Foreknowledge and Faith

Predestination and Election are hardly topics spoken about in the Indian Church. After having come to Christ for 7 years, I have not heard a single sermon on Predestination. The topic is a taboo, apparently portraying God as unjust at best or “worse than the Devil”, as John Wesley put it, at worst. So, much of Bible’s teaching on Predestination is either totally ignored or carefully misinterpreted.

One of the proof-text of the free-will theory (or Arminianism) is Romans 8:29. This is how it reads: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (ESV). The passage is interpreted this way: God looked into the future; saw who is going to receive his salvation by faith and who is not; predestined unto glory those who he knew (or foreknew) will receive his salvation by faith and left others to their doom for their lack of it. Therefore in the final analysis, the crucial element which decides one’s personal destiny is one’s own ability to exercise faith. This, God, foresaw and made it a basis for election.

Let’s grant this thesis for a moment. If the ability to exercise of one’s own faith in the Gospel is the ultimate basis for predestination, then that faith must have been remarkable indeed. I say this because this faith must have distinguished itself from the faith of those mentioned in the parable of the sower – even  they “heard the word and immediately received it with joy.” (Mat 13:20). And remember, faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17). So they exercised some sort of faith. But yet they ultimately turned out to be reprobates because their faith was not genuine. Even Simon the Sorcerer (who later turned out to be reprobate, which can be inferred both from the Biblical account and Church History) is said to have initially believed (Acts 8:13). Therefore, if this thesis is true, the faith of those who were predestined must have had a greater quality and thus merited predestination from God. This is sure grounds for boasting. Is it not?  However, Romans 8:29 does not give any such impression. And Bible says we have nothing to boast (Rom 4:2; 1 C0 1:29; Eph 2:9) regarding our salvation.

Also, if this thesis is true, then this “remarkable faith” itself must become also the basis of preservation of salvation. What good is my faith if, once I exercise it, I still need more grace to maintain it? Isn’t it not the same as that of Simon the Sorcerer and the ones who receive the word with great joy in the beginning in the Parable of Sowers (Mat 13:21)? Again it must be granted, if this thesis is true, and if it needs to be consistent, God must have not only looked at whether one exercises faith or not, but also whether the faith he exercises is of such a genuine quality that it propels him to remain faithful throughout his earthly life. However, Biblical evidence stands against this as well. All of us need grace to live our lives faithfully before God (Php 1:6; Jude 1:24; 2Ti 1:12 ; 1Co 15:10) which proves that our faith had no meritorious quality whatsoever before God. Faith is merely a instrument through which we are justified (Eph 2:8-10; by grace through faith)

The foreknowledge in Romans 8:29 is not about God ascertaining whether one will exercise faith or not but rather about God simply knowing that person. It has its roots in the Old Testament “where the word ‘know’ emphasizes God’s special choice of, or covenantal affection for, his people” (Gen. 18:19; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; quotes from ESV Study Bible Notes). He simply knew his people just as Jesus said : “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

Our Predestination is grounded in God’s sovereign choice and not on our faith. Paul’s words in Rom 9 sums it up well : For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Rom 9:15-18, ESV). Amen.


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I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.

15 thoughts on “Foreknowledge and Faith”

    1. Hi Gloris,

      it may be easier to be a Christian in India than in America, I guess. We have religious liberty by and large, although some places of India do face extreme persecution. Thanks for your comments.

      Soli Deo Gloria

  1. Hi Venkatesh,
    If there is no effort or response required of us in order to receive and retain salvation, where would you fit the three parables in Mat 25? In all three there is election and in all three there is selection based on response. The issue of predestination can be supported by multiple passages on both sides of the question. Does this mean we’re confused or worse, God is confused… the real answer will probably surprise all of us and point to a wisdom that is much higher than ours. I think the image of a surprised sheep is a good picture to keep in mind as we ponder such questions…

