And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
We devoted three messages to the magnificent Romans 8:28 ("And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."). And we said that Romans 8:28 was part of Paul's argument for Romans 8:18, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." In other words, all our sufferings are endurable because everything, even these sufferings, are going to work together for our good.
Now we move to the next verse (29) which begins with "for" which means "because." We move to Paul's massive foundations — his pillars under the promise of verse 28 — the truth and reality that hold it up and keep it from falling — and keep us from falling with it.
He said, We know all things — the bitter things and the sweet things — work for our good (v. 28), "BECAUSE — this is verse 29, the foundation of that promise — "because those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." Here are three great works of God that we are going to focus on this morning — three acts of God that are done to give you more confidence that all things will work together for your good and all the sufferings of this life are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed (8:17).
The three acts of God are seen in the words, 1) "He foreknew," 2) "He predestined," and 3) "We become conformed to Christ." We know that all things work together for our good because God foreknew us, predestined us, and is conforming us like Christ. Two of these are past (foreknowing us and predestining us) and one of these is present and future (conforming us to the image of Christ).
Now I can imagine right now at least two reasons why some of you might say this is of no interest to you. First, some of you might say, "Frankly I don't really care about what decisions made a long time ago — like before creation in God's foreknowledge and predestination. I care about now. And, what's more, I don't see any point in getting involved in disputes about biblical doctrines like predestination."
Second, some of you might also say, "Frankly, I don't want to be like Christ. For one thing, he never had sex, and, what's more, he was so dadgum serious I don't know if he ever had fun; and he was so controversial he got himself killed. So if becoming like Jesus is supposed to make me feel confident that everything is working for my good, forget it; it doesn't."
Let me say something to those two hang-ups.
"I Don't Care About Decisions Made in the Past"
If somebody came up to you this morning and said, "I'm going to give you a million dollars," you would have a right to be suspicious and doubtful. But what if they pulled out a wrinkled old sheet of paper and pointed to it and said, "My wealthy father died several months ago and wrote in his will that you were to receive part of the inheritance, a million dollars"? Would you say, "I don't care about decisions made a long time ago. I care about now. And besides settling the meaning of old documents, especially wills, can be very contentious. So let's just forget about the million dollars"? I promise you, what God foreknew and predestined is ten thousand times more relevant to your life now than inheriting a million dollars.
"I Don't Want To Be Like Christ"
And if you say, "Frankly, I don't want to be like Christ," it may be because you are thinking of this likeness in a way that is not only mistaken, but way too narrow. What about when you die? Do you want to be like Christ when you die: Do you want to be rejected by the Judge of the universe and condemned to everlasting punishment because you rejected his Son, or do you want to rise from the dead loved and accepted? Do you want to rise like Christ or stay unlike Christ and perish? It's not a small question. And I plead with you to listen.
So let's look first at the two acts of God that happened a long time ago first, and then turn to what God is doing today and tomorrow.
"For Those Whom He Foreknew"
Verse 29: "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son." What does "foreknew" mean? Some have taken it to mean that God simply foresees who will believe on him and these are the ones he predestines to be like Jesus. But this assumes two things that are not true. One is that the faith God foresees is ultimately and decisively our work, not his work. In other words, the point of this interpretation is that God does not cause our faith, he only foresees the faith which we cause.
Now this is not what the Bible teaches, not elsewhere (Philippians 1:29; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Matthew 16:17), nor here in the context. When Paul says in Romans 8:30, "Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified," he means all the called are justified. But to be justified we must believe (Romans 5:1). So he is saying all those who are called believe and are justified. But how can he say ALL who are called believe? The reason, as I tried to show in the exposition of "called" in verse 28, is that the call is the powerful work of God to bring about what he demands. It's an effective call. It's a call that creates what it commands. It's a call like "Lazarus, come forth!" and the dead man lives. So the point is, believing for justification is not some thing I do on my own. God enables me. God empowers me. I must do it. Believing is something I do. But my doing is a gift of God. I do not take ultimate credit for it. I thank God for it. I am saved by sovereign grace from first to last.
So it is wrong to assume that when Romans 8:29 says, "God foreknew" some, it means he simply foresaw that they would believe by their own power. He gave that power, and so some something more is going on here than the mere foreseeing of what we do.
