And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (29) For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (30) Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
The bedrock anchor of the “golden chain” of salvation is the truth of Romans 8:28. These familiar words contain a powerful expression of God’s sovereignty over all the circumstances of our lives as believers. It is a solid and unshakeable anchor because it is based on a sure knowledge. The verse begins with the words: “And we know”. There are many things which we don’t know as finite creatures. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. We don’t know the date of our death. We don’t know the circumstances of our death. As someone has said, “If I knew where I were to die, I would not go there!” In verse 26, Paul expresses our human weakness by declaring that we don’t even know what to pray for as we ought! But we do know some things! We know that all things work together for good to them that love God! This is an unlimited promise to a limited people. It is unlimited in the sense that the promise is that “all things” work together for good. It is not merely the “good” events in our lives that are said to “work together for good”. No one is questioning that. What many do question, though, is how this trial works together for my good. The “all things” of verse 28 includes the “sufferings of this present time” of verse 18. Not only past and future events, but even the present sufferings are being worked together for good for the child of God! This is not wishful, optimistic thinking (although this is the way I most often hear the verse used). It is a solid confidence based upon the sovereign purpose of God. This is an unlimited promise! But, it has its limits! How? It is limited in terms of to whom the promise is made. The promise is made very specifically to “them that love God” who are “the called according to his purpose.” This is a description of believers who love Him, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). I’ve heard many unbelievers claim this promise to whom it did not belong. It is an unlimited promise for a limited people: Christians! This is the bedrock foundation in which the “golden chain” of salvation is anchored. Now let’s examine the links in this chain in detail.
I. Golden Link #1: Foreknowledge.
God is the subject of vv. 28-30. The God who causes all things to work together for good for those called according to His purpose is the God who foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies and glorifies!
The most common way of interpreting foreknowledge in this verse is to say that it refers to God simply knowing people beforehand. It is true that God knows all things perfectly, even the future. He knows the free acts of His creatures beforehand. But the word “foreknow” means more than that in this passage. It is more than just a general reference to God’s foreknowledge because God foreknows all men in that sense, yet not all are saved. All those foreknown in ths verse, however, are saved (foreknown > predestined > called > justified > glorified). Unless this verse is teaching universalism (the belief that all will be saved), it must mean more than simply knowing about people.
I believe the secret to the meaning of the type of knowledge in this foreknowledge is found in how its equivalent is used in the Old Testament. In Genesis 4:1, Adam “knew” his wife, Eve, and she conceived and had a son. This was more than a mere acquaintance. It was an intimate relationship! In Amos 3:2, God said of Israel “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” This doesn’t mean that God didn’t know about the other nations of the world. It means that Israel is the only nation with which He was in a covenant relationship. In the New Testament, the word for “know” that is the root of “foreknow” in Romans 8:29 is often used with the same connotation as its Old Testament counterpart. For example in Matthew 1:25 (in a description of the virgin birth), Joseph is said to have “known her not” (Mary) until she had the baby named Jesus. This doesn’t mean that Joseph did not know who she was, but that he had not had sexual relations with her. This intimate knowledge, however, will be absent of those in Matthew 7:23 who did many wonderful things in Christ’s name, but He will confess to them, “I never knew you.” Again, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t know about them. It means He was not in a saving relationship with them. In John 10:27 Jesus says of His sheep, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Likewise in 2 Timothy 2:19 the Bible says, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” Since the word “know” means to have an intimate relationship with a specific people, when you add the prefix “fore” it refers to God choosing in advance to have an intimate relationship with a specific people. It does not mean that God saw something good in certain people whom He then decided to save! This foreknowledge of God is the first link in the “golden chain” of salvation which began in eternity past.
II. Golden Link #2: Predestination.
All those whom God foreknows in this intimate way, He also predestinates to be confirmed to the image of His Son. If foreknowledge is God’s predetermination to set His love on a specific people, then predestination in this verse refers to God’s predetermined purpose. God has a wonderful plan for your life if you are a Christian. This plan will be accomplished. His plan is that we as His children would be confirmed into the image of His firstborn! When will this be accomplished? At the return of Christ, when we see Him and are like Him! This is the hope of Romans 8 – the redemption of the body, our adoption as sons, our full manifestation as the sons of God. This is the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of Christ. When we see Him we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. But this future hope has some present implications. As John says in 1 John 3:2, “Every man that hath this hope in him purifies himself even as He is pure.” If God’s plan is to make us like Christ, then we should seek to be like Him too. This is the good purpose that all things are working together for in Romans 8:28!
III. Golden Link #3: Calling.
All whom God foreknows and predestines, He also calls. This is not a reference to the outward call of a preacher. It is a reference to the inner call of God through the Holy Spirit. Not all who hear Billy Graham are justified and glorified, but all who hear the call of the Good Shepherd of John 10:27 follow Him and the next verse says that He gives them “eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” You see there are two different kinds of calls spoken of in Scripture. There is the call of “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14) and there is the call of the Good Shepherd (John 10:27). One is external, the other internal. One is general, the other special. One is sometimes effectual, one is always effectual!
The call spoken of in verse 30 is not like when you call your dog or cat. They may or may not come. It’s not like when you ladies try to call your husband or kids to the dinner table. Instead, it’s like when Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus and cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” That’s the difference! The calling in this verse is God’s sovereign act of drawing people to Himself by His Holy Spirit. As Jesus said in John 6:37 and 44:
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. . . . No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
This is the calling of Romans 8:30 and all who receive it, God also justifies!
IV. Golden Link #4: Justification.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
How does faith come? Romans 10:17 states,
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
If you’re an unbeliever here today, this is where you need to pay the most attention. You’re not saved by looking back into eternity past to see if you are chosen. A person is saved by placing their trust in God to save them because of the work of Jesus Christ. As you hear the Word today and believe you will be justified. That means your sins are forgiven and you are accepted as righteous by a Holy God. You will now have a restored relationship with your Creator. When you believe and experience link #4, you can be assured that the other links are connected and are anchored in eternity in the bedrock foundation of God’s Sovereignty!
V. Golden Link #5: Glorification.
The final stage of our salvation is glorification. This link reaches back up into eternity. This is God’s predetermined goal for those whom He has foreknown from the start! Notice all the verbs in verses 29 and 30 are in the past tense. Paul wrote this way for more than literary reasons. He was showing the certainty of our salvation by speaking of all stages of it as already having been accomplished. Even glorification, which is clearly in the future, is spoken of as already accomplished. In other words, it is as good as done!
This is the point of this chapter: to give us assurance of our future glorification. This is so that we can have hope in the midst of our struggles with the infirmities of this life. We can have hope because God is in control. He is working all things together for good. He is accomplishing our salvation from first to last!
No wonder Paul then concludes this chapter with five unanswerable questions (next week’s exposition) in verses 31-39. Read them and rejoice!
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? (32) He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (33) Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. (34) Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (35) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (36) As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (37) Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (38) For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, (39) Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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