"Since whom he foreknows He predestines to be conformed to the image of his Son for him to be the firstborn among many brothers. Whom he predestines, these he also calls, and whom he calls, these he also justifies, whom he justified, he also glorifies."
The above passage is read by Calvinists to mean God had foreknown those he elected before creation and predestined these chosen individuals to become Christians. We shall now see very clearly and decisively how they have very badly misinterpreted Paul's message. Paul intends to tell us those faithful Jews whom God had known before the death and resurrection of Christ, had also been before designated to be conformed to the image of Christ. In other words, Paul is saying the death and resurrection of Christ was the fulfillment of the Law and they are now to be conformed to his image in suffering that they may also be conformed to his image in resurrection glory so that Christ would be the firstborn among many brothers.
"Foreknow" and "Predestine"
The words "foreknow" and "predestine" are key to this passage. The word "foreknow" is the Greek word proginosko (proginwskw). It is formed from the Greek words pro, "before," and ginosko, "to know." The Greek word proginosko means "to know beforehand." The word "predestine" is the word proorizo (proorizw ). It is formed from the Greek words pro, "before," and horizo, "to fix/designate." The Greek word proorizo means "to predetermine," or to fix/designate beforehand" and it carries the sense of establishing a boundary, usually in the sense of predetermining a future condition. The word horizo was used by Paul at Romans 1:4 when he tells us that Christ was established Son of God in power by his resurrection. The word proorizo is sometimes translated as "foreordained."
The verb "foreknow" (proginosko) is used four other times in the New Testament:
My manner of life from my youth, from the beginning among my own nation, and at Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews, who knew me beforehand from the first, if they desire to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I am a Pharisee.
"God did not cast away His people whom He knew beforehand." (Romans 11:2).
"[Christ] known beforehand, before the foundation of the world, and manifested in these last times for your sake." (1 Peter 1:20).
"You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be cautious lest you be led away." (2 Peter 3:17).
We must clearly understand how Paul is using the word "foreknow" in this passage. He is not talking about God looking down the corridors of time from eternity past and into the future. The idea of God knowing the future is not even present in this passage. If indeed Paul was referring to "those He foreknew," in the sense of those He knew about in the future, we would have to say he knew everyone and then we would also have to say he predestined everyone to be conformed to the image of God's Son. The word "foreknow" here is used in the sense of God knowing some people in an intimate personal relational sense, in the past, as in "Adam knew Eve" and "I never knew you." The people that God foreknows are "those who love Him" as Paul has just mentioned in the previous verse. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "if anyone loves God, he is known by Him." (1 Cor 8:3). The word implies a love relationship between one person and another. Calvinists do recognize that Paul uses the word in this sense and so we do not need to dwell here any further on this matter.
The word predestine (proorizo) is used four other times in the New Testament:
You did anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever your hand and your counsel predestined to come to pass. (Acts 4:28).
We speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory, the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood. For if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But just as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Corinthians 2:7-9).
In love, He predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.... and we have been made heirs, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will. (Ephesians 1:5,11).
Who God Foreknew and Predestined
At Romans 8:29, Paul says that God predestined some people to be conformed to the image of God's Son. Who are these people? Who had God known beforehand in the past? If we look forward just a little in this same letter, we find Paul more clearly identifying who he has in mind - Israel.
I ask, then, has God rejected His people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew." (11:1-2).
Now in Romans 9-11, Paul will get into this in more specific detail but here in chapter 8 he simply wants to show that God had predestined the nation of Israel to be conformed to the image of His Son. Paul's whole line of argumentation from chapter 2 right through chapter 11 involves establishing that the Law of Moses could not justify the Jew and God sent his Son to do what the Law could not do (8:3-4). In the book of Acts, Paul addresses his Jewish brethren in Antioch of Pisidia and explains to them that forgiveness of sins was now available to them that they could not receive under the Law of Moses (13:16-39). He tells the same message right here in Romans when he says that now a righteousness of God is manifested which the Law and the Prophets had testified and Jesus' death was an atoning sacrifice for those sins previously commited under the Law (Rom 3:21-25; cf. Mt 1:21; Heb 9:15). The Law was not given for righteousness but to expose sin (3:20; 5:19-20; 7:1-25; cf. Gal 2:21; 3:19; 1 Cor 15:56). The message of Galatians is similar and Paul tells them that the Law was their tutor and guardian until Christ came to redeem them from the sins committed under the Law and now that the faith of Christ has come they are no longer under the Law (2:19-20; 3:13-4:31). After spending much time explaining that all men are sinners in order to show his Jewish audience they too are sinners, and that the purpose of the Law was to expose sins, the point Paul made at Romans 3:21 is again emphasized at Romans 8:1-4 when he says "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" because God sent his Son to do what the Law of Moses could not do for the Jews of Israel. The Law condemned them and now Christ had finally come to set Israel free from that condemnation. Paul has been explaining to them the new way of the Spirit is now available to them and the Law looked forward to this fulfillment.
