Understanding The Bible
HOW GOD WORKS HIS FOREKNOWLEDGE FOR OUR GOOD
It has often been stated, "When you face an emergency DIAL ROMANS 8:28." This is an unfortunate direction to give indiscriminately. It has led many to feel that God overstated His case by claiming to handle "all things." He indeed can, but He qualifies and limits His claim in Rom 8:28-32. So people do actually veer away to a pressing cry of prayer from the major scenario God wrote into this famous paragraph. As a result the powerful meaning and scope of the text has not been widely grasped by average believers who need it. One would almost think, listening to them, that God is speaking in uncertain terms.
God would obviously respond to the cry of prayer on many other inscripturated grounds whenever a believer is asking his heavenly Father to meet his need. But the believer will spend his lifetime missing the real substantial content of these verses if he does not pay attention to what God actually says.
It is obvious that the all things of 8:28 cannot include
(1) Sinful acts, or sinning would be promoted and that means God would work evil.
(2) Flesh works, or the system of Grace service would be denied, 1 Cor 3:9-4:7.
Only the five listed things to which the questions of 8:31-32 are addressed can possibly be the targets of God's working.
Proof-texting Romans 8:28 is at best dealing with the text only superficially and at worst reaching the ends achieved by the methodology of the witnesses against Jehovah. That is, by making the text say only what you want it to say.
We Must Get God's Perspective
The electing or selecting work of God frightens men because it is beyond or outside of the relative perspective of all mankind. In fact it lies beyond the reach of all kinds of human arrangements:
(1) It is beyond the popular plaques bearing mottos. I have actually seen this in our Christian bookstores. A small dollar and a half plaque reads, "All things work together for good." A slightly larger two dollars and a half plaque reads, "All things work together for good to those who love God." Neither of these two statements are right because they have been clipped from their settings and made mottos for half-baked living. Without the third clause of verse 28 they are unworkable, "to those who are the called according to His purpose." No wonder many lives are out of tune and need a tune-up. They are not firing on all sparkplugs.
(2) It is beyond proof-texting. Some speakers, writers, and well-meaning Sunday school teachers can take 8:28 and apply it anywhere they wish in the Bible. Add a touch of devotional drivel and error is administered in smooth, easy teaspoonfuls. If we learn verse 28 we must learn verses 29-32 to know what God has in mind to work out in our lives.
(3) It is beyond creeds. Creeds are human attempts at crystallizing meanings gleaned from Scriptures about basic teaching. Everyone probably has a form of creed--large or small. They may even be fine as far as they go. But they are absolutely no substitute for the text in context construction that God has framed His Scripture in.
(4) It is beyond philosophic theology. Men love to rationalize. They appear to rationalize or philosophize their thoughts and then search for proof-text supports instead of going into the Scriptures and then coming out with what the text in context really says.
What God has stated in 8:28-32 is the program of amazing grace God purposed long before time, people, and circumstances originated in the earth. We must get God's perspective here, not man's, for this is not an invitation to man's subjective methodology. It is a policy statement, a plan of action, a program of basic specifications.
We discover this in the Greek term prothesis (purpose), "to those who are the called according to His purpose," Rom. 8:28c. It means to plan ahead or to put before everything else. It is easily understood in the words "set forth," 2 Tim 1:9, "According to His own purpose (i. e. setting forth) and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages of the times began."
As believers we, like God, are to put His plan for our lives ahead of every other consideration. He has set it forth, we must set that plan in front of our next steps. If you hold to the absolute power of free will in this passage, you will deny this sovereignty of God over His people. That would be theological Arminianism.
You will also run straight into the 18 warning signs in verses 28-30. They are in the 9 references to people and the 9 references to God. Certain people were foreknown, not mere facts or something about the people. We must face these first when dealing with the 5 powerful factors God has put under His decree. This idea of decrees is, generally stated, theological Calvinism.
But it is much more than good theology. Take a look at verse 31, "If God be for us who can be against us?" God is FOR us! No passages make this more certain.
From the beginning of this matter in eternity, the divine goal was "man (mankind) in Our image," Gen 1:26-27. The program to achieve this is still in place. There, in eternity past, we had only one Person Who could live eternally, by His own nature. That was God.
