Foreknown by God

Romans 8:29

Principle for Bible Reading

The phrase “foreknown by God” has caused significant controversy and conflict within Christianity. Did God simply know ahead of time that we would believe, or did he choose who would believe? In this lab, John Piper explains as he tackles the next verse in Romans 8.

View the outline.


Introduction/Prayer (00:00–01:53)

Two Options For ‘Foreknown’ (01:53–05:35)

Option #1: God foresaw our self-determined faith. We remain the decisive cause of our salvation. God responds to our decision to believe.
Option #2: God chose us — not on the basis of foreseen faith, but on the basis of nothing in us. He called us, and the call itself creates the faith for which it calls.

‘Known’ in the Bible (05:35–09:25)

  1. Being known by God awakens and enables our love for God (1 Corinthians 8:3). This relationship between loving God and being known by him is in Romans 8:28–29, as well.
  2. To ‘know’ was a way of talking about sexual intercourse in the Old Testament. It communicates and intimate choosing of someone. (Genesis 4:1; 18:17–19)
  3. God ‘knew’ Abraham, meaning he chose him for his special possession and purpose. (Genesis 18:17–19)
  4. God knows all the families of the earth, but he knows Israel in a different way. He chose her. (Amos 3:2)
  5. God knows the ways of the wicked, too, but he knows the ways of the righteous in a different way. He chooses and embraces their ways. (Psalm 1:5–6)
  6. Therefore, it would not be strange at all to replace “foreknew” in Romans 8:29 with “chose ahead of time.”

Summary (09:25–11:44)

  1. Man is responsible to know and love the truth of God.
  2. Man is guilty whenever and wherever he doesn’t know or love that truth. We all have rejected and suppressed the truth about God.
  3. God does not give man decisive control over salvation. It remains a free, undeserved gift.
  4. Therefore, we serve all with the utmost humility, because we did nothing to deserve or achieve our salvation.

Study Questions

  1. Explain Paul’s use of the word “For” at the beginning of Romans 8:29. How is it connecting what comes before it with what comes after?
  2. Read 1 Corinthians 8:3, Genesis 18:17–19, and Amos 3:2. Define what it means to “know” someone in these verses. Include as many observations as you can see.
  3. Explain at least two ways for interpreting “foreknew” in Romans 8:29, establishing some of the evidence — in Romans 8 or elsewhere in the Bible — for each side. Which do you find more compelling here?
Piper: “God chose us before we did anything to deserve his love.”

‘The Greatest Chapter’ Series

This lab is part of a series through Romans 8. Taking a verse or two at a time, John Piper unfolds the other-worldly realities in these thirty-nine verses, all along pointing out general, practical principles for understanding and applying the Bible’s meaning. Visit ‘The Greatest Chapter’ series page to see all the labs in this series.