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 (Rom. 8:29).
Those who believe in some form of Augustine’s or Reformer Calvin’s doctrine of predestination interpret this verse to mean that God chooses who will be saved before the beginning of time and who will go to hell, without their will and choices in life having anything to do with the decision.
This series of blogs is concerning the doctrine of Predestination vs. Free Will pertaining to whether or not people have a choice or can exercise free will regarding their own salvation. I do believe in some aspects of Predestination, such as the election of Israel which is primarily what Romans chapters 9-11 are about. I do not believe God is an unjust monster who condemns people to hell for no fault of their own, which is what you have to accept to believe the doctrine of Predestination as it is commonly taught.
The first problem I have with the Calvinistic interpretation of Rom. 8:29 is that Paul is not even speaking about salvation. What he says is, “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Being conformed to the image of Jesus is something that happens long after salvation in a person’s life; and, personally, I have never met a Christian who has reached this point in his sanctification.
Salvation, as I explain in my blog titled “Salvation 101,” consists of three major phases: justification which happens instantly when someone gets save, sanctification which is an ongoing process of the work of the Holy Spirit, and then finally at some future time, glorification. When Paul speaks of being conformed to the image of Jesus, he is not speaking of initial salvation but rather the end product of salvation. Being conformed to the image of His Son is on the opposite end of the spectrum from initial justification.
Thus, what Paul is saying in this passage is that those who have been saved are predestined by God to eventually be conformed to the image of His Son. In other words, that is God’s predetermined plan for them. However, I would still argue that even after initial salvation, it is still up the will of the believer whether or not he will progress far enough to be conformed to His image. He must remain faithful, as we will see.
Now I want to examine the word “foreknew.” Predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge. The foreknowledge of God is very important and the key to understanding Paul’s “predestination.” That God has foreknowledge of who will get saved and who will not cannot be disputed. It says in Psalm 139:16,
Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days [of my life] were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was none of them (Ps. 139:16 AMP).
Not only does God know everything we will ever think, decide, or do, but those things were written in His book before we are ever born—and before the world was ever created! In one of the visions God gave me, He showed me a scene from my future. The time of the vision was the Millennial reign of Messiah. It was like watching a newsreel of something from the past. I had a sense that in some realm my whole life had already been lived out, and in the vision I was watching it as a historical event. This, of course, is no problem for God. He is not at all bound by time like we are.
To say God has foreknowledge of everything we will ever do before we are born, is not to say He has chosen who will get saved in advance without any of their will being involved. The foreknowledge being spoken of by Paul in Rom. 8:29 is a specific aspect of God’s knowledge and may not even be referring to God’s ultimate foreknowledge of everything. The “foreknew” of Rom. 8:29 is speaking of those God knew through a future relationship of salvation (although for Him it is not future because He is the I AM, not the I Will Be). These He predestined to be conformed to His image. In other words, the foreknowledge is a relational kind of knowledge of the believer through salvation. For example, Jesus said,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7:21-23).
Jesus says to these people who are doing things in His name “I never knew you.” Now obviously, as God, He had a foreknowledge of them before they were ever born; but He had no relationship knowledge of them because they were hypocrites and not true believers.
However, those whom He has chosen He does know:
“I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me’” (John 13:18).
But not even everyone He knows relationally and is chosen will necessarily be saved, as the above case concerning Judas. Even after a person is chosen, he must remain faithful. Judas was predestined, called, and chosen to be one of the 12 apostles; yet he lost his salvation by his own choices.
Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).
Also, we should note that being chosen comes after being called. Jesus said,
“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).
So the order is first being called. If a person accepts that call by his own free will, then he or she is justified. Then, if they remain faithful, they are chosen; but all along they must remain faithful:
These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:14).
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight — if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard (Col. 1:21-23).
In the next verse after Rom. 8:29, Paul sums up God’s whole plan for those He foreknew would get saved:
Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Rom. 8:30).
So the predestination Paul is speaking of here is essentially God’s overall plan for the believer based on His foreknowledge of them getting saved.
Thus, Romans 8:29 should be interpreted to mean:
For whom He foreknew [in a relationship of salvation], He also predestined [determined that they should also someday] be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren [if they continue to be faithful].
Paul was not saying through this verse that God predestines people to go to hell before they are born through no choice of their own.
Someone may say, “I am still not convinced.” Therefore, we will look at another verse where Paul uses the word “predestine.”
Ephesians 1:2 is saying essentially the same thing as Romans 8:29,
. . . just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will . . . (Eph 1:4b-5a).
God chooses those who would believe before the foundation of the world and predestined them to adoption as sons. Again, just as “being conformed to the image of His Son” is not speaking of initial salvation, neither is “predestined us to adoption as sons”; but rather its speaks of glorification.
The Greek word translated “adoption” here is not a good translation and totally misses the point. The word is uihothesia and was a legal term concerning a custom in the Roman world and does not mean “adoption” in the English sense. It literally means, “son placing” and has to do with a mature son coming to age to receive the full inheritance. We are not adopted into God’s family. We are born into it through the second birth! While I cannot do a treatise on this word here, I can quote a scripture from Paul himself proving that the word is speaking of something believers will come into—in the future.
Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23).
This is the same Greek word used in Eph. 1:5, so the verse is certainly not speaking of being predestined for salvation. Rather it is like Rom. 8:29 speaking of those who God foreknew would get saved are also predestined to the plan to come to full maturity [if they remain faithful as numerous Scriptures show]. In other words, those who God foreknew by His omniscient foreknowledge because they would get saved, He predestined to be included in His entire plan of salvation. That is, not to be only justified, but to be conformed to the image of Christ also and thereby being placed as mature sons who share in the full inheritance of Jesus Christ.
Now let’s look at a picture of this in the Old Testament, which was a shadow of things to come in the New Testament.
Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac from his own family. When he got there, the servant presented his invitation (the call) for marriage. But then the girl had to (believe it or not) exercise her will as to whether she would go with the man or not. She had a choice to either accept the invitation or reject it.
So they said, “We will call the young woman and ask her personally.” Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, “I will go.” So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham's servant and his men (Gen. 24:57-59).
Was the free will of the girl involved? Yes. In fact, because of this passage, to this day the Jewish rabbis say that even if the marriage is arranged by parents, the girl may by her own free will refuse the invitation.
Rebekah answered the call, but still Isaac had to accept her. He may not have liked her for some reason and not “chosen” to marry her if she was not pleasing to Him, but he did choose her. Thus, we have a call from the servant of the bridegroom (the Holy Spirit), the girl exercises her will and accepts the call, and then she is chosen and married.
In my next blog we will examine “. . . for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand . . . Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Uh, Oh! It certainly looks like He predestined Esau to hell through no fault of his own. I may end up being a Calvinist yet!