Category Archives: DOCTRINES (i) God’s foreknowledge

The important and debated subject of the foreknowldge of God and what it does and does not involve.

DOCTRINES OF SCRIPTURE: God’s foreknowledge

 

When considering this important subject, we must be guided by the Scriptures alone.  They have supreme authority, and disaster awaits those who ignore this fact.  Just as the Scriptures were written by men who were borne along by the Spirit of God, and thus wrote the words of God, so those who seek to understand those words must do so by the help of that same Spirit of God.  For no Scripture is of any private interpretation, as if the reader is able unaided to understand it.  The Spirit-given Scriptures must be Spirit-explained.

This is not to say that we should despise the thoughts of other men; rather, they, and we, must be subject to the Spirit in His role as the Spirit of Truth, who is able to take of the things of Christ and reveal them unto us.

The apostle Paul warned the Corinthians against allowing worldly thinking to affect their thoughts of God and His truth.  The world crucified Christ in ignorance- eloquent testimony to its failure to understand Divine things.  And we believers have not received the spirit of the world, that attitude of heart and mind which led it to crucify the Lord of Glory, but rather, we have received “the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God”, 1 Corinthians 2:12.  In the first instance these words refer to those who wrote the New Testament, but they have infallibly conveyed to us the truth the Spirit imparted to them, so that we may have at our disposal that which will guide us in our search for truth.

With these cautionary thoughts in mind, we consider the great and mysterious subject of Divine foreknowledge.  As with the study of any Bible concept, all those Scriptures that have a bearing upon it must be taken into account.  Any answer to an exam question which fails to take account of all the information contained in the question, is very likely to be wrong.  In the matter before us, it will not take long to quote the Scriptures involved.  They are as follows:

“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”, Acts 2:23.

“My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify”.  Acts 26:4,5.

“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”, Romans 8:29.

“God hath not cast away His people, which He foreknew“.  Romans 11:2.

“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ”.  1 Peter 1:2.

“Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you”.  1 Peter 1:20.

“Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away by the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness”.  2 Peter 3:17.

The  Greek word used where the text is in italics is based upon the verb “prognostiko”, meaning “to know first, or beforehand”.  We may notice briefly the references to Paul, Acts 26:5, and a believer’s general knowledge, 2 Peter 2:17, for they will serve to remind us that the “knowing before” of unbelievers and believers alike, is general and gradual.  General in the sense that men could not know Saul of Tarsus perfectly.  They could only look at his life and come to an opinion.  So is it also with the knowledge of believers.  Peter writes in 2 Peter 3 of the fact that we know things that will happen in the future, but any discussion of prophecy will soon reveal that there are many matters of which we know very little.  We are given the outline of future things, and the details await their fulfilment.  God’s foreknowledge, however, is not general, but particular and detailed, for all things are open to Him.

God’s foreknowledge is also not general in the sense that it is able to be concerned with specific people, as we shall see from Romans 8:29.  There is an element of involvement with particular people in God’s foreknowledge in that verse, but this is often absent from our knowledge of people and events.

The foreknowledge of man is also gradual.  As events unfold, (in the case of Saul of Tarsus), or as we grasp the truth of Scripture more firmly, (in the case of future events in 2 Peter 3), then we advance in knowledge.  Not so with God, who, being the Eternal God, is not dependent on the passage of time.  To Him all is an eternal, present now.  His grasp of all things is total and immediate.

With these reservations in mind, we concentrate now on the references to Divine foreknowledge in the remaining five passages, looking at them in the order in which they occur in the Scriptures.

THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD AND CHRIST’S CRUCIFIXION

“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”, Acts 2:23.

This passage makes clear that the Divine determinate counsel and Divine foreknowledge are not synonymous terms.  God’s determinate counsel is His settled purpose with regard to events.  God’s foreknowledge is not simply His prior and general knowledge of all things before they happen, but rather His prior knowledge of events and persons as they are included in His gracious purpose.  It is clearly events that are in view in the passage, whereas in Romans 8:29 it is persons.  It is not just people that are the subject of foreknowledge, as is sometimes stated.

Peter is doing three things as he makes his statement.  First, he is assuring the nation of Israel that even though they thought they had the upper hand when they crucified Christ, it was not so.  God’s settled purpose was being carried out.  Moreover, even though it was God’s will that was being done, the hands that did the work were still guilty hands.  It was not God who was morally responsible for what had happened, but they.  This establishes an important principle, that even when God’s permissive will is carried out by men, the blame for any evil done lies entirely with them.

