This morning we return to our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The last text we dealt with was Romans 8:28-29. Let’s read that along with verse 30 because, even though they are often separated in our day, in Paul’s mind they form one unit. Paul says, “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 many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” We said that Paul’s main message in verse 28 was that everything in our life conspires for good because of God’s good, sovereign rule and plan for believers. As we move into verses 29-30, we see that Paul is only expanding and supporting that message. Notice in verse 29, the first word is “For.” That means Paul is giving additional support to the truth in verse 28. Also, in the original, verses 29-30 are one sentence and communicate one big idea. That means that both verse 29-30 support Paul’s claim in verse 28.
We said that verse 28 and its glorious promise shoots an arrow into the heart of two of Satan’s most potent lies. In those moments of trial and tribulation as our head is spinning from how out of control everything feels, Satan comes and whispers to us, “There’s no one a the controls of your life—you’re spinning hopelessly toward a fiery crash.” When our lives feel like we have been caught up in a tornado and everything is whirling around us in a futile, chaotic cyclone, God’s word in the face of our feelings and Satan’s lies is clear. God is sovereign and he is not only in control of every detail, he is using His sovereign power to work through the apparent chaos to achieve a very good thing, make us more like Christ.
Secondly, when our lives are filled with pain and hurt and disappointment and Satan slinks in through the back door of our mind and asks us, “How can your God be good and allow you to go through this?” When it seems that so much of life’s circumstances have conspired together to communicate to us that we will end up a complete shipwreck under the scowl of a disgusted God, the word of God is clear in verse 28. God’s purpose in our lives is good, not ill. In the midst of the sometimes exquisite pain, God is merely showing us something of the depth of His power and goodness, by using wretched, rusty, bacteria-laden instruments like pain and suffering to make something beautiful, mature saints of God. God is good and His plan for us is a good one, not a bad one. Satan is not in control and neither are the circumstances as much as we are tempted to believe those lies. God reigns over all of it and says, “I’m right in the middle of this, will you trust me?”
As we move into verses 29-30 which are so tightly packed with theological truth, we must never lose sight that when Paul wrote this text, his primary intent was not to fill the chapters of yet-to-be-written systematic theology textbooks. No, he writes these verses to support his claim that God is sovereign and God is good to work in the lives of his children.
Having said that, we DO have to move into some theology here if we are to understand Paul’s point more fully. For those who are visiting, we have spent four weeks giving a background to the truth of election and predestination so that when we come to verses 29-30 and later into chapter nine, we will be able to more deeply appreciate Paul’s message. If you would like that treatment of what has been called “reform theology,” a few manuscripts from those four messages are available in the foyer. We will, for today assume that we have a working knowledge of the basic truths of election with one exception. There is still one issue on our plate. Verse 29 says, “for those God foreknew…” We have not yet discussed in any depth what the New Testament means when it speaks of God’s foreknowledge and so we need to briefly address that issue.
This whole issue of God’s foreknowledge is an important biblical truth which has enormous capacity to bless God’s people when it is properly understood. Many believe that when the New Testament speaks of God’s foreknowledge, it means that God looks ahead in time and sees whether a particular person will make a decision to believe in Christ. God’s foreknowledge is understood to be God’s capacity to know in advance what a person will decide about Jesus Christ. This highlights God’s omniscience to know the events of the future and is very common in the church today. That understanding of foreknowledge, which is often supported from this text, for all its popularity, just doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. Let’s look at three reasons why God’s foreknowledge cannot mean simply that He is able to know in the future what decision a person will make, but in fact relates to the truth that God actually elects or determines those who will be saved.
First, the word in the original which we translate “know” in foreknowledge in the Bible means more than simply to have mental awareness of fact. This word connotes relationship, not simply an awareness of future events. First Corinthians 8:3 says, “But if one loves God, one is KNOWN BY HIM.” Do you hear how God’s knowledge of someone is placed in the context of relationship with Him? God knows this person in a special, not just a general sense—in a personal way. In that sense, God KNOWS those who love Him. That speaks of relationship. God knows everyone in the sense that He has factual knowledge of them, but this is more than factual knowledge. Jesus, speaking of the judgment says there will be many he will tell, “…I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.” What does He mean, “I never KNEW you…?” God knows everyone. That is, He knows all about them. But this verse is clearly not talking about that kind of knowledge. These people didn’t know Christ in a personal, covenantal, way. To know God, to be in personal relationship with God is what it means to BE KNOWN by God. Or, in the case of Romans 8:29 to be “foreknown” by God.
