Tuesday, March 27, 2018

How are Predestination and Election connected to Foreknowledge?

Foreknowledge is one of God’s traits, namely that God’s plans are irrespective of the time-continuum. God knows the end from the beginning (Is 46:9-11). While from man’s perspective time may seem to move in progression, God is not bound by time at all. This is why to man Jesus appeared in the fullness of time (Gal 4:3-5), but to God Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8, Acts 2:23).

 “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” I Peter 1:20 

 Foreknowledge shows God’s omniscience even over the dimension of time. He knows all before it occurs to man - because to God He sees all of time at the same time. God does not base His actions on what He sees ‘in the future’, for to Him He is not bound to travel through time. For Him, there is no mystery or surprise. Nor must He mandate or decide all events to know them.

deals with God’s omnipotence. The word itself means to “to mark out beforehand’; to pre-establish limits and boundaries. Specifically, this word references how God set limits/boundaries/laws upon everything before creation. He set the laws of physics, placed the boundaries of the sea, determined the eternal plan by which mankind would be saved, etc (Prov 8:22-31, Eph 1:3-10, Eph 3:10-11, Job 38:33, Rom 8:29, etc).

 In the plan of salvation, God also predestined it to include the gentiles, not just the Jews (Eph 3:2-6, Rom 3:21-31, Rom 9:1-26, Rom 15:5-13, John 1:11-13, Isa 45:9-10, Rom 9:11-16, etc).

Predestination does not mean God decided the specific movement of every person and molecule, but rather that He in His power and wisdom set the rules and limits by which space, time, and people are bound and governed. In regards to man, God set laws regarding sin and righteousness, and the consequence of death for sin. In regards to salvation, God predestined that only Christ was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He predestined that Christ would need to die to cover man’s sin. He predestined that all in Christ, those who believe, would be adopted as sons and made holy (Eph 1; ) etc.

Further details and scriptures regarding predestination and God’s sovereign rule can be found here: https://ebible.com/questions/265-what-is-predestination-is-predestination-biblical#answer-15328 https://ebible.com/questions/3181-is-god-sovereign-or-do-we-have-a-free-will#answer-14667

Elect means chosen/select, such as how God chose Israel among all the nations of the world to be His people. In like manner, God also chose all who believed in the promise of the savior; both Jew and Gentile; to be His daughters and sons. Predestination is a related concept, as God predestined the way of salvation by which we become His chosen children. Fundamental to the concept of election is that it is by God’s good pleasure that a people is chosen, not by works or the wisdom of man. Israel had nothing to recommend her, nor was Israel even a nation, when God chose her (Ezek 16:1-14, Deut 7:6) to be His treasured possession. God not only favored Israel as His people, but predestined the savior to come through Israel (Is 9:6-7, Jer 33:20-21). He chose Israel to redeem a people for Himself and to magnify His name (II Sam 7:23). Likewise, it pleased God to choose/elect His people not by anything works we have done or any favor with men, but rather to redeem us as a people through the blood of Christ alone (Eph 1:3-14).

This way, it is by God’s mercy and not by man’s might or wisdom (I Cor 1:20-21, I Cor 2:5, Titus 3:4-6). By coming to God by the way He predestined for us - faith in Christ alone, we are redeemed by God as His people for the praise of His name (I Pet 1:1-10, Eph 1:3-14, Luke 12:27-33).

Some key verses where these terms are used in tandem are I Pet 1:1-2, Rom 8:28-20, Eph 1:4-5, and Eph 1:11:

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the elect, exiles of the Dispersion throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen by the foreknowledge of God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood..." I Pet 1:1-2

The elect are the people of God. God chose His people by His foreknowledge - not just those who were ethnically Jewish, but those who would have faith in Christ. Specifically here in context, Peter is speaking of the 'remnant' of ethnic Israel who would believe in the Messiah, as described in Rom 11. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." Rom 8:28-20

It is important to note in context of the chapter that all these people Paul is addressing love the Lord and have His Spirit - they are already in Christ. It is these believers whom God foreknew, predestined to be conformed, called, justified, glorified, etc. 

Also in context, this particular calling includes Gentile believers as well, as explained in Rom 9:22-26: "What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”
and, “In the very place where it was said to them,
‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘children of the living God."
(This form of calling, then, is for believers, for it is being called the children of God. This is not referring to the general call of unbelievers to repentance and faith.)

