Here’s another talk I gave recently if you’d like to hear me discuss my take on the doctrine of sanctification. What role does the Law play in sanctification? How do we put sin to death? How do we become more holy? Listen and you’ll hear what I believe to be the Bible’s answer:
In an essay on Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton picks up an interesting line of thought. He notes the fact that the Book of Genesis records the creation of light occurring before the creation of the sun (Gen. 1:3-19).
To many modern people it would sound like saying that foliage existed before the first leaf; it would sound like saying that childhood existed before a baby was born. The idea is, as I have said, alien to most modern thought, and like so many other ideas which are alien to most modern thought, it is a very subtle and very sound idea.
Chesterton then delivers this sound meditation on the creation narrative:
Whatever be the meaning of the passage in the actual primeval poem, there is a very real metaphysical meaning in the idea that light existed before the sun and stars. It is not barbaric; it is rather Platonic. The idea existed before any of the machinery which made manifest the idea. Justice existed when there was no need of judges, and mercy existed before any man was oppressed.
Like Dorothy Sayers in The Mind of the Maker, he relates the idea to literature:
The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists, as a mother can love the unborn child. In creative art the essence of a book exists before the book or before even the details or main features of the book; the author enjoys it and lives in it with a kind of prophetic rapture. He wishes to write a comic story before he has thought of a single comic incident. He desires to write a sad story before he has thought of anything sad. He knows the atmosphere before he knows anything. There is a low priggish maxim sometimes uttered by men so frivolous as to take humour seriously – a maxim that a man should not laugh at his own jokes. But the great artist not only laughs at his own jokes; he laughs at his own jokes before he has made them.
The last page comes before the first; before his romance has begun, he knows that it has ended well. He sees the wedding before the wooing; he sees the death before the dual. But most of all he sees the colour and character of the whole story prior to any possible events in it.
(G.K. Chesterton on The Pickwick Papers, from In Defense of Sanity, pp. 127-128)
I do not know if there is a better illustration for the foreknowledge of God than the mind of the writer, the mind of the maker. I saw an interview with J.K. Rowling a while back in which she discussed how she first created the Harry Potter character. As she rode in a train, he essentially just appeared in her imagination, and she knew his destiny right away. C.S. Lewis wrote of his recurring vision of a fawn with an umbrella carrying parcels in the snow. They knew their own characters before they ever set pen to paper. God did too.
- For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…(Rom. 8:29).
Or as one translation puts it:
- For those on whom he set his heart beforehand, he did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.
I offer my poetic paraphrase and expansion of Romans 8:35-39:
But he is in the fire, and provides our sweet support.
But he is the bread of life, and robes us in his righteousness.
But he has dulled the edge, our shield has taken the blow.
But as the Lamb is a Lion, so we conquer.
For his love and power prevail,
And his love is set on us.
For the Word and experience has proved
That death is gain,
That to live is Christ,
That demons bow,
That potentates hold no sway,
That dynamite is weak,
That He is Lord of the present,
And will be ever so,
That no god in the heavens,
Or demon in hell,
Nor anything on the earth,
Can separate us from the love of God in Christ our Lord.
Romans 8:30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
I came across this quote during my sermon preparation this week. John Stott references these words of Marcus Loane in his commentary on Romans. The quote eloquently summarizes the importance, and effect, of the active obedience of Christ in our justification. Christ’s passive obedience, his cross-work, procures forgiveness for our sins. His active obedience in positively keeping, and fulfilling, the law of God, ensures our complete acceptance as those counted as positively righteous before the Father through faith in Christ:
The voice that spells forgiveness will say: ‘You may go: you have been left off the penalty which your sin deserves.’ But the verdict which means acceptance will say: ‘You may come; you are welcome to all my love and presence.’
You could paraphrase this a number of ways, here’s my best shot at it, taking forgiveness and acceptance as the flip sides of the coin of justification:
- Forgiveness says, ‘Go and sin no more.’ Acceptance says, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’
- Forgiveness says, ‘Go, your sins are forgiven.’ Acceptance says, ‘draw near with confidence.’
- Forgiveness says, ‘You are washed.’ Acceptance says, ‘You are welcome.’
- Forgiveness says, ‘You are cleansed by his blood.’ Acceptance says, ‘You are counted as righteous.’
- The forgiven one says, ‘Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood, sealed my pardon with his blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior!’ The accepted one says, ‘Bold I approach th’ eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ my own. Amazing love!’
Charles Williams‘ paraphrase of Romans 8:29 –
For those on whom he set his heart beforehand he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son…
- Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
All day I have been thinking about Romans 8:29-30. I will be preaching on the passage this coming Sunday. I am engaged in an inner-dialogue/debate about how many sermons I will preach on these two verses. Like any Reformed expositor, everything that is in me wants to preach on every link in the ‘golden chain.’ But there is a problem. I’m not so sure I understand foreknowledge, and the commentaries have not been especially helpful so far.
My basic policy is that if I’m not comfortable saying I understand the basic meaning of a passage or term, then I simply won’t preach on it. But that doesn’t change the fact that it drives me bonkers not to understand the term or passage. And so, I remind myself of a quote I know by heart from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:
The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.
I still want to understand precisely what foreknowledge is. But I also want to remember that God does not call me to be all-knowing. He would rather me be in awe of him.