Tag Archives: Romans

Thoughts on Predestination from the Church Fathers to Martin Luther May 14, 2010

When I started this study on predestination, I assumed that this was simply to discuss that God must foresee the destiny of each person. Through this study though various writers have pointed to the need for God’s foreknowledge in all things. Certainly if God knows the destiny of Jim Driskell this has to include His foreknowledge of the entire environment, the history and the future in order to fit my life into my environment. In his commentary on Romans, Leon Morris explains the process that Paul describes in his letter, that it is indeed not just knowing who is saved but it is a process: “Those he predestined God also called (again the call is an effectual call, for it is preceded by predestination). Those he called God also justified … This is an important concept for Paul and receives special emphasis in this epistle. It leads on to glorification, for those whom God justified he also glorified. The aorist tense here is unexpected… it is more likely that it is used of set purpose to bring out the truth that our glorification is certain. So certain is it that it can be spoken of as already accomplished.”[1] So certainly Paul clearly intended for us to understand that the predestination he was talking about was not something that was just being worked out, it was, but the end had already been determined. The focus of much of the discussion on predestination is on Romans 8:28 – 9:24, specifically 8: 29 – 8:30.

Needless to say to take on such a study is staggering in its immensity and yet what is known with certainty is miniscule, what we know is rather speculative except for a few Bible passages that refer to God’s foreknowledge but not necessarily what that entails. That being the case we should work under the assumption that God knows everything. Of course this raises questions as to how man’s “free will” plays out in this. If I have free will can I act in a way that undermines God’s foreknowledge, or His plan as it were? If this means that God foreknew what I would do then does that preclude free will? Could there a middle ground? In situations like Judas does God predestine some things, maybe just the “important” things and then lets us kind of live our otherwise ordinary lives out according to our personal preferences and prejudices, does God really map out everything or just the “big” events that require divine intervention. Of course that then raises the question as to what is “important” and what is otherwise ordinary, something that really doesn’t require God’s attention?

The Book of Concord, which writing was led by Dr. Martin Luther, gives us a good explanation as to why we should examine the question of predestination, but Dr Luther writes, a great deal, in other places that while we discuss the question, we don’t become consumed by it, or try to presume to know God’s intentions and think that we can somehow understand what God’s intent really is. Clearly the Bible writes about it and we are aware of it, but it is through our faith in God that He is going to act according to His great holiness, grace, compassion and knowledge. We should trust in that and to quote Dr. Luther: “God doesn’t want you to know the future. So stick with your calling, remain within the limits of God’s Word, and use whatever resources and wisdom God has given you. For instance, I can’t foresee what my preaching will produce – who will be converted and who won’t. What if I were to say, ‘Those who are meant to be converted will be converted even without my efforts, and what’s the use of trying to convert those who aren’t meant to be saved?’ Saying that would be foolish and irreverent. Who are we to ask such questions? Take care of your responsibilities and leave the outcome to God.”

The writers of the Book of Concord wanted to clarify why it was necessary to discuss this issue: “Therefore, in order by God’s grace to prevent, as far as we can, disunity and schism in this article among our posterity, we have determined to set forth our explanation of this article in this document so that all men may know what we teach, believe, and confess in this article. 2 If the teaching of this article is set forth out of the divine Word and according to the example it provides, it neither can nor should be considered useless and unnecessary, still less offensive and detrimental, because the Holy Scriptures mention this article not only once, and as it were in passing, but discuss and present it in detail in many places. 3 In the same way, one must not by-pass or reject a teaching of the divine Word because some people misuse and misunderstand it; on the contrary, precisely in order to avert such misuse and misunderstanding, we must set forth the correct meaning on the basis of Scripture.”[2]

Fr William Most did a survey of the Church Fathers regarding predestination and he concludes that they all agree to some extent that merit figures in some way to God’s determination as to who will be saved. He starts by giving his understanding of how the Thomists, that is those who adhere to the school of Thomas Aquinas see predestination:

““The older Thomists, in general, explain it thus:

  1. In the order of intention: God first decides on the end, i.e., eternal glory for the predestined man. Then He decrees the merits needed for this end. Finally He decrees the graces needed for those merits.
  2. In the order of execution: God, in eternity, decrees the execution in time of the decrees He has already made/ First He decrees the graces needed for merits, then He decrees the merits, finally He decrees glory for the predestined man. For a reprobate however, he first decrees only sufficient graces (or, at least He does not decree efficacious graces t such an extent that the man would be saved), then He decrees the absence of merit after sufficient graces. Because it is metaphysically inconceivable for a man to perform a good work with such graces, sins infallibly follow, or rather, God moves the man to these. (Cf. 132.5) Because of the sins, He decrees eternal punishment.”[3]


The following is Fr Most’s summation of the Fathers’ view of predestination:

St Justin Martyr: “But I have already shown that it is not by the fault of God that those angels and men do become wicked who are foreseen as going to be unjust, but [rather that] by his own fault each one is such as he will appear [then].”[4]

St Irenaeus: “If therefore even now God since He foreknows all things, has handed over to their infidelity as many as He know will not believe, and has turned His face away from such ones, leaving them in the darkness which they chose for themselves: How is it strange if then He handed over to their own infidelity Pharaoh, who never would believe, and those who were with him?”

