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It is important to remember that everyone who believes in the Bible believes in predestination and election. The issue isn't whether you have a doctrine of election but what kind of doctrine you have. The verb to choose/elect is used 22x in the NT, 7 of which refer to election to salvation or eternal life. The noun elect also occurs 22x, 17 of which refer to men and women chosen or elected to eternal life. The noun election occurs 7x, all with reference to salvation. The verb to predestine occurs 6x, 4 of which refer to men being predestined to salvation (cf. Eph. 1:5,11).

1)                                    Foreknowledge: the first link in the chain of grace

a)            the Arminian interpretation

The Arminian approach to foreknowledge in this text takes one of three forms.

(1)            Foreknowledge may refer to God's knowledge of all men and women from eternity past. In other words, foreknowledge is but a synonym for omniscience. There are two problems with this: a) all those whom God foreknows he also predestines; therefore, if foreknowledge encompasses every human being, then every human being will ultimately be saved (universalism); b) vv. 29-30 are the basis for Paul's assertion in v. 28, a passage that concerns "those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose," i.e., Christians.

(2)            The other option is that foreknowledge refers to God's advance knowledge of who would choose or believe in Christ. God elects or predestines unto salvation those whom he foreknows will exercise saving faith in Christ. Election is therefore conditional. God elects or chooses those who first elect or choose Christ. God's elective choice of you, his decision to predestine you to eternal life, was conditioned upon his foreknowledge that you would believe in the gospel. Here is what Arminius himself says:

"To these [previous three decrees] succeeds the fourth decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere" (Works, I:248).

(3)            A slightly different, but related, form of view (2) is the notion of corporate conditional election. Demarest defines it this way: “Evangelical interpreters view election passively as God’s purpose to save the class of people who trust Christ. In other words, election is a statement about the divine plan of salvation; it concerns God’s appointment of the believing community to everlasting glory” (104). Perhaps the best definition is that provided by Forster and Marston:

“The prime point is that the election of the church is a corporate rather than an individual thing. It is not that individuals are in the church because they are elect, it is rather that they are elect because they are in the church, which is the body of the elect One. . . . A Christian is not chosen to become part of Christ’s body, but in becoming part of that body [by free will, exercising faith] he partakes of Christ’s election” (God’s Strategy in Human History, 1974, 136).

A more recent advocate of this view is William Klein in his book, The New People of God: A Corporate View of Election (Zondervan, 1990; see also the book by Shank, Elect in the Son). Klein contends that “God has chosen the church as a body rather than the specific individuals who populate that body” (259). The concern of the NT regarding predestination, says Klein, “is not how people become Christians nor who become Christians” but “what God has foreordained on behalf of those who are (or will be) Christians” (185).

There are several problems with the Arminian view:

First, the doctrine of prevenient grace, on which the Arminian view of conditional election is based, is not found in Scripture. See "Does Scripture Teach Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan Sense?" by Tom Schreiner in The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will (Baker, 1995), 2:365-82.

Appeal is often made to John 1:9 – “There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” This could as easily refer to (1) the influence of common grace, or (2) the operation of general revelation. Schreiner contends that “enlighten” does not refer to inward illumination of the heart/mind/will, but rather means to expose the moral state of the heart, i.e., to shed light upon someone so as to reveal and uncover (see 3:19-21).

Second, there is no reference in the text to faith or free will as that which God allegedly foresees in men. It is not what he foreknows but whom.

Third, this view assumes that fallen men are able and willing to believe in Christ apart from the regenerating grace of God, a notion that Paul has denied in Rom. 3:10-18.

Fourth, would not this view give man something of which he may boast? Those who embrace the gospel would be deserving of some credit for finding within themselves what others do not.

Fifth, this view suspends the work of God on the will of man. It undermines the emphasis in the passage on the sovereign and free work of God who foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies. It is God who is responsible for salvation, from beginning to end.

Sixth, even if one grants that God elects based on his foreknowledge of man's faith, nothing is proven. For God foreknows everything. One must determine from Scripture how man came by the faith that God foreknows. And the witness of Scripture is that saving faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 1:29; 2 Pet. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Acts 5:31; 11:18).

Someone once said to Charles Spurgeon, "God foresaw that you would have faith, and therefore He loved you." To which Spurgeon replied:

"What did He foresee about my faith? Did He foresee that I should get that faith myself, and that I should believe on Him of myself? No; Christ could not foresee that, because no Christian man will ever say that faith came of itself without the gift and without the working of the Holy Spirit. I have met with a great many believers, and talked with them about this matter; but I never knew one who could put his hand on his heart, and say, 'I believed in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit'."

[Special Note: The Arminian contends that God foreknows both that some are and others are not going to believe in Christ in response to the gospel. He also affirms that God knows why they respond either in belief or unbelief, for God is omniscient and knows the secrets and inner motives of the heart. God also knows what it is in the presentation of the gospel that proves successful in persuading some to say "Yes" and what it is that proves unsuccessful in persuading those who say "No." The question, then, is this: If God truly desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, and if he knows what it is in the means of persuasion contained in the gospel that brings people to say yes, why doesn't he orchestrate the presentation of the gospel in such a way that it will succeed in persuading all people to believe? The point is this: Surely the God who perfectly knows every human heart is capable of creating a world in which the gospel would prove successful in every case. And if God desires for all to be saved in the way the Arminian contends, why didn't He?]

b)            the Calvinistic interpretation 

Before we start, Judith Gundry Volf provides us with an insightful overview of what is happening in this passage:

"Paul portrays salvation as a series of divine initiatives snowballing toward fullness. He links these initiatives so tightly that each is born of the former and bears a promise of the one which follows. Glorification is thus the finishing touch on the indivisible divine work of salvation which originated in God's foreknowledge and predestination of Christians and has come to historical expression in their calling and justification. These verses truly do form a 'chain' of interconnected divine salvific works and so imply a continuity in Christians' salvation" (Paul and Perseverance, p. 13).

