“The Kindness of God.” Part 4: “…whom He foreknew”

In our last post, we considered some misconceptions about the doctrine of election and then looked at what the Bible says about that much-controverted doctrine.  In this post, we want to look at the widely-held view that God chose those whom He knew would choose Him.  We’ll also study verses which are said to oppose our view and then, finally, some objections against the doctrine.

C.  Election and the Foreknowledge of God.

Sooner or later, in reading the Bible, one will come across verses which refer to election.  This may cause questions, especially among new believers.  Usually, an older Christian or a preacher or a book will point them to verses like Romans 8:29, which says, in part, whom He foreknew, He predestined…. (NKJV).  The one asking the question is assured that “…it’s really quite simple.  God looked down through the corridors of time and foresaw some who would choose to believe in Jesus.  These are the ones whom God chose to be His elect.”  I’ve heard it myself.  See also 1 Peter 1:2.  This explanation sounds plausible, it appeals to Scripture and it’s the almost universally accepted teaching about election.  Is it true?  Did God just choose those whom He knew would choose Him?

There are several things to say about this “choice” of God’s, which really isn’t HIS choice at all.

 1.  The Bible itself uses the picture of God looking down from heaven in Psalm 14:2 and 53:2.  Psalm 14:2 says, the LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. If the “looking down through history” view is correct, it seems to me that David would have made some comment which would support it.  However, he wrote in v. 3, They are all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.  Instead of seeing some who will “accept” Him, God sees only wholesale and total rejection of Himself.  Not even one person will turn to Him.  No, not one.  Paul refers to this verse in Romans 3:10, 11 in his teaching about the universal sinfulness of mankind.

2.  The Bible sometimes links together God’s purpose and His foreknowledge, and when it does, God’s purpose is mentioned first.  In Acts 2:23, Peter declared that the Lord Jesus was delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of  God. Surely, surely, no one would be so foolish as to believe that Christ’s death on the Cross was included in God’s purpose simply because God “foresaw” that it would happen!  Acts 4:28 clearly indicates otherwise:  to do whatever YOUR hand and YOUR PURPOSE determined before to be done (emphasis added).  God’s “foreknowledge” is based on His knowledge beforehand about what HE plans to do, and not at all on what He simply sees that others are going to do.

3.  Those who believe in conditional election, that is, that God only foresaw those who would believe, sometimes argue from the omniscience of God, that is, that He knows everything.  This is true.  God does know everything.  He knows everything intuitively, that is, He doesn’t learn by observation and experience, like we do.  Furthermore, He knows everything immediately.  He doesn’t have to search His memory for some fact or thought.  He knows everything all the time.  In addition, He knows what could happen, but won’t, Isaiah 48:18, 19, as well as what will actually come to pass.

The thing is, what makes the difference between an actual event and a possible event?  If we say that God knows something will come to pass simply as a matter of knowing it beforehand and not because He purposed it, aren’t we saying that there is something outside of God by which He is affected and to which He responds?  Does the Almighty God of Scripture just react to what is going on?  Though they may not realize it, this seems to me to be the actual view of most professing Christians.  In contrast, the Scripture teaches that God is proactive, Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11.

Our conclusion is that the Bible does not teach that God merely chose or elected those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  This unBiblical teaching strikes at the very heart of Christianity and denies or distorts its major teaching of salvation by grace through faith.

D. Scriptures Used to Contradict Our View.

1.  2 Peter 3:9, God is not willing that any should perish. 

Though that’s how it’s usually quoted, the whole verse actually says, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us [some versions read, “you”], not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 

First, what is the “promise” to which Peter refers?  It’s the promise of His coming, 3:4.  Because it has been such a long time [in our thinking] since the promise was made, almost 2000 years now, many will scoff at and ridicule the idea of Christ’s return at all. This skeptical attitude brings out the question, “Why hasn’t He returned?”

Peter answers the question in v. 9: there are still some people to be saved.

Who are these people?  Are they, as modern Christians believe, people whom God is trying His best to save, but they won’t let Him?

Of, or to whom, is it said that God is longsuffering?  Well, who are the “us” or “you” to whom or about Peter is writing.  1 Peter was written to “the elect,” 1:2.  2 Peter was written to those whom Peter exhorts to make their calling and election sure, or certain, 1:10.  In other words, Peter himself defines what he means in 2 Peter 3:9:  God is longsuffering toward us – the elect.  A few verses later, he tells us to account that the longsuffering of the Lord is salvation, v. 15.

