Do You Know Your Predestination? Understanding Romans 8:28-30

Do You Know Your Predestination? Understanding Romans 8:28-30

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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. 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. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28–30 NIV)

Certainly the most-debated verses in all of Romans 8 are these, and here careful attention must be paid not only to what is said, but also what is not said. Verse 28 is meant to provide assurance to Christians under pressure and perhaps even suffering, that God works everything together for good for those who love him. Notice that this verse does not say everything that happens is good, or even everything that happens is God’s will. To the contrary, it says God is like a weaver, weaving together all sorts of things to a good end. God can even use suffering and sin and even evil for the good of those who love him. Second, we have here the rare phrase “those who love [God],” which in context clearly means Christians—those who have the Spirit of God in their lives and confess Christ. It is then not just anyone who has all things worked together for them. This is a promise for believers.

There are, in fact, two parallel clauses here “those who love [God]” and “[those] who have been called according to his purpose/choice.” Both refer to the same group of people. What is less clear is whether there is a reference to God’s choice or the human response to God’s call. Clearly God is the one who calls here. This could even mean God’s call is based on his knowledge of who, by their own choice, will respond to the call. The phrases are elliptical and capable of being explained in several ways, hence the debate over them.

In the Greek, verse 29 is clearly linked backward with the previous verse, so it should be read: “because those whom God foreknew would love him, he destined in advance to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters” (author’s translation). So just to be ultra clear, this is not about someone being destined to become a Christian, but rather it is about the destiny of those who love God, those who have already responded to the call. This is not about being elected to be a Christian, it’s about the great and glorious destiny of anyone who is in Christ—namely, that they will be conformed to the image of God’s Son at the resurrection, and Jesus will have many kinsmen and kinswomen in the same bodily condition as he is already in.

Verse 30 explains God’s role in every step of the process of the salvation of a human being. It says that those who God destined in advance, he also called, and those who he called he set right, and those he set right, he also glorified. Of course, this final sentence of this paragraph refers to both things that have happened and things that have not happened. The point is to make clear that God is involved every step of the way in our salvation. It is not to say that we believers have no role in the process. Of course we do. Paul says this repeatedly elsewhere, but here the stress is rightly on God’s almighty power to save, and his great love for his people.

  1. What does this text promise to “those who love [God]” and have responded to God’s call?
  2. Does this text suggest that everything that happens is ultimately God’s will, or not?
  3. Write down five qualities you have observed in the Scriptures about the life of Jesus, then pray about being conformed in each of those qualities.

Did you enjoy this entry? Discover our OneBook: Daily-Weekly Bible studies, of which this entry is a part. The OneBook: Letter to the Romans by Ben Witherington study takes readers through one of the most important and most commented on parts of the Bible, paragraph by paragraph. Order the book and video studies from our store here.


One Response

  1. To Ben, I read your article and it is inspiring, The church I have been going to really emphasizes grace which I so lack in my understanding of God. It has really been encouraging for me that God does not see me based on my own weaknesses. I do have an issue with some of the Pastor’s understanding of Calvinism. He believes that we do not have an ability with accepting God’s love and mercy and so it is God who chooses us. I asked him about it and he pointed me to Rom. 8: 29-30. I began reading the verses and I see what he is saying. Of course I always understand that we have to read all verses in context so I continued reading. As I am reading Romans 9 I start seeing a better picture of the context. I believe that at that time the church was having a hard time seeing God open his grace to the Gentiles and that becomes clear in Acts 15 with the meeting up of all the leaders dealing with the Judaizers requiring the Gentile believers needing to be circumcised. Also in Acts 10 God gave a vision to Peter to not call anything unclean that God has created. In Romans 9 Paul is agonizing over his brethren through the flesh and wanted to see them receive the grace of God. I continued to read and Paul now used the analogy of the pot and the potter. Some pots he makes for glory and other for destruction. Now I am really confused. He speaks of Ishmael and Jacob as an example. He chose to hate Ishmael and chose to love Jacob. Poor Ishmael he never had a chance. Did he really hate Ishmael? I believe that Ishmael represented the old covenant and Jacob represented the New covenant and the old covenant is attempt of man to be good for God or to depend on their own “goodness” to please God. That is exactly what Ishmael was doing. Well anyway as I continue to read it makes more sense that God does not choose people to receive his mercy but that God is opening his grace for all which means Jews and Gentiles. This seems to settle the issue that could have broken up the church. As I read Romans 10:9 it makes so much more sense what it means. The gospel is for everyone who humbly accepts God’s mercy, Paul even warns the gentile believers not to get to haughty about them being grafted in so we all are sinners who need God’s mercy.

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