28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)
Predestination and/or Universal Reconciliation?
Predestination! Volumes can (and have) been written on it. Does God chose who gets saved, are they “predestined?” Does God chose who gets saved and who goes to hell – apparently a different viewpoint than “predestination” with its own label of “double predestination.” Or do we get to chose our own salvation, God just infallibly knowing what we’re going to do from the beginning, but not directing our actions?
I’ve written a whole post about destiny vs. free will already, and while it doesn’t mention “predestination” exactly, I think it gives a pretty good overview of my personal beliefs on the subject. (TLDR: I think we have free will within a set framework ordained by God.) What I realized, as I prepared to write a whole new post on predestination, is that I’m a proponent of universal reconciliation. As Wikipedia so succinctly states, universal reconciliation “is the doctrine that all sinful and alienated human souls—because of divine love and mercy—will ultimately be reconciled to God.” I guess in a way this is predestination. As in, I believe we are all predestined to the aforementioned reconciliation.
I believe, and indeed undertook this blog to prove, that God is above all else welcoming, accepting, forgiving, and loving. If one believes in God as the ultimate form or source of love and forgiveness, Hell as a final destination – or any other eternal separation from the divine – simply doesn’t make sense. And Paul, in building up his case around the word “predestination,” makes some excellent points to that effect in this chapter.
Paul points us towards universal reconciliation and God’s unending love
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death,” opens this section of Paul’s letter. Referencing ideas I explained more in depth in a past blog post: I believe that Christ anointed the whole world though his blood, making the whole world holy. Therefore everybody is, as Paul puts it, “in Christ Jesus.” If you follow that logic – that everyone has been anointed through Jesus regardless of their personal beliefs or actions – then that means there is no condemnation for anyone anymore. Through the faith of Jesus Christ, we are now saved in Christ Jesus.
A few verses later Paul says, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” It sounds like a separation of “us” from “them,” a traditional “saved” and “not saved” argument. Perhaps it was, at least in part. I don’t know if even Paul grasped the full magnanimity of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (though he certainly came closest to it in the New Testament writers). Again, if Christ anointed the entire world through his blood, that means everyone has the Spirit of Christ. I think that this passage is another one of Paul’s careful comparisons of Jewish law pre- and post- Messiah. Those who do not have the Spirit of Christ do not belong to Christ, because he had not yet come to fulfill the law. But Christ is in us now, and we belong to Christ, and our spirit is alive because of it, fully ready for a future reconciliation with God. As an aside, I don’t think it means God didn’t love the people that came before Jesus. Perhaps they, too, having remains on Earth, are also anointed posthumously, they just weren’t alive to receive the good news.
Paul continues to talk about the Spirit, “The Spirit himself testifies that we are God’s children. And now, if we are his children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” We are all God’s children. We have been made in God’s likeness – one of the first things the Bible teaches us. God loves us as Xyr children, something Jesus made very clear. I don’t see any stipulations to these two truths. The Bible does NOT say “God made man in his likeness, except for brown men and gay men, whom he hated.” Jesus does NOT say “suffer the children to come to me, except for the Muslim children or immigrant children, whom I despise.” No, we are all God’s children. And as Paul’s statement here illustrates, we will all inherit the kingdom.
Then we get to this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among man brothers. And those he predestined, he also called, and those he called, he also justified, those he justified, he also glorified.” I agree with (one) scholarly consensus that Paul is most likely talking about collective society, and that followers of Jesus should devote themselves to living like Jesus, in a life of service and bringing people to God. That, perhaps, is the true calling of Christians: to live an exemplary life of service to God and community that is so appealing it can’t help but attract more followers. That would truly make Christianity a shining city upon the hill. Unfortunately, it has been skewed beyond recognition over the centuries, often becoming an exclusionary and oppressive force. Paul, I think, would be horrified.
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Paul asks. Indeed, many things can be against us, as Paul acknowledges in the verses following the initial question. But in the long run, none of it matters. He concludes: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Let me just repeat that for you: Nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God. Nothing. No sin, no shortcoming of our own or others can keep us from God. Divine beings such as angels cannot keep us from God. Death itself cannot keep us from God. If nothing can keep us from God, what conclusion can we draw but one of universal reconciliation? God loves us as beloved children, each and every one of us. Praise God for Xyr mercy, praise God for Xyr love, and praise God for the future we have with Xyr.
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