04
Dec
15

Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter Thirteen–God’s Eternal Purpose

If we adhere to the biblical pattern for evangelism, our understanding of this doctrine will make little difference in the content of our message. If we preach only what the apostles preached, we will be on solid ground. Still, an understanding of God’s eternal purpose in the salvation of an elect people will not only enable us to understand the apostolic message but will also prevent erroneous statements in our presentation of what we imagine must be the gospel. We are often asked how a consistent Calvinist can tell sinners, indiscriminately, that God loves them and Christ died for them. We can answer those questions with no reference to this doctrine at all. The answer is simply that we find no such statements in apostolic preaching.

 

The reason this doctrine will make little difference in the freeness of our proclamation is that Calvinists can preach God’s offer of mercy in Christ no less freely than those who tout the sinner’s free will. The terms of the gospel are clear—If you wish to be free of your sins, repent and God will forgive you. There is mercy in God and virtue in Christ for the vilest sinner who returns. We do not proclaim God’s good news to elect sinners but to sinners as sinners.

 

The reason I include this doctrine as foundational to biblical evangelism is that it provides a valuable assurance of the success of the gospel to those who proclaim it. If the free will doctrine were true, it is conceivable that all our evangelistic efforts could be fruitless. Since the free grace doctrine is true, we may be confident that God’s Word will not return without success but will accomplish the purpose for which God has sent it (see Isa. 55:11).

 

Additionally, this doctrine is of great practical value to those who have believed the gospel. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith states,

 

The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel (Chapter 3, article 7).

 

Our Lord assured his hearers that he will bring all his elect sheep to his fold. He said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). It seems clear that he is speaking of the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s great fold. Additionally, it should be clear to any unbiased reader that the sheep of which he speaks have not yet come to faith in him. He said, “I must bring them also and they will [future tense] listen to my voice.” They are his sheep though they have not yet believed. “I have other sheep.” He did not say “I will bring them if they are willing,” or “I am going to do everything I can to bring them.” He said, “I must bring them also.” He is proclaiming the certain success of his mission. Later in the same chapter he told some of his hearers that the reason for their unbelief was that they were not among his sheep (see v. 26). He did not say they were not among his sheep because they did not believe, but they did not believe because they were not among his sheep.

 

Remember the Lord’s words to Paul to encourage him concerning his mission in Corinth. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that when he came to them, he did so “in weakness and in much fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). When the Lord spoke to him, it was not to tell him that he should never be afraid, but to tell him that he should stop being afraid [μή with the present imperative]. What remedy did he offer to allay Paul’s fears? It was this, “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Since Paul had just arrived in the city, it is unlikely that the Lord meant there were already many believers in the city who would come to his aid and protect him. Additionally, he could not have merely meant that he had foreseen that there would be many who by their free will would become his people. Based on what we have learned in the previous chapter, their free choice would not make them his people. Instead, it would leave them in a state of condemnation. Genuine faith does not grow in the soil of corrupt nature. Based on what God saw when he looked down from heaven, “there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God” (See Psalms 14:2). As we shall see in greater detail in a subsequent chapter, faith results from God’s call. That call is always effectual (“Whom he called, he also justified”), and that call is according to his purpose (See Romans 8:28-30). For this reason, we should conclude that what the Lord intended in these words of encouragement was that it was his purpose to save a people for himself in Corinth and that he would certainly protect his servant until his purpose was realized.

 

Biblical Words Related to God’s Purpose

 

It should be clear to anyone who has read and studied the Bible that God is in control of even the most seemingly insignificant details of life. Jesus told his followers that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without their Father (See Matthew 10:29). He did not merely mean that such events do not occur without the Father’s knowledge but that even the most insignificant event imaginable does not occur apart from the divine purpose and without divine superintendence. Even the most seemingly fortuitous events are disposed by him.  The wise man wrote, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD (Proverbs 16:33). Additionally, the biblical writers make it clear that this divine disposition of all things is according to his purpose.

