GOD’S UNBREAKABLE CHAIN OF SALVATION PROVIDES ETERNAL
SECURITY AND THE ASSURANCE THAT GOD IS WORKING ALL THINGS TOGETHER FOR OUR GOOD
Steven Cole: The security of our salvation (or the final perseverance of the saints) flows out of Paul’s overall doctrine of salvation. Paul is showing that our salvation from start to finish is from the Lord and so it can never fail:
Our salvation is secure because God originated it, He effected it, and He will complete it.
These verses reveal our past, present, and future. Before the foundation of the world, God planned our salvation: He foreknew and predestined us to salvation. As a result of these sovereign decisions, at some point in our lives, He effectually called us and justified us, so that now He is working to conform us to the image of His Son. In the future, we will be glorified, fully conformed to Christ, who will be preeminent over all. The entire process comes from God and is sustained by Him. It’s all designed for His glory. If His sovereign purpose for the glory and supremacy of Jesus Christ is certain, then our future glory with Christ is certain.
John Toews: The agony of groaning—for creation, Christians, and the Spirit—is answered with the assurance of glorification. The shape of the glory is described in three different forms: the revelation of the children of God for creation, the redemption of the body for Christians, and the conformity of Christians to the image of the Son for the Spirit.
Suffering is part of the cosmic reality. Christians participate in that suffering. Here it is a function of growth, growth toward God’s glorification. It is part of the transformation process of being adopted as the children of God. Suffering does not lead to despair for Christians because God is working out a plan that moves through adoption as children and through suffering to glorification.
Michael Bird: All in all, the anchor holding steady the big five verbs in vv. 28-29 — foreknown, foreordained, called, justified, and glorified — is that God has always intended to create a new covenant family, a redeemed and renewed people, bearing the Spirit and imaging Christ. Believers form a forgiven family of Jews and Gentiles, groaning for glory, sustained by Spirit-inspired prayer, with creation anxiously waiting for the unveiling of the glorious freedom of these children in the age to come.
I. (:28) CONVICTION REGARDING GOD’S SOVEREIGN DEMONSTRATION OF GOODNESS TOWARDS HIS FAMILY
A. Determining Principle of God’s Will
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good”
Vance Havner: Sometimes Romans 8:28 is not easy to accept. But Paul did not say, “We understand how all things work together for good” to the believer. He said, “We know that they do.” We know many things we do not understand.
Thomas Constable: “All things” means just that: everything, “every event of life.” In the context, these “things” include the misfortunes that the believer experiences. The “good” is what is good from God’s perspective, and, in view of verses 18-27, conformity to the Son of God is particularly prominent (v. 29). “Those who love God” could be a group of believers who love God more than others. However, since Paul described them from the divine side as the elect of God (“those called“), they must refer to all Christians (cf. 1 John 4:19). This is the only place in Romans where Paul wrote of the believer’s love for God. Everywhere else he referred to God’s love for the believer.
Grant Osborne: God works in all things—not just isolated incidents—for our good. This does not mean that all that happens to us is good; evil is prevalent in our fallen world. But God is able to turn it around for our long-range good. Note that God is not working to make us happy, but to fulfill his purpose. Note also that this promise can be claimed only by those who love God and are “called according to his purpose.” Those who are called are those the Holy Spirit convinces and enables to receive Christ. Such people have a new perspective on life. They trust in God, not life’s treasures; they look to their security in heaven, not on earth; they learn to accept, not resent, pain and persecution, because God is with them.
B. Directed towards Believers
- Characterized by Love for God
“to those who love God,”
John Toews: The verb “to love” is used here for the first time to characterize the response of believers to God. Those who love God, usually combined with and keep his commandments, is a characteristic description of pious people in Judaism (Deut. 7:9; Ps. 145:20; Tob. 13:12, 14; Sir. 1:10; 2:15, 16; Pss. Sol. 4:25; 10:3; 14:1; 4QpPs. 3:4-5). Paul both identifies with this understanding and breaks with it by using only the first half. The second description is equally Jewish. God’s purpose and election (calling) are two sides of the same coin. The heritage of Israel is used to characterize believers, Jewish and Gentile. Christians are people who love God and who are elected according to God’s purpose.
