Foreknowledge and Predestination

It seems that a lot of us Christians are confused over the concepts of foreknowledge and predestination. The confusion arises over passages in Paul’s epistles, a fact which would undoubtedly distress him no end if he were still here. Many Christians believe that certain people are predestined to enter heaven, while others are predestined for hell, and that there is nothing we can do or say to change that.

One man I knew and played golf with some years ago—a member of the church where I belonged at the time—actually believed every action in his life was predestined by God and that he had no free will to do anything. This led him to the conclusion that if he sinned it was part of God’s plan and there was nothing for him to confess or repent of. Following his beliefs, he ended up leaving and divorcing one of the most beautiful women—and sweetest Christians—I’ve ever known. How sad. I’ve neither seen nor heard from him in twenty years or so.

The confusion on this subject appears to stem from a passage in Romans and another in Ephesians. The Ephesians passage, from Chapter One, reads as follows:

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

7In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, bothwhich are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. 11In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

We’ll get back to that shortly, but let us first look at the passage from Chapter 28 of Romans:

28And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

This is one of the best-known passages in the entire Bible, and yet it’s also one of the most misquoted and misunderstood. How often have you heard someone say, “All things work together for good?” You cannot end the statement there, but people often do.

It doesn’t just say all things work together for good. It applies that principle strictly to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. But then we get mired down. We see “called according to His purpose” and then skip to that word “predestined,” and we begin to think God arbitrarily picked out a chosen few—the “elect”—and for some reason ordained that everybody else would go to hell.

How about those first four words in verse 29? Don’t they count? They not only count—it is these words that make sense of all the rest of both the Romans passage and that from Ephesians. “For whom He foreknew . . .” Aha—the light begins to dawn.

Before the foundation of the world, God knew YOU and ME. He knew exactly when we would be born, and He knew whether or not there would be any circumstances under which we, of our own free will, would come to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.

That’s the key to the whole thing. He didn’t arbitrarily decide this person will be saved and this person will not. That’s not the action of a loving God. A loving God would never destine anyone to an eternity in hell with no possibility for that person to make a free will decision to accept salvation.

So He knew exactly who would exercise that free will option to accept Jesus, and He called all of those people according to His purpose. He predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son so that He (Jesus) could be the firstborn of a whole new race, a race not of lost sinners but of brothers and sisters of Jesus—members of His own family.

These people He predestined because He foreknew that they would come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, He called. Nothing arbitrary here. He called every person in history whom He knew would come to that relationship. And if He called them, He also justified them. He applied the righteousness of Christ Jesus to cover and atone for that individual’s sins and sin nature. And those He justified, He also glorified. He made you and me and every other human being who ever has or will accept Jesus a member of His family and seated us in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.

Now that we understand the place foreknowledge plays in all of this, we can look back at the verses from Ephesians. When He says, “. . . just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons . . .” we can see that this choosing and predestining come not as a result of any favoritism on the part of God, but because He knew we would choose to accept Jesus as our Savior.

Likewise, when He says, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will . . .” we can now see that this is not the arbitrary act of a capricious God, but a righteous act of a loving God rewarding His children for choosing Him.

Ø What do you think about the relationship of predestination and foreknowledge?

Ø How does this explanation help you in understanding this?


About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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