The Bible teaches election and predestination. No Bible-believing Christian can deny this, since the words are used in multiple texts. What Christians often disagree on is how God elects.
Many Christians have been taught that God elects people to salvation based on his knowledge of their future choices and actions. These believe that God elected people to salvation before they were born by looking forward, seeing whether or not they would choose to follow Christ, and then electing those he foresaw would do so. But others would say that God elects based on his own will and not based on his knowledge of future right choices in people.
Interestingly, we sometimes see both groups attempt to explain predestination or election with the same passage.
Romans 8:29-30 – 29 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
If Romans 8:29 stood alone, it would appear that God predestined people to salvation, perhaps simply based on his knowledge of their future choices. Foreknowledge in that verse could be taken as simple information that God possessed beforehand. But, when these two verses are kept together, when the passage is handled fully, we see that such cannot be the case.
This passage is called by some the Golden Chain of Redemption. These two verses establish a set of unbreakable links that lead from God’s foreknowledge to eternal glory. But notice, and be sure to take seriously, the fact that the verses are clear that from step to step in this chain, all who were part of each prior step are also part of the next step. No person, not a single one is lost in the flow.
It will help if we start at the end, “and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Is there any possibility that God might justify a person, granting them total forgiveness because of Christ, and not ultimately glorify that same person? Can God lose a fully and clearly saved person? By no means. Later in this chapter, Paul will point out that nothing at all can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
Stepping back, “those whom he called he also justified.” Who are justified? Those whom God called are justified. Be careful here. Paul does not say that some of those he called are justified any more than he said that some of those who were justified are glorified. No, this is all-inclusive. The call here seems to be a call that is effective. The called are justified.
None are dropped from the chain.
Who are called? Paul tells us, “those whom he predestined he also called.” Again, this has not proved whether or not predestination is based on the choices of the saved or the choice of God primarily. But we see that all who are predestined are called. All who are predestined are called in an effective way so as to see all of them justified so as to see all of them glorified.
So, who is predestined? Verse 29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Who is predestined? Those God foreknew are predestined. All of those God foreknew are predestined. There is no reason to see a break in the chain here. The Golden Chain tells us that all God foreknew are predestined, are called, are justified, are glorified.
But if this chain is all-inclusive on every step, then the word foreknew cannot be a reference to simple information had by God beforehand. Why? God foreknows every human being in that way. God knows all people who will exist. God knows all who will come to him and all who will not. But the text indicates no break from those he for knows and who will be predestined for salvation. Thus, if the word foreknowledge here only means data, then it would suggest that all people will be saved because all are foreknown.
However, a more faithful and biblical understanding here would be that to foreknow here is to know in a special way. It is to know so as to place his love upon certain people. It is for God to elect based on God’s desires and not based on simple data that he had beforehand.
If you study Scripture thoroughly, you will find that, when God talks about knowing someone, it is synonymous with a relationship and not merely with data. In Amos 3:2, God said that Israel is the only nation he has known. How could that be? God knows all nations intellectually. But, in the Old Testament, Israel is the only nation God chose for himself.
In Matthew 25, Jesus says he will tell the lost to depart from him. Why? He says he will tell them, “I never knew you.” How could that be. There is no human being about whom Jesus does not have data. But there will be people who never entered into a saving relationship with Jesus. Those he says he never knew.
The Golden Chain uses foreknew in the same way that those verses use knew. All God chose beforehand for a relationship with him are predestined, are called, are justified, and are glorified. There is no break in the chain. This is the only way to allow these verses to say all that they intend to say. Yes, there are implications. Yes, we who are focused so much on man’s independence will naturally balk here. But at the end of the day, this verse simply shows us that God is more sovereign than man and God’s purposes are not thwarted. God has chosen to save a people for himself, and he will accomplish his design.