Second, the assurance to those who had believed on Christ during his ministry, that He had not been the victim of circumstances, but everything was under Divine control.  They had great hopes that He would set up His kingdom, instead of which He was nailed to a cross!  Does this mean He has lost control?  Not so, the apostle is saying in effect, for the crucifixion was part of God’s purpose.

Third, he is assuring all, saved and unsaved, that God’s interests lay with Christ, not just when He was being arrested and crucified, but all along, in time and in eternity.  God had taken knowledge eternally of what His Son would do, and in accordance with that He allowed men to work out their plan.  The objects of God’s foreknowledge are of special interest to Him, and any who attack those objects of interest place themselves in great peril.  No wonder the apostle appealed to his audience to save themselves from the generation who had crucified God’s Son!  Acts 2:40.

THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD AND THE BELIEVER (1)

“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”, Romans 8:29.

In Romans 8:26-39 the apostle is encouraging believers in a two-fold way.  First, he shows that the sufferings they were experiencing, which often perplexed them, (so that they did not know what to pray for as they ought), were all working together for good.  And if they were tempted to doubt this, then the apostle makes clear that the believer is totally secure within the bounds of Divine Purpose.  Second, he encourages them with the thought that as far as the Courts of Divine Justice are concerned, there is no condemnation for them.  If they are arraigned before the courts of men and unjustly accused, tried, and sentenced, they may rest assured that this cannot affect their standing in relation to Divine righteousness.

Before time and space began God had them in His thoughts, for they are the object of His foreknowledge.  Now clearly God would not be God if He did not know beforehand everything that would happen.  But here there is a special knowledge which involves relationship; a relationship which God does not have with unbelievers.  It is only those who are foreknown in this specialised way that can be described as predestinated, called, justified and glorified.  (An example of this sort of knowledge can be found in Amos 3:2, where God says of Israel that “you only have I known among all the families of the earth”.  Of course God knows about the other nations, but the nation of Israel was His peculiar treasure, and He knew them as such).

Notice that those foreknown are not just predestinated, but are also called, justified and glorified.  The whole scope of God’s purpose is in view.  Note also that it is not until the apostle has outlined that purpose that he begins to call the believers “God’s elect”, verse 33.  The elect therefore are all those who are in the good of God’s foreknowing, predestinating, calling, justifying and glorifying activity.  We shall have reason to look at this point again when considering 1 Peter 1:2.

Those thus known are predestinated, not to heaven, but to a particular status, that of conformity to the image of His Son.  The word predestinate might give to us the false impression that destinations, (heaven or hell) are in view.  But it is not so, for the word simply means “to mark out the boundaries beforehand”.  That there are boundaries to the position is a great comfort to tried saints, but it is important to realise that it is moral position of which the apostle writes, even that of conformity to the image of God’s Son.  This ensures that He will be represented and replicated by His people in an unhindered way.

Those thus predestinated are now said to be called.  Now this call is the call of the gospel, which, because it concerns “God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”, Romans 1:3, is a matter of deepest interest to God.  Any who are involved believingly with His Son are the objects of His care and concern.  Note the apostle does not say that the predestinated ones believe, but are called.  The fact that he goes on to speak of them being justified shows they did in fact believe, for justification is by faith, but the apostle does not introduce anything of man into the reasoning of this passage.  He is skilfully turning the believers away from themselves and their troubles, so that they may concentrate wholly on God’s purpose.

There are those who believe in two sorts of gospel call, the general and the effectual.  By this they mean that God calls all men indiscriminately in the gospel, but only in the case of some does He make this effectual, enabling them to believe.  This is erroneous, and is a serious slur on the integrity and sincerity of God.  It has led some to speak of a “tongue-in-cheek gospel”, a gospel that is made to sound as if it is for everyone, but which in fact is only for the elect few.  It also makes those who hold this view insincere as they preach, for telling the audience that “whosoever will”, may “come and take of the water of life freely”, Revelation 22:17, whilst all the time believing that the majority of unbelievers present in the audience are not elect, and therefore cannot come, is insincere.  The apostle was able to say “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile”, 1 Thessalonians 2:3.

