NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXXIX)
Early church theologian Augustine weighs in by asking if all who are called, justified? After all, our Lord said that many are called but few are chosen. So to answer his question, we must begin with the fact that those who become part of God’s chosen did not do so without first being called. Therefore, it is obvious that they would not have then been justified without first being called. Now we learn from Paul that the chosen are only those who get called according to His purpose.1 And then in another document Augustine proposes that God chooses believers in order that they might believe, not because they already believed.2 Here again, we must parse Augustine’s words for a better understanding. Although someone may be called, they may not end up being justified because they refused to embrace their calling and respond to becoming a follower of Jesus. In that case, they are not justified and made ready for eternal life. Everyone who is called is only justified once they accept God’s reason and purpose for calling them.
Let me use an illustration here that may help shed light for those who still don’t have a clear picture on this whole subject of predestination, calling, chosen, and justified doctrine. When I turned 18 years of age, I had to go register for the draft. It was the law and those who refused or neglected to register were punished for avoiding the draft. So you could easily say that every young man in America was predestined to be called into the military to serve their country. But even though I was registered, I had to wait to be called. This always came in the form of a letter. But not everyone who registered and was called ended up being chosen. Some failed their physical exam, others failed the entrance exam. And once they were chosen they were sent off for training to learn discipline and responsibility. But even some of those who were sent for training were not accepted into the military because of various reasons. However, all who completed their training were then promoted from recruit to the rank of Private. They were not justified to wear the uniform of their branch of the military. So if someone were to stop them and ask them, why are you wearing that uniform? They could tell them that they were predestined, called, chosen, and passed all the requirements. That’s why there were justified in wearing the uniform.
In light of this, let’s listen when Pelagius says that those God called He foreknew would believe and accept His call. Therefore, the calling gathers together those who are willing to come, not those who will refuse to come. He sees Paul saying this because of those who might think that God’s grace is arbitrary and His calling was at random. Those who are called through the preaching of the Gospel, are then justified and receive baptism once they believe. They are then glorified by receiving their spiritual transformation both now and also in the resurrection to come.3
Then some 200 years after Origen, we see a doctrine develop in the early church. It says that God foreknew those who would either receive or reject God’s call, so He predestined them from the beginning to hear His call. So then, all those who were so predestined He called, and those who were called and accepted He justified and they were baptized. Those who were justified, He then glorified, calling them His children: “To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the power to become children of God.”4 So don’t let anyone say that God’s foreknowledge was a one-sided cause for these things to happen. For it is not foreknowledge which justifies people, God already knew those whom He would call because He is an omniscient God.5 It is important we know that the call is never canceled There are some who resist the call for years, but it is always in effect, waiting for them to respond. The reason the invitation remains open is because of God’s grace and mercy.
Such a doctrine surely creates pressure between man’s free will and God’s sovereign will. Does one influence the other? In other words, did God foreknow that Adam and Eve would sin before He created them? If so, then their sinning was already known to God. So why then did He give them their free will to chose if they were already predestined to sin? Since God is omniscient, He certainly must have known what Adam and Eve would do. While all of this is true, we must expect that even though God was aware of what was foreknown and destined to happen, He was ready to alter their course should they chose to resist sin and remain faithful to His word. It would be up to them. God did not want robots serving Him. It isn’t that God would change, but that God would change man’s direction based on his belief. This is what happens to us born as sinners and predestined to die in sin and go to everlasting punishment. We hear the call, we accept the promise of salvation and are then justified to be freed from the sentence to hell’s eternal fire. We didn’t change God’s mind, He changed our mind.