The verb "to foreknow" occurs five times in the NT (Acts 26:5; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:17). The noun "foreknowledge" occurs in two texts (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:2).

The place to begin is with a definition of foreknowledge. John Murray writes:

"Many times in Scripture 'know' has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond that of mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with 'love,' to set regard upon, to know with peculiar interest, delight, affection, and action (cf. Gen. 18:19; Exod. 2:25; Psalm 1:6; 144:3; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; Matt. 7:23; 1 Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9; II Tim. 2:19; 1 John 3:1). There is no reason why this import of the word 'know' should not be applied to 'foreknow' in this passage, as also in 11:2 where it also occurs in the same kind of construction and where the thought of election is patently present (cf. 11:5,6)" (317).

See, for example, Matthew 7:23 where Jesus reveals his future response to false disciples at the last judgment: "I never knew you, depart from Me." As Baugh has pointed out, "Clearly, mere intellectual cognition is ruled out as the meaning of 'know' here, since it is precisely Jesus' knowledge of their real motives and covenantal status and commitments that leads to their condemnation. Rather, he says that these people never had covenantal relations with him; the Good Shepherd did not know them as his sheep, and they did not know him (John 10:14)" ("The Meaning of Foreknowledge," p. 194). Cf. Gal. 4:8-9

Thus, to foreknow is to forelove. That God foreknew us is but another way of saying that He set his gracious and merciful regard upon us, that He knew us from eternity past with a sovereign and distinguishing delight. God's foreknowledge is an active, creative work of divine love. It is not bare pre-vision which merely recognizes a difference between men who believe and men who do not believe. God's foreknowledge creates that difference! Or again, "speaking about God's foreknowledge may be a way of expressing his eternal commitment to individuals as part of his determination to bring them to faith and to all the glories and benefits of Christ's work" (Baugh, 196).

2)                                    Predestination: the second link in the chain of grace

Predestination is not synonymous with foreknowledge. Foreknowledge focuses attention on the distinguishing love of God whereby men are elected. Predestination points to the decision God made of what He intended to do with those whom He foreknew. See Acts 4:28; Eph. 1:5,11. Predestination is that act in eternity past in which God ordained or decreed that those on whom He had set his saving love would inherit eternal life.

a)                                    the immediate purpose of predestination: our goodness

b)                                    the ultimate purpose of predestination: his glory

3)            Calling: the third link in the chain of grace

a)                                    the external call: universal and resistible

b)                                    the internal call: limited and irresistible

Calling, here, “must be understood as effectual. It is not merely an invitation that human beings can reject, but it is a summons that overcomes human resistance and effectually persuades them to say yes to God. This definition of ‘calling’ is evident from Rom. 8:30, for there Paul says that ‘those whom he called he also justified.’ The text does not say that ‘some’ of those called were justified. It fuses the called and justified together so that those who have experienced calling have also inevitably received the blessing of justification” (Schreiner, 450-51). 

4)                                    Justification: the fourth link in the chain of grace

5)                                    Glorification: the fifth link in the chain of grace

Note the use of the past tense in describing glorification. Yet we are told in 8:18-25 that glorification is still future. Paul clearly wants to emphasize the fact that our glorification is so sure, so securely set and sealed in the mind and purpose and predestined plan of God, that it may be spoken of as having already occurred.

Observe also that each link is co-extensive with every other link. Paul makes it clear that the objects of God's saving activity are the same from start to finish. Those whom he foreknew, not one more nor one less, these he predestined. And those whom he predestined, not one more nor one less, these he called. And those whom he called, not one more nor one less, these he justified. And those whom he justified, not one more nor one less, these he glorified. Thus "Paul posits a continuity in the beneficiaries of salvation from its first manifestation in God's eternal counsel to its final one in glorification" (Gundry Volf, 14). So, how many did God lose in the process? Not one! All whom He foreknew in eternity past will ultimately be glorified in eternity future. Not one is lost. Not one! No one who is foreknown fails to be predestined. And no one who is predestined fails to be called. And no one who is called fails to be justified. And no one who is justified fails to be glorified!

N.B. There is also immense practical benefit in this interpretation. Vv. 29-30 are designed to provide the theological basis or foundation for the promise of v. 28. In other words, we can know with confidence that God truly will work in all things for our ultimate good (v. 28) because those whom he calls will most assuredly be glorified as well (vv. 29-30). Thus, God will permit nothing ultimately to hinder his eternal good purpose for his called ones.

[Other NT texts to consider on the doctrine of election include John 10:14-16,24-30; Acts 13:44-48; Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:1-2.]


"'Tis not that I did choose thee,

For, Lord, that could not be;

This heart would still refuse thee,

Hadst thou not chosen me.

Thou from the sin that stained me

Hast cleansed and set me free;

Of old thou hast ordained me,

That I should live to Thee.

'Twas sovereign mercy called me

And taught my op'ning mind;

The world had else enthralled me,

To heav'nly glories blind.

My heart owns none before thee,

For thy rich grace I thirst;

This knowing, if I love thee,

Thou must have loved me first."

Josiah Conder (1836)