Posts Tagged ‘Monergism vs Synergism

25
Aug
17

Issues in Romans Nine

It is common for Arminians and other Synergists to accuse Calvinists of taking verses in Romans 9 out of context and using them to prove a doctrine they were never intended to support. This is quite common among Dispensationalists who imagine that God is pursuing two separate programs for two separate peoples. For this reason, they imagine that because Paul is addressing an issue that concerns ethnic Israelites, the doctrine he sets forth must have no application to the Church and to spiritual salvation at all.

Now, it is true that Israel is not the church and the church is not Israel in the sense that Israel as a nation was a body of believers washed in the blood of the Lamb. One does not enter the community of New Covenant in the same way that people became a part of the Old Covenant community. What we must understand is that because the nation of Israel stood as type or prefiguration of the Church, the same principles that applied to that nation in a typical sense are now applicable to the Church in a spiritual sense. None of the blessings the members of Christ’s body now receive were granted to the Israelites, as mere natural descendants of Abraham, in the same sense as they are now granted to believers in Christ. They were chosen, redeemed, called, adopted, granted inheritance etc., but none of those blessings are spiritual or eternal in nature.I

My approach to this passage will necessarily depart from both the classic Reformed view and from the classic Dispensationalist understanding of Israel and the Church. The Reformed view is that the Church is the visible Kingdom of God that is, by design, comprised of believers and unbelievers [i.e., believers and their infant children] in the same way that Israel was the visible Church in the Old Testament. The Dispensational view, as already mentioned, is that God is pursuing two perpetually distinct purposes for two perpetually and perhaps eternally distinct peoples. But we must understand that God has not planted a separate olive tree called “the Church” that is separate and distinct from the good olive tree that is rooted in covenant promises. Instead, he has grafted Gentile believers into “the Righteous Branch” of the good olive tree through faith in Christ, so that they have become heirs of the spiritual promises made to Abraham. According to the Dispensational view, Romans chapters nine through eleven can have little if any significance for anyone other than natural Israelites.

My view is that natural Israel stood as a type or prefiguration of the true people of God [I am using the word “true” here in the same way John and Jesus used the it, i.e., to denote the fulfillment as opposed to the type and shadow. Consider as an example, “I am the TRUE bread.” Jesus did not mean that the manna in the desert was not REAL bread, but that he was the fulfillment of the type]. It helps to understand that the study of typology is simply a matter of recognizing that there are repeated patterns in God’s dealings with his creation.

Some time ago I posted an article titled “Thoughts on Romans 9-11” which I intend to repost at the end of this article since I believe it is important to understand the issues involved in the entire context. What I would like to do here is simply consider this important chapter in its context in an attempt to discern whether Calvinists are truly guilty of misusing it to illegitimately support their doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the matter of the sinner’s salvation.

Romans Nine Is About Spiritual Salvation

My first observation is that the entirety of Romans nine though eleven concerns spiritual salvation. There is not a single word in the entire passage, if properly understood, that concerns the reestablishment of Israel as a political entity, the restoration of the land to that nation, etc. It should be clear to any thinking person that Paul would not be willing to be accursed from Christ for such mundane reasons. It was for the spiritual and eternal salvation of his people that he was concerned. We must remember that after types or prefigurations are fulfilled, they cease to exist. Paul understood that “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.” The issue here was salvation through union with Christ. This becomes clear as we near the end of the chapter and move into chapter ten. In verse twenty-three Paul wrote about the “vessels of mercy which he [God] had prepared beforehand for glory.” Since this is set over against “destruction,” it must be a reference to spiritual salvation. In verse twenty-seven he wrote, “the remnant will be SAVED.” In verses thirty-thirty-two he wrote specifically about the attainment of righteousness through faith, another clear reference to spiritual deliverance. If any question remains about the subject of this pericope, it should be laid to rest once for all by Paul’s opening statement in chapter ten, “Brethren, my prayer to God and heart’s desire for Israel is that they may be saved.” Finally, Paul closes his argument with the conclusion, “and thus, all Israel shall be SAVED.”

