We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, 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 first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
At the close of this series let me remind you again that the wonderful confidence that tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and peril and sword and slaughter and all the groaning from our unredeemed bodies and the all the frustrations of our imperfect spirits — the wonderful, deep confidence that all this will work together for our good is built on the massive foundation of God’s sovereign work of salvation described in Romans 8:29–30. The reason I have preached these messages is to make you strong and happy in God when you lose your health and your spouse and your child and your job and your friend and your dream.
The promise of the Lord proves true;
He is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
For who is God but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?
We see the final extent of the Rock in the last phrase of verse 30: “Those whom he justified, he also glorified.” We have time, perhaps, to ask four questions:
What happens when God glorifies a human being? Who are the ones God will glorify? How is this a fulfillment of the New Covenant which Jesus certified with his blood? What happens when believers try to hold on to the certainty of glorification while rejecting the sovereignty of grace?
1. What happens when God glorifies a human being?
Sharing in the Glory of Jesus
He gives them a share of his own glory and the glory of his Son.
If we are children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:17)
Notice: “Glorified with him!” When God glorifies his children, he does to them something like what he did to Jesus when he exalted him to his right hand above every rule and authority. He gives us a share in that glory.
Through Christ we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. (1 Peter 5:1)
When God glorifies a human being, he grants to that person the privilege of beholding his infinite beauty and becoming like him as much as a creature can. We will not see him the way you see a parade on television. We will see him the way you see a hurricane when you fly into the eye of the storm. “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
Receiving a New and Glorious Body
More specifically, when God glorifies a person, he gives that person a new and glorious body.
The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:21–23)
When Paul refers in verse 21 to the “freedom of the glory of the children of God,” he means the freedom from groaning that comes from the glory of our new bodies. For now we groan awaiting the redemption of our bodies. But then our bodies will be glorious, like the resurrected body of Jesus.
Our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21)
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. (1 Corinthians 15:42–43)
No more pain. No more frustration with weakness and weariness. No more disability or wheel chairs or crutches or braces or allergies or addictions or diseases. Everyone strong. Everyone radiant with the beauty of Christ (see Romans 8:29).
Receiving the Inward Beauty of Holiness
When God glorifies his children, he gives them inward beauty — called holiness. This begins as a process in this life (called sanctification) and culminates when we come into the presence of Christ at death or at his second coming.
I think the reason that Paul omitted sanctification from his chain in Romans 8:29–30 — the reason he did not say, “Those whom he justified he also sanctified, and those whom he sanctified he also glorified” — is that Paul is thinking of glorification in a way that includes sanctification. So glorification is the work of God by which he makes his children both spiritually and physically glorious. It begins now as a process of becoming holy, and it ends at the resurrection when we receive our new and glorious bodies.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, and are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:16–17)
Paul clearly says that glorification has begun within as we give our attention to Christ. The biblical maxim is not, “Seeing is believing,” but, “Seeing is becoming.”
Look to Christ with a steady gaze and you will become like him from one degree of glory to another. Your inner nature will be renewed every day — that’s the process! And all the adversities of life will be preparing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison — that’s the consummation.
In sum then, when God glorifies us, he shares his own glory with us, he gives us a new and glorious body, and he imparts the inward beauty of holiness partially in this life and fully when we come into the presence of the Lord.
2. Who are the ones God will glorify?
The answer is plain from the text: “those whom he foreknew he predestined, and those whom he predestined he called, and those whom he called he justified, and those whom he justified he glorified.” Have you got a good grip yet on what this chain means? It means that no one who is foreknown fails to be predestined. And no one who is predestined fails to be effectually called. And no one who is called fails to be justified. And no one who is justified fails to be glorified.
The point of the chain is certainty and confidence and assurance and security. The point is that God does not just offer salvation, but that he saves! “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Those whom he has predestined are saved! It is as good as finished — that’s why even the future work of God in glorifying his people is put in the past tense in verse 30: those whom he justified he also glorified.
