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.
When the people of God are set free from the compulsion of self-exaltation and self-justification and self-preservation, so that we live for the eternal good of other people, then we become the light of the world and the salt of the earth, and people notice in us the reality of God and give him glory (Matthew 5:14–16). Therefore, if God’s purpose for us is to be accomplished in the world — to make known his glory through lives of love — then we must find a weapon with which to conquer the pride and insecurity that feeds our need to exalt ourselves and justify ourselves and preserve ourselves with postures and poses and performances and prosperity.
Our Weapon Against Pride and Insecurity
The weapon that God has put into the hands of his people is the promise of Romans 8:28. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (KJV). The heart-felt confidence that God Almighty causes everything that happens to me to be good for me is the sword that severs the root of self-exaltation and self-justification and self-preservation. As verse 31 says, “If God is for us, who is against us?”
If, by the sheer grace of his sovereign will, God has taken your side, and works all the pain and pleasure together for your good, then no opponent can really succeed against you. So why exalt yourself? Why justify yourself? Why fret about preserving yourself? If the Lord of the universe has sworn to work for you, why are you anxious about what others think? Why are you all caught up in seeking comfort and security? Your Father knows what you need and he works everything for your good. Leave your exaltation and justification and preservation in his sovereign hands and live in freedom for others.
When God’s chosen people really believe Romans 8:28, from measles to the mortuary, they are the freest and strongest and most generous people in the world. If Romans 8:28 is that powerful in daily life, then its foundation is utterly practical. Romans 8:29–30 is that foundation. The better we understand it and the more deeply we believe it, the more assured we will be of Romans 8:28. And that will make us a very strong and loving people — to the glory of God!
God’s Calling and Predestination
Today our focus is on the first sentence in verse 30: “And those whom he predestined he also called.” Last Sunday we zeroed in on the meaning of our call and the meaning of predestination. Today I want to focus on the connection between these two. But first let’s sum up our conclusions from last week.
Called According to His Purpose
Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for the good of those who “are called according to his purpose.” What does it mean to be called? It means that God has overcome the rebellion of our hearts and drawn us to Christ and created faith and love where there was once a heart of stone. The call is effectual. It creates what it commands. It is not like, “Here Blackie! Here Blackie!” It is like, “Lazarus, come forth!” or, “Let there be light!” The call happens in the preaching of the Word of God by the power of the Spirit of God. It overcomes all resistance and produces the faith that justifies.
One of the key evidences for this truth was the sentence here in verse 30: “those whom he called he also justified.” Only people with faith are justified. But Paul says that the called are justified. So the call must in some sense guarantee the faith. Indeed! The call is the creation of the faith. Therefore, all who are called are indeed justified.
Called on the Basis of His Predestination
“The purpose for which we are predestined is to share the glory of the Son of God.”
The other thing we saw last week was that this call is not somehow a response to anything we have done. Verse 28 says we are called “according to his purpose.” His purpose and plan is the basis of our call, not our purpose or plan. This purpose is described in verse 29. Notice at the beginning of verse 30 that our call is based on our predestination: “those whom he predestined he also called.” So the phrase “called according to God’s purpose” in verse 28 is virtually the same as called on the basis of God’s predestination in verse 30. His predestining and his purposing are the same.
And its content is given in verse 29: “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.” The purpose for which we are predestined is to share the glory of the preeminent Son of God. This purpose or predestination is traced back finally to an act of foreknowing: “Whom he foreknew he also predestined.”
What Predestination Is Based On
And we argued last Sunday night that this does not mean that God bases his predestination on our self-determined faith, which he knows ahead of time. That interpretation is intended to preserve the self-determination of the human will. But we have already seen that faith is produced by the call of God not by an act of human self-determination.
Instead, what we saw was that there are many other texts to show that when God foreknows, he sets his favor upon or acknowledges or chooses. So the meaning of verse 29 is that “whom God freely chose, or whom God freely set his favor upon, he also predestined to be like his Son, and whom he predestined, he called.” So the call of God is based on God’s act of predestination which is in turn based on the election or choice that God makes without any respect to our distinctives at all.
