When is a believer’s name written in the Book of Life?
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Revelation 20:15 says that everyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. From this passage, Christians conclude that God has a record of followers of Jesus Christ– the Book of Life– and that we do not have to fear Judgment Day, because if our names are written in the Book of Life, we will receive the gift of eternal life in heaven by God’s grace.
But exactly when is a believer’s name written in the Book of Life– at birth, or at the time we believe? I have always thought of it as written at the time that we believe in Christ, since it is a record of those who believe. However, I recently learned I was wrong.
We were discussing this in my Bible class recently. My friend Allen Steele pointed out Revelation 13:8 and 17:8. Both passages refer to unbelievers as “everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb…” If unbelievers names were not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life, then it would follow logically that the names of believers were written from the foundation of the world in the book of life.
If we think this through, it makes perfect sense. After all, God speaks of our salvation as being “chosen in Him, before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), and that “those He foreknew He also predestined” (Romans 8:29), since we are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:1-2). In other words, God in His omniscience already foreknows what we will do, so He can speak of us as “chosen,” and He already has our names in the book even before we were born.
Does this mean our salvation is predetermined, without any choice on our parts? No, we “sealed” that entry in the book when we believed. As Ephesians 1:13 says, “When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Thus Revelation 7:4 refers to believers as those “sealed.” So God foreknew who would believe, and already has their names in His book, but when we believe, we “seal” the deal.
Five truths about predestination. Truth #5: It’s not God’s will that any perish.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the final post in a series on predestination.)
The previous four posts have examined the Bible’s teaching on predestination, like shining a bright light to look closely under a microscope. But this final post is more like turning on all of the lights in the room, as we view the big picture of the overall teaching of scripture. The fifth truth is that it is not God’s will for people to perish.
Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV) says, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
John 3:17 (ESV) says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
First Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV) says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Second Peter 3:9 (ESV) says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Thus we read repeatedly in scripture that it is not God’s will that anybody perish; rather, God’s will is for all people to repent of sin and be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. God in his foreknowledge is aware that many people will reject the offer of salvation, and they will perish, but that is not God’s will for any individual. As Luke 7:30 (ESV) says, “the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves…”
Yes, the Bible speaks of those who believe in Jesus Christ as “the elect,” and “predestined.” Jesus could even speak of those who would believe as “my sheep” and those who do not believe as “not my sheep.” Since God already knows they will choose to believe, God can say that he chose them. However, we are not God– you and I do not know who will believe, and we do not know who will be among Jesus’ sheep. All we know is that God wants all people to be saved, and that Jesus invited, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved… (John 10:9, ESV). Hence, we must accept predestination as a mystery of God’s knowledge and will, and we must share the gospel with urgency. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11, ESV).
Five truths about predestination. Truth #4: predestination is according to foreknowledge.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the fourth in a series of five articles about predestination.)
Some people object to the idea of predestination because they think it takes away human responsibility and free will. Yet the Bible says predestination is “according to foreknowledge.” In other words, God can speak of something as destined to happen, because God already knows the future.
Romans 8:29 (ESV) says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined…” Peter said, “To those… chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1 Peter 1:1-2, CSB). This concept is plainly stated in the Gospel of John. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65, ESV). That sounds like predestination, doesn’t it? But read the verse before it: “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe…” (John 6:64, ESV). There it is again—foreknowledge!
Let me illustrate it like this. Once I was a passenger on an airplane coming into the airport in Savannah, Georgia, which is near Interstate 95. As we descended, I could see a wreck on I-95 that was several miles to the north. I knew that the northbound cars immediately below me were going to come upon that wreck, because I could see farther that they could see. In a similar way, since God exists beyond time, and knows the future, he can speak of it as certain to happen (predestined). He already knows what we will do, but we are still free and responsible for what we do.
Five truths about predestination. Truth #3: predestination is not double-edged.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the third in a series of articles on predestination.)
On the subject of predestination, the verses in Romans 9 that are central to this discussion are Romans 9:22-23. These verses have been interpreted as teaching “double-edged predestination,” which is an extreme version of hyper-Calvinism that many Calvinists themselves to not take. What exactly is “double-edged predestination”? It is the idea that predestination cuts both ways like a double-edged sword– not only are the saved predestined to be saved, but that the lost are predestined to be lost. Some people interpret Romans 9:22-23 this way, because the verses speak of the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” and “vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory.” However, what many people miss here, is that Paul describes the vessels of wrath (the lost) and the vessels of mercy (the saved) in different ways in this passage. The Greek grammar in verse 22 describes the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” with a perfect participle in the middle or passive voice. Thus it describes the objects of wrath, which refer to the lost, as “having been made ready for destruction,” which may mean they prepared themselves for destruction by their own unbelief. Notice also that God “endured with much patience the vessels of wrath.” In other words, God patiently waited for their free choices, because, as 2 Peter 2:9 says, God is not willing that any be lost. Paul speaks of the lost by implying it is the result of their own choices, which God in His omniscience already knew they would make. (More on that tomorrow.)
