We will discuss Rom. 8:28-30 throughout Part 2 and on into Part 3 of this 4-part paper.
(28) And we know that God causes all things to work together for good [[It's quite possible that the translation of the KJV and NKJV more accurately represents what was originally written by the apostle Paul, "And we know that all things work together for good," but with the translation of the KJV and NKJV it is to be understood, of course, that God is the one who causes all things to work together for good. In this context "all things" very much includes the sufferings with Christ of this present age that Paul spoke of in the preceding verses. It makes a gigantic difference for us to know that these sufferings are part of the will of God for us; things haven't gotten out of His control; He hasn't abandoned us; He still loves us. All things, including our sufferings, will work together for good, including our good. This is very good news, and it's very important for us to know and to believe that this is true. Believing this truth will enable us to stay in faith and peace even when we're in difficult places, not that trials are pleasant experiences.
The only qualification to these words that I know of is that it would be wrong to say that the sin of Christians works for our good. God can make the sin of others (whether demons or men) work for our good, but not our sin (which includes doubting God and not trusting Him). I'm not saying there never are cases where God uses a sin of a Christian for their good in some ways (for example, He might temporarily use a sinful habit to help motivate a Christian to make a total commitment to Him), but we shouldn't be looking for something good to say about sin. If God considers something to be sin in our lives, we must be one hundred percent against it (by the grace of God in Christ). God hates sin! And He has paid a very high price (an infinite price) to set us free from sin.
I'll quote a sentence from what F. Godet said under this verse ("Epistle to the Romans" [Zondervan, 1969 reprint of the 1883 edition], page 322). "But it would be wrong to embrace under it [the all things that work together for good of Rom. 8:28] what we may do ourselves in opposition to God's will, since that would contradict the idea: them that love God." That is, those who love God don't sin against Him; we keep His commandments. And I'll quote from Henry Alford ("New Testament for English Readers," Vol. 2 [Baker, 1983 reprint], page 914). "To include, with Augustine, the sins of believers in this 'all things,' as making them 'humbler and wiser,' is manifestly to introduce an element which did not enter into the Apostle's consideration; for he is here already viewing the believer as justified by faith, dwelt in by the Spirit, dead to sin."
I'll also quote part of what John Calvin said under Rom. 8:28 ("Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians" [Eerdmans, 1980 reprint], page 179). "Augustine says that even the sins of the saints are so far from doing them harm by the ordaining providence of God, that they serve rather to advance their salvation. This statement, however, though true [I don't believe it's true!], does not relate to the present passage, which deals with the cross. It should be observed that Paul has included the whole of true religion in the love of God [the love for God that was mentioned in Rom. 8:28]. The whole pursuit of righteousness, indeed, depends on this."
I'll quote part of what Charles R. Erdman said under Rom. 8:28-30 ("The Epistle of Paul to the Romans" [Baker, 1983 reprint], pages 103, 104). Dr. Erdman (AD 1866-1960) pastored Presbyterian churches and taught at Princeton Seminary). "This 'good' is to them...only 'that love God.' ... To strengthen our faith further, Paul describes those who, from the human point of view, 'love God,' as those who, from the divine side, 'are called according to his purpose'; and then he states five successive steps by which the divine purpose is carried into effect. ... In all this majestic movement whereby these successive stages of the divine purpose are carried into effect, nothing is stated as to the agency or activity or responsibility of believers. Here the thought is of God. That Paul also believed and taught the freedom of the human will, the responsibility of man, and the need of repentance and faith and love, must not be forgotten. Nor does he ever seek to reconcile these two spheres of truth. However, in seeking to encourage us to patience in suffering and to confident expectation of future glory, he wisely fixes the attention wholly upon that which must be ultimate in all our thinking and our thanksgiving, namely, upon the mysterious, loving, eternal purpose of God."]] to those who love God [[Compare 1 Cor. 2:9; 8:3; 16:22; Eph. 6:24; and James 1:12. Romans 8:28-30, which are very important verses, put most of the emphasis on God's role (in common with Eph. 1:3-14): Those who love God were called as individuals by God, and they were foreknown, predestined, justified, and glorified by Him (see verses 29, 30). (I had a footnote: Now that we have become born-again Christians, we love God.) But these words about loving God help demonstrate that it's not all God; we (according to His plan) must do what is required of us (by His grace through faith).
