Grace and Mission – A HEAR Journal Entry

Today, I want to continue to experiment with a form of journaling that I learned a few years ago and was recently reminded of.

H – Highlight

Galatians 1 :1516 – 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;

E – Explain

Paul is in the midst of explaining his conversion to the Galatians. His purpose is so that they will see that is message, though perfectly in line with the teaching of the apostles in Jerusalem, did not come to him from them. Rather, Paul’s gospel message came directly from Christ.

In these two verses, I see 3 things that Paul says about the Lord and himself related to his conversion. First, God set Paul aside for salvation before he was born. This is a clear claim of predestination. Before Paul had ever been born, Paul’s final destination was set by the Lord.

Second, Paul says that the Lord called him by his grace. It is a kind thing that the Lord would call any person to himself. God set Paul aside before his birth, then, at the proper time, by his grace, God called Paul to himself and then into ministry.

Finally, Paul says that God did these things, revealing Jesus to him, in order that Paul might preach Christ among the gentiles. Paul has a mission, a purpose to carry out. And this is what he is doing even in the letter to the Galatians.

A – Apply

What is true of Paul in the three things is true of me, though not to an apostolic degree. My salvation is something God planned before time and predestined. My calling to Christ is a thing of grace. And my life is to be on mission for the Lord. I cannot say that I am called, like Paul, to travel as a missionary taking the gospel to new people groups in the same way that Paul did. But I must know that God intends me to proclaim Christ with a purpose.

R – Response

With predestination, I respond with gratitude and confidence. God did the work and graciously brought me to himself. And God graciously gives me a mission that he will see fulfilled. If God saved me by his grace and for his glory, I need not fear that he will fail in the mission he uses me to accomplish. These things must give me hope as I press on.

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for Jesus. I thank you for setting me aside before my birth, for writing my name in the book of life before the foundation of the world. I thank you that my salvation is not a thing of my own making, but is wholly your doing from start to finish. I thank you for grace, for the favor that I could never deserve. And I thank you for my own mission. I know that you want me to proclaim your word to people who need to hear it for salvation and for growth. I pray that you will help me to better trust in you that you will accomplish your mission in all around me just as you were faithful to accomplish your perfect plan in me, a sinner. If you can save me, you can surely save others. If you can use me, then your grace is great indeed. And I pray that you will take my life and use it to your glory.

Appointed to Eternal Life

When we speak of salvation, we need to be careful to speak with the Bible’s own language. After all, the Scriptures are inspired by God and perfect in every way. Our own surmises, not so much.

In Acts 13, Paul has preached the gospel in Antioch to a group of gentiles who are saved. But look at the biblical language for that salvation.

Acts 13:48 – And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Note the ordering, as it has important ramifications for our understanding of God’s sovereignty in our salvation. The text could just as easily have said that, as many as believed were appointed to eternal life. But this is not the text. The word of God says that those who had been appointed to eternal life believed.

IF your understanding of how a person is saved is based primarily on the individual person, this text will rub up against it in an uncomfortable way. But, if you grasp that God and his divine will is at the center of how people are saved, the text will make sense to you. Is the appointing of a person to eternal life based on their faith, or is the faith of a person a result of their having been appointed by God to eternal life?

Let’s look at a couple of other places where Scripture speaks in a similar way just to see that this is not some sort of anomaly in Acts that is merely confusing in its wording.

John 8:47 – Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Notice why Jesus said the people do not believe? They do not believe because they are not of God. The Savior does not say that they do not belong to God because they do not believe. Instead, he says they do not believe because they do not belong to God.

John 10:26 – but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.

In John 10, when Jesus speaks of the people as sheep and him as the good shepherd, he points out that the religious teachers around him do not believe because they are not his sheep. HE does not say that they are not his sheep because of their lack of faith. Their lack of faith is the result of not being his sheep.

What do we see then? In Acts, the appointed believe. IN John, the ones who do not believe do not believe because they do not belong to God. The language of Scripture shows us the sovereign will of God is the determining factor that brings anyone to salvation. A person believes if they are appointed to do so by God. A person who does not believe does not believe because of his own sin. The unbeliever shows that he was not appointed by God for salvation, but God has allowed him to continue in accord with his desires.

What do you take from this? Christian, if you believe, know that this is a gift given to you by God. Give God all the glory for your salvation. Your faith is a result of God’s sovereign work. God did not choose to save you after you showed him you would believe.

