…elect according to the foreknowledge of God…, 1 Peter 1:1 (NKJV).
Sooner or later, everyone who reads more than just an occasional verse in or devotional from the Bible comes across verses like 1 Peter 1:21. Often, some older Christian or perhaps a book or commentary will explain it in this way: this simply means that God looked down through the corridors of time and “chose” those whom He foresaw would choose Him.
Several things might be said about this view of God’s choice, which isn’t really “His” choice at all.
1. “Foreknowledge” is not just “foresight,” any more than sight and knowledge are the same. God “knows” all things intuitively – He is God. That is, He doesn’t learn by observation or experience, like we do. And He knows everything immediately – that is, He doesn’t have to search His memory for some fact or thought. He knows everything all the time. And when the Bible says that God “knows” someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that He is simply “aware” of them. For example, in Matthew 7:23, where our Lord declares to some astonished lost people who claimed to know Him that He never knew them, He’s not saying that He didn’t know “about” them.
In Amos 3:2, where God said to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth, He wasn’t pleading ignorance of all the other nations. A parallel passage in Deuteronomy makes this plain: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself; a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth,” Deuteronomy 7:6.
The Psalmist understood this when he wrote in Psalm 44:3 about Israel’s possession of the promised land: for they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, neither did their right hand save them; but it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance, because You favored them.
This is in contrast to Joshua 11:20 (KJV) where it is said that the nations in the land received no favor.
Furthermore, the Lord made it plain that there was nothing “foreseen” in Israel that was the basis of His choice of them over other nations, “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you…,” Deuteronomy 9:5. Indeed, Moses continued, “Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people,” Deuteronomy 9:6. Then, in v. 7, he reminds them of their continued rebellion against the LORD from the moment they left Egypt until then.
In fact, there is never any indication anywhere in the Old Testament, apart from the prophesied blessings of the New Covenant foretold by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, that Israel ever was or ever would be the righteous people they were supposed to be. Except for a relatively few individuals, there would be nothing but rebellion and stubbornness in the nation as a whole throughout their whole history.
In truth, Israel was no better than the nations which she dispossessed. She quickly fell into the same sins they had been guilty of and eventually suffered the same judgments as they did. Only because of God’s choice of them has Israel as a nation not been wiped off the face of the earth. There’s a lot that the Bible says about Israel and this present time, to say nothing of her future, but those are perhaps subjects for another time.
2. In the Bible, God’s purpose and His foreknowledge are sometimes mentioned together and when they are, His purpose is mentioned first. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared that the Lord Jesus “…was delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God,” Acts 2:23.
Surely, SURELY, no one would be so foolish as to conclude that Christ’s death on the Cross was included in God’s purpose only because God “foresaw” that it would happen! Acts 4:28 certainly indicates otherwise, “…to do whatever YOUR HAND and YOUR PURPOSE determined before to be done [emphasis added].
Romans 8:29, which speaks of those whom God foreknew, follows v. 28, which speaks of those same people as being the called according to His purpose.
We see from these verses that God’s “foreknowledge” is based on His purpose, and not the other way around, and also not on the “foreseen” actions of sinful men and women, which leads to our next thoughts.
3. The Bible itself uses the figure of God “looking down from heaven.” In Psalm 14:2, we read, The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, TO SEE IF THERE ARE ANY WHO UNDERSTAND, WHO SEEK GOD [emphasis added]. If the ordinary understanding of “foreknowledge” were true, then surely we would read that God does indeed find “some” who “understand” and who “seek” Him. Is that what we read? Quite the contrary: They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one, Psalm 14:3. These thoughts are repeated in Psalm 53:2, 3, and Paul quotes them in Romans 3:11.
But there is more.
4. In Matthew 11:20-21, we read of Jesus: Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His might works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long again sackcloth and ashes. Then He says the same thing about Capernaum, contrasting their rejection of Him with what would have been reception in Sodom had His works been done there.
As difficult as these verses are to understand and receive, being so opposite of what is taught and believed today, these are the words of the Lord Jesus Himself, not some narrow-minded “hyper-Calvinist” or some wicked theologian trying to impose his views on Scripture. This is the Lord Jesus Himself, teaching that there were some who would have repented if they had been given the opportunity, but they were never given the opportunity! Contrary to modern belief, they were not chosen based on their “foreseen faith.” They were not chosen at all. They were left to suffer the consequences of their sin.
If you’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, don’t ever think it’s because of something God “foresaw” that you would do. It’s His grace, not our “willingness,” that saves us. One of the old Puritans said that anything outside of hell was more than we deserve. But to be brought into the fold of His people and to share in the showers of blessing He lavishly gives them….