 

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “In him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:11). When he speaks of those who have obtained an inheritance, he refers to those who have already come to faith in Christ as the following verses make clear. They have received this inheritance [I understand Paul to be saying they have received the inheritance not that they are the inheritance] because they have been predestined to do so. He has introduced this idea in verse five where he wrote, “In love, he has predestined us for adoption as sons [lit. son-placing] through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will.” When we find the word “adoption” in the New Testament we should think in terms of that act of a father in which he granted his son his inheritance when he came of age. Paul used this custom as an illustration of that period of Israel’s tutelage under the Law during which they were treated as underage children (Gal. 4:1-4). This “son-placing” occurred at “the time appointed by the father.”  Paul referred to this as “the fullness of the time;” (Gal. 4:4) the redemptive-historical moment at which both believing Jews and Gentiles began to receive the predestined inheritance. He makes it clear in several passages (e.g., Rom. 8:23-25; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:13-14) that the grant of the Holy Spirit is the first part [first-fruits] of that inheritance that guarantees the granting of the full inheritance. The apostle makes it clear that Jesus’s accomplishment of all Israel’s covenant obligations and his ratification of the New Covenant by the shedding of his blood has granted believing Jews the promised inheritance (see-Galatians 4:4-7; Hebrews 9:15). Believing Gentiles have become heirs to God’s promises because he has brought us into union with Christ, the seed to whom the promises were made and the consummate Israelite. Paul tells that believers have been made heirs because of God’s predestined purpose.

 

PredestineΠροορίζω/ορίζω (proorizŌ/orizŌ)

 

The word translated “predestined” in Ephesians one, verse eleven (προορίζω) is used for the marking out of a boundary beforehand. God has drawn a boundary line between what he has determined by decree either to permit or cause or to restrain and prevent. All that occurs in time has been previously ordained in eternity.  Please note that God does not cause to occur everything he has ordained. Instead, he has decreed to permit and use the wicked actions of evil men to accomplish his purpose. For example, he did not cause Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the people of Israel to perpetrate the most wicked crime in human history, yet Luke stated clearly that in the perpetration of that wicked act they were doing what his hand and his counsel determined beforehand (predestined) to be done (See Acts 4:27-28). He did not cause Joseph’s brothers to act wickedly but he predestined [intended] their wicked actions and the ensuing results to effect his good and holy purpose.

 

The Philadelphia Confession of Faith 1742, stated the following concerning God’s decree,

 

  1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken way, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree (Philadelphia Confession of Faith,1742, “Of God’s Decree” Chapter 3).

 

Purpose or Plan—Πρόθεσις (prothesis).

 

Ephesians 1:11 teaches us that God does not govern his universe without a previously determined plan or purpose (πρόθεσις). This plan is to God’s providential governing of all things [he “works all things according to the counsel of his will.”] what an architect’s blueprint is to a building. Everything that occurs in the construction of God’s building is in accord with his eternal blueprint. If an event occurs, we can be certain that it is not without divine purpose. Nothing that occurs in time in the construction of the building is missing from or contrary to God’s architectural blueprint.

 

We must not conceive of God as the cosmic custodian who comes in to clean up our mess after the party is over. He is not the “fixer.” The party and the consequent “mess” was in his plan from the beginning. He not only uses the evil intentions of wicked people to accomplish his plan, but he intended to use those evil intentions for his glory and his people’s good long before the evil machinations were contrived. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said to his wicked brothers, “As for you, you meant [intended] evil against me, but God meant it [intended it] for good. . ..”  He saw in the same wicked act an evil intention and a good intention. God did not merely fix what had occurred; he had intended it all along and planned to bring good out of it.

 

Counsel–Βουλή (boulē)

 

This word along with the following (θἐλω) refers to the same plan or purpose of God but each word emphasizes different characteristics of that purpose. Βουλή “counsel” refers to the decree in general but emphasizes that God’s purpose is based on wise counsel and is not arbitrary.

 

Will– θλω (thelŌ)

 

θἐλω refers to God’s purpose and emphasizes the volitional character of that purpose. God does what he does because he has decided to do it. Nebuchadnezzar said, “. . .he does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can stay his hand or say unto him ‘What have  you done?’ ” (Dan. 4:35).

 

Good Pleasure–Εδοκία (eudokia)

 

Εὐδοκία, often translated “good pleasure”emphasizes God’s freedom and his delight in the execution of his purpose. In Ephesians one, verse nine, Paul wrote, “Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself.” Paul had already written in verse five that God’s purpose to place us as sons was according to the good pleasure of his will (v. 5). He now tells us that this mystery has been revealed.  Remember that a “mystery” in Scripture is not an enigma that we cannot understand but a truth that was heretofore hidden but has now been revealed. It is a truth that was not previously known and could not have been known apart from divine revelation. This term also occurs in such passages as Matthew, eleven, verse 26. In the execution of his purpose, God acts as the sovereign potter who fashions vessels as he pleases.

 

It is in such terms the biblical writers described God’s gracious purpose in governing his universe and in dispensing his favor. He does as he pleases, and his creatures have no right to question him. Paul wrote, “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’” (Romans 9:20).