The Context of Romans
Paul has had his Roman Jewish brethren in his sights throughout Romans and will have them in his sights until chapter 11 when he turns his attention to the Gentiles of the church in Rome, "Now I am speaking to you Gentiles (11:13). He is appealing to these Jews in the church to understand why the covenant of the Mosaic Law is no longer in effect and that is the reason the nations can come in which is the overall thrust of his purpose in writing Romans (1:5; 16:26). We can see quite clearly that he is specifically addressing his Jewish audience if we simply follow his train of thought through his letter. A Jew was a person who by definition was "under the Law" and a Gentile was one "without the Law" (Rom 2:12). He begins at Romans 2:11 where he distinguishes Jews and Gentiles, "All who have sinned without the Law (Gentiles) will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law (Jews) will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the Law (Jews) who are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law (faithful Jews; see 2:29-29) who will be justified" and at 2:17, "you call yourself a Jew." At Romans 3:1 Paul is still addressing the Jews, "what advantage has the Jew?" Romans 3:9 says, "are we Jews any better?" and 3:19, "whatever the Law speaks it speaks to those under the Law" and "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also" (3:29). And again he includes himself with his Jewish brethren at Romans 4:1, "Abraham our forefather according to flesh" when he proves that justification does not necessarily come through circumcision into the Law since Abraham their very own forefather was not even under the Mosaic Law when God declared his response of faith to be righteous. Throughout chapter 4, Paul focuses on the Jewish rite of circumcision to show that it was a response of faith and not a righteousness of the Law which did not even appear until Moses 430 years later. (see Gal 3:17) and in this way he foils the Jewish claim that righteousness can only come by obedience to the Law (Acts 15:1). Paul ends chapter 4 by telling them Jesus died for their transgressions they had previously committed under the old covenant (3:25; cf. Heb 9:15) and was raised for their justification and in Romans 5:1-11 he goes on to show them they now have peace with God having been his enemies and sinners because God reconciled them to himself through His Son.
Then Paul explains that all humanity is under sin to demonstrate these Jews too are under sin, just as he previously illustrated at Romans 3:9-23, and he ends with giving them the reason for the Law (5:20-21). It was not to make them righteous but to demonstrate to them they were sinners. And in Romans 6 he begins, "what shall we say then?" and advises the Jews they are no longer under the Law because they are under grace (6:14). He begins at Romans 7:1 with the statement, "Do you not know, brethren, for I am speaking to those who know the Law..." and then he remninds those who were baptized into Christ (cf. 6:3-5) were dead to the Mosaic Law because they had died to the Law and were set free from the Law to serve in the newness of the Spirit (7:1-6). And the remainder of Romans 7 illustrates the powerlessness of the Law for the Jew because all men are moral fallen flesh and in bondage to sin. And then at Romans 8:3-4, Paul shows that Jesus came to do what the powerless Law could not do for them, the Jews. It will not be until chapter 11 that paul turns his attention to his Roman Gentile audience. His gospel is "first for the Jew" (1:16) and his concern is for them first and foremost (9:1-5; 10:1) and since he his the Apostle to the nations (Gentiles), he needs to ensure these Jewish brethren do not try to turn his Gentile converts toward doing works of the Mosaic Law.
Once Paul demonstrates to his Jewish brethren they have died to the Mosaic Law with Christ in their conversions, he turns to the benefits of being raised with Christ in the Spirit and explains to them that the same Spirit of life that is in them is the firstfruits of their resurrection glory (8:5-25) and it is in this Spirit they long to be clothed in that glory while they suffer. So when we come to Romans 8:28, and Paul refers to God working out all things to the good for those who love him, he has the suffering Jews in his sights. What God did for Jesus, Paul says that God will do for them, those he foreknew and had predestined to be conformed the image of God's son. Romans 8:29 is a statement that God had planned Christ for the nation of Israel. He had planned for them to become conformed to the image of Christ. Christ was the goal and end of the Law (10:4) and now that Christ had come, and died, and rose again, these Jews were to be conformed to his image in suffering and death in the promise that God will glorify them in the sonship of resurrection (8:17-25; cf. Php 3:10-21).
God Foreknew Israel
The chronological point of reference in Romans 8:29 is the cross. Before the cross, God foreknew the Jews of Israel, those who loved him, and were called according to His good purpose. God was calling Israel His good purpose, to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that Jesus might be the firstborn among many brothers by new birth out of the dead. Israel were those Jews under Law and God sent His Son to do what the Law could not do for them. The goal and end of the Law was the death of Jesus Christ. His death was the ulimate purpose of the Law and the Temple and its sacrifices looked forward to Calvary. God had predestined Israel to be conformed to the image of His Son when that day came. And now Paul pleads with his Jewish brethren, to the Jew first, to suffer and die with Christ just as Christ suffered and died in the promise that they would be raised with Christ and reign with him in glory.
