Election: Back to Romans 8

Reflect back on chapter 8 —

(Rom 8:29-31)  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Read this from Paul’s perspective, as a Jew who sees Jesus as the culmination of God’s redemptive plan that had been worked out through Israel. Whom, then, did God foreknow? Well, the same people whom God will glorify, right? And that means believers in Jesus. And that means very few Jews.

Thus, at this point in Paul’s epistle, he realizes that God foreknew and predestined only a remnant from among the Jews to be glorified. And this is a serious issue because it goes so contrary to expectations — and Paul’s wishes for his countrymen.

You see, we have to be careful not read “us” as “me”! We unconsciously translate in our minds as —

(Rom 8:29-31)  For [me whom] God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn [with this] brother[(me)]. 30 And [me whom] he predestined, he also called; [me whom] he called, he also justified; [me whom]he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall [I] say in response to this? If God is for [me], who can be against [me]?

We read it as being about individuals, but Romans 9 is about nations, and Romans 9 is in response to the problem arising from Romans 8. We tend to take Rom 9 – 11 as a gigantic parenthesis, interrupting the flow from chapter 8 to chapter 12, but if we read Rom 1 – 8 as having as its theme —

(Rom 1:16)  I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

— then we see that Paul’s discussion of Jews and Gentiles in chapters 1 – 8 culminates in chapters 9 -11. Thus, these chapters are no interruption. Rather, they wrestle with the very problem created by chapter 8.

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3 Responses

  1. Paul’s attention span is substantially longer than that of the average modern American Bible student. In Romans, Paul wrote a sixteen-chapter thesis on a single topic. Each part builds on what came before, and takes it in a deliberate direction toward the conclusion he had in mind when he wrote the first words of the book.

    We like to lift a verse or two out and make our point from them. And when we do, we are usually making claims that Paul did not make… and often even claims he would dispute. When reading Paul, you can’t understand the context without understanding the complete book.

  2. Could you explain this a little? I’m not following you. Am I not to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son? Am “I” not a part of the “we/us” as a follower of Christ? I think I’m missing your point in this post.

  3. Terry,

    It’s common for those of the Reformed/Calvinist school of thought to take this passage in the individual sense: If I’ve been called, then I’m elect, justified, and will be glorified. “Those” is thus read as referring to each individual Christian so that all who’ve been justified will persevere and be saved in the end.

    I think that’s a mistaken interpretation of this passage because —

    * Paul immediately begins a discussion in chapters 9 – 11 dealing with the calling and election of peoples.

    * Something about chapter 8 causes Paul to have to deal with the fact that the Jews (as a people) aren’t going to be glorified, even though they’ve been called and are elect. Under the Calvinist interpretation, there is no problem to be addressed — they are not elect for reasons God chooses not to disclose — making chapters 10 and 11 unnecessary. Once Paul gets to “Who are you O man … ” the case is made and over.

    * For reasons I’ll be getting to, I find the doctrine of perseverance to give less confidence than the Arminian view.

    * I’ll be addressing chapter 8 in much greater detail after we cover 10 and 11. This is just a preview.

    In short, my view here is the same view I take when reading Hebrews. We are saved “once for all” and we are made “perfect forever,” but we can fall away.

    We are given confidence and assurance of our salvation. But that confidence can be thrown away.

    I think it happens much less often than many imagine, but it happens.

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