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Theology in Romans

I.  Introduction:

 As we continue to look at theology in Romans, I want to focus in on two ideas brought up in Romans 8:29-30.  Many have referred to this passage as the ‘golden chain’ of our salvation, noting how the different ideas (foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified) are linked together in one glorious chain.  Tonight I want to specifically look at two of the links in that chain: foreknowledge and calling.  These are both important theological ideas for Paul (and the other biblical writers) and it is good for us to take some time tonight to think more about what Paul is teaching us in Romans 8.  Thus, we will look at each in turn, beginning with foreknowledge.

II.  Foreknowledge:

 A.  Translation/Definition: According to my Greek lexicon, the actual term that Paul uses could be translated in a few different ways.  They include: know already, know beforehand; choose (or appoint) from the beginning, choose beforehand.  Most translations translate it as simply ‘foreknew’, which makes sense in light of the above definitions.  Since Paul speaks of God predestining in the context, it could be translated as ‘choose beforehand’, but ‘foreknew’ does seem to be a good translation of the word.

 B.  Meaning: So then, what does Paul mean by this word in this passage?  I should go ahead and note the importance of this interpretation since Paul connects God’s predestining with His foreknowledge.  If we follow the chain in this way, then whoever God foreknew will ultimately be glorified.  Thus, how we understand foreknowledge in this text is important (and controversial).  Two major interpretations have been offered:

 First, God foreknew who would put their faith in Christ.  This has been referred to as the ‘foreseen faith’ or ‘foreseen people of faith’ interpretation.  The idea is straightforward: God in His omniscient knowledge of all things knew who was going to believe in Christ and therefore He chose them, or predestined them, based upon that knowledge.  His election is thus conditioned upon His foreknowledge of a person’s faith (conditional election).  Although I do not think that this interpretation is heretical or without grounds, I do not think that it is the best for this passage for a few reasons.  First, the immediate context says nothing about God foreseeing faith in people.  Granted, Paul has repeatedly argued in Romans that we are saved by faith in Christ and so we believe in justification by faith.  Yet, still, the immediate context gives us no indication that God is choosing people based on their faith in Christ, or based upon anything else in them.  People are saved by faith, but their faith is not the reason why God elects them (for more see below).  Second, the ‘foreseen faith of people’ understanding of foreknowledge does not make good sense with God’s work of predestining.  If God is ‘predestining’ based upon something that He already sees will happen, then in what sense is that actually predestining?  God is simply responding to what He sees will happen, which to me does not fit with the idea of predestining.  Third, in the larger context of Romans, this interpretation seems to contradict Paul’s teaching on depravity.  Paul says in 8:8 that those who are still in the flesh cannot please God.  He teaches in 3:11 that no one seeks for God.  Thus, the idea that God responds to the faith that He foresees in us seems out of place.  In light of these weaknesses, is there another way to interpret this passage?

 Second, God foreknew the elect in the sense that He fore-chose them and fore-loved them.  Some will argue that ‘fore-loved’ is not part of the definition of the word.  In a sense that is true, but others have shown that the words translated ‘know’ in the Bible often carry the connotation of love and intimacy.  A couple of places to consider from the Old Testament are Jeremiah 1:5 and Amos 3:2.  In both of those passages the word ‘know’ means more than simply to have knowledge of.  Rather, the idea is choose, appoint, or even love in the Amos passage.  Likewise, the word translated ‘foreknowledge’ in Romans 8 is used six other times in the New Testament.  Twice it is used to refer to cognitive knowledge (Acts 26:5, 2 Peter 3:17), while the three other uses involve more than cognitive knowledge (Romans 11:2, 1 Peter 1:20, Acts 2:23, 1 Peter 1:2).  In particular, look at Romans 11:2.  Paul is arguing that God has not rejected Israel since he foreknew them.  The contrast between ‘rejected’ and ‘foreknown’ only makes sense if ‘foreknown’ carries with it the idea of fore-appoint or fore-love (something more than cognitive knowledge.  Even if one argues that these other passages could simply be referring to the cognitive knowledge of God, none of them say anything about foreseen faith, which again makes the first interpretation less likely.  

