But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
God’s election (or selection) of the saved vs. the unsaved is solely based on His foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2, Romans 8:29) of their obedience.
Examine the following verses:
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
1 Peter 1:2
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
After speaking with a Calvinist-minded friend of mine regarding the Romans 8:29 verse, he brought it to my attention that the word foreknow may mean “for-love” (or loved ahead of time) since the word “know” (“yada” in Hebrew, “ginosko” in Greek – both words can imply “to make love” or “to have sexual relations with”) appears euphemistically throughout scripture (e.g. Genesis 4:1, Matthew 1:25, Luke 1:34). My friend was merely suggesting this idea in a noncommittal way, nevertheless, I decided to address it, so that it is abundantly clear to the reader that this suggested interpretation is not in scope. To be certain, the particular Greek word “proginosko” interpreted as “foreknowledge” and “foreknow” (in 1 Peter 1:2 and Romans 8:29 respectively) is never used euphemistically in all of the six times it appears in the Greek scriptures. As a result, there is no precedent that would justify including “for-love” within proginosko’s semantic range. Moreover, the word “know” was a euphemism for “having sexual relations” and not a euphemism for the agape love that is implied by the peculiar term “for-love.” Foreknowledge is the only valid meaning that the text allows so we must conclude that election is dependent upon something that God knows will happen before it happens.
This foreknowledge is not only constrained to events that will definitely occur but also includes events that would have definitely occurred. For example, in Mark 13:19-20 we are told of an event that definitely would have occurred (the complete annihilation of those living during the great tribulation) but definitely will not occur; therefore, God’s omniscience is not only limited to actual scenarios but also potential scenarios. Also, Acts 15:18 affirms that God knows (or already knew) all of His creations (this necessarily includes what they will or will not do) before the world was created. So, the next question that invariably follows is: what exactly did God foreknow that prompted Him to elect one way or the other. Since the only way that anyone can attain salvation is through obeying the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8, 1 Peter 4:17, Hebrews 5:9), and the only way God elects is according to His foreknowledge, then, the only logical conclusion that one can deduce from scripture (that does not create a contradiction) is that God’s foreknowledge is of man’s obedience to the gospel. I believe that this is what John 1:12-13 is talking about. The chronology in John 1: 12 is crucial to understanding the whole verse; those that received Christ or believed on His name were given the power to become sons of God (i.e. elected) and were therefore born of God. So we again see that belief precedes election.
There is another way of explaining this truth that may provide further clarity. In Revelations 13:8 we read that “the Lamb [Christ] was slain from [or before] the foundation of the world.” Isn’t it profound to discover in scripture that Christ’s crucifixion had already (in a sense) occurred outside of time and more importantly before time had begun? If Christ’s death on the cross for our sins occurred before the world began (Revelations 13:8) and the recording of all the names of the redeemed in the Book of Life occurred before the world began (Revelations 17:8) then why is it so difficult to posit that our decision to obey or disobey the gospel also occurred before the world began and was privy to God even before He created us? Is this not the good and necessary consequence of Revelations 17:8 and Romans 10:13-14 when combined? Foreknowledge does not preclude our ability to choose but rather reveals God’s ability to know what we will choose.
Furthermore, it is important for the reader to understand that obeying the gospel is not works. The easiest way to demonstrate this truth is through the following syllogism:
Major Premise: All who obey the truth (gospel) consequently have salvation (2 Thessalonians 1:8, 1 Peter 4:17, 1 Peter 1:22, Hebrews 5:9, Romans 6:17, Act 5:32)
Minor Premise: All who have salvation are saved apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Conclusion: (it must follow by good and necessary inference that) All those who obey the truth (gospel) which consequently leads to salvation are saved apart from works.
Therefore, logically, obedience cannot fall into the category of works. Anticipating and refuting this claim is necessary because some readers will invariably claim that since God chooses based on obedience that He therefore is saving us according to works. Obviously, to believe (and thus obey) the gospel is not an example of works, since it does not directly address the wages or penalty of our sins nor does it contrast what Christ did to address the penalty of our sins.
