This is the second in a series of excerpts from the new MBC resource, “What Every Christian Should Know About Salvation,” available at mobaptist.org/apologetics.
God knows everything, which means nothing surprises Him. Satan’s brash rebellion didn’t catch the Creator off guard. Neither did Adam’s fall send the Lord into divine panic, forcing Him to sacrifice His Son in a desperate “Plan B.”
Every event in time and eternity plays out exactly as God knows it will. His foreknowledge is more than perfect, however; it’s personal.
If you are a follower of Jesus, it is biblically faithful to declare, “I am foreknown.”
What is foreknowledge?
In Scripture, the Greek verb proginosko means “to know beforehand.” Scholars vigorously debate whether this word implies foreordaining, as opposed to simply foreknowing, on God’s part. Early church fathers such as Origen, Chrysostom, and Jerome interpreted the term as signifying foreknowledge rather than foreordination.
Robert Picirilli, in Grace, Faith, Free Will, writes, “God foreknows everything future as certain. That certainty of future events does not lie in their necessity but in their simple factness. They will be the way they will be, and God knows what they will be because He has perfect awareness, in advance, of all facts. But that knowledge per se, even though it is foreknowledge, has no more causal effect on the facts than our knowledge of certain past facts has on them.”
Other scholars, however, say God’s foreknowledge cannot be confined to simple prior awareness. Reformation leader John Calvin insisted that God knows all events precisely because He sovereignly determines what is to happen in human history.
No matter how one understands the meaning of foreknowledge, it’s clear that our omniscient God always has known believers and has reckoned us predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:29-30). This encompasses the unsearchable depths of His divine sovereignty and the certainty of a human response in faith to the gospel message.
Events and persons
The Bible reveals God’s foreknowledge of events, not only in declaring things to come, but in delivering messages to mankind through the prophets. Note the test of a true prophet in Deuteronomy 18:21-22: “You may say to yourself, ‘How can we recognize a message the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the Lord’s name, and the message does not come true or is not fulfilled, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”
When a true prophet predicts a future event, God’s supernatural insight ensures that it happens exactly as prophesied. If the prediction fails, the prophet is proved false.
God’s foreknowledge even includes events that He knows would happen under certain circumstances, even though they don’t materialize. In 1 Samuel 23:12-14, God tells David that if he stays in Keilah, the citizens will turn him over to Saul. David flees with his men, and they escape the capture God knows they would have experienced.
God not only foreknows events, He foreknows people. For example, the Lord tells the prophet Jeremiah, “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). For God to choose, set apart, and appoint Jeremiah, He has to foreknow him.
The same is true of the apostle Paul, who tells the Galatians that “God, who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me …” (Gal. 1:15-16).
There is something about God’s foreknowledge that frees Him of any obligation to save us based on foreseen faith or meritorious works. Yet it’s clear that God is fully aware of how individuals exercise the human freedom He has entrusted to them. Further, He holds us accountable for our thoughts, words, and deeds so that His foreknowledge cannot be considered synonymous with fatalistic determinism.
Foreknowledge and responsibility
But what about God’s foreknowledge of us with respect to salvation? This involves God’s gracious determination to extend fellowship to certain undeserving sinners long before their birth. It is sometimes described as God befriending us beforehand.
Such divine foreknowledge is not fatalistic, however. In Acts 2:23, Peter declares, “Though he [Jesus] was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail him to a cross and kill him.”
In a single verse, Peter offers evidence both of God’s foreknowledge and human responsibility. God freely delivers His Son. Yet, rather than worship Him, wicked people choose to crucify Him, leaving them with the responsibility for their actions.
For followers of Jesus, God’s foreknowledge is an unfathomable blessing. It brings us comfort in times of doubt to know that He is aware of our struggles, hears our prayers, and stays true to His promises.
Next: You are elected