The Golden Chain of Redemption

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. [Romans 8:29-30]

Many people exegeting this passage hone in on the word “foreknew.” In fact, I’ve seen blog posts which will put the word in bold and go on for paragraphs about it while seemingly forgetting everything that comes after. “Foreknew,” however, is not said in isolation, and in fact is said in a series of verbs in what is known by many as “the golden chain of redemption.” The order is:

  • Foreknew
  • Predestined
  • Called
  • Justified
  • Glorified

The first question to bring forward: does God truly know foreknow what will come? The easy answer is: yes, God does know what will come, having perfect knowledge of all that has been, is, and soon will be. All knowledge, wisdom and understanding comes from the perfect knowledge, wisdom and understanding of God (cf. Prov 2:6). This is why the blessed apostle begins this section of his epistle with “those whom He foreknew.” Those who jump to this word immediately argue that God already knew what was going to unfold, and therefore conclude that God merely reacted to the libertarian free will of man. However, no where does this text say that God reacted to that which the person did, only that He foreknew their existence beforehand.

What the synergistic conclusion also forgets is that the apostle Paul moves on from this perfect knowledge of God to God acting upon that knowledge. Those “whom He foreknew, He also predestined.” God, seeing Person A and Person B, both of whom He knew would be in the fallen state of Adam, predestined Person A to “become conformed to the image of His Son.” Note this: if God simply foreknew Person A would become a Christian, there would ultimately no need for this predestination, for it was already known that Person A would, in the far future, become a Christian.

After this, we have a further procession: from this predestination for conformation comes the order of how this conformation comes about. That is: “these whom He predestined, He also called,” then “these whom He called, He also justified,” and finally “these whom He justified, He also glorified.” We have here four actions – predestination, calling, justifying, and glorifying – overlapping one another in a true chain. One thing is absolutely certain in this case: those God has predestined will in the end be glorified. Nowhere in this entire chain is it ever suggested that those predestined would not end up being called, nor that any of those called would not be justified, nor that any of those justified would not be glorified. Those God had chosen through predestination to be called and justified will in the end be glorified. A perfect case, if any, for Perseverance of the Saints.

Many would still interject here with: “But the word foreknew! God foreknew all this would happen, which means He simply reacted to the free will!” I reiterate again, however, that if God already had perfect foreknowledge of what the person was going to do, then there would be no need for predestination to conformation. If the person was already set in stone to be conformed into the image of Christ, God would not have to predestine the matter. If we argue that he was conformed because of God’s predestination, then the argument for libertarian free will is simply turned on its head. That is, if we say God foreknew He would predestine the person, then that leaves God in complete control of the situation. If we say God foreknew they would become Christian, and so he predestined, but he foreknew because of the predestination…then we simply argue in circles. To even suggest the foreknowing is from God’s foreknowledge of His predestining is likewise still placing the authority upon God.

In this regard, it must be noted that God is said to be the only active party here. By that I mean that God is the enabler and causation of all the actions. The apostle Paul writes: He predestined, He called, He justified, He glorified. Everything happens because of God and God alone. This is not man acting down the corridor of time and God merely reacting. This is God carrying out His divine decree.

Many reacting to this conclusion will jump to the assumption that this exegesis essentially turns God into a great puppeteer with mankind nothing but marionettes, and others will claim that it turns mankind into robots. However, this is not the case. It is not that a man’s actions are controlled completely by God’s will, but that God’s will is sovereign to mankind’s free will. The man going through the golden chain of redemption will be free to do whatever he pleases, but only within those parameters. A man predestined cannot refuse the call; a man called cannot deny himself justification; and a man justified cannot forsake glorification.

Many more will call this unfair, as anyone glorified cannot resist God’s will, while those left perishing are not able to receive that glorification. Ironically, this was precisely the argument Paul posed later on in the same epistle…and then answered:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. [Romans 9:19-24; NASB]

Mankind is in a perishing state, and no one does what is right in the eyes of God. That God chose to save any of us through His Son is enough of a sign of mercy. If our Lord were “fair” in the strictest human sense, then we would all be in hell. God, however, as Potter, is the Perfect Artist, and the Golden Chain of Redemption is but one example of the Perfect Artist going about His handiwork with His glorious creation.

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