Yesterday we considered the problem with the Calvinistic ordo salutis in Romans 8:28-30.
I suggested that there is a different way of understanding this text in light of Paul’s overall argument. We consider this alternative today.
The “Golden Chain” of Romans 8:28-30
The first thing to consider is the “golden chain” which begins with the foreknowledge of God and ends with glorification.
Through repeated use of the plural pronoun “whom” (Gk., ous), all those whom God foreknew are also those who arrive at glorification. That is, the same group which is identified by the “whom” in Romans 8:29 seem to be the exact same group which reach glorification in Romans 8:30.
Most Calvinists would agree with this, and say that this proves that God has some sort of eternal divine foreknowledge of all things. But note what happens when we apply this sort of foreknowledge to Romans 8:29-30.
All those whom God foreknew (which is everybody and everything), are also those who are predestined, called, justified, and glorified. Understanding God’s foreknowledge in Romans 8:29-30 as encompassing all people leads to the inevitable conclusion that all people will be glorified. But if only a certain group of people out of all humanity will be glorified, then this leads us backward through the “golden chain” to see that God’s foreknowledge is also limited to a certain group of people.
In other words, we must either say that this verse teaches universalism, or that we have misunderstood the terms and logic Paul uses in this text. I vote for the latter.
Greg Boyd is exactly right when he says this about Romans 8:28-30:
If Paul is using the term proginōskō (lit., “to know before”) in a cognitive sense—that is, to say that God possessed certain information ahead of time—then far from implying that God foreknows everything, this text would actually be denying that God foreknows everything.
… It is more likely that Paul is using the term know in the customary Semitic sense of affection rather than in a merely cognitive sense. To “know” someone is to love that one. So to “foreknow” someone means to love that one ahead of time. Three chapters later Paul refers to Israel as “[God’s] people whom he foreknew” (Rom 11:2). If this is in fact its meaning in 8:29, then Paul is simply claiming that God loved the church before he called them just as he loved Israel before he called them.
… What God loved ahead of time (ultimately from the foundation of the world) was the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, the church considered as a corporate whole (Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 118. Such a view is not without significant lexical challenges, however. See Olson, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism, 152-173).
Whatever foreknowledge Paul is talking about, he is not referring to some sort of exhaustive, all-encompassing knowledge of all events and all people from before all time, for this would lead to the conclusion that all those whom God foreknows will end up in glorification.
Paul’s Golden Chain in Romans 8:28-30
So what is Paul saying?
First, we must remember that in Scripture, and especially in Pauline theology, Jesus Christ is the ultimate elect one, and individual people become elect, not through an eternal divine decree from God, but by joining with Christ by faith.
In other words, God does not predestine or elect people to be in Christ; no, God elects Jesus, and by default, all who join with Jesus by faith also become elect as members of the “body of Christ.”
Second, we must also recall that election is not to eternal life, but to service.
God does not choose, out of the mass of humanity, some to spend eternity with Him in heaven, while all others are destined for eternal suffering in hell. This is not the biblical teaching of election.
Instead, election is to service, and God chooses some out of the mass of humanity to serve Him or perform certain tasks to accomplish His will in human history.
While He sometimes chooses unregenerate individuals for this purpose (such as King Cyrus, Judas, and a few others), all who are in Jesus Christ automatically become “elect” in Christ. That is, all who become members of the body of Christ are also elected or chosen by God to serve God’s purposes in this world.
These two points help us understand what Paul is saying in Romans 8:28-30.
Note that when Paul introduces the idea of God’s calling in Romans 8:28, he says that this calling is “according to His purpose.” And what is God’s purpose? In Romans 8:29, Paul states that those whom God foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.
This calling of God is a calling upon believers to serve God’s purposes. Since all who are called are also justified, Paul cannot be referring to some sort of general call of the gospel to the world, but rather to a calling of God to believers to serve Him and come into conformity to Jesus Christ, “that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).
We can see this more clearly if we include some elements in Paul’s “golden chain” which he left out.
For example, though Scripture includes proclaiming the gospel, human faith, Spiritual regeneration, and sanctification into the theological chain of events which contribute to the “salvation package,” Paul makes no mention of these.
Maybe it was because he understood these other terms to be synonyms with the terms he did mention, or maybe it was because Paul’s list of terms places an emphasis on God’s role in salvation.
If we were to include these other four terms inside Paul’s chain of events, the list would look like this: Foreknowledge, predestination, proclaiming the gospel, faith, regeneration, calling, justification, faithfulness, sanctification, glorification.
