Romans Lesson 92 - The Unbreakable Chain
The principle of predestination which Paul so passionately describes in Romans 8:29-30 is not a negative principle but a positive one. Paul isn't crippling our freedom of will; he is giving it wings to fly even higher.
The Unbreakable Chain
As we continue in our study through Romans, this morning I am going to be preaching from a text that has produced more controversy between believers in the church than any other one text in the New Testament.
My text for this morning is Romans 8:29. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first born (the word is pre-eminent) among many brethren; 30. and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
I am about to preach on one of the most volatile, explosive topics known to believers in the church.
The topic of Divine predestination . . . Divine election.
This is where pastors fear to tread! This is why so few preach verse by verse – you know verses like these are in the way!
Just the mention of those words, predestination and election, and I can hear the guns loading with ammunition and the murmuring of insurrection.
Last night I dreamed of guillotines and firing squads.
I left my pickup truck running . . . the gas tank is full.
You don’t preach on election and predestination and survive. Especially in this country.
Without a doubt, this doctrine has created controversy and division like none other!
And so I expect to create a little controversy this morning . . . I expect a flurry of questions and reactions.
And I encourage you to send all of your emails to Pastor David Loftis.
No . . . send them to me . . . in fact, this morning is really a warm-up for discussions we’ll have at greater length when we plow through Romans chapter 9. I’ll address your questions in further detail then.
But, I can assure you, if you break into a sweat over Romans 8:29 and 30 and you dance all around the simple meaning the text . . . you’re really gonna have trouble with chapter 9.
Look over at verse 11 of Romans 9 (Rebekah is about to have twins – Paul writes, “For though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls. . . 13. (God is speaking) Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Did you get that? Before they were born . . . before they did anything good or bad – I loved Jacob and I hated Esau.
How do you handle that? Is God unjust? Paul anticipates the reader asking that in verse 14? “There is no injustice in God is there?”
Imagine the implications of verse 17. “For the scripture says to Pharoah, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” In other words, “Pharaoh’s unbelief was God’s doing! Paul goes on in verse 18 to apply this truth – “God has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
And every fiber in your body says, “That can’t be right!” If that’s the way it is, I want to have a word with God! And Paul anticipated that too, so he wrote, in verse 20, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?”
In other words, “Who are you to tell God what He ought to do and what He can’t do?”
So, if you’re thinking, I’m gonna just hang on this morning because I think I’m already hearing that Stephen believes in things like election and predestination, but, it’s only one sermon . . . I’m telling you ahead of time, there will be more than one, so you might as well start shopping around . . . (8:00 am - Romans 9 is coming) it’s okay . . . we need your parking space.
No, I want you to stay and wrestle through this with me.
You want to know something? I don’t understand it either!
This subject is what theologians call inscrutable – that means, it’s too deep, it’s unfathomable – you can’t touch the bottom; inscrutable means without the ability to reconcile. It is inscrutable.
One theologian said, “Our problem is, we try to unscrew the inscrutable.”
And that’s exactly what we’re going to do today.
So, I hope you’re ready to dive into the deep end, where your feet can’t touch the bottom!
What you have, in these verses is a Five Fold Chain of Regarding our Salvation:
Each of the 5 key words links to one another, forging an inseparable chain, securing us eternally as God’s elect.
What I want to do this morning is simply give you each of the five words, define them, illustrate them in scripture and then, run for my truck.
I suggest you circle in your text those 5 key words.
The Apostle Paul writes, 29. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first born (the word is pre-eminent) among many brethren; 30. and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
The first word is foreknowledge – it means this: the believer’s salvation has its beginning in the mind and counsel of God.
Now some would say, that word means that God simply knows beforehand who will believe and He elects on the basis of that foreknowledge.
Since God knows everything, He just looks into the future, sees who will believe and trust His Son and He says, “Okay, that one will be one of my elect.”
There are a number of problems with that:
The origin of salvation:
If that were true, salvation not only would begin with man’s faith.
God would not have chosen man, man will have simply chosen God.
But John wrote, “We love God because God first loved us! (I John 4:19)
Fallen man cannot reach out his hand to receive the gift of eternal life because there is no power in his hand. God must act first. God must take the initiative toward the one He has chosen.
Along that same line, another problem is that the church no longer accepts or understands the nature of man’s depravity – man’s fallenness.
