In our studies of Romans 8:28 we have discovered that all of the negative things (all of the suffering) that would cause us to throw away our confidence, to lose faith, to quit trusting God, or to apostatize – these negative things or sufferings that we endure because of our faith – God is causing them to work for us and not against us. Every time we suffer for the sake of our faith in Christ, God causes that suffering to strengthen our faith, our character, and our godliness.
We also discovered that God isn’t doing this for everyone but only for those who love God and those who are called according to His purpose. We know that no man loves God in and of himself and the only reason any man loves God is because God first loved him. The only way to love God is to experience His love for you through the Gospel. This is why one of the biblical assurances of salvation is that we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us (1 John 4:16).
The called are those chosen by God for salvation. Just as no man loves God unless God first loved him so no man chooses God unless God first chose him. This removes salvation from man’s doing and shows it to be a sovereign work of God. Because of this truth we know that salvation is not of works but by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Many balk at this biblical truth because they can’t understand what part human responsibility plays if salvation is all of God. They forget however the reason men that have not been chosen by God remain in their unbelief is because they will not believe. They cannot believe because they will not believe because their wills are in bondage to sin and they love their sin. This is exactly what the Lord Jesus said in several places. First, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). And then, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).
Therefore salvation is for everyone who believes or whosoever believes. All who are willing to believe are willing only because God chose them and called them and granted that they may come to Jesus.
This brings us to our text, Romans 8:29. All that are willing to believe are those whom God has foreknown. The word “foreknew” means “to know beforehand.” This does not mean that God knew beforehand that you would believe and therefore He elected you to salvation. If that is the case then our election to salvation is conditioned on something good that God saw in us. Was that the prognosis? No! “There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12). Election to salvation is unconditional. There is absolutely no cause in us to merit salvation. This is why we read, “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). The word “gift” means “gratuitously or without a cause.”
So the word “foreknew”, then, means that God knew beforehand those whom He would justify as a gift by His grace. If you believe that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works so that no man may boast then of necessity you will also believe in unconditional election. The only alternative is to believe that God’s gift of salvation is conditioned upon some cause rather than no cause and then you would have merited grace and grace that is merited is not grace. A merited gift is not a gift. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6).
Those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son. The word “predestined” means to “predetermine or preordain.” God has predetermined or preordained that believers would be conformed to the image of His Son. This means that all the suffering that believers endure for the sake of righteousness is being used by God to cause them to look more like Jesus. What did Jesus look like? This isn’t talking about having long hair, a beard, or any other physical feature that the Lord may have had. This is talking about reflecting His image in and through our experiences. He suffered and yet kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23). This means that we are called to suffer and to do so by following in the steps of Jesus.
So God has predestined our suffering with Christ so that we may be glorified with Him. The wonderful truth of it all is that God is causing all our suffering for the sake of righteousness to work for us and not against us and is using it to make us more like Christ.
God’s ultimate goal or primary cause in the salvation of the elect is to glorify His Son through whom the grace and glory of God will be praised – “so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” The firstborn has the preeminence and the glory.
God is conforming us to the image of His Son through what we suffer so that when others see how we bear up under suffering, maintaining our faith and trust in God, they see what Jesus looked like. This gives Christ the preeminence and glory and shows Him to be a glorious Savior worth suffering for – “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
Our suffering glorifies Christ; conforms us to His image; and benefits others.