The Basis for Rock-Solid Confidence in the Promise
The practical upshot of this last week was this: if God has chosen you before the foundation of the world apart from any merit or distinctives in you, and has appointed for you a destiny of glorious Christlikeness, and to bring about that purpose has called you by creating faith toward Christ and love toward God, and thus qualified you for the promise of Romans 8:28, then is not your confidence in this promise far greater than if it simply rested on something as wavering and uncertain as your will and decision? “Called according to his purpose” is the great ground of confidence that Romans 8:28 is really true for us.
Our Calling Is Based on Predestination
Today I want us to dwell on the truth that our call is based on God’s predestination. Verse 30: “Those whom he predestined, he also called.” Our call, our conversion, our regeneration, and the gift of our faith are based on God’s eternal election and predestination not on our self-determination.
The way I would like for us to dwell on this is to look at other texts in the New Testament which say this same thing so that we will see how broad the foundation of our confidence in Romans 8:28 really is in God’s Word.
A Remnant According to Election
Paul recalls how Elijah once thought he was the only true believer left, just like some thought God has rejected his people in Paul’s day.
But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace [literally: a remnant according to the election of grace]. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.” (Romans 11:4–8)
Note that just as God had worked to keep for himself a group of true believers in Elijah’s day, so he has in Paul’s day. And Paul calls it a remnant “according to the election of grace.” The fact there is a group of people who believe, are born again, converted, and called, accords with an act of gracious election. Election is the basis of the believing remnant, not vice versa. It does not say that God elected according to who believed, as though election were based on foreknown faith. No. Verse 5: “At the present time there is a remnant, according to the election of grace.” The calling into existence of a remnant of true believers accords with God’s purpose of election. “Those whom he predestined he also called.”
A Holy Calling
Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago. (2 Timothy 1:8–9)
Again Paul says that the call is not owing to our deeds. It is owing to God’s purpose. Verse 9: “He saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.” Our call rests on his purpose, not ours. And the grace of this purpose was “given to us in Christ ages ago.” Our call is based on God’s eternal election. “Those whom he predestined he also called.”
Chosen from the Beginning
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
It does not say that God chose them on the basis of their foreseen faith. It says the opposite: God chose them with a view to saving them by the work of the Spirit and by faith. The self-determined faith of man does not give rise to God’s election. On the contrary. Election gives rise to faith. “Those whom he predestined he also called.”
God Made Us Alive
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4–6)
You may ask, Where do you see election and predestination in this text? The answer is that I see it in the word love. But you ask, Does not God love everyone? The answer is that he does not love all people in the same way. The love mentioned here is not the universal love that moves God to give life and breath and sunshine and rain. Oh no, it is far more precious than that.
Paul says, out of this love God made us alive when we were dead. Now, if God loved everyone with that love, all people would be made alive in Christ and all would be saved. When Paul gloried in the love of God for him in Jesus Christ, he did not glory merely in the offer of salvation to all who would come to Christ. He gloried in the deeper and more wonderful truth that God had brought him to Christ. Once he was dead in sin. Now he is alive. And the source of this miracle is the love of God. And since God does not perform this quickening for everyone, it is an electing love. And therefore election is indeed in this passage and it is the basis of our conversion, our regeneration, and our faith. “Those whom he predestined he also called.”
Consider Your Call
For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus [literally: “of him are you in Christ Jesus; NASB: “by his doing you are in Christ Jesus”], whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–30)
Consider your call. That is, look around you in Corinth and see what sort of people have become Christians. Consider who has been effectually called to faith. What do you see? Not many wise or powerful or high-born. Why not? Because God is the one who is choosing who will be saved in Corinth, and God intends to choose in a way that will sever the root of all self-exaltation. Three times Paul says, “God chose.” God does not leave the affair of salvation to the self-determination of man because then we would determine the make-up of the church and we would have something to boast in.