Fr Most’s comments on St Irenaeus’ view indicates that it is not a consideration of merit that God predestines some men, but because they chose sin: “…St Irenaus does not say that they lack the faith because God deserted them, but rather, that God handed them over to infidelity because they chose darkness for themselves… It is clear also that St Irenaeus by no means says that men can merit predestination. He does not, actually, speak at all about the positive side, but only about reprobation.”[5]

This seems to refute Fr Most’s argument. We are all condemned as a result of original sin, “”None is righteous, no, not one;” (Romans 3:10) So if we come into the world under sin and continue in our sin and God has foreseen that “He knows will not believe…” then they are left in their sin and surely God has determined that they will be left in their sin. There is no assertion that they can “earn” their salvation, it must be assumed that Irenaeus acknowledged this and therefore did not make a case that they could “earn” their salvation.

Clement of Alexandria: ‘For the coming of the Saviour did not make [men] foolish and hard of heart and faithless, but prudent, amenable to persuasion, and faithful. But they who were unwilling to obey, departing from the voluntary adherence of those who obeyed, were show to be imprudent and unfaithful and foolish. ‘But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ Should we not, then consider as negative (as is better) the statement ‘God has not made foolish the wisdom of the world’ (1 Cor 1:20)  …lest the cause of their hardheartedness seem to have come to them from God ‘who made foolish the wisdom [of the world]’? For altogether, since they were wise, they were more at fault in not believing the preaching. For the preference and choice of the truth is voluntary. But also the statement: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise’ (1 Cor 1:19) means that He sent forth light, in contrast to the despised and condemned barbarian philosophy; just as also a lamp that is shone on by the sun is said to have perished, since it does not exert equal power [in comparison to the light of the sun]. Although, then, all men are called, those who willed to obey are named ‘called’. For there is no unrighteousness with God. So those out of each people who believed are the ‘chosen people’. And n the Acts of the Apostles you would find ‘So those who received His word were baptized’ but those who were unwilling to obey, obviously separated themselves. To them the prophecy says: ‘And if you wish and hear me, you will eat the good things of the land, showing that it lies in us to accept and to turn aside.’”[6] It again seems to me that the person Fr Most is quoting agrees that men can resist God, that God has left them in their sin and no doubt foresaw that they would. There is no indication that Clement claims, in any way, that man can somehow earn their salvation and that God foresaw that they would earn their salvation and thereby predestine them to salvation on that basis.

Fr Most states that ”…But he is anxious to show that the reason why some rejected the faith and others did not is found in men, not in God: ‘For there is no unrighteousness with God.’ And he finds the explanation implicitly contained in a line of the Acts of the Apostles: ‘So those who received His word were baptized.’ From this he concludes: ‘those who were unwilling to obey, obviously separated themselves.’ For : ‘It lies in us to accept and to turn aside.’[7] This last quote is from Isaiah 1:19. I do not understand how either Clement or Fr Most can understand this quote to mean that we can chose or refuse salvation. The context of the passage seems obvious to me, it seems to be a left hand/ right hand kingdom argument more then a way to merit salvation. That is if you obey then that can lead to a better life where you are. If you continue to sin, as Israel did, then they will not only not eat the good things of the land, they will not be on the land anymore. This certainly doesn’t apply to whether they will be saved or not.

The next discussion is based on St Gregory of Nazianzus comments on Matthew 19:12. “…When you hear ‘to whom it has been given,’ add: It is given to those who are called, and to those who are so disposed. For when you hear those words: ‘There is question not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God showing mercy,’ I judge you should think the same thing. For since there are some who to such an extent are proud of their good deeds that they attribute all to themselves and noting to the one who made them and made them wise and led them to good, this text [of St Paul] teaches them that even to will good needs help from God. Or rather, that the very choosing of the things that should be chosen is something divine, and a gift from God’s love of man. For it is necessary that salvation depends both on us and on God. Hence he [St Paul] says: ‘There is question not of him who wills,’ that is, not only of him who wills, ‘nor of him who runs’ only, ‘but’ also ‘of God showing mercy.’ So, since even the act of will is from God, he properly attributed all to God.’ And after a bit St Gregory continues, explaining the words of Christ to the mother of the sons of Zebedee, from Mt 20:23: ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my righthand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’ He comments: ‘Does then our mind that guides [count for] nothing? … Does fasting [count for] nothing? … Shall none of these profit a man anything but [instead] by a sort of capricious choice, is Jeremia sanctified, while others are rejected from the very womb? … There too, to the words ‘for whom it has been prepared’ add this: who are worthy, and who have not only received from the Father that they may be such, but also have give [it] to themselves.’”[8]