The Apostle’s Argument in This Chapter

We must first understand that this entire section is intended to answer a single issue. That issue concerns the promises God made to Israel during the Old Covenant period. It seems that Paul has anticipated an objection about what he had written in the foregoing chapters. This was the objection. When we consider what has happened to Israel, “his own people” to whom he came, does it not appear that the promises of God have fallen to the ground without fulfillment? His initial answer to that objection was, “but it is not that the Word of God has taken no effect.”

The remainder of chapter nine is concerned to address two issues relative to that objection:

  1. The first issue is the identity of the ultimate recipients of God’s promises to Israel.
  2. The second issue is whether those who were the recipients of these promises were to receive the blessings promised as a matter of right or by sovereign disposition.

These two issues are related in that, due to their physical ancestry, the Jewish people of the first century had developed a sense of entitlement. One can see this attitude reflected in such statements as we find in John 8:33 “We are Abraham’s descendants and were never in bondage to any man.” Paul’s argument in this passage is reminiscent of John the Baptist’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they came to him for baptism–“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matt. 3:7-9). Paul’ s two-fold argument is that his brethren according to the flesh are entitled to no spiritual blessing by virtue of their physical lineage. The inheritance is not of bloods [bloodline], and the reception of spiritual blessing is a matter of sovereign disposition.

The Identity of “Israel”

Paul began to speak to the first of these issues in verse six of this chapter, “. . .for they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” This understanding must control our thinking concerning everything else Paul wrote in this entire passage. When he speaks of “Israel” he is not referring to all the physical seed. Toward the end of the chapter, Paul introduces a theme that recurs throughout the passage, i.e.,  it is not to the nation as a whole that the promises are made but to the elect remnant (see 11:5) within the nation. The physical promises [e.g. the promise that they would be blessed in the land as a result of their obedience to the covenant] that God made to members of the nation, based on covenant fulfillment, [promises of living and being blessed in the land of promise] find their fulfillment in Christ, the consummate Israelite, and in those united to him by faith (cf. Exo. 19:5-6, 1 Pet. 2:9-10). True believers in Christ have entered into the inheritance of which the land was a type. God did not promise eternal, spiritual blessings to any of Abraham’s natural offspring except Christ.

There can be no question that the supernatural character of Isaac’s birth stood as a type of the believer’s supernatural birth. The true seed, the true heirs are children of promise as was Isaac (see Gal. 4:28). The point Paul was making is that God’s promises to Israel have not fallen to the ground without fulfillment at all since those promises belong to those who are born supernaturally as was Isaac. Surely, this is what Jesus had in mind when he told Nicodemus that he needed to be born from above. Though one could enter the material kingdom of Israel by physical birth, one can only enter Christ’s kingdom by supernatural, spiritual birth. That which is born of flesh belongs to the realm of flesh and has no ability to function in the spiritual realm.

In the same way, Paul intended the recounting of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau to illustrate that God’s promises to Abraham were not intended for all the physical seed but for those sovereignly chosen by God and blessed contrary to the natural order. The fact that the reference to Jacob and Esau in Malachi extends to their descendants does nothing to diminish Paul’s argument in this passage. The principle remains the same; God’s blessings are granted according to promise and not according to physical descent and are determined by God’s elective purpose. This does not in any way suggest that every descendant of Jacob was an heir of God’s spiritual blessings. That is simply not the case. What it does suggest is that just as God’s love for Jacob and the physical and material blessings he granted to the nation of Israel were determined by God’s electing love, so the spiritual blessings that flow to the antitypical Israel are determined by the sovereign will of God. Additionally, Paul showed that God’s choice is not only made apart from merit but contrary to merit. Jacob was not the most likely candidate to father a holy nation. It is quite true that in this context these principles have primary application to Paul’s brethren according to the flesh, but, as he stated in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, they are no less applicable to those God calls from among the Gentiles.