The truth is that God has no hidden agenda.  He is perfectly righteous in His dealings, not saying one thing while meaning another.  He does not present the gospel to men to tantalise them, holding out to them something that He knows full well they cannot have.  Cannot have, moreover, not because of some reason lying within them, but a cause lying within Himself, namely, His refusal to give faith to any but the elect.  If it is impossible for men to believe, how is it the god of this world has to blind the minds of men so that they do not believe?  The Calvinist says they cannot believe without Divine intervention- it seems the Devil does not believe that!  He uses every tactic he can to prevent men believing, and needs to do so, because the ability to believe is part of man’s constitution as created by God after His image and in His likeness.

So in what sense is this call said to be of those who are predestinated?  Does it not appear from the passage that the call is only to these in some way?  After all, it is only the elect who are foreknown, predestinated, justified, glorified; is it not also the elect only that are called?  When thinking of this we must remember that the apostle is not telling us of a process here, but is unfolding the moral order in which eternal purpose is described.  It appears to us that the call comes before the justification, and in practice and experience it does, but in the context here it is not so, and for this reason.  When God predestinates to a particular status, then it is done.  This is seen when we omit the italicised words in Romans 8:29- “He also did predestinate conformed to the image of His Son”.  Our view of things is that the predestination took place in what we call eternity past, and the conformity will be effected in what we call eternity future.  But the fact is there is no such thing with God as eternity past or future, for the words “past” and “future” have to do with time.

So if what we think of as a process is really settled purpose, then it is no surprise that the apostle does not take account of the call of the gospel to those who do not respond to it.  He is only interested in showing the way in which a soul becomes involved in God’s eternal plan.  So when he states that God called the predestinated ones, he is in no wise implying that the call does not come equally to those not foreknown and predestinated.  What he is definitely saying is that those who do respond to the call are certain to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, since that is the way God sovereignly decrees it should happen in practice.

Summarising, we may say the following things about God’s foreknowledge as presented in this passage: 1. It is not general, but specific. 2. It is not gradual, but complete. 3. It is not temporal, but eternal in its nature.

THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD AND ISRAEL

“God hath not cast away His people, which He foreknew”.  Romans 11:2.

When the boundaries of the nations were set after the scattering because of Babel, then the sons of Adam were divided up in relation to the people of Israel, even though as a nation they were not yet formed. They were in the mind of God, however, for “When The Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.  For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance”, Deuteronomy 32:8,9.  When Christ rules as King of Israel, it will be a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world, Matthew 25:34.  He has not cast away the nation utterly, for they are destined for greatness according to His foreknowledge.  Note Leviticus 26:45, “But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the Lord”.  God’s foreknowledge in this passage has to do with His dealings with the nations before Israel became a nation.  Paul argues that the God who displayed such interest in their formation and preservation, will not cast them away with the result that His purpose for them is not realised, especially since that purpose involves being ruled over by His Son, the Messiah.

THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD AND THE BELIEVER (2)

“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ”.  1 Peter 1:2.

Strictly speaking the word elect is connected with the word “strangers” of verse 1.  However, to read- “to the elect strangers…according to the foreknowledge of God” would not make good sense.  For we might think that the specific reference is to being strangers according to the foreknowledge of God, whereas the point is that they are elect according to the foreknowledge of God.  Noting this does serve to highlight a very important matter, which is this.

Believers, when considered personally, are not described as elect before they have become believers. 

Of course Ephesians 1:4 does speak of believers, “us”, as being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.  The operative words being “in Him”, which occur throughout the passage- “faithful in Christ Jesus…spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ…chosen us in Him…in the beloved…in whom we have redemption…gather together in one all things in Christ…even in Him…in whom we also have obtained an inheritance.  When, for instance, we read the expression “in whom we have redemption”, we rightly conclude that the redemption is totally Christ’s responsibility, and our only claim upon it is our claim upon Him.  The redemption and its benefits lie entirely within Christ, and we have no input at all.  So is it with being “chosen in Him”.  God’s choice of His people is entirely dependant upon Christ, and only as men are linked to Christ upon believing are they personally in the good of what eternally has been vested in Christ.

