For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren (Romans 8:29).
As a part of a school administration, I learned a painful lesson some years ago. Upon later reflection, I saw that the suggestion I made to the vice-president of the school was actually me telling him how to do his job. Recognizing this long before I did, he stunned me with his directness: “Are you running this school, or am I?” When he presented it that way, I saw his point. He was in charge. Now we both knew it.
Knowing who is in charge is important. I remember well Dr. James Dobson’s film series on raising children when he asked the pointed question: “Who is in charge here?” In the home, the parents are to be in charge. In other contexts, someone else is designated to be in charge. We must learn who is in charge to respond appropriately.
In our text, Paul informs us that God is ultimately and totally in charge of all things. His authority is without limits. All of creation is under the control of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (see Colossians 1:15-18). There is no limit to His power, and nothing is beyond His ability to control. We refer to this unlimited control as the sovereignty of God. When we say that God is sovereign we are saying He is in complete control.207
Only one who is sovereign can predict the future in specific terms and with complete accuracy. One who is sovereign is also able to reveal what He is committed to accomplish. Conversely, one who is not sovereign can neither predict nor determine the future specifically or with accuracy.
In Romans 8:28 Paul makes a general statement concerning God’s sovereignty and its goal with respect to the Christian. God’s sovereignty assures Christians He is working all things together for their ultimate good. Romans 8:29 expands what Paul has said in verse 28, for in this verse, he sums up God’s eternal purpose for the saints established in eternity past. He also speaks of God’s goal of glorifying Himself, through His saints who become like Christ. In verse 30, Paul describes the outworking of God’s program for individual saints, in time.
The focus of this lesson will be verse 29, and we will begin by defining the two key terms, “foreknew” and “predestined.” After laying down a method to define these terms, we will try to discover how they contribute to our understanding of this text. Their contribution must be explored individually and in relation to each other. Paul also indicates in this verse the purpose or goal of these two actions on God’s part. We will finally explore some implications and applications of the truth Paul is teaching in this particular verse.
To correctly interpret this text and articulate the doctrine Paul teaches here, we must first determine the meaning of the terms he uses so we can communicate his doctrinal beliefs. Verses 29 and 30 contain five crucial terms. The definitions of these terms shape the doctrine which results from our study. These terms are: foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. In this study we will consider only the first two terms found in verse 29.
Christians differ over the doctrine taught in this passage, largely because they define the terms found in our text and in other texts differently. Inaccurate definitions often result in one of two errors or a combination of both. The first error is coming to a term with a preconceived, predetermined definition based on a particular theological commitment. We all come to any text with our own presuppositions, and we are inclined to interpret the text in a way that confirms our biases. The second error is in using a sloppy methodology in attempting to define the term.
For the Scriptures to change our prejudices rather than confirm them, we must have a radical revision in our way of thinking and our approach to the Bible. The first and greatest need is for the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who will illuminate our minds to understand that which is contrary to the flesh and to our old way of thinking and behaving. The renewing of our minds takes place when our minds are saturated with the Scriptures and illuminated by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). We must come to the Scriptures recognizing the weakness and distortions of the flesh and convinced of our dependence on God’s Word and His Spirit to transform us—to renew our minds. At the same time, we must recognize that studying the truths of the Bible requires a methodology committed to and consistent with the way God has revealed His Word.
Many Christians accept doctrinal distortions because they allow others to do their studying and their thinking for them. Because much doctrinal error is the result of sloppy methodology, we must first identify the method we will use before defining these terms. The following principles govern the method employed in this lesson in defining the five crucial terms of our text:
(1) We will give some consideration to the root meaning of the term, although this has its dangers. The original meaning of a word may be quite close to its root meaning, but over the passage of time, the meaning of a word may change. The original root meaning may fade, or it may change drastically.
(2) We will seek to identify the whole range of meanings for this term—based upon its use. The uses of the term in the Bible are of primary importance. A term’s usage elsewhere must also be taken into consideration where this information is available and profitable. Most terms have various shades of meaning and thus several possible definitions. This is easily seen by consulting an English dictionary. Before isolating one meaning or definition, we must first determine our options.
(3) The author’s use of the term will be given particular attention and weight in determining its definition. Each author tends to understand and use specific terms with a given range of meanings. The author’s use naturally must be given primary consideration in determining what definition he intended for us to understand. If the author, in this case, Paul, has a meaning which is more predominate, then this meaning will be given very careful consideration.
(4) We will try to determine which meaning most closely conforms to the theology of the Bible and to this author.
(5) We will seek to determine which meaning best fits the specific context in which the term is found.
Using these guidelines, let us now proceed to define these terms so crucial to our understanding of this passage.
The exact term rendered “foreknow” in our text is found only seven times in the New Testament. The verb form is found in Acts 26:5; Romans 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:17. The noun form is found in Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:2. The only two times Paul uses this term is in his Epistle to the Romans. These verses are recorded below with the term “foreknow” underscored for your consideration.
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:22-23).
“So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time previously, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion” (Acts 26:4-5).
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren (Romans 8:29).
I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? (Romans 11:1-2).
Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you (1 Peter 1:18-20).
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness (2 Peter 3:17).
The root meaning of the word is easily determined. To foreknow is to “know” (knowledge) “beforehand” (fore). Looking at the above verses, we see that this root meaning, “to know before,” seems to be intended in Acts 26:5 and 2 Peter 3:17. It is noteworthy to observe that in both these texts, it is man’s “foreknowledge” which is in view and not God’s. In both texts, Romans and 1 Peter 1:20, this root meaning simply will not suffice. It is for this reason the King James Version renders the term in 1 Peter 1:20 “foreordained,” rather than “foreknown.” 1 Peter 1:2 seems to fall somewhere in the middle, between “to know about ahead of time” and “to foreordain.”
