The famous Bible passage concerning God’s foreknowledge and predestination is Romans 8.28-30. In this passage, the word that deniers of unconditional election point to is foreknow: “For whom he [God] 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 (Romans 8.29).
Many Christians wrongly believe that God’s predestination is him merely presciently confirming people’s choosing to believe in Christ with his gracious power and promises. They argue that, in eternity past, God looked into the future and foresaw who would make a “decision for Christ”—and then he chose to bless those individuals. (Some say that this free-will decision is aided by God’s “co-operating grace,” but it is still essentially their own choice).
But the apostle Paul doesn’t say that God foreknew the decisions that people would make. He says that God foreknew particular people. Romans 8.29 says that God would predestinate them based on his foreknowing them. It is not their faith that God foreknew, but it is they themselves “whom” God foreknew.
There are people whom God foreknew, whom he also predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son.
Nothing is said here about God foreknowing that they would have faith. And it is not said or implied that God predestinated them based upon their faith.
It is clear from the passage that God foreknows some human beings in this way, and not others. There are those people “whom God did foreknow”—and this implies that there are others whom God did not foreknow in this manner. All those whom God foreknew, he predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, justified and glorified. This is the ultimate purpose of salvation.
God’s foreknowing cannot be a bare “knowing (some) things before they happen,” because in that sense God already knew all things that would happen. But it must be a loving, relational foreknowledge of particular individual persons2: whom God had already chosen from eternity past: chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (see Acts 13.48; Romans 11.2; Ephesians 1.4; 1 Peter 1.2).
God’s election of his people to salvation is personal, individual and particular (i.e. certain specific people were in God’s mind)—and he elected them because he foreknew them, not because he foresaw that they would have believe in Christ.
What God did, does, and shall do for those people “whom he did foreknow” is predestinate them before time to be conformed to the image of his Son, justify them at some point in their earthly life time, and glorify them in the future.
There is a less common objection, which says that God chose Christ as the means of salvation, but he did not choose any particular people to be saved by Christ. This objection implies that God did not have particular human beings in mind when he established his plan of salvation in the eternity past.
Same as with the Arminian objection above, this objection denies what Romans 8.29 teaches: namely that God, who foreknew those whom he would save, predestinated them to salvation. It makes salvation to be on on the basis of a person’s decision to believe in Christ, rather than on the basis of God’s foreknowing them.
This is another denial of the doctrine of the spiritual death of mankind in the fall of Adam, which has rendered us totally unable of ourselves to choose or turn to God. Fallen, sin-enslaved people do not will to turn to Christ—they would never decide to believe in Christ. “The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8.7). “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God…There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3.11,18).
The objection also overlooks the wonderful fact that God, who is rich in mercy, came to us before we began to turn to him—he came to us “even when we were dead in our sins”—in order to “quicken”3 us (Ephesians 2:4-6).
Sometimes, when Scripture uses the verb translated know (whether in both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek), the idea of a relationship is implied by the original author (see Genesis 4:1; Jeremiah 1:5; Amos 3:2; Matthew 7:23; 1 Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:9). ↩︎
This quickening is referred to elsewhere in the Bible as the imparting of new (spiritual) life, and as a resurrection or regeneration of the soul. E.g. see John 3:3-8; Romans 6:4-11; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3,23. ↩︎