Takes a long time to get used to that. Once you get used to it you can kind of do it as much as you want and embarrass your family and everything. Hopefully that won’t happen this morning.
Let’s turn our attention to the Word of God, and I’d like to read from Romans chapter 8 and begin at verse 28. Very familiar to us. Let me pray for us.
Our Father we pray for your Spirit to open our eyes and our ears to hear from your wonderful Word. We thank you that you speak to us, and we pray, Lord, we respond exactly the way that you’ve called us to here in growing and overflowing faith. And we ask in Christ’s name, amen.
The Word of God:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, or anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:28–39)
The Word of God.
THE GLORIOUS DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION
As we think about the beginning of another year, I want to call your attention this morning to a doctrine that’s important and indeed central to us in our Reformed faith: the doctrine of predestination. And I want to speak about that as it’s related to certainty, the certainty of faith in Christ, the certainty of salvation. In this text the Apostle wrote to the Romans about predestination in order to help them to be certain. So he’s writing to believers. He’s acknowledging the realities of the difficulties that each of them faces. And in that very context he traces the goodness and faithfulness of God to them, which is unchangeable, back to an eternal purpose that God has; the eternal purpose that God has in the life of every believer.
Most of the time we tend to think of the doctrine of predestination as something of a problem. If we bring it up someone will object, possibly with anger. So perhaps we are hesitant to bring it up. But is that best for the church? You see, it was not a problem in the Apostle Paul’s mind. In other words, it wasn’t a subject to be raised for the sake of controversy or to be shunned because of fear of controversy. Rather, the Apostle brings it up in order to bring certainty to people, in order to assure them in the midst of suffering, in order to enable them to face difficulty.
We’re not better off without predestination, as perhaps someone thinks, or maybe that this was just for the brainy people, you know, or for seminary discussions or something like that. Well, that’s not true. Paul writes this to the church; he writes this to the church of the Romans. He knows a lot of them, but he’s not actually been there yet. And so he writes the letter to the Romans as a kind of preface to his gospel so that they understand what he’s preaching before he comes to them to go on in his missionary work from there. So it’s not just the captains of the ship who are to be concerned about predestination while the rest of us can go about the Christian life more or less in smooth sailing without it. That’s not true.
When we think about life we realize in fact there is a lot of rough weather, and that is exactly what Paul brings up with the believers at Rome. As I say, he writes this to normal Christians. He says in verse 17 that the present time is a time of sufferings until Christ returns from heaven, until the resurrection of the body. And there are things that could separate us from the love of God, at least we fear that they could. He lists some of those in verse 35: tribulation, distress, persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword.
We may not be in danger of persecution immediately, though there are many, many Christians in the world today who are. But there’s plenty of danger. There’s plenty of danger in Washington D.C. Or to put it less dramatically than that, there’s a contracted economy. That’s something like famine or nakedness. And we ask the question: what will the future bring? What will the future bring to your plans, to your hopes and dreams? Will you be able to cope if you lose what you have? And all these things bring anxiety to us, and they’ve always brought anxiety to believers.
There’s nothing wrong about that, and that’s why Paul wrote this chapter. He wanted the believers there and then and he wanted us to be certain that it is impossible to be separated from the love of God. And if we’re not sure about God’s love for us, we might just drown. Listen to verses 37 and following: “No, he says, “in all of these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, or anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37–39). The great pastor and reformer John Calvin said that life is like a churning river, and the person who can deal with life is the person who trusts in God’s purpose. Paul says in verse 38: “I am sure.”
Now where does that certainty come from? It comes from confidence in God’s purpose. It comes from faith in predestination. Verse 28 says, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, those whom he called he also justified, those whom he justified, he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28–30).
So predestination is to be a great comfort in a Christian’s life, not a threat. It’s a bedrock of certainty. You can’t dig down any deeper than God’s plan. You can’t get behind God, and no one else can either. And this was Paul’s comfort for the church.
So my goal this morning is not just to defend this doctrine of predestination. I don’t want you just to love the doctrine of predestination. I want you to love the God who predestined you. I don’t want you just to love the doctrine of predestination. I want you to love the God who predestined you.That’s what I want. If you know that God has predestined you to eternal life, then you will live a life of joy and freedom and praise, and God will be glorified, and that of course is the most important thing of all.
THE GOLDEN CHAIN OF GOD’S PURPOSE IN SALVATION
So how can we be certain as Paul was certain? In verse 28 he refers to these Christians as people who are called according to God’s purpose. He uses that word “purpose.” Now look at verses 29 and 30. I want you to notice there’s a chain there. Paul explains “purpose” in four parallel clauses, and in each clause, he repeats the verb from the previous clause as a way of connecting them with each other. So he’s creating a chain, a series of God’s acts, all of which are true of the life of every individual believer.