For Reformer Martin Luther, what Paul says up to this point serves as the foundation for everything else he is going to say to the end of the chapter. He is speaking of the elect who are loved of God and love God, and how the Holy Spirit makes all things work for their good even when they make mistakes and are encumbered with forces against them that are working hard for their failure. Luther senses that Paul is dealing here with the doctrines of predestination and election. Luther then goes on to say that this doctrine is not as incomprehensible as many think. Rather, it comes loaded with sweet comfort for those who are chosen and for all who have the Holy Spirit. This helps us understand why the many tribulations and evils that come our way cannot separate us from the love of God. That’s because we have been called to serve His purpose for the kingdom of God. For Luther, that’s why God makes all things work together for good to them, and to them only. If God had no such pre-planned divine purpose, our salvation would then depend upon our will and our work. That way, it would be based on chance, not God’s sovereign plan.6
Fellow Reformer John Calvin concurs and adds that Paul shows, that by the very order of God’s election the afflictions of the faithful serve only to help conform them to the image of Christ. Paul had already made clear that this was a necessary part of the process. There is, therefore, no reason now for any of us to feel grieved, or to think it’s unfair when hard and heartbreaking afflictions come our way. To do so would disapprove of the Lord’s calling and election. It is by that calling we have been foreordained to life everlasting. Only if we become unwilling to bear the image of the Son of God, by which we are to be prepared for celestial glory, will we miss our own destiny.7
Let’s look at it this way: Imagine looking down from a satellite and seeing a toll road that winds its way across a continent. Every person who drives on that highway is already predestined to reach the exit at the end if they simply follow the road’s path. Although it is a toll road, the tolls have been prepaid, but they must navigate that highway with its hills, valleys, and curves. But, if they decided to take a road that leads away from that toll road, they will not arrive at the predetermined spot. God’s plan of salvation has a distinct destiny. That’s where He wants all believers to arrive at the end of their journey. And even if they get off track, His Holy Spirit can help them find their way back. Nevertheless, it will be up to them to accept God’s directions to their destiny. He will not force them to go His way, only if they want to.
Calvin then goes on to define his understanding of predestination by saying that his readers may better understand the Apostle’s meaning if he repeats something he said earlier. That is, that the word “predetermined” does not refer to their being chosen.8 Rather, it points to the purpose or decree by God that He has ordained that each person must bear their own cross. By declaring that they are now the “called,” according to His purpose. Paul implies that God did not keep it a secret what He predetermined respecting their calling. He made it known so they might more easily submit to the standards required of them. That’s why their calling is to be distinguished from their being chosen since it occurred earlier. That should keep anyone from making the objection that no one really knows what God has planned for them. Paul says that God by His calling reveals any prior hidden purpose He may have.9 In other words, Jesus made it clear what the Father expected and required of all those who were the called, redeemed, chosen, justified, sanctified, and empowered to do what God called them to do for His glory. It is no secret. Jesus spent the majority of His ministry trying to make this clear.
Adam Clarke puts it succinctly by saying that in this and the following verse the Apostle shows how our calling is a good enough reason why all things are bound to work together to advance our eternal happiness. He points out several steps which God by His wisdom and goodness endorsed in order to secure our salvation. But first Paul gives us, in this verse, the foundation, and finishing, or the beginning and end, of the plan of our redemption: “For whom God did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.”10 By “image of His Son” Clarke is referring to the character and characteristics of Christ in coping with being a spiritually alive person in a world of sin and sinners. It was all designed beforehand in order to bestow favor and privilege on becoming one of God’s children. In that sense, He foreknew all of us. Both Jews and Gentiles were to be among those who were called. But only those who loved Him and became obedient to His Word and Will would be chosen. The thing that makes all of this part of predestination is that it was established before the world was formed.11
Robert Haldane has quite a lot to say about predestination. Some of what he said was that God’s foreknowledge and predestination are distinguished from one another. Foreknowledge involves the choice of those He calls, and predestination involves their destination to receive the blessings for which they are designed. Haldane believes that for God to predestinate us, it signifies His appointment of us ahead of time to some particular destiny. We see this in the Scriptures as being taken as a decree by God. For instance, where the Apostles state that the Jews were assembled to do whatsoever the hand and the counsel of God had determined (predestinated) before to be done.12
Understanding this should help everyone who is living their life for God and serving Him in ways that He has given them should not keep worrying or wondering if one mistake or one act of disobedience will get them thrown out into darkness once again. God would not have brought you through all this if He did not plan to keep you. He’s more interested in saving you than losing you. Don’t let Satan bring doubt to your mind. Let him know, and let your conscience know that you have been chosen by God and, therefore, with His help, you will make it through to your chosen destiny.
1 Augustine: On Romans 55
2 Augustine: Predestination of the Saints 1734
3 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 John 1:12
5 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 128
7 John Calvin: On Romans: op. cit., loc. cit.
8 In Scripture as well as many commentaries the term “chosen” is synonymous with the term “election.” See Romans 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10
9 Calvin, ibid.
10 Romans 8:29
11 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 159
12 Acts of the Apostles 4:28