Calvinist-minded friends of mine like to use a courtroom analogy to drive home a message that is unsupported in the scriptures. In this analogy, Christ is the Judge who has found a group of sinners guilty but He then proceeds to pay the complete fine for some of those sinners meaning that those lucky sinners can no longer be deem guilty since the penalty has been satisfied. They then derive the maxim that the reason some sinners go to hell is because Christ did not pay the penalty their sins; Calvinists would have us believe that if Christ would have paid the penalty for all sinners then no one would be going to hell.
Now allow me to perfect this trite yet flawed courtroom analogy, Christ the Judge has paid the full penalty for ALL the sinners that were found guilty, He tells the prisoners that if they will simply admit to their guilt and acknowledge that He (and He alone) has paid the fine, then they will be free to leave the prison. Amazingly, many still refuse to admit that they are guilty while others try to convince the Judge to accept their record of good prison behavior as a substitute payment for the penalty despite the fact that the Judge has already made satisfaction for their crime. In short, neither type of prisoner believes anything that the Judge is saying. The judge then turns to the unbelieving prisoners and says: before, I incarcerated you because of your original crime; but now I’m incarcerating you because you have examined my solution and rejected it preferring to do things your way rather than mine. John 3:19 says: And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Again, obedience could never fall under the category of works since obedience is the ONLY criterion for salvation and the only offering that God will accept (John 6:28-29). In fact, through out scripture, obedience is contrasted to works (See 1 Samuel 15:22, Jeremiah 7:22-23, Mark 12:33, Micah 8:6-8, and Hosea 6:6).
Another objection that is raised in opposition to the biblical requirement that obeying the gospel is a prerequisite for salvation is that there is no one that seeks after God or that understands (Romans 3:11) and thus regeneration must precede faith.
In his Homilies on the First Epistle of John, St. Augustine is said to have uttered the following:
“Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand” – Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John Tractate XXIX on John 7:14-18
Using the same concept, my answer to this objection is that I believe scripture supports the idea that one must believe (and thus obey the gospel) before one can (really or fully) understand the bible deeper truths and all their implications. To be sure, properly understanding a proposition precedes assenting to its meaning; however, there is a vast difference in believing (as a babe in Christ) that Jesus died for one’s sins according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3) versus (as an approved workman) possessing the ability to rightly divide the words of scripture (2 Timothy 2:15) , of which the latter is essential in making one’s election sure (2 Peter 1:10). In John 14:22-23, Thaddeus, one of Christ’s disciples, more or less asks a similar question which (if I may paraphrase) is: Why do You give understanding to us (by revealing yourself to us) and not also to others (in the world)? Christ responds by putting forth the notion that we first must obey God’s words (particularly the John 8:24 mandate) before God can indwell us. (See John 14:22-23: Why us and not everyone else? ). Again, in John 8:31-32, Christ states that if one first “continues in His word [by obeying the gospel]” then that person will “know the truth, and the truth shall make [that person] free.” Bludgeoning a dead horse, again, we read in John 1:12 that first “[the person] receives [or believes in] Him” then Christ gives the person “the power to become [a] son of God.” Hence, belief precedes regeneration.
Finally, I must make a firm distinction between (1)having the penalty for our sins paid for by Christ on our behalf vs. (2)attaining salvation by obeying the gospel; these two actions while related are not the same thing and mixing the two together as if they were one and of the same can result in utter confusion about which transaction has occurred (i.e. having the penalty for our sins paid for by Christ on our behalf) and which transaction still needs to occur (i.e. attaining salvation by obeying the gospel).
The first transaction, having the penalty for our sins paid for by Christ on our behalf, has already occurred; trying to resubmit this transaction using your own efforts instead of or in combination with Christ’s (as the Roman Catholic Church does and teaches) will end up voiding the entire transaction, leaving you back where you started, headed for hell without a valid way to satisfy the debt.
The second transaction, which depends on the valid submission of the first transaction, only goes through when one decides to exclusively follow Jesus by obeying the gospel. This article encumbers itself with the second transaction and not the first. There is no substitute for Christ sacrifice on the cross, it is already finished but everyone must obey the Gospel to activate what Christ has done for them; there are NO exceptions (John 14:6).