As far as his last questions goes I would take them as rhetorical and suggest that while the answer may be no, what is the reason we may do good works or fast? I would submit that it is because the Holy Spirit is working through us. If the Holy Spirit is working through us it would stand to reason that we are part of the Body of Christ. If we are part of the Body of Christ it is because we have been predestined to salvation. Furthermore why would someone use Matthew 20:23 to say that we are saved by our works? Clearly Jesus indicates that the choice is the Father’s, if James’ and John’s works don’t get them on the left and the right, I’m pretty sure that mine won’t get me there either.

St Gregory of Nyssa: “’The Father raises the dead and gives them life, and the Son give life to whom he will.’ We do not conclude from this that some are cast out from the lifegiving will; but since we have heard and we believe that all things of the Father belong to the Son, we obviously also see the will of the Father, as one of all these, in the Son. If then the Father’s will [attitude]is in the Son, and that Father, as the Apostle says, ‘will all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ it is plain that He who has everything that is the Father’s, and has the whole Father in Him along with the other good things of the Father, has fully also the salvific will…For not because of the Lord’s will are some saved but others are lost: for then the cause of their ruin would come from that will. But by the choice of those who receive the word, it happens that some are saved or lost.”[9]

There is no one questioning that the Father’s will is in the Son, but it should not be an issue at this point as to whether it is the Father’s will for a person to be condemned. It is not, God wills that all be saved, “And we should not regard this call of God which takes place through the preaching of the Word as a deception, but should know certainly that God reveals his will in this way, and that in those whom he thus calls he will be efficaciously active through the Word so that they may be illuminated, converted, and saved. For the Word through which we are called is a ministry of the Spirit — “which gives the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:8) and a “power of God” to save (Rom. 1:16). And because the Holy Spirit wills to be efficacious through the Word, to strengthen us, and to give us power and ability, it is God’s will that we should accept the Word, believe and obey it. 30 The elect are therefore described as follows: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life” (John 10:27, 28), and they who are decreed “according to God’s purpose” to “the inheritance” hear the Gospel, believe on Christ, pray and give thanks, are sanctified in love, have hope, patience, and comfort in afflictions (Eph. 1:11, 13; Rom. 8:25).”[10] It is man’s evil that condemns him from the beginning. He can resist God’s will to save Him, but He can’t do anything to otherwise earn his salvation. God is not willing them to evil, He is just not choosing them for salvation.

It seems to me that Jerome was never a favorite of Luther and I can certainly see why from this quote: “If … the patience of God hardened Pharao, and for a long time put off the punishment of Israel, so that He more justly condemned those whom He had endured so long a time, God’s patience and infinite clemency is not to be blamed, but the hardness of those who abused the goodness of God to their own destruction. Moreover, the heat of the sun is one and according to the kind of thing that lies beneath it, it liquefies some, hardens others, loosens some, constricts others. For wax is melted, but mud is hardened: and yet, the nature of the heat [that each receives] is the same. So it is with the goodness and clemency of God: it hardens the vessels of wrath, that are fit for destruction; but it does not save the vessels of mercy in a blind way, and without a true judgment, but in accordance with preceding causes; for some did not accept the Son of God; but others of their own accord willed to receive Him.”[11] The Bible plainly states that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but it was a heart that was already evil, who rejected Yahweh in favor of the “gods” of Egypt. Pharaoh’s heart was made of stone and got a bit harder. So what makes him different that his heart is of stone (or mud as it were) and those who are saved are made of wax. God can melt or harden stone, but the heart is stone either way, that is evil, it is God’s prerogative to predestine “and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) For the rest they were sunk in their evil, God did inflict it on them.

It appears that there is no hard and fast basis in the Fathers for a concept of predestination in any respect. But it would appear that they would not disagree with Augustine and his concept, despite what a typical Roman Catholic perspective would be, that being predestination based on some kind of merit, that all except for Jerome would agree that it is solely God’s decision. That they evil man does is clearly his own, if God hardens his heart, it is not to say that his heart wasn’t already hard enough for condemnation and if God lifts another man up for salvation, that is certainly his prerogative.