As we observed when thinking of Romans 8, it is not until the whole range of God’s purpose has been set out that Paul calls the believers “God’s elect”.  There is no such person in the Word of God as an elect sinner.  Only when he has believed can he be described as elect.  This is not to say that sinners elect themselves, for that is certainly untrue.  Election is God’s prerogative alone, but we ought to be open to allowing Him to say how He does it, rather than formulating our own system and imposing it upon the Scriptures.

This verse is critical in seeking to understand election, insofar as that is possible for finite minds.  (We should not hide behind our finiteness in order to avoid the issue, however).  The apostle is describing elect persons, and he is saying that they are elect “according to” something, “through” something, and “unto” two things: They are elect according to the foreknowledge of God. They are elect through sanctification of the Spirit. They are elect unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. So these four things, (not just the first one), are constituent parts of their status as elect ones.

They are elect according to the foreknowledge of God.
As we have noticed from Romans 8:29, God’s foreknowledge is neither general nor gradual, but personal and eternal.  In His mind, and in eternity, God knowingly took account of certain specific persons.  He purposed that those persons will be conformed eventually to the image of His Son- so His foreknowledge takes account of that.  (That state of conformity to the image of His Son is another way of saying they are glorified).  This state of glory is granted only to those who are justified- His foreknowledge takes account of that.  That state of being justified is the portion only of those who have obeyed the call of the gospel- His foreknowledge takes account of that, too.  The result is that the foreknowledge of God has taken account of all these parts of the Divine Purpose, and when those persons obey God’s call in the gospel they may rightly be described as elect.

They are elect through sanctification of the Spirit.
Peter is writing to those who had been brought up as part of a nation that God had separated to Himself.  “Ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation”, were His words to Israel in Exodus 19:6.  But Peter’s readers have been saved, and now they are separated to God as individual believers, for sanctification is no longer national.  Thus it was that upon believing the Spirit of God severed them from their natural connections, and they were joined to Christ.  Now that they are believers, they may be described as elect.  So they are elect through the sanctification of the Spirit.

They are elect unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. 
The means whereby God formed a holy nation for Himself was by entering into a covenant with Israel.  He stated, “ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is mine”, Exodus 19:5.  In other words, God is saying that He could choose any people wherever they are upon the earth, but He chose the children of Israel, to be a people for Him to have for Himself specially, His “peculiar treasure”.  And what was to be distinctive about this people?  Two things; first, obedience- “if ye will obey My voice”.  Second, faithfulness to His covenant- “and keep My covenant”.  Now that covenant of the law was ratified by the sprinkling of blood, for we read, “Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant , which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words”, Exodus 24:8.

So we can easily see that Peter is using this as a means of contrasting their present individual position with their former national position.  God’s choice of the nation and their sanctification was closely connected with obedience and sprinkling of blood.  So Peter’s readers, as believers, are God’s elect, for He had taken foreknowledge of them, separated them to Himself in the power of the Spirit, and done so in view of obedience and the sprinkling of blood.  But whereas the obedience was to be Israel’s, as they attempted to keep the law, the obedience Peter refers to is Christ’s, (the words “Jesus Christ” relate to both obedience and sprinkling), as He committed Himself to being the covenant victim in accordance with His Father’s command.  Before He left the Upper Room to go to Calvary, He spoke of “the blood of the new covenant which is shed for you”, showing that for Him, the establishing of the new covenant in His blood was a foregone conclusion, so determined was He. It is this precious blood that has been applied to the hearts of His people, so that they are eternally bonded to Him.

Summarising, we may conclude that God’s elect ones are those whom He has foreknown eternally; who have been set apart by the Spirit to be His own; who are in the good of the obedient submission of Christ to His Father’s will that He be the covenant victim for His people.

So we have seen in Romans 8 that all parts of God’s purpose, whether foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, or glorification, must come into view before men are described as God’s elect.  Likewise we have seen in 1 Peter 1 that God’s people are described as elect in connection with foreknowledge, sanctification, obedience, and sprinkling of blood.  That sprinkling of blood assumes our belief in Him.

At this point we may draw a very important conclusion.  Since in both Romans 8 and 1 Peter 1 obedience to the call of the gospel is implied, and since all the elements of the purpose of God must be taken account of when considering the foreknowledge of God, we may safely conclude that belief of the gospel by men is part of that of which God takes foreknowledge.  And since the believer’s election is in accordance with God’s foreknowledge, we are justified in saying that election takes account of the exercise of faith.