Archive for November, 2010

“God’s election is based on His foreknowledge.”

All too often, a misunderstanding of one of the most important terms in the discussion clouds the issue. The term that is misunderstood is “foreknowledge.” Roman Catholic theology, lacking the concept of salvation by grace through faith, view the term as referring to God’s “foresight” of future events; that is, God, knowing the future, “chooses” those whom He knows will be receptive to His will and who will repent from their sins and turn to Him. The is the same position held by Arminians. In other words, God elects on the basis of the actions of man (though seen in the future) rather than on the sole basis of HIS will and purpose. Is this the correct understanding of this single word?


We must first understand how the word was used. The Greek term translated by the noun “foreknowledge” is prognosis. The word in its verb form is proginosko. It is the verb form that is found in the two most frequently sited verses (Romans 8:29 and I Peter 1:20. The noun form is found in Acts 2:23 and I Peter 1:2.


At a glance, we can see the world is formed by joining the prefix pro (before) and ginosko (to know). There is also another word for “know” in the New Testament, and that word is oida.


We also must look at how the New Testament period writers (who spoke and wrote in Greek) translated the Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew. The Hebrew word “to know” is yada. Both the Greek terms above are used to translate this Hebrew word into the Greek language when compiling the Septuagint (a Greek Old Testament). Ginosko is used 500 times as the translation for yada. What does yada mean in Hebrew? It most definitely does not refer to mere intellectual cognizance.


• God says He “knew” Jeremiah even before he was formed in his mother’s womb. This knowledge is synonymous with God’s setting apart of the prophet. It is an active term, not a passive gathering of information.

• Genesis tells us that Adam “knew” Eve and a baby was conceived!

• God told Israel (through Amos) that they “only have I known among all the nations of the earth.” This cannot possibly be mere intellectual knowledge but a personal and intimate relationship. Indeed, the NIV and NASB render yada as “chosen.”

• God told Moses that he had found favor in His sight and that God “knew” Moses by name. God allowed Moses to enter into a very special relationship with Him. This passage from Exodus 33:12-17 is used heavily by Paul in his teachings on election in Romans 9. We can be pretty sure his teachings in the latter part of Romans 8 is also drawn from here (remember, Paul didn’t break his letter down into individual chapters).

• In the NT, Jesus asserts that he “knows” His sheep. Elsewhere, He states that He will one day say to some, “I never KNEW you.” What type of knowledge is Jesus denying here – mental awareness or relational intimacy?


We can say that when it is God who is doing the “knowing” and when the object of this “knowing” is personal, this refers not to a knowledge of data or facts but of a personal relationship.


There are two verses in particular that are often brought up in an attempt to prove that election is BASED on foreknowledge. First we will consider Paul’s writing:


Romans 8:29-30 states, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son . . . whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”


In these two verses, foreknowledge precedes predestination. But notice that Paul does not say foreknowledge determines predestination. We see once again that the object of God’s action (note the active and not passive) of foreknowledge is a person, not an event or a plan or a person’s actions. He foreknows SOMEONE, not SOMETHING. He simply says that God elected those whom He would foreknow. Who else could He elect? Before God can choose anyone, He must have them in His mind as the objects of His choices.


In fact the text in question does not say that God foresees some event (our faith) or action people perform, but rather, says “those He foreknew…” In other words Paul communicates that God foreknows people. In the Scriptures whenever it speaks of God “knowing” people it refers to those objects He has set His personal affection on. It expresses the intimacy of personal knowledge within the framework of the covenantal relationship between God and His people. The relationship implies a commitment on God’s part


Paul uses this exact same word later in 11:2, where he writes “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” This is written about Israel, God’s chosen people. In Deuteronomy 7:6-7, God tells Israel that He “did not set His love on you or choose you because you were more in number thatn any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of the peoples.” God chose Israel freely and without ANY reference to them as individuals or as a group. The reasons He chose Israel and not Egypt or Canaan or the Hittites was entirely and only up to Him.


However, if the simple foreknowledge view is taken here (and it MUST in order to be consistent), we are left with the absurd statement that God chose Israel because He foresaw Israel would first choose Him. Can anyone with even the slightest familiarity with Israel’s history make such a statement?


