There are certain topics that make for good conversation at church coffee hour, in bible study, with Christian friends, or at the dinner table. There are also topics of discussion that are risky. One such delicate subject is predestination. Bring it up at the church adult forum, and it’s likely to preoccupy the class for the rest of the hour. But there’s a way predestination can be taught so that it promises good news for troubled Christians.
Romans 8 – one of the most important chapters in all of Scripture – has the truth of predestination at its heart. Paul writes that “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so 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” (8:29-30). It’s no shock that Paul’s words impart a bit of discomfort!
At this point, the grand theories usually start rolling in. Passages like these can then become battlegrounds over which Christians will wage war, trying to see who has God and his mysterious works figured out the best. When the conversation transitions to abstraction, our theories grow larger than God himself. They become the most crucial consideration, instead of the God who actually arrives and chooses people.
Yet when Christ crucified for our sins is kept central, we can hear passages like this one in a new and promising way. We hear that the salvation revealed by Jesus was planned from long ago before the world began. This plan of salvation is not just a general purpose of God’s gracious will – though God is, of course, gracious in general. But Paul is very specific: God’s promise of predestination is for you, individually and unmistakably.
When Christ crucified for our sins is kept central, we can hear passages like this one in a new and promising way.
Predestination isn’t just a plan of action God has. It’s not just something hanging in eternity without practical relevance. So Paul adds that “Those whom he predestined he also called” (8:30). Predestination and God’s call are so intimately connected that they can’t be separated.
This call is heard in a variety of places. The word of the preacher (see Rom 10:17) is a way in which God calls you. The waters of baptism are also a means by which God is at work, delivering his mercy and forgiveness. There, he is calling forth faith in us. Each time we confess our sins and hear the words of comfort and absolution, we’re called back to the refuge of baptismal water. In the Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Christ “given and shed for you” call us continually to faith in Christ crucified for our sins.
Paul goes on further still: “Those whom he called he also justified” (8:30). To be called and justified by God on account of Christ means that when God sees you, all he sees is Christ, his Son. He doesn’t see the sin in all its depth or seriousness or ugly secrecy. He only sees the spotless one sent to redeem with his suffering and death. Justification means that Christ has traded us for all the worst things – especially our sins and sufferings – and given us all of his righteousness, innocence, and blessedness in return. Should we ever drift away from the truth of Christ handed over for us, God will use all these means to return us to the promises of his favor.
So what then happens in the end? Paul completes his great “chain,” as some have called it, by telling us that, “those whom God justified he also glorified.” This was the plan all along. God intends to glorify the saints who’ve been washed in the blood of Christ. Cleansed from sin and freed from death, the future awaiting those in Christ is one of purified glory. When we’re set free from all that hinders and encumbers us now, we will live only in the presence of God – Father, Son, and Spirit – with the righteousness and holiness given to us as a free gift by Jesus Christ.
So predestination is a promising teaching as Paul teaches it in Romans 8. It’s promising when Christ and his work for us are held firmly in hand. It’s promising when predestination is attached to the call of God which we hear in word and sacrament addressed to us individually and specifically. Predestination is promising when our justification is kept at the center. And predestination is promising because God promises to bring us to dwell eternally in his presence – a glorification which is without end.
Predestination is a promising teaching as Paul teaches it in Romans 8. It’s promising when Christ and his work for us are held firmly in hand.
That God has made the choice is the most certain thing someone could ever possess. This kind of teaching isn’t iffy or uncertain or risky at all. When predestination is preached for you, it is the most promising and comforting of all Christian doctrines. Hang onto God’s decision for you in Jesus Christ because his word cannot fail.