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Posts Tagged ‘Foreknowledge

The Definite Plan of God and Free Will of Mankind

Acts 2:23 shows us both the definite plan of Almighty God and the freedom of mankind.  While God offered His Son according to His own purposes and plan, He also still held the people responsible who crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 3:13-15; 5:30; 7:52; 13:27-28; cf. Luke 22:22).  While this verse clearly shows the sovereignty of God in the giving of His Son, it does not speak of man’s relation to God nor of our individual salvation.  To read into Acts 2:23 “unconditional election” to personal salvation does not do justice to the text and is reading our theological notions into the words of Dr. Luke in Acts 2:23.

What we do see in Acts 2:23 is that God decreed that His Son would be given for the sins of the world.  Jesus died according to the definite plan of God.  However, the acts of evil men in killing the Son of God on the cross is their own acts that God will hold them accountable for.  To read into Acts 2:23 that God “caused” people to mistreat the Son of God and kill Him is misleading.  God foreknew all this because of His omniscience but He did not cause the evil acts no more than He did not cause the fall of mankind into sin.  God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things.  He controls all things and upholds all things by His own power (Hebrews 1:3) but He does not directly cause all things otherwise He would be guilty of sinning (James 1:12-15).  Furthermore, that God foreknows is not the same as cause.  Foreknowledge means that God knows beforehand.  God knows does not mean God causes.  That God knows evil acts will occur does not mean that He causes them.  Because He foreknows all things, He is able to take the evil acts of mankind done by their own sinful will and He is able to turn them for His own purposes and glory (Romans 8:28).  This is the case here in Acts 2:23 and with other passages such as Genesis 50:20.

Dr. Harry Ironside wrote about Acts 2:23 some good words:

Notice how two things come together here that often trouble thinkers among men.  First, God’s predetermined purpose and wicked man’s free will.  God had predetermined that His blessed Son was to come into the world and give His life a ransom for sinners.  But God had not predetermined that men should curse Him, spit upon Him, and heap every kind of indignity upon Him.  These things were of men’s godlessness led on by Satan.  Peter says, “God sent Him; God knew all that would take place; but you are responsible for your sins in that you laid hold of Him and with your wicked hands crucified and slew Him.

One point about this is that God did foreknow the evil acts of men toward His Messiah.  Notice in Psalm 22:16-18 how the Scriptures prophesy about how evil men would treat the Lord.  Further, Isaiah 53 points to the evil acts of men toward the Lord’s suffering Servant, our Savior.  God did foreknow all that be done to the Lord Jesus but He allowed these free acts to continue to fulfill His own decreed purpose, salvation to those who have faith in Him (John 3:14-18).

The twin truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are clearly seen in this text.  God foreknows the evil acts of sinful men but He also has His own definite plan that will come to pass according to His own will.  What a mighty God we serve!

Jesus’ Foreknowledge and Causation

There are certain events in the ministry of the Lord Jesus that demonstrated that He foreknew them and that this shows He was God.  For instance, we read that Jesus knew that He would die on the cross (John 12:32), that He would die on the cross and details about His crucifixion (Mark 10:33-34).  Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him (John 13:18-27) and that Peter would deny Him (Mark 14:29-31).  He was able to read the thoughts of the Jews in Mark 2:8.  Clearly, Jesus was God (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6).

Yet what is striking about these events is that Jesus did not cause them.  He foreknew them, such as the sin of Judas, but He did not make Judas sin.  He simply knew it would be.  The same is true of the Father’s foreknowledge of the death of His Son in Acts 2:23.  Peter states in Acts 2:23 that the Father knew this would happen and He planned it so but the text does not say that the Father caused the people to kill Jesus nor does Peter remove their own guilt in the death of Jesus.

There is a difference here.  To foreknow sinful acts is not the same as causing them.  That God foreknew the fall of Adam into sin is not questioned.  To say that God caused Adam to sin is a different position altogether.  Some hyper-Calvinists hold that God caused the fall.  He didn’t just foreknow the fall but He planned the fall and He rendered the event certain.  Many Calvinists hold that God renders all things to come to pass for His glory.  They point to passages such as Ephesians 1:11 which says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”  They point to that underlined phrase saying that God renders all things certain for His glory.  As R.C. Sproul likes to say, “If there is one rebel molecule in the universe, God is not sovereign.”  This is because Sproul believes that sovereignty must mean total control of all things.

Arminianism holds that God is sovereign but this sovereignty is not defined as omnicausality.  God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things to be rendered certain otherwise this makes Him guilty of sin.  How could it not?  If God caused Adam to sin or caused Hitler to destroy people in the Holocaust, even if by secondary causes, this still makes God the ultimate decision maker in deciding and rendering certain sinful acts.  In fact, all sin is ultimately to be laid at the feet of the God who causes all things to come to pass.

