Understanding and Appreciating
Election and Predestination
Study on Romans 8:29-30
Paul J. Bucknell
Do you have problems with the doctrines of election and predestination? You are not alone!
Discover how the apostle's hopes these teachings will actually strengthen our faith rather than confuse us. We will center our study around Romans 8:28-30.
"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." (Romans 8:28-30).
Many believers have a problem with election and predestination partially because of ignorance, misunderstandings and distortions. These distortions and misunderstands are complicated because they are entwined togther. Let me share how I personally have logically and (hopefully spiritually) think through these teachings from my thinking over these many years.
For simplicity I have not referred to many passages here, but look at the references above on Romans 8:28-30 to see the basic passage I am here reflecting upon.
First of all, we should be aware that God does predestine believers (Romans 8:29, 30). We can admit we do not know what it means (but we should learn) or its implications (which admittedly is more difficult), but we should not be so deceitful to twist its meaning so to suggest that God does not predestine God's people. That is arrogance.
Secondly, we should understand that predestination is to be a blessing to God's people. This is the reason Paul is so openly teaching it here. It is not a teaching to argue with unbelievers! The apostle is not ashamed of this teaching; neither should we be. Paul positively presents it to strengthen our faith.
We should avoid arguments that in the end are no longer building up our faith but tear us from our focus on God's truth. An example of this is when believers ask if the teaching of predestination means that the Lord also predestines the lost to perish. This is not what is taught here in Romans 8:29-30. We should focus on allowing the truth of this teaching to get into our soul.
Thirdly, if we feel somewhat repelled by this teaching, it is because it goes against the pride and self-confidence of man. We are easily taken up with arguments against it rather than in reveling in the truth of it. God has wonderfully encouraged and helped me in my own Christian life through meditation on the fact that He chose me and absolutely and unconditionally loves me. Shall we let arguments distract us from the glory of this truth? No. Refuse them and focus on what is said.
There are several truths that help us get a good handle on these truths. Remember that our goal is not to merely be able to understand or argue these truths, but that these truths so powerfully penetrate our hearts and minds so that they shape us! This includes these magnificent truths as taught in this context. So let me discuss different points as they come to my mind. Be patient about your own questions, they might not be answered until the end! (Hopefully I will not miss them).
- We are sinners and do not deserve the grace of God. Grace by definition means we are not entitled to this goodness. We should not assume God should or will be gracious to all. We are all sinners and by fact of our rebellion we deserve no goodness from God but judgment ("For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19).
This false assumption that God needs to be gracious to all is basic to most misunderstandings of these truths. It is based on a poor understand of God's love. Salvation is based on God's love for His people which we will be later discussed. God's love does not mean He will save all. His general love is seen in His general patience with sinful creatures while He hour after hour reveals His eternal and divine power (Romans 1:18-20).
- God is just. We are not really asking for the right thing when we are questioning whether God is 'fair'. This question is based on the assumption that God is not just. God is absolutely righteous. He cannot be unjust. God judges all 'without partiality' (Ro 2:11 "For there is no partiality with God.").
Fair should mean that the Lord will treat us as we should be treated. Since we are sinful and rebellious creatures (Romans 3:9-20), the only thing we deserve is judgment. Instead of asking for fairness, we should ask for mercy and grace!
A plea for fairness means that we are asking God to earlier carry out our guilty sentences. Notice how in Ro 10:22 it says that God patiently endures vessels of wrath. Instead of earlier carrying out His wrath, we see how God restrained His wrath and according to his predetermined (i.e. predestined) plan put His Son to death on the cross (Acts 2:22-24) to save those that would believe.
Remember that God did not overlook His people's Son, a full payment was paid in the death of Christ for their sins. Was God being 'unfair' to so treat His people? Definitely not. He was being wonderfully gracious! This is a awesome God that we should more boldly tell others of.
- One major issue is that many believers are convinced that man ought to have a choice. I think of it this way (hopefully a biblical mindset). If God allowed our choice to determine our future, we would all choose to rebel against God (and this is what we did do). By insisting on our privilege of choice, we would exclude ourselves from God's kind interceptive work. Remember Romans 8:5? "For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh."
If we gained 'our choice,' we would every time condemn ourselves to eternal judgment. I much prefer God's gracious intervention in our lives than the so-called freedom to a philosophy of 'free choice.' This plan in Romans 8:28-30 is God's intervention plan. It is also called salvation. Does the man in a perilous circumstance tell the rescuers to go away? No. He instead thanks them for their help. The firemen raise a fire ladder to a man on a ledge of a burning building. The man on the ledge did not ask for help.
He did not bargain with them that he would give them one million dollars if they would come. He could not demand help (not to mention no one would hear him). They risked their lives to save him. We should simply be overwhelmed with thankfulness on the way God saved us. What about free will? I already stated we exercised it and sinned. Are you ready to be helped now that you have messed up your life? That is the question.
- Our salvation is wrapped in the eternal plan and purpose of God. It is something that is done even before we are conceived of. This is the powerful teaching of the comprehensive plan set before us in Ro 8:29-30. Before we were born, God foreknew us. The word foreknew could be translated chosen. There is a bit of misunderstanding over this word.
The four verses that speak of God foreknowing as a verb (Ro 8:29, 11:2, 1 Pe 1:2, 20) all speak of foreknowing persons, either the God's people or Christ. The verses say nothing about foreknowing the good works that we would do or foreknowledge of our decision to choose Jesus Christ to save us.
