The Blessing of Guidance - Page 2 (series: lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
Paul has already given us two sources of encouragement for the believer, in the midst of the distress of this world. He has presented the future adoption of our bodies at the coming of the Lord as a source of strength and hope. The Spirit of God within us is also given as a source of strength. Now the apostle lists a third source of encouragement for the believer. In the midst of the sufferings of this life, God has given us knowledge that He is working out every detail of life to fall in line with His eternal purpose for our lives. He is doing it for them who are the called according to his purpose. There is nothing in the makeup of our universe to make us optimistic that everything will eventually work out to the satisfaction of good people. Rather, Paul is simply saying that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him. The called is not used here in the general sense of “many are called but few are chosen,” but in the specific sense of those who comprise the family of God. Therefore, the promise of all things working together for good is given to a specific group, the called (i.e., those who are in Christ Jesus and justified by His blood, and who have responded to His call.). The world, in general, does not have this promise. All things, however contrary to us, are under His control. Troubles, therefore, do not hinder Christian progress. Instead, they serve to further the intention of God’s grace.
To them that are called—the two descriptions, those who love God, and those who are the called are to one another as cause and effect. Those who love God are necessarily those who are called. It is significant that a believers love for God always follows God’s calling of him, and is undoubtedly the product of the indwelling Holy Spirit—“We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). The call (always in the Epistles an effectual call) produces the response of love for Him who calls. As believers, we were foreknown and foreordained prior to our birth. Yet God does not manipulate us like puppets. Rather He calls us; He beseeches us to receive His offer of salvation. When we are quickened by the Spirit of God and respond to His call in faith, we are then justified in His sight by faith.
29 For whom He foreknew*, He also predestined* to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
For whom He foreknew,—this and the next verse confirm verse 28, providing the ground of the certainty that God works all things together for good. While God foreknows all men, according to His attribute of forethought, yet obviously the word here refers to those who have been described as “them that love God.” God foreknew us in eternity past. This was not mere intellectual knowledge. As far as knowledge is concerned, He knew everyone who would ever be born All ideas of human merit are absent from this passage since what is being stressed is the absolute sovereignty of God in all His purposes and actions. Foreknowledge is not the same as predestination; the very verse before us distinguishes the two. His foreknowledge marks out the persons; His predestination determines His purposes and acts on their behalf. Illustration: On the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter vividly illustrated the harmony between God’s sovereignty and man’s personal responsibility. Even though the Cross was in the eternal plan of God and part of His sovereign will, those who crucified Christ did so as a rebellious act of their will. Therefore, they bore personal responsibility for Christ’s death. We too are responsible for our personal actions and behavior. “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23).
Probably no doctrine has evoked a greater variety of interpretations than that of God’s foreknowledge. Although it is true that foreknowledge means to know beforehand, in the context of God’s purpose, to interpret the expression in this way would be an oversimplification. For God to preview history in order to discern our response to the gospel, and then act accordingly, would make the creature sovereign over the Creator. When God takes knowledge of His people it is more than just a basic understanding of them. It is the knowledge a father has of his child. God knows and loves the world, but His foreknowledge of His own is an intimate knowledge, which results in an abiding love (5:8) for us that, draws us to Him in salvation.
God alone has complete knowledge; nothing can be hidden from Him—“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to
the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Prov. 15:11). Nothing escapes His notice. He is absolutely omniscient. He is constantly aware of all that is going on in the universe. Of course, the important point in this context is that He knows where there is real faith and where there is only intellectual assent to facts. Foreknowledge must be understood as a part of God’s relationship to His creation (Jer. 1:5). Reconciling God’s foreknowledge with the moral responsibility of humankind is a wonderful mystery of theology. In any case, God’s salvation is born out of His eternal purposes and is not dependent upon our own initiative or the world’s changing circumstances—“He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Pet. 1:20). Christ’s work for us was no afterthought on God’s part. The Redeemer was destined to die for us before the creation of the world. But at the end of the times, that is, at the end of the dispensation of law, He appeared from heaven to rescue us from our former way of life. Lincoln comments: “In these last times—the world’s moral history was closed at the cross of Christ. It has shown itself fully and got to its end before God.”
He also predestined—what was it that was predestined? It was that those who are saved will be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the foreknowledge of God was knowledge with a purpose that could never be frustrated. It is not enough to say that God foreknew those whom He realized would one day repent and believe. Actually, His foreknowledge insures eventual repentance and belief.
That ungodly sinners will one day be transformed into the image of Christ by a miracle of grace is one of the most astounding truths of divine revelation. The point is not, of course, that we will ever have the attributes of deity, or even that we will have Christ’s facial resemblance, but that we will be morally like Him, absolutely free from sin, and will have glorified bodies like His.
God’s foreknowledge or predestination is not the same as fatalism. Fatalism says that the world is plunging headlong toward an indeterminate end. Paul teaches that there is a very determinate end for those who are the called. Their end or goal is to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We are not plunging downward but are progressing upward in being sanctified toward the Son of Righteousness. As believers, we should become more and more like the Master every day. God has planned for us a final and complete conformity to the resurrection glory of the Lord—“And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (I Cor. 15:49). As we have borne the characteristics of Adam as to our natural birth, we shall also bear the image of Christ in our resurrection bodies. It is the eternal purpose of God that we become increasingly more conformed to the image of Him who is the Supreme Being in the universe.
to be conformed to the image of His Son,—Believers are to be conformed not merely to something that is like Him but to what He is Himself both in His spiritual body and in His moral character. In the latter respect, Christ is to be visible in believers now—in their actions, attitude, and words. The conformity to Christ will be fully and permanently accomplished, spirit, soul and body, when the Lord comes to receive them to Himself. This is not accomplished by their self-effort, but by the foreknowledge and foreordaining grace of God.
That He might be the firstborn among many brethren.—the resurrected and glorified Lord 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. Moreover, Jesus has the highest position as the head of this new group of people. “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). And he is the head of the body, the church; He alone, and no one else. He directs, controls, guides, and governs the church. The church is His body; He is its source and its life. Christ is not the first of a series, but the source. Christ is the source of new creation and the sovereign Head of that new creation. That in all things He might have the pre-eminence; He alone, not angels or men. Christ has unshared supremacy; He has first place; He is in a class by Himself; He is eminent above all others. It is not enough for Christ to be present, nor prominent; He must be pre-eminent.