The Basis of Blessing

The second of these issues rises out of Paul’s explication of the first. Paul wants his natural brothers to understand that they have no rightful claim to God’s blessings since those blessings are sovereignly granted and not a matter of right. If they are blessed it will be due to God’s sovereign mercy granted contrary to merit, and not because they are entitled to his blessing.

This truth could not have been elucidated more clearly than Paul has expressed it in verses eleven through thirteen of this chapter. He wrote, “(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him who calls), it was said to her, ‘the elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.’” At the very least, one would have to conclude from the Malachi passage from which Paul has quoted that God did not love Jacob and Esau equally and it the same way.

It should be clear to any reader that Paul’s intention was to show that the salvation of his brethren according to the flesh has been determined by the same sovereign principle as that enunciated in these verses. It they are saved, it will not be because they deserve God’s favor but because he has sovereignly decreed to show them mercy.

Some, e.g., Norman Geisler, have had the temerity to suggest that God foresaw the actions of the nations that came from these two individuals and chose them on that basis. There are two basic and, one would think, obvious objections to that view. The first is that it absolutely contradicts Paul’s clear statement in verse eleven, “before the children were born, and had not done any good or evil, THAT the purpose of God according to election might stand. . .”. The second reason his assumption cannot stand is that it would obviate the need for Paul’s entire argument in the following verses.

Two Common Objections to Sovereign Election

There are two objections that are commonly brought against the doctrine of divine sovereignty in the salvation of sinners. Paul introduces both these questions in Roman’s chapter nine. It is impossible to say whether these are objections that had been introduced by real detractors or if he introduced them for the sake of making a point. One is that if sovereign election is true, it would make God unfair–“What shall we say then, is there unrighteousness with God?”. The other is that if the bestowal of mercy is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God’s who shows mercy, and if God grants mercy to whomsoever he will show mercy and hardens whomsoever he wills, how can he hold his creatures responsible? –“Why does he still find fault, for who has resisted his will?” The will about which the apostle has written must be God’s will of decree since we have all resisted his revealed will from time to time.  If all that occurs has been decreed by God, how can he hold people responsible for our actions?

Both these question could have been answered very simply with one statement.  All Paul needed to explain is that God has left the issue of our salvation to libertarian free will.  If only he had explained that God’s choice of certain sinners was based on the faith and perseverance that he foresaw in them, neither of these questions would have arisen. Their very presence is the evidence that God’s foresight of certain sinners’ faith could not have been the basis for his choice. What better place could there have been for Paul to give such an explanation? Yet, there is not the slightest hint that God’s choice was determined by the sinner’s free will choice. Instead, he doubled down on his insistence that salvation depended on the will of the sovereign potter.  There are two important truths he offers to help his readers understand the true doctrine of God’s saving activity.  One concerned the proper relationship between God and his creatures. He asked, “Who are you, the creature, to question the Creator?”  As you consider this issue, you need to remember that there is only one true God and that God isn’t you. You aren’t in control, God is. The second answer to these questions concerns the nature of that “lump” out of which God forms one vessel for honor and another for dishonor.  Notice that he refers to the vessels of honor as “vessels of mercy.” That tells us that these vessels did not deserve God’s favor any more than did the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.  God being righteous [fair] would have condemned the entire sinful lump.  How can God hold sinners responsible for our sins when we are simply fulfilling his decree? Because when we sin we are doing what we desire most. We are acting according to the sinful nature that we share with the rest of mankind.

The Nature of Salvation Itself

One reason people wish to argue that Roman’s nine is not about the sinner’s salvation but about some future work God intends to perform in restoring Israel as a nation grows out of their inadequate view of salvation itself. If we persist in defining salvation in terms of heaven and hell, we will not only continue to misinterpret passages such as Romans nine but will miss the entire biblical teaching about the nature of salvation itself. I am willing to concede, and I am sure others are as well, that Paul does not speak a word in Romans nine about some sinners being chosen to go to heaven when they die and others being left to perish in hell. That is clearly not the issue. But that does not mean this passage does not concern the sinner’s salvation or the teaching that salvation is granted to sinners by the sovereign good pleasure of God alone.