 

The Nature of God’s Purpose

 

When we speak about the purpose of God, we are referring to the will of his eternal decree that will infallibly come to fruition in time. Paul asked an important question in anticipating an objection to his teaching. He wrote, “You will then say to me, ‘Why does he still find fault, [How can he hold people responsible for their actions?] for who has resisted his will” (Rom. 9:19)? It should be clear immediately that he was not referring to God’s will revealed in the Scriptures since all at some time or another resist that will by our disobedience to it. He must have been referring instead to God’s eternal purpose that is certain to be accomplished. The objection is this—If all our actions have been ordained by God so that even in our acts of wicked rebellion against him we perfectly fulfill his decree, how can he hold us responsible for our actions? Would this not have been a perfect opportunity for the great apostle to have informed his objectors that God has in his sovereignty relinquished his sovereign rights to the libertarian free will of man? God could have governed his universe but instead he has decided to let human decision govern. He could have told them that God can hold people responsible because everything is determined by human free will and not by divine decree at all. Instead, he doubled down on the truth that God is the sovereign potter whose decisions must not be questioned. I want you to read and get the full impact of his answer. He wrote,

 

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- – (Romans 9:21-23).

 

He basically answers his objector by saying “You need to understand that God is God and you are not.” If he wants to use your free, rebellious and culpable actions to accomplish his purpose, then judge you for your rebellion, it is his prerogative to do so. He is the Sovereign and you are the subject.

 

In this section, it is my purpose to consider God’s decreed purpose as it relates to all his creatures and all their actions. Then, in the following section I intend to narrow the focus of our study to consider God’s saving purpose of grace and what the Scripture has to teach us about that purpose. In both sections, the focus of our attention will be on the nature of God’s decreed purpose.

 

The Divine Purpose is One Decree

 

We often speak of the decrees of God as though he had made a series of decisions, each one following on the heels of and logically dictated by another. In reality, the decree of God is one. Additionally, his decree did not come into being at some point in eternity past.  All he has purposed to effect in time has been in his great mind for all eternity. Though theologians may speculate on what must have been the order of his decrees from a point of logic based on biblical statements, the reality is that there was no temporal priority of one divine intention above another. There is one all inclusive plan that embraces all that is to occur in time.

 

The Divine Purpose Belongs to Eternity

 

Though God’s decree is integrally related to those events he effects in time, the decree itself belongs completely to eternity. God has saved his people according to his purpose that was in his mind from all eternity (See Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9. As there is no succession in divine thought, so there is no succession in the divine decree. All God knows, he has known for eternity. All he is effecting in time, has been his purpose since “before times eternal.”

 

God’s Purpose is Based on His Infinite Wisdom

 

A common caricature of the doctrine of the divine decree is that God has acted arbitrarily in framing his purpose. In reality, there was nothing arbitrary about God’s decree at all. His decree resulted from his infinite wisdom that would be manifested in his creation and in his acts of providence. Nowhere is that wisdom more resplendently demonstrated than in his plan, accomplishment, and application of redemption.  Paul wrote,

 

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Ephesians 3:7-11).

 

In the proclamation of the gospel, God’s brings to light his manifold [many sided—one might say intricate and variegated] wisdom that was hidden for ages. None but an infinitely wise being could have devised such a plan the details of which would never have entered into the human heart apart from divine revelation. In Romans eleven, the apostle marvels at the inscrutable wisdom that is displayed in God’s judgments [decree]. He writes,

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).

 

How humbling it is when we plumb the depths of our human understanding and wisdom and quickly hit the bottom, but the depths of God’s wisdom and understanding are impossible to sound. “. . . his is understanding is unsearchable” (Isa. 40:28). Though God’s design and all his works may be beyond human comprehension, there is nothing in them that is random or unreasonable. “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens. . ..” (Prov. 3:19).

 

God’s Purpose is Universal

 

God’s decree extends to all his creatures and all their actions. Paul tell us in Ephesians one, verse eleven that he works all things according to the counsel of his will. The word translated “works” means to be energetic, effective, to accomplish. God accomplishes all he has planned to do. Daniel said to Belshazzar, “. . .the God in whose hand is your breath and whose are all your ways, you have not honored” (Dan. 5:23).  He described Jehovah as “the Most High God [who] rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will” (See Dan. 4:17; 5:21). Isaac Watts wrote,

 

There’s not a sparrow or a worm,

But found in his decrees;

He raises monarchs to their throne,

And sinks them as he please.

 

“God hath decreed in himself, . . .all things, whatsoever comes to pass.” If an event occurs or an act is perpetrated in God’s universe, we can be sure it has happened according to God’s eternal purpose.

