Re-thinking the “Golden Chain” – Romans 8:28-30 (Part 4 – Glorified)

To read the first post in this series click here.

Romans 8:28-30

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.

In the last three posts we have looked at the first 5 links in the so-called Golden Chain of Salvation:

1. “Those who love God” – The passage in question is about the saints, those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1 & 27). To ignore that the “Golden Chain” starts here is to willfully ignore the Scripture.

2. “Those whom God foreknew” – God chose to make a covenant with those whom he foreknew would respond to his offer of grace (Rom. 8:28, John 16:27).

3. “He also predestined” – God predetermined what he would do for those who accepted his Son. He planned to adopt them as his children and give them the inheritance of being transformed into the glorified image of his only begotten Son (Eph. 1:5).

4. “He also called” – Though the gospel God invites all men to repent and believe in his Son. Those who respond to that invitation are given the encouraging title “the called” to show that they have been “qualified” to share in the inheritance of Jesus Christ through what he has done for them (Col. 1:12).

5. “He also justified” – Since sinners have no place being called the “children of God,” God sent Jesus to cleanse men of their sins. Through faith in his blood, God justifies all those whom he foreknew. When the book of Romans was written, those who had already believed in the gospel had already been justified by God (Rom. 5:1).

Now we must turn ourselves to the last link in the chain. I believe the first and the last links are very important. If we do not understand that the chain starts with “those who love God” we might fall into the Reformed error of unconditional election. I say might, because if we start the chain with “those whom God foreknew,” we would still not see the doctrine of unconditional election taught in this passage. The doctrine of election would be clearly referenced, but the conditions of that election would be undisclosed. But, all of this is hypothetical, because God’s word has included who those are who have been foreknown by God, and implies on what condition that have been chosen.

Just as the first link of the chain being ignored has led many into error, so the last link in the chain being misunderstood has had the same effect. The ignoring of the first link has led to many using this verse to teach unconditional election. The misinterpretation of the last link as led many to the error of the unconditional perseverance of the saints.

Romans 8:30

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This link is trickier than it looks; we are faced with two unlikely interpretations:

1. Glorified is in the past tense, but it doesn’t mean the past tense at all, but is actually referring to a future event. Paul is saying that the perseverance of the saints until the last day is so certain, since God is the one that will bring it to pass, that he uses the past tense.

2. Glorified is in the past tense because those who are “in Christ” have already been glorified with him when they came to faith and received the Holy Spirit that joins them to the vindicated Christ.

The problem with the first interpretation, which is by far the most popular among Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike, is that I have looked in vain for another place where Paul uses Greek grammar in a similar way. It is hard to imagine that the original readers would understand that Paul was speaking about the future in light of the clear grammar that he uses. And in light of the immediate context of Romans 8:17-18 it seems difficult to accept the second interpretation. Since Paul clearly said that the saints have not yet been “glorified,” it seems hard to imagine that Paul could make such a dramatic change in his use of the word “glory” without confusing the original readers.

These are the possible interpretations of the phrase as I see it. Neither one of them is without difficulties. But I have found that the weight of evidence for the second interpretation is much heavier. Please note that I am not here guided by my views on perseverance. Whether “glorified” in verse 30 is past or future, either way the context of Romans makes it clear that future glorification with Christ is conditional. Only those who “suffer with him” will be “glorified with him”; and those
brothers” that live “according to the flesh will die” (8:17, 12-13).

In fact I have already stated the only reason for assuming that Paul is using glorified in the past tense to emphasize that it will certainly take place in the future. His previous use of the word glory in the first half of Romans 8 is the only evidence (I can see) that gives any credence to that interpretation. But it is also the only thing that argues against the belief that Paul is talking about something that has already happened when he uses the word, “glorified.” So let’s take some time to look at the evidence in favor of understanding that the original readers had already been glorified in Christ.

Up to This Point

In order to understand how the original readers would have understood the past tense use of “glorified” in Romans 8:30 we need to look at what Paul has been saying before chapter 8.

