Holiness as a destiny?

What the Bible teaches about predestination

Jeremiah 1:4-5 – Now the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

When Jeremiah was called by God, it was revealed to him that his role as a prophet was something that had been in the mind of God prior even to his being conceived or born. From this, many great Bible thinkers over the millennia have ascertained this an indication of a universal principle for all men; that God predetermines the lives of all: some for holiness and righteousness, and others for corruption.

John Gill (ca. early 1700’s) writes:
“‘I knew thee’…. Not merely by his omniscience, so he knows all men before their conception and birth; but with such a knowledge as had special love and affection joined with it; in which sense the Lord knows them that are his, as he does not others, and predestinates them unto eternal life; and which is not only before their formation in the womb, but before the foundation of the world, even from all eternity.”

The Keil and Delitsch commentary (ca. 1800’s) states:
“God in His counsel has not only foreordained our life and being, but has predetermined before our birth what is to be our calling upon this earth; and He has accordingly so influenced our origin and our growth in the womb, as to prepare us for what we are to become, and for what we are to accomplish on behalf of His kingdom. This is true of all men…”

With all due respect to these great theological minds, I believe that drawing a universal principal from this verse oversteps the intent of the text and brings us within the halls of Calvinism: the idea of predestination of all people.

I believe Scripture reveals that God can and does select some individuals for specific purposes within the outworking of his kingdom. Some other expressed examples of this besides Jeremiah include Samson, John the baptizer, and even Paul the apostle.

Judges 13:3-5 – And the angel of Yahweh appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. … No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Luke 1:13-15 – But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

Galatians 1:15-16 – But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone…

The Geneva Study Bible states it very simply and concisely:
(g) The scripture uses this manner of speech to declare that God has appointed his minsters to their offices before they were born, as in Isa 49:1, Ga 1:15.

This clarifies this principle to demonstrate that God works his purpose as he sees fit and raises up individuals to accomplish his will as needed in specific instances and specific roles. As an example of this, Scripture tells us that God even had a specific purpose for the Pharaoh of Egypt who contended with Moses:

Exodus 9:16 – But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.

However, to draw from this that everyone is pre-destined to holiness or condemnation is over-stepping the bounds of what is being conveyed through the use of this type of language and imagery. Yeshua states it this way:

Luke 14:8, 10-11 – “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, … But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Through this, Yeshua teaches us that our role as believers is simply to remain humble and faithful to God through his word in all things. And if God so chooses to call us up to a higher station, that is certainly his prerogative. Of that honored individual, it could be said that God has set them apart for that specific purpose in that place and time. But to draw from this that everyone else at the table was pre-determined for dishonor goes beyond the overall context of Scripture.

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The Watcher and Influencer of hearts

God holds men accountable for the integrity of their actions, and yet is actively supporting, directing, and regulating those actions for his perfect will.

“If you say, “Behold, we didn’t know this;” doesn’t he who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, doesn’t he know it? Shall he not render to every man according to his work?”

Proverbs 24:12

Yahweh is he represented as one who weighs the heart and keeps the soul. Scripture conveys the idea that Yahweh is observing, and guarding, and watching at all times. To say that he observes is to say that he keeps watch, as one who is guarding a fortress. A watcher must be alert and aware at all times of what’s going on. But a watcher is also a preserver, or a guard who protects what he has guarding. These meanings bleed together in the descriptions of how God is intimately involved with the inmost motives of his people.

Proverbs 16:2: “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but Yahweh weighs the motives.”
Proverbs 21:2: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but Yahweh weighs the hearts.”

As a weigher of hearts, he is depicted as a measurer, balancing motives on a scale to see how they measure up. But there is also conveyed a notion of being a regulator of those motives which drive our actions. In this sense, Yahweh is depicted as being actively involved in molding and shaping one’s thoughts toward a desired outcome.

Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is in Yahweh’s hand like the watercourses. He turns it wherever he desires.”

Many great minds over the centuries have pondered these aspects of Yahweh’s involvement within the deepest recesses of those whom he has created. Some have concluded all is predestined and Yahweh’s hand guides everything without exception. Others have concluded that the free will of mankind is the only explanation for how God can hold us accountable for our actions.

However, I am of the opinion that these types of passages demonstrate how all of creation is balanced on the point of a needle. The very actions and motives of our heart are not only known by God but also at times purposefully planted with intent. To my mind, this is why predestination and free will are both sustainable arguments from Scripture, because they are both true, but neither is satisfactory in the extreme.

To be wholly predestined is to be a robot acting out a pre-programmed course of events. To have complete free will is to acknowledge the sovereignty of man above the will of God, hence, making mankind God.
The reality is that God holds men accountable for the integrity of their actions, and yet is actively supporting, directing, and regulating those actions for his perfect will.

I believe the practical key for our understanding lies in recognizing the outcome of our actions which are based on our motives. The more in line our actions are with God‘s word, the more we can know we are doing what’s right in his eyes. The integrity of our actions are the feedback loop on our motives. While this indefinable process of God’s influence on our heart and motives strains our understanding, we are not left without a recognition of the results of that influence in our lives.

We should join with the pleas of David, as he seeks Yahweh’s strength and wisdom in molding and shaping his heart, so that his actions would reflect and conform to the will of  God.

Psalm 51:10-13,17: “Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me. Don’t throw me from your presence, and don’t take your holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways. Sinners shall be converted to you. … The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

When we offer up broken hearts, we demonstrate our willingness to conform our lives to God’s standards so that his will can be accomplished. Allowing his influence on our hearts through his Spirit completes the purpose of God to establish his ways in our hearts, and not just in a book.

Integrity is consistency of action with the revealed will of Yahweh. We should welcome his scrutiny and influence as a watcher and influencer of hearts while we seek to obediently chart our way through this world. The more we do so, the more he is honored and glorified.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.