This is part of a series of posts in which I will be critiquing my old book, “Calvinist Verses? Responding to the Errors of Calvinism.” When I began writing that book at the beginning of 2012 I was an Open Theist and began to lean towards the Classical Arminian position some time during that year. The following is one of my old posts which was part of the previously mentioned book. This post was originally posted on 5/8/2012. My critique of the original post will be in bold. To view the first part of this post click here.
We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so 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.
Before going on let me clarify the context a little more. This passage is a conclusion of what Paul has been writing up until this point, namely that God has justified people through faith, is sanctifying them by His Spirit which will lead to the resurrection of their bodies on the Day of Christ. And it is an introduction to what He is about to discuss, namely why have Jews rejected the Gospel and Gentiles accepted it. In Romans chapter 2 and 3 Paul began to discuss the relationship between believing Gentiles and unbelieving Jews, now he is going to continue what he started in those chapters, but in order to do so he has to introduce the idea of divine election in these few verses. So, these verse are an important transition passage.
I would also like to point out that this passage is written in the third person. Paul does not say “us” or “you,” but he uses the phrase “those whom.” In verse 31 he will apply these verses to the Christians to whom he is writing, but first he shares the divine perspective of salvation for all Christians of all times. And further note, as mentioned previously, “those whom” is clearly a reference to individuals. Paul does not say “the body of Christ,” but he says, “those whom,” referring to many individuals.
We must once again note that this verse was written to, and about, the Church of Jesus Christ. It is written about “the saints,” “those who love God,” and “those whom he foreknew” (vs.27-29).
“The saints” and “those who love God” are both references to certain individuals who are Christians. I am surprised that I imagined anything else. Also note that “those whom He foreknew,” are individuals that God knew before they were Christians. This will become clear later when we see that He predestined them before He called and justified them.
In the Old Testament God had a chosen people, they were chosen through Abraham, before even one of them was born. God desiring to make a people chose one man and appointed him as the father of a nation. In Abraham, God chose the nation of Israel. In the New Testament we are told that God chose to create a people through Jesus Christ before the world even started. Speaking to the church in Ephesus Paul says, “He chose us [the Church] in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” The Church is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). Speaking of the Church Paul writes, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (Rom. 11:2).
This paragraph skirts the issue in Romans 8 by referring to Old Testament types and other New Testament teaching in Ephesians 1. And it seems I tried to make Romans 8 which refers to individuals into a passage of corporate election by appealing to 1 Peter. As for the reference to Romans 11:2, it does not confirm my assumption that Romans 8 is about the corporate election of the Church. I am disappointed as I read the above paragraph. I believe I was wrestling hard to avoid the plain meaning of the words in Romans 8:28-30.
The term, “foreknew,” is the first link in the chain. God chose a people. In 1 Peter 1:20 we are told about Christ that, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times.” From this use of the term “foreknown” we can see that it is more than just knowledge about someone, but the choosing of someone for a particular purpose. God didn’t look into the future and know Christ; instead he knew him before the world began and chose him for a certain purpose.
This is a good understanding of the term as it is used in Romans 8. I already referred to one passage in the New Testament in which the same term is used by a different author (i.e. Peter). Below I will share a passage used by the same author in the same epistle. I will also note an Old Testament passage that references God’s relational knowing of someone before they were born; this will give us further understanding of the concept being presented in Romans 8.
I say then, has God rejected His people? God forbid! For I also am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah? How he pleads with God against Israel, saying, “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and destroyed Your altars. I alone am left, and they seek my life”? But what is the divine reply to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So then at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. But if it is by works, then is it no longer by grace; otherwise work would no longer be work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it was seeking. But the elect obtained it, and the rest were hardened.
This passage comes after Paul’s argument in Romans 9 where he argued that God has hardened the majority of the Jews of his day as a form of judgment on them. Paul is asking the question, “So did God reject the people of Israel?” The answer has been touched on in Romans 9, but he reemphasizes it here. He teaches that not all Israelites by birth are part of God’s chosen people (Romans 9:6). Nevertheless, he is a Jew and is also one of the elect which God foreknew. But there are others in his day that God has reserved for Himself just like as He reserved 7,000 for Himself in the days of Elijah. But what is key for us here is what God says about those elect individuals in Paul’s day. Paul says that those whom God had reserved for Himself were “foreknown” by God. Again, we have individuals being known by God in a relational way before God brings them to a saving knowledge of Christ.
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; and before you were born I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
If you compare this with Romans 8:29-30 I believe you will see the parallel. God for His own purpose and according to His own will chose to “know” Jeremiah “before” he even existed. And He determined that He was going to set Jeremiah apart for Himself. Note that in this verse God uses the past tense (i.e. sanctified) when speaking of what He decided for Jeremiah before his birth. In the same way we read that those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to be His children, called to salvation, justified by grace through faith and ultimately will glorify.