Problems were bound to rise when human nature and a man were created. All men would sin and keep falling short of God's glory, Rom 3:23. But beyond the perspective of all human reasoning God, with all the facts in His grasp, purposed in His heart to save man by grace alone. He planned ahead and with unchangeable decrees put the plan in action. Here we have a classic statement of that plan, which I think we could best call the program of God into which all true believers will fit.
We Must Examine God's Terms
Consider the first powerful factor -- foreknowledge. It Is the startup for the team of five forceful elements in the application of the new system of Grace. Foreknowledge started these five things moving way back in eternity past (Eph 1:4). It does not, in a manner of speaking, work by itself but only together with the other four.
Since it works with them for our benefit, for our Summum Bonum, we do well to study it intensively because it is from the start a most practical consideration. In truth, it is God the Holy Spirit Who continually works the five items together for good, Rom 8:26-27.
Featured above all things in this term foreknowledge is the concept of purpose--the purpose according to which we are called, Rom 8:28c. A purposeful plan is about to be displayed. It is built on five points. It follows the pattern of a well-reasoned program. Some have even held that the term good of v 28 crowns the accomplishment of God's purpose for the called.
First we must study or restudy lexically the English and Greek terms involved. At first blush the term foreknow seems easiest to understand as foresight or as previous, advance knowledge. On further lexical research we identify the Greek term as prognoosis. The term is used seven times in the New Testament. We are quite familiar with its English transliteration prognosis in medical circles. Everyone asks for a prognosis for a loved-one's medical condition. We really are usually asking for a forecast of a certain or sure future. We want to foreknow just as God does. In that we are a bit like Him. There was no second guessing with God either. See "whom He foreknew/'Rom 8:29a; Eph 1:4.
There are, of course, occasions in the N. T. where we must take it simply to mean foreknow. Always it is the context that decides how we do understand it. Arminians take it in the superficial way as foreknow--meaning knowledge before hand without predetermination. They do not squarely face the fact that it is impossible to know anything for certain ahead of time unless it had been made certain and sure ahead of time. Men cop out by calling this an illogical dualism, but the answer to this is that the dualism is wonderfully resolved in the ONE Person of God. It is GOD Who works all things together for good.
The term foreknow, for instance, would be the correct translation in Acts 26:4-5, "know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify." Also in 2 Pet 3:17, "seeing you know all these things before." But translators could not translate foreknow in 1 Pet 1:20 "Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you." Indeed the term foreknow must be translated prefer, select, or determine, or predetermine in passages such as here and 1 Pet 1:1-2 and Rom 11:1-2. In the latter, the elected earthly nation Israel is said to have been foreknown. In the former, Christ is said to have been foreknown.
The element of certainty is surely affirmed in 1 Peter 1:1-2 where election is assigned to God the Father, "Elect according to the preference or predetermination of the Father." In Rom 11:1-2, "God did not reject His people whom He preferred."
One other matter appears helpful to the understanding of this closely knit matter. It is the Greek term itself. Its English transliterated equivalent is prognosis. Here it means the forecast of the certain future of someone. To me this puts the cap on the meaning of foreknowledge. Foreknowledge covers an act (a divine decree) based on a decision of the divine mind, emotion, and will. The term decision perhaps makes the most direct connection with the concept of foreknowledge. There is something absolutely certain for us also to know ahead of time. Does this frighten you? It really shouldn't. God uses it to bless us abundantly, Eph 1:3 (4-14), Listen to Paul pray that your eyes might be opened to see these very things, Eph 1:14-23.
We must also be reminded that predestination forever removes any idea of fatality, and the divine call to this grace removes any idea of being forced into something. So special care must be taken to understand foreknowledge because of the four factors that follow plus the fact that all five are worked together for good by God the Holy Spirit.
We Need To Distinguish Policy and Methodology
For the methodology of how God intends to carry out this essential program of Grace, take a quick look at 1 Peter 1:1-2. What a way to open an instructive letter to a people wandering in the Christian dispersion. The dominating word is election. Let me outline this passage briefly as you look at the Scripture text.
