You might recognize the phrase “Lost Horizon”. It is the title of a 1933 novel by James Hilton which was turned into a movie of the same name, directed by Frank Capra. It is a story about the utopia, Shangri-La. It is a fictional Paradise on Earth, where people age extremely slowly. The Gospel tells us about another place or state in which we will never age, it calls it eternal life.
We left off the discussion last time asking the question, what does this word transliterated pre-horizoned mean? We saw that in every use of the word, horizo, it denoted a decision, a determination; but it is always a determination as an act of the will. At times it is the will of man, at times the will of God. But just because something is God’s will does not mean that He will force it to happen. For instance, Jesus was God’s choice to be the Eternal Judge; Jesus Himself says this in the gospel of John. But we wouldn’t by that assume that Jesus had no part in accepting that choice. Or, as we saw in John 10, in proving that choice as being right by his own actions.
Then the question is, why does Paul add the prefix “pre” to the word horizo in Romans 8:29? Why does he say, God set this boundary in advance for us – who would come to believe – in order to enable us to become more and more like Christ? I think there are two possible aspects to this answer.
(1) The fact that God knows in advance what will happen, allows Him to set in motion that which guarantees that His will will be done.
But, is His will that we (only the few we, the so-called “elect”) be saved? Or is His will that those who are saved be transformed closer and closer to the image of Christ?
How does God’s knowledge of the future play into the plan of salvation? I think it goes back to verse 28 and Isaiah 54 and John 16:33. As we live our lives in this limited reality of a physical world, bound by space and time, we naturally worry not only about what has happened to us but also about what is going to happen. This is why Jesus told us, in advance, you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. The future is coming and we have no idea what it will bring. But God knows.
Specifically, God knows in advance. God exists beyond time. Remember, He invented time. And Abraham understood this. Which is why he knew that God can talk of things that are not yet as if they had already been. So, it is a fact that God knows in advance those who will call on His Name to be saved. He knows. That doesn’t mean that He forces that decision on us.
It’s like us watching a football game on TV, thinking it’s happening in real time when in fact it is a replay of the game that happened two hours ago. To us it makes no difference, every move on that field is spontaneous, chosen, and acted on by the free will of the players. Just because your friend, who recorded the game with his DVR and now is playing it for your benefit, knows the outcome, does not mean he is causing it.
We have to be very careful when we impose limitations on God based on our human limitations or the preconceptions that they lead us to form. What God foreknows in no way is “forced” to happen. It simply has already happened, to Him. So, what did God do with this foreknowledge? I’ll tell you the way I understand it.
Once Adam and Eve sinned and let sin enter into the world, they brought upon themselves and their children a horizon that God never intended for them: A boundary called death. Since that time, all humanity was bound, limited by and to that horizon. And it wasn’t a boundary that just led to physical death. The boundary stretched through eternity into eternal death, eternal spiritual separation from God. But God had a plan, a plan of salvation. And in that plan, for that plan, He created, in advance, another horizon. This one does not end in physical death or eternal death. It is a boundary of life eternal, so that when our bodies die, we continue on that “track” on into eternity. As He told Martha at Lazarus’ tomb: John 11:25-26 … I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes on me, though he have died, shall live; and every one who lives and believes on me shall never die. Believest thou this?
This horizon, this demarcated territory was separated, from the beginning of time, for His Children. Because God had this plan since the beginning of time; in the same way that His Son had decided to give His life for us from that far back, so that He is called in some translations of Rev. 13:8: the lamb that was slain since the foundation of the world.
It is not that we were chosen for this destiny but rather that this destiny was chosen for us.
It is within this demarcated territory that we are able to become closer and closer to the image of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is what our loving Father wills for His children. This is what He wants for us. And this is why he made this other horizon.
I believe this is what Jesus means when He says we pass from death to life (now) when we believe. Think about it… Nothing physical, nothing measurable in this palpable reality happens when we believe. Yet something happens “in the heavenlies”. And something happens inside our heart. And something happens to our identity: Isaiah 43:1 But now thus saith Jehovah, that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called [thee] by thy name; thou art mine.
We need to remember that God stands outside Time
Our name is written in the Book of Life. When does this writing happen? For us it happens the moment we believe. But for God, who exists outside time, it already happened. In Revelation, talking about those who reject God and instead decide to worship the Beast, John says: Revelation 13:8 and all that dwell on the earth shall do it homage, [every one] whose name had not been written from [the] founding of [the] world in the book of life of the slain Lamb.
It is in this way (irrespective of Time) that Jesus talked about the Godhead: John 8:58 Jesus said to them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
That’s clearly a present tense. Yes, it is the meaning of the Name of God, but it speaks of the self-existent One who has no beginning and no end.
Likewise, when Jesus rebuked the Sadducees for their disbelief on the resurrection, he told them: Luke 20:37-38 But that the dead rise, even Moses shewed in [the section of] the bush, when he called [the] Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob; but he is not God of [the] dead but of [the] living; for all live for him.
Again, present tense.
It is no surprise that this is how Paul understood the God of Israel. This is why he expresses the same concept this way in Ephesians1:3-7 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ; according as he has chosen us in him before [the] world’s foundation, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love; having marked us out beforehand for adoption through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to [the] praise of [the] glory of his grace, wherein he has taken us into favour in the Beloved: in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of offences, according to the riches of his grace;
He has chosen us: In the same sense that our names are written in the Book of Life since the foundation of the world. Chosen for what? To be holy and blameless before Him in love. But how does that take place? Remember, “none is righteous, not even one.” It happens within the new horizon:
He has marked us out, pre-horizoned, for adoption through Christ Jesus: To truly become His children. (The same as in Romans 8:29 where he says we become closer and closer to the image of Christ so that we are truly like brothers of the firstborn of the resurrection (Jesus)).