But, Christian, if this makes you uncomfortable, remember that no person is forced to sin by God. Neither does God force these folks away from him. God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30). People do not repent because they do not want to. God is not in any way treating the unrepentant in an unjust way. If God owes us anything, he owes us his judgment for our rebellion against him.

All human beings are naturally opposed to God in our sinfulness. There are some that God has chosen, out of a desire to show his love and grace, and he has appointed them to eternal life. It is those he gives the gift of saving faith. Thus, if you are saved, it is a result of God’s sovereign election, a depiction of God’s great mercy and kindness, and a gift that you did nothing at all to earn. Give God praise and thanks, as this is truly grace upon grace.

A Look at Predestination Apart from Election

When the word predestination is used, people get nervous. Are we about to have a fight about the gospel, about the love of God, about Calvinism? So much emotion is invested in the discussion of salvation, free will, and the extent of the atonement that I fear that many do not see things that Scripture says quite plainly.

This thought came to my mind as I was reading through Acts 4, in a passage where the word predestined is used. Here we see a thing God predestined that is not individual salvation. Perhaps a look at this will help us think more clearly about the use of predestined in other places.

Acts 4:27-28 – 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

The disciples, in a prayer to the Lord, acknowledged that God had used Herod and Pilate along with the people of Israel to accomplish the crucifixion. And in that declaration, they said that these people did what God had predestined to take place.

What must we understand the word predestined to mean in this context? God had determined beforehand that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ would happen. Not only that, God had determined that Herod and Pilate along with the religious leaders and the crowds would be a part of what happened. The destination of events, the final outcome of events, was set by God “pre” or beforehand. In simplest terms, that is what predestination means: to set a destination or outcome before it takes place.

Now, ask yourself a few important questions about the predestination mentioned here by the apostles. First, is there any possible way that the crucifixion of Jesus could have not taken place? Did God leave the door open to a potential future where Jesus was not crucified? The answer here must be no. God predestined that Jesus would be crucified. This was his eternal plan. It could not have not happened.

Second, ask if there is any way that Herod and Pilate could have avoided being involved? It surely does not look like it from the passage above. God predestined that Jesus would be crucified. God also gathered in Jerusalem people who were predestined to be involved in the crucifixion. Nothing in the text indicates anything other than the idea that these men, Herod, Pilate, the crowds, the religious leaders, they were all going to be involved in doing exactly what they did.

What about free will? Did Herod, Pilate, and the others not make a free choice? Of course they did. Herod chose in accord with his greatest personal desire. Pilate chose in accord with his character. Every individual in the crowd or on the religious council did exactly what they wanted to do. There is nothing in the text to indicate that God overrode their freedom to accomplish what he had planned.

So, what happened here? Is the issue here simply that God knew the future? Did God simply understand what these men would do if put in a particular situation? Did God only shape events to make the outcome of the crucifixion an extremely likely outcome based on the free choices that he could foresee? That is not what the text says. The text says that God predestined the crucifixion. God determined beforehand that it would happen and that the men involved would be involved.

Here is what we must conclude. God, by his power and for his glory, set beforehand exactly what would happen. He set it in such a way that there is no possible way that it would not happen. Nor was there any possible way that the people involved would not be involved. And, as the people involved did what they did, they acted in perfect concert with their deepest desires. God is totally sovereign over the event. The people acted from their freedom. Which is the greater determiner? At no point should we assume that man’s freedom is greater than God’s sovereignty. But, from within that sovereignty, God never committed sin or forced men unwilling to commit sin to sin.

I know that I have Christian friends who struggle with the issue of predestination. So often the primary issue has to do with a defense of free will. Can I simply encourage you not to take a worldly view of human freedom? Is man free? Yes. Is God free? Yes. Is God sovereign over all? Yes. Who is more free, man or God? We must conclude, if we are to have a biblical worldview, that God’s freedom, God’s ultimate will, and—yes—God’s predestination is more important than human freedom.

Understand, dear friends, that God predestined the crucifixion and the involvement of men like Herod and Pilate. But God never wronged those men. The sovereign will of God was accomplished. Herod and Pilate were willful sinners who brought the wrath of God down on their souls for participating in the unjust execution of the Son of God. And all is in concert with the glorious eternal plan of God to glorify his name as he saves a people for himself.

A Quick Thought on God Knowing You

One common interpretive tool to attempt to make sense of the predestining grace of God is a heavy reliance on the concept of foreknowledge. Those who would argue that God responds to the future choices of his free creatures in order to determine his decree of predestination have to argue that God, with divine foreknowledge, looks down the corridor of time and sees who will and who will not choose him.

