The longer I live, the more I realize how much I do not know. In turn, this motivates me to pursue knowledge of particular interests. In matters of the faith, I am constantly reminded how little I am and sinful sin is. Ultimately, this leads me to another glimpse of the absoluteness of God and His holiness and grace.
My latest humbling, conviction and confidence has come through studies on soteriology or the study of salvation. There are two views that historically have been the cause of much controversy. These two views are:
- By manner of divine grace according to His will, God chooses to save whom He will.
- By manner of free will, man chooses whether or not he will be saved from the wrath of God.
This subject as a matter of debate appears to have first surfaced in the 4th century between British monk, Pelagius and Roman Catholic Bishop, Augustine. Pelagius and Augustine held opposing views on the effects of the fall (i.e. original sin), thus leading to their opposing soteriological positions. Pelagius held to free will because he didn’t believe Adam’s sin fully corrupted Adam. Nor did he believe sin was passed on to Adam’s posterity – the whole human race. Augustine held to divine election believing that because of Adam’s sin man is dead toward God and unable to respond to God rightly.
Augustine’s beliefs had a great influence on noted 16th century reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin. The opposition to Luther and Calvin were Erasmus of Rotterdam and Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius respectively. Though not Pelagian, Arminius believed that although man was dead in sin, he was “alive enough” to make a free will decision to accept Christ or reject Him. Arminius’ passionate rejection of Calvin’s soteriological position prompted a response that his followers, The Remonstrants, presented at the Holland State Assembly in 1610. This response became known as the The Five Articles of Remonstrance. It was in response to this that prompted Calvin’s followers (after Calvin’s death) to present the The Five Points of Calvinism (i.e. T.U.L.I.P. or The Doctrines of Grace) in 1619 after convening the Synod of Dort. To this day, these are the two prevailing soteriological positions of the church.
The Synod of Dort (1618-1619)
Some may wonder why this is important. It’s biblical and it has strong implications on one’s view and understanding of God and His grace. Such was the case with me. I first was properly introduced to the doctrines of grace in 2003. I was improperly introduced to the doctrines of grace in 1999, which led to my ungracious reaction to the proper description of the doctrines of grace. I admit I struggled with it, but through the gracious example and teachings of various brothers in Christ and the work of the Spirit through study of the Scripture, I now understand and believe this to be the biblical teaching of salvation. I had to cast away my thoughts of how I wanted salvation to be and humble myself toward God.
Election is a very controversial subject. Its mention, along with synonomous terms chosen and chose in matters of salvation cannot be ignored, but must be given proper exegetical and prayerful attention to have a biblical understanding of salvation. To properly understand election, we must deal with its precedent. That is foreknowledge. This too can not be ignored as it is mentioned in Scripture several times and in several variations (i.e. foreknow, foreknew, and foreknown).
The issue that must be dealt with fairly is – what does foreknowledge mean? Let’s look at how the Arminian and the Calvinist view the biblical doctrine of foreknowledge.
From the Arminian perspective, God looked down the corridors of time and foresaw who would freely choose Christ and therefore elected them to salvation.
From Calvinism’s perspective, according to God’s eternal purpose to exalt the Son, He foreordained and elected people to salvation in eternity past.
I’m sure you can see the great difference between the two perspectives and how that affects who is truly is glorified in salvation. It is because of that, that this necessitates with urgency an honest look at foreknowledge to see which position is actually taught in Scripture. We will look at two verses mainly that contain the concept of foreknowledge.
Foreknowledge is the Greek word prognosis. It and its variations are mentioned in Acts 2:23, Romans 8:29, 11:2, and 1 Peter 1:2, 20. Prognosis means forethought or pre-arrangement. Foreknown is proginosko and means (1) to know beforehand (2) to foreknow as to whom God elected for salvation and (3) to predestinate.
1 Peter 1:20
For He (Christ) was foreknown (proginosko) before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you…
The context of this verse is Peter’s exhortation to scattered believers to rejoice and stand strong in the midst of persecution. It is critical that we not miss the basis of Peter’s exhortation. The basis of Peter’s exhortation is the assurance of God’s redeeming work that was accomplished by Christ, which no man will frustrate. They were chosen according to the foreknowledge of God [more later], objects of sanctification by the Spirit and cleansed by the blood of Christ (v1), possessed a living hope and an imperishable inheritance (vv3-4), protected through faith, and Peter repeats they were cleansed and redeemed by the blood of Christ in vv18-19. To strengthen his point, he mentions Christ being foreknown. Here is where we need to critically assess foreknown.
