You see, the commentaries have gobs of theories about predestination, and they’re pretty much all wrong. Well, I’m not the only one who sees things this way. Lots of theologians agree. But because they are Third Way thinkers, their views get overlooked and ignored. You see, it’s just really, really hard to think outside your paradigm. If you’re trained to think one way, you are likely to miss the truth even when you see it.
The problem is simply this: how can God know the future and not cause the future? Philosophers have wrestled with this one for centuries.
The following material comes from my book The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace — except it was never published. The publisher had me cut it for space. Call this HSRG — “The Director’s Cut”! (And I’ve finally figured out how to do footnotes in HTML!)
While I was working on this book, my third-grade son asked me a question after church: “How can God know the future?”
I responded that time is a part of God’s creation, just like the heavens and the earth. God made time, and so God is outside time. God is not bound or limited by time. The future is just as plain to God as our “now” is plain to us.
I figured that he wouldn’t understand what I was saying, but it was the best I could do on short notice and an empty stomach.
He surprised me with his insight when he responded by saying, “Well, I guess that’s also how God can be everywhere at once, too, since it doesn’t take him any time at all to go from place to place.” He proceeded to show how God could move instantaneously from planet to planet with hand gestures and spaceship noises.
I’ve included the following few lessons for two reasons. First, my experience in teaching these materials is that at some point a question comes up having to do with the timing of salvation. Just when is it that our sins are forgiven? The Bible speaks of the timing of our forgiveness in different terms in different verses, and many students understandably find this very confusing.
Second, it just happens that the answer to this question is a key element of Romans 8. After Paul concludes his lessons on grace and the Holy Spirit, he exults in God’s grace and his predestination. Coming from a Church of Christ background, the last thing that I would think of when I am exulting in God’s grace is predestination. We don’t even believe in that, do we? And yet, there it is right in the middle of Romans, just like it was the most natural thing in the world! Why does that idea naturally follow from what we have just studied?
When does our salvation take place?
The question of when God forgives sins is seen by comparing a number of verses. Remember that Hebrews teaches the once-for-all nature of Jesus’ sacrifice:
(Heb. 9:12,15) He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. … For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Jesus died once and obtained eternal redemption once, and only once. Moreover, this redemption saves not only those of us who are saved under the New Covenant but also those who were saved under the Old Covenant.
All my life I remember being taught that Hebrews teaches that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament resulted in sins being “rolled forward” but not forgiven, as these sins were not forgiven until Jesus died on the cross. But Hebrews never mentions sins being “rolled forward.” In fact, the phrase appears nowhere in the Bible.
Enoch went straight to heaven when God “took him.” Elijah went straight to heaven in a whirlwind. Apparently Moses went to heaven when he died, because both Moses and Elijah met with Jesus during the Transfiguration. If their sins had not yet been forgiven, how could they have gone to heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?
Jesus forgave the sins of countless people before being crucified. John the Baptist’s baptism was “for the remission of sins,” and this phrase is identical to the same phrase found in Acts 2:38 relating to Christian baptism. Again, how could sins be forgiven before the sacrifice of Jesus?
Hebrews speaks to these questions:
(Heb. 9:25-28; 10:12-18) Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. …
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. … Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.
Note the writer’s use of the past tense — “he has made perfect forever.” This is an accomplished fact. It is not a process that is still going on. Jesus has finished his work, and now he waits. He is sitting at God’s right hand because the task of offering sacrifice is finished forever. Thus, Hebrews speaks of our sins having been forgiven when Jesus died on the cross.
So do other passages:
(Rom. 5:8-10) But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Paul tells the Romans that they were reconciled to God when Jesus died for them. Romans was written decades after Jesus’ death. It is likely that many of Paul’s readers had not yet been born when Jesus was crucified, much less had reached the age of accountability. And yet Paul tells them (and us) that they (and we) were reconciled while we were still sinners.
(Col. 2:13-14) When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Paul again declares that our sins were forgiven when we were dead in our sins by nailing the written code to cross — but the cross predates my sinfulness by centuries!
On the other hand, many verses, such as Acts 2:38, teach that our sins are forgiven when we are baptized. And then we have this passage —
(Eph. 2:4-6) But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
When we were saved, Paul says that God “seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Past tense! We have already been seated in heaven with God.
But then, 1 John 1:7 teaches that our sins are forgiven continuously.
(1 John 1:7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Remember that “purifies” in the Greek means “purifies continuously,” not at a single point in time (its present tense rather than aorist).
Therefore, those under the Law of Moses were forgiven before Jesus’ crucifixion and forgiven when Jesus died. We are forgiven when we are saved, while we are saved, and when Jesus died. Confused?
[I try to explain it this in the next two posts.]
 Gen. 5:24.
 2 Kings 2:11. Mark 9:4