What Does it Mean to be Foreknown by God?

In theology on January 28, 2008 at 8:33 pm

There are a few passages in the Scriptures where it says that God foreknew us in the context of choosing us or predestining us. Have a look at 1 Peter 1:1-2:

To those who reside as aliens…who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood:

and also Romans 8:28-30:

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

The interpretation of these passages can be fairly different depending on who you talk to, with the main difference between them being “on what basis are we predestined?” Or, “how does God choose who will go heaven and who will go to hell?” I want to dive right into this topic assuming you already believe we are predestined, see Revelation 17:8 if you don’t and post a comment, maybe we can post on that later.

Some would say that the foreknowledge spoken of in these passages is a foreknowledge that God has of our actions and our faith such that when God sees in eternity past that we will respond in faith to his gracious calling, He predestines us and writes our names in the book of life. So the thought is: all men are given the same amount of grace but only those who accept God’s grace in faith will be saved. God, having known and seen this event taking place in eternity past (remember God sees all things at all times, past, present, future), will call those his elect and predestines them for eternal life with Him. You might call this a brief description of Arminianism.

Others would say that the foreknowledge spoken of in these passages is a foreknowledge that God has about His plan for each and every soul such that God chooses whomever He will in eternity past and predestines them to eternal life. The idea here is that not every man is given the same amount of grace but that only those whom God has chosen in eternity past will be regenerated by His Spirit to the point where man can respond in faith. You might call this a brief description of Calvinism.

The difficult part of the argument is how we accept these ideas in our human natures. One side seems fair. The other side seems unfair. One side gives man the freedom to choose. The other side gives God the freedom to choose. But these are human reasonings, what does the Word of God say about…God?

  • Deuteronomy 7:7-8 – The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
  • Ephesian 2:8-10 – For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
  • Romans 9:16 – So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
  • Romans 9:11 – for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls
  • All of Romans 9 (sorry I should have just put that whole chapter)
  • John 6:37 – All that the father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
  • John 6:44 – No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
  • John 6:65 – …For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.
  • Acts 13:48 – …and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
  • 2 Timothy 1:9 – who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was grated us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.
  • Philippians 1:29 – For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.

Hopefully we can get a sense of God’s “freedom” of choice, if you will, from these passages. But, you might say, how can we get around the fact that:

  • 1 Timothy 2:3-4 – …God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth

is in the Scriptures? Doesn’t this mean that God wants all men to be saved and it’s only their unbelief that keeps them from salvation? If we read through 1 Timothy 2:1-2 we see that Paul is saying that God desires all types of men to be saved. Paul tells Timothy to pray for all men, then he specifically spells out kings and those in authority in verse 2. So Paul is dispelling a common belief that only certain people can be saved, only the poor and destitute, the common man and not the rich or those in authoritative positions. Paul is saying that God wants all people to be saved, the rich, the poor, the Jew, the Gentile, the slave, the freeman, etc.

So, again, when we look into these discussions it always seems to come down to how we see the character of God throughout the Scriptures. When we come across some verses that don’t seem to make a lot of sense, it is helpful to “let Scripture interpret Scripture”. Comments are very welcome, please let me know of some other verses that make the case for God’s foreknowledge being of our faith and actions and that being the basis of his election. My knowledge in that area is very weak so I would appreciate the help!

  1. Something to consider, apart from the literal reading regarding PTB, can we glean something about ‘free will’ vs. sovereignty from:

    Romans 13

    1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

    2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

    Food for thought.



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