Friday, February 16, 2007

Predestined to what?

Lately (when I'm not being annoyed at the way the mere presence in a passage of terms such as 'predestined', 'elect', or 'chosen' often causes people to launch into their favorite theory of Calvinism vs Arminianism, which tends to distract from the task of actually paying attention to what the passage says....ahem, anyhow....), I've been noticing how often scriptural mentions of predestination seem to 'point' predestination, not at justification per se, but at things which seem more like sanctification. The whole Calvinist vs Arminian wrangle tends to go on in terms relating predestination to salvation (by which, largely, we mean justification and forgiveness of sins, the basic 'fire insurance' aspect of the Gospel), yet it seems to me that I keep running across scriptures that seem to tie predestination to things that fall better into the general 'sanctification' side of things.

This first caught my attention in 1 Pet 1:1-2, but the passage that has been getting my attention lately is Romans 8:29-30. This is, of course, the followup to the oft-quoted Romans 8:28: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose." For some reason, we like to stop right there. It does make it easy to imagine that the good and the purpose referred to are our own personal comfort and prosperity (whatever happened to "in the world you have tribulation"?).

But Paul goes on to describe the good and the purpose he's talking about: "For whom He foreknew, " (just to irritate my Calvinist readers, I will pause to note that the logic of this passage does have this particular predestination dependent on foreknowledge) "He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren". This is the purpose Paul is speaking of - that God might have many sons (and daughters) conformed to the image, character, and holiness of Jesus. Predestination here is not first or primarily directed at the 'fire insurance' aspects of the gospel, but towards our being made like Jesus.

Having purposed and predestined this for us, God then followed up with the things necessary to bring it about: "and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified, and whom He justified, these He also glorified." And this brings an interesting perspective. We rejoice (and rightly so) in having been called into salvation. We rejoice in having been justified and saved from hell. We rejoice in our coming glorification. And yet, in a sense, these things are side issues; they're baggage necessary to bring about the primary goal. These things are the caboose - the engine is God making a holy people, conformed to the image of His Son.

In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that we might know "what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints". That's an interesting turn of phrase - not what we're getting as an inheritance from God (our typical perspective), but what God is getting as an inheritance - us. Surely this is part of it - a people made holy and like Jesus. This is the riches God has purposed. How much are we letting Him work it in us today?