Grace For The Journey
I want to begin today by repeating something I said yesterday, for we are going to be looking at two verses that have been the center of a lot of theological debates. I believe that the major reason for this, as with the majority of theological debates, is that man wants God fit within his own theological system. He then interprets Scripture in light of the logic of his theological system rather than in careful consideration of its grammatical and historical context in order to know God as He reveals Himself, whether He fits our system or not.
We must come to grips with the fact
That there are many things that we simply
Do not understand about God.
We are finite and God is infinite.
That in itself states that God is
Beyond our ability to comprehend.
But we must also grapple with the fact that God has only given us a limited revelation of Himself. Moses recognized this and said in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Paul also recognized this and exclaims in Romans 11:33-34, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?”
As we look at Romans 8:29-30 in today’s blog, we will be examining concepts that are hard, if not impossible, for us to fully comprehend. We are bound in the box of this physical world of matter, space and time. God is not, and we must not place upon Him the same limits that apply to us. If what God reveals about Himself does not seem logical to us, then the error lies in our logic.
Remember, the validity of logical conclusions are only as good as the validity of the observations and suppositions that lead to the conclusion. We err when we demand that God ‘s nature and behavior must fit within the dictates of our own observations, experiences and values. We must take God for what He reveals Himself to be, not what we want Him to be.
That being said, we must also remember the context of these two verses. Let’s look at these verses starting in verse 26 and then make some brief comments about the thrust of the passage before analyzing these two verses in depth. Verses 26-29 says, “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
Though there are three main thoughts in this section of Scripture, they are all joined together by one theme. They really form only one paragraph, even though different translators break up the passage in different ways. In the previous section, starting in verse 18, Paul was speaking about the present suffering that Christians have in this life as we await our final redemption to receive our glorified bodies and are then taken to heaven. In this passage, Paul is presenting the reasons we can have hope for the future in the midst of present suffering.
I have spoken about this suffering in my previous blogs. Because we live in a sin fallen world, we suffer its consequences.
- There are the consequences of my own sin.
- There are the consequences of the sin of others against us.
- There are the consequences of sin upon the world which has left it in its current cursed state.
Not only do I long for the day when the curse of all this sin will be done away with, but so does creation itself (verses 19-23). God’s Word promises us the hope of a day when that curse will be removed. But what can give me hope to endure the present sufferings? What is the basis of having hope that those promises will be fulfilled?
In verses 26-30, Paul gives three reasons to endure the present sufferings and have hope for the future. All three are based in having confidence in God Himself . . .
1) We can be confident that God cares about us individually, for He has sent His Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness and intercede on our behalf (Verses 26,27);
(2) We can be confident that God is powerful enough to carry out His promises for our good, because He does work all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Verse 28); and
(3) Our hope in God is a confident assurance that He will fulfill His promises to us because He is sovereign. What He has started, He will finish. Even when I face difficult circumstances in life, I can trust my heavenly Father, for the work of redemption He began in me in eternity past will be completed in eternity future. There will be a day that every true Christian will stand before Him in a glorified state as a joint heir with Christ. His sovereignty guarantees it.
This is the context of verses 29 and 30. We must also remember that everything in these two verses only applies to those referred to in the previous verses, those who love God and are called according to His purpose. These are true Christians only. However, the theological debate may rage about the meaning of the words in these verses, we must never forget the context of them.
We discussed briefly the words Paul uses in verses 29 and 30. Let’s look further into the meaning and application . . .
“Whom He Foreknowledge.”
Foreknowledge is an interesting concept. It arises out of the fact that God is omniscient. He knows everything about everything. There is nothing He does not know. Omniscience includes knowing what will happen in the future, as well as knowing what is happening currently, and what has happened in the past. All prophecy is based on this. God tells beforehand what will happen in a future time, and He never makes a mistake. In fact, the test of a true prophet is that they must be 100% accurate. Deuteronomy 18 declared that any prophet that erred was to be considered a false prophet and was to be stoned. The same test applies today, even though the authority to stone them does not exist in our society. Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, and those in many other cults are following false prophets. God knows the future with 100% accuracy, and those claiming to speak on His behalf must also be 100% accurate in their prophecies, or they prove they are false and not from God.
The Greek word used here for “foreknowledge,” is the word for experiential knowledge with the prefix for “before” attached to it. In some way God has experiential knowledge of us before we are born. I believe that God exists outside the time box that we are in. He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). He chooses those who will be saved from before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Before I existed in time and space, God knew me and choose me to be one of His adopted sons. I do not understand exactly how God had foreknowledge of me, but I am comfortable with simply accepting that in some way He did, because I know that God is beyond my full comprehension. I can accept His revelation of Himself simply as it is given without forcing Him to fit into my preferred theology.
Others are not so comfortable and do try to explain such things according to their theology. This is the source of a great debate about what it means that God has foreknowledge of us. The context here is salvation, so how God’s foreknowledge works out in salvation is part of the debate. The concepts of foreknowledge and predestination are linked together.
