NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XL)
Listen to what the Apostle Paul says about predestination, “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God predestinated before the world for our glory.”1 Sometimes this word is used to define the decree of the salvation for mankind, “Having predestinated us to become the adopted children of God by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.”2 “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.”3 This sounds very much like the passage we are treating now that says: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
Haldane goes on to say that as the term predestined is used here, it does not cover all people, but only those in whom God has placed His love, and on those whom He plans to make His own children through Jesus Christ His Son. Since this is then absolute and complete, that makes it a definite probability. That’s means, the number of those predestinated for such glory can neither be increased nor decreased. As Haldane sees it, it isn’t that God had already seen us as being one with Christ Jesus by faith, and on that account He chose us, but that Jesus Christ being the only Mediator between God and man, we were predestined to salvation only through Him. Now, since our union with Christ forms the foundation on which all the blessings we receive from God, this requires that we must also be chosen in Him. In other words, God gives us to Christ to be members of His spiritual body, of which He is the Head, and thereby partake of the good things God predestinated us for. That way, we understand that Christ Jesus was the first to be predestinated and appointed as the Mediator in order that God could bless us with all spiritual blessings in Christ.4 That is the predetermined plan, but the plan comes down to the willingness of those who are called to respond and accept that plan for their lives.
Charles Hodge has a lot to say on these two verses. But the gist of what he says is that all believers must come to the realization that they have been called in accordance with a settled plan and expressed purpose of God. Also, those whom God called He had already put their names on His list to be called. However, this calling predestined them to go through several stages and steps included in His plan so that they could be justified and glorified in the end. In order to facilitate that plan, all things must work together for good to those who love God. Hodge has full confidence that God’s plan of salvation will not fail. That’s why those He calls into this state of reconciliation; those He gave every reason to love Him, He can be counted on to bring forward to the glory He has prepared for His chosen.5
Albert Barnes focuses on what Paul was thinking when he talked about being conformed to the image of Christ. In order for us to resemble God’s Son, we must conform to His Son’s image as a human being. By doing this, we learn the following: First, God does not make up His mind that He’s going to save people regardless of their character. His salvation decree is not intended to save them in their sins whether they are sinful or self-righteous. He wants them to be holy, and in order for that to happen, they must be redeemed. Secondly, the only evidence we are given that we are among those reached by His grace is that we have conformed to the character of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the intention of the salvation decree. As Barnes sees it, this is the only way anyone can be sure that they are right with God and that they are serious about their relationship with God and His plan of salvation.6
On the subject of becoming more like Christ, Octavius Winslow was quite open about what he saw in Paul’s words. For him, those who have been born-again are still not sure what their God and Father wants from them at the beginning. So Winslow asks them to consider the following: Has God taken away their health? Has He asked for the surrender of their most cherished possession? Have their riches taken wings? Does the world frown on them? The reason for these questions is that they may now realize how God is about to reveal to them the depth of His love and to cause their will as a son or daughter to become one with His will. He wants them to realize that there can be no higher degree of sanctification than to be following God’s perfect will for their lives. So they need to earnestly pray for it and diligently seek it. To be jealous of the slightest opposition of their mind, watch against the smallest rebellion of their will. They need to wrestle against any sinful tendencies until they reach the place of total surrender. To earnestly desire to be where and what their God and Father would have them to be. By doing this they will be made partakers of His holiness.
But Winslow was not finished. He wants them to also know that sanctification includes a growing resemblance to the likeness of Christ in their character. They should appreciate how beautifully and clearly this has been revealed by the Holy Spirit in God’s Word. Their Lord Jesus exhorts them: “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”7 Throughout the writings of His Apostles, the same truth is exhibited: “Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.”8 “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”9 This is the glorious pattern of a child of God. Sanctification is conformity to the image and the example of Christ. The more a believer resembles Jesus, the more they are growing in holiness. And to the contrary, the less they resemble Christ in His character, principles, mindset, His attitude, word and deed, the less they advance in the great work of sanctification.
Winslow goes on to declare that many who profess His sweet name, and who are expecting to be with Him forever, never ask themselves how much they resemble Him now. It will take more than wishing they looked like Him. It will require constantly dealing with their conscience in the much-neglected duty of self-examination. If they were to measure themselves this way, they’d be able to see how short they’ve come to being what they want to become. They’d see how much their character, virtues, attitude, temperament, daily conduct, their place in this world, their involvement in the church, and in their behavior among their families would be unlike Christ. How much they are copies of things down here instead of things above; how much they resembled the worldly image and how little they resembled a godly image.
