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.

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Dr. Witherington joined the Asbury Seminary faculty in 1995. A prolific author, Dr. Witherington has written more than 40 books and six commentaries. He is a John Wesley Fellow for Life, a research fellow at Cambridge University and a member of numerous professional organizations, including the Society of Biblical Literature, Society for the Study of the New Testament and the Institute for Biblical Research. In his leisure time, Dr. Witherington appreciates both music and sports. It is hard to say which sound he prefers: the sophisticated sonance of jazz sensation Pat Metheny or the incessant tomahawk chant of the Atlanta Braves faithful. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he is a dedicated Tar Heels basketball and football fan. He and his wife, Ann, have two children.

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