Now, let’s look at another example from Peter:


I Peter 1:1-4 says “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion …, to God’s elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,

I Peter 1:20-21 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.


In Peter’s letter, we see the same order: foreknowledge followed by predestination. However, as we have seen, this is a sovereign decision whereby God enters into a special relationship with the object of His foreknowledge. it is good to continue reading past verse 2 to verse three, which says that the Father, “according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” Notice that Peter attributes our spiritual regeneration to what God, out of His “great mercy,” has sovereignly done for us — and not upon anything inherent within us or arising out of human volition!


I do understand that one of the main reasons that some Christians cling to this idea is that they wish to preserve God’s indiscriminate love to all and can’t imagine a God whom would “arbitrarily” choose some and condemn the rest. If unconditional election were true, they reason, then why doesn’t God save everyone? Wouldn’t choosing some and leaving others make God arbitrary in His choice?

Indeed, the Arminian must take the verse that says “Many are called but few are chosen” and stand it on its head to read “Many are called but few choose.”


Let it be noted that the objection that foreordination is inconsistent with free agency bears equally against the doctrine of the foreknowledge of God. If God foreknows an event as future, it must be as inevitably certain as if fore-ordained; and if one is inconsistent with free agency, the other is also. This is often frankly admitted; and the Unitarians, while not evangelical, are at this point more consistent than the Arminians. They say that God knows all that is knowable, but that free acts are uncertain and that it is doing no dishonor to God to say that He does not know them.


The more internally consistent an Arminian is, the closer he must come to becoming an Open Theist. Open Theists value free will so much (and say that God does as well), that not even God knows what our incredible free will will decide to do in the future. This is indeed the logical outcome of nonreformed thought.

Arminians believe election is BASED on FOREKNOWLEDGE. They teach that God looks down through history and SEES all who will believe and subsequently elects those specific individuals to salvation. God knows who will believe and elects individuals only because he knows that they will all eventually believe. In effect, God chooses us because we first chose Him. Two verses are often used to buttress this philosophy:


There are several things one must honestly consider in holding to the simple foreknowledge view:

1) In Matthew 7:23, Jesus explained that at the end of time He, as judge, we have to tell some very religious people “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Obviously, Jesus, as omniscient God, KNOWS these people. He knows all. So how can He claim He never “knew” them. He must be speaking of an intimate relational knowledge.


2) Foreknowledge sometimes refers to one’s previous knowledge about someone. In the Scriptures, when the word is used with God, it speaks of a choice made ahead of the time. And to “know” sometimes means “to choose” (Genesis 18:18-19 concerning God choosing Abraham, see marginal note; Jeremiah 1:5) and to “foreknow” sometimes means to “choose ahead of time.” In Romans 11:2 and 1 Peter 1:20, “foreknew” cannot mean simply “knew about ahead of time.” It has to mean, “chosen or selected ahead of time.”


3) If God’s choice of us is determined by our choice of Him, then we are the initiators of salvation, and God is the responder. This contradicts Scripture (Hebrews 12:1-2; Philippians 1:6, etc.), and it is inconsistent both with the sovereignty of God and with the nature of grace. The Scriptures teach that God is the initiator of faith and salvation, not men (John 6:44; Acts 13:48; 16:13; see also Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:31-34).


4) The major problem is that this prescient view forces us to do the impossible: choose God while still in our fallen state. If election depends on God foreseeing our faith, we would first change the word to “post-destination” since God is responding to something we have done. More importantly, if election depends on God foreseeing our faith, He would never see ANY faith at all. If God’s choice of those whom He would save was based upon his foreknowledge of those who would choose Him, no one would be saved because of human depravity (see John 6:37, 44; Romans 3:9-18). No one would choose God unless God first chose us, regenerated us, and gave us the faith to respond to the gospel. Paul went to great lengths in Romans and elsewhere to unequivocally state that fallen man does NOT seek God and will NEVER choose God on his own (see below):


a. Romans 3:10-11 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

b. Romans 8:6-8 “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

c. I Corinthians 2:14 “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

d. John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”


By Jeff Spry (www.monergism.com)

***This is part of a blog series on the Sovereignty of God. This topic has been highly mis-understood throughout much of evangelicalism. Some will say they believe that God is sovereign, yet deny its many implications. Others will completely deny God’s Sovereignty because of it’s implications. We hope that you will stick with this extensive study on the Sovereignty of God. We will be including resources from a variety of Theologians and Authors, that will hopefully be able to answer many of the misnomers and questions that you may have***


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Why didn’t God simply elect ALL? Or at least MORE?


