18 Oct 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
So the doctrine of divine predestination promotes humility, not arrogance; assurance, not apprehension; responsibility, not apathy; holiness, not complacency; and mission, not privilege. This is not to claim that there are no problems, but to indicate that they are more intellectual than pastoral.
Certainly the point Paul singles out for emphasis in verse 29 is pastoral. It concerns the two practical purposes of God’s predestination. The first is that we should *be conformed to the likeness of his Son*. In the simplest terms, God’s eternal purpose for his people is that we should become like Jesus. The transformation process begins here and now in our character and conduct, through the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor.3:18), but will be brought to completion only when Christ comes and we see him (1 Jn.3:2f.), and our bodies become like the body of his glory (1 Cor.15:49; Phil.3:21). The second purpose of God’s predestination is that, as a result of our conformity to the image of Christ, *he might be the firstborn among many brothers*, enjoying both the community of the family and the pre-eminence of the firstborn (Cf. Col.1:18).
We now come to Paul’s third affirmation: *those he predestined, he also called* (30a). The call of God is the historical application of his eternal predestination. His call comes to people through the gospel (2 Thess.2:13f.), and it is when the gospel is preached to them with power, and they respond to it with the obedience of faith, that we know God has chosen them (1 Thess.1:4f.). So evangelism (the preaching of the gospel), far from being rendered superfluous by God’s predestination, is indispensable, because it is the very means God has ordained by which his call comes to his people and awakens their faith. Clearly, then, what Paul means by God’s call here is not the general gospel invitation but the divine summons which raises the spiritually dead to life. It is often termed God’s ‘effective’ or ‘effectual’ call. Those whom God thus calls (30) are the same as those ‘who have been called according to his purpose’ (28).
Fourthly, *those he called, he also justified* (30b). God’s effective call enables those who hear it to believe, and those who believe are justified by faith. Since justification by faith has been an overarching topic of Paul’s earlier chapters, it is not necessary to repeat what has already been said, except perhaps to emphasise that justification is more than forgiveness or acquittal or even acceptance; it is a declaration that we sinners are now righteous in God’s sight, because of his conferment upon us of a righteous status, which is indeed the righteousness of Christ himself. It is ‘in Christ’, by virtue of our union with him, that we have been justified (Gal.2:17). He became sin with our sin, so that we might become righteous with his righteousness (2 Cor.5:21).
Fifthly, *those he justified, he also glorified* (30c). Paul has already several times used the noun ‘glory’. It is essentially the glory of God, the manifestation of his splendour, of which all sinners fall short (3:23), but which we rejoice in hope of recovering (5:2). Paul also promises both that if we share Christ’s sufferings we will share his glory (8:17) and that the creation itself will one day be brought into the freedom of the glory of God’s children (8:21). Now he uses the verb: *those he justified, he also glorified*. Our destiny is to be given new bodies in a new world, both of which will be transfigured with the glory of God.
Many students have noticed that the process of sanctification has been omitted in verse 30 between justification and glorification. Yet it is implicitly there, both in the allusion to our being conformed to the image of Christ and as the necessary preliminary to our glorification. For ‘sanctification is glory begun; glory is sanctification consummated’. Moreover, so certain is this final stage that, although it is still future, Paul puts it into the same aorist tense, as if it were past, as he has used for the other four stages which *are* past. It is a so-called ‘prophetic past’ tense. James Denny writes that ‘the tense in the last word is amazing. It is the most daring anticipation of faith that even the New Testament contains’.
Here then is the apostle’s series of five undeniable affirmations. God is pictured as moving irresistibly from stage to stage; from an eternal foreknowledge and predestination, through a historical call and justification, to a final glorification of his people in a future eternity. It resembles a chain of five links, each of which is unbreakable.
Tomorrow: Romans 8:31-39. c). Five unanswerable questions.