Although the Roman Catholic church drifted from the Augustinian view of predestination, toward a view that as we’ve seen is an attempt to try to rationalize the need for works, it is clear that Augustine was the demarcation between the tenuous concepts of the Fathers and the much more defined concepts of the medieval age. Albeit Roman Catholic dogma took it and twisted it to a works belief, that is represented by the bias shown to “Thomist’s” explanation of predestination by Fr Most.

Augustine took predestination and took the small foundation given to him by the Fathers and built a fortress on the foundation. In addition Augustine realized that predestination required more from God for man then just an assurance that he was saved. Certainly God can save whomever He wants, but Augustine felt that in order for man to demonstrate that God was guiding His chosen to salvation, God equipped man with perseverance and faith. Augustine describes at length God’s gifts of perseverance and faith to those whom He predestined. “Augustine’s intention in writing these works was to establish in the preaching of predestination an impenetrable bulwark for the defense of God’s grace against the teaching on meritorious deeds proposed by Pelagius’s followers (persev. 21.54). Predestination was understood, broadly speaking, as the preparation of grace by God, while grace itself was defined as a gift.”[12]

A lot of the argument, as we have seen, has been that either God foreknew what someone would do and elected that person based on his deed or decision. Fitgerald points out: “Predestination was not based upon God’s foreknowledge of human deeds, but was to be situated in God’s eternal decree and was therefore unfailing. This also meant that human beings had no right to claim God’s grace. Predestination, moreover, was for some and not all. The grace of perseverance in faith was no longer set aside for all the baptized, but only for those faithful people chosen by God from the massa damnata (or the massa perditionis or massa peccati), God’s electi.”[13]

Free choice is one of the basic arguments of the concept of predestination. In this letter of Bishop Evodious to Abbot Valentine: “…Adam, had the full reality of free choice, but he made bad use of the divine gift. Now man has free choice, but an injured choice … For from the moment free choice was damaged, it is for us sufficient only for perdition,…”[14] As Luther will point out, man really has no free choice, he is either called to the Kingdom by Christ or if man resists he is condemned to stay and die in the world, unsaved. Adam had the clear choice between keeping what he had, salvation in the Garden, or choosing to defy God and as a result was sent into the world. There is no salvation in the world, it is up to Jesus to predestine whom He will, therefore the choice was taken out of man’s hands.

Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe was bishop of the city of Ruspe, North Africa in the 5th and 6th century. He was from a wealthy family and probably received an excellent education. He stood up against the Arians in Ruspe and was exiled for a short period of time. He was called back to Ruspe to lead the people there back to the orthodox Catholic faith.[15]

Fulgentius was strongly in agreement with Augustine, but he seems to extend               Augustine’s position by saying that the will is prepared from the beginning of time in the individual to be worthy and therefore predestined to salvation. Much of his position on predestination is a strong echo of the Augustinian position, in that nothing we do justifies being predestined to salvation, that in fact we are predestined before we are ever born: “Let us enquire whether God must be believed to have predestined the works of the wicked for which he condemns them just as he is said to have predestined what he crowns in the saints? When we enquire about the cause of the condemnation of the wicked and of the glorification of the saints, we do not deny that the former are predestined to punishment or the latter to glory. But whether, just as the good works for which the just will be glorified are believed to be divinely predestined, must the evil works for which the unjust will be punished forever, be believed to be divinely predestined? For it is said in the book of psalms: ‘The unjust will be punished and the seed of the impious will perish, but the salvation of the just is from the Lord.’ Concerning both, our Savior also says, ‘And those will go off to eternal punishment but the righteous to eternal life.”

“In both, therefore, i.e., in the just and the unjust, I think that there are three things which must be considered: the beginning, the will; the unfolding, the work; the end, reward or punishment. That we may attribute to the just and good; we know that those things in which we find neither goodness nor justice are unworthy of God. And having considered the quality of works, we believe those things which are found to be worthy of and befitting the divine mercy or justice are predestined by God, ‘the gracious, merciful and righteous Lord.”

“And first we confess that the beginning of the whole of a good will is predestined and given by that eternal Trinity which is the one, sole, and true God. With a free justification, he has given this prepared to humankind, that which he had prepared to be given in eternal predestination. I shave shown this preparation of the will above, by the testimony of Holy Scripture, where it is said: ‘The will is prepared by the Lord.’”