Verse 30 says literally, “From him, that is, from God, are you in Christ Jesus.” We did not put ourselves in Christ Jesus. God worked in us so that we would be united to Christ in faith. Why? So that no one might boast before God. Therefore, let him who boasts boast in the Lord! God made the choices in Corinth. And on the basis of these choices he called, that is, he grafted people into Christ. “Those whom he predestined he also called.”
Ordained to Eternal Life
Paul was preaching in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia. When the sermon is over, Luke makes a comment that shows us his deep theological harmony with the apostle’s own writings. Paul closes his presentation with these words:
“For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:47–48)
“Those whom God has predestined he will most certainly call.”
This is virtually identical to what Paul says in Romans 8:30. “Those whom he predestined he also called,” means the same as, “As many as were [fore]ordained to eternal life believed.” Paul’s doctrine of predestination did not in the least deter him from his frontier missionary labor. On the contrary, it spurred him on to know that God had many people among the nations whom he would effectually call in the preaching of the gospel (Acts 18:10). Those whom God has predestined he will most certainly call. Therein lies the hope and confidence of the entire missionary enterprise.
Jesus’s Sheep Hear His Voice
Jesus repeatedly poses the question in John’s gospel why some people believe on him and others don’t. Never does he give the popular answer that it is owing to the human power of self-determination. He traces it back again and again to something deeper.
Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. (John 8:46–47)
Whether a person is willing to hear and believe the word of God is owing to something deeper. Is the person of God or not of God? That is, is the person chosen of God? Born of God? Called of God? As many as are “of God” will be willing to hear. As many as are ordained to eternal life believe. “Those whom he predestined he also called.”
The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:25–27)
“You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep.” Notice it does not say, “You do not belong to my sheep because you do not believe.” My belonging to Jesus’s sheep is not based on my faith. I must believe in order to give evidence that I belong to Jesus’s sheep. And if I persist in unbelief, then I most certainly do not belong to Jesus’s sheep. But my faith did not make me a sheep. God made me a sheep according to the election of grace, which he gave me in Christ Jesus ages ago. And when sheep hear the gospel, they believe. Those whom he predestined to be sheep, he also effectually called to faith!
Our Predestination Is Not Based on Our Worth
The conclusion I draw, then, is that there is a broad foundation in the New Testament for the truth of Romans 8:30, that the call of God is based on his prior predestination, and that this predestination is not based on anything in us: not on our worth as persons (since then everyone would qualify) nor on our faith (which is a gift of God). Our election is unconditional. Our predestination is unconditional. And our effectual calling is unconditional. Whom he foreknew he also predestined and whom he predestined he also called.
Eight Implications for Election
Let’s look at eight implications of election.
1. Popular Philosophy Versus Biblical Doctrine
We are confronted with a choice between popular philosophical speculation on the one hand and pervasive biblical doctrine on the other hand. Popular philosophy says that we must have the power of ultimate self-determination in order to be accountable for our choices. The Bible, on the other hand, makes clear in a hundred places that we do not have the power of ultimate self-determination and nevertheless are accountable for our choices. Will you go with human philosophy or with the Bible? Has the Bible won your confidence sufficiently that you will submit your inherited notions to its judgments? Or will you continue to force it to submit to yours?
One of the criticisms that is sometimes brought against those of us who embrace the doctrines of unconditional election and the sovereignty of grace is that we are enslaved to logic and driven by an inexorable rationalism that forces us to say things about God which are not taught in Scripture. I suspect that is true of some people.
But my experience teaches me that the very opposite is also the case. I asked a friend recently how he handled the words in Acts 13:48: “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” He said, “Oh, I interpret that in the light of all the other Scriptures that teach that humans have the power of ultimate self-determination.” So I asked, “Like what? Can you give me any example of such a text?” He said, “Well, no, but it’s implied everywhere.”