2) The depravity of man:
The Bible describes the unbeliever as blind and dead to the things of God. He has no source of saving faith within his spiritually dead corpse.
By the way, if all the word foreknowledge means is that God knows beforehand who will respond to Him or to the preaching of the gospel and then He determines their destiny on that basis, what would God possibly see or foreknow as He looked down the corridor of time? The only thing He would see in all of humanity, apart from His intervention, is unbelief.
James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Volume 2 (Baker Book House, 1992), p. 913
The only thing He would see ahead of time is rejection of the gospel and opposition to His grace.
Paul wrote, “There is no one righteous, not even one . . . no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11)
Paul wrote that the unbeliever “cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.” (I Corinthians 2:14)
Jesus Christ Himself said, “Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the light for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
Again, Paul wrote, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
In other words, without the initiating work of God on behalf of His chosen people, they would never believe the gospel nor even want to accept the light of Christ.
God’s foreknowledge not only means God sees in advance, but that He ordains in advance. His foreknowledge includes His intention.
And that’s exactly how the word is used throughout the Bible.
God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” What did He mean . . .that He knew there was a baby in the womb? God knows that of every baby. But he tells Jeremiah He knew him – in other words, He’s implying a relationship with Jeremiah is part of God’s sovereign plan . . . even before Jeremiah is born.
The prophet Amos records God saying, “Israel only have I known.” Does that mean that God only knows about Israel – He doesn’t know about the Philistines and the Amorites and the Egyptians? They’re the only ones God has been watching?
No! Israel is the only nation predetermined by God in His knowledge and counsel to have an intimate relationship with Himself.
Jesus said in John 10:14, “I am the good Shepherd and I know My own.” That is, I have a bond with them that is intimate.
Then He also says those terrifying words in Matthew 7:23 to a host of religious people who actually served God but were not true believers. “Many shall say to me in that day, “Lord, Lord – we cast out demons, performed miracles, prophecied in your name . . . and I will declare to them . . . I never knew you.” Was He saying, “Sorry I never met you . . . I didn’t know who you were?” No. God is saying, “I don’t have any relationship with you.”
Here’s an even more specific text regarding God’s foreknowledge:
In Acts 22:23 Peter is preaching the very first sermon and he says, “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge (same word Paul used); and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
Was Jesus a puppet? No. Was Jesus able to choose to follow the will of the Father? Yes. We heard Him pray in the garden, “Not my will but Thine be done.”
However, Peter says that Jesus was handed over by God’s foreknowledge. It is exactly what God planned and purposed.
In His epistle, Peter was writing about God’s determination to send Jesus Christ to earth; the text literally says that God “foreknew Him before the creation of the world.”
That doesn’t mean that the Father looked down through time and saw Jesus come to earth and die for the sins of the world and say, “Well, that’s great . . . since Christ is coming to earth, I’ll just work it out so that He dies on a cross for the sins of the world.”
No, it means God the Father, along with the Spirit and Son, determined ahead of time that this would occur.
Paul uses a second word that strengthens the chain of God’s sovereign work;
It’s the word, predestination – 29. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined . . .
The word, means – God marks out, appoints and determines eternal destiny beforehand.
Pre – destined. Proorizo - before hand, the destination is marked out.
One author wrote, “It almost seems unpatriotic to the American mind especially. We find ourselves immediately wanting to guard the tree of human liberty with more zeal than Patrick Henry ever dreamed of. The thought of an all-powerful God making choices for us, and perhaps even against us, makes us shout, “Give me free will or give me death.”
R. C. Sproul, Chosen By God (Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), p. 9
The very word predestination makes us think of fatalism, or that we are meaningless puppets, or that God is playing games with humanity.
We may naturally feel those things as we tread water out in the deep end . . . but let’s not exegete our feelings.
Let’s hold them captive to the word of God.
Jesus Christ said in John 15, “You did not choose Me but I chose you and appointed you that you should g and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain.”
You did not choose me, but I chose you?
Wait a second, I remember choosing God! Yes, I remember too!
But on closer inspection, we discover the truth that we were able to choose God because God had already chosen us.
You have been chosen by God – before time began!
Can you imagine.
Peter wrote to you, “You are a chosen race . . . a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession.” (1 Peter 2:9)
2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 13. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.