Notice how these links are connected. Look at these verses. Verse 29: foreknew, predestined. Verse 30: predestined, called; called, justified; justified, glorified. See the chain? See how they’re all connected with each other? All the ones whom God foreknew he predestined, called, justified, and glorified. So for every believer there is this chain, a golden chain of salvation, in which all the links are interconnected. None of them can be broken. If they could be broken then Paul could not connect the links the way he does. There is one purpose which leads from God’s foreknowledge and predestination in eternity past to calling, justification, and glorification in eternity future.
So now let’s look at each one of these actions. How does Paul put them? Well notice in verses 29 and 30 each of these is in the past tense. Even the last one: glorified. Commentator Douglas Moo says this, “What makes this interesting is that the action described by this verb is (from the standpoint of believers) in the future, while the other actions are in the past.” How does Paul put this in the past tense? Well, because Paul is looking at the believer’s glorification from the standpoint of God, who has already decreed that it will take place. So in other words, the issue is settled.
So let’s look a little more closely at a couple of things here that the Apostle says to each of us as believers. Three things. Your predestination is rooted in a love God had for you from all eternity. That’s the first. Second, that predestination is God’s plan to bring you to share in Christ’s resurrection glory. And then last, you can be certain that God has predestined you.
PREDESTINATION IS ROOTED IN A LOVE GOD HAD FOR YOU FROM ALL ETERNITY
So first your predestination is rooted in a love God had for you from all eternity. Those whom he foreknew he also predestined. What does Paul mean by foreknew? Now we might suppose foreknew means just “knew ahead of time” or “had information about.” So is Paul saying that God just knew ahead of time who would believe and that he predestined them? No, I say no for a number of reasons, three reasons.
First look at what Paul actually says here. He doesn’t say what he foreknew but whom he foreknew. It is persons who are foreknown. He doesn’t say God knew something about us. He says he knew us. He doesn’t say anything about faith. He says he knew us personally.
Second, it’s only some individuals who are foreknown, not all. It’s those who are also predestined, called, justified, and glorified. It’s the same group from beginning to end. This shows that foreknew is applicable here only to Christians. If all “foreknew” means is “knew ahead of time” that would be applicable to all people, not just to Christians, because God knows everything ahead of time. It’s people here whom God foreknew.
And then third, in the other three occurrences of this verb in the New Testament, the ones that have God as the actor, the word means not “to have intellectual information about” but “to enter into a relationship with” or “to choose before.” So this is a peculiarly biblical intimate sense of the word “to know.” So “whom he foreknew” means “whom God loved” or “whom God beforehand personally set his love upon.” God knew us ahead of time. He loved us ahead of time. He loved us before the foundation of the world.
This is precisely what he says, the same apostle, in Ephesians 1:4–5. He says, “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” That’s exactly the same thing. Whom he foreknew, those he predestined. In love he predestined us according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the beloved.
God’s love and his predestination go together. They can’t be separated. God’s love and his predestination go together. They can’t be separated.He predestined those he loved in the beloved, that is in Christ. Peter says something similar to this in 1 Peter 1:20; he speaks of Christ. He says, “He was chosen before the foundation of the world but was revealed in these last times for you.” One great thinker put it this way: “By one indivisible decree, we are all elect both Christ and we.”
See the Lord does not love a nameless, faceless group. He loves particular people. He loves you. And he has loved you from before the foundation of the world. He’s carrying out a plan with your name on it. As God said to Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). And the Apostle John puts it the same way: “We love him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). My dear friend, love him, praise him. Praise him for his glorious grace. When the cold wind blows in your face, remember that God loved you before you loved him.
PREDESTINATION IS GOD’S PLAN TO BRING YOU TO SHARE IN CHRIST’S GLORY
Then we say second that predestination is God’s plan to bring you to share Christ’s resurrection glory. He predestined us, it says, “to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29). And that description, “firstborn,” reminds us that Paul refers here to the resurrected Christ, to the Christ who is at God’s right hand and glory. In the letter to the Colossians Paul calls Christ “firstborn from the dead” (1:18). “For us men and for our salvation” our creed says, “he came down from heaven and was made man.” Our Nicene Creed says that; we sang that this morning. And we come and adore him because “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.”
“He took the form of a servant . . .even to the point of death on a cross. But now God has highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:7–9). God has given him glory at his right hand and that glory is not to be his alone. He is the firstborn of many brothers, and that’s the goal of your predestination. God’s love led him to predestine this goal that you, believer, should be like Christ, your elder brother, in all his resurrected glory.
