According to the Foreknowledge of God

Posted on December 2, 2010


In part 2 of his series Chosen By God, John MacArthur explains the foreknowledge of God in our election according to 1 Peter 1:1-2, which says,

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

There are some who explain God’s election of His children to be according to the choices He knew we would make because He is omniscient, but reading this passage in context and in accordance with other Scriptures, we see that this foreknowledge is in fact God foreordaining, or prearranging, who would respond to His effectual calling. To believe otherwise is to ultimately grant man sovereignty over himself, and ultimately sovereignty over his own salvation thereby giving man a share in the credit and glory in his decision.

This series can be downloaded for free at the following links and I highly recommend them to understand this biblical doctrine more clearly. Traditions have their way of skewing our theological understanding of God’s Word, but if we let Scripture speak for itself, we will find God is sovereign in all things, especially our salvation. As the Apostle Paul declares in Ephesians 1:3-14, we have been chosen in accordance with God’s pleasure and will, in accordance with the riches of His grace, according to His own good pleasure, in conformity with the purpose of His own will, to the praise of His glory!

Chosen By God – Part 1

Chosen By God – Part 2

Chosen By God – Part 3

Partial Transcript from Part 2 – Chosen By God
(all bold emphasis added)

 So it is God who chose us to be saved. He made the choice. He did the choosing. And, by the way, God does it independently of any person. He does it independently…are you ready for this?…of any circumstances. Now you need to grasp that. There is no person who moves on the will of God to help Him make the choice. There is no circumstance which in any way precipitates God’s choice.

In Daniel 4:35 we read, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, What have you done?” No one can question it. No one is involved in the process in any way. God singled out certain ones in His own mind both among the angels, the holy and elect angels as they’re called in 1 Timothy 5:21 and among men, and He chose them for eternal life and blessedness. Before He created them He decided their destiny. We saw that last time.

I might put it this way. The chosen people is made up of the people chosen. The chosen people is made up of the people chosen. But what was the source of God’s choosing? Verse 2, now follow, “According to the foreknowledge of God.” Now some people say, “You see, that’s it. We’re chosen because God knew before what we would do.” Have you ever heard that? That’s the most common sort of traditional explanation of election. They say, “Well foreknowledge means foresight, or it means…and I’ve heard it explained many times…God looked down through the eons of history and saw by His future omniscience what you would do and what I would do and when He saw that we would believe, He chose us and when we saw that we wouldn’t believe, He didn’t choose us.” Some people think that’s what it means…that God in His omniscience knew what you would do, knew what everyone would do so in some supernatural way He observed history before it was written and by His observation elected those that He foresaw would believe. Men love that doctrine. They love that. They want to believe that. Something in me wants to believe that. Something in you wants to believe that. Yeah, that sounds better.

You know why you want to believe that? Number one, because in your fallenness you desperately want some responsibility for your salvation. And secondly, in your fallenness the other sounds as if it’s…what?…unfair. But since our minds are polluted by sin we’re not in a position to exalt our own pride and call it virtue or to pull down the justice of God and call it something less than that. That’s not what foreknowledge means.

You know what’s wrong with that view? I’ll tell you. I’ll give you a few little reasons, you can jot them down. The first thing, if you were to translate the idea here, foreknowledge, as knowing before and assume that God just looked down history, saw what you’d do and wrote it down cause He saw you were going to do it, the first thing that does is make man sovereign. Right? We’re sovereign. We’re doing it and God’s saying, “I’ll see, I’ll write that down, he was going to do that.” So man is sovereign.

Now you’re going to have a problem with that in John 15:16 where Jesus said, “You have not chosen Me, but…what?…I have chosen you.” Now who is sovereign? Is man sovereign? Are you sovereign and I’m sovereign and everybody is sovereign? Everybody can choose whatever they want and God’s just up there trying to keep it all in line and get the right guy on the right side of the ledger. No. See if you believe that then you’ve made man sovereign.

Secondly, that view also gives man the credit for his salvation in some way and allows him to share the glory. And as I said, man loves that. I heard a person give a testimony the other night, said, “I’m so glad that I had the sense to receive Christ.” And I wanted to get up and say, “No you didn’t and I don’t even know you, but I know you don’t have the sense to receive Christ because no one has the sense to receive Christ.” That is not an act of human sense. I’m so glad that I had the sense to give my life to Christ…no you didn’t. But we want a little of that glory. God chose us. 1 Corinthians 1:29 says that no man should boast before God. Not of works lest any man should boast, Ephesians 2:9 says the same thing.

So, if you’re going to take foreknowledge and make it God knew before what you were going to do, then you have just made man sovereign and secondly, you can give man the credit for being smart enough to come to Christ and therefore he shares in the glory due for the gift of salvation.

The third problem with that, it assumes that man can seek after God...it assumes that man in his fallen state can sort through the available data and seek God. Romans 3:11 says, “No man seeks after God.” The reason you’re saved is not because you sought God but because God…what?..sought you. And you never responded to seek until God sought you first and moved your heart toward Him.