Not once in the entire inspired record of first century gospel preaching do we have an example of any preacher asking sinners if they wanted to escape hell and be assured that they will go to heaven when they died. The reason we find no such example is that such was never the issue in the salvation of sinners. Jesus framed the issue succinctly when in his intercessory prayer recorded in John seventeen he said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). He immediately follows these words with “I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do” (v.4) from which one could argue that eternal life is principally concerned with the manifestation of God’s glory [the sum of his glorious attributes].

It is my belief that much of the controversy that persists between Monergists and Synergists exists because the latter view salvation in such a superficial manner. Often they speak of salvation as “simply reaching out and accepting the free gift,” or to put it in the terms they like to use, “taking the life ring that has been thrown to the sinner [indeed, to all sinners equally].” Among the many biblical issues that this simplistic approach completely ignores is the universal hostility of sinners to the rescuer. If being on the lifeboat requires being in the presence of the lifeguard, they would prefer to drown.  Additionally, this view reduces Jesus to a mere means to an end. All the focus is on the sinner. Once the rescue is accomplished, the life ring can be hung out of view and ignored. All the life ring represents is the possibility of salvation, not salvation itself. We would agree that unregenerate sinners are able to walk down a church aisle, sign a card, repeat a prayer, and submit to “baptism.” What we do not believe is that such actions constitute genuine salvation from sin.

The assumption of some seems to be that since Paul does not speak of heaven or hell in Romans nine, the passage must not concern the salvation of sinners, but this simply reflects a faulty understanding of the nature of salvation itself. The primary purpose of God’s salvific activity is not to establish the eternal destiny of sinners, but to restore in sinners the ability to reflect his glory. Please understand that I am not denying that there are two distinct and different destinations for the saved and the lost. I am simply denying that establishing that destiny is the primary consideration in the salvation of sinners. I would challenge you to examine those biblical passages that state the purpose of Christ’s redeeming work to either verify or falsify my contention here. Let me simply suggest three verses for your consideration—Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24-25. As you consider these verses, note well the purpose clauses introduced by the words “that” or “in order that.”

The modern church has become so absorbed with the idea that Jesus died to forgive our sins so we can go to heaven when we die, that we have forgotten that salvation is not principally about the forgiveness of sins. Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based on the promises of Scripture alone is certainly a key doctrine that we must not surrender for a moment, but being declared right with God is not the ultimate end of his salvific purposes. In reality, it is a means to an end. Before we can approach God with any kind of confidence, we need to know that he has cancelled our guilt and that he has declared us righteous in his sight. Justification is necessary because people burdened with a sense of unpardoned guilt do not love, glorify and enjoy God.

We must remember that God’s redemptive plan is concerned not only with saving sinners from his wrath but also with purifying them so that they will be able to glorify him. Remember Paul’s words, “That we should be to the praise of his glory. . .” God is concerned not only with our guilt but also with our sinful hearts that are hostile toward him in a state of nature.

Unlike his remedy for our guilt that is wholly outside of us, his remedy for our spiritual blindness, hostility, pollution in sin, and deadness toward him must be internal. To use one of Paul’s metaphors, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor.4:6).

Paul has framed salvation in terms of glory just as Jesus did. When he was praying to the Father about finishing the work he had given him to do his words were, “I have glorified you on the earth. . .I have manifested your name to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:5-6). One of the primary differences between soteriological synergists and monergists is in their view of God’s purpose in saving a people for himself. It should not escape our notice that in its statement on the decree of God concerning the salvation of his people, the Westminster Confession of Faith begin with these words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory. . .” The Scripture reveals no higher motive for God’s creative, providential and salvific activity than this. This must be our starting point in all our thinking about His purpose in the world.