The meaning of the relevant verses (Ro 8:29, 11:2, 1 Pe 1:2) is rooted in prior acquaintance. I believe the word is closely connected to the action 'chose' or elected. In the Old Testament the word 'to know' is used to intimately know someone, including sexual intimacies. If we would separate 'to know' from 'to choose' perhaps we would say 'to foreknow' describes the depth of commitment and intimacy while 'to choose' focuses on the aspect of decision.
We use the phrase 'get to know' someone but God did it before we were born. The timing part is hard to explain. Think of this phrase 'for whom He foreknew' (Ro 8:29) as a choice to seek that woman as a wife. It is the inner commitment to take her as his own. Does anyone blame a man for putting his affection, care and wealth upon a certain woman? No. Choice is choice.
If God chose us dependent upon on our good works or decision to follow Jesus, then this would make salvation dependent upon man's effort. But as students of Romans, we already have been convinced that "there is none who does good" (Ro 3:12) and "there is none who seek God" (Ro 3:9). We have no good works nor do we have the desire to choose God. We simply wouldn't and couldn't follow Him on our own. We welcome His gracious choice for us for we would not have chosen Him.
- The apostle has argued that our salvation is bound up in Christ. In Ephesians 1:4, he writes, "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love." Romans 5:12-21 addresses this in a more comprehensive way. "Much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17).
Jesus Christ is our true representative for salvation. If we are hidden in Christ, then we have hope. If we are apart from Christ, we have no hope. Although we tend to think of being in Christ only for justification, it is better understood that we are hid in Christ, as Ro 8:29-30 teaches, all through the process and for eternity.
- Predestination is used six times in the scriptures, all in the New Testament (Ac 4:28, Ro 8:29, Ro 8:30, 1 Co 2:7, Eph 1:5, Eph 1:11). The Greek word (proorizo) can be translated as decreed, predestined, foreordain, decided beforehand or destined. Different translations use different English words, but they all are the same Greek word. Let us think through what Ro 8:29-30 does say, however.
What did the Lord predestine? That we would be conformed to Christ's image with the result that we would be one of many in His family (among many brethren). Is this not a good and gracious act? Could we ever reach this position without God's help? Never. Nether should we associate predestination with a negative connotation.
- I know we tend to ask the other questions about predestination such as why He does not predestine everyone or whether predestination also means He predestined others to damnation. These are not the questions Paul is posing here. Again, go back to the truth about God not being obligated to save any. He is only obligated to judge us. Ro 8:29-30 reminds us that salvation is not just what happens at an evangelical service but one part of a huge and eternal process. Think again of a man marrying a woman.
He decides to marry her. He thinks about her (i.e. foreknew) and sets His heart to marry her (predestine). In time He reveals his choice (i.e. called) and shares with her the arrangements (i.e. justifies). He has already discussed the proposal with her parents and arranged it all. When she hears of it, she is overwhelmed.
What woman would refuse marrying such a person? She is greatly moved and responds in her heart with great warmth and anticipation (i.e. 'being born again'). She is so thankful that he has taken care of the dowry and other marriage issues and awaits for the full realization (i.e. glorification).
We focus on the time she hears the offer and responds. Many put a Western notion of choice upon the whole seen. Instead it is a prearranged marriage. She only responds to the offer with glee. She has been chosen. She will be getting married. Justification speaks of the hidden price that needs to be paid (He 2:14). We had to be bought with the price (i.e. redemption).
- Some will bring up other passages that speak of contrary perspectives. These should be studied, but they must be studied in their context. We must allow the force of this passage shape our hearts and minds before allowing this or that one verse to shift our whole focus. The point of Romans 8:29-30 is that it is a comprehensive plan. The use of predestination is fully in context and we must allow that to shape our thoughts and beliefs.
If we find contrary verses, we should be honest enough to say that it appears to be contrary and still trying to find a resolution. It is wholly inappropriate to allow a few scattered verses take up another perspective so that we discard the clear intention in Romans 8 here. Let me provide one example.
Some will state that 2 Peter 3:9 has a contrary opinion. "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." They state that God does not wish for any to perish. From this, they extract with a few other previously mentioned assumptions that God wills to save all so predestinating some is incorrect.
They are willing to set aside the clear meaning of Romans 8:29-30 and predestination of some so that they can believe that a loving God wants to (and perhaps will) save all. Since God is all-powerful, then He will save all. This is clearly wrong and we should cease from taking what is unclear to state what we want to be said. How should we accept this verse then?
First of all, we should be able to say "I do not know how it fits together." Simply ask the Lord to teach you the meaning. Secondly, we should see that this verse certainly does not mean that God will save all since in the following verses He speaks of judgment. So whatever it does mean, it does not mean that God will be saving all.
Thirdly, as we strive to understand the verse, we see that Peter is speaking of God's general patient call (as opposed to salvation call in Romans 8:30) to all mankind to repent. Just as the Lord in Romans 1 is daily using creation to witness to His glory and power, so He is patiently putting off judgment. Man chose to rebel. God made it easy not to rebel. There are many verses which speak about God's reluctance to judge.
"And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 4:11).
There are some other verses used to counter election and predestination but there are sufficient explanations for each one. The real problem is the assumptions that we make when using them to counter the clear systematic and comprehensive teaching in Romans 8:28-30. Paul wants us to take full joy in the redemptive program of the Lord. We might struggle, but we can hold on. There is a glorious hope to look forward to.
Christ has already died and come alive. The process is in operation. The full realization of the glory of God is soon to be revealed. We can endure hardship and be confident it is all part of God's glorious and wonderful part of God's plan. We might not see it all so clearly now, but we should be sure of it.
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