Monday, February 26, 2007

Foreknown and Predestined (Romans № 25 Part 2)

In our last post on Paul's letter to the Romans we examined 8.28, one of the best known verses in the Bible. However, how does God work out all things to our good? Paul answers in verses 29 and 30:
"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Rom 8:29-30 ESV)
In this second of a three part installment we will begin looking at some powerful theological concepts. Christians have been debating them for hundreds of years and I don't expect that I'll put to doctrinal bed the issues involved. However, what follows is my best effort at trying to understand them.

1. Foreknew προγινωσκω
"For those whom [God] foreknew..." (Rom 8.29a ESV)
The omniscience of God is an amazing thing. God does not learn; he simply knows all things. David declares, "Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether." (Psa 139.4 ESV)

God knows everything about everything about everything. From eternity past he already knew who would entrust themselves to his Son and his Son's gospel. Some may feel that this word refers to God selecting people to be saved before the creation of the world. However, I think that goes too far and isn't required in defining "foreknew"--I believe it speaks of God's beforehand knowledge of those who, aided by his grace, would accept the Messiah freely. This leads us to our next point in the chain of salvation.

2. Predestine προοριζω
"...he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Rom 8.29b ESV)
Predestination is a scary word for some Wesleyans; it sounds too Calvinistic. However, it is a biblical concept and one that needs to be placed in proper context.

The question that we need to ask is, "Predestined to what end?" Paul answers it: anyone whom God knew beforehand would become a Christian is predestined to become holy like Jesus. As Wesley preached in his Sermons, # 128, "Free Grace":
1. How freely does God love the world! While we were yet sinners, 'Christ died for the ungodly.' While we were 'dead in our sin,' God 'spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.' And how freely with him does he 'give us all things!' Verily, FREE GRACE is all in all!

2. The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is FREE IN ALL, and FREE FOR ALL."
As a Wesleyan I do not believe that God, before the creation of the world, predestines some for salvation or others for damnation.
"The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price." (Rev 22.17 ESV)

Wesley further exhorts in "Free Grace":

9. Call it therefore by whatever name you please, election, preterition, predestination, or reprobation, it comes in the end to the same thing. The sense of all is plainly this, — by virtue of an eternal, unchangeable, irresistible decree of God, on part of mankind are infallibly saved, and the rest infallibly damned; it being impossible that any of the former should be damned. or that any of the latter should be saved.

10. But if this be so, then is all preaching vain. It is needless to them that are elected; for they, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be saved. Therefore, the end of preaching — to save should — is void with regard to them; and it is useless to them that are not elected, for they cannot possibly be saved: They, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be damned. The end of preaching is therefore void with regard to them likewise; so that in either case our preaching is vain, as you hearing is also vain.

11. This then, is a plain proof that the doctrine of predestination is not a doctrine of God, because it makes void the ordinance of God; and God is not divided against himself. A Second is, that it directly tends to destroy that holiness which is the end of all the ordinances of God. I do not say, none who hold it are holy; (for God is of tender mercy to those who are unavoidably entangled in errors of any kind;) but that the doctrine itself, — that every man is either elected or not elected from eternity, and that the one must inevitably be saved, and the other inevitably damned, — has a manifest tendency to destroy holiness in general; for it wholly takes away those first motives to follow after it, so frequently proposed in Scripture, the hope of future reward and fear of punishment, the hope of heaven and fear of hell. That these shall go away into everlasting punishment, and those into life eternal, is not motive to him to struggle for life who believes his lot is cast already; it is not reasonable for him so to do, if he thinks he is unalterably adjudged either to life or death. You will say, 'But he knows not whether it is life or death.' What then? — this helps not the matter; for if a sick man knows that he must unavoidably die, or unavoidably recover, though he knows not which, it is unreasonable for him to take any physic at all. He might justly say, (and so I have heard some speak, both in bodily sickness and in spiritual,) 'If I am ordained to life, I shall live; if to death, I shall live; so I need not trouble myself about it.' So directly does this doctrine tend to shut the very gate of holiness in general, — to hinder unholy men from ever approaching thereto, or striving to enter in thereat.
Predestination is not about God choosing who will be saved and who will be damned. Rather, it's about ordering the lives of those he knows (beforehand) who will accept his Son so they will be made holy.