God’s Sovereign Bestowal of Mercy

It is as Paul begins to answer the first objection to his doctrine that his argument begins to turn from an articulation of general principles regarding God’s sovereign disposition of his favors to an application of those principles in the sovereign bestowal of saving mercy.

As we have seen, Paul does not even hint that God maintains the integrity of His righteous kingdom by merely rubber stamping decisions he foresaw his creatures would make. He has tersely dismissed the idea that God could be unrighteous in anything that he has done with the words, “Certainly not!” or “God forbid!”  Literally he wrote, “May it never be!”(μη γένοιτο). Then, he proceeded to show that God is himself the standard of righteousness who has the absolute right to dispense his mercy to whomsoever he will. He owes mercy to none. If it were a debt, it would cease to be mercy. So then, he concludes, it [the showing of mercy and compassion] is not of him who wills [it is not based on human decision] or of him who runs [it is not by human exertion] but it is of God who shows mercy (see verse sixteen).

In the verses that follow, Paul illustrated this truth from the life of two men.  One was the Pharaoh of Egypt; the other was the leader of God’s people, Israel. God treated these two men very differently but showed no injustice to either of them. In hardening the Pharaoh’s heart, God made him no more evil or rebellious at heart than he was by nature. He simply removed his gracious restraints and permitted him to be himself. He did nothing to him that he did not deserve.

In treating Moses as he did, he gave him nothing that he did deserve. The verse that Paul quoted in Romans nine, fifteen is found in the context of Moses’ request to see Yahweh’s glory (see Exo. 33:19). Remember here what we have written about the nature of God’s saving activity. Salvation is ultimately a matter of God’s self-disclosure. It is a manifestation of his glory. When John summed up his and his companions’ experience with the eternal Word, in what words does he express that experience? He wrote, “and the Word became flesh and tabernacled [pitched his tent] among us, and we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [compare “full of grace and truth” with “abounding in goodness [lovingkindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness]” in Exodus 34:6.

What is it that Paul tells us the unconverted are unable to see when the gospel is preached to them because the god of this world has blinded their minds? He answers, it is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (see 2 Cor. 4:4). I believe we think of salvation rightly only when we think of it in terms of the manifestation of God’s glory as it now stands revealed to us in Christ.

Paul clenched the case we are making when he wrote in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, “and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles.” We must understand the word “called” here not in the sense of a mere invitation but in the sense in which Paul has used it in chapter eight, verse thirty where he wrote, “. . .those he called, he also justified.” He is referring to that divine activity by which believers are called into union with Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:9),

It should be clear to any but those who have deliberately closed their eyes to God’s truth that Paul was writing about God’s saving mercy in revealing his glory to Moses. The point that he would have his readers take away from what he has written is that the bestowal of his favor was altogether of sovereign mercy. It is not that the Pharaoh deserved condemnation and Moses deserved a manifestation of God’s glory. No, Paul writes, “It is not of him who wills or of him who runs, but of God who show mercy.”

We should not forget that in the case of both the Pharaoh and Moses there was a manifestation of God’s glory. In the case of the one, it was a manifestation of his glorious justice but also of his power. God showed his power in the case of the Pharaoh not only in his destruction but also in his patient endurance of Pharaoh’s recalcitrant rebellion. Time after time God gave him opportunity to repent and let his people go, but Pharaoh hardened his heart. God demonstrated his longsuffering in giving him space to repent. In the case of Moses, God made known his glorious attributes and all by his sovereign mercy.

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Thoughts on Romans 9-11

  1. One should understand everything in the entire section in terms of the issue Paul is addressing and not import other issues that are not mentioned.