Many in our day seek assurance of salvation by overstating and/or misstating God's role and denying, or greatly minimizing, man's role. I'm convinced this approach can't work very well; it doesn't square with the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. We must put the emphasis on God's role, and we must make sure He gets all the glory, but we must also understand, and do, what He requires of us, by His grace through faith. Real security comes when we are believing what He wants us to believe and living like He wants us to live - when we are living in the center of His will for His glory (by grace through faith).
Romans 8:4 shows that "those who love God" will walk after the Spirit and keep the requirements of the moral Law. Romans 8:5 shows that "those who love God" are enabled to think right by the Spirit (especially speaking of their thinking right in their hearts about God, righteousness, attitudes, priorities, motives, and such). Romans 8:13, 14 show that "those who love God," those who are sons of God, will be led by the Spirit of God to put to death the works of the flesh/body/old man. Romans 8:17, 18 show that they are willing to suffer with Christ. Romans 8:25 shows that they persevere (in hope). If we love God, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21; 15:9, 10); and we will believe Him, trust Him, and make Him our top priority. God loved us first (e.g., 1 John 4:19), but we must reciprocate and begin to love Him, and keep on loving Him, being enabled by His grace (which includes the fruit of the Spirit of love, for one thing [Gal. 5:22, 23]). These things don't just happen automatically! The key word to describe our role in God's salvation plans is the word "faith." See my "A Paper on Faith." We can't skip the word repentance either.
C. E. B. Cranfield ("Epistle to the Romans," Vol. 1 [T. & T. Clark, 1975], pages 424, 425), speaking of the Greek words that are translated "to those who love God" by the NASB, points out, "By being placed at the beginning of the clause these words are given special emphasis. [These words come right after "we know that" in the Greek.] They have a rich OT and Jewish background. [In a footnote Cranfield lists many passages that demonstrate the need for God's people to love Him from the Old Testament, from the New Testament, and from other Jewish writings.] The love to God, which is commanded in Scripture, is nothing less than the response of a man in the totality of his being to the prior love of God. It thus includes the whole of religion."
I'll quote part of what Dale Moody said regarding these words ("Broadman Bible Commentary," Vol. 10 [Broadman, 1970], page 220). "Many of the commentaries almost disparage emphasis on man's love for God, but this is lopsided thinking. Of course, God loved man before man loved God, but God works out his purpose only in those who respond in a positive way to his love. ... 'God knows those who love him' (1 Cor. 8:3), and one is accursed if he 'has no love for the Lord' (1 Cor. 16:22). It [man's love for God/Christ] is hardly a thing to be disparaged in a benediction such as this: 'Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying' (Eph. 6:24). However, this is impossible apart from God's love made manifest in Christ (cf. Deut. 6:4)."
I'll also quote two sentences from what James D. G. Dunn said regarding these words ("Romans 1-8," "Word Biblical Commentary," Vol. 38 [Word, 1988]). "In view of the following heavy emphasis on divine initiative this phrase is an important reminder that God's purpose works out in personal response and relationship; coerced love [or, the love of a robot] is not love" (page 481). "The balance of human response is present [in other words, it's not all God] in the place given to 'loving God,' but the dominant emphasis [in Rom. 8:28-30] is on God's action in calling and setting apart (not of Jew from Gentile, or of priest from people, but of those having the Spirit from the mind-set of the flesh, Jew as well as Gentile)" (page 494). And I'll quote a sentence from what Adam Clarke said here ("Commentary on the Bible" [Baker, 1967], page 1061. Clarke, who worked with John Wesley, died in 1832). "To understand these verses aright, let us observe: (1) That the persons in whose behalf all things work for good are they who love God and, consequently, who live in the spirit of obedience. ...."
Lastly, I'll quote part of what William S. Plumer said regarding these words ("Commentary on Romans" [Kregel, 1979 reprint of the book published in 1870], page 431). "If none can legitimately draw comfort from the leading truths of this chapter, and particularly from verse 28, unless they love God, how important it is to know what are the infallible signs of that holy affection. Nor do we search the scriptures in vain. The love that God demands must be sincere, not feigned, not in pretence; it must be supreme, putting Jehovah [Yahweh] before and above all others; it must regard all God's character, laws and judgments; it must be stable, not fitful. He who loves God will love God's children, God's house, God's worship and all his ordinances."]], to those who are called according to His purpose. [[It's Biblical to say that God calls all mankind to repent and to submit to the gospel (e.g., Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:47; John 3:16-21, 36; Acts 17:30, 31; 2 Thess. 1:8, 9; 1 Tim. 2:4-7; and 1 Pet. 4:17). The word "call" is used in this full sense in Matt. 22:14 (the inviting of Matt. 22:3-13 is the same as the call of 22:14). The word call, however, is normally used in a special, limited sense in the New Testament, as it is here in Rom. 8:28, 30, of God's calling His chosen/elect ones (e.g., Acts 2:39; Rom. 1:6; 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:9, 24; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14; and Heb. 1:15; cf., e.g., Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8; and 17:8).
