17 February 2022
Getting hung up on the biblical doctrine of predestination is a mistake. It's there; it's been stated clearly. Just accept it and focus on what you can actually do.
Across the entire Ancient Near East, the wisest people were rather careful about discussing matters of the Spirit Realm. There were a few things they considered to be revelation about it, but mostly it was all a matter of symbolism. It wasn't meant to be intellectual knowledge, but a heart-borne moral grasp on things. They didn't try to analyze it, but did try to understand the implications of what it required of mankind. For the most part, they simply assumed it was impossible to know with the mind.
Thus, in the Old Testament nobody spoke much about going to Heaven. Instead, there was a lot of talk what we should act upon. Everything was confined to what we could know, and divine revelation had covered that quite well. If something in the Covenant was ambiguous, you weren't supposed to speculate intellectually, but ask God directly.
The whole point was that you didn't worry about your eternal destiny. You knew that, one way or another, the only hope you had was peace with God on His terms as they were revealed in this world. God Himself never addressed the issue of eternity in the Old Testament, at least not in concrete terms. Does that not give you a hint? You cannot understand it with your mind; you can hardly discuss it without fear of blasphemy.
When Paul finally wrote directly on the issue in Romans, it was an attempt to squelch a very bad trend in Christian speculation on eternal things. We don't have a lot of written records of that speculation among believers in Rome, but we do have hints of it here and there in later correspondence. It's hard to know how such a problem arose, but the way Paul writes about it in his letter to Roman Christians, you should get the feeling that he was trying to squelch a pointless debate.
It cannot possibly be explained in concrete terms; it is utterly illogical. It requires maintaining mutually exclusive notions that cannot be reconciled on a human level of intellect. Thus, we have statements scattered about the New Testament that are logically contradictory. Human nature is utterly fallen; it cannot even desire eternal peace. The barrier it refuses to cross is the certainty that redemption requires nailing the fleshly nature to the Cross. The flesh is incapable of surrendering voluntarily. Thus, it requires a miracle of God. Bluntly stated: There is nothing anyone can do on a human level to gain redemption. And yet, we are called to nail our fleshly nature to the Cross.
Apparently the part about "nothing we can do" versus "yet we must do" figured large in the debate in Rome. Paul was warning them to stop trying to nail down intellectually something that exceeds all intellect. It's not a question of intelligence and reason; it's a moral question that stands on a level above the mind. It's on the level of the heart -- AKA, faith and convictions. It's an eternal truth that transcends human intellectual grasp. Your heart is capable of grasping that God is taking care of such matters, and all you need to focus on is how to obey Him. If you care about His priorities, the battle is already won.
How did it go with Israel? Could they destroy the Covenant? No. Could they lose God's favor on this earth? Obviously they did that repeatedly. How does that translate to serving Christ? Your eternal destiny is, from our level of understanding, fixed in Eternity. It stands outside of this earthly existence. You can lose God's favor living on this earth, but you are still family. Nobody can understand the mechanics of eternal destiny in the first place.
Sure, you could offer the explanation that, if people can turn against the Lord, then they weren't really "saved" in the first place. Thus, the New Testament itself says as much in a few places. But this gives rise to a host of unanswerable questions, because there is no mechanics to it. Rather, there is a very big answer that says, "Stop trying to pin it down, fool!"
So, we are told that each of us can know by faith and conviction that we belong to Him. We can also transgress things to the point that our faith dies and our connection to the heart is closed off. You lose the thrumming power and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. It can feel like you lost your eternal standing with God, but you can't know that for certain. You feel like Christ on the Cross: "Why have you abandoned me, Father?" The point is that you need to focus on staying away from things that can kill your faith.
You cannot know intellectually whether you are "saved" eternally. It's not a question of fact. Only your heart can know such a thing. You can find peace with God in your heart, but not in your head. Stop trying to reduce things to a legal frame of reference; it's very personal. You cannot know what will be the breaking point between God and some other person. All you can know is whether you should exclude someone from your fellowship because their influence threatens to break your faith. They are a threat to your shalom. It's not a matter of rules; we know by faith that God covers our sins under the Covenant and provides shalom as the mark of His favor.
That shalom is not so much for your enjoyment as it is a testimony to the world. We cannot summarize shalom itself, but we can summarize the manifestation of it, particularly in Old Testament terms. We associate shalom with reasonable prosperity, safety from plagues and human threats, and social stability. None of these is a goal in itself, nor altogether. Rather, they are the testimony God grants for the world to see His glory in us.
The bottom line remains your earnest commitment to God's favor. The doctrine of predestination can answer a few questions, but it is not any kind of final answer in itself. It can help you stop worrying about things you cannot change; it can give you leverage to quiet some human fears. Paul told the Ephesians something similar: If you have tasted the Presence of the Holy Spirit and His shalom, then you have confidence that, no matter how far you drift away, you can always come back to Him. It rests on your convictions in the first place, including a sense of conviction about sin calling you to repent. God isn't going to call you to repent just for His personal amusement. He's not like that. You might feel jerked around because you don't understand what He's doing, but your peace with Him is an eternal offering.
Yet, clearly we are taught to act as if there's something to lose by losing ardor. It's time we stopped using the biblical term "salvation" to refer to something eternal, as if a human decision can change Eternity. God save us from "Decision Theology". The only decision that you can make, and the only one that matters, is your commitment to God as your feudal Master. Stop trying to reason out how that affects something you cannot even understand. What you can understand is that your faith is His glory.
Note: I personally speculate that the Roman churches were suffering from the onslaught of Judaizers trying to seduce the Christian Jews into doubting the teachings of Jesus. The culture in Rome included a heavy dose of philosophical pragmatism. Thus, there were teachers trying to apply a Roman legal analysis to something they knew was mystical symbolism; that doesn't work. It was a cynical ploy to trap Christian thinkers in legalism. Trying to address predestination as law was a wild goose chase.
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