Rethinking the “Golden Chain” – Romans 8:28-30 (Part 3)

 (This is the third post in the series on Romans 8:28-30, for the 1st post about the context of Romans chapter 8 click here. For the 2nd post about God’s election according to foreknowledge click here.)

(This is a reworking of a previous post on the “Golden Chain of Salvation.” Several things have been added and two major things have been completely reinterpreted. Many have found the original version of this post helpful so I have left it up at its original location.  Click here to view the original version of this post)

Romans 8:28-30

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Predestine

When the word “predestined” is infused with the fatalism of Calvinism’s “unilateral divine decrees” it has an ominous tone indeed. But though Reformed Theology speaks of it in that sense, the Bible does not. Predestine simply means to determine something ahead of time. It is the teaching of the Bible that God did not create a world of men, endowed with the ability to rebel against him, without first determining how he would provide them a way back into peaceful fellowship with himself. God is not an absentee father that has children with no intention of watching over them, providing for them or guiding them to righteousness. On the contrary, God created the world and took responsibility for it from the very beginning. He laid the foundation of the world knowing that it would cost the life of his one and only Son. This is how a good God could create a world where sin was all but inevitable.

So, did he merely create a way for the prodigal sons to return and work for him as his servants? Such a plan would never be worthy of our God or of the price that Christ paid to accomplish it. No, he planned something much greater. The returning prodigals were “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” God determined beforehand that that the saints would not just be servants, but the children of God.

1 John 3:1-2

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

John here not only confirms that God planned to make us his children, but as believers we have already been adopted as his children, and yet we are also waiting for him to make us fully like Christ (Rom. 8:15 & 23). We will not be completely “like him” until we see him “as he is” when he returns to receive us unto himself at the Second Coming. Being conformed to the image of Christ does not merely mean that we are transformed into a likeness of his character, though that is an important part of it. Romans 6:4 teaches that our union with Christ is the reason that our character can be changed into one resembling Jesus now. But Romans 8:11 and 8:16-17 point out that the image of Christ that we will ultimately bear is the image of the risen and exalted Christ.

2 Corinthians 3

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

1 Peter 4:14

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

At present we bear the image and glory of Christ by the Holy Spirit. But we are not yet complete, we are still waiting for the complete transformation that will take place when we see him as he is at the Second Coming of Christ (1 John 3:1-2). Until then we are being conformed to his image step by step, from glory to glory.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

In Romans 8:29 Paul is telling the church in Rome that God planned long ago to glorify the saints as his children. He didn’t just plan for them to be his servants, but he determined that those who believe in the Gospel and suffer with Christ, enduring until the end would reign with him on his throne (Rom.8:17, Rev. 3:21). The saints have become heirs of God through Jesus Christ and will reign with their Father forever and ever. This is the inheritance that God predetermined for his people. He “predestined” Christians to become co-heirs with Christ. Not only will we be resurrected as Christ was, we will also be exalted to places of authority. So what about the suffering caused by this rebellious world mentioned in Romans 8:18? “It is not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us!”

Once again we must note what has not been said in this passage. This passage in no way teaches that certain individuals have been unconditionally predestined to believe in Jesus Christ. After God chose a people in Abraham, he predetermined what their inheritance would be. He told Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. Before the nation even existed, God “predestined” what they would receive from his hand. What goes for God’s Old Testament people goes also for his New Testament people. When God chose to create the Church through Jesus Christ before the world began, he also determined what their Promised Land would be. “He predestined us [the Body of Christ] for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). In him [Christ] we [the saints] have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11).

The Golden Chain in no way teaches that certain individuals have been predestined to believe in Jesus Christ. Instead it teaches what God predetermined would be the inheritance of his Church corporately, and of those who believe individually. God always planned to create a people that would become his glorified children so that Christ would be “the firstborn among many brothers” (8:29). This is what was predestined by God for his people. God predestined believers to adoption through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5).

Called

“Called” is another word that Calvinism fills a meaning beyond what the Bible gives it. In Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast. This parable is meant as a rebuke on the Jewish nation for not receiving the Messiah. In it Jesus is foreshadowing that soon God will invite the Gentiles into the kingdom while leaving Israel in her blindness.

The feast was ready, but those who were invited had not come, so the master of the feast told his servants to go out and invite anyone they happened to meet. Many indeed answered the call, but one guy who came showed up dressed in inappropriate attire for such a formal occasion. This man was thrown out. Then Jesus turns from the language of the parable to more theological language. He says, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (vs. 14). He uses the term “called” to correspond to the parable’s word “invite.” By doing this Jesus gives us a clear meaning of the word we will now be dealing with in Romans chapter 8.