Note that in this list, regeneration, calling, and justification are simultaneous events which follow faith but precede sanctification (cf. Jude 1). When a person responds to the gospel in faith, God regenerates them to new life, calls them to a specific purpose, and declares them righteous in His sight.
I do not, of course, want to add words to what Paul is saying. He included the terms he did because he wanted to make a specific point to his readers.
In Romans 8, Paul’s emphasis is on God’s part in the plan of salvation. There is nothing in Romans 8:28-30 about a human’s responsibility to believe in Jesus or to walk by faith for sanctification.
Paul is emphasizing God’s role while ignoring man’s role, but this does not mean that mankind has no role.
In the overall scheme of redemption, God alone is the one who foreknows what He will do, takes steps to make sure it happens, calls believers to a greater purpose in service to Him, justifies those who believe, and glorifies for eternity all whom He justified.
In Romans 8:28-30, Paul is not talking about an eternal decree from eternity past about to whom He would give eternal life, but rather, God’s plan from eternity past to bring those who believe in Jesus into conformity to the image of Jesus Christ, which does not fully occur until glorification (cf. Eph 1:4; 4:1; 5:27; Col 1:22-23).
This fits with everything we have seen about election so far. In Romans 8:28-30, Paul is saying nothing about God’s predestination of some to eternal life.
Instead, Paul is saying that God decided in eternity past to make sure that everyone and anyone who joins His family by faith will finally and ultimately be brought into conformity to Jesus Christ at their glorification.
Foreknowledge is not God’s plan from all eternity about whom to give eternal life. It is simply God’s plan about what to do with those who believed.
Since election is to service, God’s foreknowledge does not include the election of individuals to eternal life. God’s predestination is His commitment to carry out His plan. “And what is God’s plan? To bring all who have responded to God’s initiative with love to salvation, to eternal bliss” (Pilch, Cultural World of the Apostles, 91).
The Context of Romans 8:28-30
This understanding of Romans 8:28-30 fits perfectly within the broader context of Romans 8 as well.
In this section of Romans, Paul is writing to Christians who are facing severe testing and trials as a result of their faith in Jesus (cf. Romans 8:17-18).
But Paul wants to encourage his readers by telling them that the suffering they face will result in glory, and that absolutely nothing can separate them from God’s love or God’s purpose in their lives (Romans 8:31-39).
In light of this, the foreknowledge of God takes on a special intimacy and mercy for all who are part of the people of God. Paul’s point in Romans 8 is that God determined from eternity past to bring us to glorification despite our many weaknesses and failures.
God elected and predetermined a destiny for his people in full knowledge of what they were, what they would be without his intervention, and, most significantly, what they would become as a result of his grace on their behalf (Klein, The New Chosen People, 164).
In this way, there is great encouragement in Paul’s words.
Many of the people to whom he is writing (just like many people today), were struggling with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, failure, fear, and doubt. Paul wanted them to know that God knew all about these things from eternity past, and it didn’t stop Him from initiating His plan to rescue and redeem the world, and since God predestined such a plan, He will take care of everything necessary to bring it to completion, which will result in our glorification (cf. Romans 8:31-39).
Ultimately, the whole discussion about the ordo salutis in Romans 8 leads the student of Scripture in the wrong direction about Paul’s point. Paul is not so concerned with laying down a guideline about what happens in which order. He is not intent on describing each individual step in God’s plan of salvation.
Instead, Paul’s only point in writing Romans 8:28-30 is to encourage Christians that no matter what happens to them, God is with them, will not abandon them, and just as He has had them in mind since before the foundation of the world, He will not abandon them to the trials and testing they are facing.
If God is the only one who could bring a charge against them, but He will not do so, and instead, delivered His own Son up for us all (Romans 8:31-34), then we can be sure that absolutely nothing will separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). If God is for us, who can condemn us? Jesus could. But rather than condemn us, Jesus intercedes for us!
This is an astounding message from Paul which all believers need to hear.
[Paul] is speaking to Christians, about Christians, and to reassure them of God’s love for them and God’s desire for them to cooperate with his Spirit in working for good and in overcoming all tribulation (Marston and Forster, God’s Strategy in Human History, 245).
In Romans 8, Paul is not laying out some sort of mysterious outworking of God’s divine decree, but is describing in great detail the height, breadth, width, and depth of God’s love for His people.
He loves us, has always loved us, and will always love us. He set the plan of redemption in place, and He will bring it to completion. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8.If you want to read more about Calvinism, check out other posts in this blog series: Words of Calvinism and the Word of God.
Elisabeth Procter says
This is great – thanks!!