Eph 1:4-5 & 11-13 "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,"

Eph 1 is an incredibly important chapter for understanding how foreknowledge, predestination, and election relate. Paul is addressing a mixed group of believers, Jew and Gentile. He begins by pointing out that God had chose before creation that those Jews 'in Him' (faith in Christ) would be made holy and blameless in His sight. He predestined that these believing Jews would be adopted as sons, according to His plan, so that these Jewish believers would be for the praise of His glory. Paul then expands the argument to include the Gentile believers. They, too, were included 'in Christ' when they believed! As such, they too have all the blessings predestined for Jewish believers - holiness, adoption to Sonship, etc.

Hopefully this helps explain these often-debated terms, and how when taken together they are a wonderful picture of how God planned before creation that anyone who placed their faith in Christ would be included 'in Him' and receive all the blessings of adoption as sons of God such as justification, holiness, and eternal life.

Can Prayer change God's mind?

Prayer can indeed 'change God's mind'. (Luke 18:1-8, Jonah 3:10, Amos 7:1-9)

God does not repent, though, as if his first decision was 'wrong' (Num 23:19.) When God changes his mind, it is out of mercy - not because his first decision was in any way unjust. (I Chron 21:15, Gen 18:16-33) As such, one of the reasons for prayer is to appeal to God's mercy. "And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?" (Luke 18:7) "The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer." Psalm 6:9

 There are many other reasons to pray:

* For forgiveness (1 Kings 8:30-34, II Chron 6:24-25, Jer 36:7)
* For various requests concerning the body of Christ and other believers (Eph 6:18-20, II Cor 9:12-15)
* For intercession (Acts 8:24, II Samuel 12:23, James 5:16) or the reverse of not praying to intercede (Jer 7:16-19, 1 John 5:16)
* So that our hearts are humbly turned towards God (Hosea 7:14)
* Because God finds it pleasing (Rev 8:3-4) For adoration of God/glorifying God: (Matt 6:9-13, II Chron 29:11, Psalm 66:3)
* For confession: (James 5:16, For thanksgiving: (II Cor 9:12, Eph 9:19-20)
* To determine God's will: (Judges 6:39)
* For discernment: (Luke 21:36)
* For reprieve from oppression or affliction (Psalm 10:17, Psalm 119:134)
* To turn our hearts from troubles or anger to righteous response: (Psalm 77; Psalm 4)

 This is hardly an exhaustive list! God does hear our prayers, made in Jesus' name. In fact, to pray something in Jesus' name is to put the seal of Jesus' authority on it. Even if you feel sometimes that God wouldn't or doesn't listen to you, even though He does, understand that God the Father does listen to His own son! This is for God's own glory. (John 14:13) This does not mean God will grant every wish or change every circumstance. We are stewards under Christ, and so our requests must be in line with the character of Christ.

Should Christians work for people who knowingly lead a sinful life?

The answer depends on many factors. It isn't so much a "you should/shouldn't" but rather "is it the wisest choice?"

 #1 How close is the employee/employer relationship going to be? We are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. While this often is used specifically as an admonition not to marry unbelievers, it actually it also applies to any contractual relationship or close tie where we are supposed to be headed in the same direction as another person. (II Cor 6:14-18) If you are offered a position as co-CEO, but your future partner has some unethical business practices, you may wish to decline unless your new authority is going to give you enough influence for change. If you are seeking a new roommate, but an applicant is a known drunk and partier, you should probably move on. If you know a potential boss will interfere with your daily life and force you to compromise your faith, then that isn't a healthy work situation, etc. The general work situation doesn't usually force such close ties, so this is not always an issue - but consider how much you will be "yoked" to the job.

 #2 How much is your reputation and witness tied in to the business? This again is not usually an issue, but it can be. If your job is, say, a Planned Parenthood rep, then you are going to get linked to abortion even if you are just a receptionist. If you work for Playboy, then you will get linked with fornication and pornography, etc. Most christian parents will be a bit disturbed if their daughter decides to work at a bikini Batista or as a lingerie model. To a broader extent, even working closely with organizations that attack the christian faith or support lifestyles of sin can affect our testimony or tempt us into sin ourselves. Use your own conscience for this, though. If your dream job is a bartender or working at a meat shop, don't be too disturbed if some teetotalers or vegetarians disapprove. [Just don't demand they in turn be ok with it or meet you for lunch at work].

