Romans 8:28-30


It is suggested that the reader of these notes reread the notes on Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18, the text for Christmas II in this series (A) of Epistle texts. We shall not repeat here what was said about the doctrine of election there.

Note that verses 26-27 are in the third person singular, verse 28 is in the first person plural, and verses 29-30 are again in the third person singular.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

In this chapter, according to the Nestle Greek text, verses 18-30 form a major paragraph, with subparagraphs beginning at verses 26 and 28. Following these divisions the text for Pentecost IX was verses 26-27 and the text for today is verses 28-30.

Note that we have  "know" once more. It occurred in verse 22 where it indicated something which can be observed by all. In verse 26 it denoted the humbling lack of knowledge in the Christian's prayer life. And here, in verse 28, we have it once more.

Franzmann: 'We know' --- we in whom the Spirit dwells, we who are led by the Spirit, we who have the Spirit of sonship and call God Abba with the brash and imperturbable confidence of children, we who in the Spirit have even now the first fruits of the world to come, we who know the aiding intercession of the Spirit in our prayers --- we know that we love God because He first loved us (cf. 5:8-11); we know that we came under the sound and power of His Gospel according to HIS purpose.

The context decides the precise meaning of a word.

RSV, TEV, NIV, NEB, NASB and AAT translate thus:  "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him."  But the KJV and NKJV:  "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God." 

On the thought look at Genesis 50:20, a remarkable parallel passage. God turned the evil of Joseph's brothers into good both for them and for Joseph.

The first part of verse 28 is a well-known and oft-quoted passage. But it is even more comforting if the latter part of the verse is remembered.

Who are the people who love God? They are God's elect, those whom He has known as His own from eternity. None of the adversities enumerated in verse 35 can tear the Christian from God. When were Christians called? When they were converted. On what basis were they called and converted? On the basis and because of God's purpose from eternity.

Arndt: God had decided to call these people to faith and sonship, and this purpose he fulfilled. . . . His purpose is certain of realization. Look at Ephesians 1:11. Just this fact that God's purpose will not fail is the reason why all things work together for good to the Christians.
Lenski: In our literature the word for 'love' here is the word for the highest type of love, that of comprehension coupled with corresponding purpose. . . . We are saints not because of our love, but because of what the love of God did for us . . . Our love is the blessed effect of God's purpose and call. . . . 'Called' (in 2 Tim. 1 :9) is the act of setting something before oneself. . . . The reason why the rest were not won in no way or no degree lies in the call or in the divine purpose, but in the wicked human will which rejects the call and the purpose.
Stoeckhardt: All people who have heard the Gospel are called, in the sense of invited. Matthew 20:16; 22:14. Most people reject this call and invitation of God and do not obey the Gospel. Those, however, who follow His call, who receive the Gospel in faith, do it not to themselves. God works faith in them. . . . God has called us to eternal life, to His eternal glory. 1 Timothy 6:12; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:14. . . . The call is an historical occurrence which falls in time. The divine purpose, realized in the call, lies beyond time.

This conviction surely makes the Christian certain that all things are working together for his good.

Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Arndt: The main statement, that all things work together for good to them that love God, is given additional proof.
Lenski: This verse states the reason why all things work together for nothing but good for those who love God, for those who are called according to purpose.
Franzmann: Romans 8:28-30 is one of the classic passages on election and predestination. Heads and hearts have been broken over that doctrine.

He is referring especially to what has been known as the Predestination Controversy  (Gnadenwahlstreit)  in the Synodical Conference toward the end of the nineteenth century. For the most part the controversy was over the precise meaning of "foreknew"  in this verse. Those who sided with the LC-MS held the following:

  1.  "Foreknew,"  because of its context means more than omniscience or foreknowledge. Here it means to make a person one's own, to establish a connection with someone. Cf. 1 Corinthians 8:3 and Galatians 4:9. Cf. the meaning of this verb with that in Romans 11 :2. It refers not merely to an act of the intellect but to an act of the will. Cf. its meaning in the Old Testament at Amos 3:2; Psalm 1:3; Hosea 13:5.

  2. The second verb in verse 29 explains the first verb. It reads thus:  "Because those whom He foreknew, namely, those whom He predestined etc."  3) No.2 must be so because in verse 30 where the chain of aorists continues, the verb is always followed by "also" , thus distinguishing the verbs.

Those who were opposed to the LC-MS and its allied Synods insisted that:

  1.  "Foreknew" simply denotes foreknowledge in the sense of  intuitu fidei.  God foreknew the individual Christian because He foresaw the individual's faith.

  2. 2) The first verb in verse 29 denotes the cause of election, based on omniscience and foreknowledge. The  "and" means "and therefore." The second verb, denotes predestination, resulting from foreknowledge.

Simply stated  one side  said:  "Eternal election of individuals proceeds only from the grace of God for Jesus' sake." 

The  other side  said:  "Eternal election is based on God's foreknowledge of those whom He foresaw as believers."  (Cf. Lenski, Romans, page 563).

On page 564 Lenski flatly says:  "'Foreknew' and 'foreordained' cannot be synonyms."  To this day this controversy has not been settled to the satisfaction of either side.

Franzmann: Heads and hearts have been broken over that doctrine.

Very simply put the question is as follows:  "Did faith cause the election or did the election cause the faith?" 