The glorification of God’s predestined, called, and justified people is absolutely certain. None can be lost. The chain is unbroken, because the links have been forged in the furnace of God’s eternal purpose. All those branches and distortions of the Christian faith that deny the reality of eternal security and deny the possibility of the full assurance of salvation shatter on the rock of Romans 8:30. For it is as plain as anything in Scripture that the justified will be glorified.
The answer, then, to the second question is that all who are effectually called, that is, all who have been quickened and enabled to believe, and have therefore heard the word of acquittal (justification) will be glorified. It is done in the mind of God.
3. How is this a fulfillment of the New Covenant which Jesus certified with his blood?
When Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25), or, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24), what was he referring to? He was referring to a promise made by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel that God would one day make a new covenant with his people that would be better than the old covenant made at Mount Sinai.
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31–34)
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26–27)
So the reason the new covenant is better (Hebrews 8:6) than the old is that the new covenant contains a pledge from God not only to give blessing to those who obey but also to cause the obedience! “I will cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” God does not make our salvation sure by separating it from obedience, but by guaranteeing our obedience.
The eternal security that is so clearly taught in the last phrase of Romans 8:30 (“whom he justified he also glorified”) is not based on the fact that obedience is unnecessary for salvation, so that you can feel secure if you don’t have it. Oh, no! Obedience is necessary: “He is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him . . . Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 5:9; 12:14). Eternal security is based on the new covenant oath of God that he will cause the obedience which he requires in those whom he has called and justified.
If someone — say a Jehovah’s Witness — asks you how you know you are going to heaven when you die (which is the same as how you know all things work together for good), I hope that after this series you will not be content to answer, “I know that I am going to heaven because I prayed one time and asked Jesus to come into my heart.” Instead, I hope that we will answer something like this: I know that I am going to heaven because God chose me for his own and predestined me for glory. He has born witness of this in my life by calling me effectually out of rebellion and unbelief and by giving me the declaration of acquittal in his Word. I am justified — my sin went onto Christ, his righteousness went onto me.
And now my confidence rests in the covenant oath of God that he will cause me to walk in his will. He who did not spare his Son but gave him up for me, will he not work in me that which is pleasing in his sight (Romans 8:32)? By his Spirit he will cause me to fulfill the just requirement of the law (Romans 8:4), sin will not have dominion over me for I am now under the rule of sovereign grace (Romans 6:14), and that grace will reign through righteousness unto eternal life (Romans 5:21).
The Father planned it ages ago. The Son purchased it centuries ago. The Spirit is causing it today in my heart. It is he who is at work in me to will and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). And he who began in me this work will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). It is as sure as the oath and power of the sovereign God. And therefore I know that I am going to heaven, for those whom he justified he also glorified.
4. What happens when believers try to hold on to the certainty of glorification while rejecting the sovereignty of grace?
I ask this question because the answer is a present reality all around us, and it is tragic. I want to save you from it and I want to enlist you in the opposition to it.
Let me try to answer the question by contrasting two different theologies. We will describe the one theology as “Sovereign grace — trusting saint.” And we will describe the other theology as “Assisting grace — sovereign saint.” Let’s look at six differences and similarities between these two theologies.
What I mean by “sovereign grace — trusting saint” is that grace is a sovereign power that accomplishes all of salvation by overcoming the resistance of our will and making us love and trust Jesus Christ.
On the other hand what I mean by “assisting grace — sovereign saint” is a theology which says that God’s role in conversion is to give some conviction and some enlightenment but not to overcome all resistance and not to call effectually, but to leave the final vote with the self-determining power of the individual. God assists. He gets the ball rolling. But the saint is sovereign in that conversion is decisively — not wholly, perhaps not even mainly — but decisively his own work. God gives general assistance to people and then lets them cast the deciding vote. So what distinguishes one person above another is not the work of God but the personal wisdom or courage or virtue or whatever that causes one person to embrace Christ while others who had the same assistance don’t.
The Word of Acquittal
Both of these two theologies agree that by faith a person hears the word of acquittal and is thus justified.