 #3 Will the job greatly interfere with your spiritual life? Some jobs require work on Saturdays or Sundays, making it difficult to attend a specific time of worship. Other jobs may have such a secular or anti-christian environment that you find yourself struggling to stay spiritually afloat. You may join in their sins such as gossip or slacking-off. While most obstacles can be overcome (meeting with Christians at an alternate time for worship or a small group, getting an accountability partner, etc) - there will be times where the job becomes the biggest stumbling block to spiritual growth. In such cases, it may be best to cut ties and trust God to provide.

There is nothing sinful in working for an unbeliever in and of itself. Scripture has many cases of people who did so (Joseph and Daniel, for instance, though they didn't have as much choice). Also, we may find ourselves working under a commander or leader whom we don't agree with. In these cases, we are responsible to submit to authority, and the leader is responsible for the choices he makes. We are supposed to be in the world but not of it, so we shouldn't avoid work or volunteering for the sole reason that the boss is an unbeliever.

Why did Paul leave Trophimus, a seven year companion, sick without healing him?

Trophimus was not instantly healed because the plan of God was not to use him as a sign for unbelievers, but to strengthen the faith of Trophimus and the believers around him. There are many types of healing - emotional, physical, but most importantly spiritual (Ezek 34:4, Psalm 107:20, Psalm 34:17-20, Psalm 147:3, John 14:27, 1 Pet 2:24, etc). While we know God offers healing, it is not always in the way we personally expect. This is because physical healing is predominantly a sign and testimony to God's glory and veracity. It is also a blessing and a mercy.

Emotional healing is important for unity in the church, and Spiritual healing is important for a right walk with God. Paul left Trophimus in Miletus when he was sick (II Tim 4:20), and Epaphroditus was sick to the point of death (Phil 2:27). Timothy was encouraged to use wine for his stomach ailments (1 Tim 5:23). God never removed Paul's thorn in the flesh (II Cor 12:1-10). Yet, Jesus, Paul, and the disciples healed the sick they came across (Matt 19:2, Luke 22:51, Luke 6:18, Mark 1:34, Matt 12:15, Matt 14:14, Acts 8:7, Mark 6:13, etc.)

From accounts given it seems that most of the sick trusted in Jesus' power to heal (even though many did not personally yet have faith in Jesus as Messiah). These healings were proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be. However, for believers, we already believe Jesus is who He claims, and we know that the physical is temporary in comparison to the eternal.

 Sometimes, the very physical trial we are going through and anxious to get out of is what will bring the emotional or spiritual healing we need. (1 Pet 5:10, Psalm 23:3, Psalm 34:19, Heb 12:1-3, etc). Physical trials, persecutions, and sufferings bring us closer to God, and are also a testimony to others. There are many times where God asks us neither to retreat or to advance, but merely to stand firm and let Him be our Dread Champion.

 Sometimes, we may not get physical healing in this life, but we know we will have complete restoration when God raises us to eternal life. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah told Nebuchadnezzar " “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” They were not lacking faith or doubting when they mentioned the possibility of God not saving them, rather they were exemplifying complete faith in God's sovereignty and power. It's not faith that "God's going to heal me and change my circumstances and make my life better" that God wants from us, but faith that God has the power and authority to heal. He wants us to trust in His eternal plan (Mark 14:32-36), even if it sometimes brings us sorrow to the point of death.

Our circumstances, such as those of Paul or Trophimus or Epaphroditus, might not change on our own timetable [but that's ok!]. Faith in the power of God also places God in sovereign control, so that we know the results are for His glory. This is also a large reason there are more miraculous healings in third world countries and in areas hostile to the gospel than there are in America. When God has displayed ample evidence, further signs are not as necessary. At that point, people need to make a decision, not just crave signs (John 6:1-15 & John 6:25-59, Matt 26:4).

God still heals (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) as He loves us and He is not going to keep from us what we need (Luke 11:11-13), and healings bring glory to God. However, it is not always physical healing that we need - sometimes it is repentance, sometimes the refined faith that comes through a physical trial, sometimes the stronger faith & community born in others when they see someone else enduring through a trial, etc.

What did Jesus mean when He told the thief, "I tell you today you will be with me in Paradise?"

