From a previous week’s post: Rather than suggest any smugness, this doctrine ought to humble each of us to the dust. …The number of references in Scripture to God’s sovereign, electing love are overwhelming.
9. While God does foresee all things, the election of man unto salvation does not rest on God’s foresight of what man himself would do with the gospel.
- Rom. 8:29 “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
Some comments should be made regarding this verse since the Arminians have used this word “foreknew” to establish their view of election as being based upon God’s foresight of who would one day be faithful. He then chose those faithful ones to be His elect people.
It is true that God foresees man’s faith. He foresees everything else as well. But it is not true that God determines what He will do by what He foresees. God does not elect unto salvation after first foreseeing how man likes the offer. After all, where does man’s faith come from in the first place? The faith that God “foresees” is a faith that He Himself has brought about in man (see Jn. 3:3-8; 6:44, 45, 65; Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 1:29; II Pet. 1:2).
God can only foresee that which He Himself has first determined to bring about. If God had to work faith in the hearts of men first, then He would have had to elect those that he gave the gift of faith. The premise of Arminianism falls, unless man can create faith by himself. This they erroneously hasten to agree with, maintaining that faith is the result of man’s own free will. As we have already shown, man does not have the free will he claims he has.
A look at the grammar of this verse also helps explain it. We notice that the text says “whom he foreknew.” This means that election has already taken place since grammatically “whom” is the object of the verb, not the subject. It is the previously “elected” or the “predestined” people that God foreknew here.
The word “foreknew” (proegno) does not appear often in the New Testament, but we should look at its root – “to know.” This word has a broad meaning in the Scripture. It does not always mean to “recognize”. It is most often used in the sense of “to love” or to “know with a peculiar interest, delight, affection, and action.” See Gen. 18:19; Ex. 2:25; Ps. 1:6; 144:3; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; Matt. 7:23; Jn. 10:14; Acts 15:18; I Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9; II Tim. 2:19; and I Jn. 3:1.
It is most likely that the meaning used by Paul here in Romans is that of an “active divine delight” or “love.” God’s love is the cause, not the result, of predestination (I Jn. 4:10).
The basis for salvation emphasized in Scripture is not our “accepting” Christ, but Christ making us “acceptable” to God by His sacrifice (Eph. 1:6). The believers Paul is referring to here, as being “foreseen in love” (and also in Rom. 11:2), have already been elected. Paul is then singling out those whom God had elected to eternal life (as opposed to the reprobate whom God had passed by). So it is those that God had already elected in his love that He predestinates “to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
We can see in the words of Paul that it is God, not man, who predestinates, calls, justifies, and glorifies. God is active and determinative in all these cases. This makes it inconsistent that in this use of the word “foreknew” man is active and God is passive. It is first God who sets His love upon His elect that He may do these things to men. To make “foreknew” to be based upon the necessity of man first having faith (as the Arminians do), is to break the chain that Paul here outlines – a chain whose links are forged, joined together, and strengthened by God alone.
This explanation of the word “foreknew” applies also where we find it in Rom. 11:2 (“God has not cast away his people whom He foreknew.”) and I Pet. 1:2 (“…elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”).
In any Bible study, if there is a word or a verse which is not clear and even appears on the surface to contradict other clearer teachings, we must compare Scripture with Scripture to determine its meaning in that context. We cannot ignore overwhelming evidence in favor of lesser evidence when we are questioning a difficult portion of the Bible. This comparison will give us a richer and fuller knowledge of the Bible. In the inscripturation of the Bible, God does not repeat Himself without purpose. There are many parallels in Scripture so that the Holy Spirit might work a greater knowledge and assurance of faith in His people as they are engaged in searching and studying it.
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.