In Romans 4:23-25 we learn that Jesus was “raised for our justification.” The new humanity (i.e. the saints) has been vindicated in the just resurrection of Jesus Christ. As our covenant head, that vindication is shared with us. Romans 5:9-11 tells us that we have already been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. And this present reconciliation is our certain hope of future glory and deliverance from wrath. In the section containing Romans 5:17 we are told that through Jesus Christ we are presently “reigning in life.” In chapter 6 verses 1-11 we are commanded by the apostle to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.” Romans 7:1-4 teaches us that we have died to the law and have been unified with the resurrected Son of God so that we can bear fruit to God. When we get to Romans 8:1, we are told that we have been forgiven and freed in Jesus Christ. Romans 8:9-11 assures us of what God will do for us because of what he has already done in us by our union with the risen Christ through the indwelling Spirit of God. In the same way, verses 12-17 teach that present sanctification assures of future glory, just as present adoption is the guarantee of future adoption (verses 23-25).

We see in all these passages, and more, that Paul was teaching the Romans about the connection between their present experience in Christ with their future glory. Paul talked clearly about what they had already received in Christ as well as what they were yet to receive. But he emphasized that the former was the reason they could be certain about the latter. Romans 6 makes it clear that Paul had no problem saying that we have already been risen with Christ, and yet we were still waiting to be risen with him (6:4, 6:8). He is not confused. He is not blurring our present experience with what is still waiting for us. But he tells us to “consider” ourselves alive to God “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). This is not something Paul slips into a few verses; this is the logic of his argument from chapter 4 through chapter 8. If the church in Rome missed this paradigm, they missed the entire point of those chapters.

In chapter 8 he doesn’t stop appealing to this already/not yet perspective. In fact he refers to it in one way or another in almost every verse. In verses 15-16 we are told that the saints have already been adopted as God’s children. But in verse 23 we are told that we are waiting to be adopted. We are told that we are presently co-heirs with Christ, and yet we have only received the “first-fruits” of our inheritance (vs. 17, 23). We have been saved, but we are hoping and waiting for salvation (vs. 24-25).

If the Romans, like many modern readers, missed the already/not yet perspective Paul was trying to convey, then they certainly would have been confused by his use of “glorified” in verse 30. But we must assume that they could follow his basic logic. And with that in mind it is perfectly reasonable that they would understand verse 30 to be saying that they had already been glorified in Christ. After all, in 6:11 Paul had commanded them to “consider” this so.

Not only do the chapters and immediate context leading up to Romans 8:30 confirm that we should take “glorified” in that verse as referring to our glorification in Christ. But if we look at the verses immediately following verse 30 we get more evidence for that interpretation. Verse 30 tells the saints that they have been justified (in Christ), and verse 32-33 reiterates this justification. God gave up his Son to justify us, so no one can bring a charge against us. Then in verse 34 we are told that not only were we justified through Christ, but that he was then exalted (glorified) to the right hand of God. He is not there for himself alone, but he is there on our behalf, interceding for us. In light of this justifying and interceding work we are told that whatever the world throws at us we are “more than conquerors” (vs. 35-39). Verses 31-34 confirm what is said in verse 30. They tell us that both the justification of the saints and their glorification in Christ have already happened.

It is true that the New Testament writers don’t refer to the saints being presently “glorified” in Christ in any other verse. But they sometimes come close. In 1 Peter 4:14 we are told that the “Spirit of glory” rests on us. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul tells us that we have already received glory in the Lord by the work of the Spirit when he tells us we are being “transformed from glory to glory.” If we pay attention to the meaning of “glorified” instead of being sticklers about the word itself, who would deny that we have already been raised with Christ,” “blessed with every spiritual blessing ” through him, “made alive together with Christ,” and “seated with him in the heavenly places” (Col. 3:1, Eph. 1:3, 2:5, Rom. 6:11, Eph. 2:6). Doesn’t this all mean that by our union with Christ through the Holy Spirit we have been “glorified in Christ?” I challenge my readers to read Romans 8:28-30 in light of Ephesians 1-2:10. When one does this with an open mind, the interpretation I am proposing begins to make much more sense.