Behind this question is the humanistic assumptions that man is basically good and that God OWES salvation to all. First, in asking this question, it reveals that we don’t fully appreciate the effects of original sin in our nature and body. We deny total depravity. Furthermore, the Calvinist believes God does not owe many anything. He is the Creator (Potter) and we are the creature (clay). God does with us as HE WILLS! God was not under obligation to save anyone at all. If he saves some, He does not have to save all.


But Arminians must also answer, “Why don’t more people choose what is so obviously the best choice?” Both sides must admit that much (if not most) of the population is NOT coming to know Christ as Savior. Both believe that God could have arranged the salvation of many more if that were His only priority. There are millions who die without ever hearing the Gospel or reading a Bible.


How does God choose or elect for salvation? According to the “good pleasure of His will” (Eph 1:5). Paul reminded the Romans in chapter 9 that God told Moses “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” Elsewhere (Rom 9), God says “Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated.” Many have tried to avoid the power of this passage by saying that Paul is referring to nations, not people. Besides the point that nations are made up of individuals who are therefore also chosen, the salient point is that Paul explains election by citing God’s sovereign choice of two historic individuals. Paul goes on to say that the choice of Jacob over Esau was “not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” This seems to fly smack in the face of the Arminian view that man (who wills and runs) makes the choice.


By definition, mercy is not something God is obliged to give. It is His sovereign prerogative to grant or withhold it. This does not mean His choice is capricious or arbitrary. He has His reasons but only he knows them. We can know that choice is not based on anything found within us. His pleasure is GOOD. If something pleases God, it must be good. God was completely within His “rights” to choose ANY OF US. That would have violated no precept of justice or righteousness.


However, it still seems that if God gives grace to one, He “ought” to give it to all. This “oughtness” is where we trip up. You will not find the word “ought” in any definition of grace. God certainly has the power to save all, and the right, if that is His good pleasure. God also certainly has the right to save NONE. Those who are not saved are not victim’s of God’s cruelty; they are worthy recipients of His righteous judgment. No one receives judgment they don’t deserve; however, some DO receive grace they do not deserve.


Consider a prison with ten men on death row, all justly convicted of capital crimes. Now suppose the warden grants a pardon to inmate #3. Is it wrong that he has not pardoned the other nine? Of course not. He didn’t have to pardon #3 but did. That in no way implies that he MUST pardon the remaining guilty criminals. In the plan of salvation, God never does anything “bad.” Some get justice (which is what they deserve) and some get mercy.


By Jeff Spry (www.monergism.com)

***This is part of a blog series on the Sovereignty of God. This topic has been highly mis-understood throughout much of evangelicalism. Some will say they believe that God is sovereign, yet deny its many implications. Others will completely deny God’s Sovereignty because of it’s implications. We hope that you will stick with this extensive study on the Sovereignty of God. We will be including resources from a variety of Theologians and Authors, that will hopefully be able to answer many of the misnomers and questions that you may have***

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What about human freedom? Divine sovereignty seems to rule out or excludes human responsibility.


Not at all. Divine sovereignty is the basis for human responsibility. Many have most foolishly said that it is quite impossible to show where Divine sovereignty ends and creature accountability begins. Here is where creature responsibility begins: in the sovereign ordination of the Creator. As to His sovereignty, there is not and never will be any end to it!


Are God’s sovereignty and human freedom/responsibility contradictions? Curiously, NO! If they were contradictions, than one of the two would have to go. Obviously, God is sovereign and obviously, the Bible declares that humans are responsible free creatures. There are numerous passages in the Bible that reveal how God deals (or perhaps, “interferes” or “meddles”) with humans and their alleged libertarian freedom. Consider these questions:


Psalm 139:16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.