There is a lot of debate in the church overall about where the 'comma' should go in Lk 24:43 and what the implications would be if such a comma was moved. Commas and punctuation in general are not found in the original Greek manuscripts and were added in later. Due to this, most every English translation will contain some punctuation errors. Hebrew and Greek don't translate 'perfectly' into english, so there will always be choices on the translators part on which nuance to pull out or which direction to go in.  Fortunately, other scriptures and context help a great deal to narrow the options down. In general we should expect that punctuation is added to increase readability and should be close to the sense of the original. However, because humans are fallible, we should not build doctrine off of the placement of a comma. Also, we have to watch out for translations that purposefully choose punctuation or alter word choice to fit their point of view, as accuracy of translation is secondary for those translators.

When it comes to Luke 24:43, however, it is possible that those too focused on comma placement and how it affects their personal theories of man's state after death but pre-resurrection are missing Jesus' real point:

 'TODAY' was a rabbinical term, referring to the coming of the Messiah. There are various rabbinical parables that show how the messiah will come "TODAY". In essence, it was used to show a sort of eternal perspective (that whatever day He comes or that we enter God's rest, it is TODAY) vs. Man's sense of time.

 "(Joshua) said to him: --"When will you come, Lord?"
 He said to him: --"Today!"...
 (Elijah) said to him: --"He promised you and your father the world to come!'
 (Joshua) said to him: --"He told me a lie! For he said he would come today but he did not come!" (Elijah) said to him: --"He told you thus: 'Today, if you will hear his voice" (Ps 57:7)" --- Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a

 This concept of TODAY is referenced directly in Psalm 95:7-11, Heb 3:7-12; 4:1-11. "Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today....." Heb 4:6-7 2)

As such, Jesus was simply telling the man that due to his faith He would enter God's rest. (II Cor 5:6-8, I Thess 4:13-18) Such as "I say to you "TODAY" you shall be with me in Paradise (for you have heard my voice)."

'TODAY' is not a specific timing element at all, but an assurance that Christ is the Messiah and that the thief will be allowed in the Kingdom.

But for a brief examination of the two most common views that depend on comma placement:

- By placing the comma right after the word today, it is claimed by some that Jesus is essentially saying, "I'm telling you today/right now that you will be with me in Paradise (someday)". While it does not contradict other scripture nor does it undermine the basic meaning of the passage, it is not supported by the scriptures and traditions that spoke to "TODAY" having a rich meaning in reference to the messiah.

- By placing the comma directly before the word today, it is claimed by many that Jesus is claiming that he and the thief will both go to be in Paradise that very day. (As in, on this day specifically we'll hang out in Paradise). This interpretation is the least likely as it seems to contradict many scriptures.   'Paradise' is in currently in Heaven (not a suburb of sheol, despite some jewish theories and apocryphal writings) as shown in II Cor 12:3-4 and Rev 2:7. It seems to be that Paradise will come to earth and be in the new Jerusalem. (Rev 22:2, 7, 14, 18). Jesus had not yet ascended to His father when he rose (though He did later) - so how could Jesus have gone up to heaven in the interim? In fact, Jesus went the other way - his spirit going to Sheol. (1 Peter 3:18-21, Acts 2:23-36). He did not ascend to His father until after he rose (John 20:17) - though it is implied He had before a week had passed (John 20:24-29). [My personal theory is that he ascended before the throne at some point on the day He rose as the true/perfect First Fruits and Atonement offering (Heb 9:16-27, Heb 12:24, 1 Cor 15:23)]. ***

And so, back to the deeper point - punctuation can at times affect the interpretation of a passage. This does not make the original texts wrong, but show how man can accidentally introduce errors and bias in their translations. In some cases, the answer can be found not by wrangling with punctuation but by asking what a word or phrase would have meant to the specific audience it was spoken to.

If Jesus was God, does that mean He sacrificed Himself for Himself?

Jesus died for the sake of creating a covenant between God and man that man could keep (though this is a gross oversimplification). God recognized that there was no way that man could achieve salvation by his own merit or by following the law. So the Father sent Yehoshua to die, so that Yehoshua might become the mediator between God and man. God wanted a covenant with man. He did not die "for Himself" in the sense of God having any need or debt, but did die 'for Himself' in the sense of wanting to achieve God's purpose and create a way to redeem man. He did choose to die because he wished for man to have a covenant relationship with Him. God did not have to do this - but out of love, he chose to and desired to. As such, Jesus's death was not "for" God but for the sake of man, that mankind could have a relationship with God. "It was for me the day of vengeance; the year for me to redeem had come. I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support; so my own arm achieved salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me." Yet in another sense it was 'for God' as God was pleased to be reconciled with man (Col 1:19-20.)