The issue is the spiritual salvation of Israelites and whether God’s promises to them have fallen to the ground without fulfillment. Paul begins the section by expressing that his prayer to God and his heart’s desire is that Israel might be “saved.” There is no justification for the assumption that the Israelites for whom he expresses concern are on a separate and different trajectory from Gentile believers. There is nothing in the entire context about Israel being restored as a nation, the establishment of an earthly, Jewish kingdom, the nation’s restoration to the land etc.

  1. One should understand “Israel” in the entire passage according to Paul’s definition caveat in 9:6-7, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” There is an “Israel” that is not Israel and Paul refers to this group of unbelievers in this section, but it is to the true Israel God’s ultimate spiritual promises were made, not to the natural offspring of Jacob.
  2. The entire issue hinges on God’s sovereign decree. God will have mercy on those he will save not because of debt but because of grace (9:10-25). Not even all who are of the promised seed, Isaac, are heirs of the promise.
  3. Paul further narrows the focus of God’s saving grace to that remnant within Jacob’s (Israel’s) offspring who are called. Here we must understand “called” not as an invitation but as an effectual divine action that unites the called ones to Christ (9:23-29). Those “called” are the vessels which he “prepared beforehand for glory.” This agrees with Paul’s previous statement in chapter eight that “those he predestined for future glory [being conformed to the image of Christ or glorified], he also called. (8: 29-30).”
  4. Paul lays the burden of responsibility directly at the feet of Jacob’s offspring who had rejected “God’s righteousness” [I understand the term “God’s righteousness” in Romans to refer to his method of putting sinners right with himself in faithfulness to his covenant promises] and insisted on going about to establish their own method of self-justification (9:30-10:21). God presents himself as an ever willing and able Savior for all who will call on his name.
  5. When Paul answers the question “Has God cast away his people?” (11:1), his answer is conditioned and delineated by the definition he has already given of “his people.” There is no question he refers to those who are the physical descendants of Abraham, but the reality is God has cast many of them away. The burden of his question at this point seems to be whether God has completely abandoned all Abraham’s physical descendants because of the unbelief of the majority of them. Paul’s answer is that though God has cast away unbelieving Israel, he has not cast away those whom he “foreknew” (according to the law of first mention, “foreknew” should be interpreted in light of Romans 8:29). Paul himself is an ethnic Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin yet he has not been cast off. Even now there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (See 11:5-7).
  6. The blessings God will grant restored Israelites are the same as those now enjoyed by believing Gentiles. Paul’s concern is to “save some of them,” not to see a Davidic dynasty established under Christ’s Messianic rule and a fulfillment of land promises (see–10:1, 13; 11:14, 26-27, 30-32). Note: the mercy now granted to the Gentiles is parallel to the mercy God may show to believing Israelites. The mercy he has shown us is the forgiveness of our sins and in parallel must refer to the same kind of mercy granted to believing Israelites.
  7. The blessings Gentile believers now enjoy result from Israel’s unbelief. The inclusion of the Gentiles was to have the effect of making the Israelites jealous so that some of them might be saved. Verses 11 through 15 of chapter eleven give us important insight into the way the New Testament writers used the word translated “world.” It should be obvious that “world” in these verses does not refer to every person without exception since every unbelieving ethnic Israelite is excluded from it. Their exclusion has resulted in the reconciliation of the “world,” i.e., believing Jews and Gentiles.
  8. It seems clear the root of the “good olive tree” refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham. The good olive tree grows out of that root. It is important that we remember there were natural branches of that tree that should have produced good fruit but did not. Ishmael and his descendants were branches of the tree as were Isaac and his descendants. Isaac was the heir produced by faith, the child of promise; Ishmael was the child of the flesh, a child of unbelief. Still, both benefited physically and materially from their paternal relationship with Abraham.

The family tree on Isaac’s side of the family continued to branch until the ultimate offspring to whom the promises were made was born. He was the true offspring who was the ultimate heir of the Abrahamic promise. All the promises of God find their fulfillment in him. None of the branches of the olive tree were fruitful as the mere natural offspring of Abraham. Abraham was “the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4: 12). What Paul was saying is that physical descent from Abraham is of no value at all in terms of the spiritual inheritance. To be a son of Abraham in the spiritual sense, one must walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham.

