“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. 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.” (Romans 8:29, 30)
A lot of discussion over the years has been generated over these verses. Who does God predestine? If he predestines a person, then is that person necessarily free to choose Him? And if some are predestined for salvation, does that mean others are not? Let’s have a look at these verses and see what they are teaching us about God and predestination.
To answer the first question, who does God predestine, we need to look at the context of the Bible chapter in which these verses occur, Romans 8. In this chapter, the apostle Paul is discussing those who “walk after the Spirit”. He declares them to be “the sons of God”.
Romans 8:14-17: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
The Spirit of God dwells in the sons and daughters of God. If we do not have the Spirit of God, we are not Christ’s.
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (verse 9).
We know that the work of the Spirit of God is to bring the gift of salvation to us through “regeneration” (Titus 3:5). To be “regenerated” by the Spirit, is to be “born again” (John 3:5). So it may be said that those who are Christ’s are those “born of the Spirit” or “born of God”. And what do those that are born of God do?
“…love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4:7).
They love God. Paul refers to them as “children of God” (Romans 8:16) and “joint-heirs with Christ (verse 17) and “saints” (verse 27), who will be glorified together with Christ. These are those “who are the called according to his purpose” (verse 28). The “born again”, “regenerated” “saints” are the subjects of the verses that follow.
Now look at Romans 8:28:
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God….”
“Them that love God”, the “born again” children of God, are the ones for whom all things work together for good. But what is meant by “good” here? We have often heard this verse quoted to us as a source of encouragement, particularly when some trouble or calamity comes our way and for which we have no explanation. But it is not often that we hear the full verse quoted. The second half of the verse suggests that there is an explanation for the “all things” that happen to those that love God. “All things work together for good…to them that are the called according to his purpose.” When we understand God’s purpose for those who love Him, we will understand what the “good” is that God is working together in us. Understanding this purpose, will also provide a solace in answer to the question “why” when troubles come. So let’s consider the purpose of God and how it relates to His predestining.
Looking again at verse 28, when it says “called ACCORDING TO his purpose” it means the calling is in harmony with the purpose. The Purpose therefore would precede the Calling.
Purpose -> Calling
Now verse 29 brings God’s foreknowledge into the discussion. Here is where many stumble. People read “foreknowledge” as God’s predetermined will. But this is not the case. Paul introduces God’s “foreknowledge” using the conjunction “for” or “because”, implying that the phrase, “whom he did foreknow” is an explanatory remark related to the previous phrase, “those who are called according to His purpose”.
God foreknows those who are “called according to His purpose”. Paul then says of those ones that God “foreknew”, He “also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son”.
Foreknowledge = Predestined ->To be Conformed to the Image of the Son
The reason for this predestination is “that he [Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brethren” (verse 29), by the many being conformed to His image. To conform them, they first must be “born again” in Christ. Those who are “born again” have been called in accord with this purpose.
Now we know that the calling of God includes the invitation: “Whosever will, let Him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). This is an invitation to “whosoever will”. Anyone that wants to, let him or her drink. This is a universal invitation.
Paul then says, those whom He called are also justified (Romans 8:30). Does that mean that everyone called is automatically justified? No. Jesus has said that He will “draw all men” unto Himself through the power of the Cross (John 12:32). However, in accordance with Romans 3:26, God “is the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus”. Those whom God justifies are only those that exercise belief in Jesus. That the drawing of God is universal, is further supported by the fact that that drawing includes an unwillingness on God’s part “that any should perish”. God is willing rather “that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
God’s purpose then includes a willingness for all to be conformed to the image of His Son. But in between the willingness for all to come and the conforming, is the harmonic:
Only the “whosoevers” that will come and “believe” on Jesus are permitted to take “freely” of the water of life and thus be ultimately conformed to the image of His Son. This freedom to believe or not to believe is the harmonic undergirding all that God does within those whom He calls. In the word picture below, this Harmonic sits between Calling and Conforming:
Calling<=>Harmonic (freely believe)<=>Conforming
The Calling of God does not compromise this harmonic at any step in the process, else it becomes discordant with God’s Purpose.
Purpose = Calling =>Harmonic (freely believe ) =>Conforming If those called do not continue to drink “freely” of the “water of life” by “believing” on the Son, they will not be conformed to His image.
Understanding this harmonic within God’s Purpose, divine foreknowledge then is God foreseeing those who will respond willingly to the call to believe and drink. They will be “born again” in Christ. And those that God did foreknow, Paul goes on to say, He also did “predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son”.
Predestination then is God’s predetermination that all those whom He foresees responding willingly to the invitation to come and believe, will be permitted to drink. They will be justified by faith in Jesus.
And those whom He has justified, according to Paul, He will also glorify. They are the ones that God will ultimately conform to the image of His Son. As they drink from the water of life freely, God works together all things, in order that they may go on to full conformity to the image of His Son and thus constitute the many brethren. That is the work of the Holy Spirit within each one who believes. The Spirit that regenerates those who believe is the Spirit that also transforms them day by day into the same image, “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
What this means for one who is yet to believe is that God’s invitation, “whosever will, let him drink”, is an invitation to freely receive the gift of salvation. “Let him drink”. If you are one of those souls, this invitation is for you. Sister White explains,
“The same divine mind that is working upon the things of nature is speaking to the hearts of men and creating an inexpressible craving for something they have not. The things of the world cannot satisfy their longing. The Spirit of God is pleading with them to seek for those things that alone can give peace and rest—the grace of Christ, the joy of holiness.” Steps to Christ, p. 28.
But God will not force you to accept Him nor will He deny you if you are willing to believe in Jesus and accept His forgiveness for your sin. He will pardon you, and justify you freely “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
What this means for those who do believe in Jesus is that God will accomplish His purpose in you. He will conform you to the image of Jesus. All He asks is that you freely exercise your faith in Him constantly. Don’t let the present difficulties discourage you in the Christian life. Take up the battle in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Remember, Paul recognised that the sufferings of the present are to be expected by those who are children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:1717). If Christ suffered, then so shall we. But note, Paul’s attitude to sufferings in view of God’s ultimate purpose:
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (verse 18).
So no matter what happens to you, no matter what trials or tribulations come your way, no matter what sufferings you may be called to endure, you can have confidence, founded in God’s determined purpose, that He is working ALL things together for your ultimate good—His predetermined purpose—that your life will be conformed to the image of Jesus.
– Paul Chapman