“Therefore, the will is prepared by him who mercifully accomplishes in us both the willing and the completion. For the Apostle says, ‘For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.’ God, speaking through the prophet, confirms that it is he who empowers the faithful to do what they do, according to that oracle which has been cited by us above, where he says, ‘[I will] make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.’ [Ex 36:27] But what is ‘I will make you follow …’ except; all the good you will do is my doing. So he does that we may do. With him at work in us, every good thing we do comes about. Concerning this it is said in Hebrews: ‘[May he] furnish you with all that is good … May he carry out in you what is pleasing to him.’” [Heb 13:21]

“…We are in no way permitted, indeed, in a salutary way, we are forbidden, as much in our faith as in our works, to claim anything for ourselves as if it were our own. For the vessel of election says, ‘What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?’ [1 Cor 4:7] And in the holy Gospel, the word of the Lord’s precursor is ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven.’ James the Apostle testifies, ‘All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…’” [Jas 1:17][16] Clearly Fulgentius was an advocate of predestination and understood it to be a work solely of God and that man contributed nothing toward his predestination.

Gregory of Rimini (1300 – 1358) Was an adherent of Augustine, but seems to take the predestination discussion to the concept of “double predestination”, that is that God elects people to both salvation and damnation as an act of deliberate will. It could be argued that Augustine also condoned the idea of double predestination at some point in his writings. In The Predestination of the Saints he writes: “What the chosen have obtained, therefore, they have obtained gratuitously. The did not already have something of their own which they might first give to him order that they might be repaid. He saved them in return for nothing. But the rest who were, as the apostle did not fail to mention there, received this blindness as a repayment…Unsearchable then are both the mercy by which he gratuitously sets some free and the judgment by which he justly judges others.”[17] Later, however Augustine seems to acknowledge that this is a gift to some. All men are condemned, so if God decides to chose some, it is not that He has decided others are elected to condemnation, He is simply leaving them in the state they were in, choosing to make a gift to some others: “…this gift is given to some and not given to others. But why it is not given t all ought not to disturb a believer who believes that because of the one all have entered into condemnation, which is undoubtedly most just, and that there would be no just grounds for blaming God, even if no one were set free from it.”[18]

Gregory would be in agreement that God predestines us to both “glory and reprobation”: “In the first place God’s will becomes the sole agent whether in election to final glory or in condemnation to final reprobation. In the second place, His decision is free and unconditional, motivated by nothing but His willing. It is form obedience to these assumptions that his extremeism springs: for he [Gregory] refuses to go beyond the almost literal interpretation of God as the cause of both glory and reprobation (the so-called double predestination) with the result that, whereas his contemporaries and forerunners sought to mitigate the latter in attributing some part at least of the sinner’s penalty to his own sins, Gregory in effect denies him any such role. No less than he is who is saved, the man I reprobation owes his disability entirely to God. Consequently, as we shall see, Gregory’s outlook is distinguished not so much in the effects of predestination as in its cause, for it is with God that its most striking features lie.”

“Gregory, in accordance with common usage, defines predestination as election to eternal life and reprobation as the refusal of eternal life. They are eternally willed by God, and, as St Paul has said, it rests with God’s mercy whether a man is saved or not. Predestination is therefore God’s preparation and justification of the saved for eternal life while reprobation has no such end.”[19] He goes on to qualify this further by saying: “…on the other, it helped to point to reprobation as in some way having its case in the deficiency of those damned, as opposed to being directly willed by God.”[20] It is not clear if there is an “indirect” connection, other then sin on the part of the reprobate. So Gregory seems to be trying to remove blame from God, but somehow still trying to accommodate God’s foresight of all men, those saved and those condemned.

Thomas Bradwareine brings the debate up to the fourteenth century and also the British. He was a chancellor of Oxford as well as a professor of divinity and for a short period Archbishop of Canterbury.[21] “Bradwardine’s contribution to this process was no less far reaching. By removing faith from reason’s sphere, he was making it independent of everything but authority and dogma. Faith was the sole motive force once reason was withdrawn; belief had no use for reason’s aid or the knowledge which was from practical experience, for it proceeded independently upon an entirely different plane.” “Bradwardine having established that merit de congruo cannot be separated from merit de condigno, hasleft himself the comparatively straightforward task of showing that this cannot come from man. By rejecting the distinction between de congruo and de condign, he is able to confront its supporters as complete Pelagians: either they withdraw and accept that merit must come from grace and so have a supernatural value, or they expose themselves to denying merit as a supernatural quality and thus set up men’s natural powers on an equal footing with God’s… merit de congou as potential merit, does not really exist, merit de condigno, as a supernatural virtue, comes from God alone.”

