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God’s foreknowledge is a subject of controversy as it relates to how people are saved from sin and brought into the kingdom of God. No Christian doubts God’s omniscience [His all-knowingness]. God has perfect knowledge of events past, present and future. Nothing takes Him by surprise.
The controversy relates to how God’s foreknowledge [knowledge of events before they happen] affects His decision-making as we understand it.
One side, which takes the Calvinist point-of-view, states that God has chosen the people He is going to save. This choice is based entirely on His good pleasure, with no reason being found in mankind in general or individuals specifically. This is God’s choice based on Who He is, not on who we are or what we do. This gives all the glory for salvation to God.
The other side, which takes the Arminian point-of-view, states that God provides the way of salvation, but it is up to individuals to make the final choice to accept or reject God’s offer. Their view of God’s foreknowledge as it relates to salvation is something like this: God knew in advance who was going to accept His offer of salvation, so He chose them to be saved. To my way of thinking, this makes the ‘choice’ of God redundant as it relies on the knowledge of the choice of man. It gives man some of the glory [no matter how small] for making the ‘right’ decision.
However, the question is not what you or I think makes sense but what the Scripture, in context, teaches. There are only four scriptures which specifically mention God’s foreknowledge. We will examine each of them to see what they teach.
Before we look these Scriptures, we need to realize the Scriptural depth of the word ‘know.’ ‘Know’ shows intimate relationships. For example, Adam knew his wife, and Cain was born. That did not mean a quick introduction over coffee! So when we are talking about God’s foreknowledge, we are not referring to being aware of general information, but to deep intimate, caring knowledge and relationship.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Rom. 8:29, NIV
Does this Scripture say that the people God knew in advance would choose Him, He predestinated to become Christians? Again, this makes the choice of God redundant and dependent on the will of man.
What is our context? This verse is sandwiched between two famous sections of Scripture. Just before it, we have the verse about everything working for good for the Christian and following, we have the verses about nothing being able to separate us from the love of God. From the context, we see that Paul is establishing that the Christian, no matter what is happening to him or her, is safe in the hands of God, Who will bring about His good purpose for His glory and the benefit of the person. This is to be an encouragement when facing hard times or difficult circumstances.
So how does that fit with our verse? Those that God foreknew, that God knew intimately in advance of their even being born, He chose to bear the image of His Beloved Son. If Paul had been teaching human choice, he would not have put this verse into this context, because if we can choose for God, we can also choose against Him. This would tend to produce a fear when we are going through hard circumstances that we would walk away from God and be lost. Paul is working at giving confidence in the opposite - that no matter what happens, we are in God’s hands and, therefore, cannot be lost. So this is not a statement about man’s choice, but about God’s choice.
This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. Acts 2:23, NIV
We see that God’s foreknowledge does not mean He was simply watching events before they happened. It would be an insult to God to say that He foresaw wicked men crucifying His Son; therefore, He chose to use that as the method of salvation. God’s foreknowledge - or intimate knowledge of the future - is linked with His deliberate plan.
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 1 Peter 1:2, NIV
Notice that it does not say: “God, knowing who would choose Him, chose them first.” It states that God, using His intimate knowledge of the future, chose the ones He would save. The focus must always be on God, not on man. To make man the priority or the initial ‘chooser’ is to make him more powerful than God. It is, in some measure, to take God’s glory and give it to man.
Below are some of the explanations from different commentaries:
“…by this his "foreknowledge" is meant…the sovereign grace, good will, and pleasure of God, or the everlasting love of God the Father, which is the cause of, and has given birth to the act of election, is meant by foreknowledge, joined with affection, delight, and approbation; knowledge, and foreknowledge, as ascribed to the divine Being, often signify such things…and such a knowledge God the Father had of the persons of the elect from all eternity; and which is the ground and foundation of his choosing them to grace and glory, and not anything in them, or done by them, or anything out of himself; no other reason can be given of it than his own grace, his pure love, and sovereign good will and pleasure: the means follow, through which they were chosen…” John Gill Commentary
God, in His foreknowledge, chose those He would save and delighted in them even before they came into physical existence in time.
“but “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”—i.e., in execution of His fore-arranged scheme. The word implies not simply a perception of the future, but the forming of a decision.” Ellicott’s Commentary For English Readers
As we mentioned above, this is not just God's omniscience - His knowledge of everything past, present and future - but an intimate, caring knowledge that, for His own reasons, He chose the ones He would save.
“The simple fact here affirmed, which no one can deny, is, that there was foreknowledge in the case on the part of God. It was not the result of Ignorance or of blind chance that they were selected. But if foreknown, must it not be certain? How could a thing which is foreknown be contingent or doubtful? The essential idea here is, that the original choice was on the part of God, and not on their part, and that this choice was founded on what He before knew to be best. He undoubtedly saw good and sufficient reasons why the choice should fall on them. I do not know that the reasons why he did it are revealed, or that they could be fully comprehended by us if they were. I am quite certain that it is not stated that it is because they would be more disposed of themselves to embrace the Saviour than others; for the Scriptures abundantly teach, what every regenerated person feels to be true, that the fact that we are disposed to embrace the Saviour is to be traced to a divine influence on our hearts, and not to ourselves.” Barnes’ Notes On The Bible
Notice that “the original choice was on the part of God.” This cannot be a case of God choosing those who chose Him. The Bible is very plain - there are none who seek after God [Rom. 3:10-12]. We are dead in sins [Eph. 2:1]. A dead body can make no decisions. It must have life breathed into it first. In the same way, unless the Holy Spirit first moves on our hearts, we will never come to God.
God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: Rom. 11:2, NIV
Does this mean that God knew Israel would choose Him, so He chose them? Of course not. The context itself rebels against such an idea. Look down to verses 4 - 6…
And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Remember the story? Elijah is having a pity party because he feels like he is the only true believer left in Israel. Does God say, “I got lucky, and there are still seven thousand that believe in Me?” How foolish! What did He say? “I HAVE RESERVED FOR MYSELF…” The seven thousand were God’s choice by grace. Paul goes on to emphasize that the believing Jews of his day were CHOSEN BY GRACE, not by their own will or works. By extension, the same principle applies to all believers.
Salvation is totally a work of God from start to finish. To say otherwise takes some of the glory of God - no matter how small - and gives it to man. God’s foreknowledge is part of the process, that only God completely understands, by which He chooses and delights in those He had chosen to save for His own good pleasure without any reason being found in them whatsoever.
How many people has God chosen? Read our article: Are Only A Few Chosen To Be Saved?
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