Using almost identical language, Revelation 13:8 says Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world. This tells us that redemption is an eternal issue. God foreordained to save a specified remnant of people through the predetermined sacrificial death of Jesus. (Isaiah 53:10 & Acts 2:23) Hence, in 1 Peter 1:20, foreknown can not mean God only passively knew Christ would die sacrificially, but rather He actively predestined Christ to die for His sheep. I don’t think many modern Arminians or non-Reformed brothers and sisters would deny that.
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…
This is the beginning of one of the most well known sets of verses that deal with the sovereignty of God in salvation. Romans 8:29-30 is often referred to as the Golden Chain of Salvation. What sets this in motion to its logical and biblical end is the foreknowledge of God.
Many Arminians or non-Reformeds I know and have discussed this verse with interpret this verse as God knowing who would eventually choose Him and then He elects them. Following that logic means God’s election and overall plan to glorify Christ is contingent on man’s choice. Who is sovereign in that scenario? As we’ve seen from the 1 Peter 1:20 verse and the other cross-references, foreknowledge and its variants in salvific passages can not mean a passive knowledge only. So it can’t mean that in this salvific verse either. To accept the Arminian view in this verse sets it at odds with other verses that clearly express God’s election stemming from His foreknowledge. Also, if we apply that line of thinking to 1 Peter 1:20 then we’d have to say that God looked down the corridors of time and saw that Jesus would die on the cross. If that were true, and God didn’t ordain Jesus’ death, then Jesus acted independently of the Father. If that were true, then 1Peter 1:20 would be at odds with John 4:34. This inconsistency must be abandoned.
Just as God foreknew (foreordained) the death of Christ, He foreknew (foreordained) the ones whom would be saved by Christ. John records Jesus’ teaching on this matter in several places in his gospel. In John 10, Jesus said,
“14″I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16″I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd….””
Notice for whom Christ died. He died for the sheep – those the Father foreknew both from the stock of Israel and from among Gentile nations. Notice also the definitive language Jesus uses in verse 16. He said He must bring in (save) the other sheep, they will hear His voice and will become one flock; not that He merely provides a possibility of salvation.
As He continues His discourse with unbelieving Jews, Jesus says, “26″But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27″My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29″My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
This is key! Take note of verse 26. Jesus says they don’t believe because they’re not His sheep. He didn’t say they were not His sheep due to unbelief. He goes on to say the sheep hear His voice, are known by Him and are the recipients of eternal life and eternal security. Why? Because the sheep essentially belong to the Father because He foreknew them and gave them to Christ. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 affirms this too.
Though the word foreknowledge nor any of it variants appear in Acts 13:47-48, it is a very relevant and worthy mention. Luke records,
47″For so the Lord has commanded us (Paul and Barnabus),
‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES,
THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'” 48When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Preaching the gospel in Antioch of Pisidia, Paul clarifies according to the prophecy of Isaiah 42:6 that the Gentiles will be saved though the witness of Israel’s believing heralds. Verse 47 is strong, but verse 48 brings this beautiful truth of foreknowledge and election front and center. Notice it says, “and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Notice that it does not say, “and as many believed were appointed to eternal life.” There is simply no other truthful interpretation of that verse. Foreknowledge and election are plainly seen there. The Greek word for appointed is tasso which means to ordain or to assign a place.
In God’s economy of salvation, foreknowledge (foreordaining) and election are prior to human belief, not based on it. This alone logically proves that all who come are elected by God and will believe the gospel. He foreordained the end from the beginning as well as the means to that end. As Spurgeon said, “It is all of grace!”
When investigated hermeneutically and prayerfully, the Arminian view of foreknowledge (and all of salvation) has many inconsistencies and can’t truthfully be reconciled with Scripture. In addition to that, to its logical end, it minimizes God’s grace and makes man the final arbiter of salvation.
While many other verses from both testaments could’ve been used to support the doctrine of foreknowledge, I think this is a good start for those who are investigating this issue. I also would like to say that this wasn’t written with animosity toward those who do not hold to the Doctrines of Grace. It is the firstfruits of a five year study of Scripture accompanied by spirited and peaceful discussions with good brothers in the Lord. I hope this can be of some manner of blessing for the reader either by rejoicing in God’s grace or by mining the Scriptures more intently for His grace gems.
“How shall those who are the subjects of divine election sufficiently adore the grace of God? They have no room for boasting, for sovereignty most effectually excludes it. The Lord’s will alone is glorified, and the very notion of human merit is cast out to everlasting contempt. There is no more humbling doctrine in Scripture than that of election, none more promotive of gratitude, and, consequently, none more sanctifying. Believers should not be afraid of it, but adoringly rejoice in it.” – C.H. Spurgeon
It has been said that the man who chokes on the doctrine of election has not yet swallowed the truth of his own depravity.
Soli Deo Gloria!