The message of Romans 3:20-26 and the message of Romans 8:3-4 and the message of Romans 8:29-30 are essentially the same message, from the Law to Christ and the way one goes about doing this is by dying with him and being raised up with him in the Spirit. If we back up just a few verses to 8:10-11 we find Paul promising the Jews that if the Spirit of Christ lives in them they will be bodily raised on the day of resurrection. He continues in this theme and teaches them that if indeed they suffer with him in the Spirit and put to death the misdeeds of the flesh they will reign with Jesus (8:12-17). And then he explains to them that these present sufferings are nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in them on the day of resurrection, the Christian hope of glory (8:18-25). Paul is clear when he tells them that one does not hope for something one already has. In Romans 8:30, he says that God will glorify those he predestines in that resurrection. He is discussing the very same thing at 1 Corinthians 2:7-9 and Ephesians 1:5-11. Indeed, this is the final step in being conformed to the image of Christ (1 Cor 15:49). The Jews are to trust God since he works out all things according to his good purpose and will for those who love him (8:28) and their sufferings in Christ will culminate in resurrection glory.
Paul uses the same language at Philippians 3:10-21 where he says:
"That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship his sufferings, being conformed (symmorphoo) to his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.... For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who will conform (symmorphos) our body of humiliation to be like his body of glory, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Php 3:20-21).
Paul is exhorting these Jews to pick up their cross, suffer with Christ, and be conformed to his image in his suffering unto death and his resurrection unto life. When Christ returns and they are resurrected into glory they will be finished being conformed to his image. These Jews God foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of God's Son so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers, he being the firstborn out of the dead (cf. Col 1:18; Rev 1:5). Those Jews he predestined to this He calls to this and those Jews He calls to this He justifies and those Jews He justifies he glorifies. God works out all things to the good for those who love him and their sufferings will be worked out to the good of resurrection glory.
How does Romans 8:29-30 apply to me?
Whenever we read our Bibles, we must be very careful that we understand that every message does not apply to us directly. For example, Jesus taught many of his Jewish brothers to be obedient to the Law before he died on the cross. This is no longer applicable to Jews much less Gentiles who never were under the Law. Much of the time the message is directly applicable to us but much of the time it is not. Levitcus is essentially not applicable to our Christian lives although we may learn much from that book. In the same way, we must be careful to filter what was written so that we know what is applicable to us, or at least how it may be applicable to us in a different way. We must read the Bible understanding who it was written to. The words "you" and "us" and "we" do not always necessarilty refer to "you" the reader or "we/us" Christians. Sometimes they may refer only to Jewish Christians exclusively such as the word "our" at Romans 4:25. Jesus died for our sins too but this is definitely not what Paul is talking about in that verse and through 5:11 where he uses the words "us", "we", and "our" to refer to Jews of which Paul was one. In the case of Romans, it was written to a mixed Jewish/Gentile church in Rome and we must not even then assume that all things said in this letter pertain to every believer in Rome because they do not. Much of it only pertains to those who were Jews before they were Christians. Some of it only pertains to the Gentiles. Some of it pertains to both of them.
At Romans 8:29-30, the contemporary believer may apply the message to himself but he must be very careful. Unless he is a Jew, he must understand that the message of Romans 6:14 and 7:1-6 is not applicable to him, at least not in the strict sense Paul intended since no Gentile dies to the Law when they are baptized into Christ. He can read Romans 8:13-25 and know that if he has the Spirit of Christ and share in his sufferings have the blessed hope of resurrection glory. He can know that if he loves God that God works out all things to the good for him. He can know that God now foreknows him prior to the glorification Paul promises in verse 30. He can know that God has predestined for him this inheritance of heavenly glory. He can know that God calls him to that heavenly reward and will justify him and he can know God will glorify him.
Another reason Calvinists have botched their interpretation of this passage is their view of justification since they have not realized that it is based heavily on Romans 3 which indicates that the Jews were justified of their past sins by Jesus' sacrifice and this was necessary because no one will be justified before God on judgment day by works of the Law. Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21; 15:24; 20:28; Rom 4:1,25; Heb 9:15). The Calvinist does not realize Romans 8:29 pertains to Jews God had known beforehand and being completely unaware of this fact supposes that since this passage indicates one is called to be justified here in Romans 8:29, it necessarily has to mean that any given sinner was called to a conversion event, and that being so, the ones God foreknew are necessarily individuals God chose before creation and predestined to that end through that calling. For the Calvinist stuck in his paradigm, he cannot conceive how it is that God calls those who love him, and are known by him in the manner of this love relationship, to be justified since to him they are necessarily already justified. But if we read our Bible carefully we will find that God does not simply call anyone to a conversion event but calls them home to heavenly glory. Many are called but few are chosen. Like a wedding, the conversion event is but the beginning and not the end of His heavenly calling. And as Jesus teaches everyone, we will give an account on judgment day and by our account we will be justified and by our account we will be condemned (Mt 12:37).
Once we have a look at Romans 9 through 11, we will then return to Romans 8 and look at the entire picture Paul is presenting from Romans 2 through Romans 11 and focus on the remainder of chapter 8. Because Calvinists have blundered terribly concerning their interpretation of Romans, and especially chapters 8 through 11, we must look at them in pieces. Once we do that, we will put it all together.