March 25, 2014

Some Thoughts on Foreknowledge

All Bible-believing Christians believe in predestination.

Yes, that's right. All Bible-believing Christians believe in predestination because this doctrine is clearly taught in Scripture. The only question is, "What does predestination mean?" The Scriptures clearly describe God's people as being elect, chosen, or predestined to salvation (Matthew 22:10; Luke 10:21; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:28-30, 33; 11:5; 1 Corinthians 1:27; Ephesians 1:4-5, 11; Colossians 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; James 2:5; Revelation 17:14). The only question left for the Bible-believer, then, is not whether believers are predestined to salvation but how or in what sense believers are predestined to salvation. 
Romans 8:28-30 is, arguably, the classic passage on predestination or election. It reads as follows:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
"Well," some might say, "our problem is solved because this text clearly teaches that predestination is according to foreknowledge." God, it is claimed, elects or predestines to salvation those whom he foresees will have faith in Christ.

Not so fast, though. There are several problems with this understanding of foreknowledge. Here are a few reasons why this view of God's foreknowledge is untenable:
  • First of all, the text says nothing about foreseen faith. What is foreseen is not the faith of believers but the believers themselves.
  • Second, this view assumes that fallen sinners have the ability to regenerate themselves, to save themselves, essentially, by mustering up saving faith under their own power without the help of the Holy Spirit. Other Scriptures clearly teach that saving faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), so, even if this passage is merely teaching that God simply knows ahead of time who will believe, given the biblical doctrine of the new birth (John 3:3-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; 1 Peter 1:3, 23), ultimately, God still determines who will believe. If God were simply peering into the future, hoping to see those who will believe in him apart from his intervention, there simply wouldn't be any believers there for him to see. Apart from the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, all men are dead in sin—enemies of God (Romans 1:18-30; Jeremiah 17:9; Ephesians 2:1, 5).
  • This view of foreknowledge assumes that there is something apart from God's decree out there to be known. But if God's decree includes all things (which it does, see Psalm 139:16; Job 14:5; Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6; Matthew 10:29-30; Acts 4:28), then there is nothing to be foreknown apart from what God has already decreed. God foreknows the future because he has already determined the future (Isaiah 46:9-11). The only alternative is some sort of nebulous, autonomous realm which somehow exists apart from God's control. Something independent of God's creating and sustaining power. Such a realm would have to be uncreated and self-existent, rivaling God himself for absolute ontological supremacy. Surely we don't want to go there, do we?
  • While the English word "foreknow" does simply mean "to have previous knowledge of" or "know beforehand," the Greek word which it translates, proginosko, means something more. Proginosko means "to befriend or be acquainted with someone in a familiar way ahead of time or before meeting; implying an exclusivity of choice relative to those not befriended." The word "foreknow" in this context literally means to select or choose beforehand.
  • Paul is not the only biblical author to speak of foreknowledge. In his first epistle, Peter describes believers as "elect exiles . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:1-2). Later in this very chapter, Peter writes of Christ that he was "foreknown before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20). Does it make any sense whatsoever to say that God the Father simply knew about God the Son ahead of time? Does it make any sense for Peter to use the same word in the same context with two entirely different meanings? The answer to both is, "No."
So, yes, predestination is according to foreknowledge. It is according to God's prior choice of his people. He chooses them, not only before they have faith, but before he even creates them—before the foundation of the world. He chooses them beforehand and appoints them to a certain destiny—to be made like Christ. God chooses whom he will save beforehand. This means, of course, that there are others who are not chosen. This is where the most vehement objections come. Paul, though, anticipates and answers these objections in the next chapter of his letter to the Romans.

Romans 9:15-16, 19-24
For [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it [salvation] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. . . . You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
If Paul held the popular view of foreknowledge, that it simply means "to know beforehand," would he have written this? No, he wouldn't have needed to. The objections he answers here would not be brought against that view of foreknowledge

This biblical view of foreknowledge can be hard for us to accept, but, at the end of the day, we simply have to let God be God. Rather than bucking against these biblical truths, we should find comfort in the fact that God truly is in control of all things—even our salvation. From start to finish, salvation really is all of grace. This truth should humble us and lead us to bow before the sovereign Lord of the universe, amazed at his unbelievable mercy—and his unwavering justice and holiness. Our salvation is a means to an end—the revelation of God's glory in salvation through judgment. We only rail against the idea that God's ultimate goal is the revelation of his own glory rather than our salvation because we have a low view of God and a high view of ourselves. Ask yourself this, "Are God's creatures more intrinsically valuable than God himself?" Are fallen sinners like you and I so valuable or worthy that God ought to be seeking our comfort and happiness above his own glory? If so, then why do we worship him at all? If God's glory is not the most intrinsically valuable thing there is—then God is not worthy of worship, but, if God's glory really is the greatest good in existence, then he (and we) would be wrong to place a higher value on anything else.

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