However, the Greek grammar is different when referring to the “vessels of mercy” in verse 23. Paul describes the “vessels of mercy” as those “which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” This time, Paul uses the active voice to describe God’s action of salvation. In other words, Paul speaks of the saved as actively being predestined by God. Paul uses the word “beforehand,” to speak of the predestination of the saved, even though he did not use the word “beforehand” when speaking of the lost.
Thus we may speak of the saved as being predestined to be saved, but it is wrong to speak of the lost as being predestined to be lost. Just as God announced the judgment of Nineveh through Jonah, but responded to Nineveh’s repentance with forgiveness, in the same way God announces that all unbelievers are “vessels of wrath,” but if they react with repentance, God, who foreknew they would do so, responds with grace and forgiveness.
Five truths about predestination. Truth #2: Predestination is not unfair.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the second in a series of five articles on predestination.)
John Calvin, in his commentary on Romans 9:18, said, “the wicked themselves have been created for this very end—that they may perish.” This implies that God is arbitrary and unfair, creating some people who are already predetermined to go to hell, with no will to resist this. Yet Paul reminded us in Romans 9:14, “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”
When Romans 9:18 said that God shows mercy on whom he desires and hardens whom he desires, this does not mean that God is arbitrary or unfair. Let’s look at the context of this statement. In the previous verse, verse 17, Paul spoke about Pharaoh, whom Moses confronted, demanding Pharaoh let the Jewish people go from slavery in Egypt. Exodus says that Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people of Israel go. But if one reads the story in Exodus, one finds that half of the time it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and half of the time it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. What Exodus described was the process by which God brought out the hardness that was already in Pharaoh’s heart. As Charles Spurgeon said, “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay; and the same gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.” (Charles Spurgeon, “The Lesson of the Almond Tree,” Sermon No. 2678, April 7, 1881. Accessed on the web at: http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols46-48/chs2678.pdf.) Thus God was not making Pharaoh do something that Pharaoh didn’t already want to do. He is simply revealing what was already in Pharaoh’s heart. Likewise, God does not take away our free will to obey or disobey. God’s predestination is not unfair.
Five truths about predestination. Truth #1: two kinds of election.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
Predestination is generally understood as God’s foreordaining of what will happen, especially who will be saved. It is often associated with the teachings of the Protestant Reformer John Calvin, and thus sometimes referred to as Calvinism. Presbyterians, Reformed churches, many Baptists, and some other Christians emphasize this doctrine, although they hold to differing interpretations of predestination. In this and the next four posts, I will expound on five truths about predestination, primarily from the ninth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In the third post, I will give special attention to different ways of understanding predestination.
Truth #1: There are two kinds of predestination: nations and individuals.
In Romans chapter 9, the apostle Paul was trying to explain why most of his fellow Jews had rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ. He explained it by talking about God’s “election,” or predestination. Paul implies that there are two kinds of election: election of nations, and election of individuals. The Jews were, and are, God’s “chosen people.” Romans 9:13 quotes Malachi 1:2, “Jacob [Israel] I loved.” Despite this, not all Jews will be saved. Romans 9:6 says, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” That’s because there is a second kind of election, which is individual election to salvation, and that requires faith. Romans 9:30-33 says that many Gentiles became believers, even though they were not an elect nation, because they got “a righteousness that is by faith,” but Israel, which is an elect nation, “did not succeed… Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith…”
To be continued tomorrow…
Why John Calvin was wrong about Romans 9
Copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
John Calvin was wrong about Romans 9.
Calvin, the Protestant reformer of Geneva, Switzerland, was a great theologian. He became famous for his emphasis on the sovereignty of God and God’s predestination of our salvation. But in his commentary on the ninth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, John Calvin took predestination beyond anything the apostle Paul intended to say.
Qualifications of what I’m saying
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe that salvation is completely by the grace of God and cannot be earned by our good deeds. I believe that God is merciful and just, and I believe in the sovereignty of God. I also believe that when we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, the Bible says that we are chosen, or predestined.
My disagreement is with a specific brand of Calvinism and with a specific statement made by John Calvin in his own commentary on Romans. Many will argue that Calvin himself took a different position in some of his other writings, and that may be true, but it does not change the fact that Calvin was wrong in his commentary on Romans 9.
