All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version (slightly updated).
Romans 8:28-39 serves as the introduction to Romans 9. Therefore, in order to understand chapter 9, we must understand this passage in Romans 8. The subject is the doctrine of election. Particular redemption (limited atonement) is seen all over this passage to the unbiased eye. We see in verses 29-30 the golden chain of redemption, which involves our election in Christ as much as it does our salvation in Christ.
I believe the Bible teaches Sovereign unconditional election—the choosing of particular individuals to be the recipients of salvation. This view of election is on the other side of the fence of conditional election, which involves the offer of salvation to every person who hears the gospel message. In that understanding of election, those who respond to the gospel message in faith, are the elect.
While this will not be an in depth study of the doctrine of election, I believe this passage alone supports Sovereign unconditional election. Providing insight for that conclusion is the goal of this study.
28 And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: 30 and whom he predestined, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? 33 Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies; 34 who is he that condemns? It is Christ Jesus that died, yes rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Even as it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long; We were counted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
First of all, we have to identify the “them” and “whom” of verses 28 and 29. Who is Paul specifically referring to? The passage itself makes it clear, but it’s important to see the wider picture that Paul provides throughout this chapter:
“them that are in Christ Jesus” (Ro 8:1)
Those who have the “Spirit of God,” the “Spirit of Christ” (Ro 8:9)
“sons of God” (Ro 8:14,19)
“you received the Spirit of adoption as sons” ESV (Ro 8:15)
“children of God” (Ro 8:16,21)
“heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Ro 8:17)
“the saints” (Ro 8:27)
We see that it’s the “children of God,” the “sons of God” who are in view in this chapter. It’s those who are “in Christ Jesus,” who are indwelt by “the Spirit of God,” the “Spirit of Christ,” who are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” These are the terms Paul uses leading into these verses (Ro 8:28-39). These are the people Paul is talking about. The terms “children of God” and “sons of God” and “adoption” are particularly important to keep in mind when interpreting Romans 9. As I mentioned in the introduction, this ending passage of chapter 8 serves as the introduction to chapter 9. This all ties together to provide an accurate understanding of the doctrine of election, and of the associated doctrine of atonement.
With that background, we’ll take a detailed looked at all these verses:
(Ro 8:29) – 29 For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren:
Those “whom He foreknew” are the “children of God,” those who are “in Christ Jesus.” From the start we need to understand that for God to foreknow His people, is not to be understood as something that is merely passive, but involves an elective purpose (Ro 9:11)—which extends through the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and ending in Christ and His Church. Our election is in Christ (Eph 1:4). It’s the spiritual offspring of Abraham who are the “children of Abraham” and the “children of God” (Ro 9:6-8), those who share Abraham’s faith (Ro 4:16; Ga 3:7-9). God’s elective plan and the promise of salvation to the world came through Isaac (Ro 9:6-13). In choosing Isaac and Jacob, God was also choosing His Son, who was to come through their line. God chose to bring His Son into the world through them. Furthermore, just as God chose both Isaac and Jacob for salvation through Him before they came into the world, so did God choose all others who were to believe in Christ. Thus, the nature of election is understood through them.
In other words, in electing Isaac and Jacob for salvation before they even came into the world – those whom He foreknew – so did God elect for salvation everyone else whom He foreknew as His own. The election of Isaac and Jacob reveals the form of election for everyone else. God definitely chose to bring the Savior into the world through their line, and He definitely chose Isaac and Jacob for salvation in Him. Their election represents our election. Their faith represents our faith. Their salvation represents our salvation. It’s inconsistent to suggest that their unconditional election would be different for everyone else. In other words, it would be inconsistent to choose Isaac and Jacob unconditionally for salvation in Christ – who was to come through their line – and then choose everyone else conditionally, where there is no actual choosing of specific individuals for salvation—but where it’s ultimately left up to the individual whether they are elect or not, through the choosing of Christ as Savior or not.
So we see that in unconditional election, it’s God who chooses us. Whereas, in conditional election, it’s sinners who choose Him—even if it is in response to the Holy Spirit’s work in their hearts……because in conditional election, it’s sinners who cast the deciding vote to become the elect or not, by receiving Christ as Savior or not. However, that doesn’t follow the pattern of election that is given to us in Isaac and Jacob. Truth is consistent.
Even in the choosing of Abraham to be the father of the ethnic nation of Israel, it was the choosing of all the people who would be born into his line, through Isaac and Jacob. It was through Jacob that the twelve sons (tribes) would be born, who would comprise the nation of Israel. It was directly through him that the nation of Israel came into being. Those twelve sons of Jacob were most definitely chosen by God to form that nation. It was no mere accident or coincidence that they came into being. Therefore, just as their election to be the fathers of the nation of Israel was God-ordained, so were all the ethnic Jews who were born into their line. Likewise, just as the election (unto salvation) of Isaac and Jacob was God-ordained, so were all the spiritual offspring who were to be born (born-again) into their spiritual line (Ro 9:6-7).
So to be clear, Isaac and Jacob represent both the election of the ethnic people of Israel, and the election of the people of Christ, who is Himself true Israel (Gal 3:16). Just as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we’re ordained to come into the world as God’s elect – through whom He would bring His Son into the world – so are all others whom God has foreknown as His elect. The nature of election is there to see for those who are willing to see it.
