Thursday, July 2, 2009

Predestination in Romans, Part I

Throughout my series on Predestination from the book “Why I Am Not An Arminian” by Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, I have taken the concept of predestination discussed in the Gospel of John, Acts, and Revelation. Now, I will discuss the concept according to Paul in his epistle to the Romans. Peterson and Williams write the following:

“…’foreknew’ in Romans 8:29 has God as subject and His people as object. The words ‘know’ and ‘foreknow’ have a broad range of meaning in Scripture, and sometimes ‘foreknow’ means knowing facts beforehand. But that is not its meaning in Romans 8:29. Paul does not say that God foreknows certain facts (which of course he does; he knows all facts); instead he says that he foreknows certain people…when Paul says, ‘God foreknew’ people in Romans 8:29, therefore, he means that God PLANNED TO ENTER INTO A SAVING PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM, TO SET HIS LOVE UPON THEM” (Peterson & Williams, “Why I Am Not An Arminian,” page 55).

There is a problem, however, with Peterson’s and Williams’ analysis. The problem is found when you consider that they seem to combine the two factors of Romans 8:29 into one. In the quote above, I have capitalized the authors’ words regarding God’s plans for “those he foreknew.” The reason why I did this is because Peterson and Williams seem to argue for predestination—but leave out foreknowledge: “God planned to enter into a saving personal relationship with them, to set his love upon them.”

Look at Romans 8:29. The first phrase is, “For those He foreknew…” What is the “for” there for? What is the significance of the “for” in verse 29? The answer is found in Romans 8:28, where Paul begins his argument concerning God’s children. The reason why verse 29 happens is because verse 28 tells us that all things God works out in the end for good. However, what do we do with “those He foreknew?” Paul doesn’t mention this title in verse 28, so why is it there? “Those He foreknew” describes the children of God mentioned in verse 28—who are referred to there as “those who love God” and “those who are called according to His purpose.”

Yes, as Peterson and Williams argue it, God chose to set His love first. As 1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him because HE FIRST LOVED US.” However, we are not FORCED to love Him because He first loved us. God, granting free moral agency to mankind, allows us to choose whether or not we will reciprocate God’s love. So, regarding “those He foreknew,” these are the ones God knew would “love Him” return. This is why they are called “those who love God”—because, while the Lord foreknew ALL of mankind, not all will choose to love Him back. God also called these people to a heavenly calling; however, just like Abraham, we too, must answer the call to labor in the Lord’s Service.

1 John 3:16 tells us that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son; the purpose for so doing was to allow anyone who believes in Him to have eternal life.

And then come the wonderful words of John 3:17—

“For God sent not His Son into the world to CONDEMN the world, but that THE WORLD THROUGH HIM MIGHT BE SAVED.”

So God’s purpose for sending His Son was to save THE WORLD, not just a limited few or a special group, and bring them to Himself. If the Lord chose anyone to save, it was ALL OF THE WORLD.

Peterson and Williams are right that “those He foreknew” refers to those God planned to enter into a saving relationship with; however, they’re wrong when it comes to whether or not that group is the world or a few. Peterson and Williams are gonna argue that God only intended to save a select few—those that He picks. The problem with this interpretation is that Paul says in Romans 8:28 that all things work out for the good of THOSE WHO LOVE GOD. God does plan good things for these persons, but these people HAVE RESPONDED TO GOD IN LOVE, which is only possible because of the Father’s act of love at Calvary, where He offered up His one and only Son to die for the sins of the world. God has not arbitrarily selected people to place His love upon.

Verse 29 says, “For those He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, Holman Christian Standard Bible). For those He knew would love Him in return (before the foundation of the world), He planned for those who love Him to grow into the image of His Son (become imitators of Christ). And how are we to conform to the image of Christ? Paul tells us earlier in Romans 8:

“The Spirit Himself testifies together with our Spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ—SEEING THAT WE SUFFER WITH HIM SO THAT WE MAY ALSO BE GLORIFIED WITH HIM” (Romans 8:16-17, HCSB).