The Connection Between Justification and Glorification
Both of these theologies agree that those whom God justified he will also most surely bring to final glory. In other words both theologies believe in eternal security for the justified believer. No one who has come to faith in Christ and the enjoyment of justification can ever be lost.
The Process of Sanctification
But what about the process of sanctification that connects the initial event of justification and the final experience of glorification? Well, the theology of “sovereign grace — trusting saint” says that this process is a work of God just as much as conversion was a work of God.
“He who began a good work in you will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). “God is the one who is at work in you both to will and to do his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I but the grace of God which is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Sanctification is the work of God overcoming my own remaining bent to sinning.
But the theology of “assisting grace — sovereign saint” did not give God the right to overcome resistance in conversion and so does not give him that right in sanctification either. God assisted with some conviction of sin and some enlightenment, but he did not transgress the sovereign territory of human self-determination. Therefore, this is his role in sanctification as well. He can assist with nudges and reminders and the like, but the final and decisive cause of progressive holiness is the self-determining power of the human will.
In the one theology God decisively causes me to walk in his statutes. And in the other theology he suggests that I walk in his statutes but I provide the decisive urge from my self-determining power.
The Certainty of Sanctification
Therefore, the theology of “assisting grace — sovereign saint” can only treat sanctification as possible but not certain. Sanctification is left it in the hands of the self-determining saint and God is denied the right to overcome the saint’s rebellion. So there is no assurance that the saint’s self-determined will, will in fact have holy inclinations. Since God does not cause the saint to will and to do his good pleasure, there is no guarantee that the saint will progress in holiness. So in this theology there is no certainty that a Christian converted will live a holy life. He provided the decisive impulse for his own conversion. It now remains to be seen whether he will use his self-determining power to be holy.
On the other hand the theology of “sovereign grace — trusting saint” says that sanctification is absolutely certain for all those who are called, because God himself has sworn by the “blood of the eternal covenant” that he will work in us that which is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:20–21), and write his laws on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10 = Jeremiah 31:33), and put his Spirit within us and “cause us to walk in his statutes and be careful to observes his ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:27). “He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 1:8–9; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13–14).
In the one theology a life of holiness is uncertain after conversion because holiness is finally a work of man. In the other theology a life of holiness is certain after conversion because it is finally the work of God — a God whose covenant oath is to work in us what is pleasing in his sight.
Holiness and Glorification
Now we are prepared to see the terrible result of the theology of “assisting grace — sovereign saint.” Since real holiness is uncertain in the Christian convert, but glorification is certain, therefore, holiness is not the necessary path to glory. If glory is assured to you on the basis of your initial act of faith, but sanctification is not guaranteed, then the only way you can maintain assurance is to believe that holiness is not necessary for final salvation.
And that is in fact what thousands of professing Christians believe today. They cling to the doctrine of eternal security but reject the sovereignty of grace which guarantees holiness of life, and therefore they reject the necessity of holiness and imperil their souls. For the Scripture says that there is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14; see also Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:10).
If that holiness is not the work of God, if it is not secured for the believer by the covenant oath of God to work in us what is pleasing in his sight, then there is no security.
What I am trying to point out is that many people want the skyscraper promise of Romans 8:28, many want the precious reality of eternal security. But they don’t want it on God’s terms. They want their security and their sovereignty. They want God to step in at the end of their lives with sovereign power and give them glory, but they do not want him to step in now with his sovereign grace and make them holy.
Oh how many unregenerate people are at ease in Zion thinking that they are secure without holiness! Why? Because for generations teachers and pastors have been saying that you can have the security of glorification without the necessity of holiness.
And they have been saying this because they have rejected the biblical teaching of sovereign grace which alone explains how the New Testament on the one hand can give the eternal security of glory, and yet on the other hand make that glory dependent on practical holiness. If God’s grace is sovereign, it not only fulfills promises of glory, it also fulfills the practical conditions of those promises.
If only the road of obedience leads to glory, then the sovereign grace of God will infallibly keep his people on the road that they may get the promised glory. Those whom he justified, he also sanctified and therefore glorified.
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever and ever.