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The Golden Chain of Salvation

“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” -Romans 8:29-30.

This is one of the most profound and assuring promises in all of Scripture. It is commonly referred to as, “The Golden Chain of Salvation.” It is a chain of five eternal links: God foreknew; God predestined; God called; God justified; and God glorified. Every aspect of our salvation is all and only of Him. No room for man’s self-glory here; no room for a hint of human praise; no room for boasting in ourselves. This is the great work of the Lord alone in our salvation. Past, present and future hope secured for us in Christ Jesus. So therefore, we joyfully say with the apostle Paul, “if God be for us, who can be against us? For it is God who justifies…” (Rom. 8:31f).

1.) God foreknew: foreknowing (and/or foreknowledge) does not mean here to know about future events in advance–even though God does know all things. That is in keeping with Him being omniscient. He knows all things, in all times (past, present and future), concerning all His creatures and creation. Nothing is hidden from His sight and He, contrary to the heresy of The Open Theists, is not “presently learning” nor stunted in His knowing (Psalm 139).

Foreknew/foreknowledge, however, is never used in terms of knowing about future events, times or actions (omniscience). “Foreknowledge is a predetermined relationship in the knowledge of God. God brought the salvation relationship into existence by decreeing it into existence ahead of time” (MacArthur Study Bible, 1 Peter 1:2). God foreknew us by setting His electing love in pre-establishing an intimate relationship with those that He has sovereignly chosen in Christ before the foundations of the world (Eph. 1:4-6; 1 Peter 1:1-2). It is, I believe, only used in regards to God’s electing love of His people and not, as some suggest, a “knowing ahead of time of events and actions.” God knew us, had established relationship with us in times past eternal. He foreknew us. The antithesis of this is what the Lord said in Matthew 7:23, “depart from, I’ve never known you.” Those are the most frightening words in Scripture, aren’t they?

Foreknowledge was also used pertaining to Christ. Peter says, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20). Christ was foreknown in the eternal Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There was intimacy of relationship within the Trinity before anything that was made was made. The promise for us is that He foreknew us before the world was made… What God established in eternity, He brought about in time in our salvation through Christ our Lord.

John Murray says:

Even if it were granted that `foreknew’ means the foresight of faith, the biblical doctrine of sovereign election is not thereby eliminated or disproven. For it is certainly true that God foresees faith; he foresees all that comes to pass. The question would then simply be: whence proceeds this faith, which God foresees? And the only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees is the faith he himself creates (cf. John 3:3-8; 6:44, 45, 65; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; 2 Peter 1:2). Hence his eternal foresight of faith is preconditioned by his decree to generate this faith in those whom he foresees as believing.”

The late Dr. James M. Boice summarizes that:

“foreknowledge means that salvation has its origin in the mind or eternal counsels of God, not in man. It focuses our attention on the distinguishing love of God, according to which some persons are elected to be conformed to the character of Jesus Christ, which is what Paul has already been saying.”

2.) God predestined: It means to determine a person’s destiny beforehand. To be “pre” – before; “destined” – appointed. God in His sovereign electing love has predestined us, marked out beforehand, our eternal destiny. Again, what comfort this brings to the discouraged believer in the Lord in our daily sanctification in Christ. It tells us that, God, having fixed his distinguishing love upon us (foreknew), he next appointed us “to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” And what is that destiny for the people of God? To be made like Jesus Christ–“conformed to the image of His Son.” That is why beloved, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

3.) God called: James Boice in his excellent commentary on Romans says,

“The next step in this golden chain of five links is what theologians call effectual calling. It is important to use the adjective effectual at this point, because there are two different kinds of calling referred to in the Bible, and it is easy to get confused about them.

One kind of calling is external, general, and universal. It is an open invitation to all persons to repent of sin, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved. It is what Jesus was speaking of when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Or again, when he said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). The problem with this type of call is that, left to themselves, no men or women ever respond positively. They hear the call, but they turn away, preferring their own ways to God. That is why Jesus also said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. ..” (John 6:44).