What became clear after a little discussion was that he assumes, he presupposes, that you can’t have accountability without human self-determination, and so everywhere he sees accountability in the Bible, he sees the power of final human self-determination. But where does he get this assumption and this presupposition? Not from the Bible. He gets it from the common notions of (fallen) mankind. Now who is enslaved to philosophy and logic?
We are presented with a crucial choice: Will we let the Scriptures teach us things that are strange to our way of thinking? Or will we bring our inherited notions to the text and say, “These things can’t be. They don’t fit my assumptions?”
2. Rooting Out Boasting, Pride, and Self-Reliance
The doctrines of God’s unconditional election and predestination and effectual calling tend to root out all boasting and pride and self-reliance. I have argued many times with other theologians who say, “You don’t need to take away final self-determination in order to take away boasting. All you need to do is insist on faith for salvation instead of meritorious works.” They argue from Romans 3:27 that faith excludes boasting. So you don’t need to say that faith is a gift in order to root out boasting and pride and self-reliance.
My response is two-fold. First, I do not feel driven by logic to call faith a gift in order to rule out pride; I feel driven by exegesis. The New Testament teaches that we are dead in our sin and must be effectually called. The faith commanded must also be created if anyone is to be saved. I don’t conjure up this idea because I think it is a good way to destroy pride. The Bible teaches it. And it does help overcome pride.
And secondly, I think that the reason genuine New Testament faith completely rules out boasting is that it is a reliance on God not only for the provision of salvation in the cross but also for the application of salvation to my heart. In other words, my faith not only says, “I choose to trust Christ.” It also says, “I choose to trust that God the Father drew me to Christ and gave me the will to trust Christ” (John 6:44, 65).
Or to say it still another way, faith rests in all the truth of the Bible, not just some of it. Faith eliminates all boasting and pride and self-reliance precisely to the extent that it is a faith in God to do for us what we could not do for ourselves — which includes the will to believe. Faith trusts God for all of salvation not just some of salvation. And salvation includes our effectual calling that created our faith.
If you were drowning, and the Son of God tossed an inner tube in your vicinity, and you flailed your way over to it and then paddled to shore, you would thank him. You would take no credit for the inner tube.
But suppose that you had been his life-long enemy and you were dead at the bottom of the lake, and he found you and brought you to shore and labored over you so long that just as you came to life, he fell exhausted at your side and died. And suppose that as you kneeled there over his corpse with tears of love streaming down your face, you heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with him I am well pleased. Rise, my Son!” And he rises and stands on his feet and looks down at you with the deepest affection that you have ever seen, and he takes your hand and pulls you gently and firmly to your feet and says, “Follow me, and I will work all things together for your good all the days of your life.”
Which is your idea of how you got saved? Could it be that many of the struggles of your life are owing to the fact that you never understood how you got saved — or maybe never yet got saved?
3. Producing Lowliness, Meekness, and Patience
The doctrines of God’s sovereign grace tend to produce lowliness and meekness and patience among those who embrace them. Ephesians 4:1–2 says, “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another.” One of the reasons that a very high calling produces a very lowly walk is that God’s decision to call us into his kingdom is owing to absolutely nothing in ourselves.
Once you become gripped in your heart by the certainty that God chose you for salvation before you believed or had done anything at all, your tendency to boast over other people will be severed at the root. “What do you have that you did not receive,” Paul said, “and if you received it, why do you boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
A child who gets two rockets at Christmas time can boast over his brother who only got one rocket if their parents base their choices on the relative worth of the children or the self-determined decisions of the children. But if the choices are made apart from any attention to the worth of the children, if the choices are made for wise and good ends that are far above the ability of the children to understand, then boasting over a brother is excluded. The most humbling way to be treated in all the world is to be treated with absolute mercy.
4. The Fulfillment of New Covenant Promises
If the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace is true, then he can really fulfill his New Covenant promises to write his law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and cause us to walk in his statutes (Ezekiel 36:27), and thus conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). If God were to leave the ultimate power of self-determination with us, he might not be able to fulfill his promises that he would one day have a people who really did obey him.