 

God’s is Sovereign in the Framing of His Purpose

 

When we say that God is sovereign, we mean he the absolute ruler of the universe, the only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). He acts as he pleases and is beyond the reach of human judgment. No one has the right to question his decisions or impugn his actions. No one can say to him, “What have you done? (Dan. 4:35).  No one has been his counselor or taught him wisdom.  He reigns supreme in his universe.

 

The Philadelphia Confession of Faith begins by saying “God has decreed in himself, from all eternity. . ..” From this we should understand that his decisions were not determined by anything outside of him. He acted sovereignly in determining what would occur in his universe.

 

Though there is no question that God knows all things future as though they were present, his decree was not based on what he foresaw. Instead, he foresees what will occur because he has ordained that it will occur. It is not as if he merely saw what would happen and decided to rubber stamp it. God’s purpose was sovereignly fixed long before he spoke and created light out of darkness. To suggest that God has merely decreed what he foresaw would occur is to deify the creature and humanize the Creator. It was by the wise and holy counsel of his own sovereign will that he freely decreed all that comes to pass. His decree depends exclusively on his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself (See Eph. 1:9).

 

The purpose of God is unconditional and independent of any circumstances outside itself. The means by which it is to be accomplished are decreed no less than the ends God intended to effect.

 

God’s Purpose is Effectual

 

God’s purpose will certainly and infallibly come to fruition. He does not long to accomplish his decree but find himself frustrated by his creatures.  Consider the following passage from Isaiah’s prophesy:

 

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:9-11).

 

Though these words refer specifically to God’s purpose to deliver the Jews by Cyrus, they nevertheless have a broader application to all that God had purposed. If he has purposed an outcome, he will infallibly accomplish it. Nothing can thwart his purposes.

 

This does not mean that God is causally involved in bringing about all he has decreed. He does not need to force sinners to rebel against his revealed will, and he does not, as in the case of the regenerate, work in them to purpose to do what he has decreed. At the same time, we should not think that God merely permits sinners to have their sinful way but has no control over their actions. His decree, though not causing their violations of his revealed will, guarantees that those violations will occur. He has made this certain by determining that he will not prevent their acts of sinful rebellion. Additionally, he has determined to control the results of their sinful actions and bring out of them the holy result he has decreed.

 

God’s Purpose Is Immutable

 

The writer of the Book of Hebrews penned these words concerning God’s purpose, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,” (Hebrews 6:17). The word translated “unchangeable” was used of legal rulings, documents, or contracts that were incapable of being set aside or invalidated.

 

There are several reason we human beings might and often do change our plans. It could be we simply have not taken our plans seriously enough to consider the cost of pursuing them. Maybe in the midst of our project, unforeseen circumstances will arise that will require that we abandon our purposes. Perhaps we will find that we lack the resources necessary to execute our plan. It could be we discover that our original plan was faulty. Any of these issues, or perhaps a combination of them, could force a change in our plans.

 

It is impossible to imagine any of these difficulties in relation to God and the realization of his purpose. He lacks no strength of resolve. There are no circumstances that are unforeseen to him. He has abundant resources. There are no flaws in his plan. In short, there is no reason for God to change his eternal plan. His purpose is immutable.

 

God’s Salvific Purpose

 

When we read that God works all things according to the counsel of his will, that “all things” includes his salvific purpose in Christ.  The apostle Paul makes it clear that God saves and calls his elect people according to his purpose (See Rom. 8:28 and 2 Tim. 1:9). There are three aspects of that salvific purpose that I would like to explore in the remainder of this chapter. They are foreknowledge, election and predestination.

 

Foreknowledge

A proper understanding of the Bible’s teaching about “foreknowledge” is essential to an understanding of God’s predestined plan or purpose. The way in which we view this issue will determine how we understand the biblical doctrines of election and predestination. If we rightly understand the biblical doctrine of human depravity or inability, the idea this verse teaches that “foreseen faith” forms the basis of God’s choice of certain individuals for salvation is out of the question. That is to say, if we believe in the innate inability of an unregenerate person to seek God, the idea of God foreseeing a faith that is produced out of depraved nature, a faith that could not exist apart from divine intervention, is unthinkable. The divine call produces faith and that the call is according to God’s eternal purpose, plan, counsel which was formed before time began. The order is, God’s purpose produces the call [God calls people because he has purposed to call them] and the call produces faith. In the scheme of those who believe in “free will” and not in “free grace,” what God purposes is determined by what he foresees will happen, and the call is unnecessary since the issue is determined by the sinner’s free will decision and not by God’s free grace. What is certain is that a sinner’s faith cannot be, at the same time, the determining factor in what God decides and the result of what God has decided.