Bible verses like Rom. 8:28-30 and Eph. 1:3-14, which emphasize God's role in our salvation, are designed to give the saints the right perspective, putting the emphasis on God, His plan, and His sufficient grace, and on the need to give Him all the glory. I have found over the years that verses like these (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:3-14) bless me greatly. It's very edifying to know that God has chosen us, called us, makes us holy, keeps us, etc. We are caught up into the very stable, very glorious, salvation plans of the God of creation. But, at the same time, we must understand the balanced truth of what the Scriptures teach, and we must make sure that we understand and are doing all that is required of us (in accordance with the plan of God, by His sufficient grace through faith).
The teaching of verses like Rom. 8:28-30 is intended for the saints. You couldn't expect non-Christians to understand or appreciate these verses. (The saints don't fully understand these truths, but we can accept them as part of God's truth and walk in the light of them.) I don't mean to suggest that these verses are to be kept secret from non-believers, but these truths were intended for believers, and we typically wouldn't bring these things up in a setting where we are sharing the gospel.
Some segments of the body of Christ strongly emphasize the truths contained in verses like Eph. 1:3-14 and Rom. 8:28-30 (which emphasize God's role in our salvation), including Augustine in his later viewpoint, and the Calvinists, and you can learn a lot from them - I have. The problem (from my point of view) is that they sometimes fail (not intentionally) to adequately balance out what these verses say with the rest of what the Bible says. We must hold the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. It's rather easy to miss the balance in one direction, or another. Most Christians are guilty to some extent of putting the emphasis on their favorite set of verses and tending to minimize what the other verses say.
Arminians, partly in reaction to the Calvinists, without a deliberate attempt to exclude part of what the Bible says, often leave very little room for, and substantially dilute (distort), what Paul says in verses like Rom. 8:28-30 and Eph. 1:3-14. Whether we call ourselves Calvinists, Arminians, etc., we must realize that we are responsible before God to learn and to walk in the balanced truth of God's Word, not what our denomination/church happens to teach. All true Christians (hopefully) will say they agree with my last sentence, but I've observed over the years that it's quite difficult for most of us to be open to, and to seek for, the balanced truth. Most (wrongly) think that they have it already. I've also observed that all too often Christians from one background are excessively harsh and intolerant of those from other backgrounds, sometimes even denying that the others are true Christians. That judgment should typically be left to God, not that we can tolerate obvious heresy in the church.
As the apostle continues with verses 29, 30, he tells us a lot about God's glorious plan of salvation.]] (29) For those whom He foreknew [[In this context, as the apostle is using these words here, it seems clear to me that God didn't foreknow all people, just the elect. Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:29-30). In one sense God foreknew all people, but in the sense the verb "foreknew" is used here (which includes God's foreknowing WITH FAVOR), it was only the elect that He foreknew. The verb "know" is sometimes used in this special, limited sense in the Bible. See, for example, Amos 3:2 ("You only have I chosen [literally, known] among all the families of the earth"); Nah. 1:7 with 1:6-8; Matt. 7:23 with 7:21, 22; Matt. 25:12; 1 Cor. 8:3; and Gal. 4:9.
I'll quote a sentence from what Godet said regarding God's foreknowledge under this verse ("Romans," page 325). "...it is the believer's faith, as a future fact, but in His sight already existing, which determines His foreknowledge." Although this widespread viewpoint has much to commend it, I don't believe it's fully adequate. Those who hold this viewpoint (including Godet) typically think of God's foreseeing these people submitting to the gospel in faith after the gospel is presented to them. For one thing, there is no special call for the elect with this viewpoint. But see above under Rom. 8:28 on the special call for the elect. Also see under Eph. 1:4 in the paper on Ephesians chapter 1, including the lengthy added section that begins after finishing the verse-by-verse discussion of Ephesians chapter 1, and see everything that is said under Rom. 8:28-30 in this paper.)