Natural birth is no advantage in the spiritual realm. The reason the natural branches were broken off was unbelief–rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. They thought they could receive the inheritance apart from the heir, merely because they were Abraham’s natural offspring. Gentile believers have become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), because, through faith, we have been united to the Christ, the seed of Abraham. Assuming God intends to graft believing Israelites back into the good olive tree, it will be a grafting into Christ, a natural branch of the tree, by faith. It is in him that God has made believing Israelites and believing Gentiles one. He has made us one with the true Israel by grafting us into Jesus who is the true Israel. Jesus and those united to him by faith are the true seed of Abraham. We are not a replacement for Israel; we are the fulfillment of Israel and the promises made to them.

  1. This passage does not necessarily teach a future salvation of ethnic Israelites, though I would lean toward that position. It is possible Paul is stating that the full number of the elect remnant within ethnic Israel will come to faith before the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. “In this way, all Israel will be saved” (11:26). There are several considerations that might lead one to this conclusion:
  2. Throughout the entire section, Paul has focused on passages that speak of the salvation of a “remnant.”
  3. He speaks about God grafting them in again more as a possibility than as a certainty, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (v. 23).
  4. He writes, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25). It is possible he means this hardness will never come to an end. In 1 Sam 15:35 we read, “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” This does not mean that Samuel came to see Saul on the day of his death, but that he never came to see him again. In the same way, Paul could be saying that this partial blindness will never come to an end until the full number of the elect from among the Gentiles have been saved and the full number of the remnant of ethnic Israel and the full number of elect Gentiles will occur at the same time.
  5. The focus of verses 26-27 is on the redeemer coming to or out of Zion to establish the new covenant by his redemptive work, not on the redeemer coming out of heaven to apply that accomplishment. That is, he is speaking about the basis on which this salvation about which he speaks has been accomplished, not about the time at which it will be applied. It is the certainty that all of these who have been redeemed from sin will be saved that is in view, not the occasion on which it will be accomplished.

I have mentioned these issues not to argue for them but to show that in such areas as this, dogmatism is probably unwarranted. What is clear is that there is not a word in the entire text about restoring Israel as a nation. One must read this idea into the passage since the passage says absolutely nothing about it.

  1. The part of the olive tree into which members of ethnic Israel will be grafted is not merely a natural branch but also the spiritual branch, namely, Christ. Paul’s concern is not with those promises that granted the natural seed of Abraham physical, material, and nationalistic blessings, but with spiritual and eternal blessings. They will not be grafted into Jacob; they will be grafted into Christ and thus become the “true Israel.”
    12. In 11:28-32, Paul’s focus is on God granting mercy to sinners, not on God granting nationhood to Israel. In other words, Paul clearly saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in their spiritual salvation “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed, for. . .” (9:6) “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
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12
Oct
16

The Gospel–A Manifestation of God’s Glory.

 

Having lost its grip on the biblical gospel, the church has bartered that priceless treasure for a pot of fool’s gold. We have all but eliminated any idea that salvation involves a thorough turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, and we have reduced faith to a “decision” and a rather superficial and vacuous decision at that. In our concern to maintain the freeness of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we have forgotten that salvation is about more than pardon. It involves the deliverance of the whole man, indeed in the ultimate sense the entire cosmos, from the corruption of sin into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. It is God’s unswerving purpose to “bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). Augustus Toplady was clearly on target when he wrote about Christ’s redeeming work being a “double cure.” It not only saves us from wrath but it is also intended to make us pure.