The key verses and Calvin’s comments
The debate centers around the key verses, Romans 9:18, 22 (HCSB): “So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden… And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction?”
Calvin says in his commentary on Romans 9, “Paul teaches us, that the ruin of the wicked is not only foreseen by the Lord, but also ordained by his counsel and his will… that not only the destruction of the wicked is foreknown, but that the wicked themselves have been created for this very end—that they may perish.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Romans.)
John Calvin’s interpretation of Romans 9:18 and 22 has been called double-edged predestination. This interpretation teaches that the saved are predestined to be saved, but also that the lost are predestined to be damned. At first glance, one can see how Calvin would interpret this passage the way he did. But a study of these verses in light of the entire chapter reveals a completely different picture of what Paul was saying.
God is not unjust
Calvin’s interpretation makes God arbitrary and implies that God is unjust. Yet Paul reminds us in Romans 9:14, “Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not!” Let’s go through the chapter and see how God is both merciful and just.
Hardened clay and melted butter
When Romans 9:18 says that God shows mercy on whom He desires and hardens whom He desires, this does not mean that God is arbitrary or unfair. Let’s look at the context of this statement. In the previous verse, verse 17, Paul spoke about Pharaoh, who hardened his heart and would not let the people of Israel go from slavery. But if one reads the story in Exodus, one finds that half of the time it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and half of the time it says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. What Exodus described was the process by which God brought out the hardness that was already in Pharaoh’s heart. As Dale Moody says, “The sun that hardens the clay melts the butter.” (The Broadman Bible Commmentary, vol. 10: Acts- I Corinthians, “Romans,” by Dale Moody, p. 230.) Thus God was not making Pharaoh do something that Pharaoh didn’t already want to do. Likewise, God does not take away our free will to obey or disobey.
The clay pot and the potter
Next, we note that Paul uses the example of a clay pot to illustrate predestination. He says in verses 20-21, that we have no right as mere humans to talk back to God about His will. It is interesting that Jeremiah 18:5-10 also uses the clay pot illustration to show how God reacts differently when we respond differently. Jeremiah says that if a people whom God warns will repent of their evil, then God will relent of his disaster and not inflict on them the disaster God had planned. This shows how predestination works in the mind and heart of God. Of course, God in His foreknowledge already knows what we will do, so when we choose Christ, God speaks of having chosen us.
A choice by faith
Romans 9:30-33 shows how salvation comes by a free choice to believe the gospel, not by arbitrary predestination. It does this by drawing a contrast between Gentiles who obtained righteousness and the Jews who did not obtain righteousness. What was the difference? It was their faith! Verse 30 says the Gentiles obtained a “righteousness that comes from faith.” Verse 31 says Israel did not achieve this righteousness. “Why is that?” Paul asks in verse 32. His answer: “Because they did not pursue it by faith.”
Objects of wrath and objects of mercy—treated differently
With all of this in mind, let us return to the key verses that are central to this debate, Romans 9:22-23. These verses have been interpreted as teaching double-edged predestination, because they speak of the “objects of wrath ready for destruction” and “objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory.” However, what many people miss here, is that Paul describes the objects of wrath (the damned) and the objects of mercy (the saved) in different ways in this passage. The Greek grammar in verse 22 describes the “objects of wrath ready for destruction” with a perfect participle in the middle or passive voice. Thus it describes the objects of wrath, which refer to the lost, as “having been made ready for destruction,” which may mean they prepared themselves for destruction by their own unbelief. Notice also that God “endured with much patience the objects of wrath.” In other words, God patiently waited for their free choices, because, as 2 Peter 2:9 says, God is not willing that any be lost.
However, the Greek grammar is different when referring to the “objects of mercy” in verse 23. Paul describes the “objects of mercy” as those “that He prepared beforehand for glory.” This time, Paul uses the active voice to describe God’s action of salvation. In other words, Paul speaks of the saved as actively being predestined by God beforehand, but Paul speaks of the damned as passively being predestined, implying it is the result of their own choices, which God in His omniscience already knew they would make.
Why John Calvin was wrong
John Calvin said that the apostle Paul taught in Romans 9 that God created the wicked for the purpose of damning them to Hell. But when we read Paul’s words carefully and in context, we see that Calvin was wrong. Instead, Paul says that God is not unjust. He says that God hardens the heart, but those are hearts that have also freely chosen to harden themselves. He says that we are like clay pots that cannot question God who forms them, but those same clay pots do have a choice to respond to the potter’s hands. If anybody is an object of God’s wrath, it is because that person has failed to obtain salvation by faith. The choice is always ours, but God always knows what choice we will make.