I'll quote part of what Godet said under Rom. 8:28 on the "call" of God: "The call is the invitation addressed by God to man [to all mankind, not just to the elect, according to Godet], when by the preaching of His gospel He offers him salvation in Christ. This call by the Word is always accompanied with an inward operation of the Spirit which tends to render the preaching [of the gospel] effectual. ... It must then be held that when the apostle in his Epistle speaks of the divine call, he always embraces under the term the two notions of an outward call by the Word and an inward call by grace.... ... ...some consent to yield to the call and others refuse. ... The chosen in this passage are those who accept the call...." It seems clear to me that Godet has not adequately interpreted Paul's use of the word call in Rom. 8:28, 30. I have a lot of respect for Godet's commentaries, but I believe he misses the balanced truth of what the New Testament teaches here.
For one thing, using the framework set up by the apostle Paul in Rom. 8:28-30, God couldn't foresee individuals submitting to the gospel in faith until after He had chosen them, called them, etc. This viewpoint that God foreknows and chooses (elects) people after He foresees them submit to the gospel doesn't fully square with what Paul said, and it tends to give the wrong emphasis; the elect are choosing God more that God is choosing the elect; man is too much in the spotlight. Man cannot be totally left out of the picture; God's election of individuals is based, at least in part, on His knowledge (foreknowledge) of those individuals (He accurately knows what is in the hearts of all people), not that the elect can say that they were worthy in themselves to be chosen - we are saved by grace; however, God's election is not done on a arbitrary basis. I don't agree with the view of many that God's election of individuals is not conditioned by (it has nothing to do with) anything in the individuals, including what is in their hearts. That viewpoint (unconditional election) goes along with the viewpoint that after the fall all people are so totally depraved that they have no capacity to cooperate with God's grace or to have faith, and with the idea that if we did have any capacity to cooperate with God's grace or to have faith, we would be earning our salvation to some extent, and it wouldn't be all of grace. However, I don't believe it is accurate to say that our responding to the gospel in faith lessens the fact that we are saved 100 percent by grace. In Rom. 4:16, for example, the apostle Paul said, "For this reason [since we couldn't be saved by keeping the Law] it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace...." Our receiving a gift doesn't make it any less a gift.
We should emphasize the point that God's foreknowing with favor and choosing certain persons is nothing for them to boast about, as if they had merited/deserved His favor in any way - it's all of grace. (Humbling yourself, admitting that you are in desperate need of salvation, and submitting to the gospel in faith is nothing to boast about.) Futhermore, the fact that we, as sincere born-again Christians, can know (and should know) that we have been chosen by God doesn't mean that we have the right to look down on those who aren't Christians. We are called to humility, not pride. For one thing, we don't know that the other persons have not also been chosen by God. Knowing that we were chosen by God should engender an awesome humility and thankfulness, and it should lead to a wholehearted love for God and an abiding commitment to be what He wants us to be and to do what He wants us to do (by His grace).]], He also predestined [[On this verb see Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 2:7; and Eph. 1:5, 11. (Ephesians 1:5, 11 are discussed in the paper on Ephesians chapter 1 on this Christian article site.) The verb "predestined" certainly emphasizes God's role in our salvation, but it doesn't require us to deny man's role, which is clearly spelled out in many verses of the Bible. God laid out the path beforehand that culminates in our being saved (which includes our ultimately being conformed to the image of Christ), but we must answer God's call to salvation (and glory) by His grace through faith, and we must work out our salvation by His grace through faith (cf., e.g., Phil. 2:12, 13).
As discussed in some detail in my "A Paper on Faith," although God draws, convicts, reveals, etc., He doesn't just give us saving faith to begin with, and (although He provides the grace for us to continue in faith to the end), He doesn't force us to continue in faith to the end. I believe the New Testament makes it quite clear that born again Christians can become unbelievers and fall away. (See my paper titled, "Once Saved, Always Saved?") Faith (repentance and faith) is our part, as we respond to God's call/invitation to salvation (as we respond to and cooperate with His grace). We certainly don't merit salvation by faith; and our faith is nothing for us to boast about; our receiving salvation by faith is like a drowning man receiving a life preserver.
I'll quote what Craig S. Keener said under Rom. 8:30 ("Bible Background Commentary - New Testament" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1993], page 431). "On predestination see [Romans] chapter 9. [Romans chapters 9-11 are discussed in some detail in a paper on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching).] The predication of predestination on foreknowledge (8:29) does not cancel free will; most of Judaism accepted both God's sovereignty and human responsibility. (The idea that one has to choose between them is a post-New Testament idea based on Greek logic.)"
