We are continuing our series on misunderstood verses by taking a look at a couple of very important ones from the greatest letter ever written: Paul’s letter to the Romans. (Be sure to check out previous posts in this series: John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, and 1 Timothy 2:4). Here is Romans 8:29-30–
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (ESV)
As always, context is important. The Apostle Paul is writing this letter to the church that resides in Rome. The church itself, historically speaking, consisted of Jewish and Gentile Christians–which was no small task to promote unity! Considered the greatest theological treatise on the earth, Paul lays out redemption and God’s unique plan to bring Jews and Gentiles together under the Lordship of Christ. In chapter 7 he talks about our struggle with the flesh post-conversion and by the time he gets to chapter 8, he’s ready to discuss the work of the Spirit, and a bit of the future that awaits us. For Paul, God will bring the fullness of redemption to bear on Creation, as the earth, much like our bodies, groan inwardly waiting for it to happen (8:18-25). From here Paul says that the Spirit helps us in our weakness because we oftentimes do not know what to pray (vs. 26); also, the Spirit searches our hearts and intercedes for the saints (vs. 27), and in God’s sovereignty, He works out all things together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.
Don’t miss that last part, because Paul is clearly telling us the “Who?” of this passage. In context, he’s speaking of the elect, God’s people, Christ’s sheep, those indwelt by the Spirit, the believing ones. The very first word in verse 29 is “For,” (Gr. hoti) and it, of course, is a connection to what has been said beforehand. These sets of verses refer to the ordo salutis (the order of salvation). Just how does salvation happen for us? What’s the order? Paul tells us.
Those whom he foreknew he also predestined. Some like to say that God foreknows everybody because He “looks down the hall of time” to see who would choose him. This is most assuredly a case of eisegesis because: 1) the context forbids it (It’s about those who are saved, not potentially saved in some obscure future), and 2) the text doesn’t say this. To insist that God looks down the hall of time to see who would choose him: 1) Does not alleviate the tension between free will and God’s Sovereignty (because those whom He “saw” in the future still have to choose what He saw!), and 2) Implies that God doesn’t have infinite knowledge, and that He has to go searching for information by looking to the future (a HUGE problem indeed), when Scripture says he has declared the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). The problem people have who take this approach is that they make God an impartial observer. And that, He is not!
The text is clear: The people he set his special, saving love on (this is what foreknowledge means), he predestined. Foreknowledge is not primarily used in Scripture to talk about God’s advanced knowledge about how a person acts, but instead how God loves. To be known by God (Gal. 4:9) is to be loved by God in a special, covenantal way. That love leads to our post-regenerate response of obedience to God’s irresistible grace. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Predestination simply means in Greek, predestination. This is not arbitrary election, or “unfair” election (as some like to accuse God of)–this is unconditional election. God does not have to save anyone. It’s a miracle of His grace that He DOES save! God sets his love on His people, not based upon some foreseen merit, but because He chose to do so. All of this so that we could be conformed to the image of his Son.
Those whom he predestined he also called. God foreknew His chosen sheep (John 10:27), set his love on them, and chose them. In other words, God arranged that in due time, His elect would hear the outward call of the gospel and through God’s means of preaching, respond to God’s love after the Spirit regenerates their dead hearts. This is the “inward call” of the gospel. Without the Father drawing, no one can come to him (John 6:44). Lazarus didn’t come out of the tomb on his own, he was called!
Those whom he called also he justified. Is everyone justified? No. Which means that not everyone is called (inwardly, that is, because of sin), not everyone is predestined (this would be the heresy of universalism), and not everyone is foreknown (in the special “loving” way, as the word is defined). But rest assure, those that God consigns to salvation, he justifies! Christ’s substitutionary death is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect. We should note that justification is by faith alone, and that faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8, 9). When God calls a man, He quickens faith in him through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, and because of it, the man is declared, “Not guilty!” The Bible never indicates that we are saved because of our faith. It says that we are saved through faith.
Those whom he justified he also glorified. Paul uses the term “glorified” in the past tense (edoxasen). Why would he do this, when glorification, as indicated earlier in Romans 8, is something in the future? Because salvation is of the Lord. This salvation is a guarantee–a sure thing. God never, ever, ever, ever goes back on his promises. He gets what he pays for, and he does it for His glory. Alone.
The doctrine of sovereign election is a comfort for believers. Too often people criticize it because they view it as arbitrary, or worse yet, fatalistic. But this is not the God of Scripture. He is the certain God who provides a certain salvation. He is the God who sets His love on His people and does so without wavering an inch. This removes all human boasting! Instead of superiority, it creates humility. Instead of pride, it creates meekness. The Golden Chain of Romans 8:29-30 is a rock-solid promise that Jesus saves. Glory to God, alone!