When someone is invited to something it carries a couple shades of meaning. Firstly it conveys the meaning of being welcome. If we are invited to someone’s party, no one can accuse us for showing up. If someone says “Hey, what are you doing here?!” we will simply produce our invitation and all will be satisfied. The invitation proves that we are welcome. We cannot be accused of crashing the party. But as the parable shows, being invited is also an honor that must be valued. Those men who were invited but didn’t show up, or the man who didn’t feel responsible to make any effort to make himself presentable (i.e. sanctification), were all rejected as unworthy of the invitation (Rom. 8:12-17, Heb. 12:14). Though they had been invited, they were not found worthy of the invitation, so it was revoked. The word “called,” like the word, “invited,” means that one is welcome to join in, but also responsible for properly valuing the honor he has received. 

“Called” is often used in Paul’s letters in such a way that makes people think that those who answer the invitation of the Gospel are somehow more specifically invited than those who did not respond. Calvinism teaches that there are two calls. One is the “general call.” Reformed Theology says that this is the invitation of the Gospel, and it is for all men. But the other kind of call is the “effectual call.” Calvinists teach that this is a special inward call that only the elect are given. God is believed to work in their hearts in such a way that they cannot resist. Through the “effectual call” people are drawn irresistibly to faith in Christ. Those only called by the “general call” will never come, because God has decided not to help them believe. Instead he has decided to leave them under the bondage of sin. This means that the “general call” is just a formality. No one can be delivered by it; instead their inevitable rejection of it just adds to their condemnation.

Paul often calls the saints “the called.” This gives many the impression that these saints were called in a way that unbelievers were not. For this reason Calvinism has made a distinction between the two kinds of calling mentioned above. Reformed Theology explains that only those who received the “effectual call” are given the title “the called.” The second group hears the Gospel, but since they have not been predestined for salvation God doesn’t call them with irresistible grace. So without this enabling grace they remain in their sins and are not rightfully designated as “the called.”

But the need for this distinction is a simple misunderstanding of why Paul labels the churches he writes with this honorable title. Israel had always thought they were special in God’s kingdom. They didn’t understand the predestined plan of God to make a holy people from all nations. So when the Gentiles began receiving the Gospel and becoming “co-heirs” with Israel, many Jewish unbelievers and even Jewish believers cried foul (Eph. 2:19). They claimed that Gentiles could never share an inheritance with Israel as God’s people. But as an Apostle with a pastoral heart, Paul wrote many of his letters to his Gentile churches in order to encourage them that they were every bit as much a part of Israel as their Jewish brothers in Christ. For this reason he had the habit of calling them “the called,” or more clear yet, “the invited.” This encouraged them that they were not party crashers.

When Paul uses the term “the called” he is not emphasizing that those individuals were called and others were not. Instead he is emphasizing that they are legitimate members of God’s household. They are not second class citizens in God’s kingdom. They are the invited of Jesus Christ and have every right to be part of “the Israel of God”! (Gal. 6:16) We have been called to and through Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:4-6).

Justified

Most of us are familiar with the next link in the chain. We have been justified, acquitted, and declared “not guilty” through the work of Jesus Christ. It is a main theme of the early chapters of the letter to the Romans. God justifies everyone who places their trust in Christ.

Romans 5:9

… we have now been justified by his blood

Romans 4:25

[Christ] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Romans 5:1

…we have been justified by faith

Jesus, the innocent lamb of God, remained silent when he was unjustly put to death on Roman cross. He tasted of death for us. He was delivered up for our transgressions. But God vindicated (justified) him by raising him from the dead. And now by entrusting ourselves to him we are identified with him in his death to sin and his vindication. God has accomplished justification for those who trust in Christ. The saints have been justified in Jesus Christ.

God predestined an inheritance for those whom he foreknew would trust in Christ; and then he called them to belong to Jesus Christ. After inviting the saints he did something even more wonderful, he actually “qualified” them “share the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col. 1:12). How did he qualify them for such an inheritance? He justified them through the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:9). He didn’t just pay for their salvation, but he paid an unthinkable price for it! The blood of the eternal Son of God was shed so that through faith they might “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17). Wow! What an awesome salvation!

We are not just hoping irrationally that we can somehow fight the fight of faith and finish the race. The odds seem to be stacked against us, but we must realize that the battle is the Lord’s. He fights for us! He is our Salvation! God Not only planned (predestined) an inheritance for his chosen people; he also works to bring it to pass. “In all things God works for the good of those who love God.” After planning their inheritance, he actively invites (calls) them to come and share in the glory of his beloved Son. After inviting them he gives them the free gift of righteousness (justifies) through the precious blood of the lamb.

To Be Continued…

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