For what did God foreordain?  "To be conformed to the image of his Son."  (KJV, RSV, NASB). AAT puts it very simply: 1 John 3:2 is the best commentary on these words:  "We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is."  (NASB).

Arndt: The meaning is that in their outward form and appearance they are to be like Christ. In their disposition, their spirit, they are like Christ even now.
Rienecker: It denotes an inward and not merely superficial conformity.
Franzmann: They shall be conformed to, made like, the image of the Son. All that characterized the history of the Son on earth and all that makes Him as the Son of God's right hand, all this is destined to be theirs: the perfect manhood of the Son, the free and complete obedience of the Son led by the Spirit of God, the full communion with the Father, and the joy of free obeisance to the Father, that God, all enemies cast down, may now eternally be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Lenski: This conformity is not attained until we reach the state of glory. Paul is pointing his readers from their sufferings to their comfort amid trials and to their assured hope, and this means to their coming glory.
Stoeckhardt: They should bear the image of the heavenly Man. 1 Corinthians 15:49. Their perishable body should be glorified and be fashioned like unto Christ's glorified body. Philippians 3:21.

What a prospect!! What an honor!! Thus far the first purpose of the predestination of grace.

Now follows the second purpose:  "That He might be the first-born among many brethren."  NASB. As in Colossians 1:15 and 18, where the pre-eminence of Christ is spoken of.

Arndt remarks: He should be the first fruits, but many should follow. . . . Hence the Christian is not to doubt. He is not to despair in the tribulations of this life.
Franzmann: THE Son retains His primary place and preeminence; it is the sheer condescension of the Firstborn that makes us brothers of the Only-born.
Stoeckhardt: In God's great family, in the mass of His perfect children, Christ should receive the position and honor of the Firstborn. He is the Captain of our salvation, who leads many to glory with Him. Hebrews 2:10. . . . Our future glorification rests upon the eternal decree of God, therefore, upon a firm, unmovable foundation. For that reason all things, also cross and suffering, must work together for our good, for our salvation and glory.

Romans 8:30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Note the beauty of this chain of clauses: In the sequence in verse 30 the first verb points back to eternity, the second and third denote what happens in time and the last points to everlasting life. From eternity to all eternity. God foreordained individual persons by His grace through Christ Jesus to that which happens to the individual in time and eternity. In time the individual was called by God through the means of grace. He was converted. In his conversion by God the individual was justified, declared forgiven for Jesus' sake. If a person is a Christian he should remind himself that three of the four have already happened and the fourth will never fail. He faces the prospect of everlasting life. The commentators struggle to explain the aorist tenses.

Rienecker: The aorists speak of God who sees the end from the beginning and in whose decree and purpose all future events are comprehended and fixed.
Franzmann: The thing is done; all that Paul has said about the certainty of future glory is crystallized in this past tense of 'glorified.'
Lenski: All of these aorists are alike. This last aorist is not proleptic, neither are the other five. . . . Paul sees God's whole work complete, complete from eternity to eternity, all these from first saint to the last.
Stoeckhardt: This passage, 8:28-30, has always been regarded by the Church as the  locus classicus  for the doctrine of eternal election. It is first to be noted that the apostle speaks of God's eternal decree or the election of grace only after he has presented the chief article of Christian doctrine, the doctrine of sin and grace, of justification and sanctification. . . . Our call, conversion, justification, preservation are a fulfillment of God's eternal decree and purpose. In other words, the eternal election is the cause not only of our salvation, but of our call, conversion, and justification. Faith flows from the election, and not election from faith.

Three passages in the  Formula of Concord,  concerning election with reference to Romans 8:28-30, are quoted here:

Solid Declaration , Election, Tappert 624.48: This doctrine will also give us the glorious comfort, in times of trial and affliction, that in his counsel before the foundation of the world God has determined and decreed that he will assist us in all our necessities, grant us patience, give us comfort, create hope, and bring everything to such an issue that we shall be saved. Again, Paul presents this in a most comforting manner when he points out that before the world began God ordained in his counsel through which specific cross and affliction he would conform each of his elect to 'the image of His Son', and that in each case the afflictions should and must 'work together for good' since they are 'called according to his purpose'. From this Paul draws the certain and indubitable conclusion that neither 'tribulation nor anguish, neither death nor life, etc. can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 8:28.29.35-38.39).
Solid Declaration , Election, Tappert 619.14: We must always take as one unit the entire doctrine of God's purpose, counsel, will, and ordinance concerning our redemption, call, justification, and salvation, as Paul treats and explains this article (Romans 8:28ff.; Ephesians 1:4ff.) and as Christ likewise does in the parable (Matthew 20:2-14), namely, that in his purpose and counsel God has ordained the following; etc.
Epitome,  Election, Tappert 496.13: The Christian is to concern himself with the doctrine of the eternal election of God only is so far as it is revealed in the Word of God, which shows us Christ as the 'Book of Life.' Through the proclamation of the holy Gospel, Christ opens and reveals this book for us, as it is written 'Those he predestined, he also called.' In Christ we should seek the eternal election of the Father, who has decreed in his eternal counsel that he would save no one except those who acknowledge his Son, Christ, and truly believe on him.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1984, pp. 40-43. Used with permission.

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