If all the people in the world really had the power of final self-determination and decided to use it to rebel against God, he could do nothing about it. The only way that God’s promise of a people with new hearts of obedience can be guaranteed is to say that God will overcome the sinful self-determination of people and give them new hearts and cause them to walk in his ways. And so the doctrine of God’s effectual call based on his unconditional election is the very foundation of our confidence that he will fulfill for us the promises of the New Covenant: “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever” (Jeremiah 32:39).
5. The Fulfillment of the Great Commission
Not only that, the missionary promise that one day there will be believers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation worshiping God in the kingdom — that promise would have no guarantee if salvation were left finally in the self-determining hands of human beings. The fact that God has the right and power to effectually call whom he will from every people group on earth is the solid foundation of our confidence that the Great Commission will not be frustrated by the hardness of human hearts. The doctrines of grace are the dynamite of God in the hard places of world evangelization.
6. Strengthening True Security
The sovereignty of God in salvation strengthens the true security of the believer. If you believe that God has chosen you from all eternity, and that he predestined you to share the glory of his Son, and that he then worked miraculously to call you out of death into life and made you to believe in Christ, then your confidence is simply tremendous that he is for you and will complete the work of your salvation which he planned ages ago.
But if you only believe that God designed a general way of salvation with no particular persons in view, and that it is finally up to you whether you are going to be a part of this salvation or not, then your security will rest on a much weaker foundation. I count it a very precious thing to have been told by God that my eternal life is rooted in his personal, eternal decision to give me a share in the glory of his Son and that my very faith is part of his omnipotent effort to accomplish that purpose for me. What greater security can there be!
7. The Undefeatable, Indispensable Ministry
The work of the ministry is indispensable and undefeatable. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:10, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which in Christ Jesus goes with eternal glory.”
The elect most definitely will obtain salvation: “those whom he elected he predestined, and those whom he predestined he called, and those whom he called he justified, and those whom he justified he glorified.” No one can lead astray the elect (Matthew 24:24). Therefore the ministry is undefeatable.
Nevertheless, God has ordained that the way the elect will be preserved from error and unbelief and so obtain salvation is by the ministry of the Word and prayer. So Paul says that he endures everything for the sake of the elect that they may obtain salvation. Paul’s ministry is the appointed means of God for preserving the faith of the elect by the nourishment of the Word. The ministry to the elect is indispensable — it is God’s ordained means of causing them to endure to the end; and the ministry is undefeatable — the sheep always here the voice of the true shepherd and respond.
8. Grasping the True Meaning of Grace and Glorifying God
Until you embrace the doctrine of God’s unconditional election and predestination and effectual calling, you will never truly grasp the meaning of grace and will never give God the glory he is due.
We call it sovereign grace because grace is not merely an offer of salvation; it is also a power that saves. Paul makes this crystal clear in Ephesians 2:5. “Even when we were dead through our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in heavenly places.” The reason Paul inserted that parenthesis was to teach us that grace is a power that raises the dead and so is totally undeserved.
“We’ll never feel the wonder of grace until we surrender our claim to have the final say in salvation.”
We will never feel the full wonder of grace until we surrender our claim to have the final say in our own salvation. We will never stand in awe of God’s sovereignty over our lives and give him the glory for all our salvation until we know ourselves to be so utterly helpless that he had to do it all.
Learn from Herod’s Death
Luke tells us a story about Herod in the book of Acts. One day he put on his royal robes and took his seat upon his royal throne and made an oration to his visitors from Tyre and Sidon. The people were eager to please Herod and cried out, “The voice of a god and not of a man.” And Luke says, “Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten with worms and died” (Acts 12:23).
From which I ask: If God’s wrath breaks out against a man for not giving God the glory for so small a gift as oratorical excellence, how much greater danger must hang over the heads of those who refuse to give God glory for the much greater gift of faith?