WITH DALE RATZLAFF
We continue our study in Romans 8:29-30.
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
A quick reading of these two verses tells us that God is the author of our salvation, and it is His work that will carry it out from beginning to end. At the same time there are issues here that honest, truth-seeking theologians have wrestled with and have reached vastly different conclusions. Right here at the outset I will state that my conclusions are (1) tentative, and (2) are mine alone and do not necessarily represent Life Assurance Ministries. We must recognize that our conclusions, no matter what they may be, will not change what is. In other words, our understanding of what God has done and is doing does not change the facts of what God has done and is doing. From our limited human perspective we cannot explain the mind and will of God. We can, however, seek to harmonize the many statements of Scripture. The tension between God’s sovereignty and His command to us to believe is real. As an understanding of the covenants is the continental divide of biblical interpretation; in the same way one’s conclusions regarding the interaction between God’s sovereignty and man’s will color our interpretation of the rest of Scripture.
Now we come back to our passage in Romans 8:39.
“Those whom he foreknew”: “foreknow” means to know beforehand. In Greek there are two words for “know”. One describes intellectual insight; the other “know” describes “a knowing that places the knower into a personal relation to the one known.”1 Paul uses the latter word here. Therefore, what this phrase means is that the people described as “those whom he foreknew” are those with whom God has a personal relationship. He knew them in advance. It excludes those who only have a superficial faith and do not have a personal, saving relationship with God.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish (Ps.1:6).
Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS (Mt. 7:22-23).
“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, (Jn. 10:14).
Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness” (2 Tim. 2:19).
This understanding of “foreknew” is supported in 1 Peter 1:1-2:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.
Once we understand that “those whom He foreknew” are those who respond to the grace offered by God, then the rest of this section flows smoothly and gives great assurance to God’s people.
If one accepts that “those whom He foreknew” are saved through their response to God’s grace, then all questions about God’s fairness are dismissed. We do not have to explain away the references that show God’s love for all mankind.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
The same people God foreknew, “He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son”. This statement flows naturally since God foreknows who responds to the saving grace of God. Predestined means determined beforehand. Thus, God who knows the future determines that they will be “conformed” to the image of His son. The whole biblical teaching of sanctification, the progressive work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, is included in the word, “conformed”. The goal of sanctification is to develop holiness in the lives of believers. A holiness that patterns itself after the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. Believers are now in the family of God and are expected to live like family members. This process continues to the day of Christ Jesus. Paul continues to show the work of God in the lives of believers.
…and these whom He predestined, He also called;
The intended recipients of this call to salvation are the same group who were foreknown. Those outside of this group refused the call. They excluded themselves. The Parable of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5, and Jesus’s statement about Jerusalem demonstrate that God is not arbitrary in deciding who is outside the call to salvation. Unbelievers exclude themselves by rejecting His saving grace. It is very clear that it was God’s desire to save all of Israel—all mankind for that matter. Yet many eliminated themselves from God’s blessings.
Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress (Isa. 5:1-7).
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! (Lk. 13:34).
…and these whom He called, He also justified.
As Paul wrote in Romans 3.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Rom 3:28).
Once we have been justified by faith in Christ we are ready for the final step in this Christian life.
…these whom He justified, He also glorified.
These two verses in Romans 8 condense the whole sweep of salvation history, and God saw it all before time. They give us solid assurance of God’s grace and tell us of his love and just character.
Interpreting these two verses as I have done removes the questions that sometimes come up regarding God’s love and justice in regard to foreknowledge. That God foreknew those who would accept or reject His saving grace is so much better than believing God arbitrarily determined who would be saved and who would be lost without regard to anything they would or would not do. Sending people to hell who had no chance of salvation goes against the whole message of the gospel. God is sovereign in the way he saves sinners who place their faith in Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. People may reject His offer of salvation and by so doing they exclude themselves, but God’s love and justice remain as a solid unchanging foundation in His eternal kingdom.
Father, thank you that you know the end from the beginning. Thank you that those of us who have believed in your Son who died for us can know for sure that your grace will carry us through to final glorification and we will see you as you are. Come, Lord Jesus.
In Jesus name.