Paul adds a third link to this strong chain of our salvation.
5) It is the word Calling – “and whom He predestined, these He also called.” Calling can be defined as the inward drawing of God toward salvation.
Jesus said something that many would like to ignore, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him . . .” (John 6:44)
In other words, no one can presume to march into the throne room of God and say, “Okay, I’m here . . . I’m ready!”
Even the timing of our coming is defined and determined by God.
Now you need to understand that the New Testament alternates, depending on the context, between an open calling – an open invitation and an effective calling – the invitation to the one who will believe.
For instance, Christ said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
In other words, “Here’s the invitation – come to Me,” Jesus said. And what did the people do? They refused Him. They rejected Him.
Did that mean Jesus was insincere . . . just playing games?
No . . . the general, open invitation is necessary, because within that general calling, is God’s effective calling.
We scatter the seed broadly, and God brings some to life.
Charles Spurgeon once said that if God had painted a white stripe down the backs of His elect, he would spend all his time in London going around lifting shirt-tails . . . but because God did not do that, he preaches to everyone the gospel.
Paul said, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Then if that’s true – that people must hear the gospel in order to believe – that upon that gospel, the Father draws His chosen ones to believe – Paul then asks, “how will they believe in whom they’ve never heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14-17)
In an audience this size, there is no doubt in my mind that there are people who will die in their sin and go to a Christless eternity. You heard the invitation. You heard the gospel. You heard that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone.
You heard, but you did not respond.
However, as you heard it, someone else heard it and responded.
What they heard began to trouble them . . . concern them . . . cause them to ask questions. It was God Himself drawing them to His Son . . . you both heard the invitation of the gospel – the truth of God’s word – but for you it is a general invitation that you refuse. For another it becomes the specific inward call that leads to their redemption.
Like the couple who came to my office a few weeks ago. They had been coming for a very short time – their first visit ever to a Protestant church was the Sunday they came in here.
After a few Sundays they made an appointment and during our conversation they said, “We just seem to be missing something . . . we don’t know what it is but we want to know more about God . . . we’ve heard what you’ve said . . . we really like it here but we just seem troubled that we’re missing a piece of the puzzle.” It was the effectual calling of God . . . and I had the privilege of being the messenger, telling them of Christ’s finished work on their behalf and all they needed was to receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. We held hands and prayed . . . they were called, drawn not by me . . . but by God.
The final two words are words we’ve already studied in detail.
“and whom He called, these He also justified . . . ” (30b)
Justification is that legal declaration that we are right before God (based upon Christ’s payment of sin on our behalf)
The final word is Glorification – “these He also glorified.”
You could define this word as the future fact of uncorrupted bodies, minds and hearts.
I love the fact that this word is in the past tense. It’s a word that refers to our glorification as if it has already happened.
The future is regarded as if it is in the past.
Again . . . this is God’s perspective. If you’ve been foreknown – you are already secure in your glorification.
You can no more work your way out of salvation than you could work your way in.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, salvation is the work of God.
This text is all about God! God foreknew - God predestined - God called - God justified - God glorified.
Romans 8:28 says that God has chosen everything that happens to work out for your spiritual good.
Romans 8:29 and 30 says that God has chosen you!
Why is it important to take this text at face value – and all the other texts I quoted or read. What happens if you don’t believe in the sovereign election of God?
What happens to a church that refuses to acknowledge the sovereignty of God?
Let me give you 4 or 5 things.
Without Sovereign election:
- emotionalism becomes more important that spiritual examination
The church today has diluted the gospel and made it nothing more than some quick prayer to make or some card to sign.
Profession of faith becomes the issue, not possession of true faith.
I have met few people who didn’t claim to profess faith in God.
The typical evangelistic movement focuses on decisions, not disciples. We build everything toward an invitation where whatever is going to be decided is decided.
We’ve come a long way from Spurgeon’s day when those who wanted to pursue the calling of God to salvation made an appointment – it was generally on Tuesdays when Spurgeon would meet with, what he called, inquirers.
I remember reading about the testimony of D. L. Moody who applied for membership in the church. He was interviewed by the deacons and refused, on the grounds that he was not converted. Instead of discarding him, however, the deacons prescribed a year long study on the nature and theology of the gospel and then, at the end of one year they interviewed him again. The record stated that they received him into membership, with some reservation.