Matthew Richardson says
If you read verse 28 again you may notice that the term ‘foreknown’ is given before ‘predestinate’ (NKJ). This says to me that He set things up (predestinates) to take advantage of our choices (foreknowledge). If we believe the He set up our choices in advance then we throw away free will and are left wondering why evil exists in the world. The bible clearly states that suffering comes from sin. As God cannot do evil it must exist as a result of free will.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes. Yet there is a problem with saying that God’s predestination is based upon what He forsees will happen, for what if God foresees something that destroys or stops His plan for the world? He cannot then undo it, for He has already forseen it.
It’s a very complex issue.
Mari Nevarez says
He is God! God can do whatever He likes with His creation. What am I not understanding? The more I want to understand the more confusing it gets.
Scott Cameron says
Guys, this is actually simple if we don’t try so hard. Just look at the words used many places in scripture. Chosen, predestined, before the foundation of the world, no one can pluck them out of my hand, etc.. Also, It is God who gives us “The Faith Of Christ” not man’s faith that enables us to believe. It is impossible to receive salvation without the operation of grace, where God opens one’s heart and implants “Faith” (a noun) and then one chooses to believe. …”No one seeks after God, no not one”…. Note Lydia in the book of Acts. I know this is a hard thing, but we can not believe on our own or say a prayer to believe. It is the work of God that saves us. Anything else takes away from His Glory and I don’t want to be guilty of that. Godspeed as you keep looking and considering.
Vincenzo Russo says
That view is more Calvinistic than anything else. The view that salvific faith is a gift of God is not supported by Scripture. Faith is man’s obedience (acceptance) of the Gospel.
People use Eph. 2:8 to support faith as a gift of God, but the issue is in the English:
«For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God»
People argue that in “This is not your own doing” the word “this” refers back to faith. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. In the Greek ‘faith’ is a feminine word, whereas the word translated “this” is neutral. It’d have been in the feminine case if it was referring to ‘faith’.
So, ‘this’ is actually referring to whole thought about salvation, and not to faith in the specific.
Anyone who can read a Spanish translation will realise that right away.
I also agree with Jeremy, God doing things based on foreknowledge is not the right way of reasoning.
Jeremy—I rab your exegesis past a number of Greek scholars—both those who are arminian, and those who are somewhat calvinistic, Neither group was impressed with your handling of these verses. Especially because you say:
“Instead, election is to service, and God chooses some out of the mass of humanity to serve Him or perform certain tasks to accomplish His will in human history.”
If you make assumptions about the text, then you will not discover its meaning. You do violence to the text and actually emasculate God.
Free will exists–God’s sovereign election exists. Can they be reconciled? No—our minds are too finite to grasp this. Remember Nicodemus stating: “How can these things be?”
Jeremy Myers says
I am not surprised that neither Arminians nor Calvinists are happy with my exegesis, because it does not support either system of theology.
But note that this idea of election to service is not based on Romans 8 alone. I have been building up to the ideas expressed in this post by looking at all the other places in the Bible which talk about election.
So I would in turn challenge the Calvinists and Arminians that they are making assumptions about the text which do violence to the text and actually emasculate God.
Scott Cameron says
I would suggest it is not Free will, but free agency. Everyone ends up serving God’s plan. Even Pharaoh served God for Gods purposes. The argument is specious. When God, through his word states chosen from the foundation, that is exactly what it means.
Vincenzo Russo says
Typical. But both Arminians and Calvinists are wrong about soteriology and election. And the fact that for so long people have taught this false dichotomy has ruined things. Election is to service throughout the Bible. It’d be very odd that election suddenly becomes to salvation just for the Church saints.
Ricky Donahue says
I think you are a little to harsh Brad because interpreting the foreknowlege of God in the text always has to do with those who are already believers and God makes non-believers like kings and pharaoh’s to serve Him including the Devil. His sovereignty only is limited at the choice of salvation but when it comes to the issue of service to Him and His will there is no limits believer or non-believer. Just ask Jonah
William Wells says
Tim Steed says
Vladimir Lebedev in Pauline Use of Notions “Election” and “Predestination” in Romans and Ephesians suggests that this passage is not a “golden chain” of sequential/causal events but a list of benefits.
“All the verbs are aorist indicatives, so it is hard to prove that they were meant to lay out a sequence or order, instead of mere listing. Plus, adverbs relating to time (then, after) would be in place in a sequence like this, but they are absent. Another evidence is the use of linking phrases which makes the sentence a recitation of privileges, like “Oh, you now have this, and this; and since you have these things you also have that and that”. Paul may not be giving an order of salvation. His concern is not similar to that of modern theologians…Thus, was Paul theologizing to present a “chain of salvation,” or was he listing the believers’ privileges to comfort them? I suggest that Paul’s concern was not to line up a chronology or an order of events; he simply states facts as privileges, as though as everything has already happened – all to create confidence in the future on the basis of the past.”