Isaiah 63:4-5 (This whole chapter is pertinent) Jesus's name (Yehoshua) actually means "Yahweh brings salvation" or "salvation comes from Yahweh". Jesus willingly submitted to the authority of His Father. He became the instrument of power not only in watching over Israel in the old testament, but in redeeming mankind in the new. Yehoshua then emptied Himself and took the form of a man. While He still had the spirit of God and was one with His father, He had taken an earthly body.

 Because Jesus was both our kinsmen (being human) and our redeemer (his sinless blood paying the price), God could then offer a new covenant with man. Jesus would be the mediator, and Christ's death/blood would allow it to be enforced. "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. "In the case of a will it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood...In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." Heb 9:15-18, 22 (Galatians 3:15-23 also discusses this).

 As to the why? For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Galatians 3:14 Every verse about the 'why' tells us it is for our benefit. Certainly, God hates sin, and we could not stand before him otherwise. But, this is not a deficiency in His character that He needed to die to address or fix. Rather, because He is both Just and loving, the choice to send Jesus to die in our place allowed justice to be upheld while costing humans nothing. It upheld His promises, His justice, and His mercy.

Monday, March 26, 2018

How can I know if I am one of the elect?

The elect are the people of God joined together under the headship of Christ (1 Peter 2:4-9). We as individual believers do not actually know who all the elect are until Christ returns and we inherit what has been promised us; a glorified body, that we might have eternal life with Christ. (Rom 8:19-30, Matt 13:24-29, Heb 6:1-12, 1 Pet 1:3-9).

 Throughout the Bible, election has always been a testimony of God's sovereignty and eternal perspective. It is meant to be a comfort, to be a testimony of the fulfillment of prophecy, to show God's power and knowledge, and to show how none of God's good purpose is frustrated by the actions of man. For example, when God called ('elected') Israel from among all the nations (1 Chron 17:21), it was so that Israel might be blessed among nations and all nations be blessed through Israel. It also was the nation God chose to work His eternal plan through. It's true and final purpose was for the physical nation of Israel to stand as a type for the eventual 'spiritual' people of God, and for God's redemption of Israel to stand in as a type for the redemption of Christ for all men.

 However, the jews became arrogant in their position as 'the chosen people of God'. They expected a messiah who would set up the jews as the actual rulers of all nations, and were infuriated by the early church gospel expansion to the gentiles. They could not understand how the gentiles could be "elect". And yet, God had chosen the gentiles to be brought into the fold of God long before Christ came to man. (1 Pet 2:10, Rom 9:6-26)

 Rom 9:26 hearkens back to a very important time in Israel's history (Hosea 1:9, Hosea 11:1-4), where God's wrath against Israel's unfaithfulness caused him to declare "You are not my people". God's choice of Israel did not guarantee their obedience. In the same way we always have a choice between endurance in faith, or faithless abandonment (II Tim 2:8-13, Col 1:21-23, Rev 3:1-6, Heb 3:6). Hosea 11:2 is especially convicting: "But the more they were called, the more they went away from me". Many are called, but few are chosen. (Matt 22:1-14)

 Being 'elect or not' is not something that a believer needs to worry/fret over. Rather, examine ourselves to see if we are growing in relationship with Christ (II Pet 1:3-11); thus confirming our calling and election. No man or principality of the heir can take our hope away. If we are subject to Christ, then we are part of the people of God.

God is purifying for himself a people all His own (Titus 2:11-14). This refinement process is hard, with many trials - but so long as we keep faith God's power will guard us, and we will overcome. (1 Pet 1:3-9, 1 John 5:1-5) [There is some confusion on this topic as to whether "one time" belief in Christ makes one part of the people of God; it does not. The greek of 1 John 5:5 and John 3:15-16 is about continued belief, just as 1 Pet 1:5 is about God's continued protection on account of our faith, and 1 John 3:9 is about continually sinning (Such as being subject to the flesh instead of the spirit). In English it is hard to translate the impact and continuity of the greek present tense without sounding "odd"].

 Finally; our hope is not in being "the elect" of God, rather our Hope is in Christ alone as Savior and Lord! (1 Tim 1:1, 1 Tim 4:10, Eph 1:12, Titus 2:11-14). The Jews placed their hope in being the chosen people of God while simultaneously ignoring the commands of God. Conversely, Jesus states ""If you love me, keep my commands", (John 14:15) and " Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:47), and "...the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14-17)