Sovereign Grace From Eternity to Eternity: Meditation on Romans 8:29-30


Romans 8:29-30 is typically referred to as the “golden chain” of salvation. It is easy to see why:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This chain is an affirmation from Paul that what God began in believers, he will bring to 4096x3072completion at the day of Christ (Phil. 1:6). There is great certainty and assurance in Romans 8:29-30. God is presented as the initiator of salvation as well as the perfecter and finisher of that salvation. God foreknew persons and predestined those whom he would “call”, “justify”, and “glorify”.

In these verses, Paul “traces God’s good and saving purpose through five stages from its beginning in his mind [election] to its consummation in the coming glory [final perseverance].”[1] Paul states in verse 29 that God predestined those who would believe in Jesus based on his foreknowledge of those individuals (“those whom he foreknew”). The emphasis in verse 29 is God’s initial act of grace in salvation.[2]

This clear summation of the whole experience and work of salvation in Romans teaches that from the first step to the last, salvation is all due to God’s good pleasure and grace. In this passage, salvation is traced from God’s decision to save a remnant of sinners through his divine and effectual call, on to his justification of such sinners, and then to the final glorification of these sinners. Therefore, one must attest his or her final perseverance and final glorification to the God who predestined, called, and justified him or her. Since God is shown to have foreknown individuals in verse 29, it seems quite clear (at least to me) that the Calvinistic interpretation of individual unconditional election is being taught by Paul.

God has indeed chosen individuals, but this is not due to any merit found in them (Rom. 9:11, 15-16; 1 Cor. 1:28-30), so that no man can boast (1 Cor. 1:29), except in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31).

Romans 8:29-30 presents an unbreakable chain of salvation that is initiated and completed by God. God receives ultimate glory for both his electing grace and his preserving grace. No one can thwart the purposes of God, particularly his purpose of salvation. And once God has chosen us and called us, we will willfully believe in Christ and be justified before God. From here, no one can separate us from the love of Christ and we will be glorified (Rom. 8:37-39). Our salvation carries a level of certainty and surety because it is entirely a work of God. God will complete what he began (Phil. 1:6). In the same way that God initiates our salvation by choosing us (predestination), and we choose him by a desire for him installed in us by him (“called” and “justified”), we remain in Christ by God’s work of preservation in us and our work of perseverance by continued faith in Christ (“glorification”).

Bottom line, God will be faithful to complete what he has begun. “God gets all the glory, for salvation is wholly his work.”[3]

Romans 8:29-30 gives us a great certainty and confidence in our salvation, since it is clear that God is in control and is the primary actor at each step. Our hope in final perseverance is rooted in our hope in God’s election; for if he has predestined us, he will glorify us. We will be able to “face the most nightmarish future on earth with triumph in our hearts.”[4] Paul then reasons after giving such firm certainty in v. 29-30 that God will give us all things (v. 32) and then he exclaims, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn” (v. 33-34)? Answer: No one (Rom. 8:1)! “The true believer could never ultimately fail to overcome.”[5]

J.I. Packer states it well:

And as the Christian surveys this unfathomable, free, almighty, endless love of the Father and the Son that laid hold on him before time began and has ransomed him and quickened him and is pledged to bring him safe through life’s battles and storms to the unutterable joys which God has in store for His children, so he finds himself longing more than anything to answer love with love…[6]

From this glorious passage, we can confirm the Calvinistic view of unconditional election as well as the Calvinistic view of final perseverance. This is because salvation belongs to the Lord—all of salvation (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9). So, not only is it logical that final perseverance stems from unconditional election, but it is also biblical according to Romans 8:29-30 that final perseverance must follow unconditional election. There is double joy to be found in the sovereign grace of the God who works from eternity to eternity in his immeasurable love to save sinners through Christ. In the words of John Piper,

“The plain point of this passage is that God is working infallibly to save his people, from foreknowing in eternity past to glorifying in eternity future. None is lost at any stage of redemption along the way…God really accomplishes the complete redemption of his people from start to finish.”[7]


 

[1] Stott, John R.W. The Message of Romans. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994, p. 248

[2] Ibid., p. 249

[3] Schreiner, Thomas R. and Caneday, Ardel B. The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, p. 321

[4] Packer, J.I. 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know. Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008, p. 162

[5] MacArthur, John. The Gospel According to Jesus. Revised and Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988, 1994, p. 229

[6] Ibid., p.162

[7] Piper, John. The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 1991, p. 140, 143


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

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5 thoughts on “Sovereign Grace From Eternity to Eternity: Meditation on Romans 8:29-30

  1. Matt – just my Arminian 2c worth here.

    I’ve always read this passage this wasy “For those whom he foreknew,” both corporately and individually, “he also predestined” or determined beforehand, that they would “be conformed to the image of his Son.” I feel that Calvinism expands the idea of predestination far beyond the scope of what is outlined in these verses.

    As to perseverance, this Arminian will agree with you that since Salvation is wholly a work of God all who have begun the journey of Salvation will complete it. To deny the perseverance of the saints seems to me to tip Arminianism toward Semi-Pelagianism for it appears to put the work of Salvation back into the hands of man (if he can do something to ‘lose’ his salvation, it means he does something to ‘keep’ his salvation and therefore is involved in the work of salvation).

    I think the pivotal difference in this whole area between Arminian and Calvinist theology is that Calvinists view grace as irresistible and we do not.