 

Three Ways of Understanding “Foreknew”

We can think of the idea of foreknowledge in three ways. First, we can think of foreknowledge simply in terms of God’s omniscience of all things future. To my knowledge, the word is never used in this sense in the Bible though the idea that God knows all things future is clearly there. There is nothing “future” to God. God knows what will occur before it occurs. He dwells in eternity and sees every event as present. Isaiah 46: 10 informs us he “declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things that are not yet done.” He knows about everything that is going to happen before it happens and he knows what his creatures will do before we do it. He knows about all his creatures and all their actions. In this sense, God foreknows everyone. Keep that thought in mind because it will become very important when we discuss the meaning of “foreknew” in Romans 8:29. The question is, does God determine what is going to happen because he foresees it, or visa versa? I believe the answer is he foresees what he has determined or purposed.

 

That brings us to the second sense in which “foreknowledge” is used. It is knowledge beforehand based on a divine decree. Jesus was handed over by the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (see Acts 2:23). Notice the order in which Peter mentions counsel or purpose and foreknowledge. It is not simply that God sees ahead of time what is going to happen and decides to go with it. We have already learned that God is actively involved in governing all his creatures and all their actions according to his purpose. The idea that God merely foresees what is going to happen and decides to “rubber stamp” it is foreign to the teaching of the Bible. The issue, then, is not whether God foresees the believer’s faith and final perseverance, but whether his foresight of that faith and perseverance is the reason he decided to choose them.

 

Third, we can think of foreknowledge as an intimate, loving, approval of people beforehand.

 

What Does “Foreknew” Mean in Romans 8:29?

What does the Text Actually Say?

If we simply read the plain text of Romans 8:29, do we find the words “Those in whom God foresaw faith?” Of course, unless you are reading from a paraphrase of the biblical text and not the text itself, you will not find these words. The text says absolutely nothing about God foreseeing anyone’s faith or perseverance. The text teaches that God foreknows people. Paul does not write about what he foreknew but about whom he foreknew. In fact, the word “foreknow” in the New Testament if always used of God’s knowledge of people and never of people’s actions.

God “Foresees” Everyone’s Actions and Responses

Let us assume for the moment the text actually reads “‘For whom God foresaw’ or ‘For those whose actions and decisions God foresaw,’ he also predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son.” What would that mean? Since God has foreseen all events and all actions of all people, and since the text indicates nothing that limits what God foresaw, it would make Paul mean that God has predestined everyone without exception to be conformed to Christ’s image. God foresaw not only the actions and responses of those who will at some point believe the gospel; he foresaw everyone’s actions and responses. Even understanding that God’s knowledge extends to an intimate, penetrating, extensive acquaintance with every person’s inmost being and personality does not alleviate the problem. He knows everyone in this way. Unless we believe God has predestined everyone to be conformed to the image of Christ, we cannot consistently believe Paul is merely speaking about God’s extensive knowledge of all people, future events and future actions.

What Does God Foresee About All Sinners?

If God’s decree to save some (i.e., restore his image in them and bring them to glory) and pass over others was based on what sinners will invariably do when confronted with the gospel, he would have decreed to pass over everyone. As we have shown, [foreseen] faith cannot be both the basis or cause and the effect of God’s decision to save. God cannot decree to save people based on his foresight of a faith that would never exist if he had not purposed to bring it about. Do passages like Psalm 14:1-3 say anything about God seeing some who would be willing to understand the things of God and seek a loving, believing, obedient and worshipful relationship with him? Of course, the answer is that God sees exactly the opposite. God sees that no one will seek such a relationship apart from his enabling grace. Nothing short of God’s inward call and his regenerating grace will cause sinners to seek after him.

The Importance of Context

Let us assume again that Paul intends us to understand that God has predestined to conform some people to Christ’s image based on his foresight of their persevering faith. How would that idea fit into the context of Paul’s argument in this passage?

The main point Paul continues to make in these verses is that if God has justified a person, he is certain to glorify that person. He has adduced argument after argument in support of that proposition. His argument in these verses is that the believer’s glorification is certain because the entire work of salvation, the work of bringing his chosen people to glory, is God’s work in fulfillment of his eternal, electing decree. That work has been likened to a chain that is anchored in eternity past and extends to the end of time. Every link in that chain represents some aspect of God’s work. It began with his sovereign purpose to redeem a people marked out for himself. He loved these chosen people before they ever had being and determined beforehand that he would conform them to the image of his Son. Then, according to that divine determination, he calls them out of the world, effectually uniting them to his Son. Since they are in union with Christ, he declares them righteous in his sight. Additionally, he guarantees their glorification because they are in him who has already entered into his glory.