- Conformed to God’s Eternal Purpose
“to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Frank Thielman: The “purpose” here is God’s (cf. 9:11; Eph 1:11; 3:11; 2 Tim 1:9), and it is a purpose for which God’s people have been “called” (cf. Rom 1:6–7). In 8:27 Paul had referred to God’s people as “saints,” and the language of calling echoes that designation (cf. 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2). Their way of life and the goal toward which they are moving separate them from the unbelieving world around them, just as God separated Israel from the surrounding nations so that they might “be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6).
II. (:29-30) CONFIRMATION OF GOD’S GOODNESS DEMONSTRATED IN HIS SOVEREIGN PLAN OF SALVATION FROM BEGINNING TO END
A. (:29a) Election
“For whom He foreknew,”
God has had special loving thoughts toward us from eternity past.
Thomas Constable: Paul next explained God’s calling in terms of His foreknowledge and predestination. It is a mistake to conclude that God knew beforehand who would believe on His Son and then predestined those individuals for salvation. Foreknowledge is a term that specifically describes God’s decision to elect: to choose to bless someone (cf. ch. 9; 1 Pet. 1:20). Notice that it is only those whom He foreknows that He predestines, not everyone. This indicates that a limited foreknowledge is in view, not just general knowledge of everyone and everything, which God possesses.
S. Lewis Johnson: Unconditional Election — This is not something taught by an individual or an isolated movement. Unconditional election is taught in some of the greatest of the Christian creeds. The Westminster Confession of Faith does not say anything more or anything less than what I am saying to you right now. The thirty-nine articles of the Anglican church does not say anything more or anything less than I am saying to you right now. The canons of the Synod of Dordt do not say anything more or anything less than I am saying to you right now. The Belgic confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, these are standard confessional documents that the great mass of the orthodox have affirmed is their faith, and they have testified to it in blood. I am not alone. I am with the saints.
Furthermore, Augustine believed this. Luther believed it. Calvin believed it. Bucer believed it. Knox believed it. Beza believed it. John Owen and the Puritans. Modern theologians, Charles Hodge, William GT Shedd, Benjamin B. Warfield. Today, James Packer, John Gerstner, Roger Nicole, Harold O.J. Brown, many, many others, and among Bible teachers, Donald Grey Barnhouse, James Montgomery Boise, Dr. Barnhouse’s successor in Philadelphia, D. James Kennedy, R. C. Sproul, Manford Gutzke, Joel Nederhood of the Back to God Hour, which many of you hear, John Stott, and Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer.
B. (:29b) Predestination
“He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son,
that He might be the first-born among many brethren;”
God has determined a special goal for us that includes eternity future.
Michael Crawford: Being Conformed to Christ
(1) Being conformed to Christ is God’s Grand Purpose for your life.
This isn’t a side issue for God. This is the issue. You were not saved to do missions. You were saved to be like Christ. Because you are like Christ you do missions. Don’t lose the connection of this verse to verse 28. This is the “good” that God is working out all the time in your life.
(2) Being conformed to Christ is Recognizeable.
Acts 4:13 – “they recognized they had been with Jesus.”
Our Christianity can become very transactional. It looks like you have been with Jesus. The way you talk, look at things, spend your money, etc.
(3) Being conformed to Christ is about Imitating Him.
1 Cor. 11:1 – You only imitate the things you love; the things you prize.
Part of our created DNA is to want to be an image bearer.
(4) Being conformed to Christ has a Why = Christ Himself.
What was the motive for Paul seeking to be conformed to Christ?