    1. Hubert,
      Thanks for commenting. I really appreciate it. However, I think there is no confusion here. I never denied that there is no human response in the process of salvation. But the ability to make a human response is solely because of the grace of God. Eph 2:5 says, God made us alive when we were dead in our trespasses. So, divine initiative first and human response next. See also Colossians 2:13. So, human response is totally contingent on Divine initiative.
      The parables in Matthew 25 do not militate against what I am saying. The assumption you are making that all the characters described in Matt 25 were elected and then selected on the basis of their response undercuts the whole of NT Theology on salvation — that we are saved by grace alone. So, if “universal-election-and-response-based-selection” is true, would you say that the decisive factor which made us believers is our own response? Then how can we confidently say that Salvation belongs to the LORD? (Psa 3:8) And how could we not boast in ourselves if we believe this? Also, if universal election is true, then interpreting Romans 8:28 also becomes a huge problem. All were called (which you would assert) and all are justfied and all are glorified? Whole mankind in heaven?

      I know Predestination is a difficult concept, but we cannot avoid it unless we distort a significant portion of the New Testament. I encourage you to think through the issues. Thanks however for your comments

  2. Hi Venkatesh, (please delete previous post, I corrected a few mistakes. Thanks)
    There is lots to talk about. I’ll choose to address one of your ideas to start with:
    Venkatesh – “So, if “universal-election-and-response-based-selection” is true, would you say that the decisive factor which made us believers is our own response? Then how can we confidently say that Salvation belongs to the LORD? (Psa 3:8) And how could we not boast in ourselves if we believe this? “.
    Hubert – “Universal-election-and-response-based-selection” is a principle, I believe, can also be inferred from the scriptures. Take 2 Peter 10 “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.” This suggests to me a part of responsibility on the part of the believer… John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. “Whoever” does suggest an open-ended invitation. In Mark 10:10 Jesus answered a man asking him how to inherit eternal life this way “”Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!””. Was the choice to receive eternal life not based on a personal choice?
    Concerning the issue of boasting in our own salvation, I do not see personal response as negating God’s Grace and giving me any ground for boasting in the same way that a drowning man cannot boast of having grasped the lifesaver tossed to him from a passing boat. Understanding God’s Grace and what He has saved me from is enough to keep me from boasting and to confirm my need to hang-on to the Grace that offers me Life, Truth, Justice, etc.
    This being said, I agreed that some other passages are well in line with your side of the argument. This only goes to show that we probably only have part of the full picture, we probably judge without full knowledge and that the whole argument of election vs. personal response is moot in front of other much more important questions such as “how do I

    live Kingdom values today?” and “how do I love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and strength?”.
    Although we probably fall squarely on both side of the election vs. choice issue, in the end, you might have to put up with me for a very long time =)

  3. I think you are a little confused on this issue. What you quote as Arminianism is not correct. You seem to have made a mish-mash of Arminianism and Calvinism. Calvinism stated that man inherited total depravity and guilt from Adam and his human will was destroyed by sin and so his election was founded in God’s eternal decree and so atonement was limited to ONLY those who were chosen to be saved. (This is how YOU have defined Arminianism). Jacobus Arminius objected to this and stated that God willed all men to be saved, not just the chosen. Thus , he said, Predestination was best explained by God’s foreknowledge. Christ died for all men (not just a chosen few) and human will could still operate and our salvation depended on our response to God and our perseverance/continuation in the faith depends on our continued faith and obedience, whereas Calvinists say “Once Saved Always Saved” and explain apostasy as not really been saved. Common sense, History and a Study of the Bible (see Heb. 10: 26-30, 6:4-6) show that this is not true. After a lot of searching and prayer I came to accept the Arminianism position. One of the reasons William Carey could not get the Baptist elders to agree on mission to the heathen was their Calvinistic viewpoint that if God willed the heathen to be saved HE would do it and we don’t need you so “sit down young man”!! Sounds like Hindu karma to me!!

  4. Brother Peter,

    We can look into the pros and cons to defend or define principles by intently searching the scriptures without having to look into “examples” to define principles. I think we all do this mistake time and again to lobby our case, which dilutes the objectivity of the case at hand. What i meant is , quoting William Carey’s bad experience with a Baptist/Calvinist lends no implication on the principles of Calvinism, much less as the testimony of “believers” on the principles of the Bible. I don’t think we can draw that parallel, can we?

