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An Explanation of Predestination

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 8:29–30

Our salvation in Christ is certain and secure. This is because salvation is solely God’s work, and He has linked us to Himself with an unbreakable chain of divine actions.


Today we sail into deep water as we arrive at some verses that have produced more controversy among believers in the church than just about any other in the New Testament. Here in Romans 8:29-30, we encounter the doctrine of divine predestination.

Beloved, this doctrine is so deep you will never touch the bottom. It is like that first time you jumped into a swimming pool and the water was over your head. That did not mean you avoided the deep end; it meant you needed to learn how to swim.

What we have in these next two verses is what I like to call the fivefold chain of salvation. Five key words all link together to form a strong chain that secures us forever. Paul writes in verses 29 and 30:

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 [preeminent] among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The first key word in this chain of salvation is the word “foreknew.” This means the believer’s salvation has its beginning in the mind and will of God.

Some say that since God knows everything in advance, this word just means God looked into the future and saw everybody who would trust in Christ, and He said “Those people will be My elect.” But the word Paul uses here for foreknowledge is not just about knowledge in advance. It includes the will—the choice—of God in eternity past.

Beloved, if salvation were just our choosing God, it would mean that God only responds to our will. God would not have chosen us at all; we would have simply chosen God. But according to the Bible, both choosings need to take place, and notice which choice took place first: “We love [Him] because he [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God took the first step.

Now Paul uses a second word that strengthens this chain of God’s sovereign work. It is the word “predestined.” He writes, “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined.”

The word translated predestined (proorizō) means that the destination is determined beforehand. This is a word many people do not like. And that is because predestination makes us think of fatalism—that we really did not have a choice in the matter after all, that humanity is a bunch of meaningless, mindless puppets.

Well, don’t get out of the swimming pool and run just because you have this feeling right about now that this is over your head and you do not like the feeling. Let’s hold our feelings captive to what the Bible says.

But let me stop and admit this, beloved; we cannot fully understand the work of God in eternity past. The water is simply over our head when we try to figure out God. What we can understand is our part—accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior. And let me tell you, nobody is going to heaven without having said yes to Jesus. We are simply discovering in this passage that God moved toward us before we made a move toward God—He chose us before we ever chose Him.

Paul then adds a third key word to this chain of salvation, writing in verse 30, “Those whom he predestined he also called.” Called refers to God’s inward drawing of our hearts toward salvation. Jesus said exactly this same thing in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

Even the timing of your coming to faith in Christ was arranged by God the Father. You met that person who gave you a tract, or you heard that sermon on the radio, or you grew up in a home with believing parents, or you unpacked your bags in that college dorm room and met your Christian roommate—that was no coincidence; it was a part of how God was calling you to Himself.

The final two words in this chain of salvation are words we have already studied in Romans. One is the word “justified” in verse 30: “Those whom he called he also justified.” Justification is that legal declaration that we are forever right before God because of Christ’s payment for our sin.

Finally, Paul writes, “Those whom he justified he also glorified.” Being glorified refers to our future resurrection, when we will be given glorified, immortal bodies. Then we will be—as verse 29 says—finally “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son.”

By the way, the verb for “glorified” is in the past tense! It refers to our glorification in heaven as if it has already happened. Again, this is God’s perspective. He sees you, beloved, already in heaven, as it were. That is how secure you are today.

If you have not picked up on it yet, salvation is all about God at work in your life. God foreknew you, predestined you, called you, justified you, and glorified you.

The church at large today has abandoned the doctrine of predestination as Paul describes it here. But let me give you three reasons it matters in your life, your church, your ministry.

First, if you do not acknowledge God’s initiating, sovereign role in salvation, a profession of faith will become more important than possession of faith. In other words, getting people to pray a quick prayer will replace giving people an understanding of the gospel and the claims of Jesus Christ in their life.

I have met a lot of people who made a decision. They prayed a prayer, they signed a card, but now they want nothing to do with Christ or His gospel.

Part of the problem is that the church today has come a long way from the days of Charles Spurgeon in the 1800s. Spurgeon never asked for people to respond immediately after his preaching there in his London church. Instead, he offered to make an appointment with people later in the week, usually on Tuesdays, when he would meet with those he called “inquirers”—people who wanted to understand the gospel and the claims of Christ.

Here is a second reason predestination matters: without it, mankind becomes sovereign, and God becomes servant. God does nothing more than simply react to the decisions people make. He might know about it ahead of time, but their salvation is all up to them.

Third, without predestination, the believer becomes responsible for the salvation of the lost. In other words, you either take the blame or you can take the credit for people’s responses to your gospel presentation.

I remember reading of one evangelist who boasted, “Give me fifteen minutes with anybody, and I will get a decision for Christ.” He was convinced that their decision was based on his power of persuasion. He evidently forgot the role of God’s Spirit. He also seemed to have forgotten that the Great Commission is not to get decisions but to make disciples.[1]

Now you might be wondering, “How do I know if I am one of the elect? Predestination is so deep. It is hard to even think of something God has done in eternity past. How can I be sure I was predestined for salvation?”

Well, that’s the easiest question of all for you to answer. Have you believed the gospel of Christ and repented of your sins, trusting in Christ alone for your salvation? The Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

If you have done that, I have news for you: you are one of God’s elect—you were predestined by God back before time began. And then at some point in your life, as you responded to His call, you were saved out of darkness and brought into His marvelous light.

[1] R. C. Sproul, Chosen by God (Tyndale House, 1986), 212.

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Pat O'Brien says:
Praise God for the gift of biblical knowledge He has given you. I have been a student of God's word for well over 40 years and this is the "best explanation" I have ever heard on "predestination". I have adopted this knowledge, and the Lord has encouraged me to share it in all my bible study/preaching opportunities. I pray for God's richest blessings upon your ministry. Praise His Holy Name...and God Love You. Pat O'Brien, Montana

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