Phil. 3:7 – “that I may know Him” – Paul is obsessed with a person, not an institution. We need this type of passion for Jesus as when we were first saved.
We struggle with conformity because we don’t have the Why.
- Prayer – like a child; not sophisticated
- Endurance – just about taking the next step even if it’s ugly – more concerned about looking good in our finish than finishing
- Differentiation – Jesus can be both compassionate and angry and yet without sin; you can see the truth and see the exaggerations and the minimizations; the brand of Christianity can hurt us because it conforms us to tradition
C. (:30a) Calling
“and whom He predestined, these He also called;”
God’s effectual call has successfully drawn us into His wonderful eternal plan.
Steven Cole: Called (or calling) is used in two senses in the New Testament. First, the general call of the gospel goes out to all people. Jesus mentioned this when He said (Matt. 22:14), “Many are called, but few are chosen.” He issued a general call when He said (Mark 1:15), “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Or, when He said (Matt. 11:28), “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This general call is genuine on God’s part, but it is not effectual because of the hardened hearts of the fallen human race (John 3:19-20). Those who refuse the gospel call will be without excuse on judgment day.
But in the New Testament epistles, call (or, calling) is always used of God’s effectual call. It always accomplishes God’s purpose of giving life to the spiritually dead so that they respond to the call. Spurgeon somewhere compares the general call to sheet lightning that lights up the night sky, but doesn’t hit anything specific. But the effectual call is like the lightning bolt that hits its target.
We see an example of God’s effectual call in Jesus’ calling Lazarus from the tomb. Remember, Jesus had just said (John 11:25-26), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” The raising of Lazarus that followed was an unforgettable illustration of Jesus’ power to call the spiritually dead to spiritual life. When Jesus called, “Lazarus, come forth,” He imparted life with the call, so that Lazarus responded. God’s word is powerful to create new life (John 5:24-26; James 1:18).
Paul refers to the same truth (2 Cor. 4:4) when he says that Satan, “the god of this world, has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” How can such spiritually blind people ever see? Paul explains (4:6), “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” God’s word powerfully imparts light and life to all whom He calls to salvation. His effectual call cannot fail or be thwarted by our fallen, sinful wills. As Jesus said (John 6:37), “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me….”
God’s effectual call always comes through His general call. In other words, the gospel is preached or proclaimed to all. Some shrug it off or perhaps angrily resist it. Some, I might add, respond superficially by praying the sinner’s prayer or going forward after an altar call. For a while, it looks as if they’ve been converted. But they’re like the seed sown on the rocky ground that springs up quickly, but has no root. They may respond to the general call because they want God to help them out of a problem situation. But when suffering comes and their problems grow worse, they fall away. Or, they’re like the seed sown on the thorny ground, where the worries of life or the deceitfulness of riches choke out the word so that it does not bear fruit (Matt. 13:20-22).
But in the elect, God’s effectual call comes with power so that they are quickened from spiritual death to life. Their eyes are opened to the glory of Christ and what He did on the cross. They respond in faith and repentance. The difference between the two responses hinges on God’s effectually calling those whom He predestined to salvation.
D. (:30b) Justification
“and whom He called, these He also justified;”
God has declared us worthy (righteous) even though we were not.
E. (:30c) Glorification
“and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
God tells us that our sharing in Christ’s glory is certain.
Frank Thielman: Paul probably spoke of the glorification of believers as a past event to emphasize the certainty of their future glorification. The great Greek grammarian Herbert Weir Smyth said that “the aorist may be substituted for the future when a future event is vividly represented as having actually occurred.” In the immediate context Paul has been focusing on the plight that believers must share with all creation since they are all caught up in the results of human rebellion against God. He has also been concerned with God’s answer to this plight through the resurrection of the dead, first of Christ and then, in the future, of believers (8:17, 19–23). The resurrection of believers will be the moment when they are delivered from creation’s decay and fully experience the freedom of their adoption into God’s family (8:11, 23).