Calvinism’s teachers would surely have no problem with my understanding so far of the verses under consideration. But it is as important to note what has not been said as much as what has been said. This passage only declares that God has a chosen people. It doesn’t say how they were chosen. It doesn’t teach that they were chosen “because of their faith,” but neither does it teach that they were chosen “unconditionally,” it simply does not say.
And I must add again, it does not say that “God has chosen a people,” but that God has chosen certain people who also make up a people. He chose a group of individuals to be part of His chosen people. Think of the difference between the phrase “those whom He foreknew” and “the Church.” The first is obviously a reference to specific individuals. It is true that they are destined to corporately make up the Church, but this passage is referring to them as individuals that God knew and predestined before they were called and justified.
As for not saying “because of their faith,” this is a given since they were chosen before coming to justifying faith through the gracious calling of God.
To understand how God chose his people through Christ we would have to look elsewhere in scripture. A common error of Calvinists is that whenever the Bible speaks of God “choosing a people” they say, “Aha, Unconditional Election.” But the biblical doctrine of Election is a far cry from the Calvinistic doctrine of Unconditional Election. Romans 8:28-30 simply say that God chose a people! We would be unwise to use this verse to teach how he chose them and on what grounds. The Golden Chain of Salvation does not include the doctrine of Unconditional Election.
Why did I imagine that referring to the truth of corporate election (i.e. God planned to give His Son the Church as His Bride) somehow negated what this passage was saying about individuals being “known” in a relational sense before they came to justifying faith? We are easily blinded by our prejudice when we come to certain passages in the Bible. If we are “certain” that a particular doctrine cannot be true, then when we find it in Scripture, even plainly in Scripture, we will explain it away and imagine we are serving God by so doing. God help us. Working through the Bible honestly is not an easy road, but we must pray that God helps us do it faithfully.
Before we move on we must clarify the meaning of phrase used in Romans 8:28; “All things work together for good.” This phrase is translated differently in different English Bible versions. In the English Standard Version quoted above it give the impression that things “just happen” to work out alright for the saints. This is a regrettable translation. We don’t believe in karma, but in God. So, in this case the NIV comes closer to what Paul surely had in mind, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those….” This translation makes it clear that things “work out” for the believer because God is actively working for his benefit.
This translation continues the thought Paul began to present in the previous verses. It is not just we who long for redemption and strive for transformation into the image of Christ, but so does God’s Spirit. In verse 27 we were told that the Spirit intercedes “according to the will of God.” And in verse 28 we are told that the saints have been called “according to his [God} purpose.” It isn’t until we reach 29 that we see just what that “will” and “purpose” is. Whatever the world throws our way, God will use it to fulfill his ultimate purpose.
In the book of Genesis we read about how Joseph was treated by his brethren. Though God had chosen their brother to rule all of Egypt and save their family, they rejected God’s plan and betrayed Joseph. Though this was contrary to the will of God, it didn’t matter. God’s wisdom is infinitely resourceful. He is able to use the rebellious acts of men and demons to bring about his purposes. Whatever people might do to thwart God’s plans, God’s ultimate purpose will prevail. He is able to allow men to rebel without getting nervous that his plans will fail. He doesn’t need to control all the acts of men and demons in order to ensure victory, as the master chess player he is always many moves ahead of his opponents. So though Joseph’s brothers tried to destroy God’s plan, he just used their sins to fulfill it. This is why Joseph could say, “Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it” (Gen. 50:20).
I wrote the above paragraph as an Open Theist. I did not deny that God uses the rebellious acts of men to bring about His purposes, but somehow, I imagined that it was impossible for God to foreknow the free choices of men; I was deceived. And I further imagined that it was somehow wrong for God from eternity to intend to do, and permit, what He actually did, and permitted others to do, in time. That is, I thought it was acceptable for God to use the rebellious acts of men to fulfill His purposes, but for some unreasonable reason I thought it was wrong for Him to intend to do it before He created the world. My lack of understanding led me to be prejudiced against the plain teaching of Scripture, namely that God has determined from all eternity what He would do in time and what He would permit free creatures to do.
In the same way, though the world seeks to destroy the Church, Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Not because the Church is so wise and powerful, but because God is on their side fighting for them. And as individuals striving for holiness and longing for the redemption of our bodies, we can know that whatever suffering comes our way, God will turn it about for our good. In order to understand just what “good” means in verse 28 we have to consider what the word “predestine” means in verse 29, as well as what exactly what it is that God has predestined.
“And as individuals striving for holiness and longing for the redemption of our bodies, we can know that whatever suffering comes our way, God will turn it about for our good.”