That kind of examination has been replaced by emotional appeals . . . we are building congregations today, but we are not building the body of Christ.
- mankind becomes Sovereign and God becomes the servant.
God just waits to see what man will do . . . this perspective makes God the victim of man’s choices.
Isaiah 46:9 declares, “I am God, there is no other. I am God, there’s no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done saying, “I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”
Without sovereign election:
- the messenger becomes partially responsible for salvation and must then take either the blame or the credit for the salvation of souls.
I read of one evangelist who boasted, “Give me any man alone for fifteen minutes and I will get a decisions for Christ.” He was convinced that the power of conversion rested with his powers of persuasion. May I remind you that our passion and obedience is not to see decisions made but disciples made.
Sproul, p. 212
Sovereign election reminds us that producing decisions is not our objective . . . it is, producing disciples.
- The majority opinion is more valued than the sole declaration of scripture.
I can assure you that the evangelical church at large no longer believes most of what I’ve taught today.
Because the scriptures no longer determine what we believe.
A recent poll conducted by the Barna Research Group found 90% of all the people they interviewed believed in God. Yet nearly 75% of the same people didn’t believe the Bible was God’s word . . . doubted the existence of moral absolutes and didn’t believe that salvation was through Christ alone.
Arthur Pink wrote it this way, “The only reason anybody would believe in election is because he finds it taught in God’s Word. No man or number of men ever originated this doctrine. Like the doctrine of eternal punishment, it conflicts with the dictates of the carnal mind and is repugnant to the sentiments of the unregenerate heart. Like the doctrine of the trinity and the miraculous birth of our Savior, the truth of election must be received with simple unquestioning faith.”
Cited in gty.org/transcripts/60-2.htm
How far can the church go from believing the plain and difficult truth of God’s word?
Let me give you a bizarre example . . . yet one that just went out over the news . . . One of the 60 bishops who voted to ordain Gene Robinson, as the Episcopal churches first openly active homosexual bishop . . . one of the Bishops at his annual meeting of his diocese was trying to encouraged the denomination not to splinter and divide . . . He said this in his speech, “If the church must make a choice between heresy and schism, we must always choose heresy.”
Citation from Chuck Colson’s column on Townhall.com
In other words, if following the word of God brings division, abandon the word of God and stay unified.
What a quote for our relativistic, non-absolute, independent, man-is-sovereign religious culture; if you’ve gotta choose between God’s word and your friends, choose your friends!
The denial of sovereign election simply means that,
- The ability of man to pursue God is more appealing than the truth that depraved man never chooses God.
John MacArthur called sovereign election the most pride-crushing doctrine in the Bible. He said it removes any of the pride of man. It elevates God and diminishes mankind.
Perhaps at the end of this sermon you’re wondering, “How do I know if I am one of the elect?”
The Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
Have you believed? If you have truly believed, that belief is the work of God in your heart – bringing you to trust in Jesus Christ.
To truly believe in Christ is to say yes to Jesus Christ regarding His claims and His character and His commands. So if you’ve truly said “yes” to Him – you’ve accepted His claim on your life, you’ve adopted His character as your holy pursuit and desire to follow His commands. These are not prerequisites to salvation, they are evidences of salvation and true faith.
And thus, the question is not, “Are you one of the elect?” The question is, “Have you said ‘Yes’ to Jesus Christ?”
My invitation to all of you who listen today is simply, say yes!
When you walked into this auditorium, you can imagine over the doorway, the verse written, “Whosoever will may come.”
If you have said “yes to Jesus Christ – placing your faith in Him alone” when you leave, you can imagine, written over the doorway, “Elect before the foundation of the world.”
That is our message to the world. To those who haven’t said yes, it is, “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved.”
And the stunning, unimaginable, inscrutable truth to the ones who have believed is . . .God was behind it all!
So praise God!
Paul did not intend this text to start a fight but true fellowship!
He didn’t write this to split a church, but to strengthen the church as it faced the challenges of life and endeavored by God’s grace to be the messengers that delivered call to the whole world.
I close with the rejoicing of Paul who wrote to the Ephesian church,
(Ephesians 1:3-6) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4. just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5. He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6. to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
God foreknew us . . . God predestined us . . . God called us . . . God justified us . . . and God has glorified us!
Blessed be the name of God!
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