Last week we arrived at a passage many of us have been looking forward to, Romans 8:28. We lingered on it, and slowly turned like a gem to see it shine from many different angles. And we were encouraged to hear the great promise it contains. That God sovereignly and wisely rules over all things and causes all things to work together toward one goal: our good. But He doesn’t do this for everyone, He only does it for those who love Him, those whom He calls according to His purpose. One of the questions we asked of this verse was, ‘How do we define the good God promises to work all things toward?’ We only briefly touched on this last week. Today we’ll arrive at a full answer as we continue on to v29-30. Where we find the good God works all things towards is our growth in the image of Christ.
So, right here at the outset, we see it’s really important to read, understand, and take in not only what comes before Romans 8:28 but what comes after it as well. And that is where we’re headed in our time together today.
As we come to it, you should know many throughout Church history have called v29-30 the golden chain of salvation. Think about that, chains. Many of the popular songs in Christian circles, many songs we sing here at church mention chains in them. When this happens its usually in the context of chains of sin being broken. For example in the song Death Was Arrested, “Released from my chains I’m a prisoner no more…” Or in the song Living Hope, “Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free. Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me. You have broken every chain…” Or my favorite example, the hymn And Can It Be contains the lyric, “My chains fell off my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed Thee.”
Now, in the sense of being set free from sin and death these lyrics are wonderful and we should sing them and enjoy the truth present in them. But there’s another way to view chains in the Bible, especially as we come to Romans 8:29-30. Here God shows us a chain He has bound us with, a chain that secures us and our salvation, a chain that stretches back into eternity past before time began and stretches forward into eternity future in glory. A chain that will never break. There are five links in this golden chain: foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. These are not all the links present in our redemption. There’s no mention here of regeneration, of faith, repentance, adoption, or sanctification here. So, clearly the point in this is not to provide us with a complete picture of our salvation; no. Rather, God desires us to know these five links of the golden chain in particular to show us how invincible our salvation truly is.
So let’s begin by looking at…
The Purpose of the Chain (v29)
“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.”
Don’t you find it so encouraging that Paul begins with the love of God? Do you see that? Or have I just confused you? At first glance it might not be immediately clear, but love of God is front and center in the word foreknew. Let me explain. I think when most people see the word foreknew they think of the idea of the foresight of faith. That God in eternity past looked down the corridor of time or hallway of history, saw who said yes to Jesus, and then on that basis God chose or predestined them. That’s what most people think of when they see this word foreknew. This is the majority view today. That God chose us long ago because He knows we’ll choose Him one day, which really roots predestination in the decision of man rather than the pleasure of God. I disagree with that view, and I think you should too. Here’s why.
You see, in the Bible to know is to love. In Genesis 4:1 it says, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife…” Does that refer to Adam being mentally aware that Eve was his wife? Of course not. This knowing between Adam and Eve is an intimate and personal knowledge, the result of which was the birth of a child. Later in the Old Testament Hosea speaks in the same manner. In Hosea 13:4-5 God says, “I am the LORD your God…it was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought…” Amos does the same thing. In Amos 3:2 God says, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth…” Question: do these passages teach that God is only mentally aware of His people Israel, and was ignorant of all others? Of course not. God is omniscient, all knowing. So when the Bible speaks of God ‘knowing’ His people more is in view than mere awareness or a knowledge of. This gives us a deeper insight into what Jesus meant when He spoke to false converts in Matthew 7:23 saying, “I never knew you.” And even in Romans itself, further on in 11:2 where Paul says, “God has not rejected His people, whom He foreknew.”
Come back to v29. While we certainly believe that God does know all things, and that God can look back and forth throughout all history and observe what man does and does not do, I don’t think that’s what Paul is speaking of. When it says God foreknew us in v29, it doesn’t just mean that God knows what decision about Jesus we would one day make. It means God fore-loved us and set His affection and love on us. Then out of His great love He then predestined us. This is echoed in Ephesians 1:4-5, “In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…”
But, maybe you’re asking, ‘Why spend time on this? Isn’t this all just wildly debated anyway? Does it matter at all?’ Yes it does. It matters a great deal. Look at v29-30. Foreknowledge is the beginning of the golden chain, and since foreknowledge is the first link, how we define foreknowledge matters because it sets the tone for the whole chain. If foreknowledge is all about us, and our choice of God, than all the rest God does here really began with us and our own choices. Which, in effect makes man the center of all these verses rather than God. Church, don’t make this mistake. Foreknowledge refers to God’s setting His affection on His people before the world was made. So, if we were to reword Romans 8:29 to display this it would read, “For those whom God intimately set His affection upon, He also predestined…”
Well, for what purpose did God foreknow us? See v29. He foreknew us to predestine us. Why did He predestine us? So that we would be “conformed to the image of His Son…” Why does God conform us to the image of His Son? So that His Son “might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Here is the purpose of the golden chain. That Jesus would receive the glory as the firstborn. This is resurrection language. Jesus was the first to come out of the grave in triumph over sin. And by doing all of these things to us God will see to it that His Son is born in us, that His image grows in us, until the point when we too come out of our graves like He did in the great resurrection on the final Day. This is the great purpose of the golden chain.
Even so, I wonder if you see this purpose as many of our own purposes. I can purpose to not mindlessly scroll through the social media feeds on my phone. But, haven’t you been there? Before you even know you’re doing it, you’re mindlessly scrolling through feeds. Many of our purposes fail, but (praise God!) God’s purposes never fail. So v29 is not only the purpose God intends or aims at. It’s the purpose He will achieve in us.