“Bradwardine’s position, in fact, amounts to a complete rejection of merit as a human achievement. There can be no good act by a man which is not incited and aided by God’s grace.” [22]

The bookends of the predestination issue were Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther. It seems in some ways as those who lived in the years between these two men were trying to rehash what had already been decided or were trying to somehow make man more complicit in their destiny. Generally that man would somehow merit his final disposition, either through his sin leading to condemnation or his works leading to his glorification. Quick referral to Augustine shows that he felt the issue settled: “But this whole argument by which we are maintaining that the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord is truly grace, that is, that it is not given in accord with our merits, is stated with the greatest clarity by the testimonies of the words of God.”[23]

It was Augustine who also went a few steps further to link predestination to a process. First that the saint would have to persevere: “But in the eyes of human beings it seems that all who are seen to be good believers ought to have received perseverance up to the end. God, however, has judged that it is better that some who will not persevere be mingled with the certain number of his saints in order that those people for whom it is not useful to be assured of their salvation amid the temptation of this life cannot be assured of their salvation.”[24] Faith obviously plays a part in our salvation, therefore faith had to be either a product of man’s will or a gift of God. Clearly the process had to include this being a work or God: “…both the beginning of faith and perseverance n it up to the end are gifts of God…But if each of them is a gift of God and if God foreknew that he would give these gifts of his – and who would deny this? – predestination must be preached in order that the genuine grace of God, that is, grace which is not given according to our merits, can be defended by an insurmountable bulwark.”[25] Thus all the gifts of God are accounted for in order for someone to be predestined; faith, perseverance and grace all result in the predestination of one to salvation.

In the interim between the men who had denied human merit and purely the will of God, the church had decided that it was indeed human merit that earned salvation for man. Martin Luther burst on the scene and went back millennium and rediscovered Augustine’s writings on predestination and Luther reestablished this teaching in the Reformation. While the Roman Catholic church had been empowering itself and seeming to reduce God in the equation, Luther asserts: ”He would be a ludicrous Deity – idol, rather – if His foreknowledge of the future were unreliable and could be falsified by events; for even the Gentiles ascribed to their gods ‘fate inevitable’! He would be equally ludicrous if He could not and did not do all things, or if anything were done without Him. But if the foreknowledge and omnipotence of God are conceded, it naturally follows by irrefutable logic that we were not made by ourselves, nor live by ourselves, nor do anything by ourselves, but by His omnipotence. Seeing that he foreknew that we should be what we are, and now makes us such, and moves and governs us as such, how, pray, can it be pretended that it is open to us to become something other than that which He foreknew and is now bringing about?”[26]

Clearly Dr Luther was not inclined to accept that man could do anything to effect God’s judgment: “Suppose we imagine that God ought to be a God who regards merit in those that are to be damned. Must we not equally maintain and allow that He should also regard merit in those that are to be save? If we want to follow Reason, it is as unjust to reward the undeserving as to punish the undeserving. So let us conclude that God ought to justify on the grounds of merit preceding; or else we shall be declaring Him to be unjust. One who delights in evil and wicked men, and who invites and crowns their impiety with rewards! But then woe to us poor wretches with such a God! But who shall be saved?”[27]

Clearly God does not save us by our merits. In the mystery of His plan He decided at the beginning of time who would be saved, that the rest of humanity already being in a state of depravity would be condemned. But God in His infinite wisdom chose to save some, when He could have let all die in their sins. So Luther teaches that we should we should proceed in faith: “Yes, it’s true that what is predestined will happen. However, we aren’t commanded to know what is predestined. In fact, we are forbidden to know it. We test God when we delve into unknowable matters. God has given Scripture to us so that we can know what we should and shouldn’t do. He expects us to act on this knowledge. What we cannot know, we should leave to God. We should stick to our responsibilities, vocation, and position in life. God and God alone knows what is predestined.”[28] God has given us the marks of the church, we have been baptized in His name. We then have His promises to rely on and it would not accomplish anything for us to become engrossed as to whether we are saved or not: “This doctrine must be preached and expounded to Christendom in general, but it must also be impressed so that each individual Christian can practice and apply it in his own particular trials. When the devil hits the heart with his darts (Eph. 6:16), labeled eternal predestination or God’s wrath and judgment, then I must be steeled against these with the Word of Christ and say: “Away with you, you vile spirit of lies! Go devour your own stench, and do not distract me with such thoughts! For I have learned from Christ and from God Himself that if I want to know how God is disposed toward me and what His plans are for me, I must listen to none other than my Lord’s voice. There I see and hear nothing else than His gift of Baptism, His Sacrament; there I see that He absolves me from sin and acquits me. There is no threat at all that He wants to hurl me into hell. He does not want to drown me in Baptism; He wants to wash, cleanse, and quicken me.” [29]

There can be no doubt that God is in complete control. That it is His will that determines what will transpire in history, the present and the future. Would an omniscient God simply disregard His people? He has given us His promises that He is with us always. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom 8: 29-30 ESV) To those He has predestined to salvation He has given them what they need; faith, perseverance and grace. Need we look farther? We should live the life that He has granted us, secure in the blessing of our salvation, praise and glorify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Give thanks to the Son who died in order that His Father would chose us for salvation.