Everything in these verses concerns God’s work of bringing his chosen people to glory. Paul does not even mention God’s work of sanctification. I would presume he omits any reference to that work because, unlike justification, it brings within its scope the believer’s works of obedience which, in this life, will never be perfect. God has promised that he will ultimately bring the believer to complete and perfect holiness, but that work is anything but complete in the present.

The point is these verses are about what God does, not what believers do. It would be completely incongruous to introduce the believer’s faith into this context. God does not love sinners because he foresees we are going to love him. We love him because he first loved us.

Use of the Words “Know” and “Foreknow” in the Scriptures

The Greek verb translated “foreknew” is the aorist tense (point action, usually past tense) form of the verb proginōskō. It is a compound verb made up of the words pro-before and ginōskō to know by experience, to regard with love, approve. The word ginōskō is used to translate the Hebrew (yada) in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew O.T. Consider a few examples of this word’s usage in the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

Genesis 4:1 “Now Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain. . . .”

Psalm 1:6 “The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

Amos 3:2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

Nahum 1:7 “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.”

Matthew 1:24-25 “. . .he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. . . .”

Matthew 7:23 “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of iniquity.”

John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,”

2 Timothy 2:19 “ The Lord knows those that are his. . . .”

It is obvious this word is used of a knowledge that goes beyond awareness of facts about a person. Instead, it is used to express intimacy and approval. It carries with it the meaning “to regard with love.”

Consider also the use of the word proginōskō in the New Testament Scriptures:

“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:2a).

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you (1 Peter 1:1-2).

Notice the text reads “according to the foreknowledge of God,” not “based on the foreknowledge of God.” These people were not scattered abroad because God foresaw it would happen.

“He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you (1Pet. 1:20).

In these verses, it is the people who were foreknown, not their actions.

Conclusion

What should we conclude about the idea Paul meant to convey in Romans 8:29? When we consider the actual words of the text without reading our own ideas into them, the context in which they are written, and the usage of the words “know” and “foreknow” in the rest of Scripture, there is only one conclusion we can reach. The word means to regard with loving approval beforehand. Paul could have well written, “For whom God loved before hand, he also predestinated. . ..” God’s choice of sinners to be conformed to his Son’s image was not a cold and arbitrary decree, but was according to his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses (see Eph. 2:4-5).

 

Election

 

The words “elect,” “election,” “choοse,” ¨“chosen” are translated from such words as the verbs  ἐκλέγω (eklego) and ἐκλέγομαι (eklegomai)  and the nouns ἐκλεκτός (eklektos) and ἐκλογή (eklogē). The verb αἱρέομαι (haireomai) is used in  2 Thessalonians 2:13. It is important to note that in that verse it is salvation that is through sanctification and belief of the truth and not God’s choice that is through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.

 

All these words have at least three characteristics in common:

 

  1. The choice in view is made from several objects that could be chosen.
  2. The person choosing is free to choose as he wills.
  3. The person choosing has at his disposal the objects chosen.

 

Types of Election in Scripture

 

It is important that we understand that not everyone who is referred to as “elect” has been chosen for spiritual and eternal blessings. For example, Israelites should not believe they have been chosen to spiritual and eternal blessings and blessedness because they are members of God’s chosen nation.

 

The Scripture speaks of several different types of election, but only one of those secures eternal blessedness.  They are:

 

▪                 National election— (Deuteronomy 7:6).

▪                 Election to Office:

▪                                   Kings, priests, prophets (1 Samuel 2:28, 10:24; Jeremiah 1:5).

▪                                   Apostles (John 6:70).

▪                 Of Good Angels (1 Timothy 5:21).

▪                 Of Christ (Isaiah 42:1).

▪                 Unto Eternal Salvation (Ephesians 1:4; John 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13).

 

We would define election to eternal salvation as follows:

 

Election is the eternal, sovereign, unconditional, and immutable decree of God, whereby, according to the wise counsel of His own will and for His own glory, He has selected for Himself some individual sinners from among all mankind, and of every nation, to be redeemed and everlastingly saved by Christ.

