One would be hard-pressed to find another portion of Scripture more controversial and deeply theological than that of Romans chapter 8. Within its 39 verses are the discussed topics of having life through the Spirit, the present suffering and future glory of those who are in Christ, and the act of those in Christ being “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). One would have little difficulty in writing a single book on any group of verses within this chapter, for the theological insight to be gained and discussed runs quite deep. For the purpose of this commentary, only three verses of the chapter will be discussed. It is within these verses that the majority of controversy is developed. These chapters discuss both the unending love of God, and the sanctification of the believer. The concepts of “predestination” and “election” stem from these verses, and have been a source of confusion for readers for millennia. It is a sincere hope that, through this commentary, some possible light might be shed on these few amazing portions of Scripture.
- 28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
This is probably one of the most recognized (and memorized) portions of Scripture. To that end, it is also one of the most assuring and confusing. Paul seems to be bringing to conclusion a thought that surfaces back in verse 27, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Essentially he is explaining that the Spirit is always petitioning for us on our behalf. We may stumble in our words and thoughts, but the Spirit is the one who forms the foundations of our prayers and, as Grant Osborne puts it, “petitions for us” (Osborne, 218). The point to be made is this: The Spirit prays in keeping with the will of God, which is how we know that God’s will is going to be fulfilled (Osborne, 219).
With this in mind, we venture into the continuation/conclusion of these thoughts in verse 28. Paul begins with the phrase “And we know…,” a statement used several times prior to this verse. In stating this, Paul is insinuating that the following proclamation should be common knowledge to all those in the early church. This was not only something that was regularly being taught in the early church, but was something which all believers should have been understanding and experiencing on a daily basis. When we struggle to pray or are afraid we will be praying with the wrong motives, the Spirit, who fully understands the will of God, is there to intercede for us. God acts on prayer because He hears both us and the Spirit, so His will ultimately works for the good of all.
The question in this passage is centered around the driving force behind the action of turning all things out for the good of those who love God. Some biblical translations (like the NIV) state “God works for the good of those who love him,” while others (like the ESV, KJV or NKJV) simply translate, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God.” It is not easy to establish a definitive answer to this question. Scholars like Osborne seem to think that placing “God” as the driving force is more accurate. Osborne states, “An intercessor does not normally provide a response, and it is better to see God as answering the petition of the Spirit” (Osborne, 219). While the Spirit speaks to God on our behalf, it is not the Spirit from which the response of the prayer comes; it is God.
Notice the specifics in this verse as it is noted that God works, “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This raises a few questions: Is this a limiting statement? Do all things work for the good of Christians only when they love God? Is this an encouraging statement? Do all Christians naturally love God and are called by Him to do His works? One could make a solid case for either of these thoughts, however it is more likely that this is a natural response. Because Paul began this section with the phrase, “And we know,” it is likely that everything after that statement would have been common knowledge. Both the early Christians and Christians today understand that when one has had an experience with God, they cannot help but naturally love the heavenly Father as they would an earthly father. It is likely that they also understand God’s calling of His children to fulfill portions of His will. Those who hold to Calvinistic scholarship would more than likely limit God’s calling to those whom He had predestined to be called. However, it seems as though Paul’s intention for this verse is to both remind the Roman Christians of what they already know to be true, and to encourage them that, with the help of the interceding Spirit, all things work together for the good of those who love God, and God calls everyone who is willing to a certain purpose in His plan.
- 29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
Verse 29 seemingly brings with it an explanation of the items discussed in the aforementioned verse 28. Paul seems to give reason as to how all things work together for the good of those who love God (Osborne, 220). Scholars note that there are five items mentioned by Paul which give reason as to why all things work together for good, these items are known as the “Golden Chain” (Osborne, 221). Not only do these items give the reason as to why everything works for the good of those who love God but, according to Douglass Moo, they give the purpose for why God chooses to work in our lives (Moo, 531).
The first item revolves around the verse, “For those God foreknew he also predestined.” This verse states that God not only knows His people, but it implies that He knew them beforehand. This could be Paul referencing God’s omniscience, that is, His all-knowing nature, however this is more than likely linked to elements of eternal election. As previously stated, Romans chapter 8 is subject to much discussion and controversy. This is due to its discussion of predestination and election. This particular verse is common law among the Calvinist/Arminian arguments. Many of those who hold to Calvinist scholarship, such as John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, hold that “predestined” and “foreknew” are not mutually exclusive terms. In their comments on this passage these scholars state, “God determined beforehand the believers’ destiny, namely, conformity to the image of Jesus Christ” (Walvoord and Zuck, 474-475). While they make a compelling case and certainly can give evidence to support their thesis, it would appear they are somewhat missing the mark. Their holding of the equivalency between “foreknew” and “predestined” cannot be said of the other five items listed within this “golden chain.” As a matter of fact, as Osborn points out, even “predestined” and “called” are in different stages (Osborne, 221). If none of the five are equivalent, then why would the first two be the only ones linked together? On another note, Paul is seemingly speaking directly to believers in this instance, but that does not mean that God had pre-determined their decisions for them. If God were to pre-determine who went to Heaven and who did not, this would call into question His goodness and would make the understanding of grace nearly null and void. It makes much more sense to look at the phrase “foreknew” in this way: God knew beforehand who would make a decision to follow Him. To view this as God knowing who would respond in faith to His call of a personal relationship makes sense not only concerning the goodness of God, but also His sovereignty. Think back to the time of Adam and Eve. They were tempted to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and gave in to that temptation thus transferring God’s perfect world into a fallen one. If God had already predestined those who would enter Heaven and those who would not, this detail would be insignificant in regard to our need of a Savior. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross was such that all our past and future sins were washed away, and the “wall” which was built between humans and God was torn down. Because of the cross, intimate fellowship with God has been restored, and now all humans have the opportunity to be united in relationship with Him again. The defeat of sin’s hold on his people showcased God’s sovereignty. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and this was seen in his defeat of death and his breaking us free from the bondage of sin. Humans have but two choices in this life that are of vital importance: The choosing to accept Christ as their Savior, or the choice not to accept Him. What God foreknew and predestined was this: There would be some that would accept His outstretched hand and there would be some that would not, but God does not make this decision for someone.