Perhaps Peter remembered what our Lord said in John 10:16, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring and there will be one flock and one shepherd.  The Lord hasn’t come back yet because all His sheep aren’t in the fold. In this year of our Lord, 2015, some of them may not even be born yet, though I don’t know that.  He may come back today.  If He had already come back, some of His sheep would be lost, because they are by nature the children of wrath, just as the others, Ephesians 2:3.

2.  1 Timothy 2:4, [God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

According to some, this verse means that God wants everyone to be saved.  Those who know the older KJV say, “It’s God’s will for everyone to be saved.”

In the language of the New Testament, there are two words translated “will”.  Though there is some discussion about this, one word is much stronger than the other.  It refers to something deliberate and settled, which will lead to action.  The second word refers more to an inclination or wish, which may or may not lead to action.

It is this second word that Paul used in writing to Timothy.  We might paraphrase the verse like this:  “God would not mind if all men were saved….”

Paul couldn’t have used the first word because, as we saw in Matthew 13:11, there are some men from whom the truth is hidden, and so they are unable to come to the knowledge of the truth, without which they can’t be saved.  And there are many who would have embraced the truth, but it was never sent to them.

Some try to say that the text refers to “all kinds of men,” but I see no reason for that.  God Himself says that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11.  God doesn’t rub His hands in glee at the prospect of the damnation of sinners, even though He is under no obligation to prevent it.

3.  1 John 4:8, God is love.

There are those who agree that there is nothing in us to draw God to us, and that we don’t deserve to be saved.  There is, however, according to them, something in God which draws Him to us.  That “something” is His love, which, they say, is His basic attribute.  They argue that because of this basic attribute, God must love every individual and cannot, therefore, choose to bless one and bypass another.

If this is so, then isn’t it interesting that the Lord Jesus never publicly proclaimed the love of God.  John 3 records a private conversation.  Furthermore, the early church never even mentioned it.  In the entire book of Acts, there is only one occurrence of any form of the various words translated, “love.”  It’s found in Acts 28:2, where, after the shipwreck of Paul and his companions and they were able to make it to shore, the natives showed them no little kindness.  Our word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek word translated “kindness.”

After His resurrection, our Lord clearly told the disciples what they were to preach.  It would be good exercise for you to read those six chapters – there are only six.  When you do, you’ll find that the disciples understood the command and preached only those things the Lord told them to.  The “love of God” wasn’t one of them.  Incidentally, “the love of God” isn’t “the message” in 1 John, either.

E.  Some Objections to the Doctrine of Election.

1.  “God is no respecter of persons.”

This is true.  However, without exception, when this impartiality of God is mentioned in Scripture, it’s always in connection with His justice, never His grace.  In the judgment of unbelievers, there is and will be no favoritism based on economic condition or ethnicity or political connection or anything else that is often the basis of human decision or action.  No one will be treated less fairly that anyone else.

The world has the cynical saying, “All people are equal.  Some are just more ‘equal’ than others.”  We all understand what that means:  the recognition that among men there is seldom the true impartiality there ought to be in matters requiring fairness or equity.  That is not the case with God, nor will it ever be.  No one will be judged less strictly or more severely that his or her sins warrant.  No one who stands before Him will have any cause to complain at His judgment.  Every unbeliever will get what they deserve, no more and no less.

2.  It makes God a hypocrite or liar.

After all, “whosoever will may come.”  If God has chosen some to be saved, this invitation isn’t true and God is making promises to people He hasn’t chosen to respond to them.

There are some things wrong with this objection.

a.  “Whosoever will may come.”  This is indisputably true.  There is nothing in Scripture that prevents or forbids anyone from coming to Christ.  What many deny or fail to realize is that, apart from the sovereign grace of God, we’re all “whosoever ‘won’ts’.”

b.  It ignores the crucial difference between “may” and “can.”  “May” gives permission; “can” assumes ability.  The Scriptures do not say, “Whosoever will can come.”  In fact. it was the Lord Himself who said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him,” John 6:44 (emphasis added).

c.  This objection goes just as much against the “foresight” argument, which admits that God knows just as infallibly who will and will not receive the Gospel.  Yet the proponents of this argument do not believe that God is hypocritically offering the Gospel to those He infallibly knows will reject it.