In Romans 8:28 Paul tells the Romans that “we know” that God will work everything together for the good of those of us who love God. His proof for such confidence is that God has already done so much for us. He has foreknown us, predestined us, called us, justified us and glorified us in Christ Jesus. In verses 31-39 he continues his argument, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (vs. 31) He then reiterates our justification in Christ and the how the exaltation of Christ benefits us in the present as we face the opposition of the world and its forces.

This final section of Romans chapter 8 is the recapping of what He has been teaching the Romans since chapter 3. He has been explaining the salvation that we have in Christ and what it means for our present conduct and comfort, as well as our future hope of glory. In chapter 9 he will turn to a different topic. So here he wraps up his teaching on the different aspects of salvation in Christ by telling us how all God has done for us up until now gives us courage for our present difficulties.

In Romans 8:30 Paul is telling us that we have been glorified with Christ, so we know we will be glorified with him in the future. Our present glorification with him is not unconditional, but conditional; only those who are “led by the Spirit are sons of God” (vs. 14). And our future glorification is also conditional; only if we “put to death the deeds of body” will we “live” (vs. 13).

I have done my best to give several of the reasons I see for interpreting “glorified” in Romans 8:30 in the past tense, as something we have already experience in Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But I would like to conclude by reminding us of what I believe is an undeniable, and yet regularly ignored fact, namely that the word “glorified” in Romans 8:30 is IN THE PAST TENSE. This alone puts the burden of proof squarely on the shoulders on those who say that it refers to something that will happen in the future. If those who wish to defend the future-tense interpretation do not produce abundantly more contextual evidence for their view than I have presented for mine in this post, I can’t see any reason to ignore the verb tense that Paul uses in Romans 8:30.

Conclusion of Romans 8:28-38

The so-called Golden Chain of Salvation simply does not teach, or even imply, what Reformed theology claims that it does. Those who were predestined for salvation were done so through the foreknowledge of God. This is why the chain begins with “those who love God” and then moves onto “Those whom God foreknew.” If this passage was implying unconditional election it would have started with predestination. But as it is that is the third link in the chain. And if this passage intended to teach unconditional election outright, it would have had to say something like “God predestined certain individuals for adoption as his children without taking into account any of their choices or character.” But of course this passage says just the opposite. It tells us that God’s predestination follows his foreknowledge. And the character of those who love God is at least part of what he foreknew. Unconditional election is not taught or even implied in these verses; instead it is refuted by the entire chapter and verse 28 in particular.

Once again when we take these 3 verses in the context of the entire chapter it is impossible for anyone to come away with the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints; unless of course they come to this passage desiring to see that doctrine. Not only does the first half of the chapter completely contradict that doctrine, but the word they use in verse 30 to “prove” that doctrine is undeniably written in the past-tense. A lot of mental gymnastics are required to make this one past-tense word refer to a future event that is divinely determined and absolutely inevitable.

Instead this passage was written to the saints to assure them that they can endure to the end. In the first half of chapter 8 they were told that they must endure. Then Paul reviews all the difficulties that stand in their way. So Paul ends by reminding them that the God who will help them finish the race is the same one who has already been working on their behalf from before they even existed. He foreknew them, predestined them, called them, justified them and glorified them in Christ. Since he has done so much for them already, and against such odds, how can they fear that he will let them down now in the midst of all the trials they are facing. He already called them out of darkness when they were lost in sin, so how can the powers of darkness defeat them? He already justified them when they were his enemies, so now that they are children of God, how will he not vindicate them before all their enemies? And he already raised them up with Christ to the right hand of God while they were dead in their sins, so what fear should they have of facing martyrdom for their faith? They can be confident that God will work out all things for their good since they are walking according to his purpose.

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