“He also predestined predestined.”
“Predestined” means to “foreordain” or “to appoint beforehand.” In Acts 2:23, the Apostle Peter uses the cognates of these two words to refer to the same thing. In that passage, Peter is preaching to the crowd that had gathered after the Holy Spirit had come and the church had been born. In reference to Jesus, Peter said, “This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” In Greek, the phrase “predetermined plan” and “foreknowledge” are linked in a grammatical structure which ties them together to refer to the same thing. In other words, God’s predetermined plan and His foreknowledge are equated as the same thing by Peter.
In our text, predestination is linked with foreknowledge as being the next step in the sequential process of God’s work of redemption. Foreknowledge invariably results in predestination. In this text, predestination refers to God’s gracious decision which appoints for the elect their goal. Included in that goal is adoption as sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5) and obtaining the inheritance (Ephesians 1:11), as well the goal here of being conformed to the image of Christ.
There are many theological views concerning foreknowledge and predestination. Some believe that God looks down the corridor of time by His omniscience to see who would believe, and He then responds by choosing them. This would be sort of like knowing in advance who will win the tournament, so I choose them for my team. This can be an intriguing idea, and it certainly gives abilities to God that no man has. However, it quickly runs into two problems. First, it reduces foreknowledge into foresight, which is far short of what that word means. And second, this view is predicated on man’s choice. God looks down the corridors of time and therefore knows who will choose Him, and so God in His foreknowledge will then choose them, foreordain them, call them, justify them, and glorify them just as the rest of the passage states. This is the teaching of Arminian theologians and is referred to as “conditional predestination” since it is based on God’s foreknowledge of the way in which the individual will either freely accept or reject Christ. It is a popular view among many today, even by those that are not otherwise in the “Arminian” theological camp.
This view has severe theological problems. Paul has already clearly explained that no man does good or seeks God on his own (Romans 1:18-3:18). God calls on man to seek Him and even promises reward for those that do (Isaiah 55:6; Acts 17:27; Hebrews 11:6), but man does not and will seek God on his own (Psalm 14:2-3). Man will not choose God of his own volition because it is against his sinful nature. The natural man lives “in the lusts of [their] flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). The minds of the unbelieving are blinded by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). As 1 Corinthians 2:14 puts it, “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
If God based His choice on man’s choice, there would be no human to choose, for no man will choose God of his own “free” will. The truth is that the unsaved do not have a “free” will. Their will is corrupted by their sinful nature which has bound it to sin. God makes a genuine offer of salvation to all men throughout the Scriptures, but because man’s nature is bent toward sin he will not choose righteousness for it is foolishness to him he and does not understand it. He cannot be saved without God’s merciful intervention, because he will not choose God.
In addition, this view violates all the passages that make it clear that God initiates salvation based on His own character of love and grace. For example, Titus 3:5-7 states, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” We
can love God only because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).
A current view that is growing is the idea that God lives within time, not out of time. This view also holds that man has free agency to choose, therefore God cannot know anything that happens within the realm of that free agency. In that respect, it is Arminian in its origin. Some are even calling it a neo-Arminianism. Those espousing this theology say that God is relational, open, suffering, and everywhere active, but as He is moving history along to a future conclusion, the specifics of that journey are not settled. Some even say that the final outcome is not settled. Since God does not know the details of what will happen in the future, He is “open” to responding and changing as time unfolds. Thus this view is called “Open Theism.”
This view is based in logic and philosophy, not Scripture. One of its proponents, William Hasker reveals this when he said, “[A] main difficulty about divine timelessness (i.e. God is not bound by time) is that it is very hard to make clear logical sense of the doctrine. He also said, “It is logically impossible that God should have foreknowledge of a genuinely free action.” Since his theological system demands that man have a “genuinely free” will, then he must interpret Scripture in a way which will make God fit into his logical system. It does not matter what doctrines are destroyed in the process, as long as it will make logical sense to him.
In this system, the argument is that either God is sovereign in all things and therefore impersonal and responsible for all things both good and evil (which include would the existence of evil itself and the actions of evil men such as Hitler, the holocaust, the destruction of the World Trade Center, etc.), or God does not control everything and therefore He is not responsible for the evil that beings of free will do. Of course, in the world of Open Theism, God can also be imperfect in His actions and evil could possibly triumph.
Open theism denies God’s attributes of timelessness, omniscience, immutability, sovereignty, as well as His foreknowledge and predestination. The God of Open Theism is incapable of true prophecy. He is just a very good guesser.
God is timeless. He inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15). His ways are eternal (Habakkuk 3:6). He saved us and called us “according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began”(2 Timothy 1:9,10). One day with the Lord is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:9). The Lamb of God was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
God is sovereign in all things both big and little. Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Isaiah 45:6b-7 declares, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.”
