Romans 8:38-39 ESV
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is probably one of the most well known “coffee cup” verses, as Matt Chandler calls them. It gives us confidence, hope, and security in our salvation. At the very least, it gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. But for this verse to really have any meaning, any weight to it, we have to look at the bigger picture.
Romans 8:29-30 ESV
29 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. 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.
The first word we have to look at in this passage is the word “foreknew”. Many will read this at a glance and apply an English understanding of the word, and understandably believe that this simply means “God knew in advance.” While this is true, it is also incomplete.
As Douglas J. Moo points out in his most basic commentary on Romans, Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey, the word “foreknew” is “God’s decision to enter into intimate fellowship with someone (see Acts 2:23; Rom. 11:2; 1 Peter 1:2, 1:20) (p. 140). [emphasis mine]”
So, those whom God “foreknew” or “brought into an intimate fellowship from before creation,” He predestined to become “conformed to the image of his Son.” This conforming us to the image of Christ is our sanctification. Sanctification is a work of God AND man to change our affections and our actions so that we better mirror the image of Christ. God bringing us into an intimate relationship, and conforming us to the image of His Son, was so that He could bring us into the family of God. This is why Paul tells us that God did this so that Christ would be the “firstborn among many brothers.” We’ve lost the meaning of the word “brother” when it comes to church and Christian culture. We call everyone at church “brother” or “sister” casually, without thinking of what it really means. God calls us brothers of Christ, here, to show us the deep familial connection we have with the Father and with Christ.
Those whom God foreknew and predestined, He also called. This calling is not a general calling, but a specific, effective calling, a calling that produces faith and regeneration. Because those who are called are also justified, this cannot be a general calling to confess Christ, because not all who hear the gospel message actually confess Christ, and are therefore not justified. But to those whom called foreknew and predestined, this call produces a new heart, when God replaces the heart of stone with one of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26) and breathes life into our spirit (Eph. 2:5).
Those whom God foreknew, predestined, and called, He also justifies. We talked about what this means in the last blog. In short, it is a legal term depicting God’s seeing and pardoning our sin and declaring us “righteous” based on the work of Christ on the cross, who absorbed our guilt and the wrath due us for our sin (Rom. 3:25, 2 Cor. 5:21). Those whom God justifies, whom He declares right in His court, are also glorified. Now, the connection here is important. Those whom God foreknew, the ones He chose to bring into an intimate relationship with Himself, are glorified. It isn’t that some are foreknown and then lost somewhere in the process. God sovereignly and faithfully chooses to initiate intimate relationship, predestines us to become like His Son, effectively calls us, declares us as “right” based on the atonement of the blood of Christ, and glorifies us. God is responsible for our salvation, from beginning to end.
Then Paul asks a very important question.
Romans 8:31 ESV
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
He then sums up the answer to his question with our “coffee cup” verse from earlier. Nothing can separate us from our relationship to God and identity in Christ because God chose to love us, predestine us, justify us, and glorify us before we had even been born. Our salvation does not rest in a verbal confession or prayer, or even a willing submission to Christ’s lordship. Those things are necessary and good, but they are not causal, they are the evidence of the work God is doing in our lives to elect, predestine, call, justify, and glorify His people. Our salvation rests firmly in the works of God, and just as we have no right to boast, we also have no ability to remove ourselves from His hands.
Now, some may be asking “How does this make sense if sanctification is a work of God and man?” If you’ll notice, sanctification wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the list, only the result of sanctification: becoming more like Christ. John Piper points out that sanctification is just the first stage of glorification. So, even though sanctification is understood as a work of God and man combating sin in the life of the believer, it ultimately rests in God’s hands as part of our glorification.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and please feel free to let me know in the comments if there’s anything I can attempt to explain further.