God foreknew He was gong to have a special group. To those in this group, He also predestined that they would become like Christ. To those He predestined, He also called/appointed for service. Those He called for service, He also declared righteous. Those He declared righteous, He also will glorify.
Wesley Rostoll (@Beardedllama) says
Great post Jeremy! I have being clawing my way to a similar understanding regarding election/predestination over the last few months and posts like this are adding a lot of color to the picture taking shape in my head.
Dogan Gregory says
Ephesians 2:1. “Dead in trespasses and sins…”
How do we go from Spiritually dead…to spiritually alive?
Not by believing in Christ….because the dead are not capable of believing…. But 1 Pet and others hold the answer:
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has CAUSED US TO BE BORN AGAIN.”
God regenerates a man…changes his heart THEN the man is able to believe!
This truly is the biblical way!
This is the most hated doctrine by men who rob God of glory!
Vincenzo Russo says
Imposing a tradition on the text is dangerous. “Dead in trespasses” simply doesn’t mean what the Reformed have bene making out to mean. Regeneration before faith is simply unsupported by the Bible, and the reverse order is found everywhere else. Backwards teaching about the Gospel are borderline satanic.
Paul E. Raisley says
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and rely not on your own understanding. I believe I was elected and predestined to be justified. God spoke to me years ago about something I would do, I ended up doing it. He knows what we will do, even though we have free will, he knows who will be saved and who will not. Does he not prophesize? Does that mean we should not choose what we do or don’t do, no we will make a choice – even if that choice is to do nothing – and God knows that we will choose that. The will of God is for God to understand, our will is ours and we will do with it whatever we desire, for us to try to understand a God who is beyond all understanding is impossible.
Kirby Wallace says
What do we do with the knowledge that there are those whose names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the world was even created. Their NAME.
Dogan Gregory says
Exactly……”Christians” hate the doctrine of Election! God must open the eyes!
Craig Giddens says
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8)
Revelation 13:8 states “from” the foundation of the world, not “before”. Before the foundation of the world indicates before Genesis, whereas from the foundation of the world indicates from Genesis to present. Therefore, it is incorrect to equate “written from the foundation of the world” with “written [before] the foundation of the world.” Luke 11:49-51 states: “‘For this reason also the wisdom of God said, “I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.”’” If you similarly inserted “before” then you would have to conclude that the prophets were martyred before they were born. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that the names that were written into the Lamb’s Book of Life (which are said to be “written from the foundation of the world”) were written as people became Christians.
Scott Lubik says
The part you are missing here is the following: ( FIRST ) God, is the one that Gives the “gift of faith”
Ephesians 2:8 King James Version (KJV)
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
.. If that gift is not given it is impossible to have it ( faith ); there for your reasoning of “faith first” then the rest fallow Romans 8:30 ; is not only flawed! But is injecting “man’s” will and man’s “merit” into Gods plan.. & purposing.. There for you are passing the glory again to your-self & off of God’s Sovereign will.. Question? Is this not what satan did? Inject his will with God’s? Something to think about… Proof? Why do you think it’s impossible to sway a non-believer? to true salvation …
Jeremy Myers says
The Greek Grammar of Eph 2:8-9 does not allow “faith” to be “the gift of God.” Pronouns must agree with their antecedent in gender, number, and case, but while “faith” is feminine, the word “that” (and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God) is neuter. Therefore, faith is not the gift of God.
It’s true that God is omniscient, but, from Ligoniers, “when Paul says God foreknew us, he is speaking of God’s knowledge of us as persons. He is speaking of His decision to enter into a relationship with us, to set His love on us (9:13).”
In Dr. R.C. Sproul’s book Romans he says, “We could reasonably translate this text [Rom. 8:29], ‘Those whom he foreloved [those whom he knew in a personal, intimate, redemptive sense from all eternity] he predestined.’”
So this “foreknowledge” is not God looking down time tunnels and determining whose hearts are good enough to choose Him. None are. Christ does not build the bridge of salvation only half way and I build it the rest of the way. That would make us equal partners in the work of salvation. My work on the bridge equal to Christ’s? May it never be said! As to will, that is worth studying God’s decretive and preceptive wills.
Many Verses support election, Acts 13:48 being one of them.
Jeremy Myers says
R. C. Sproul was a Calvinist. I used to be a Calvinist as well, but have since learned that Scripture does not teach or support the Calvinistic perspective on life and theology.