Biblical writers and preachers spoke much differently than we about this magnificent message of all-sufficient grace. For them, salvation involved nothing less than a revelation of the resplendent glory of God. It is significant that in Stephen’s vindicatory sermon he began with the words “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. . . .” (Acts 7:2). It is God’s manifestation of himself as the “God of glory” that turns sinners from darkness to light. When the Scriptures speak of God’s glory they are simply describing the sum of his glorious attributes. It was not without reason that the theologians who framed the Westminster Confession of Faith began their statement regarding God’s decree concerning salvation with the words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory. . .” When Jesus described his earthly mission and, indeed, the nature of eternal life itself, it was in terms of knowing God in all the majesty of his glorious being. He said, “I have finished the work you gave me to do. . .I have manifested your name [“name” was more than a mere appellation; it was a description of a person’s character] to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:4-6).

When Isaiah began to proclaim his message of comfort based on the work of the coming Anointed One, these were the words he used—“The glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). The splendor of the New Covenant is that it reveals the glory of God in a way the Old Covenant never could. Paul indicated that the glory of the Old Covenant had been so eclipsed by the glory of the gospel covenant that, by comparison, the old had no glory at all (see 2 Cor. 3:8-11). When John described the apostles’ experience with Jesus, he wrote, “. . .we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the uniquely begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It should be obvious that he was asking us to recall what should be a well-known event in the history of redemption. In Exodus thirty-three, we read the account of Moses’ request to see God’s glory. Jehovah had responded to him that he would allow him to see his back but not his face, since no one could see his face and live. It should not escape our attention that even this inferior revelation was a blessing that was granted by sovereign mercy (33:19). When Jehovah caused all his goodness to pass before Moses and when he proclaimed his name [his character] before him, part of what he declared is that he is “abundant in goodness [loving-kindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness].” This was the near equivalent to John’s words in John 1:14 “full of grace and truth.” What the law revealed in type and shadow, has now been fully revealed in Christ. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth [fulfillment as opposed to type] came by Jesus Christ” (v. 17).

We must always remember that the biblical gospel does not proclaim Christ in his state of humiliation but in his state of exaltation. The gospel not only “concerns his Son who, according to the flesh was made of the seed of David” but also “who was declared [determined] to be the Son of God with power [the powerful Son of God] according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead” (See Romans 1:3-4). We must never, in our minds, separate “Lifted up was he to die” from “Now in heaven exalted high.” It is not Jesus dying on a cross who saves, but the Jesus who died on the cross who saves. It is the one “who was dead, but is alive.” It is “Christ HAVING BEEN CRUCIFIED.” The Savior we proclaim is one who, as the result of his victorious redemptive work, is now enthroned in majesty and glory as the embodiment of the redemptive work he has accomplished once for all. He is enthroned as the crucified one. He is “the Lamb in the center of the throne.”

The issue of whether coming to faith in Christ is the result of human decision or of divine intervention should be a simple one for anyone who understands what conversion truly is. If conversion is simply “letting Jesus come into my heart so I can go to heaven when I die” it is conceivable that a sinner in a state of corruption could make such a “decision.” After all, who wants to suffer in the lake of fire for eternity? As long as I can continue to be the master of my life, why wouldn’t I go for the goodies? The message of the modern “church” is so far removed from the biblical gospel that it bears almost no resemblance to it whatsoever. Look how the apostle Paul described conversion. He wrote, “If our gospel stands veiled, it stands veiled to those who are perishing, in whom the god of this age [He is “the god of this age” in the sense that the children of this age have chosen to follow him and worship him as their god] has blinded the minds [It is the minds that are veiled by darkness, not the gospel] of those who do not believe with the result that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God does not shine [the word means dawn] upon them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). He then describes conversion in terms of a creative act of God for the purpose of making his glory known in the face of Jesus Christ, He wrote, “For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness who has shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Conversion involves nothing less than God’s creative power by which he manifests his glory in the face of Jesus Christ and only God can manifest himself in this way. We must never forget that the merciful decision to manifest his glory “. . .is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16).

04
Oct
16

Burning Straw Dummies

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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.