 

The issue in the debate over election is not over whether the Bible says anything about God’s choice. Instead, the issue is what or whom God chose and the basis of that choice. Please consider the following observations:

  1. The texts that speak of election say nothing about God choosing a plan. Instead, we read such statements as “he has chosen us” and “chosen you.” There is no question that God has chosen a plan, but the texts under consideration have nothing to do with that choice. They speak, instead, about God’s choice of sinners.
  2. The texts that speak of election say nothing about foreseen faith and perseverance as the basis of God’s choice. God’s choices are made “according to the good pleasure of his will.” There was nothing in the objects of God’s choice that moved him to choose them. “It [God’s decision to show mercy]is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16).
  3. The texts that speak of election say nothing about a believer becoming a part of the “corporate elect” when he believes. This should be clear to anyone who carefully and exegetically considers what the Scriptures teach about the order of election [God’s purpose], calling, and faith. It is through faith that we are united to Christ. It is through calling that we are brought to faith. As we will see in a later chapter, everyone who is called is also justified (See Rom. 8:30) and no one is justified apart from faith. It follows that everyone who is called will become a believer. We are called “according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God’s electing and salvific purpose is antecedent to the believer being brought The biblical order is 1. God’s purpose, 2. calling according to his purpose, 3. faith and union with Christ. Since this is true, it is completely irrational to think that we become a part of God’s purpose when we choose to be in Christ. We would never have chosen to be in Christ apart from God’s effectual call, and we would not have been called effectually apart from his saving purpose.
  4. The texts that speak of election say nothing about heaven or hell since this is not the issue in salvation. Instead, they speak about God’s purpose to make his people holy and blameless before him. They speak about bringing sinners to glory and conforming us the Christ’s image. Those who argue that God’s electing and predestinating purpose is not about salvation, simply do not understand what salvation is.

 

Characteristics of Election to Eternal Salvation

 

The biblical writers teach us the following about the nature of God’s choice of sinners to be conformed to the image of Christ. Notice the similarity between this list and the characteristics of God’s broader predestinating purpose.

 

▪                 It is eternal (Ephesians 1:4, 3:11; 2 Timothy 1:9). It was not determined by anything in time but was settled before time began.

▪                 It is sovereign (Matthew 11:25-27; Romans 9:15-18).

▪                 It is unconditional, i.e., not conditioned on anything in the creature (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Romans 9:11, 11:5-6; Ephesians 1:5).

▪                 It is immutable (Isaiah 14:24, 46:10-11; Romans 8:28-30; Hebrews 6:17).

▪                 It is wise (Romans 11:33).

▪                 It is individual (Romans 16:13).

▪                 It is for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 1:31; Ephesians 1:4-6, 12).

 

Predestination

 

When we read in the Scriptures that God has predestined us to certain blessings, we are simply to understand that he has made certain beforehand that those he has chosen for himself will become partakers of those blessings. He has not only set his everlasting love on the objects of his choice, but he has determined to rescue us from our sins and grant us an inheritance in Christ. It is on the basis of this gracious purpose that God can make exceeding great and precious promises to his chosen people.

 

The alternative is either that God learns and grows along with us or that he has merely foreseen [or sees now from the vantage point of the eternal present] that everything will by some strange quirk of fate or chance and apart from any interference or intervention on his part, turn out for the best. Perhaps God has merely witnessed all the pieces falling into place by the fortuitous working of blind chance so that he can confidently promise us that apart from any purpose or design on his part and apart from any control he exerts in his own universe, all things are going to work together for good to those who love God. If this were the case, God would no longer be God; he would be reduced to a helpless spectator who could wish us well but could do nothing to save us. This is a far cry from the biblical representation of our glorious God who sits in the heavens and has done whatsoever he has pleased (See Psalms 115:3).

 

It is because of his predestined purpose that God is able to assure us he will glorify all whom he has justified (See Rom. 8:28-30). He who has given up his Son to die for us will most certainly grant us everything else that belongs to our salvation including glorification (Rom. 8:32). He has determined beforehand to grant us an inheritance in Christ (See Eph. 1:5, 11). He has determined beforehand to conform us to the image of his Son (See Rom. 8:29). He has appointed us to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (See 1 Thess. 5:9). He has prepared beforehand that believers would walk in a pattern of good works (See Eph. 2:10). The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that the wise scheme of redemption that had been hidden for ages, i.e., God’s hidden decree, had now been revealed in the gospel he preached. Additionally, he told them that God’s secret decree concerned their glory. By this he meant that all the glorious blessings that believers enjoy in Christ find their source in the divine decree (See 1 Cor. 2:7). Charles Hodge commented on these words, “. . .the scheme of redemption, which the apostle here calls the wisdom of God, was from eternity formed in the divine mind, far out of the reach of human penetration, and has under the gospel been made known for the salvation of men. . .” (Hodge, 1997, 56).