Fourthly, that view makes salvation a result of a human work. And what is that work? Believing. If you can believe strictly on the basis of your own human ability, then you have appropriated salvation by a human work. You say, “Well now wait a minute, don’t you have to believe to be saved?” Yes, but your believing to be saved was also a gift from God. God granted you the faith. If God is sitting back in eternity looking down the road and just waiting to see what you do, then the faith that you exercise is your faith not His, it’s therefore a human work. It makes salvation a human work, a work of faith but still a human work…human faith.

And fifthly, that perspective makes God a victim of man’s choice. It makes God a victim of man’s choice. God is sitting up in heaven saying, “Humph…that’s going to make a difference in My plan. Boy, if that guy had only said yes then I could have done this and I could have worked that but now it’s just not going to work out.” That’s hardly short of a blasphemous view of God. God does all things by the counsel of His own will. God does all His good pleasure. God is never in any way frustrated by anything, any time done by anyone. That is so very vital for us to understand.

Isaiah 46:9, “I am God, there is no other. I am God, there’s no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done…listen to this…saying, My purpose will be established, I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” God is not a victim. 

Now if you take the view that God just looks down the road and sees who’s going to believe, you’ve made man sovereign. You give man the credit for a part of his salvation so he gets some of the glory. You assume that man on his own is going to seek after God, not prompted by God Himself. You have made salvation a human work of faith. And you have just made God a victim of what men do. That is not what this word means.

Now those are theological reasons why that can’t be true. Let me go to the text and give you a reason that’s inherent in the Word itself. The word here, please notice, “foreknowledge” is the word prognosis, have you heard that word? Prognosis, it’s a very important word. Peter also uses it one more time in this same chapter, please notice it, verse 20…verse 19 ends with the word “Christ,” then it says of Christ, “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world.” Same word…form of proginosko, same word. Does it mean foresight there? Does it mean God was up in heaven looking down the road and said, “Oh I see what Christ is going to do? Oh, I see…I get it.” Is it God looking down the path of history to see what Christ will do? Not hardly. Well whatever prognosis means in verse 2 it means in verse 20, Peter’s certainly not going to try to confuse us. And if Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world and I was foreknown before the foundation of the world, then I was foreknown in the same way Christ was foreknown, right? 

How am I to understand that? Look at Acts chapter 2. Acts chapter 2 verse 23, speaking of Christ, Peter preaching here. He likes this word. This is Peter on the day of Pentecost. It talks about Jesus of Nazareth. And he says in verse 23 of Acts 2, “This man delivered up…listen to this…by the predetermined plan and…what?…foreknowledge of God.” You nailed to a cross by the hands of Godless men and put Him to death. Now wait a minute. Christ was delivered up to die by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.

Beloved, do you understand it? Foreknowledge is linked to the predetermined plan. Foreknowledge is deliberate choice…deliberate choice. It is a predetermined relationship, a predetermined relationship in the knowledge of God. It doesn’t mean He observed before, it means that He planned before. It is knowing not in the sense of observation but is knowing in the sense of bringing into reality.

For example, let me give you some illustrations so you’ll not be confused. Jeremiah 1:5, God says of Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I…what?…I knew you.” That’s the kind of knowing. What do you mean? I predetermined a relationship with you, that’s what it means. I predetermined a relationship with you. You know what it says in Genesis? “Cain knew his wife and she bore a son.” What does that mean? He knew who she was? He observed her and said, “Oh, you’re my wife.” And she had a son? No. Know in the sense he knew her and she had a son, he engaged in an intimate relationship. It was the same thing with Joseph, he had known Mary and yet she was with child. Know there speaks of an intimate bond, an intimate relationship.

Amos 3:2, “Israel only have I known.” What does He mean? That Israel’s the only people I know anything about? They’re the only ones I’m observing? No, they’re the only ones with whom I have an intimate predetermined relationship.

I’m thinking of Isaiah, I want you to fully understand this because it confuses so many people. Isaiah 49:1, “Listen to me, O islands, and pay attention you peoples from afar, the Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother He named me and He has made my mouth like a sharp sword,” this is the prophet Isaiah saying it all happened before he was ever born, before he was ever born. God had the whole thing planned. The Lord knew me. What do you mean? He knew who he was? No, He predetermined a unique relationship of intimacy with that prophet.

In Exodus 33 the Scripture says, “I have known you by name and you have also found favor in My sight,” God speaking to Moses. The Lord spoke to Moses verse 17, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken for you have found favor in My sight, I have known you by name.” In other words, bound up in this knowing is God’s predetermined bond, God’s predetermined relationship.

You see the same thing in Matthew 7. Do you remember what it says there? “Many shall say, Lord, Lord, and I will declare to them…verse 23…I never…what?…knew you.” I didn’t know who you were? No, He knew who they were. I never had a predetermined relationship with you. John 10, similar, I think it’s about verse 14 or 15. Verse 14, “I am the good shepherd and I know My own,” see. I have a bond with them. More than I know who they are, I have a relationship with them bound up in a predetermined choice.

Well that’s the idea…