How much of a person’s life is predetermined by God?


Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

 What universal rule applies to every decision a person makes?


Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

 What does God do to ensure that his divine decree is accomplished in government.


Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

 What does God do to ensure that his divine decree is accomplished in every human being?


Revelation 17:16-17 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.

 What will God do to ensure that his divine decree is accomplished in the last days?


1 Kings 12:1-15 … Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime…. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, he followed the advice of the young men… So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.

 Rehoboam took the advice of the young advisors and rejected the advice of the older advisors. Why did he decide the way he did?


2 Kings 19:7 Behold, I will put a spirit in him so that he will hear a rumor and return to his own land. And I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.

 What does God do to ensure the destruction of the king of Assyria?


1 Samuel 2:25 His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.

 Eli’s attempt to rebuke his sons and set them on the right path fails. Why?


2 Samuel 17:14 Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom.

 Absalom took the advice of Hushai over that of Ahithophel. Why?


2 Chronicles 25:20 Amaziah, however, would not listen, for God so worked that he might hand them over to Jehoash, because they sought the gods of Edom.

 Amaziah would not listen to Jehoash, and decided to go to war against him. Why?


2 Chronicles 36:22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:

 What does God do to ensure that his divine decree is accomplished in the unbelieving ruler Cyrus?


Isaiah 10:1-15 …”Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations” … “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.”

 God put it in the heart of the king of Assyria to attack Judah. He does. Yet God then says He will punish the king of Assyria for doing so because the king of Assyria begins to boast about his accomplishments that he made by virtue of his own decisions. This reveals God’s sovereignty working with man’s will.


Exodus 4:21 The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”

 What will God do to ensure that Pharaoh does not release the people? Why does he do this (see Rom 9:17-18). It is noted that later the Bible reads that Pharoah hardened his own heart. However, consider that God said this to Moses BEFORE Moses even departed for Egypt. God had the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in mind and DECREED (note the ACTIVE verb on God’s part) that HE would do the hardening first.


From these examples, we can easily and readily see that humans CAN have a real measure of freedom. It is not freedom that is cancelled by sovereignty, but AUTONOMY. Again, it is autonomy that is contradictory to sovereignty. AUTO means “self” and NOMOS means “law.” Therefore, AUTONOMOUS means “self-law.” If you are autonomous, you are a law unto yourself. An autonomous creature is answerable to no one. God is autonomous. No one else can be at the same time.


However, you do not have to be autonomous to be free. We are indeed free but there are limits to our freedom. The ultimate limitation is God’s sovereignty. God is free and I am free. God is freer than I am. If my freedom goes up against God’s, my freedom loses every time.


It is some times objected that unless man’s will is completely free, God commands him to do what he cannot do. In numerous places in Scripture, however, men are commended to do things which in their own strength they are utterly unable to do. The man with the withered hand was commanded to stretch it forth. The paralytic was commanded to arise and walk; the sick man to arise, take up his bed and walk. The dead Lazarus was commanded to come forth. Men are commanded to believe; yet faith is said to be the “gift of God.”


We are not able fully to explain how this influence is exerted using the free agency of man. However, this does not mean that it cannot be so exerted. We do have enough knowledge, however, to know that God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom are realities, and that they work together in perfect harmony. Paul plants, and Apollos, waters, but God gives the increase. Paul commanded the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” and in the Immediately following verse the reason which he assigns for this is, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for His good pleasure” (2:15, 13). And the psalmist declared, “They people offer themselves willingly in the day of thy power” (110:3).


By Jeff Spry (www.monergism.com)

***This is part of a blog series on the Sovereignty of God. This topic has been highly mis-understood throughout much of evangelicalism. Some will say they believe that God is sovereign, yet deny its many implications. Others will completely deny God’s Sovereignty because of it’s implications. We hope that you will stick with this extensive study on the Sovereignty of God. We will be including resources from a variety of Theologians and Authors, that will hopefully be able to answer many of the misnomers and questions that you may have***

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