Predestination and Foreknowledge

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” (v. 29).

- Romans 8:28–30

Defining our terms allows us to communicate with one another in everyday conversation, providing us with a common frame of reference in regard to the meaning of what we are saying. When we study the things of God, we also work with definitions, so as we continue our discussion of the biblical doctrine of predestination, we need to define what predestination means. The English terms predestine and predestination come from the Greek word proorizō, a compound word that means “to determine beforehand.” Essentially, predestination refers to setting the destiny, goal, or end of something before it happens. The concept of predestination can refer to anything that happens in history; however, the most common usage of the term among Christians is in reference to salvation.

What we are talking about here is the fact that God chose our final destination long before we existed. Though our arguments with others over predestination might not always reveal it, all Christians actually believe that God predestines some to heaven and some to hell. We only differ on the basis of that predestination. Does God look into the future, see who will respond positively to Jesus, and then choose that person for heaven (the prescient view), or is predestination based entirely on God’s will such that God chooses who will believe, and that choice finally gives them saving faith (the Augustinian or Calvinistic view)? In the prescient view, the ultimate deciding factor in our salvation is us. God chooses us for salvation only after knowing how we will respond to His gospel. The Augustinian view makes the Lord the final, decisive agent in salvation. His choice establishes who will believe and who will not.

Those who hold to the prescient view typically appeal to passages such as Romans 8:28–30, noting that since God predestines those whom He foreknew, it must be that the Lord chooses for salvation those whom He foreknew would believe. The problem, of course, is that the text does not say “those whom God foreknew would believe.” In fact, Paul is not talking about our Creator’s knowledge of facts but rather His knowledge of individuals. That might seem to be a subtle distinction, but it is significant. The New Testament’s references to God’s knowledge and foreknowledge of people have to do with His knowing them in an intimate, salvific way (John 10:13; 1 Cor. 8:3). In other words, when God foreknows a person, He sets His love upon him. Our Lord’s choice of men and women for salvation is based on His decision to set His love upon them, not His knowledge of what they will do.

Coram Deo

We mentioned in an earlier study that only the Calvinistic (Augustinian) view of predestination makes salvation due entirely to the grace of God. The Lord does not make His decision based on our decision; rather, we choose to believe based on His prior choice of us. This leaves no room for boasting. It is not that God saves us because He knew we would make the right choice to trust in Christ. Instead, we make the right choice because God chose to save us.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 139
Malachi 1:2–5
Romans 11:2a
1 Peter 1:17–21

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