A reformed response to this kind of thinking is to point out that God’s word regularly uses the idea of God knowing someone with a different semantic meaning than simple information. When the Lord knows a person or a nation, the Lord is expressing that he has a particular favor on them. After all, the Lord knows, intellectually, all that there is to know. But for God to know you is for him to have a particularly loving relationship with you.

Consider the words of God at the beginning of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 1:4-5

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

What is God declaring to Jeremiah? Why is it such a significant turn of phrase? God says that he knew Jeremiah even before Jeremiah was formed in the womb. If this is merely God saying that he had knowledge of Jeremiah’s existence or even Jeremiah’s future choices, that is both amazing and ordinary. It is amazing, as we know our God knows all things. But it is ordinary in that this phrase would mean nothing more to Jeremiah than the expression of the fact that God has intellectual awareness of Jeremiah in just the same way that God has intellectual awareness of all human beings.

But look at the parallel. To know Jeremiah was for God to consecrate him. For God to consecrate Jeremiah was to set him apart as a prophet. The knowledge is put in a parallel position to the consecration in the poetic lines. This is not God saying that he understood what kind of guy Jeremiah would be and so he chose to use him. No, it is God saying that, before Jeremiah was ever formed, God had already set upon Jeremiah his consecration, his sacred calling. God knew Jeremiah in a special way, not in the same, ordinary way that God has knowledge of all humanity. God chose Jeremiah before he was born so that Jeremiah would be set apart and fulfill a glorious divine purpose.

An Anticipated Argument Pointing to Predestination

Romans 9 is one of those chapters of the Bible that carries with it a ton of theological weight. This is true especially regarding the doctrine of election. In the middle of his conversation about the people of Israel and how some are saved while many rejected the Messiah, Paul begins to talk about the sovereignty of God in some fairly radical terms.

Paul talks in Romans 9 about God choosing Jacob and rejecting Esau, even before either had been born. The point was that God made his choice of which twin would carry the line of blessing and promise, and that choice is not based on the relative goodness or badness of either boy. God picked Jacob. God let Esau go his own way.

Then Paul talked in even stronger terms about Pharaoh in the Exodus. Pharaoh’s heart was against God. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart as well. A look back at chapter 1 of this book would remind us that God has, in times of judgment, handed people over to their own desires and allowed them to become as evil as they wanted to. This is a great example of what hardness would look like.

As the argument builds, it looks more and more like what Paul is saying is that God elects some to follow him, predestining them to salvation. It also looks like God hardens some, leaving them to their own sinful ways that will turn them more and more against him. It looks like Paul is telling us that all who are saved are saved because God chose to save them and acted on their hearts. It looks like those who are not saved are not saved because they opposed God and God left them to themselves. It looks, well, Calvinistic.

What is most convincing to me that Paul is teaching the doctrine of election here the way that reformed believers claim is what comes next. Paul anticipates the objection to what he has just written. This is something that Paul has done a couple of times already in Romans. Paul will write for a bit, and then he will show you what those who oppose biblical teaching will claim.

So, watch the objection Paul anticipates. Ask yourself if Paul’s anticipated objection and his response to that objection tells you that Paul is turning away from a doctrine of sovereign election or if he is in fact telling us, “Yes, that is what I’m saying.”

Romans 9:19-24 – 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Look at the objection Paul anticipated. People will ask how sovereign grace can possibly be fair. After all, nobody can overpower God. Nobody can resist God’s will. So how can it be right for God to judge people for rejecting him if he never elected them to eternal life?

Paul anticipates that objection. And if Paul was not teaching sovereign election, Paul would have said, “No, you misunderstand me.” But Paul does not say this. Instead, Paul responds with a reminder that we, as sinful creatures, have no right to question the way of salvation and sovereignty of the Lord. We are clay, and the potter who shapes the clay is the one who has the final say so as to what the clay will be. The potter does not exist for the clay, but the clay exists for the potter. And if there is any question as to who must be more free, the potter must be more free than the clay that the potter is using to shape things for the potter’s glory.

My point is not to remove all discomfort from this passage. Nor is my point to unpack its implications. But, I believe that it is important that we see that the anticipated objection that Paul speaks in verse 19 is a proof that what he was saying in the prior verses is exactly what it looks like; it is the doctrine of sovereign election. And we need to see that Paul’s response to the objection does not turn away from sovereignty to emphasize human autonomousfree-will. Instead, Paul doubles down on the fact that the freedom of God is ultimate.

