This morning I admit that I have a great sense of excitement and apprehension as we begin a several week study on some weighty issues. I’m excited because these particular doctrines have stirred my heart and deepened my faith in ways few others have done. I have a new sense of God’s greatness and a new appreciation of my own need because of these verses. At the same time, I know I wrestled with these things for many years before I came to, I think, have some manner of understanding and appreciation for these things. I know I can’t do these deep truths justice in just a few weeks.
This week and next week we are going to work our way through Romans 8:29, 30. This passage raises all kinds of controversy. As soon as you mention the word “predestination” in some Christian settings it is like yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre or being at a Republican gathering and admitting that you are a Democrat. You will often be either shunned as an oddball or attacked as a heretic.
Most churches choose to simply pass over these verses superficially or ignore them altogether. I think that is a mistake for several reasons. First, these doctrines are a major part of Paul’s teaching. He develops these things in Romans 8 and 9 and spends a good portion of Ephesians 1 and 2 developing them as well. This makes these truths major doctrines of the Bible.
Second, these doctrines deal with the nature of God, the nature of man, and the way of salvation. In other words, they are core issues of the faith.
Our challenge today is to examine these issues like any other difficult issue. We must be careful to let the Bible speak for itself and not try to make it say what we want it to say.
Too often we shy away from these things because we have been prejudiced by foolish caricatures of these doctrines. Let me give you an example. Once I heard a Pastor say in a sermon, “Some people believe God (and he took out a coin and flipped it in the air) arbitrarily chooses some people to be saved.” I must admit that this comment almost made me come unglued! No one who affirms God’s sovereign choice and predestination (sometimes called election) would ever say that God ARBITRARILY chooses people to be saved. We may not understand why God makes the choices He does, but that is far from them being “arbitrary”.
Others caricature those who believe in the doctrine of election as those who are on the far right fringe of Christian belief. They say, “this teaching says we have no choice.” In other words, the position is painted as extreme and out-of-touch.
Rather than engage in such foolishness we must ask, what does the text actually teach? What is the context? What do the words mean and how are they used in other places in the Bible. We must always compare Scripture with Scripture.
Our text in Romans 8:29,30 is often called the golden chain of salvation because it describes the way of salvation from start to finish. It starts with God’s choice and ends with man’s glorification in Heaven. Notice a few things about this chain.
First, as with all verses of the Bible the golden chain comes with a context. These verses are an amplification on Romans 8:28. How do we know God is working? It’s because God has been working in us from the first moments of our life. God has a plan that will not be frustrated. The chain ends with talk of our glorification (being with God in Heaven). The term glorified is in the past tense. This means that even though Heaven for the believer is in the future, it is so certain in God’s plan that it can be referred to in the past tense. The final verses of Romans 8 apply this certainty to the way we live.
Those who know the Greek language point out that this golden chain is an ellipsis. In other words, there are words (in this case one word) implied but not stated. The implied word is “all”. Everyone who is foreknown is also predestined. Everyone who is predestined is called. Everyone who is called is justified. Everyone who is justified is glorified. So, based on the text, everyone who is foreknown is also glorified.
This morning we are focus on just the first two words of this chain. They are certainly the most controversial words of the text.
This is not a difficult word to understand. It means to know ahead of time. The question open for debate is: “What is it that God knew ahead of time?”
Some suggest that foreknowledge means that God looks down the corridor of history to see those who are going to respond freely to the offer of salvation in Jesus. He looks to see who will respond to the invitation of the gospel. The people that he foreknows will believe are the people he chooses to save.
It sounds reasonable enough. However, other text leads us to ask: “Can anyone choose God without God first choosing them?” Remember what Paul said in Romans 3 about humanity,
“There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
In John 6:37 Jesus said, “All the Father has given me will come to me.” If the Father does not give them (or in our case, choose them) they will not come to trust Jesus. Later in verse 44 Jesus reiterated himself, “44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” [italics mine]. If we take these words literally, it means no one has the ability to come to Christ on their own without God drawing them to faith.
In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul said, “14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” In other words, if foreknowledge simply means that God looks into the future to see who will choose to follow Him, He will see no one.
My friend, Ray Pritchard did a good job of defining the true understanding of foreknowledge,
God’s foreknowledge is his divine ability to know what is going to happen before it happens because he intends to make it happen. We see this in a limited way in our own experience. For instance, you may say, “When church is over at noon, I’m going to go home and I’m going to eat lunch. I know that. In fact, I know I’m going to have roast beef.” How do you know that? You know it because you have determined that you will do it. You aren’t guessing or theorizing. You are really just announcing a personal decision. You know you’re going to have roast beef not only because you know you’re going to have it but because you yourself are going to prepare it. But there is a limit to that kind of foreknowledge. Something could happen to change your plans. You could pass out in the service and end up in the hospital. Someone could say “Let’s go out to lunch.” You could have a wreck on the way home. Lots of things could happen. So even though you think you know what’s going to happen, you can’t totally control the future.