I'll also quote a few sentences from what James Dunn said here ("Romans 1-8," pages 482, 483). "...believers rest in the assurance that their part in the people of God is not accidental or random, but part of a divine purpose whose outworking was already clearly envisaged from the beginning. Here too the thought builds on Jewish precedents (cf. Jer. 1:5; T. Mos. [Testament of Moses] 1.14) and was warmly embraced in early Christian theology (Acts 4:28; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11; Ignatius, "Letter to the Ephesians" inscr. [referring to the first paragraph of this letter]). See also Dupont "Gnosis," 93-104...."]] to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren [[What a destiny! If these words weren't in the Bible, we might have thought that they were blasphemous in that they so highly exalt the saints. In a much lower sense than the one spoken of here, man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 27; 5:1; and 9:6). The Lord Jesus Christ was the first man (though He was much more than just a man; He was, and never ceased being, God the Son, who was with the Father in the beginning, and through whom all things were created) to leave death behind and to be born into the fullness of resurrection life and glory (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5; and 1 Cor. 15:20-23). All true Christians will follow Him in that birth when He returns to the earth (Rev. 12:5; Psalm 2:7; Isa. 66:7; and Mic. 5:3; all four of these verses, which speak of our birth into the fullness of eternal life and glory at the end of this age, are discussed in some detail in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture").
After we have been born into eternal glory through Christ, He will be the firstborn among many [glorified] brethren. (We can also speak in terms of our being part of God's "new creation" in and through Christ Jesus [cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; and Eph. 2:10].) Again, what a destiny! Initially we were the flesh and blood offspring of Adam (who was flesh and blood even before the fall). Now we are literally united with the Son of God (and through Him with God the Father), and before long we will be glorified with Him. See 1 Cor. 15:47-55. We will even reign with Him (and God the Father), as many verses show.
It must be understood, however, that even though Christ will then be the firstborn among many brethren, there still will be a gigantic difference between Him and us, in that He will be deity (with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit), and He will be worshipped throughout eternity, including being worshipped by us. See Revelation chapters 21, 22. For one thing, the fact that Christ is the "firstborn among many brethren" helps demonstrate His preeminence over His brethren.]]; (30) and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified [[The verb "justify" is one of the key words used in the New Testament to speak of our being saved from the state of being under sin with its guilt and its penalties (very much including the two major penalties of spiritual death and the attendant bondage to sin, not to mention the ultimate penalty of hell). See Rom. 3:24, 28, 30; 4:25; 5:1, 9, 16, 18; 8:33; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 2:16, 17, 24; 3:8; and Titus 3:7. An entire chapter of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ" is devoted to the meaning of justify/justification. The verb justify is undoubtedly being used here (as it often is in the New Testament) in the full sense that includes being declared righteous, AND BEING MADE RIGHTEOUS. Having been redeemed from the penalty of spiritual death, we are born again, and having been redeemed from the penalty of bondage to sin, WE ARE CALLED, ENABLED, AND REQUIRED TO WALK IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD WITH THE VICTORY OVER ALL SIN.]]; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. [[Although our glorification is yet future (e.g., Rom. 8:17, 18), Paul can speak of it as a completed reality: God's eternal plan to glorify all true Christians cannot be altered; in that sense it's as good as done. Also, significantly, the Lord Jesus Christ, our firstborn brother, has already been glorified and we are in Him. It must be understood, or course, that we, as individuals, must continue to be faithful to the new covenant in the blood of Christ by grace through faith.
I'll quote part of what W. H. Griffith Thomas said under Rom. 8:28-30 ("St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans" [Eerdmans, 1947], page 227). "It was essential in view of the context that the apostle should emphasize the Divine side since he is concerned to show that no vicissitudes can possibly rob believers of their eternal glory. Of course we must not forget that in other passages the human side and the various human conditions of this complete work are equally clearly brought to our notice. ... Those who are most deeply impressed with the marvel, power, and absoluteness of Divine grace will never fail to realize their own responsibility, their own duty, and the conditions by means of which God works out His purpose concerning them."
I'll quote a few sentences from what Godet said under verse 30 ("Romans," pages 326, 327). "It is to be remarked that the apostle only points out in its accomplishment [our salvation] the acts pertaining to God: calling, justification, glorification, because he is only setting forth that side of the work of salvation which is contained in the decree of predestination, and which consequently depends solely on divine causation. If his intention had been to explain the order of salvation in all its elements divine and human, he would have put faith between calling and justification...." I agree.
I'll continue with some quotations dealing with the interpretation of Rom. 8:28-30 in Part 3 of this paper; then we will discuss verses 31-39.