And God realizes that goal by the series of steps that we find in verse 30. We can paraphrase verse 30 like this: those whom God has predestined to be resurrected with Christ, these he also called into fellowship with Christ, those whom he called, these he has already declared righteous in Christ, and those whom he has already declared righteous in Christ, he will also raise with Christ bodily. He will glorify them.
But remember Paul puts that last act in the past tense, “glorified,” because it is already as good as done in God’s purpose. God called us to fellowship with Christ. God justified us. He glorified us and so united with Jesus Christ we share his glory, and we will share it more fully. And that is the goal of predestination.
Do we have something to look forward to? Yes, to Christ’s return in glory. And we are certain, because God has predestined that we should share his glory. So for you, for me, our past is part of God’s plan, our present is part of God’s plan, and our future is part of God’s plan. But this of course prompts the question: how can I be sure? A dear believing lady said to me just about a year ago, “I’ve struggled with this my whole life. How do I know whether I am elect?”
KNOW YOU ARE PREDESTINED BY TRUSTING IN CHRIST
And this brings me to my last point. Number three: the way to know that you are predestined is to trust in Christ as God offers him in the promises of his Word. You can be certain that God has predestined you by trusting in Christ.
Look at verse 38. In verse 38 Paul says, “I am sure.” Now how was Paul sure? Well, it was not by speculating, by trying to see into God’s eternal mind. We cannot peer into God’s eternal decree. John Calvin warned against this in the Institutes. He said if a person tries to break into the inner recesses and penetrate even to the highest eternity of God’s wisdom to find out what decision God has made, Calvin says, he casts himself into the depths of a bottomless whirlpool. What revelation do you have of your election? This thought strikes us with misery or utterly overwhelms us. And he says this is something to which we are all inclined in our own minds, this kind of thinking. But he says it’s a diabolical trick to tempt us. We must carefully avoid this rock if we are to avoid shipwreck; don’t go there. Don’t try to think it up. Don’t try to wonder and say, “What is that? Who’s on that list? Who are the elect according to that list?” We don’t know, and don’t look there. So don’t look there, and don’t look into your heart either. Well then, how can you be sure?
The answer is we’re to turn our eyes to Christ. And this is what Paul does. Verse 39, he says, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So where is it that we learn of God’s love for us? We learn of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. We find in Christ everything. And where do we find Christ? Well, we find him in Holy Scripture. We find him in Scripture where God calls us to fellowship with Christ. See, whom he predestined, he also called. So John Calvin urged his readers to be assured of their election by looking to Christ. Listen to what he says. He says,
If we seek salvation there is no other to whom we may flee but Christ. He is the fountain of life. He is the heir of the Kingdom of God. Now what is the purpose of election but that we may obtain salvation by his grace? No matter how you toss it about you will find its bounds extend no further. Accordingly, those whom God has appointed as sons are said to have been chosen not in themselves but in his Christ. For unless he could love them in him, he could not honor them with the inheritance of his kingdom. But if we have been chosen in him, we shall not find assurance of our election in ourselves, not even in God the Father, if we conceive of him as severed from his Son. Christ then is the mirror wherein we must and without deception may contemplate our own election. We have a sufficiently clear and firm testimony that we have been inscribed in the Book of Life if we are in communion with Christ.
So he uses the image of a mirror, the metaphor of a mirror. Christ is the mirror of election. When we look to him, when we come to him, we see in him God’s love and God’s choice of us. Think of how Christ speaks to Philip. Philip says, “Show us the Father.” And Jesus says, “Have you been with me so long, and you do not know me Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8–9). You know God because you know me, he is saying. Certainty exists when the spirit finds complete rest in the object of its knowledge, and we find this rest in God’s promise, in the promises of Scripture where God offers Christ to us, where he calls us all to Christ.
In verse 32 of our chapter we read, “The Father did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” John 3:16: “God gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him may not perish.” John 5:24: “He who believes in him has passed out of death into life.” And in John 6:37 we find this purpose and also faith again conjoined:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I’ve come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:37–40)
That’s as clear as the Lord himself could make it. He’s perfectly clear in saying that all who believe in him have eternal salvation that this is the Father’s purpose. The Father will count as sons all who have received him in faith. When he speaks, what he says is absolutely certain because he cannot lie. His promises are absolutely infallible. In the first century when people heard Jesus speak these words, they heard God speaking to them personally. When we hear the words of Holy Scripture we hear God speaking to us in exactly the same way. He speaks to us personally. “These words were written,” says John the Evangelist, “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing, you might have life in his name” (John 20:31).
My dear, dear friends, you can trust him. He’s absolutely trustworthy, and that’s the only source of confidence that we can have in this world: God and his trustworthy Word. So we know our election by looking in faith to the surely, evidently elect mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ. If we are one with him, then we share his election. We can always come to him without fear of rejection and, resting on him, judge ourselves to be eternally elect. If we’re one with Christ then we can be certain that we are elect.
