Romans 8:29-30 is perhaps the most Calvinistic passage of Scripture in the Bible. Here the Apostle Paul makes the following declaration: “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. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (NKJV) The question of the hour is, what do these two verses mean? Is Paul speaking in salvific terms? Is he giving the world a glimpse into the mind of God as He reaches out to touch the hearts of sinners to make them part of His eternal family? The Calvinist says this is exactly what Paul is doing and this is exactly what these two verses are referring to.
In looking at the Greek,
“for those He knew beforehand, He indeed appointed beforehand (predestined) those to be fashioned in the image of His Son that He might be the first born among many brothers. Those He predestined He called by name, invited and those He called those He also justified and those He justified He also glorified.”
These verbs are all aorist active indicative tenses. They indicate that the action of the verb has already taken place with respect to the subject of the verb. Given the tense of the verb, it is clear at least grammatically speaking, this cannot refer to action that is yet to be taken. The Calvinist argument that glorification is so set in the mind of God that it is virtually already settled is not easily substantiated grammatically in this passage of Scripture. This will be highlighted in greater detail later. With this in mind, is there a contextual application that might better suit Paul’s statement?
Paul begins chapter 8 with these words, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:1-2 NKJV) It is clear that Paul is speaking if not to Christians, about Christians. In verse 4 he settles that question when he wrote, “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”(NKJV) He goes on to say “8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Rom 8:8-9 NKJV) “16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Rom 8:16-17 NKJV) Paul is establishing the foundation for their inclusion in the family of God.
Notice the phrase, “if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.” This is an important phrase in the exegesis of this text. Paul has taken great lengths to identify the Roman Christians with the family of God; they are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus. So, how are these Roman Christians to respond to the persecution they are facing? This present suffering will end in glorification. What about the tenses in this verse? If we “suffer” is a present active indicative which indicates that Paul is speaking of persecution they are currently experiencing and “that we may be glorified together” is aorist passive subjunctive; which carries with it an intended action that is yet to be completed. The subjunctive voice even with the aorist tense is an indication that there is no past time indicated by the aorist tense of the verb but anticipates some hypothetical event in the future. So Paul is indicating here that the present suffering the Roman Christians are going through will culminate in glory someday.
Paul says that the world itself is going through this futility and “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21NKJV) Paul continues this concept as he argues the necessity of their present suffering: “23 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. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Rom 8:23-25 NKJV) Notice Paul’s next statement, “we are not alone! We have the Holy Spirit helping us and praying on our behalf!” Notice Paul’s next statement: “27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom 8:27 NKJV)
Who would these Roman Christians think of when the apostle Paul spoke of “the saints?” It is at least fair to assume they might think of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They might think of David, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, all Old Testament saints that God had used to bring Jesus into the world. It is clear that Paul did not think of himself in this category and was not including himself in this company. Notice Paul’s next statement: “28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28-29 NKJV) “We know” is a very important statement here. How do these Roman Christians know that God works “all things out for good for those who love the Lord?” Because they had been taught the Old Testament and they knew that God had worked in the lives of those Old Testament saints and He had brought them through untold difficulties to glory!
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. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Rom 8:29-30 NKJV) Notice the conjunction, “for”’; it ties what is about to be said with what has just been said. We know what God has done for the Old Testament saints, those that He “already knew, He predestined, (aorist indicative, completed action) to be conformed to the image or likeness of His Son. They died long before Jesus was even born but they are still a part of the promises of God! God planned from the beginning to bring their salvation to completion in Christ Jesus. Moreover, those He predestined (aorist indicative, completed action) He justified (aorist indicative, completed action) and those He justified He glorified (aorist indicative, completed action). If Paul had any intended notion that he was speaking to the Roman Christians he would have used the same tense he used previously in verse 16, that being the aorist passive subjective. He did not do so because he was speaking here of the Old Testament saints who had already died but God had provided hope for.
Paul continues, “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31 NKJV) If God took care of the Old Testament saints, will He not do the same for us? Yes! “32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom 8:21-36 NKJV) Paul is not at all speaking of predestination of individuals to conversion: he is speaking to these Roman Christians who are suffering immense persecution and encouraging them to “keep the faith” for the God who brought the Old Testament saints to glory is going to bring them to glory!
Paul concludes chapter 8 with this great charge, “37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:37-39 NKJV)
Paul simply wanted the newly born again Christians in Rome to know that they were covered by the blood that covered the saints of old and the same God that brought them out of the immense persecutions they endured would bring them out of those they were enduring.