Friday, August 20, 2010

Predestination vs Foreknowledge and The Election if Israel

For years, I confused the words "predestination" and "foreknowledge". People have for many years and Calvin addresses this very point. It was when listening to a lecture series by R.C. Sproul that I learned the difference. And we also know by Romans 8:29-30 that there must be a difference because Paul uses both terms those verses to mean two different things.

All Christians believe in predestination. It is our understanding of what is meant by "predestination" that causes the conflict. Calvin did not invent predestination as some would believe, nor did he even coin the term. Paul used the term "predestined" several times in his letters. Both in Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1 he used the term.

Calvin defines foreknowledge as "all things always were, and perpetually remain, under God's eyes, so that to His knowledge there is nothing future or past, but all things are present." Often today we hear foreknowledge defined as God knew before the beginning of time everything that was to happen throughout all time especially in regard to the lives of His people. He then defines predestination as "God's eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each man." Predestination is not foreknowledge. Foreknowledge can be passive - to know something is going to happen before it happens. Predestination is active - to choose the eternal destination before anything has happened. Let's look at the term "predestination" in context. "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will," (Ephesians 1:4-5, New King James Version). Can you substitute the word "foreknowledge" for "predestined" in this passage and have it still make sense?

God's chose the Israelite nation as His people. We see this in many places in the Old Testament. "When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD’s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance," (Deuteronomy 32:8-9, New King James Version). "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you..." (Deuteronomy 7:7-8a, New King James Version). Believers proclaim, "He will choose our inheritance for us, The excellence of Jacob whom He loves," (Psalm 47:4, New King James Version). Calvin writes, "For all who have been adorned with gifts by God credit them to his freely given love because they knew not only that they had not merited them bot that even the holy patriarch himself was not endowed with such virtue as to acquire such a high honor for himself and his descendants." He continues quoting Old Testament Scripture showing that God chose the Israelites. "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance," (Psalm 33:12, New King James Version).

Just because the nation of Israel was chosen by God does not mean that each individual of this nation was among the elect. "Ishmael had at first obtained equal rank with his brother, Isaac, for in him the spiritual covenant had been equally sealed by the sign of circumcision." Calvin points out Esau as not chosen, but his brother Jacob was. God even rejected Saul. Calvin writes about Romans 9:13, "Paul skillfully argues from [Malachi 1:2-3] that where God has made a covenant of eternal life and calls any people to himself, a special mode of election is employed for a part of them, so that he does not with indiscriminate grace effectually elect all." Only some are among the elect, God does not elect everyone.

In Calvin's summary of election in this section, many opponents to this doctrine of election get very uncomfortable. Calvin writes, "As Scripture, then, clearly shows, we say that God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction." We don't want to think about God damning some people instead of giving them mercy, but it is biblical, "The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom," (Proverbs 16:4, New King James Version). What I think is key to remember is that God shows no injustice. Some are judged according to their works, and some receive mercy. God is fair when dealing with the reprobate because as we have studied time and time again, there is no way for us to do so many good works that it cancels out our evil deeds.

Last year the city Memphis installed red-light cameras around town. About a month after being installed, I received a ticket in the mail showing that I made a right turn on red without coming to a complete stop. My attorney (a.k.a. my step-daughter) advised me to go ahead and take it to court. There was a video online showing what a paper ticket could not, that I never came to a complete stop. Even though I was clearly guilty, I sent the ticket asking for a court date as she advised. About two weeks later I received a letter in the mail stating that the ticket had been dismissed. I received mercy from the court. If I had been found guilty, would that have been unfair to me? No, because I ran the red-light. However, the court chose to show me mercy. Did I do anything special to deserve this mercy? Not in the least. This is the same as it is in God's court. We are all guilty, however He chooses to show mercy on some. Does that in any way make God evil? No. Just the opposite, by showing mercy on some who deserve eternal damnation God shows His goodness and love. Praise be to God!

Tomorrow's reading: 3.22.1-3.22.6

1 comment:

  1. Nice analysis. People today still lament the major complaint of predestination and foreknowledge: God is unfair. Even at first blush Paul's answer in Romans 9 that God is free to do with His own seems weak to our understanding. But the reality is that there are two sides to the predestination coin. One side is God's viewpoint and one side is man's perspective. And they are in perfect harmony being two sides of one coin.

    Ultimately it comes down to this, man has no idea if he has been predestined to Heaven or Hell, since he can't see the future. From his perspective he has a decision before him, life or death. In other words from man's vantage point he has a choice to make and not knowing the future he is free to choose Christ or not, choose life or not. God already knows, but man does not. So each individual, from his own perspective, must make the choice. Some become born again, and from their perspective have chosen Life. Some choose death by rejecting God's gracious offer. But God always presents the choice and asks us to choose life. And even though He knows which way we'll go, we don't. And from man's perspective, up until his last breath the choice, the offer of grace, remains available.

    A fascinating reading of this argument is found in Martin Luther's "The Bondage of the Will."


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