|By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2010|
|There are three simple truths concerning salvation: 1) We can’t save ourselves. 2) We can’t save others. 3) Only God can save us. That’s why Jonah said, “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9b). Romans 8:28-30 teaches that salvation doesn’t depend on our faith or love but on God’s purposes.|
A Reformed Perspective
Text: Romans 8:28-30
For many Christians, Romans 8:28 is one of the most comforting verses in the entire Bible. The reason is obvious. It says, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, for those who have been called according to his purpose.” God has a good purpose for those who love Him and He’s working in the detailed circumstances of their lives to achieve it. But, as wonderful as Romans 8:28 is, Romans 8:29-30 is even more wonderful because it tells how God accomplishes His purpose and it reminds us that it’s God Himself who accomplishes it. Romans 8:29-30 provides the basis for what’s known as: “the perseverance of the saints.” As you read this article, you will need to put on your “theological thinking cap.”
There are three simple truths concerning salvation: 1) We can’t save ourselves. 2) We can’t save others. 3) Only God can save us. That’s why Jonah said, “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9b).
Our text teaches that salvation doesn’t depend on our faith or love but on God’s purposes. “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Our place in God’s Golden Chain of Salvation isn’t grounded in our love for God but in His love for us. First John 4:10: “In this act we see what real love is: it is not our love for God but his love for us when he sent his Son to satisfy God’s anger against our sins. Romans 5:8 says: “But God showed His love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” When did God show His love for us? “While we were still sinners.”
In Romans 8:29-30, the apostle Paul mentions five great doctrines regarding our salvation: Foreknowledge, Predestination, (Effectual) Calling, Justification, and Glorification. These five doctrines are so closely connected that they have been accurately described as: “God’s Golden Chain of Salvation.” Each link is forged in heaven because each link describes something God has done or will do. John R. Stott calls them the “five undeniable affirmations.”
The first two doctrinal links (foreknowledge and predestination) deal with God’s eternal decrees and the last two (justification and glorification) deal with what God has done, is doing, or will do with us. The middle link (effectual) “calling” connects the first pair and the second pair. These five great doctrines regarding our salvation stretch from eternity past to eternity future and contain the wise, wonderful, sovereign redemptive plan of God for man from start to finish. Let’s consider each of these five doctrines in the chronological/logical order they are presented.
Foreknowledge is the most important of doctrinal link, but it is also the least understood. Foreknowledge is composed of two words: “fore,” which means “beforehand” and “knowledge.” It simply means “to know beforehand.” The key question is: Who knows what before what? Clearly, God is the subject of each verb in our text: God foreknows, God predestines, God calls, God justifies and God glorifies. But what does God foreknow? Arminians have interpreted this to mean that since God knows all things, God knows beforehand who will believe on Him and who won’t and as a result, He’s predestined to salvation those whom He foresees will believe. What does God foreknow or foresee? In this view, what God foreknows or foresees is their faith.
However, this explanation of foreknowledge does not do justice to this text for several reasons: 1) Romans 8:29 does not say that God foreknew what each one of us would believe or do. 2) The text is not referring to our actions but refers solely to God and the action He takes for us. 1) God foreknew, 2) God predestined, 3) God called, 4) God justified and 5) God glorified! Each time the word “He” is used in verses 29-30 it refers to God (or Jesus, who is God), not to man.
The object of God’s foreknowledge is not the actions of people but, the people themselves! Foreknowledge involves God’s favorable disposition on those He has elected or chosen. That’s the way the word is often used in the Old Testament. For example, in Amos 3:2, the KJV translates God’s words here literally, using the verb “know”: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” This meaning is ever clearer in the way the NIV translates this verse: “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.”
If all the word “foreknowledge” means is that God knows beforehand what people will do in response to Him or in response to the preaching of the gospel and then on that basis determines their destiny, what could God foreknow except that the flesh is hostile to God and does not submit to God’s law? If our hearts are as depraved due to sin as Romans 3:10-11 says, namely, “There is no one righteous, not even one, no one who understands, no one who seeks God,” then the only thing God could foresee would be sin, rebellion and unbelief in every human heart.
Reformed Theologian John Murray says this about foreknowledge:
Even if it were granted that “foreknew” means the foresight of faith, the biblical doctrine of sovereign election isn’t thereby eliminated or disproven. For its certainly true that God foresees faith; He foresees all that comes to pass. The question would then simply be: From what proceeds the faith that God foresees? The only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees can only be the faith He himself creates. So his eternal foresight of faith is preconditioned by His decree to generate this faith in those whom He foresees as believing (Jn. 3:3-8; 6:44, 65; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; 2 Pet.1:2).