Here's the other mistaken assumption of this view. It assumes that the meaning of "foreknowing" is not the meaning it has in many Old and New Testament texts that would give a more coherent meaning to this passage. Listen to these uses of "know" and ask yourself what each means. In Genesis 18:19 God says of Abraham, "I have known him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord." Virtually all the English versions translate this, "I have chosen him." In Amos 3:2 God says to the people of Israel, "You only have I known among all the families of the earth." He knew about all the families, but only chose Israel. In Matthew 7:23 Jesus said to the hypocrites at the judgment day, "I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness." Psalm 1:6 says, "The Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish." He knows about the way of the wicked too. But he knows the way of the righteous in the sense of approving and recognizing and loving. In Hosea 13:5 God says to Israel, "I knew you in the wilderness, In the land of drought," meaning he took note of your plight and cared for you. And Genesis 4:1 says, "Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain." That is, he made her his, and knew her intimately and loved her.
Because of all those texts I think John Stott and John Murray are exactly right when both of them say, ""Know' . . . is used in a sense practically synonymous with "love' . . . "Whom he foreknow' . . . is therefore virtually equivalent to "whom he foreloved.'" Foreknowledge, is "sovereign , distinguishing love" (John Stott, quoting Murray, Romans, p. 249). It's virtually the same as set your affection on and choose for your own.
So the meaning of the first act of God in Romans 8:29 is that God foreknows his own people in the sense that he chooses them and loves them and cares for them. Paul will speak of this later in the language of "choosing" or "election" (Romans 8:33; 9:11; 11:5,7).
All things will work together for your good if you are called, and love God, because, as verse 29 says, God has known you, and chosen you, and loved you, from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4f; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8; 17:8)
"He Also Predestined"
The second act of God done long ago to put certainty under the promise that all things will work for your good is "he predestined." "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined." This simply means that, having chosen you for his own and set his love on you and cared for you before you ever existed, he decided what would become of you, namely, you would be conformed to the image of his Son.
"Predestine" means decide or ordain ahead of time what destiny you will have. And the reason this verse puts such a massive foundation under the promise of Romans 8:28 is that that those who love God and are called according to his promise are destined to be like Jesus — destined to be conformed to the image Christ. All things work together for your good because you were chosen and loved before you existed, and the way his choice and love expresses itself is in ordaining for you an unspeakably great future, namely, to be like Christ. All things work for your good because all things work to make you like Jesus. For this you were loved, and for this your predestined.
This is the million-dollar clause in the will of your friend's father. Just like that legally unbreakable clause guarantees your wealth on earth, so God's unbreakable foreknowing and predestining guarantees your glory and your everlasting joy.
"To Conform Us to the Image of His Son"
Which brings us to the objection raised earlier. Maybe it won't be joy to be like Jesus. Maybe becoming like Jesus doesn't make all the suffering of this present time not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed. So we must turn to the last act of God mentioned in verse 29: God is working to "conform us to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren."
And for that we are going to wait until next week for two reasons: one, is there is not enough time today; and two, conformity to Christ in verse 29 and glorification at the end of verse 30 are so closely linked, they will make a beginning and end to next week's message.
But let me close with a brief word about conformity to Christ and today's text. It is very relevant for this reason. Until your mind is conformed to the mind of Christ, the teaching of this text will probably produce conflict, not comfort. This text is meant to comfort you and strengthen you and give you confidence that the best and worst things in your life will work for your good, because you love Christ and are chosen and predestined for glory. But it will only have this effect when God grants you a measure of the mind and spirit of Christ.
I don't say this to scold you or condemn you if you struggle. Just the opposite. I say it to encourage you that just like behavioral conformity to Jesus is a life-long battle with wrong deeds, and emotional conformity to Jesus is a life-long battle with wrong feelings, so intellectual conformity to Jesus is a life-long battle with wrong thinking. So I am never surprised when some folks stumble over the harder teachings of Scripture. Conformity to Christ does not come all at once, neither, behavioral, nor emotional, nor intellectual.
So let's pray for each other, that in every way Christ might be exalted through our conformity to him, and we might enjoy the massive assurance that because of our election and predestination everything will work together for our good. And if you sit there wondering: am I among the chosen, the predestined, the called, here's how you can know: Do you see Jesus as more to be desired than anything else, and sufficient to save you from your sin, and satisfy your heart forever? That is the mark of God's child. He who has the Son has life (1 John 5:12). To as many as received him, to them God gave the right to be become the children of God (John 1:12). Receive him!