In these verses and in the chapters ahead of us Paul shows us the mind of God. Its as though he had lifted us up into the heavenlies to observe the world from the perspective of eternity. As we read, time drops away and all history lies before us and we watch as God sets into motion His plan to save broken, sinful people and transform them until they become like His Son.
Before we ever existed God knew us. He saw who would repent and come to Him by faith, and who would not. And for those He knew would come, He laid out a plan for their lives
before they were born.
This concept of Gods foreknowledge is confusing for many. There are those who assume it to mean God even decided who will and who wont repent and believe, which, if that were true, would mean that humans have no part to play in deciding their eternal destiny. Some are chosen for heaven and the rest abandoned to an eternity apart from God. But one need only read carefully what Paul says in these chapters of Romans (9-11) to see that God never takes that freedom away. In fact, He remains always ready to forgive and restore even those who stubbornly reject Him (Ro 9:30-32; 10:3, 9-13; 11:19-23, 32).
But though God does not take away our freedom to choose Him, neither does He stand by passively and merely watch as our lives unfold. He is actively at work in our lives long before a prayer of surrender is ever prayed. He sets His grace upon us even before weve been conceived in the womb. You might say, we who are foreknown have always belonged to Him.
What is foreknowledge?
We can discover what this word means by observing Gods foreknowledge of Israel and the Church.
1) God foreknew Israel (Ro 11:1-4): When Abraham was 75 years old, with a barren wife, God said, I will give you a land, I will make you into a nation, I will make you a spiritual blessing to all the families of the earth.
Genesis 12:1-3; 15:5, 13-16; 17:1-8
But as His plan unfolded something surprising took place. He gave His spiritual blessing to the child who had faith, not the one who held the birthright. In a Hebrew family the eldest son expected to receive this blessing, but never once did that actually happen among the forefathers of Israel:
Abrahams eldest was Ishmael, but the promise went to Isaac (Ro 9:7)
Isaacs eldest was Esau, but the promise went to Jacob (Ro 9:10-13)
Paul doesnt mention it but Reuben was Jacobs eldest, but the promise went to Judah, the fourth in line
In fulfilling His promise to Abraham God wasnt bound by the rules of seniority. He reserved the right to give mercy (eternal life) to whomever He wishes. And to whom does He wish to give it? Men and women of faith, not those who are the physical descendants of people with faith, nor those who try to earn righteousness by zealously performing religious duties. His foreknowledge of Israel meant that before it ever existed He willed it, He prophesied it would happen, and He superintended over His promise from generation to generation to bring it to pass.
2) God foreknew the Church (Ro 8:29)
Paul will explain to us that this same pattern took place when the Messiah came. The eldest son (Israel) largely refused to put their faith in Him while the younger son (Gentiles) received Him in great numbers. Again, Gods plan unfolded in a surprising way. Gentiles whose personal histories had been filled with sinful behavior got the blessing of eternal life because they received Christ by faith while Israel who had enjoyed Gods special care for millenia largely did not. And Paul explains why. He says the problem lay with the fact that they tried to earn righteousness rather than acknowledge their unworthiness and receive it as a gift (Ro 9:30-32).
So what did God foreknow about the Church? As we read through chapters 9-11 well discover He foreknew:
a) That Gentiles would come in large numbers (Ro 9:24-26; 10:19, 20)
b) That only a remnant of Jews would believe (Ro 9:27-29; 10:21; 11:7-10)
c) That God would harden those who refused to believe and then use their hardness to promote the gospel to the Gentiles (Ro 9:17; 11:11, 12, 19, 25, 28)
d) That some day this resistance will be reversed and a whole generation will believe (Ro 11:25-31; Isa 59:16-20; Eze 37:1-14)
There have always been two categories of people: those who humble themselves and receive Gods mercy by faith and those who do not. And Gods work on this earth always focuses on those with faith. He has seen and known them from eternity, and in most cases they arent the ones you would expect. God is filling His heaven with people who dont deserve anything but judgment
people like me and you. He was actively watching over us before we knew Him. Those of us who know Him now can look back and see how His hand drew us to Himself (prevenient grace, John Wesley), and once we surrendered we sensed a Heavenly Father changing our heart and directing our steps. The same miracle that was at work in Jeremiah and David and Paul is at work in us:
Jeremiah 1:4, 5: Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you
You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mothers womb
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
set me apart even from my mothers womb
called me through His grace
The question before us now is, who is here today who is willing to acknowledge that God has had His hand on your life and been drawing you to Himself, maybe for years, maybe for as long as you can remember, and youre finally ready to stop running and surrender to His love. Youve long known someday you would come to Him and right now theres faith in your heart to say, You win! Then heres your promise: Romans 10:9-13.
1) Can you think of an example of God protecting you before you knew Him? What did He do? How did you know it was Him?
2) What have you discovered about Gods plan for your life? Tell us something He has revealed to you if its not too personal.