When the Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek, we see this same Greek word used in “foreknowledge” to convey the idea of relationship. In First Samuel 2:12, we read, “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not KNOW God.” Now, Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas were priests—they knew all about God, but they didn’t KNOW him in the sense of relationship. When God says to Jeremiah at his call to be a prophet, He says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you…;” Clearly, God is saying more than simply, “Jeremiah, before you were in the womb, I knew all the facts about you---the decision you would make to become a prophet.”
No, Before he was born, God consecrated Jeremiah, He set him apart to serve as His prophet. He is telling Jeremiah that his prophetic call and ministry were in HIS mind long before Jeremiah was born. In that personal, relational sense God KNEW Jeremiah. The meaning of this word translated “know” forces us to see that when God foreKNOWS someone, he is not just aware of a decision they will make. In truth, He actually thought of them in a saving relationship to himself. He set his affection on them. Its more active than simply being aware of the decisions a person will make.
Second, the text says that “those whom foreknew…” Does that say that God knew the facts about a person, the decisions they will make about Christ? Or, does it say that God knew the persons themselves? The answer is, God knows the persons themselves. Yet, many people consistently interpret this to mean that God knows what a person will decide about Christ. That’s not what it says. It is a personal relationship God establishes before the person is born. God personally relates to them in His mind. I don’t know how He does that any more than I know how He consecrated Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was born. But He is God and its not a stretch for Him.
Finally, this understanding of foreknowledge is the only one which preserves God’s sovereign control over salvation which we spent so much time establishing lately. If, as we have claimed, salvation is God’s idea and God’s decision and not fundamentally humanity’s, then this relational idea of foreknowledge is the only consistent one. If God is sovereignly choosing who is saved before the world began, then it makes sense that He would, before that, set His love on those who would He would predestine to be saved. There is the decision to love the person before the ACT of love is performed, predestining them to be saved. This is the message of Romans 8:29-30. Those whom God foreknew…he also predestined.” Do you see the beautiful continuity there!? God looks at you before the foundation of the earth and says, “I choose to set my love on you in a personal way—I choose to know you within the context of the New Covenant of my Son.” The relationship comes first; the Divine Person God, relating to the human person, you before you were born.
Think about how healing this truth can be to us. So many Christians spend so much energy trying to earn God’s love—trying to perform up to a certain standard so as to convince God that they are worthy of His love. They spend their lives on what Jerry Bridges calls “the performance treadmill”—always running to get God’s approval, but getting nowhere. This truth of God’s foreknowledge, when it is correctly understood, fatally pierces this entire concept of trying to earn God’s love. God’s love can’t be earned, it is unconditional for His children. How unconditional? So unconditional that He chose to set His love on us before we were conceived in eternity past, before we had the chance to do one thing for Him. In fact, He chose to set His affection on us before we were conceived, having a perfect knowledge of every evil, wicked act of rebellion we would throw in His face. His love was given to us with perfect knowledge of all our sins against Him. What a liberating concept that is! God’s special, relational, covenantal love was given to His elect BEFORE they were born. This truth of God’s foreknowledge should be a cause for celebration in the church, not confusion.
Having said that, let’s move into the rest of the text. There are so many theological terms in this text, we will briefly explain and comment on them and then when we understand what Paul means, we will make some application. Verses 29-30 say, “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 those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Do you hear all those theological terms? Foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified—that’s a theological smorgasbord! We’ve already seen the logical and sequential tie between God foreknowing someone, setting his affection on them in a special way and then predestining or predetermining them to be conformed to Christ’s image.
The next link in what has been called this “golden chain of salvation” is those God foreknew and predestined, He called. What does Paul mean here when he says “He [God] called?” It’s not like the call of a father to a little boy to come and wash up for dinner. Its more like a summons by an all powerful judge calling someone to respond—it is irrefusible. One commentator says this calling activity of God is “a summons that overcomes human resistance and effectually persuades them to say yes to God.” No one whom God has ever called in this saving sense has ever said “no” to Him. You cannot resist a decree of God. As we’ve shown from the Scriptures in recent weeks, when it relates to this issue of the call of God to someone, no one can resist. All respond to the sovereign Lord of the universe. He calls his foreknown, elected people through the gospel. He uses the truth of the gospel to call his people to Himself.
Again, notice the sequence here. In the distant past before the foundation of the earth, God foreknew us and predestined us to be saved. In the much more recent past, God called us to come into the relationship which he had already determined eons ago in eternity. The call of God is part of the outworking in THIS dimension, this world, what He ordained to come into being in eternity past. God’s predetermined, eternal plan is here stepping into time through the words of the missionary, the evangelist, the believing neighbor or through the word of God read or received in some way. What a humbling thought that when we lead someone to Christ, we are part of the fulfillment of a plan worked out in the mind of God an eternity ago. It helps us see what a privilege it is to bear the good news of the gospel.