    With respect to the Calvinistic viewpoint quoted by Venky and your views on Arminianism, perhaps you can help explain some verses such as Eph 1:13, 14 which talks about the guarantee of the Holy Spirit. If we are not sealed until the day of redemption, once being saved, then how can you say that we were saved at all in the first place? Our salvation is always in doubt – there is no “hope of assurance”. But if indeed i could then lose my salvation once being saved, then somehow only two options exist according to that verse: God removes the seal of the Holy Spirit from us, or we have “grieved” the Holy Spirit to such an extent that He no longer remains is us. The first one makes it look as though its a contract with God for our obedience, not salvation based on His promise and His purpose, and the second one seems to make the Holy Spirit look intolerable with our sins, once having dwelt in us. Would you think that to be true?

  5. Hi Venky,
    I just read a passage from John Eldredge’s book “Wild at Heart” (p.30) that reminded me of our last conversation concerning God’s decision to set, in advance, our ability to receive him. Here it is…

    In an attempt to secure the sovereignty of God,theologians have overstated their case and left us with a chess-player God playing both sides of the board, making all his moves and all ours too. But clearly, this is not so. God is a person who takes immense risks. No doubt the biggest risk of all was when he gave angels and men free will, including the freedom to reject him – not just once, but every single day. Does God cause a person to sin? “Absolutely not!” says Paul (Gal 2:17). Then he can’t be moving all the pieces on the board, because people sin all the time. Fallen angels and men use their powers to commit horrendous daily evil. Does God stop every bullet fired at an innocent victim? Does he prevent teenage liaisons from producing teenage pregnancies? There is something much more risky going on there than we’re often willing to admit.
    Most of us do everything we can to reduce the element of risk in our lives. We wear our seat belts, watch our cholesterol, and practice birth control. I know some couples who have decided against having children altogether, they simply aren’t willing to chance the heartache children often bring. What is they turn their backs on us, and God? What if…? God seems to fly in the face of all caution. Even though he knew what would happen, what heartbreak and suffering and devastation would follow upon our disobedience, God chose to have children. And unlike some hyper-controlling parents, who take away every element of choice they can from their children, God gave us a remarkable choice. He did not make Adam and Eve obey him. He too a risk. A staggering risk, with staggering consequences. He let others into his story and he lets their choices shape it profoundly…

    Eldredge’s book is a great picture of how God’s nature impacts man’s design and destiny.

  6. Hi Venky,

    I just came across your blog via Michael Horton’s White Horse Inn blog. I read that you are a software developer. What particular software platform do you develop for?

    You should post some more thoughts. As should I if you happen to venture over there.

  7. Venky wrote: The assumption you are making that all the characters described in Matt 25 were elected and then selected on the basis of their response undercuts the whole of NT Theology on salvation — that we are saved by grace alone.

    Both Calvinism and Arminianism are exhaustive worldviews. And worldviews (and theological doctrines) are formed not from the NT alone, but from several factors.

    – The NT, and everything in it
    – The OT, and everything in it (not the least the Torah laws)
    – The Creation mandate before the Fall (Gen 1&2)
    – The Atonement motif
    – Most importantly, tying all the above points into a whole by looking at 1600 years of (factual) Biblical history as one grand narrative, the STORY of God, His people, and how He has dealt with them.

    Looking at the Bible this way, I have developed an Arminian worldview rather than a Calvinist one. I don’t have all the answers, but I *inclined to the Arminian side. I would also give the benefit of doubt to a Calvinist as long as his worldview is derived from all the above points, nothing less.

    1. Abhilash,

      Thanks for your thoughtful inputs. I agree with you that whatever Christian worldview or theological system we adopt must be able to satisfy all the factors that you have enumerated here. I am persuaded that Calvinism does so.

  8. It has been some time since you’ve written. I hope you are strong and well in the Lord. Keep up the studies. Grace and peace to you.

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