 Of course the question remains: how do we know that Paul is using the word ‘foreknew’ in this sense in Romans 8?  To the above arguments that show the possibility (and to some degree probability) of such a meaning, let me add a few more thoughts.  As we have seen, the main theme of Romans 8 is assurance.  Paul writes in verse 28 that we know that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  How do we know that?  We know it because we know that God’s plan for our lives is His plan, according to His purpose, which begins with His foreknowledge of us and ends with our glorification.  He is the subject of all of the verbs in verses 29-30.  He is the One who foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified.  We have assurance of these things because they are all according to his purpose.  Paul is here emphasizing God’s work in our salvation.  Granted, we must believe as he has taught elsewhere, but we can rest secure in our salvation from eternity past to eternity future because of God’s work.  We were chosen by grace (11:5), not because of anything in us, but simply because of His grace according to His purpose.  Why did God elect us?  Was it because He saw something in us?  No, He elected us because He loved us.  He elected us because of His grace and according to His purposes and not because of anything in us (unconditional election).  We will look more at these ideas as we move into Romans 9 in a few weeks, but let me just say that for the above reasons, I believe that ‘foreknowledge’ in Romans 8:29 refers to God fore-choosing and fore-loving the elect. 

III.  Effectual Call

 A.  Definition: The issue that we are considering here involves the word translated called in verse 30.  There is not much controversy surrounding the translation of this word.  It is normally translated ‘call’ and that seems to be the best translation here.

 B.  Meaning: The difficulty comes when you look at how Paul is using this word in the context.  The verb is part of the ‘golden chain’ that we referred to earlier.  All those that God foreknew, He predestined, and all those that He predestined, He called, and all those that He called, He justified, sanctified, and glorified (glorification being so certain that Paul can describe it using the past tense).  Thus, all the called (in the sense that Paul is using it here) will ultimately be glorified.  Theologians refer to this as the ‘effectual call’ of God since it effectually results in salvation.  Some refer to it as ‘irresistible grace’, but I think this terminology can be misunderstood and is therefore not that useful.  ‘Effectual calling’ communicates better what I think Paul is saying here.

 Of course, controversy surrounds this idea since the implication is that whoever God calls in this way will respond and they ultimately will be glorified.  This is problematic for those who view God’s call as only universal and not particular (for the elect only).  Of course, it should be noted that the term itself is used in different ways in the text.  For example, Jesus says in Matthew: For many are called, but few are chosen.  He says this as a conclusion to the parable of the wedding feast where many are invited to the few but only a few actually end up going.  Thus, Jesus is using the word to refer to the general call that does go out to all.  It is what we call the ‘free offer of the gospel to all.’  This type of call is clearly taught in the pages of Scripture.  Yet, I do not think that Paul is using the word ‘call’ in this sense in Romans 8 since all of the called will be glorified.  Thus, there is general call that goes forth to any and all to repent and believe in Christ.  At the same time, there is an effectual call that goes forth to those whom God foreknew and predestined.  This latter call will result in the salvation of all those to whom it goes.

IV. Conclusion:

 Needless to say, these are difficult and controversial ideas in back to back verses.  They point us to the idea of election, which Paul will take up extensively in Romans 9.  But again, we do not want to lose sight of the main theme of Romans 8, namely assurance.  As believers in Christ, we can be assured of our future glorification and that all things work together for good because Paul gives us a glimpse into the sovereign plan of God.  He has known us and loved us and chosen us by His grace.  He has called us and justified us. Our salvation rests securely in His Sovereign hands.  As we wrestle with the more difficult theological ideas in this passage, may we never lose sight of the sure foundation of our assurance, which is God Himself and His plan to redeem us through Christ.  Amen. 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 05 October 2010 )

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