The call of God is fused with the next link in this chain, “those he called, he also justified.” We’ve taken a long look at justification back in chapter three. In justification, we are pardoned of the wretched sin which separates us from God, but we are not left in that spiritually pardoned, neutral state—neither good nor bad. We are not only pardoned, but we have been given extravagant spiritual credit we could never have earned. God has declared us to be legally right in his eyes. He has taken the very righteousness of Christ which he lived out when he was on earth and placed that same righteousness on our account. Again, notice the sequence, God calls someone through the gospel and when they place their faith in Christ, He justifies them—gives them what they need to be acceptable in His sight. God could never enter into covenant with someone unless their sin had been taken care of. To do so would be to compromise His holiness. And so in justification, God not only heals the breach in the relationship caused by their sin, he sets them right with Himself and takes another step in fulfilling His glorious plan for them predetermined in eternity past.
Finally, “those he justified, he also glorified.” Remember, to be glorified is to, in heaven, be made to look just like Jesus. The flesh with its indwelling sin will be dead along with these fallen, physical bodies. When we stand before Him and see Christ we will be like Him. All remnants of indwelling sin will be gone. We will totally reflect the glory of Christ as the first born of the Father. This will bring this long process of the redemption of sinners to a close. This will be the complete fulfillment of God’s plan for us. A plan that began with his foreknowing us, that is, setting his affection on us, predestining us that we would come into that relationship of love, calling us into that relationship in a way in which we could never say no to his love, justifying us so that, through Christ, we could be worthy of that love and finally, in glorifying us, totally obliterating the final effects of the power of sin on his children. That is glorious!
Now, two points of application and both of these points you’ve heard, but are worth reemphasizing. First, salvation is fundamentally a process authored by God, not a decision made by a person. We must never fall into the trap of thinking that our salvation is fundamentally about what WE DO and it all started with US when we prayed to received Christ. That robs God of glory and reduces His eternity-long, glorious redemptive plan for us to one moment in time. What a cosmic insult to God!! Notice something all the elements of our salvation process Paul mentions have in common. Paul intentionally chooses those elements of our salvation process which emphasize God’s action. Notice, there is nothing here about sanctification. In sanctification, we cooperate with God through obedience to bring us into conformity with Christ. There is no mention of perseverance here. That element of the process where the saint, by God’s grace remains faithful to the end. Those and other elements aren’t there. Why not?
Because Paul’s point in this section which stresses the sufficiency of God is to highlight GOD’S initiating, overarching, sovereign role in saving us from beginning to end. This means, even though there is a sometimes vicious fight for us to fight to see it through, God is ultimately controlling our salvation. The crucial factor in this salvation process is NOT our white knuckled grip around God’s hand, but His Almighty, inviolable decrees and purposes to bring a people to Himself. He holds on to genuine redeemed people and He will never let go.
A second point of application before we close. A person truly saved WILL remain faithful till the end—none will be lost. This text just screams this. Notice, it does not say at any point in this chain, SOME of those he called, he justified, or SOME of those he justified, he glorified. NO. All of those who he set his covenantal affection eons ago will be those who stand before Him as His glorified church. Not one will be lost. Notice, he makes this point by saying, “he also glorified.” Notice that Paul speaks of our future glorification in the past tense. He is using a literary device to show that the certainty of a true believer’s glorification is so assured, he can write of it in the past tense. If you sit here a true believer in Jesus Christ, in the mind of God you have already been glorified. He knows precisely what you will be like when all your sin is gone and stand before him, a perfected saint.
This is so important and is so much at the heart of what Paul began in verse 28. The major point of the text remember is to show that we can be assured that everything works together for good because God is in complete control of every aspect of our salvation process. So often, people see their salvation as their idea—rooted in a decision they made when they first prayed to receive Christ. They then spend the rest of their lives trying to dodge all the bullets that come into their life that would, in their mind, cause them to lose their salvation. That’s horrible bondage. We are not targets on the wrong end of a satanic shooting gallery, we are pieces of clay on God’s potter’s wheel. What God is saying is that those obstacles, the trials, the temptations, the tribulations, the afflictions, the pain, the grief are not only NOT going to derail the true saint. But because God is sovereign over this salvation process from beginning to end, God will actually use all those things to accomplish His saving purpose in our lives. We don’t need to live our lives in fear of slipping off some sort of performance tightrope. The true believer is, in the midst of the worst storm, held safely by the same mighty hand that penned our names in the book an eternity ago. Glory be to God!
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