    1. Thanks once again for your well-articulated perspective. I am always eager for comments that provide balance to a discussion of precious gospel truths. Your interaction has truly blessed me. You have surprised me with your stance on perseverance of the saints, though. I didn’t expect you to uphold it. I’m pumped we stand in agreement on this! Haha

      I agree with you that denying perseverance of the saints gives Arminianism a tang of Semi-Pelagianism, but I shy away from suggesting this because most Arminians take offense to it. I think you are the first Arminian I have interacted with that believes in perseverance of the saints. Is there a particular sect or tradition within Arminianism that believes this or are you simply differing from those in your tradition? I have Charismatic and Wesleyan friends that deny perseverance of the saints and find it as preposterous as unconditional individual election.

      Also, do you think it is logical to believe in both conditional individual election and perseverance of the saints? I guess I am asking more of a philosophical question. I am assuming as an Arminian you hold to a libertarian understanding of free will. Do you believe that libertarian free will can coincide with perseverance of the saints? In other words, a person is just as likely to deny Christ as trust Christ in libertarian free will, which is the philosophical basis of conditional election. Do you believe this changes once a person is saved? Is a person not free in the libertarian sense to deny Christ once he or she is saved? Does your understanding of free will go from libertarian to compatabilistic once a person is saved? I’m just kinda thinking on the fly here. I think most Arminians would see a philosophical problem with people essentially losing freedom to choose or reject Christ once they are saved. I’m curious to see how you would respond to those kinds of rejections. If I have not been clear in what I am asking, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.

      You by no means have to address all of my questions. The relationship between individual election and perseverance of the saints intrigues me. If you would prefer to write a guest post on my blog addressing some of these questions rather than responding in a lengthy comment, I would welcome that. You have a unique perspective and a winsome, Christlike attitude that my readers and I would benefit from. Let me know what you think. As always, thanks! Blessings!

      1. Hey Matthew. Thanks for the reply – I’ll endevour to answer your questions below, and maybe a guest post in the future would be cool. Let me know what specific topic you would like covered and I’ll work on it.

        I’d agree with you that most people who identify as Arminian also hold to the ability of a redeemed person falling from Grace (‘real apostasy’). However, there has always been room for Arminians who hold to the perseverance of the saints. The fifth article of the ‘Articles of Remonstrance’ leaves this issue open for the Arminian:
        “But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginning of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was deliv¬ered them, of losing a good conscience, of be¬coming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, be¬fore we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our mind.”
        I have a growing number of ‘non-Calvinist’ friends (I think they are all Arminians, whether they ‘own’ the label or not) who are embracing the perseverance of the saints. I believe this is due to an emphasis on grace in the life of the believer and a renewed understanding of the implications that the resurrection has for us. The new birth is moving from death to life, we are a ‘new creation’, the significance of what has happened goes far beyond the mental assent required in repeating a 30-second sinners’ prayer. Although probably not prevalent in Charismatic and Wesleyan circles (yet!) I do believe (hope!) that it will grow as this renewed emphasis continues.

        Also, I wouldn’t go so far as calling them ‘Semi-Pelagian’ either. I just see that the undergirding view of salvation required tends toward that understanding.

      2. Now, regarding your question on the role and nature of the will in my understanding of Salvation and perseverance. Some preliminary points:
        1. No one can save themselves or is capable of even choosing God apart from Grace – Total Depravity.
        2. Like Calvinism, I also believe that grace is released before salvation in order to make salvation possible. The key difference is that I see this grace as being resistible. This grace frees the will allowing a person to now choose God.
        3. Once the will has been freed by prevenient grace, a person can choose to receive God or not. God does not foreordain this choice for them. The role of this choice in Salvation is nothing more than the passive reception of what God has made available through His Son. This choice to receive Salvation is separate to the work of Salvation. The choice precedes Salvation and God responds to that choice.
        4. As an Arminian, I do not hold what is normally called ‘libertarian free will’, in the strict philosophical sense in that a person is capable of doing whatever they want to apart from external influences. Instead, I believe in a situated free will–free will within limits and within contexts. I do not say that God never interferes with man’s free will (there are many, many scriptural examples of this. In fact anytime God speaks or appears on the scene He has interfered with the course of events).

        I’m no philosopher and I am still coming to grips with my own view on this, but my understanding of man’s will is that it is truly free in that his choices are not foreordained in any way by another (e.g. God foreordaining, even via the secondary causes involved in a compatibilist view). However, in another sense man’s will is not free but seems to be captive to his nature. For example, in his fallen state he cannot choose God apart from the enabling grace of God. At salvation it is not the nature of his will that changes but the very nature of his being. He was dead but is now alive, he is a new creation, translated from the kingdom of darkness into that of the Son, he is no longer a sinner but a saint. Now his will is ‘captive’ to this new nature.

        In the old nature his tendency was toward sin and evil and could do nothing to save himself (however, he wasn’t completely depraved in that he couldn’t do anything good). In this new nature his tendency is toward holiness and goodness and now can do nothing to ‘unsave’ himself (although the process of sanctification is still being outworked in his experience. Like Adam, he can still sin without a sin nature).

        Since his choice is not a part of the work Salvation, it has no bearing on his perseverance in Salvation. The only role his choice has in Salvation is that it is this passive act of receiving which God responds to.

        As a related side-note, an Arminian’s objection to compatabilistic free will is not because we see the will as completely (libertarian-style) free. Like you, we also see God interfering with our will. It is that if we were to accept a compatabilistic conception of free will we would also have to accept that God foreordains and renders certain, evil (even if it is via secondary causes).

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