THE AMAZING GRACE OF GOD
CONCEIVED BY GOD THE FATHER
His standard of determination -Foreknowledge
His Ground for comprehensiveness -Omniscience
CARRIED OUT BY GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT
His positional work - setting us apart
His experiential work - causing a holy life
CENTERED IN GOD THE SON
His Word - obeyed
HIS WORK APPLIED
This broadens and deepens the view we have been given of the electing work of God. The elect may be pilgrims and strangers in an earthly situation but they are the elect ones of God. They are chosen ones, therefore choice ones--God's own VIPS. They get His special attention, an attention that started before creation in the heart and mind of God. They are not afterthoughts.
As our outline shows, the entire conception of the program of amazing grace took place in our eternal Father's heart. We have a wonderful and permanent Father. The preposition kata meaning "according to" indicates a standard. Here it is used for the divine standard. The standard was decisive--it could make an eternal decision and stand by it and make it work perfectly. The standard was the foreknowledge we have just studied. It was not a standard of mere foresight but of predetermination that there was to be only one way to go and that by grace. That this grace amazes us is only right and apropos such foreknowledge. Secondly, foreknowledge is comprehensive because it is grounded in God's total knowledge--His omniscience. Foreknowledge is only one special segment of God's total knowledge.
Second, the thing predetermined by God the Father is carried out by the equally omniscient One, God the Holy Spirit. He first establishes every believer positionally in Christ. This is a perfect position and advantage point won for believers by Christ's substitutionary death on the Cross. All believers can operate victoriously from this position. God Himself can work freely in us and for us because of this new position because it means that we are set apart for His work to be done in us. No enemy can successfully contest the hard won (by Christ) territory. We are truly set apart for the Lord's oversight and enablement. The complementary aspect of this is that with such a position and Host we experience a whole or holy life because He develops us. These are the two sides of what the Bible calls sanctification.
Third, the Spirit of God carries out His sanctifying work around the center of Christianity, God the Son. He makes certain that Christ's word gets obeyed. This means that He causes the believer under His charge to listen with both ears and read with both eyes the written Word of God, especially studying and obeying the truth of the Gospel in the New Testament epistolary literature. He follows this by causing the finished work of Christ on the Cross to be applied daily. The blood must be sprinkled or applied to the life of every believer--to keep that life clean and the ledger current. The passages such as 1 John 1:1-11 are most important to study in this regard.
The message of the GOOD NEWS is set on these solid footings. Foreknowledge understood in this way makes us plan ahead and live out of God's future for us, for He planned it ahead of time. We are chosen in Christ, Eph 4:1. This is what foreknowledge is as predermination. It all happened before the world was founded. Thus we have been introduced to election. This means that we are to draw great assurance out of our election, 2 Peter 1:10-11:
10 Wherefore rather, brothers, be diligent to get personal assurance out of your calling and election. For if you keep doing these things . you will in no wise ever stumble, for in this manner will be supplied unto you a rich entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Millions will learn in hindsight what God foreknew or predetermined. God selected the only way for you. It is the way of: (1) The new birth, Jn 3:3, 5; Titus 3:5. (2) The new nature, 2 Cor 5:17; Rom 7; Jn 3:6. (3) The new indwelling Person, Jn 15:4; Rom 8:9.
Without this predetermination or election or preferred way of God all would be lost, no one would be saved. His amazing grace has resolved man's predicament and provided the sure way out of it. Divine election is amazing grace!
The Writings of Douglas B. MacCorkle
see brief Biography)
Prophetic Peaks, Exposition of the Olivet Discourse. Copyright 1968 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. Third Printing 1972. Printed by Careers With Christ Press, Philadelphia College of Bible, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.
God's Own VIPS, Copyright 1987 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc., Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.
Dr. MacCorkle's Books and Study materials on this website are made available here free, through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle, and may be copied for use in Bible study groups, in limited numbers, providing that no charge is made for them. No further distribution or use of these materials is allowable under U.S. or International Copyright Law without express permission.
Additional copies of Dr. MacCorkle's books are available from Judy Naugle, 2201 Harmony Hill Dr, Lancaster PA 17601.