I must ask, how can we “as individuals” apply this verse for our own encouragement if it is not written to and for individuals, but for “the Church” as a whole? The answer I might have given at the time was “as long as we are presently members of the Body of Christ then we can apply it to ourselves.” I can see now that I was playing fast and loose with the words of Scripture. For theological reasons I read a biblical passage, written about certain individuals, and declared that it was about the Church corporately, not individuals. But then when I desired to apply the passage, I applied it to individuals. I wanted to avoid the theological implications of this passage while retaining its devotional value. I’m saddened by this inconsistency and self-deception. May the Lord save me from my own deceptive heart!
When the word “predestined” is infused with the fatalism of Calvinism’s “divine decrees” it has an ominous tone indeed. But though Reformed Theology speaks of it in that sense, the Bible does not. “Predestined” 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.
In the above paragraph I falsely implied that God is the Father of all men. I am afraid this is a common error in our day. Men were not created as God’s children, but as His creatures. God predetermined to create children for Himself through the saving work of Jesus Christ. And the passage actually says that He foreknew those whom He predetermined to adopt as His children.
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.
The passage simply does not say that God foreknew there would be a Church, and that anyone who turned to God would be a member of that Church. Nor does it say that God planned to make anyone who became members of that Church His child. It says that God foreknew certain individuals (i.e. “THOSE whom He foreknew”) and predestined them to be conformed to His Son (i.e. adopted through faith and eventually glorified in heaven) before they were called or justified. Those whom He predestined to adoption, these are the ones whom He called and justified. He foreknew certain sinners, not saints, and determined to call them to be saints.
…among whom you also are called by Jesus Christ: To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints…
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.
1 John 3:1-2
John here not only confirms that God planned to make us his children, but also that what we are waiting for has not yet come. We will not be “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. Romans 6:4 teaches that our union with Christ is the reason that our character can be changed into one resembling Jesus. 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.
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” His people 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!”
It is true that God has a future plan to glorify His children. But this passage is reviewing not only the glorification that was referred to earlier in Romans 8 but is also referring to every step that leads to that glorification. Since the passage is speaking of people who had not yet been justified through His Son when they were foreknown and predestined, those individuals could not be predestined to glory if they had not also been predestined to adoption as God’s children through faith in Christ. If individuals who had not yet been justified were predestined to eternal glory as God’s children, it is inconceivable that God did not also predestine to call and justify them.
And in fact, this is just what the passage teaches. Those whom He foreknew He predestined to be conformed to Christ (i.e. glorified as God’s children forever). Those whom He predestined to be conformed to Christ He also called and justified. This passage is summarizing the plan of salvation that Paul has been speaking of from Romans 1 up to the earlier half of Romans 8. He is presently brining up the fact that those who are called and justified, with the present hope of glorification, were foreknown by God and predestined to this adoption as sons through Jesus Christ long before they were saints.
We might wonder why Paul begins to speak about the doctrine of predestination at this point in his letter to the Romans. But if we continue to read the next few chapters of his epistle we will get the answer. Romans 8:29-30 is both a conclusion to what Paul has been teaching up to this point in his epistle, and it is also a transition into the topic that he will address in chapters 9-11. He will be teaching that salvation does not come by being born as a Jew, but by being born again in Christ Jesus. He will also be answering the question, “Why have so many Gentiles been saved and so many Jews rejected salvation?” The doctrines of election and predestination will form the core of his answer.
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 become members of God’s people, instead it teaches what he would do for his people. Whereas foreknow speaks of the people he chose, predestine speaks of what those chosen people will experience. Foreknow talks of choosing a people, predestine tells what they are chosen for.
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). We were chosen IN Christ, we were chosen FOR adoption. We were chosen through our connection with Christ through faith, and in him we receive the inheritance of sonship.
The Golden Chain in no way teaches that certain individuals have been predestined to believe in Jesus Christ. Instead it teaches what God had predetermined would be the inheritance of the Church he foreknew (chose) in Christ. It tells us what he predestined for his Church corporately, and the saints 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.
We will have to wait for another day to address the corporate and individual nature of election as taught in Ephesians chapter 1, but for now I will only address the passage we are considering.
For those whom He foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Again, it must be mentioned in order to refute what I wrote in the past, this passage is about particular individuals. Verse 29 further clarifies this. The plural form is used, not a corporate singular. It is talking about many individuals being predestined to become God’s children, it is not speaking about the Church as a corporate body. We might not understand how a loving God can choose to save some, instead of all, of His enemies, but this passage makes it clear that in some sense, this is the case. We will have to deal with whatever theological implications arise from what this passage says; we cannot dismiss or avoid what it says. Hopefully in time we can face these issues, but for now let us just accept what the passage teaches.
To Be Continued…