    1. Thanks, Padre. I agree that ‘theo-babble’, as you described it, can confuse and complicate matters. I guess it’s dangerous when religion becomes an intellectual pursuit, as that’s not the Gospel at all.

  3. Calvinists are by no means the only theological party who use the concept of God’s eternal decree. Yes, it is essentially a synonym to God’s purpose or will, but the point of calling it a decree is that it is not just his plan or idea, but his intention which cannot fail. Humans make plans and have purposes common but those can fall through. Kings can make edicts and decrees, but even they can fail. But God makes true degrees… His ways are perfect and unfailing 🙂
    I can recommend a calvinist blogger, though, if you’re interested in understanding that system better.

  4. I like what padresramblings and David have to say about keeping to what the Scripture says. The confusing term is simply a theological system’s best shot at trying to categorize the truth that its followers find in Scripture. These categories or man-constructed definitions may or may not be helpful or instructive… I’m glad you took the time to investigate. I think you sorted it out very well. And I definitely agree that sticking with the Scripture’s words– God’s purpose– is much less confusing. The Holy Spirit -inspired Word of God always explains things best. And in contrast, humanity gets all tangled up in its attempts to put everything in neat and tidy boxes…In my humble opinion, this is likely the case with the confusing term, “decree of God.” Once again, I love that you carefully examine what you read. You are a true and life-long student! Bravo!

    1. Thanks so much, Lynn. I do get a bit frustrated with what Padre described as ‘theo-babble’. It can be really confusing. I must be careful not to be guilty of that myself, as strange terminology can certainly confuse and alienate people!

      God bless 🙂

  5. Just to add my two cents, as one who identifies with the Calvinist position, in my mind, whenever I hear of God’s ‘decree’, I think of it in the sense that when “God said, “Let there be light.”, there was light”. All things come into existence by his will–creation, the gospel, humanity, etc.–and the term ‘decree’, from my understanding, is meant to describe God’s ordering of all things into existence, the enactment of his plan.

    I feel your pain, though. It’s sort of a Christain-ese term that we don’t always stop to define. And Calvinists, especially the young and untrained, myself included (I’m not sinless), like to hijack these words and phrases without thinking about it.

  6. I’ve never studied what Calvinist believe, or and other of the “ists” or “isms” so once again Steven I am of absolutely no help here. I actually didn’t know about any of these, until I started blogging. Every time I learn about a new one, all I think is a house divided. I am always curious though, do they believe with their heart, and confess with their mouth that Jesus died for their sins, and God raised Him from the dead?

    1. Hi Margaret!

      Certainly the Calvinists I know believe those things. I think often people use complex terminology to describe things that we all think about and that most Christians would say are important. For instance, ‘soteriology’ is a clumsy term but it just means looking at the idea of salvation, which is important to everyone. Unfortunately the language we use can be confusing and alienating.

      God bless you, Margaret, and thank you for your comment!

      1. Thanks Steven. I don’t know why “man” tries to make it so complicated :):) Maybe it’s goes back to the old sayings: nothing comes easy, or nothing is worth having unless you work hard for it. God made it so simple for us, believe in His Son, and love one another. Of course, He knew that we couldn’t manage much more than that. The Old Testament had LOTS of things for us to do, rules, sacrifices, and we couldn’t manage that hahaha :):) so He had to make it easy. As in, can you all just believe and love?

        Thanks for answering my question Steven. God Bless you :):)

    1. Hi Bishop Bishop!

      Many thanks for your comment, and I’m grateful that you nominated me for a blogging award – thank you! I actually don’t participate in such awards, but I’m very grateful for the sentiment.

      Thank you, friend, and have a wonderful day!

  7. Some calvinists are hard determinists. They believe there is no free will at all. There are other calvinists who believe there is what is called creaturely free will, which means that humans act in accordance with their fallen, sinful nature.

    10-1 In his original creation man was endowed with the ability to will and do good or evil and was accountable for his willing and doing. But through the fall of Adam man lost his ability, apart from God’s grace, to will and to do those things necessary for a right relationship with God; however, he is still accountable to God for obedience to all of His commands. Man has not lost his ability to make decisions, but left to himself, he acts only in accordance with his fallen, sinful nature.
    10-2 Only by God’s infinite grace can man will or do anything necessary to his salvation. By that grace, God saves those men whom He causes to will and to do good; however, He does this without nullifying man’s ability to act responsibly.

    https://lebanonbfc.org/us/beliefs-statement-of-faith/

    1. Hi Ricky!

      Many thanks for your thoughts and the link you shared.

      I find it a very strange idea that God could be sovereign over some aspects of life (i.e. salvation) and not others (i.e. sin). Surely, either God is in control of our lives, or He isn’t.

      I believe it fundamentally comes down to how we understand God’s nature – His being. What do we mean when we refer to God? What is the nature of this being?

      If you have a read of some of my articles you will quickly pick up my perspective on this – that God’s omnipresence necessarily means there is nothing outside of God. And if there is nothing outside of God, then all will is God’s will – we do not have free will.

      In my experience many Calvinists are very confused over the relationship between God’s will and human free will. They want to say God is sovereign over all events, while still holding onto the idea that we are sinners in need of salvation. For me, this doesn’t add up.

      Check out one of my recent article on the subject:
      https://perfectchaos.org/2018/01/29/gods-grand-game/

      God bless you and thanks again!

      Steven

      1. I did read a few of your other articles. Do you affirm Sola scriptura? I think that may be the difference between our approaches. Most calvinists would start with Sola Scriptura as their basis for knowledge and understanding of the world. In most statements of faith you will see the inerrancy and inspiration of scripture as the starting belief. If the Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant Word of God as they claim to be (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:21-22, Jesus Himself spoke highly of the OT and quoted from it as the inspired Scripture Matthew 22:29 , Matthew 19:4, 5; 22:31, 32, 43; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37. in 2 Peter 3:16 Peter speaks of Paul”s writing as Scripture.) then we should caution against bring our ideas about God to Him or the Bible and instead let God reveal Himself to us through the reading, studying, and hearing of the Word preached exposiotpnally. I would just respectfully caution against coming to God from a philosophical starting point or from our understanding rather than coming to God from what He reveals to us through His Word. I think I saw in one of your articles, think it was about TULIP, that you stated at the beginning that you weren’t using Scripture as your basis. I would say we should use Scripture as the basis. If you’re seeking to understand calvinism and or Christianity I think you should study Sola scriptura if you haven’t. I would direct you to this transcript of a debate that Dr. James White did in 1993 with a Catholic. http://vintage.aomin.org/SANTRAN.html
        You could also do a Web search for Dr. White Sola scriptura or any other calvinist writing about it, as there are many who have written about the subject of Sola Scriptura. Here is another link, this one from monergism:
        https://www.monergism.com/understanding-sola-scriptura
        Enjoy the discussion,
        God bless.

        1. Hi Ricky,

          I’m familiar with Dr. White and have read a few of his books (including Scripture Alone), and I actually tune in to The Dividing Line fairly regularly. I’m not sure where I stand on Sola Scriptura, to be honest.

          Thanks for your response, and for the links.

          God bless,

          Steven

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