PREDESTINATION ALLOWS US TO BE CERTAIN
Certainty is rest, peace, blessedness, while doubt, surmise, and opinion always involve a certain degree of discomfort and uneasiness. There’s so much uncertainty in our world. Just today there is. Uncertainty was one of the things that made the Protestant Reformation necessary. The Reformers believed that the church had made it impossible to be certain of God’s grace.
Calvin for one thought that in Rome people were only made to fear God. And 1564 the Great Council of Trent of the Church of Rome said this, “No one can know with certainty of faith which cannot be subject to error that he has obtained the grace of God.” And again, “Except by special revelation it cannot be known whom God has chosen for himself.” I say this is just exactly the opposite of what Holy Scripture says in our text. Verse 28: “We know that all things work together for good to those that are called according to his purpose.” Not “we don’t know.”
In verse 31 Paul asks, “What shall we say to these things?” And he expects an answer, and he gives the answer: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who will condemn? Christ Jesus who died—much more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God interceding for us (Rom. 8:31–34).
God is for us. You see if you have to contribute even just a little pebble to your own salvation, then you will live in lifelong fear that that pebble is just not big enough. The life of Christian fanaticism will displace any joy in faith because you can never be sure. But if on the other hand the choice depends entirely on God, he receives the greatest degree of glory, and you receive the highest degree of certainty. That’s the doctrine of predestination.
But somebody might ask, as Rome does, “What about the uncertainty of my response to grace? Surely I must go along with what God does in my soul. I must do good works, and there is my uncertainty.” And let me reply this way. Under the microscope of God’s judgment not one of those works can possibly stand before God. Solomon says in the Proverbs, “Who can say I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin?” (Prov. 20:9). And of course the answer is no one. Our works play no part in God’s choice. We are already justified before we do any good works. And so we must rest. And the only place that we can rest is in God’s free mercy.
WE REJOICE IN PREDESTINATION
How predestination humbles us before our God. It was not our wisdom, not our righteousness, that caused his choice. It was all in his heart. How this causes us to trust him for all of life rather than trust ourselves. Nothing happens by chance. Everything comes from God’s fatherly hand. When it comes time to die, the prospect of death, in the face of uncertainty, is desperately difficult. But what does Paul say? Not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. God loved us and he predestined us to be raised with Christ and how this causes us to praise: “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Look at what Paul does in the first chapter of Ephesians where he has that long praise, that song of praise, just like at the end of Romans 8 here. It begins just exactly this way: Praise be, thanks be, “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has caused us to be enriched with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons” (Eph. 1:3–5). And then on and on to the praise of the glory of his grace.
This is why Calvin actually said there would be nothing left of the church if predestination were not preached. Why? Well first of all, he said to bring God the glory that he deserves and second to assure us of our salvation so that we call to our God as Father with all freedom. Woe is us if we do not hold these two elements because then there will no longer be faith or religion. He says, you can still speak of God, but it will only be a lie.
I’m so grateful today for the heritage that John Calvin left us. It’s the heritage of the Holy Scripture. It’s something very, very beautiful and powerful that grew out of this and has always grown out of it for the two millennia of the church’s history: calm and courage in the face of suffering. Who can keep his head when everyone else around is losing his? The man or woman who knows that all things are working out according to the Father’s predestination. And what will this year bring us? How uncertain folk are in our day. Thank God we can offer them a rock to stand on in the midst of the churning river: the firm and certain knowledge of the eternal love of God and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let’s pray together.
Lord our God we are so grateful for your wondrous grace we don’t know what to say, but praise and glory and honor be to you. We adore you and love you. We thank you so for giving yourself to us. We thank you Lord that it wasn’t nameless people but us. How could you choose us? We have no idea, but we praise your wonderful grace, and we offer our praise in Jesus’s name, amen.
New Pastor: One of the wonders of the doctrine of Scripture with respect to God’s eternal purpose is that there is one place where we can know what that electing purpose was, and that is in every place where it comes to pass, whatever comes to pass is according to God’s eternal purpose. It has come to pass now that we’re here. And so we can know from before eternity that God appointed that we should be here. And that appointment, now at this table, is clearly for our good because here Christ is portrayed, his body broken, his blood shed. And here we find stirred within us that love, that desire for Christ, that the doctrine we’ve just heard leads us to understand only is there by God’s eternal purpose. The least spark of it could not be generated in our fallen hearts. The least spark of it is a sign of God’s eternal purpose to bless you in Christ. So here behold Christ, and by faith, eat and drink and feast and be merry in him.