The other kind of call is internal, specific, and effectual. That is, it not only issues the invitation, it also provides the ability or willingness to respond positively. It is God’s drawing to himself or bringing to spiritual life the one who without that call would remain spiritually dead and far from him.

There is no greater illustration of this than Jesus’ calling of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who had died four days before. Lazarus in his grave is a picture of every human being in his or her natural state: dead in body and soul, bound with graveclothes, lying in a tomb, sealed with some great stone. Let’s call to him, “Lazarus, Lazarus. Come forth, Lazarus. We want you back. We miss you. If you will just get up out of that tomb and return to us, you’ll find that we are all anxious to have you back. No one here is going to put any obstructions in your way.”

What? Won’t Lazarus come? Doesn’t he want to be with us?

The problem is that Lazarus does not have the ability to come back. The call is given, but he cannot come.

Ah, but let Jesus take his place before the tomb. Let Jesus call out, “Lazarus, come forth,” and the case is quite different. The words are the same, but now the call is no mere invitation. It is an effectual calling. For the same God who originally called the creation out of nothing is now calling life out of death, and his call is heard. Lazarus, though he has been dead four days, hears Jesus and obeys his Master’s voice.

That is how God calls those whom he has foreknown and predestined to salvation.”

4.) God justified: Here is the great Reformation truth of the gospel, justified by faith alone. It means that the Sovereign Judge of the universe declares us “not guilty” by grace through faith through our Lord Jesus Christ (Roms. 5:1). We are no longer under the wrath of God, no longer the enemy of God. We have become His children and are now the objects of His love and mercy and no longer estranged by His enmity. But being justified is not just a declaration; but also a reality for the Christian. We have been clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ. As Dr. MacArthur so wonderfully says, “Christ was treated on the cross as if He lived your life, so that we might treated as if we lived His life.” He was clothed with our sin, though sinless; and we are clothed with His perfect righteousness, though sinful. Our sin imputed to Him; His righteousness imputed to us (Roms. 5:21). This is the great doctrine of imputation in our justification.

“Those whom, God effectually calls he also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God” – WCF Ch 11

“Justification is a judicial act of God, in which He declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner” (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 513).

“The phrase in ipso (in him) I have preferred to retain, rather than render it per ipsum (by him,) because it has in my opinion more expressiveness and force. For we are enriched in Christ, inasmuch as we are members of his body, and are engrafted into him: nay more, being made one with him, he makes us share with him in every thing that he has received from the Father.” (John Calvin Commentary on 1 Cor 1:5

“This calling is an act of the grace of God in Christ by which he calls men dead in sin and lost in Adam through the preaching of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, to union with Christ and to salvation obtained in him.” – Francis Turretin

5.) God glorified: Notice that Paul says this in the past tense. Our future glorification is already secured and perfected in Christ in eternity future. He knew us, determined our destiny to be like Christ, called us, justified us, and now the fifth link in the chain of our salvation… He glorified us. What hope, what promise of eternal life in and with Christ! Paul wrote in Philippians, “I always pray with joy … being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:4, 6). God began the “good work” by foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification. And we can know that He will carry it on until the day we will be like Jesus Christ, being glorified.

No wonder Jude proclaims with absolute confidence: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

What a fitting doxology for us today. Here it is beloved: have you gone through a time of trial and brokenness lately? Has your world been shaken–turned upside down by tragedy? Have you been through a divorce, death of a family member or suffered the loss of a child? Maybe you’ve lost a job or been fired for living honorable for the Lord? Who can bear the weight of such overwhelming pain on their own? But friend in Christ… here is our hope. The golden chain holds you fast. “Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you;” “He will never leave nor forsake you;” and that “nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Rejoice in the Lord and find your hope, security, significance, rest, worth, and purpose only in Him. He is everything we need!

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