In other words, once saved by the forgiveness of our sins, we enter into this new path reserved for us, this new horizon where the transformation by the Spirit carries out God’s will for all who believe. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that we become “holy and blameless before Him in love”, as it says in Ephesians, through the process we call sanctification.
Is this “splitting hairs?”
Why can’t pre-horizoned mean that we are predestined to be saved? Because that forces into this logical argument of Paul’s a new concept based on an interpretation of the word “elect” that makes no sense in light of the Gospel. If the meaning of elect and predestined meant that only some people chosen by God are saved, then most of Jesus’ preaching is a cruel joke.
Matthew 7:13-14 Enter in through the narrow gate, for wide the gate and broad the way that leads to destruction, and many are they who enter in through it. For narrow the gate and straitened the way that leads to life, and they are few who find it.
Luke 13:23-24 And one said to him, Sir, [are] such as are to be saved few in number? But he said unto them, Strive with earnestness to enter in through the narrow door, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter in and will not be able.
If only the predestined, in the sense of having been pre-selected, are going to make it, why should the rest of us work earnestly to find the narrow way? If only the pre-selected are going to make it in, then why does John 3:16 tell us that “whosoever believes in Him shall be saved”? Then Peter’s statement in 2 Peter 3:9 would be a lie. For there it says that God has been patient with us this long because “it is not His will that any should perish but rather that all come to repentance.”
You see, if God’s Sovereignty means that He preselects those who are to be saved, then by default He preselects those that will be condemned. There is no middle ground because if there were, we would be stating that some could be saved without God selecting them. But that contradicts His assumed Sovereignty. Therefore, all not preselected one way are preselected the other way. Which now leaves us with a self-contradicting God, whose will is for none to perish (all to repent) according to Peter but whose action is to condemn many anyway.
There is an excellent summary of a book by Jerry L. Walls that examines this point from a different viewpoint: The fact that God is Love.
The bottom line is that believing that predestination means that only those God selects ahead of time get saved, is patently illogical. It violates the rules of reason. And getting around it by claiming that God’s purposes are beyond our reason is a mistake, because this is the God who tells sinners in Isaiah: “Come let us reason together.” This is the God that invented reason and gave us the ability to think, and gave us free will so that we could make choices and love Him.
The concept of a God that stands outside of time, and therefore can know in advance what we will choose with our free will, is not beyond human reason either. It is there in the Gospel when Jesus talks about the eternal God in the present tense. It is also there in the passage from 2 Peter we cited, when Peter says a day is like a 1000 years and a 1000 years is like a day to the Lord. It is there when Abraham realized that God calls those things that are not (yet) as if they were. This is not too difficult for us to comprehend! Why? Because as it says in Ecclesiastes, God put eternity in our hearts. And as it says in Genesis we were made in the image of God. That means our spirit was made like His Spirit; and it is with that spirit that we sense these truths about Him.
Then why does the Bible keep calling us God’s elect?
The answer to that, as pointed out by Joel Kaminsky, Morningstar Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Religion at Smith College, is that the meaning of that word, chosen or elect, as used in the Hebrew Bible does not have the same meaning it is assigned to in Christian Theology. We will address this again in Romans 9. But the key point to keep in mind is that even though God’s choice implies God has a purpose in mind to be carried out, that statement does not tell you that that purpose has to do with the “salvation” (or “damnation”) of the person involved.
Or, said another way: There is no arguing against the fact that God’s will is “irresistible”, in the sense that what God has determined to happen will happen regardless of what man (or Satan) tries to do to prevent it. But it is an illogical to leap from that statement to saying that therefore all that happens was willed by God. For God to know something in advance and for God to force something to happen in advance are two very different things.
What God chooses, He chooses for His own reasons. And it is not up to us to tell Him what He chose or why he made that choice.
To me, what makes logical sense is not that we were chosen for this destiny of salvation but rather that this destiny of being transformed into the image of Crist was chosen for us.
(2) There may be another reason why Paul uses the prefix “pre”.
Paul uses this word pro-horizo also in 1st Corinthians. Ephesians, like Romans, also contains Paul’s exposition about how God’s plan of salvation is for both Jew and Gentile, and is not based on the principle of works. It is in Ephesians where Paul says that God is forming from the two (Jew and Gentile) a new man, accomplishing peace. And then he says this plan was God’s purpose of the ages (Ephesians 3:11). In 1st Corinthians 2:7 he says that God’s wisdom (being contrasted with the mystery wisdoms of the world) had been predetermined by God before the ages, for our glory.
It may be that Paul is trying to put our pettiness in perspective. We can tell from the letter to the Ephesians that in that Church too there were problems between Christians (and, of course, problems with trying to resist the temptations of the pagan world.) In Corinth Paul appears to be addressing an early form of Gnosticism and “mystery religions”. So, a way to put into perspective the wisdom of the world when compared to the wisdom of God is to point out that God had already invented His wisdom before the world was ever formed. Similarly, a way to put into perspective any tendency of Jewish Christians to find preference or primacy in the fact that they were inheritors of the Promise to Abraham is to point out that God had come up with His plan of salvation before the foundation of the world.
Maybe Paul is simply telling us that God made all these decisions ahead of time to emphasize that He has been loving us that long and that the fall of Adam and Eve didn’t catch Him by surprise. This means that the fact that the only way to restore us to Him would mean the sacrifice of His Son was something God knew before He even began creation. And He still went through with it!