If you want to put all this together, there are two truths you have to hold. If any person is saved, they are saved because God elected them, converted them, and saved them. If any person is lost, they are lost because they, in their sin, have never wanted to love and follow God. For the saved, God moves to overcome their natural rebellion against him, changing their desires so they come to him. For the lost, God allows them uninterrupted freedom, and they will always use that freedom to choose against God. In no case does God do anything here to treat any human being unjustly. In every case, every human life will glorify the Lord by either demonstrating his sovereign mercy or his perfect justice.

The Golden Chain and Foreknowledge

The Bible teaches election and predestination. No Bible-believing Christian can deny this, since the words are used in multiple texts. What Christians often disagree on is how God elects.

Many Christians have been taught that God elects people to salvation based on his knowledge of their future choices and actions. These believe that God elected people to salvation before they were born by looking forward, seeing whether or not they would choose to follow Christ, and then electing those he foresaw would do so. But others would say that God elects based on his own will and not based on his knowledge of future right choices in people.

Interestingly, we sometimes see both groups attempt to explain predestination or election with the same passage.

Romans 8:29-30 – 29 For 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

If Romans 8:29 stood alone, it would appear that God predestined people to salvation, perhaps simply based on his knowledge of their future choices. Foreknowledge in that verse could be taken as simple information that God possessed beforehand. But, when these two verses are kept together, when the passage is handled fully, we see that such cannot be the case.

This passage is called by some the Golden Chain of Redemption. These two verses establish a set of unbreakable links that lead from God’s foreknowledge to eternal glory. But notice, and be sure to take seriously, the fact that the verses are clear that from step to step in this chain, all who were part of each prior step are also part of the next step. No person, not a single one is lost in the flow.

It will help if we start at the end, “and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Is there any possibility that God might justify a person, granting them total forgiveness because of Christ, and not ultimately glorify that same person? Can God lose a fully and clearly saved person? By no means. Later in this chapter, Paul will point out that nothing at all can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

Stepping back, “those whom he called he also justified.” Who are justified? Those whom God called are justified. Be careful here. Paul does not say that some of those he called are justified any more than he said that some of those who were justified are glorified. No, this is all-inclusive. The call here seems to be a call that is effective. The called are justified.
None are dropped from the chain.

 

Who are called? Paul tells us, “those whom he predestined he also called.” Again, this has not proved whether or not predestination is based on the choices of the saved or the choice of God primarily. But we see that all who are predestined are called. All who are predestined are called in an effective way so as to see all of them justified so as to see all of them glorified.

 

So, who is predestined? Verse 29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Who is predestined? Those God foreknew are predestined. All of those God foreknew are predestined. There is no reason to see a break in the chain here. The Golden Chain tells us that all God foreknew are predestined, are called, are justified, are glorified.

 

But if this chain is all-inclusive on every step, then the word foreknew cannot be a reference to simple information had by God beforehand. Why? God foreknows every human being in that way. God knows all people who will exist. God knows all who will come to him and all who will not. But the text indicates no break from those he for knows and who will be predestined for salvation. Thus, if the word foreknowledge here only means data, then it would suggest that all people will be saved because all are foreknown.

 

However, a more faithful and biblical understanding here would be that to foreknow here is to know in a special way. It is to know so as to place his love upon certain people. It is for God to elect based on God’s desires and not based on simple data that he had beforehand.

 

If you study Scripture thoroughly, you will find that, when God talks about knowing someone, it is synonymous with a relationship and not merely with data. In Amos 3:2, God said that Israel is the only nation he has known. How could that be? God knows all nations intellectually. But, in the Old Testament, Israel is the only nation God chose for himself.

 

In Matthew 25, Jesus says he will tell the lost to depart from him. Why? He says he will tell them, “I never knew you.” How could that be. There is no human being about whom Jesus does not have data. But there will be people who never entered into a saving relationship with Jesus. Those he says he never knew.

 

The Golden Chain uses foreknew in the same way that those verses use knew. All God chose beforehand for a relationship with him are predestined, are called, are justified, and are glorified. There is no break in the chain. This is the only way to allow these verses to say all that they intend to say. Yes, there are implications. Yes, we who are focused so much on man’s independence will naturally balk here. But at the end of the day, this verse simply shows us that God is more sovereign than man and God’s purposes are not thwarted. God has chosen to save a people for himself, and he will accomplish his design.