by Bruce Mills
In my last post, we were examining Romans 8:29 and saw that God's foreknowledge refers to His predetermined plan regarding certain individuals. But what did He plan to do in regard to them? If we don't understand that, it is easy to define foreknowledge improperly. So exactly what did God plan to do with those people whom He foreknew? This is a very important aspect, and here it is: The concept of foreknowledge embraces the idea of a predetermination, not just to take a course of action, but to take a course of action which is motivated by love.
You see, to foreknow, in its biblical sense, is to predetermine an expression of love. In foreknowing Christ, God was predetermining an expression of love toward Christ which would bring His Son great glory forever through redemption. It is a predetermined, foreordained, foreseen love relationship borne in the eternal purpose of God.
Please understand that throughout Scripture, the concept of knowing refers to much more than simply grasping information. In Amos 3:2, speaking to Israel, God says, “You only have I known among all the families of the earth.” Now does that mean that of all the families, all the tribes, all the peoples, all the nations of the earth, Israel is the only one He knows about? No, it’s not information, it’s predetermination. In fact, the New American Standard Bible translates the word “known” here as “chosen.” So there is that foreordaining aspect. But behind that idea of knowing, there is also a very intimate truth.
If you go back in the book of Genesis, you find in 4:1 that Adam “knew his wife Eve.” That means more than simply that he knew who she was, or where she was, or what she was like because it follows it by saying “and she conceived and gave birth to Cain.” The verb “to know” is often used in Scripture as a euphemism for sexual intercourse, so that means it is used to express the most intimate expression of love. And in the New Testament, Joseph was shocked when he learned Mary was pregnant, and then the angel revealed to him in a dream that she was to give birth to the Messiah. Matt. 1:24-25 tells us that he “took Mary as his wife, but [lit., was not knowing her] until she gave birth to a Son, and he called His name Jesus.” The concept of “knowing,” then, embodies the idea of beautiful, intimate love that brings two together. It has the idea of caring for someone.
1 Cor. 8:3 tells us, “but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” From the standpoint of cognition and awareness, people don’t have to love God for Him to know about them in His infinite mind, because He knows everyone on the face of the earth. But this is talking about knowing in an intimate sense; that is, “if anyone loves God, he is known by Him” in the sense of an intimate love relationship.
In Matt. 7:22-23, Jesus was explaining what will happen on the Day of Judgment, and He said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Did He mean, "I don’t know who you are," or "I never heard of you"? No, He meant “I don’t have an intimate relationship with you; I don’t have a love relationship with you; I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to Me.”
In John 10:14, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.” And a few verses later in verse 27, He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them.” 2 Tim. 2:19 says, “The Lord knows those who are His.”
So, when you come to Romans 8:29 and see the word “foreknew,” there is a predetermined love included in it. When God foreordains, He predetermines to love a certain person. It is a predetermined, foreordained, foreseen love relationship born in the eternal purpose of God.
So what you have is this: God has a purpose and that purpose is to express His love to sinners. He predetermines, on the basis of His desire to express His love to sinners, exactly which sinners He foreordained unto salvation, and they are the people who will be the recipients of His eternal intimacy and love.
When He foreknew them, they did not yet exist; in fact, nothing existed, because according to Scripture, it occurred before creation (cf. Eph. 1:4). None of those whom He foreknew were worthy of His love and grace; in fact, they would all be born as His sworn enemies (cf. Rom. 3:10-18, 5:10, 8:7). So His foreknowledge of them was solely and only an act of His sovereign, infinite love and grace. There is no other reason than that.
In our next post, we will deal with the next word in Romans 8:29 which has also caused great consternation throughout church history, and that is the word "predestined."