Fulgentius of Ruspe The Fathers of the Church Fulgentius Selected Works translated by Robert Eno (Washington, Catholic University of America Press) 1997

Luther, M. 1999, c1961. Vol. 24: Luther’s works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis

Luther, Martin The Bondage of the Will Translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (Grand Rapids, Fleming H. Revell) 2006

Tappert, T. G. 2000, c1959. The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church. Fortress Press: Philadelphia

Teske, Roland Translator The Works of Saint Augustine volume IV (New York, New City Press) 1999

Fitzgerald, Allan Augustine Through the Ages (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Co) 1999

Galvin, James E. Martin Luther Through Faith Alone (Saint Louis, Concordia Publishing House) 1999

Leff, Gordon Bradwardine and the Pelagians (Cambridge, Cambridge at the University Press) 1957

Leff, Gordon Gregory of Rimini (Manchester, Manchester University Press) 1961

Morris, Leon The Pillar New Testament Commentary The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Co) 1988

Most, Fr William G  Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God (Front Royal, Va, Christendom Press) 1997

[1] Morris, Leon The Pillar New Testament Commentary The Epistle to the Romans pp 333-334

[2] [2]Tappert, T. G. 2000, c1959. The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church. Fortress Press: Philadelphia

[3] Most, Fr William G  Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God p 250

[4] Ibid p 259

[5] Ibid p 261

[6] Ibid pp 261-262

[7] Ibid p 263

[8] Ibid pp 265-266

[9] Ibid pp 267-268

[10] Tappert, T. G. 2000, c1959. The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church. Fortress Press: Philadelphia

[11] Most, Fr William G  Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God pp 274-275

[12] Fitzergeral, Allan Augustine Through the Ages p 678

[13] Ibid p 678

[14] Teske, Roland translator The Works of Saint Augustine volume IV  p 42

[15] Background information from Wikipedia

[16] Fulgentius of Ruspe The Fathers of the Church Fulgentius Selected Works translated by Robert Eno pp 205-208

[17] Teske, Roland translator “The Predestionation of the Saints” The Works of Saint Augustine volume IV  p 158

[18] Ibid p 163

[19] Leff, Gordon Gregory of Rimini pp 196-197

[20] Ibid p 199

[21] Background information from Wikipedia

[22] Leff, Gordon Bradwardine and the Pelagians p 263

[23] Teske, Roland translator “The Predestionation of the Saints” The Works of Saint Augustine volume IV  p 168

[24] Ibid p 201

[25] Ibid p 228

[26] Luther, Martin The Bondage of the Will pp 216-217

[27] Ibid pp 233-234

[28] Galvin, James E. Martin Luther Through Faith Alone

[29]Luther, M. 1999, c1961. Vol. 24: Luther’s works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis

Do we take the chance to bless anyone. First St Johns Aug 31, 2014

(click on the above link or copy and paste into your browser to hear the recorded version of this sermon)

