Our God – His Foreknowledge
In the past few weeks we have considered what theologians refer to as the “omni’s” of God. God is omnipresent, i.e., He is pure Spirit and is not contained by time or space. He is omniscient. He not only knows what we do . . . he knows what we think . . . he knows our hearts and he examines (scrutinizes) or minds (Jer. 17:10) – before a word is on our tongues he knows it completely – he knows what we need (and what we don’t need). He knows when we need it and he provides for those needs completely at the perfect time! - “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?" (Matthew 6:26, NASB95) - So we say then that God is omniscient – all knowing - God knows everything - everything possible and everything actual; all events and all creatures, in our past, present and future. God exists in the ‘eternal now’.
His knowledge is absolute, innate, full, complete, and free. God is perfect in knowledge. He knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well. He never discovers anything, he is never surprised, never amazed. He never wonders about anything, nor does He seek information or ask questions. And He knows how everything fits together because he decreed all things that come to pass. “He works out everything in conformity with the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11)
But God’s knowing is not simply awareness as if he were standing above time and space deistically watching events in our lives as they occur. God knows every intimate details – when we sit and when we rise – our thoughts – the words that come from our mouths even before they are spoken – all there is to know about each of us and all his creation BECAUSE he has unchangeably foreordained from all eternity for his own glory all things that come to pass.
Some have said that God ‘fore-knows’ - because He is beyond time - seeing in advance (with full and complete knowledge) what a person will do based on the options set before them and the choices that person will make, and who it is that will respond in faith to the Gospel that goes out to all people and, He simply predestines those whom He knows ahead of time will believe? But is this ‘fore-knowledge- as it is described in our Bibles? (Acts 2:23 – 1 Peter 1:2, 20 – Romans 8:29, 11:2)
God's foreknowledge (προέγνω) (προ + γινώσκω) is proactive. To be proactive means to take the initiative and not merely to sit back and see what will happen next. God's foreknowledge is not based merely upon passive observation. He doesn’t just sit up in heaven, having created all things and now watches them as they come to pass, gathering information and data that will be used by Him when Christ comes in judgment. Some who believe in God's foreknowledge argue that God's foreknowledge is based solely upon God's not being limited by time. Time, a basic dimension of created reality, cannot restrain the timeless Creator. God lives in the eternal now with the past, present and future all equally before Him.
It is true that God is not limited by time, but this is not the explanation Scripture gives for how God is able to know the future. God is able to declare the end from the beginning because He is able to say, "My counsel shall stand, and I will do My pleasure" (Isaiah 46:9-10). According to the apostle Paul, God "works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11). Notice Paul said all things; not some things or even most things but ALL things. God has decreed all things that come to pass. He has planned all that will happen, and He is involved in history to bring His perfect purpose to completion. God knows what will happen because He designed every detail all that will happen before it happens.
Hebrews 11:10 refers to God as “the great architect and builder – “head builder.” An architect is one who is considered a ‘master planner’ sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil (or these days a computer screen) to formulate a solution to a design problem a client has given him. The architect is responsible for producing the drawings and specification that will be used to bring the ideas to reality. Before the architect even begins, he makes his drawings and forms his plans, taking into account the smallest details of construction – from the size of the reinforcing in the concrete to the type of mortar between the brick. In the architect’s mind the building stands complete in all its parts even before a brick is laid or a wall is painted. Any analogy we make between what we do as finite human beings and what God does is of course imperfect and incomplete, but hopefully this will give us a small insight into what the infinite foreknowledge of God is like.
God's foreknowledge is like the experience of an architect who can look out on the site excavation and know where the building is going to be placed . . . even though no building is visible. He takes into prior consideration all the site constraints, environmental factors, building codes. He knows where the exit doors will be, where the interior walls will be located, the size of each door and the type of door hardware even before they are put in place. He knows the paint colors and all the other finishes. He has planned with a purpose where each electrical outlet will be and the size of the air conditioning unit. And how does he know? He knows because he is the one who planned beforehand and designed each part and piece with a purpose.
As an architect I often found that clients would come and ask me to design a house for them, but that’s not what they really wanted. What they really wanted was my sanction of their plan and the satisfaction of seeing me put on paper what they had already envisioned in their minds. In much the same way we often go to the great Architect with our lives. We ask Him for wisdom and guidance, but we have already planned how we will build our future and shape the course of lives. It is not the Architect’s plan we are seeking, but His approval of our own plan that we desire.
The architect's foreknowledge is not passive. It is proactive. In fact, the architect had this knowledge even before the plans were put on paper. And so it is with God's foreknowledge. It is not mere passive observation but an active foreknowledge rooted in his decrees. The Westminster Confession of Faith Shorter Catechism Question #7 answers this question about God’s decrees: “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby for his own gory he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
God's foreknowledge is always proactive. In Romans 8:29, it is also personal. God foreknows things and God foreknows people. Romans 8:29 deals with the people of His knowledge, for the passage doesn’t say "what God foreknew" but "whom God foreknew." God's knowledge of His people differs in some ways from God's knowledge of things. This personal knowledge involves friendship and intimacy.