Then Winslow concludes, that by looking at the image of our dear Lord – how lowly, how holy He is! Look at His meekness of spirit, His tenderness of heart, His humility of demeanor, His gentleness, His willingness to forgive, His self-denial, His prayerfulness, His zeal for His Father’s approval, His yearnings for the salvation of mankind, they would exclaim, “O to be like Jesus!” They would want to grow up like Him in all things; to be united with Him in every way.10 By doing this they would more easily find God’s will for their lives through sanctification.11 So let it never be forgotten that a maturing believer is growing in resemblance and conformity to the image and example of Christ.12
Frédéric Godet put his stamp on what Paul says in verse 30 by saying that here we have consecutive acts whereby God’s decree is executed throughout time. They stand in between the eternity in which the decree was initiated and the eternity in which it is finished. Godet notes Paul only points out what the decree was meant to accomplish the acts of God: redeemed, called, chosen, justified, and glorified. This is because Paul is dealing with that portion of salvation contained in the decree of predestination. Also, that which will consequently happen depends solely on divine effort.13
Charles Ellicott makes several points to show that when we look at all this from the perspective of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, our human free will seems to be eradicated. But on the other hand, when we examine it starting with the human free will, then divine foreknowledge and power to determine action seem to be eliminated. Notwithstanding the obvious conflict between both sides, we must accept both as being the truth without one being damaging to the other. None of us know exactly all that God’s omnipotence and omniscience imply. But we can agree that it involves perfect power and knowledge. Such power and knowledge that we are incapable of conceiving, which can only be handled by a perfect divine Being. Neither do we know everything that our free will offers us. One thing for sure, if it has any part in the process of human thinking and contemplation, without it we would not know right from wrong, sin from obedience, or righteousness from wickedness. Anything beyond that is pure speculation. But one thing we can say for sure, in the end, each person is responsible for what they do with this knowledge and understanding.14
Karl Barth has a convincing argument concerning the fact that our salvation is not based solely on what we may do, but on what God has already done. He writes that once we receive the call to love God is made sure in Spirit and in Truth, we will also receive the blessed assurance that by the mercy of God we have been given justification and citizenship in the Kingdom of God. In other words, we are assured of the fact that God has taken us sinners to be His. And in those He has foreknown, called, and ordained He sees the secrets of their potential and chooses that which is well and pleasing to Him. He also reveals the new man created for redemption. However, even when called to love God and when that call is accepted and acted upon, the new and righteous prospects must be seen and realized.
This will help us to discover an adequate explanation of why all things work together for good to such new creations in Christ. That will make clearer their encounter this one existential truth: they now have an eternal hope for everlasting salvation within them. Since love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things,15 our human past and present now point to our eternal future. As far as Barth is concerned, love is the experiential recognition of God. That’s how God recognizes His people. The Spirit searches out the deep things of God.16 For Barth, love remains the more excellent way. That’s because it is received, not gained by experience, nor by argument, nor by the declaration of assurance, but only as a gift from God Himself.17
John Stott makes an interesting point here by suggesting that the Greek verb proginōskō, (KJV “foreknew”) meaning “to know in advance” expresses much more than mere intellectual cognition. It also denotes a personal relationship of care and affection. Thayer, in his Lexicon, defines it either as God foreknowing that they would love Him or with reference to what follows, God foreknew they would be fit to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. So we can say that when it says that God “knows” people, it means He watches over them.18 For instance, when God said: “I did know” the children of Israel in the desert,19 it means He cared about them. After all, Israel was the only people out of all the families of the earth to whom Yahweh said: “You only have I known.”20 That is, the only ones He loved, chose, and formed a covenant with.
Stott goes on to explain that meaning of the term “foreknowledge” in the New Testament is similar. What the Apostles Paul and Peter said: “God did not reject His people [Israel], whom He foreknew, that is, whom He loved and chose.”21 Stott goes on to make a good case for the proper understanding of predestination. He disputes claims that it fosters “arrogance” by pointing to God’s mercy in saving us as undeserving. Nor does it foster “uncertainty” by noting God’s blessed assurance that can only be found in the heart of a true believer. The same is true of “apathy” because of the Scripture’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty does not diminish our responsibility, And when it comes to “complacency” by pointing out that with the Spirit alive in us we are spiritually motivated to be all that God wants us to be. And as to being “narrow-minded,” we recall that God told Abraham his calling was so that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. These are attitudes that those who believe in God’s foreknowledge of their salvation have been accused of having.22
Jewish writer David Stern also offers some insights from his perspective by saying that in verse 27 we are reminded of the Spirit’s pleadings, “for God’s people conform to God’s will.” That means we move on from the ministry of the Ruach HaKodesh (Spirit the Holy or Holy Spirit) to the assurance offered by God the Father Himself in having a specific purpose for His people in verse 28. God established this purpose or plan He knew in advance, way back in the unfathomable past in verse 29.23 Then on the issue of predestination versus free will we should look at what Paul says in 9:19–21. This is all played out in the sequence in verse 30 – predestined, called, chosen, justified, and glorified. Since this is expressed in the past tense, it shows that even from our very limited human viewpoint, glorification is still part of the future. But as far as God is concerned, it is already accomplished. That is a certainty we can count on. Stern sees that throughout all of this, the believer’s responsibility is to love God never ends.24 We can also be sure that through faith in Yeshua, we are included among the called.25
Another Jewish writer offers his view by saying that the concepts of, “foreknew, predestined, called and justified,” all have to do with “being chosen.” Therefore, Paul is concerned with getting the message first and foremost to Israel. However, these things also apply to Gentile believers in Yeshua because they are called the first true Israel because their faith is in God, not themselves. The Prophet Isaiah said that God formed Israel in the womb,26 He called them by name,27 He proclaimed to them the year of His good will,28 and He created them for His glory and glorified them.29 “To be conformed to the image of His Son,” relates to man’s creation in the image of God.30 The writer then informs us that Yeshua Himself is the image of the invisible God,31 and that this is a highly mystical concept in Judaism (virtually unknown to Christianity).32
1 1 Corinthians 2:7
2 Ephesians 1:5
3 Ibid. 1:11
4 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 397-398
5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 439-440
6 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Matthew 11:29
8 Romans 8:29
9 Ephesians 4:15
10 Colossians 1:10
11 1 Thessalonians 4:3
12 The Works of Octavius Winslow: op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 1 Corinthians 13:7
16 Ibid., 2:10
17 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Psalm 1:5; 144:3
19 Hosea 13:5
20 Amos 3:2
21 Romans 11:2; Cf. 1 Peter 1:2
22 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit
23 Cf. Ephesians 1:4–14
24 See Deuteronomy 6:5
25 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
26 Isaiah 43:1; 44:2, 24
27 Isaiah 43:1, 7; 45:4
28 Isaiah 61:2
29 Isaiah 43:7; 44:23; 46:13
30 Genesis 1:27
31 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15
32 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.