There is a condition to glorification noted here—that condition is that believers suffer. So, contrary to the Calvinist idea of verse 30, that glorification is GUARANTEED, Paul here gives a condition of glorification—that it will only come about through suffering. Paul says the exact same thing in Philippians:

“[My goal] is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, ASSUMING THAT I WILL SOMEHOW REACH THE RESURRECTION FROM AMONG THE DEAD. NOT THAT I HAVE ALREADY REACHED [the goal] OR AM ALREADY FULLY MATURE, but I make every effort to take hold of it BECAUSE I ALSO HAVE BEEN TAKEN HOLD OF BY CHRIST JESUS. Brothers, I DO NOT CONSIDER MYSELF TO HAVE TAKEN HOLD OF IT. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:10-14, HCSB).

Notice that Paul’s desire was to have “the fellowship of His [Christ] sufferings” and to thereby be “conformed to His death” in order to “reach the resurrection from among the dead.” The key to being raised with Christ, or being glorified with Christ, was to SUFFER WITH CHRIST! Paul states here in Philippians 3 that he did not “consider…to have taken hold of it.” Paul didn’t believe he had obtained it yet—and it behooves us to think the same way: “Therefore, all who are mature SHOULD THINK THIS WAY” (Phil. 3:15, HCSB).

For this post, two other comments should be made: one refers to the importance of suffering in sanctification (and hopefully, glorification) and the issue of election in Scripture. The first issue concerns the importance of suffering in sanctification (and glorification). Read these words from the apostle Paul:

“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous BY FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Also THROUGH HIM, we have obtained access BY FAITH into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice IN HOPE OF THE GLORY OF GOD” (Romans 5:1-2, HCSB).

Here the apostle Paul tells us that faith in the work of Christ has brought us peace, access to grace, and the glorification. Notice that the rejoicing is not due to OBTAINING the glory of God—but the HOPE that we will do so (final attainment of glorification). Glorification is that which is TO COME, not that which already IS. Yet, for the believer who perseveres, the hope of glory is NOW as well as TO COME.
But there is also something else to take joy in:

“And not only that, but we also rejoice IN OUR AFFLICTIONS, because we know that affliction produces ENDURANCE, endurance produces PROVEN CHARACTER, and proven character produces HOPE. THIS HOPE DOES NOT DISAPPOINT, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5, HCSB).

Notice that believers are to rejoice in their afflictions because OF THE GOOD that the afflictions produce. The afflictions are not good in and of themselves—but they are used to produce good in the believer. I believe this is what Paul was talking about with Romans 8:28 when he wrote,

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”

We rejoice in our afflictions, our sufferings, because “we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (8:17). It is the suffering that leads to glory, NOT the guarantee itself.

Notice the fruit of afflictions in Romans 5: endurance, proven character, and hope. The afflictions themselves allow us “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). And it is a result of this growing conformation to Christ’s image that makes us yearn for eternal glorification:

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but WE OURSELVES who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—WE ALSO GROAN within ourselves, EAGERLY WAITING for adoption, THE REDEMPTION OF OUR BODIES. Now IN THIS HOPE WE WERE SAVED, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because WHO HOPES FOR WHAT HE SEES? But if we hope for what we do not see, WE EAGERLY WAIT FOR IT WITH PATIENCE” (Romans 8:22-25, HCSB).

Notice that we as believers “eagerly wait” for our bodies to be redeemed, transformed (v. 23), and we were saved in the HOPE of redemption but must wait for it “eagerly” and “with patience” (v. 25). Patience serves then, as a condition of perseverance. We not only need FAITH, but also PATIENCE, or what we call PERSEVERANCE, if we plan to obtain our bodily redemption and eternal transformation.

Romans 5 and 8 make many interesting connections in Paul’s theology. What we do know from the apostle Paul, though, is that he was a strong believer in what 1 Thessalonians 5:8 calls “the hope of salvation.” While a believer has been saved, he or she has been saved “in hope” (Rom. 8:24), which means that the salvation itself is a FUTURE event (“will be saved,” from Romans 10:9). As a result, we can have confidence in our final salvation because “this hope does not disappoint” (Rom. 5:5); nevertheless, we can also throw away our confidence, and thereby lose our reward (that being eternal life):

“So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For YOU NEED ENDURANCE, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.
‘For in yet a very little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.
But My righteous one will live by faith;
And if he draws back,
My soul has no pleasure in him.’
But we are not those who draw back and ARE DESTROYED, but those who have faith and OBTAIN LIFE” (Hebrews 10:35-39, HCSB).

Those who draw back, who DO NOT ENDURE, are those who “are destroyed,” those who forfeit eternal life. Only those who have faith and ENDURE “obtain life,” that is, to receive what was promised (Hebrews 10:36).

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