Predestined and Called

Romans 8:30 (ESV) … “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 closing verses in this chapter expand more fully the great theme of the believer’s eternal security. The believer is (1) predestinated for glory (vv. 28–30). This predestination cannot be altered, for it includes the present moment of time as well as the vast reaches of eternity past and future. It relates itself to the daily concerns of men, for Paul reminds us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (v. 28). This is a great verse, often quoted in times of distress. It needs to be looked at, however, in the light of its context. Like the cogs in an intricate piece of machinery, all things work together for good to the called of God for the simple reason that God’s purposes cannot be thwarted. Although we may not see it now, everything will one day be seen to fit into God’s perfect plan.

The principle is beautifully illustrated in the story of Jacob. He was reaping the harvest of his younger years. Joseph was gone; Reuben was disgraced; Judah was dishonored; Simeon and Levi had broken his heart; Dinah was defiled; Simeon even now was in prison; beloved Rachel was dead; famine threatened the family. Then came the demand from Egypt that young Benjamin must appear there before its awesome governor before any further supplies would be released. Old Jacob wept: “Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me” (Gen. 42:36). How wrong he was! “These things” and many more were secretly working to his own good, as the end of the story proved. “All things work together for good.”

The fact that we are predestinated for glory cannot be altered for another reason. Predestination relates itself not only to the daily concerns of men but also to the eternal counsels of God. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified? (vv. 29–30). The key words in this great but admittedly difficult passage are the words “foreknow,” “predestinate,” “called,” “justified” and “glorified.” They embrace an eternity past, the present fleeting moments of time and an eternity yet to come. They bring into sharp focus the whole difficult problem of divine election versus human free will, a problem for which we have no absolute answers this side of glory.

Some have thought that the word “foreknown” is the key to the problem. All knowledge is based on fact, the argument runs; fact is not based on knowledge. A fact has to be established before it can be known. Human knowledge is largely after-knowledge of a given fact, but God is not restricted to after-knowledge. He is omniscient and therefore has foreknowledge. But whether it is after-knowledge or foreknowledge, the knowledge is based on fact. For example, John Brown accepts Christ as Saviour on a given day in his personal history and thereby establishes a fact which can be known. His friends and relatives come to know of this fact after it happens, but God can see the same fact a week, a month, a year, an eternity before it happens. Nevertheless, His knowledge, like that of John Brown’s friends, is based on the fact of John Brown’s acceptance of Christ. “Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.”

There is only one thing wrong with this line of reasoning. The text goes on to say, “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called.” Reduced to its simplest terms the problem can be stated thus: Did God choose me because I chose Him, or did I choose Him because He chose me? To say that God chose me because with His ability to foreknow the future He saw me choose Christ, robs God of His sovereignty. It would mean He has no alternative but to choose those who choose Christ—His choice is governed by ours. It throws the initiative on man. But God is sovereign and acts in accordance with His own will and, as Paul demonstrates in a later chapter, is under an obligation to nobody (9:15–23). On the other hand, to say that I chose Christ because He chose me robs me of my free will (i.e., moral responsibility) and makes me a mere puppet. Human free will then becomes a myth.

Can the will of God and the will of man be reconciled, or must we everlastingly go round and round in circles on this question? Obviously there is no pat answer. If there were, this problem would not have divided Christians for centuries. An illustration, however, might help us see that God, in the exercise of His sovereign will, does not necessarily deprive man of his free will. Imagine two men playing a game of chess; the one player is a master at the game, the other is very much an amateur. The master knows hundreds of moves for opening, pursuing, and closing the game, whereas the amateur plays blindly from one move to the next with little skill and only limited forethought. Both players have free will to make whatever moves they wish. But the master of the game, without in any way violating his opponent’s free will, uses every move the amateur makes to drive him into a corner and take his king.