This is the sort of knowledge we read about in Genesis 18:19, where the Lord said regarding Abraham:
"“For I have chosen (known – NKJV) - (יְדַעְתִּ֗יו) him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”" (Genesis 18:19, NASB95)
In this verse, to know means to know not just facts and details, but to initiate a friendship, a personal relationship with those created in His image. And the purpose of this initiated friendship is to influence Abraham's life for the better.
We also read about this personal sort of knowledge in Amos 3:2, where God says concerning Israel, His covenant people, "You only, have I known (יָדַ֔עְתִּי ) (chosen – NKJV) of all the families of the earth." God knew the Egyptians and the Babylonians because even their actions he had ordained in eternity past, but God knew Israel with the knowledge of having called them – chosen them to participate in a covenant relationship.
Paul uses the word foreknow only one other time in the book of Romans, and there it refers to God's calling the people of Israel (Romans 11:2). God had established a unique relationship with Israel not based on merit but on mercy.
When Romans 8:29 says that God foreknew certain people from before the foundation of the world, it is saying that God in eternity past chose to have a special relationship with those people. God wasn't merely observing them or things about them. He purposed to initiate in history a personal and intimate relationship with those people. He looked upon them and said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love" (cf. Jeremiah 31:3).
Purposeful - The foreknowledge of Romans 8:29 is proactive, not passive. It is personal, not impersonal. It is purposeful, not pragmatic.
The foreknowledge of Romans 8:29 is not the pragmatic decision making that goes into selecting a certain type of construction material for a building. God doesn’t sit back and evaluate the quality, the intrinsic value or the performance of the bricks and mortar before deciding to use them in his building. He doesn’t do a value analysis before choosing what type of materials to use in the building of his church.
God's foreknowledge is not value based. It is not God saying, "I choose all who on their own repent and believe and persevere." It is not based on what I do. It is not God's making a general statement about righteousness and then stepping back to passively observe who in history would meet those qualifications. It is not God's allowing people to effectively choose for themselves. It’s not Christ dying for everyone and then God watching to see if anyone would accept Christ as their savior and then sanction their choice and accept them because they first accepted Him.
God's foreknowledge is not a pragmatic choice based on certain conditions having been met. It is a purposeful choice. It is God's saying, "I choose you, not because you are something, not because you meet my standards, not because you are in any way worthy of the choice. I choose you even though you are nothing. And my plan is to make you something through the work of Jesus Christ applied to you by the Holy Spirit."
"“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." (Deuteronomy 7:7-8, NASB95)
In our natural state as fallen children of Adam, there is nothing desirable about us to attract God to us. Emotionally, we hate the light and love the darkness (John 3:19). Intellectually, we are unable to discern spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). Our wills are taken captive by the devil to do his will (2 Timothy 2:16). We are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). God chooses us in Christ not because we are holy and blameless but in order to make us holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4) God chooses us in Christ not because we believed but to enable us to believe (John 6:65; Acts 13:48; Ephesians 2:8).
The divine foreknowledge of Romans 8:29 is, we might say, God's pre-arranged marriage of those He chooses to be the part of the Christ’s bride. He found us in our filth, and yet Christ loved us and gave Himself for us that He might sanctify and cleanse us with the washing of water by the word, that He might present us to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that we should be holy and without blemish. He planned from the beginning not to stop working upon us until we are holy and blameless. That is the foreknowledge of Romans 8:29.
Salvation from beginning to end is all of God, a product of his sovereign purposeful mercy. The redemption which we find in Christ alone and receive by faith alone has its source, not in any personal qualification of our own, but in grace alone – the grace of God’s foreknowledge – his choosing – his election – his calling. Every spiritual blessing flows from God’s electing grace (Eph 1:3ff.) This knowledge of God’s foreknowledge should teach us to glory in God, and God alone (1 Cor 1:31). It should spur us on to give Him the praise that is his due (Rom 11:36).
The ultimate end of God’s foreknowledge is that God should be praised (Eph 1:6, 12, 14) and the thought of his personal and purposeful calling should drive us to worship and praise Him with doxologies and thanksgiving (as it does the Apostle Paul – (Rom. 11:33 – “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.”; Eph. 1:3ff.; 1 Thes. 11:3ff.; 2 Thes. 2:13ff.).
If you are a true believer in Jesus here this morning – trusting in Christ, by God’s grace, for your salvation, then know this: God foreknew you from before the foundation of the world. We don't know why God set His love upon us from eternity past - except that it was so that He might be glorified. What we do know is that we do not deserve it. And we should in response rejoice and dedicate ourselves to His worship and praise and adoration and service . . .