3.  Election is a divisive doctrine.

So it is, but that’s not the doctrine’s fault.  The reason it is “divisive” and calls forth such bitterness and anger is because of man.  The fact that God has sovereignly and graciously intervened to prevent the destruction of some sinners and not others calls forth the hostility and rebellion that lies at the root of all sin.  That God is sovereign in salvation, men hate because they wish to be God.  They want to call the shots, to make the rules.  That God is gracious in salvation, choosing some sinners to be saved for no reason to be found in themselves, sinful men hate because they will not let go of their hope of meriting or receiving the grace of God through some act or worthiness of their own.  They believe God somehow to be in their debt, instead of realizing or admitting their own spiritual bankruptcy, depravity and guilt.

 4.  Election is fatalism.

There is a huge difference between this doctrine and fatalism.  In fatalism, things happen without rhyme or reason, simply because they must happen.  There is no wise God to plan it, no omnipotence to bring it about, no love to temper it, no justice to make it fair.  It simply must happen.  The difference might be illustrated by the following story: a ship carrying both Muslims and Christians encountered a severe storm.  One of the sailors was swept overboard.  The Muslims said, “If it is written that he be saved, he will be saved.”  The Christians replied, “Perhaps it is written that we should save him,” and threw a rope and life-preserver to the struggling sailor.  The doctrine of election doesn’t deny or negate the use of means, but rather, it is through these means that election is fulfilled.  The only thing that “just happens” is “nothing.”

5.  Election discourages evangelism.

The only kind of evangelism that understanding the truth about election discourages is the kind that says, “God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

I spent my first several years as a believer among fundamentalists who were very much into “soul-winning.”  But it was all about “method:” go through these four steps with a person and if he does these things, he’ll be saved.  In preaching, I don’t know how many times I heard a preacher say, after the message, “Now we come to the most important part of the service,” in which verse after verse after verse of “Just As I Am” was sung and the preacher would urge people to come forward to “the altar.”

Beloved, God only has one altar, and that’s the only place we’ll ever find salvation:  at the foot of that Cross stained by the blood of the Son of God, who died that sinners might be saved – not by or because of what they do, but because of who He is and what He did for such as us.  It’s not in the front of some building.  Or a piece of furniture which is part of some liturgy.  These are the invention of men.

I did an earlier post on “The Roman’s Road,” which explains a little more about this and my experiences as a Fundamentalist.  Just let me finish with this.  We’re all sinners and there’s only one way to be delivered from sin and only one Person who can do anything about it:  the Lord Jesus Christ.  Only in Him is there salvation.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Questions

1.  Did God just “look down the corridors of time” to see who would “accept” Him?

2.  According to Scripture, which comes first:  God’s foreknowledge or His purpose?

3.  How does God know all things that will happen?

4.  Does it really matter what one believes about God’s “foreknowledge”?

5.  Why hasn’t Jesus returned to this earth yet?

6.  Did God plan salvation so everyone could be saved?

7.  How could God NOT plan the salvation of everyone?

8.  What four things did the early church preach?  (Note: you’ll have to read the six chapters about the post-resurrection ministry of the Lord.  You could perhaps say there were only two things He told them to preach.  Nevertheless, what did He say?)

9.  Doesn’t this view make God a respecter of persons?

10. Doesn’t it make Him a hypocrite?

11. Isn’t it fatalism?

12. How are people saved?

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3 thoughts on ““The Kindness of God.” Part 4: “…whom He foreknew”

  1. This is a tough topic in so many ways. I’ve spent some time in both camps concerning this one. My personal conclusion is that God is love, and He is sovereign. I trust him regardless of what the answer is on this question. Thank you for writing so thoughtfully and carefully.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

    • Thank you for your kind comment. It is indeed a tough subject, as are all of them in this series. I grew up in the other camp and went to a fundamentalist Bible College, which was solidly in that camp. It’s strange that in the providence of God I was introduced to these doctrines in a dormitory of that college. That was more than 50 years ago, and I have become more convinced than ever that only with an understanding of who God really is can we advance in the faith. I don’t see how people can live who believe that they can mess God up, as it were. Thanks again, and God’s best to you and yours.

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