God is omniscient and reveals the future with certainty before it happens for the purpose of declaring Himself to men. Isaiah 46:9-10 says, “Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:19, “I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am.”
Like Arminianism, a major error of open theism is in its lack of understanding of the corruption of man’s nature. Because they believe that a genuine offer by God also demands that man have a free will to choose between good and evil, they must twist the Bible to fit their logic. As we have already seen this, man’s nature is so corrupted by sin that he absolutely will not choose God. He rejects God’s genuine offer of salvation
because he does not understand it and finds it to be foolishness, and no amount of arguing can convince him otherwise. He will not choose to respond to God’s call to repent because he is by nature a child of wrath, dead in trespasses and sin, and walking in the ways of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-3). Unless God intervenes to remove the blindness of his sin and make him alive in Christ, the natural man cannot be saved for he will always choose to reject salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Others believe that God’s foreknowledge is tied to His will and power. In other words, what God knows, He ordains. He does not know things just as information and then sit by as a spectator. He wills it and has the power to bring it to pass. God’s knowledge of all things is the presupposition of their being. Or to state it another way, God in His sovereignty and omnipotence decreed in eternity past all the details of what will happen in the present and the future, and time is just the unfolding of that decree. This has strong Biblical support in all the verses that speak of God’s timelessness, sovereignty, omniscience, omnipresence, and immutability. This is the teaching of the theological system of Calvinism.
However, it must be cautioned that many Calvinists make logical extensions of this view that are biblically unsound at best and just plainly unbiblical at worst. For example, while all that exists does so because it has been eternally in God’s foreknowledge, this cannot be extended to say that God’s foreknowledge is the cause of all things. God knows what is possible as well as what is actual. Some have extended God’s sovereignty to mean that God is even the cause of evil. God knows Satan and sin, but He is not their cause. God is holy and righteous, and there is no evil in Him (Deuteronomy 32:3; Psalm 92:15; 145:17; Revelation 16:7).
Others deny the legitimacy of the universal offers of salvation in the Gospels. Yet, the Bible is full of verses calling men to repent, seek God, and receive His blessings. These verses are given to “whosoever will.” Verses such as John 3:16; 11:26; Acts 2:21; 10:43; Romans 10:9-13; 1 John 4:15; 5:1 and many others.
There are theological tensions in the Bible. There are things we do not understand. They do not make logical sense to us. We must always remember both that we are finite with a limited capacity to understand things, and we do not have all the information. Divine foreknowledge is the presupposition of all things including our wills, choices, and decisions, yet divine foreknowledge must not be confused with determinism or fatalism even if we do not understand how it all works out. God knows man’s decisions, but He is not the cause of them, and He justly holds man responsible for them. We must learn to be content and rest in God’s character when we come to things we do not fully understand. As God said in Isaiah 55:8-9, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts han your thoughts.”
Paul states here in Romans 8:29 that the purpose of God’s foreknowledge and predestination of the elect is so that they will be “conformed into the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.” That is the ultimate goal of the Christian, and it will take place in fulness when we are in heaven and receive our resurrection bodies. We will then be like Jesus, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). God’s foreknowledge and predestination give us confidence in the present that our future hope will be fulfilled (Philippians 1:6). God will be glorified. What He has done in raising Jesus from the dead, He will also do for those of us who are joint heirs with Christ.
At present, we are in still the process of becoming like Christ. As we mature in this present life, we should become greater reflections of Jesus Christ. Currently, we “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,” and being “renewed in the spirit of [our] mind,” we “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-23). As 2 Corinthians 3:18 states it, “We are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”
The word “called” here in verse 30 refers not the general call of God to the world to repent and partake of the offer of salvation, but to the effectual call of God that brings a person to salvation in Jesus Christ. The context here is specific to those who are Christians, so this is the drawing of the Father spoken about in John 6:44 when Jesus said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
The word “justified” refers to God’s judicial declaration of “not guilty” on the person who has placed their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins. The righteousness of Jesus is then imputed to them. We have spoken about justification many times already in our study of Romans.
The word “glorified” refers to when we will be receive our inheritance and be changed into the glorified state we will have in heaven, including having our resurrected bodies. Paul uses the past tense here in demonstration of the absolute confidence we have that God will fulfill His promises to us. We can speak of a future event as having already taken place because God’s sovereignty makes is certain.
Each of these actions of the work of God in our redemption are tied together in an unbreakable chain.
In the sovereignty of God,
There is no possibility of
A break in this chain.
What starts with foreknowledge
Will end in glorification.
That is a great comfort to us
When we are suffering in
This sin fallen world.
God’s promises to us are true. They will be fulfilled even though circumstances at present may not be pleasant. My hope in God is not a wish, but a confident assurance of what will happen in the future.
If you do not have that same confidence in God, talk with someone about it. You need to be introduced to the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. If you do have that confidence, then rejoice in it and give God the praise He deserves. Tell others what God has done for you, so that they too might know what God has done for them and join in the praise.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!