Foreknowledge means salvation has its origin in the mind of God and not in the will of man. John 1:13 says among other things that regeneration is not the result of human decision but, according to Jesus in John 3:5-8, regeneration is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 9:16 Paul asserts that election does not depend on man’s will or human decision. The first link is more relational than chronological, focusing on God’s favorable disposition, according to which some are elected and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.
Every Bible believing Christian believes that God is sovereign, but what does it mean when we say that God is sovereign in salvation? God is the One who initiates, consummates and superintends our salvation. That’s why Jonah said, “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jon. 2:9b). The One who is sovereign in salvation is the One who has the final say in salvation; in other words election is God’s prerogative. Who has the final say? God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15).
Predestination is just another way of saying that God, not us, is sovereign is our salvation. Predestination carries the doctrine of “foreknowledge” a step further. Like foreknowledge, predestination is composed of two words: “pre,” meaning “beforehand,” and “destiny” or “destination.” It simply means “to determine one’s destiny beforehand.” This is the sense in which it differs from foreknowledge. Clearly it’s God, not man, that determines beforehand.
Foreknowledge involves a divine favorable disposition. It means to fix one’s love upon, or to elect or choose. Predestination has to do with the destination to which the chosen are appointed. Once God fixes His distinguishing love on those He has chosen, He next appoints us to “be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” How does He do this? By calling, justifying and glorifying those whom He has chosen. Is predestination merely a distinctive belief of reformed theology or a basic biblical doctrine? Just as all Bible believing Christians believe in God’s sovereignty, so also, all Bible believing Christians must believe in Predestination. The only question is, how do they interpret the Word?
Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones points out that the Greek word that’s translated “predestined” has within it the word for “horizon” (Greek, proorizo). The horizon is a dividing line, marking off and separating what we can see from what we can’t see. Everything beyond the horizon is in one category; everything within the horizon is in another. The word signifies that God, having foreknown certain people, takes them out of the far-off category and puts them within the circle of His saving purposes. “In other words, God has marked out a particular destiny for them.” That destiny is to be made like Jesus Christ. First John 3: 2b says “We know that, when He [Jesus Christ] appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.”
The next step in God’s golden chain of five links is what theologians call “effectual calling.” It’s important to use the adjective “effectual” or effective at this point, because there are two different kinds of “calling” referred to in the Bible, and it’s easy to confuse the two.
One kind of calling is external, general and universal. It’s an open invitation to all persons to repent of sin, turn to the Lord and be saved. It’s what Jesus was speaking of when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The problem with this type of call is that, left to themselves, men will never respond positively. They hear the call, but turn away, preferring their own ways to God’s way. That’s why Jesus said, “No one can come to me [Jesus] unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn. 6:44). And, “No one can come to me [Jesus] unless the Father…has enabled him” (John 6:65).
The other kind of call is internal, specific and effectual. It not only issues the invitation, but it also provides the ability or willingness to respond positively. It’s God’s drawing, bringing spiritual life to one who without God’s drawing would remain spiritually dead (6:44). It’s God’s enabling, bringing life to one who without God’s enablement would remain spiritually dead.
The “effectual” call is not merely an invitation; it is one that accomplishes an expressed purpose. The same God who originally called the creation out of nothing is the One who calls life out of death and His call is heard and a response is enabled. That’s how God “calls” those whom He has first “foreknown” and then “predestined” to salvation (cf., Eph. 1:9-11; 2: 4-5).
Are there any additional links (steps) that come between effectual calling and justification? Yes. In John 3:3, Jesus said that you can’t see the Kingdom of God and in John 3:5 He said that you can’t enter the Kingdom of God without first being spiritually regenerate (born again). In 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul says that spiritual truths are spiritually discerned. This requires the illumination of the Holy Spirit in order to see [discern] spiritual truths. According to Jesus, regeneration must precede illumination. But He also said you can’t enter the Kingdom of God without spiritual regeneration. How do you enter the Kingdom? In Mark 1:15b Jesus said that you have to repent and believe in the gospel. According to Jesus, regeneration must precede, not only illumination but also repentance and faith all of which precede our fourth link in God’s chain: justification (by faith).
Justification by faith alone was one of the key doctrines of the Reformation. What does it mean? Justification is the judicial act of God’s free grace by which God declares a sinner to be in right standing before Him, not on the basis of our own merit, but on the basis of what Christ has done for him by dying in his place on the cross. Jesus bore our punishment, taking the penalty of our sins upon Himself. Those sins having been punished, God then imputes the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to our account.
What is the relationship between God’s “effectual” call and our justification by faith alone? Why does Paul place “calling” where He does in this golden chain of salvation? Why does “effectual calling” come after “foreknowledge” and “predestination” on the one hand, and before “justification” and “glorification” on the other? Here are two important reasons:
Romans 8:29-30 doesn’t contain a full list of the steps in a person’s experience of salvation, rather only five of the most important steps undertaken by God on behalf of the elect are listed. If our text were to include all of the steps (what theologians call the ordo salutis), it would have to include foreknowledge, predestination, calling, regeneration, illumination, repentance, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance and glorification.
