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Romans 8:29-30—This “golden chain” begins with love and ends with glory
(September 06 2017)
Romans 8:29-30—This “golden chain” begins with love and ends with glory.

29 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.
30 And those whom he predestined he also called,
and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified
he also glorified.

Because I cannot fit the crux of this passage into the above title, I must emphasize it from the beginning. God the Father has made Jesus Christ preeminent—“the firstborn among many brothers”—and we (Christians) are the Father’s gift to his Son (John 6:37). The Father sent his Son to become like us and through adoption he makes us like the Son.

Assurance through God’s sovereignty
Expanding on what he has just said in verse 28, Paul places an exclamation mark on the theme of assurance and hope. God has determined to shape every believer in the image of his Son, and to do so he uses a “golden chain” of sovereign actions that begins with foreknowledge and ends with glorification. You have heard of the Hope Diamond. This is the Golden Chain of Hope.

With a view back to verse 28, we should regard the five links in this chain as the divine means for superintending all the circumstances of our lives to fashion us in the image of Christ. Paul’s intention is to assert the preeminence of Christ while assuring all of us who believe in Christ that God will glorify us with him.

As R. C. Sproul points out, our election rests in the Father’s love for the Son. In turn, the Father’s love for his adopted children is evident in the very first link.

Foreknowledge. The meaning of this important theological term can be lost in the debate whether it means simply God’s knowledge beforehand of a person’s choice to believe or it signifies God’s electing decision. Biblical evidence favors the latter meaning (see Genesis 18:19, Amos 3:2, Jeremiah 1:5, Acts 13:48, Romans 11:2). But also important is the nature of God’s knowledge of the people he elects.

How Paul uses the term is influenced by its OT context. The verb to know in Hebrew refers not to knowing facts about someone—God knows everything there is to know about everyone—but to having an intimate, loving relationship with a person. Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived (Genesis 4:1). As Everett Harrison says, the term “is filled with the warmth of love.” We could say that God fore-loved people as he predestined them to salvation.

Predestination. Here is why these first two terms are linked so closely together. Sproul points out that “God does not predestine unknown quantities; God predestines persons that are known to him. Therefore, it is a logical necessity that foreknowledge of the people comes before predestination.”

According to Douglas Moo, the meaning of foreknowledge as “know intimately” requires it to “be a knowledge or love that is unique to believers and that leads to their being predestined.” In this case, Moo says (citing John Murray), any difference between “know or love beforehand” and “choose beforehand” virtually disappears.

Foreknowledge and predestination apply only to Christians. J. I. Packer refers to the doctrine of election as “the family secret of the children of God.” He says these doctrines serve a pastoral purpose “to help Christians see how great is the grace that saves them, and to move them to humility, confidence, joy, praise, faithfulness, and holiness in response.”

We should not press human logic to conclude that God predestines people to reject him. People spurn God of their own willfulness. Although they know God, they refuse to honor him (1:21) because they love the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). In contrast with God’s intimate knowing of believers, Jesus said of unbelievers, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).

Calling. God irresistibly woos, summons, draws people to Christ (see John 6:37 and 44). His call rests entirely on his grace, not his knowledge beforehand or selection beforehand on the basis of human faith or merit. Indeed, as Harrison notes, God does not call us according to his foreknowledge but rather according to his purpose (verse 28). That purpose is to unite all things in his beloved Son (Ephesians 1:9–11). As for the timing of God’s choice to place us in Christ, it came before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).

We note that Paul uses the pronoun “those” three times in verse 30 to make an important point. Those who are predestined are also called, those who are called are also justified, and those who are justified are also glorified. As we go from link to link in this chain, no one is added and no one falls out. Once God starts us in this unbreakable chain of hope, he makes sure we will complete it. There is no greater assurance of our salvation.

Justification. This term is the heart of the gospel that Paul develops at length in chapters 3–5. Not to be missed is that it introduces for the first time, implicitly, the necessity of human response to God’s grace. God declares sinners righteous (justified) on the basis of their faith in Christ.

Paul does not affirm the human role in this passage where his focus is God’s sovereign work in our salvation, but we must consider all that Paul says elsewhere about our response of faith and obedience. Recall, for example, his dire warning previously in this chapter (verses 12–13). Paul’s focus on divine activity likely explains his omission of sanctification from this chain, because it requires human cooperation.

Glorified. The past tense of this verb is stunning. It led James Denney (cited by Harrison) to declare that this is “the most daring verse in the Bible.” When Paul introduced the theme of believers’ glorification with Christ in verses 17 and 18, he placed it in the future. Now at the theme’s climax, Paul evidently saw no better way to place an exclamation mark on the certainty of our hope than to present our glorification as having already been completed.

Paul writes future as history because God has decreed that our destiny is included in Christ’s destiny. Christ has already been glorified, so our glorification has already been accomplished (Charles Cranfield). Though not yet revealed to us, our glory is real by God’s decree. This truth gives us the courage to endure the sufferings of this present time (verse 18).


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