The Links of the Chain (v30)
“And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.”
We’ve already looked at foreknowledge, the first link in the chain, now we can move on to the others.
Predestined. It is lamentable that there is such a stout prejudice against this doctrine. Perhaps then firstly, just see that this word is in the Bible. Too many people believe the word and the concept of predestination was invented by John Calvin during the Reformation, not at all. It is and will ever remain to be, God’s truth. And since it’s God’s truth we would do well to embrace it. See how this fits in the chain. All whom God foreknew, He predestined. This word means what it appears to mean. Pre meaning beforehand – destined meaning destination. God set our destination beforehand. The Greek word here is pro-horisen. You hear the word horizon in that? God determined our horizon and set our sail toward it.
Many hear this and say ‘Ok, so God just determines the destiny of all people randomly? That’s not fair.’ I do think that’s a natural reaction to this. It was my own reaction to it when I first came across it. But pause and ask, ‘Do we want God to be fair?’ If God operated by fairness, no one would be saved! Why? Because of sin. Isn’t it fair for a judge to punish law breakers? So too with God. Predestination isn’t unjust. God so works that some receive mercy, and some receive justice for their sin. No one on the planet ever receives injustice from God. In fact, our sin is so great that if God didn’t predestine anyone no one would ever embrace the gospel because sinners always prefer sin to righteousness. So if you believe God is unfair to do this, or that you could never love a God who did this, I would urge caution. As we’ll see in Romans 9, ‘Who are we to question God, as if we knew better?’ It’s like sawing off the branch you’re sitting on. More on this in just a minute…
Called. “And those whom He predestined He also called…”
What does this mean? This is the moment in time when God’s grace in our lives comes to fruition. God’s foreknowing us and predestining us occurred before time began, but calling occurs in time. Paul speaks about this in Gal. 1:14-16 saying, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…” So Paul was going about his life, zealously growing in prominence in his Jewish circles. But something interrupted his pursuit. What? Who? God! God, who set him apart before he was born (that’s foreknowing and predestining work), called him by His grace! And when God called Paul what happened? God revealed His Son to Paul.
This is calling. It happens to everyone who has been foreknown by God and predestined. It’s the moment when you hear the gospel and in the gospel call you hear God calling you home. It’s the moment when our blind eyes and our dead hearts are awakened and opened to God like a flower opens to the sun. I do think this can take place in various ways. Some are called by God with such a gentle call that they don’t know when the call truly began, while others are so suddenly called that their conversion stands out with blazing clarity. Regardless, this call is an irresistible call. It’s a powerful call. And it’s a resurrecting call, like God calling out into the void and creating the world, or Jesus calling out into the dark tomb and creating new life in Lazarus.
Justified. “And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified…”
Well, we shouldn’t spend too much time on this simply because this is the grand theme of Romans. We’ve seen it time and time again all through these chapters. Remember justification is what occurs when we repent and believe. It’s a one time event in which God declares us to be what we’re not, righteous. Why? Because of us? No, because of Jesus’ own righteousness being credited to our account. Paul simply can’t get away from justification, he mentions it everywhere. And he mentions it here because justification is bound up with God’s sovereign purpose and plan. Which means, God’s sovereignty isn’t just some side doctrine existing in isolation. It has everything to do with the cross, the gospel, and salvation. So when we explain predestination and the gospel isn’t mentioned, we do something the Bible never does. Justification, the great gift of God given to those who embrace His Son is ever and always bound up with God’s sovereign purpose. What God has joined together, let no man separate.
Glorified. “And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.”
We now arrive at the end of the golden chain. All those whom God foreknow, He predestined, He called, He justified, and He glorified. While all of the chain leads us to rejoicing, glorification holds a near and dear place in the heart of every believer. In this life we’re constantly plagued with sin and face the consequences of sin, whether it be our own or the sin of others. This happens even though the power and penalty of sin has been dealt with by Jesus on the cross. To be glorified is to be entirely freed from the presence of sin, to be entirely made new, and to enter the presence of the Lord. In a very real sense, glorification is the grand finale of the Christian life.
Do you find it strange that Paul puts this in the past tense? Isn’t glorification an event that is yet to come? Something in the future? Why then the past tense? Paul didn’t make a mistake here, he meant what he said. He wrote this in the past tense to show us that in God’s mind, because of all His great work in us, our glorification is as if it’s already settled. Or we could say, Paul is so certain of the believer’s final glorification he writes as if it has already occurred. Why is Paul so certain? Because the sovereign purpose of God is invincible! In this golden chain there are no dropouts, no loose ends, no weak spots, no kinks or notches that can weaken it. Nothing can break this chain! All those He foreknow He predestined…all those He predestined He called, all those He called He justified, and all those He justified He glorified.
So Church, I encourage you to examine and enjoy the glory and the assurance of this golden chain. Look back at it and see God’s great love for you before the world was and before time began in His foreknowing and setting His affection on you and His predestining you. Look with gratitude to His calling you from the darkness of sin when you were blind to His beauty and His justifying declaration over you that you, because of Jesus, are righteous. And look on ahead with eager anticipation to the day of our glorification as we enter His presence. When we join our voices to the eternal song, when all prejudice against sovereignty is gone and we finally believe the King had loved us all along.
 Derek Thomas, How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home (Sanford, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2011) 98.
 J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 228-229.
 John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 316.
 R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 286–287.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2015), 51.
 Charles Spurgeon, unsure of location.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 558.
 Murray, Romans, 321.