The full list makes the point: after predestination, the very next thing is our calling, out of which comes repentance and faith which leads to justification. The Bible never says we’re saved because of our faith. That would make faith something good in us that we somehow contribute to the process. But it does say that we are saved by grace through faith, meaning that God must create it in us before we can be justified. When Paul says in Ephesians 2: 8b, “it is the gift from God,” the immediate antecedent of “it” is “faith”. Faith and repentance (2 Tim. 2:25) are gifts from God. Could anyone have repentance or faith without God’s enabling him? Read John 6:44 and 65.
Are there any links between Justification and Glorification? Yes. As we have seen, there are: 1) adoption, 2) sanctification, and 3) perseverance. In Matthew 10:22b (TLB) Jesus says, “All of you who endure to the end shall be saved.” Endurance is a characteristic of genuine faith.
Glorification means being made like Jesus Christ, which is what Paul said earlier. When Paul mentions glorification, he refers to it in the past tense (“glorified”). Why is this? Because this final step in our salvation is so certain that it’s possible to refer to it as having already happened. He does this deliberately to assure us that this is exactly what will happen. This is how Paul expressed it to the Christians at Philippi in (Phil. 1:4, 6): “I always pray with joy ... being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.” Philippians 1:6 summaries what Paul says in Romans 8:29-30 in more detail. How did God begin a good work? By: 1) foreknowledge, 2) predestination, 3) effectual calling, and 4) justification. And because He never goes back on anything He has said or changes His mind, we’re confident that He’ll carry it on till the day when we become like Christ (glorified).
It should be clear that God is responsible for all five links in this golden chain of salvation. The reason these five acts of God are so important is, without them no one would be saved. Or if we were “saved,” we would not continue. If it were up to us we would lose our salvation.
Perhaps you are asking, what about faith? Do we have to believe? Of course we do! Paul taught in Romans 3-5 about the nature and the necessity of “faith” for our justification. But even our “faith” comes from God. It results from God working in us. Ephesians 2:8b says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Romans 10:17 says before you trust (have faith), you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to.
It’s not uncommon that when we are first saved we naturally think that we had a great deal to do with it, perhaps because of wrong or shallow teaching, but more likely only because we know more about our own thoughts and feelings than we do about God. But the longer one is a Christian, the further one moves from a belief and/or feeling that we’re responsible for our salvation or any part of it and the closer we come to the conviction that salvation is all of God (Jon. 2:9). It’s a good thing salvation is of and from and by God! Because, if we accomplished it, we would figure out a way to mess it up. But if God is the author, then salvation is from Him. It’s something that He does 1) wisely, 2) lovingly 3) effectually, 4) completely and 5) eternally!
Robert Haldane’s commentary on Romans offers this insightful summary:
Harry A. Ironside told a story about an older Christian who was asked to give his testimony. He told how God had sought him out and found him, how God had loved him, called him, saved him, delivered him, cleansed him and healed him. It was a great witness to the grace, power and glory of God. But after the meeting a rather legalistic brother took him aside and, believe it or not, criticized his testimony. He said, “How about your part in it? Salvation is really part us and part God. You should have mentioned something about your part,” “Oh, yes,” the older Christian said. “I apologize for that. I’m sorry. I really should have said something about my part. My part was running away (and getting lost) and God’s part was running after me until he caught me.”
We have all run away and we all justly deserve God’s displeasure. But God, who is rich in mercy, from the very beginning has 1) set his love on us (foreknowledge), 2) predestined us to become like His Son, 3) effectually called us (or enabled us) by the regenerative work of His Spirit, He made us (spiritually) alive, illuminating our minds to the truth and granting us the gift of repentance. He has enabled us to place our faith in the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death for our sins. On the basis of that faith, He has justified us, adopted us into His family. 4) He is sanctifying us by His Word and Spirit and one day He will 5) glorify us when Christ returns.
Salvation is God’s doing and it’s wonderful to behold! In Philippians 1:6, Paul says, “I’m sure that God, who began the good work in you, will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until His task within you is finally finished…when Jesus Christ returns.” No wonder Paul says in his benediction to the Romans 11: 36, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.” May God alone be praised!
And we know that in all things God works for the good of:
Those (The elect) who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. For
Those (The elect) 1) God foreknew He (also) predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that Jesus might be the firstborn among many brothers. And
Those (The elect) 2) God predestined, He (also) called;
Those (The elect) 3) God called, He (regeneration, faith, repentance) (also) justified
Those (The elect) 4) God justified, (adoption, sanctification, perseverance) 5) God (also) glorified.