 

Application

 

The relevance of this doctrine to evangelism should be clear. Nothing should give us confidence in proclaiming God’s message as much as the truth that God guarantees the positive result of our gospel presentation. God has not left the matter to the caprice of the human will. He has promised that his Word will not return to him empty; but it will accomplish that which he purposed, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (See Isaiah 55:11). What God has intended to accomplish by our preaching is none of our business. Our task is to be faithful in proclaiming God’s message in his way and leave the results to him.

 

 

 Hodge, Charles, An Exposition of II Corinthians,  (Albany, OR: Books for the Ages) 1997.

 

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7 Responses to “Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter Thirteen–God’s Eternal Purpose”


  1. December 5, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Another most excellent chapter, my dear brother. It’s hard to pick out one bit as best, but this short paragraph resonated with me:

    “We must not conceive of God as the cosmic custodian who comes in to clean up our mess after the party is over. He is not the “fixer.” The party and the consequent “mess” was in his plan from the beginning. He not only uses the evil intentions of wicked people to accomplish his plan, but he intended to use those evil intentions for his glory and his people’s good long before the evil machinations were contrived. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said to his wicked brothers, “As for you, you meant [intended] evil against me, but God meant it [intended it] for good. . ..” He saw in the same wicked act an evil intention and a good intention. God did not merely fix what had occurred; he had intended it all along and planned to bring good out of it.”

    God is God and we are not! As one author put it, “There is a God Who is and there is a god we want; they are not the same God!”

    Blessings in Christ!

  2. December 5, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Thanks, as always, for your encouraging comment. I believe the comment you posted is correct that the issue is between the God we want and the God who is, and these are not the same. Many are engaged in idolatry because they are worshipping a god of their imagination.

    • December 5, 2015 at 6:03 pm

      You always encourage me and convict me with the Word of God. We live in a spiritual wasteland and need one another.

      One the painters doing finish work on our house asked me how we ended up here. When I mentioned my short time as a pastor of a nearby church, he told me he had a conversation with a man about YHWH and his live has been changed by his belief in Christ. Ignorant of much I promised him a Bible and we talked about Joseph from Genesis and the message of John 1 – 3. He lit up with joy and understanding and agreement, giving me some indication that his conversion is true. I will also give him a copy of the DVD Amazing Grace.

      How sweet to see the Spirit of the living God at work!

  3. December 5, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    I have to confess that I have nor read all thirteen chapters. The title concerning God’s eternal purpose grabbed my attention. Before I knew much about John Calvin except that most people I knew didn’t care for him much, I merely read the Bible and found within it’s pages a thread concerning a remnant people. This thread runs from Genesis through Revelation and the doctrines of sovereign grace (Calvinism) systematically and consistently explain in detail exactly how God would ‘secure’ a remnant people for the glory of His name.

    It’s been some years now, but I found online a history of Calvinism taught by Dr. Curt Daniel and discovered that John Calvin wasn’t the ogre he was made out to be, but rather was a man who grasped the doctrine of the remnant and the necessity of the sovereignty of God in salvation. I also appreciate J.I. Packer’s work concerning the sovereignty of God in salvation. You could say that I was a Calvinist long before I actually studied Calvin. Either God saves or man saves himself by an act of human will, making the decision that determines his salvation.

    I was thinking about Calvinism v. Arminianism this morning in the context of logical consistency. That God alone saves and keeps those whom he saves is logically consistent. If a ‘free will’ decision determines salvation and a subsequent decision to turn away from God there is a consistent Arminian. If, as I read concerning a local church this morning, a ‘free will’ decision to accept the gift of salvation determines one’s salvation, and once accepted salvation can never be lost, we have a case of spiritual schizophrenia. When confronted with this particular spiritual disorder, I end up just asking “what happened to free will”?

    Thanks for another great post, Randy!

    • December 5, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      Dan,

      It is always good to hear from you . I believe you are right in your observations about theological consistency. It was A. Toplady who wrote “The work which his goodness began, the arm of his strength will complete. . .” If God has begun the work, he will complete it. If we begin the work, it is up to us to complete it.

      I like you came to believe the doctrines of grace long before I every read Calvin. It is for this reason I have never really liked being called a Calvinist. If what we beleive cannot stand on its own exegetical feet, we have no business believing it or teaching it.

      How is Dee’s back?

      • December 5, 2015 at 10:42 pm

        Much better. No surgery needed. Now she is working through a knee tendon issue from the same fall that tweaked her back. Thanks for your concern and prayers!

      • December 5, 2015 at 10:46 pm

        We will shift our prayers from her back to her knee. Happy to hear she needed no back surgery. Often such surgeries seem to do more harm than good. Thanks for your fellowship in the work of the gospel.


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