Predestination and Salvation

From Ch. 6 of In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason

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One further area where Paul at first sight appears to be at odds with the teachings of Jesus is on the question of predestination. We saw in the last chapter how Jesus clearly taught that salvation was available for all who met certain conditions, yet in this celebrated passage from Romans Paul appears to be supporting predestination:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed
to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers.   (Rom 8:29)

Taken out of context this seems to support predestination. However, the verse immediately before it helps place it in context and make its meaning clear. What God foreknew is that at any given point in time some people would love him and others would not, and what He predestined is that He would work for the good of those who loved him:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those
who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
        (Rom 8:28)

You can hardly take a verse more out of context than to ignore the verse before it! Yet this is apparently what advocates of predestination like John Calvin have done, in addition to ignoring Jesus' teachings on the matter. Quite clearly, these verses of Paul's do not indicate that certain individuals are predestined from the beginning of the world to be saved while others are not, but that God decided from the beginning that all those who loved him would be treated in a special way. Paul confirms that everyone has the opportunity to be saved later in the same letter when he says:

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - the same
Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for,
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
        (Rom 10:12-13)

Why then, if Paul doesn't believe in predestination, did he even mention the topic? The answer is that it was an important issue in the early church because the Essenes did believe in a very narrow and restrictive form of predestination, and the early Christian church was a development from the Essene church (see Chapter 3). Despite Jesus' teachings to the contrary, a belief in predestination was obviously still common in the church, and Paul debunked the notion by explaining just what is predestined and what isn't. This is a good example of how a knowledge of the times Paul lived in helps us understand what he said in his letters. The problem of correctly interpreting Paul's teachings is one which will come up again in later chapters, but these two examples should demonstrate that even where Paul seems to be totally at odds with Jesus' teachings, he may, on closer examination, actually be in harmony with them.
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From: In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason - Copyright © 1997.

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