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who pray for those who torment them said … AMEN!
Paul is usually a tough read. While I sit hear and listen as people do the readings and please don’t get me wrong, the people who step up here and contribute to this church when they serve as readers do a tremendous service and they do a great job and I want to thank them for stepping up. But there are times when I feel bad, because Paul can get awfully tortuous and it’s difficult to follow a thought and put in the right punctuation in their head. Well today, Paul is about as straight forward and to the point as you can get. First sentence “Let love be genuine.” Very straight forward to read, to explain … well a lot more ambiguous.
This whole pericope is about being “genuine”, being a real Christian disciple. When Paul talks about your love being genuine, it’s that you should want what is absolutely best for the other person. At the end of worship, I try to make sure that I ask for “Faith Sharing” moments. These are not intended for you to put pressure on people to go to the right church and get their life all together instantly. These are intended to keep us all aware that we are disciples, that our life is about sharing Christ, or at least it should be. When we have a “Faith Sharing” moment we are showing genuine love. “I care enough about you to stop and talk to you and to share with you what is really important, that is life in Christ.” Regardless of what the world tells us, of all the things that should be “important”, there is only one truly important thing and I’m sharing this with you right now, that Christ is my Lord and is always with me and that He has promised eternal life in the resurrection to me and does to you as He leads you to true knowledge in Him.” That is true love, that is selflessly putting yourself out so that you can show that person Christ, so that you can witness to that person what is truly important in this world, and eternity. Remember how we really only have one word for love, the Greeks had four words for the same word that we use rather glibly. Be assured that when they used the word agape, they knew exactly what they were saying. They weren’t saying that God was nice, or pleasing, or my buddy, they were saying that God’s love for us is self-sacrificing, that He would do for us whatever would be for our benefit, for our growth, for us to come closer to Him and His will for us in our lives. That self-sacrifice was up to and including giving His life for us so that our sin would be paid for and that we would have that promise of eternal life. Can we bless someone any better than that?
The word “genuine” in Greek is avnupo,kritoj meaning without hypocrisy, it is sincere, unfeigned, the absolute truth. You’ve heard that we should make relationships with people and not deal with the Christian thing. Isn’t that really hypocrisy? If you’re going to know me, I hope you will know that I am a Christian, and that I’m going to live my life as a Christian witness in all parts of my life. Anything else would be insincere, hypocritical.
There is so much in this passage, this could go on for hours, but let’s remember who Paul is writing to, I might be repeating myself, but these people are right on the nub of Christian persecution. Paul is writing from Corinth. I’m sure the contrast wasn’t lost on Paul, “I’m writing from a city that treats Christ like a buddy, the church like a plaything, a place where those in the church have a long way to go to Christian maturity.” I’ll bet Paul was thinking; “how do I show these people what the Roman church is dealing with, people who are being oppressed and persecuted for the faith. I don’t have any problem here, because these people treat church like a party. The Romans are sacrificing everything, up to their lives, and they treat the church like a life-preserver, Christ’s church is the only thing they can rely on in a world that is a very real danger, spiritually and physically.”
Paul probably wrote this epistle in 56 AD, at this point the Roman Republic is beginning to crumble, the Roman army, essentially took over the government and placed their man Claudius as emperor, who was poisoned and followed by Nero. You may know that Nero probably started a fire that burned most of Rome that he subsequently blamed on Christians. I’m sure you can imagine how that made life very difficult for Christians. Nero would have Christians killed in the Roman games and use Christians as human torches to light his garden parties. No doubt Paul was aware of at least some of the things that they endured and was trying to encourage them, but he also wanted to remind them that regardless of how much danger his Christian brothers and sisters faced, they were still expected to be faithful and live a Christ-like life, and remarkably, they did.
Paul’s epistle to people who are being so beaten down is a continuous reminder to us that we, who live a pretty comfortable life in the church, are expected to live up to Christian principles in an even more exemplary manner. Our prayer group has put a lot of focus on Christian brothers and sisters who being systematically murdered in Iraq right now. There is a picture of Christians being crucified, I thought of using that picture, but it is very graphic, but just the very idea of brothers and sisters being crucified and beheaded as we enjoy our comfortable lives here in the United States should be a compelling reminder that we should faithfully live up to Paul’s exhortations in this letter in an even more intentional manner. That we should be more active and intentional in blessing those around us.
In the face of this persecution that the Romans are facing, Paul goes on to remind them: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulations, be constant in prayer.” If someone is trying to hurt us and even murder us, this has to be a tough reminder. Let’s face it, our immediate reaction is to be like the world, someone’s trying to hurt me, I’m going to hurt them back. We are told to “do undo others as we would have them do unto us” (Luke 6:31), the world tells us “to do unto others before they do unto us”. Paul is telling us to rejoice in hope, be patient, PRAY!! It is hard, but as Christians, those who are mature in the faith, we are called to do the “hard” thing. Jesus certainly did! If we are being beaten, tortured, mocked, scorned, hung on a cross, are we going to rejoice, be patient? Aren’t we going to curse them? Jesus didn’t. That’s why we are called to a higher life. While He hung on that cross He said; “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” He who endured so much for us, expects us to reach for the higher standard that He set. We shouldn’t repay evil but are called to do what is honorable. It is interesting that Paul tells us that we are expected to leave vengeance to God. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Paul tells us that we should give our enemy food and drink, why? “…by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.” It’s a tough lesson, but that is where our faith comes in, that faith that the Holy Spirit gives us to endure. If you really want payback on your enemy, who would do it much better than you ever could? God can and He promises that He will. In the meantime, we should, in faith, pray for that person. We should follow Jesus’ lead and ask the Father to forgive the person who persecutes us and then trust in how the Father is going to deal with that person. In our Christian hearts what we want for the person is not eternal condemnation, we want them to be a brother or sister in Jesus and come to us for forgiveness.
Spend some time with that journal and think about how we can “overcome evil with good” and trust in our Father’s sovereign judgment. Who is it in our life that needs our prayer, that may be tormenting us but still needs forgiveness as much as we do.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.