Election is, therefore, revealed to be unconditional—the Sovereign choice of God. These are they whom God has foreknown as His people from eternity past, whom He brings into the world as His elect, ordained for salvation in His Son.
“For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,”
The elect, whom God foreknew, he also “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” In other words, predestined to be like Him in sinlessness. Conformity to Christ is first of all, our position in Him. We have forgiveness of our sins in Him. We are righteous in Him. We are new creations in Christ, born with a new nature (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 5:15; Eph 2:15). We don’t have salvation apart from this new birth (Jn 3:3-8; Jn 1:13; 1 Pe 1:3,23). However, this is one of those “now, but not yet” truths. We are conformed to Christ positionally now, but we have not experienced it apart from this temporary body yet. That’s still to come when we’re out of these bodies of sin.
(Ro 8:30) – 30 and whom he predestined, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Those whom God predestined, “he also called.” There’s a general call that goes out to the world. That is, there’s a general call that goes out to anyone who hears the gospel message, those who hear the words, but not with understanding or conviction. But then there is a specific call to those whom He predestined. It’s a call to salvation that will always be heard and understood, and that will always be responded to with conviction and faith. This is a call unto salvation to His elect.
Those whom God calls, “he also justified.” Meaning, we’re declared righteous in Christ. We’re given a righteous standing before God.
Those whom God justified, “he also glorified.” Paul states this as if we’re already in our glorified state, already in our glorified, resurrected bodies. For those who are in Christ, it’s a done deal. All of these attributes of the redeemed are a done deal while in this life. That means we are eternally secure in Christ. There’s no way of losing or forfeiting our salvation, because God sees us as we will always be throughout eternity. Our election in Christ secures our salvation even before we enter the world.
(Ro 8:31-34) – 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? 33 Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies; 34 who is he that condemns? It is Christ Jesus that died, yes rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
“but delivered him up for us all”
Who is the “us all?” It’s “God’s elect.” It’s the redeemed that Paul has been describing. This is a clear revelation that Jesus died for His elect. He’s the good Shepherd that laid down His life for His sheep (Jn 10:11). He’s the Savior of His Church, whom He gave Himself up for (Eph 5:23,25). We see here both corporate election and individual election. Just as He chose His Church (His bride) unconditionally, so did He unconditionally choose the individual members who make up His Church. The election of individuals has to be the same as it is for the whole Church.
If Christ died for His Church, then He died for His completed Church. He died for everyone in it. Jesus didn’t die merely for an idea, as though the members of His Church were unknown to and unrealized by Him. No, Christ’s Church is a living organism, full of real people, and it’s those individuals for whom He died. It’s those individuals who are the elect of God. That leaves no room for anyone outside of that corporate body. We see Jesus’ completed Church in Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-17; 19:6-9; 21:1-3, 9-11. The full number of the redeemed that we see in those passages is who Jesus shed His blood for. Those are the ones whom he saw and for whom He died as He hung upon that cross. Every drop of blood was applied to every person for whom it was intended.
Between John 10:11, Eph 5:23,25 and this passage in Romans, there should be no doubt about who Christ died for. Yes, He died for the whole world (Jn 1:29; 3:16-17; 4:42; 6:33,51), but that has to be understood as dying for the world in the general sense, where Jesus draws and gathers His elect from all around the world (Jn 12:32) from every nation, tribes, peoples and tongues (Rev 5:9; 7:9).
(Ro 8:33-34) – 33 Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies; 34 who is he that condemns? It is Christ Jesus that died, yes rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
Paraphrasing Paul, I believe this is what he is saying here:
“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect (the saved)? Not God, because it’s God who has justified us.”
“Who is to condemn us? Not Christ, because He is the one who died for us and rose from the dead, who is at the right hand of His Father interceding on our behalf.”
In Christ, we can no longer be “charged” with sin, because God has justified us. He cannot charge us with sin and justify us at the same time.
In Christ, we can no longer be “condemned,” because He died on the cross and was raised from the dead for us—specifically for us, His elect ones, providing forgiveness for each and every one of us. He cannot condemn us and provide forgiveness at the same time. Also, Jesus sits upon His throne interceding for us, ensuring our salvation. There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro 8:1). We can never again be condemned for our sins.
(Ro 8:35-39) – 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Even as it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long; We were counted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Interpreting this passage must be in the context of the salvation of the unconditional elect—those whom He foreknew and set His “love” upon. Thus, using very descriptive and all-encompassing language, Paul reveals that there is absolutely nothing that can ever “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That includes anything that we could ever do. Our salvation is secure in Christ. We will never be “charged” or “condemned” for our sins ever again. Our election in Christ makes our salvation unconditionally certain.
Not one member of Christ’s Church can ever be lost. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul describes the body of Christ (the Church). We, the corporate people of God (the Church), are the body of Christ, and we are described that way in this passage. Paul discusses the fact that each member of the body is important for the proper functioning of the body. Therefore, if any member of the body is lost, it becomes an incomplete body. The whole would feel the loss of even one member (vs. 26). It becomes a body without an eye or an ear or a foot, etc. This picture most certainly conflicts with conditional security, that we can lose our salvation. Our unconditional election in Christ – both as a corporate body and as individual members – fully and forever secures our salvation in Christ.