When speaking about being the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters,” notice that the pronoun “he” is used. Who could be the “he” to which Paul is referring? Directly, this is talking about Jesus. When one accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior, they not only can count on the new and close relationship with Him, but can also count on being grafted into the family of God. Romans 8:17 states, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” For one to be a “co-heir” implies that we will receive an inheritance, if we are to receive an inheritance it would imply that we are a member of a family. To be a “co-heir with Christ” would imply that we receive an inheritance and are members of the family of God. Paul, here, speaks of this family, but speaks of Christ as the head of this family. The Son of God, Jesus, will be the firstborn among those whom receive Christ and are brought into the family of God. Walvoord and Zuck put it this way, “The resurrected Jesus Christ will become the Head of a new race of humanity purified from all contact with sin and prepared to live eternally in His presence” (Walvoord and Zuck, 474).
When believers are eventually grafted into the family of God, a transformation into the image of Christ’s likeness takes place. Scholars argue, however, as to whether Paul is describing this transformation as one’s spiritual growth throughout their time on earth, or a final transformation at the end of one’s life when standing before God (Osborne, 222). While scholars can make a case for either end of this debate, it is more than likely true that both arguments combined formulate the correct answer. When one comes into a relationship with Christ, the repentance of past sins takes place. In other words, they change the direction of their life. They were going down their own path of self-righteousness and deceit, but now are walking down the path towards living as close to Christlikeness as possible. There is certainly a transformation that takes place as one grows in Christ and walks daily with Him, however this is not the final outcome. Even if one repents of their past sinful nature and lives as closely to Christ as possible, the act of sinning still occurs. One cannot be transformed into the likeness of Christ while they are still actively sinning. The transformation process, if both arguments are combined, works thusly: One comes into a relationship with Christ and walks as closely to Him as possible, being transformed by the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2) in the process. Then when one who has remained faithful to Christ passes on and arrives in Heaven, they are fully transformed into the sinless image of Christ.
v.30, “And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.”
Continuing in the discussion of predestination, Paul points out that those whom God predestined, He also called. From the aforementioned arguments, we know that God has predestined that some will accept His call of a relationship, and some will not. With this in mind, the case moves from predestination to calling. Is this calling predestined, or is the calling based on the decision of a believer? It makes more sense that the calling refers to the choice of a human to follow that calling. God’s call to salvation is available to all. His hand is always outstretched, ready to grasp the sinful palm of anyone who would repent and turn to Him. This calling, however, is resistible. While God always has His hand outstretched, humans have the option to turn their backs to it. Grant Osborne puts it this way, “God calls us to salvation, but we must respond” (Osborne, 223).
Next, comes the topic of justification. If one were to look up this term in a Bible dictionary, one would find that this word refers to, “that judicial act of God by which, on the basis of the meritorious work of Christ, imputed to the sinner and received through faith, God declares the sinner absolved from sin” (Douglass, 58). If one were writing down possibilities for themes in the book of Romans, “justification” would certainly be on the top of the list. At a quick glance, the concept of “justification” or being “justified” is mentioned fifteen times within Romans sixteen chapters (Strong, 578). Paul seems to focus solely on justification from the point of view of God, only making reference to the human side of things in stating “though faith” (Romans 5:1). While it is of the upmost importance to understand justification from the standpoint of God, this does not mean that humans are off the hook when it comes to this concept. We have all been justified through the grace of Jesus Christ displayed at the cross, but it is up to humans to respond to that justification out of faith.
What of being “glorified?” Walvoord and Zuck note that this action from God is in the past tense (Walvoord and Zuck, 474). What is the purpose of stating this in the past tense? Has God already glorified those who have acknowledged His justification and have responded willingly to His calling? Perhaps this displays God’s confidence that the glorification of every believer is a certainty (Walvoord and Zuck, 474). At the end of the life of a human, we will be fully transformed into the image of Jesus. Previously, it was remarked that being “co-heirs” with Christ implied the receiving of an inheritance. What would be inherited? The item to be inherited is glory. Jesus received His ultimate glory by rising from the grave, thus defeating sin and death. Now that He sits at the right hand of the Father awaiting the moment to return, those who have accepted Him as their Savior and have spent their lives trying to live as closely to His Word as possible wait anxiously to share in the glory He received, and be transformed into His perfect image.
All Bible verses were read and studied from a New International Version translation of the Scriptures.
Douglass, J.D., and Merrill Chapin Tenney. The New International Dictionary of the Bible: Pictorial Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997. Print.
Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996. Print.
Osborne, Grant R. Romans (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.) IVP Academic, 2010. Print.
Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: With Main Concordance, Appendix to the Main Concordance, Topical Index to the Bible, Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, Dictionary of the Greek New Testament. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1996. Print.
Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, and Imprint of Cook Communications Ministries, 2004. Print.