Yet if we hold that God created the world with a limited amount of freedom of the will then we see that suffering is the direct result of sin and not God.  We live in a fallen, sinful world (Romans 8:20-22) and so this world is full of despair and despondency.  Sin abounds all around us.  Is this the act of God?  No!  Scripture is clear that God does not sin nor does He tempt anyone to sin (James 1:12-15) but the primary cause of all suffering and pain and hardships is laid at the feet of us.  As the Catholic thinker G.K. Chesterton put it, “The problem with the world is me.”  Our sin and our free will decisions to rebel against God lead to the evil that abounds around us.

This view does limit God.  I acknowledge that.  I believe that God limits Himself.  He could have created a world where He caused all things but He did not.  He created Adam and Eve with free will and gave them His commands (Genesis 2:16-17) to which they freely chose to rebel (Genesis 3:11).  Our free will now is tainted by sin and by our sinful natures that we inherit from Adam our father.  The only hope for us is the gospel and the work of the Spirit through the gospel.  Our free will is corrupted by sin and we cannot choose God.  We would not.  We dare not.  We hate God in our sinful natures (Romans 3:10-18).  We need the intervention of the grace of God to set us free from sin and its powers (Titus 2:11-14).  None of us will freely choose God and thus why we need the Holy Spirit to draw us to salvation through the gospel (John 6:44-45; Acts 16:14-15; 1 John 4:10).  We Arminians believe this work of the Spirit is called prevenient grace and this enables us to believe and be saved.

Yet we stop short of making God the direct cause of all things.  He is sovereign even when He does not cause sin or the free sinful acts of mankind.  No doubt God sees all things and He foreknows all things but He does not make people rebel against Him.  He allows them to continue in their rebellion all while reaching out to them with the cross (Matthew 22:1-14).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/25/2012 at 10:07 AM

Open Theism and Moral Government Theology

It is not surprising that many proponents of open theism are also supporters of moral government theology.  In fact, prominent MGT teachers the late Gordon Olson and Winkie Pratney also hold to a similar view of an open view of God that is found in the writings of open theists such as Greg Boyd or Clark Pinnock.  A MGT evangelist that I follow in Facebook also often promotes open theism with various posts on Facebook questioning the traditional view of God and the future.

MGT teacher Gordon Olson held that the future is partly open and because MGT requires complete free will of humans, even God does not know our future free will decisions.  Otherwise, how could they be free?  Greg Boyd questions the power of prayer and evangelism if in fact the future is already settled by God.  How could prayer be powerful if God has already determined to do something apart from the free will decisions of men?

Winkie Pratney also follows Olson in that he teaches that free will effects God.  God makes adjustments to His plans based partly on the free will decisions of men.  Pratney points to the example of the sickness of Hezekiah (as does Boyd) in Isaiah 38:1-4 or the case of Jonah.  Both Olson and Boyd point to God’s testing of Abraham in Genesis 22:1 and the angel’s reply to Abraham in Genesis 22:12 as proof that God was seeing what He could not see in the heart of His servant.

Why is open theism so prominent among MGT proponents?  It is because of the MGT insistence that man was created with free will and that after the fall of man, man does not receive a sinful nature and are not totally depraved.  No doubt we are sinners (Romans 3:23) but we are sinners because we choose to sin against God.  Sin is a complete choice that even sinners can make to not sin.  Sinners then do not sin because of their nature to sin but because they choose freely to sin.  Even in our fallen state, we can still choose not to sin.  This radical view of man’s nature leads to the belief that man can thus freely, at any time, choose to reject sin and accept Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for sins.  Jesus’ death on the cross makes our salvation possible but we must freely choose to accept the work of Christ for our sins.

The Arminian view is that we are totally depraved.  Our total depravity means that we are not only sinners by choice but by nature as well.  Fallen humanity can not freely choose, apart from the grace of God, to become Jesus’ disciples.  We need the aid of divine grace to save us.  Where we differ with Calvinism is that we believe that God does not force people to repent of their sins.  He draws them.  He convicts them.  But He does not force people (or drag them) to salvation in His Son (John 1:12-13).  The work of salvation, however, from beginning to end is the work of God.  He saves sinners who believe in His Son (1 Corinthians 1:21).  God sovereignly knows those who will believe (Romans 8:29-30) through His foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2).  The elect become those who in Jesus (1 Timothy 4:10).

Both Arminianism and Calvinism do not hold to open theism.  While some open theists seek to claim Arminianism they would do so going against the teachings of Arminius.  We shall look more at that at a later time.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/06/2011 at 11:14 PM

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