29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
God’s Foreknowledge, Part One
“Foreknew” means more than that God knew what would happen to believers before they came into being. The Greek word does mean to know in advance. “Foreknow” comes from two words, “before” and “to know.” Yet God’s knowledge about the future goes back to eternity past (1 Pe 1:2, 20).
Foreknowledge is part of God’s omniscience. Foreknowledge is His prior knowledge of all things included in the actual course of events in time.
Foreknowledge is more limited than omniscience. Omniscience includes both the actual and the possible. Foreknowledge includes only the actual. Omniscience includes infinite billions of possibilities, but foreknowledge includes only what God actually decreed or what He actually adopted into His plan. Only what is actual or real can be foreknown. Nothing can be foreknown until it is decreed.
No event can occur without God’s decree. God’s decree did not originate in foreknowledge although both exist simultaneously in His mind. We separate the two only by human necessity for understanding. By human logic omniscience comes first, then decree, and then foreknowledge. Decree originates from omniscience, and foreknowledge is based on the decree.
Foreknowledge from the human point of view is a time-word, but God’s knowledge is not limited to time because He does not know in sequence. He knows all things from beginning to end at once. God knows everything that could or would happen with one fell swoop. There is no progression in His knowledge. He sees the past, present, and future all at once. He is not a time being so His knowledge is not sequential.
Since there is no before and after with God (because He is not a time being and is beyond time and space), all things are past, present, and future to God simultaneously.
God’s foreknowledge is more than just acquaintance with what will happen; it is more than mere foresight of future events. It is more than knowing who will become Christians. God is absolute in what He knows.
Unless God determined something will happen, He cannot foreknow anything. God has knowledge of the whole sweep of time from the beginning to the end. Our salvation is not a random event but part of a plan, God’s plan. That plan began its outworking from eternity past.
Succession of time relates only to man. We put God in human language in order for us to understand Him better. That is a concession to our limitations as finite human beings. In human terms predestination succeeds or is grounded on foreknowledge. This means that the relationship between foreknowledge and predestination is incidental. Both aim at conformity to Christ.
We must make a distinction between God’s desire and His decree. The decree merely establishes the fact, while certain things in His decree lie outside His integrity. Sin is not in the decree by God’s direct design; it is in the decree because man rejected His design for creation. Decree deals with certainty, with what will actually happen. Because God decreed something does not mean He approves it. This shows that God truly gave man free agency (albeit a controlled freedom). God decreed that man would have volition.
It is also important to distinguish God’s decree from His action in time. Time deals with sequence and God is not sequential, but for man to understand God He deals with us as time-bound creatures.
God decreed ends as well as means, causes as well as effects, conditions and methods as well as the events which depend on them. Some things God decreed to do Himself. We call these “immediate” decrees in contrast to “mediate.” Creation is an immediate or direct action of God. God created time and space. He decreed directly how man would be saved from eternity. He chose Christ to die on the cross in eternity past.
God accomplishes other things through “mediate” means. God is always the primary cause, but He works through secondary causes such as the free will of man. The Bible teaches both primary and secondary causes. The way God deals with secondary causes is just as certain in His decree as primary causes. All events are equally certain to occur, whether primary or secondary.
No event is directly effected or caused by God’s decree. The decree merely establishes what God causes. The decree is not the cause. Man’s sin is in the decree, but the decree to allow man’s freedom is not the cause of the sin. The cause is secondary to the decree—our free will. God knew from eternity that we would sin.
God always acts with integrity in His decree. God decreed that man would be a free agent; He never coerces or violates that freedom (although He will influence it). God will never reverse Himself and act differently from what is consistent with His absolute integrity. God will never allow man’s volition to go beyond His control or sovereignty; that is, man can never cause anything that is not in God’s decree.
God does not operate in time or sequentially; He knows everything instantly with one fell swoop.
God could not base predestination on foreknowledge; otherwise, He would make His choice on the decisions of finite man. God always acts upon the basis of His integrity.