God is not like that. God’s foreknowledge doesn’t simply mean that he knows by looking down the corridors of history what’s going to happen because he’s God and he can see what’s going to happen. That’s true, but it doesn’t go far enough. God knows what’s going to happen because he is sovereign over all the earth. He reigns over all creation. He knows what is going to happen because he either directly causes it or gives his permission for it to happen. Every event in the universe falls under one of those two categories—directly caused or divinely permitted.
There is more to this idea of knowing. The word “know,” especially in the Old Testament, has the idea of “knowing intimately.” It means “to know with affection, to know in a loving way.” When we apply this to the idea of our salvation it means that God not only knew you before you were born, He knew He was going to love you. He chose you before you chose Him. He was the first to love.
It’s very similar to an expectant mother. From the first moment that the mother learns she is pregnant she loves her baby. She feels the baby move and her heart is drawn to her child. She sings to the baby, she talks to the baby, and she pats her stomach. She makes preparations for this child even though she doesn’t know what this baby is going to grow up to be, but it doesn’t matter. That mother has decided to love that child in a way that is deep and lasting.
We see this idea in many passages in the Bible. In John 1:12 John the apostle writes, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John makes the point that those who become children of God by receiving Christ do not come to this point naturally, but supernaturally. They are born not because of someone’s decision but because of a work of God.
In Ephesians 1:4-6 we read, “4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
In the same chapter over in verse 11 Paul says the same thing, “11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”
Notice that both of these texts seem to be saying the same thing that Paul is saying in Romans 8:29. There is one noticeable difference. In Ephesians Paul does not use the word foreknowledge. Instead of talking about foreknowledge He uses the words chose and chosen. It seems that Paul is using chosen and foreknown interchangeably which tells me that Paul means for us to understand our text to mean God chose to bring certain people to faith ahead of time and then determined to build them up into the image of Christ.
In 1 Peter, Peter associates choice and foreknowledge when he writes, “To God’s elect, strangers in the world…2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood”.
I hope you see the point these few texts show. When God foreknows someone He chooses them. He determines to love them and to draw them to Himself. This choice is not based on what we have done or will do, it is based on the heart of God; His desire to show love to those He has created.
This second word is the one that most people argue about. Usually the argument is about the combined ideas of foreknowledge and predestination. Once you understand foreknowledge, predestination isn’t complicated at all. To pre-destine means to determine a destination before hand. If I say, I am going to Idaho on my vacation we could accurately say that my vacation has been predestined.
The text tells us that God predestined those he foreknew to be conformed to the image of His son. Ephesians tells us that those chosen are pre-destined to be adopted as His Sons and for God’s glory. In simplest terms, God determined that those He has chosen to show special mercy to would be people He would transform into Christlikeness. Those He chose to save would become followers of Christ and would gradually be made new. Foreknowledge is the choice of persons. Predestination is what that person is chosen for. Predestination means that God has a plan.
We are waist high in theology this morning. These are difficult teachings. They raise many questions (many of which we will address in weeks to come). The predominate question in you mind may be, “Who Cares? What are we supposed to learn from this? Why spend so much time talking about such things.” It’s a fair question. Let me draw some conclusions from our study.
First, please remember that understanding these things is not a prerequisite to your salvation. They are difficult and people have struggled with them since they were written.
Second, don’t miss the point of this text. Paul’s emphasis is that our confidence is anchored in the fact that salvation is based in the work of God and not man. God begins the process, God is purposeful in this process (working all things for our good), and God will be successful in this process. Paul wants us to stop depending and trusting in our ability and start trusting God’s ability.
Third, this passage provokes worship. When we understand that we are saved by a sovereign and undeserving grace of God we must bow in worship and gratitude. Like the old country song says, “Why me Lord? What have I ever done to deserve even one of the blessings you’ve shown?” There is no place for arrogance in the Christian.
This worship takes a different form. Instead of the focus being on us (many of our songs talk a lot about “I” and “Me”) our focus will be more appropriately focused on Him. We will worship God’s character rather than our goodness. We will celebrate His mercy in choosing us rather than trying to build the Kingdom in our strength and for our glory.
Finally, this text reminds us that God’s purpose for us is to become more like Jesus. His ultimate goal is not for us to be more prosperous, successful or influential. God wants us to be more like Jesus. He wants us to have the priorities of Christ, the heart of Christ, and He wants us to love Him like Jesus did. If you want to know what the good is that God is doing through the trials in your life, here’s your answer. God is working to conform you to the image of His Son. If you want to pray according to God’s will, this is what you should pray for.
This is a tough and controversial passage, but it is also a rich passage. If you take the time to ponder the truths in these verses you will not only find many of your questions answered, You will grow in your appreciation of God’s mercy and love and be more determined than ever to spend the remainder of your days living your life to bring Him honor and glory and praise.