The key to understanding this term as Paul uses it is to better understand the way in which God “knew” men in the Old Testament. The English word “know” can be the translation of several terms (both Hebrew and Greek). Its meaning can range from simple knowing to a much more intimate knowledge. For example, we are told that Adam “knew”208 his wife Eve, so that she conceived and gave birth to Cain (Genesis 4:1). This knowledge is much more than mere intellectual awareness.
Of special interest is the Old Testament’s use of “know” to refer to God’s choice of certain individuals:209
And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:17-19).
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5).
If the term “know” sometimes means to “choose,” then it should not come as a surprise to find the term “foreknow” used of God’s choice ahead of time—His foreordination. This is precisely the case in Paul’s (only) two uses of the term in Romans 8:29 and 11:2. This becomes clear and compelling when considered in the light of Paul’s theology and of its context in Romans.
Two major elements of Paul’s theology become evident in Romans, both bearing on the meaning of the term “foreknew” in our text. The first element of Paul’s theology is the doctrine of the depravity of man. Man is not sick, weakened by sin and in need of divine assistance; he is dead in his trespasses and sins, in need of life. As Paul summed up man’s condition in Romans 3:10-18, all mankind, without exception, is alienated from God and hostile toward Him, not seeking Him but rebelling against Him.
The second major element of Paul’s theology is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. God is in complete control. He gives men commands which they may obey or disobey. He also gives men choices to make and the freedom to make bad decisions. But in spite of all this freedom and certain failure, Paul has just stated that God causes all these things and more to bring about the ultimate good of the Christian. While men are not in control and surely do not live consistently in conformity to His Word, God’s purpose is still being achieved.
For any who would understand the foreknowledge of God as only His prior awareness of future events, but not His prior determination of these events, these two doctrines pose an insurmountable problem. Those who hold a weakened, minimal definition of “foreknowledge” believe that in eternity past God looked down through the corridors of time, taking note of all those who would come to Him in faith and then decided to choose them. The word “foreknew” in our text is synonymous with “chose.” It informs us that God first chose those who would believe.
In light of the teaching of Romans and of the self-evident doctrine of the depravity of man, if God had looked down the corridors of time to see all who would choose Him, He would not have seen one single soul. There is none who seeks after God, and none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10-11); thus no one would choose God who had not first been chosen and called by Him.
If God is both righteous and sovereign, and men are unrighteous and out of control, how could we suppose men would first choose God? How can God be sovereign in man’s salvation if He is subject to our will rather than our being subject to His? If God can only choose those whom He knows will choose Him, He is far from sovereign. He is dependent upon the will of men. But Romans teaches that our salvation and blessings depend on Him and on His will. It is by His sovereign grace that we are saved and not by anything we have done. He is the Initiator; we are those who respond.
The immediate context of Romans 8:28 demands that even though “foreknow” may sometimes refer to merely knowing in the past, before something else, it cannot be understood in this way in Romans 8:29. If God is the One who causes all things to work together for good to those who are His children, then it is God who is in control. It is God who “causes” the good which is His purpose. To foreknow is to determine or choose ahead of time. For God to “foreknow” us to be His children is for God to sovereignly choose to save us. Foreknowledge is therefore virtually synonymous with election. The intimate association of these two terms—God’s choice and God’s foreknowledge—is therefore pointed out in 1 Peter 1:1-2.
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:27-30).
Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:6-9).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:3-12).
The root meaning of predestination can be determined by linking the prefix, meaning before, and the root word which is found five times in the New Testament.
“For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22).
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered up by the predetermined [definite] plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:22-23).
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’ Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:24-31).
Concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:3-4).
This Greek term has a range of meanings including: “fix,” “determine,” “appoint,” “set,” “definite,” “designate,” “define,” “to set limits,” “explain.” We might paraphrase the term with the expressions, “to make official” or to “set in concrete.” There is the overall sense of careful definition, a clear and definite decision, and of being put into force. Collectively, the term describes the process by which a bill would be written and made into law by congress. A more personal illustration might be the prearrangement of one’s burial.
The Old Testament has prepared us for this concept. The God who is sovereign is the One who has “prearranged” history. God sometimes tells men of His plans, as He told Abraham of the blessing of mankind through his seed (Genesis 12:1-3) and of His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-21). When the prophets foretold men of God’s predetermined plans, they often used the past tense212 to highlight the certainty of the event. The coming of Messiah is but one prophetic theme progressively unfolded in the Old Testament, with increasing detail, as God’s predetermined plan is unfolded.
Paul and Luke are the only two New Testament authors to use the term “predestined” and its root word as we have seen in the Scriptures above. Since these two men traveled and ministered together, they likely understood the term in the same way. Every use, in Luke, Acts, or in one of Paul’s epistles, refers to God’s prearrangement, His predetermined plan. Only God is sovereign—in complete control, and thus predestination can only originate from the will and purpose of God.
In Acts 4, God’s predestining of the death of Christ is shown to be consistent with Israel’s sin of rejecting Him and crucifying Him. The sinfulness of man does not and cannot hinder God from accomplishing what He has purposed and promised, because God is sovereign. He is in control of all things. He is able to cause all things to work together to achieve His purposes and to fulfill His promises. The events of history testify, without exception, that those promises which have already been fulfilled were fulfilled precisely as God promised. This awesome fact assures us that His future promises will also be fulfilled to the very letter of biblical prophecy.
Predestination and foreknowledge are inter-related. We find the pair linked in Romans 8:29. We find them also linked, in reverse order, in Acts 2:23. God’s foreknowledge seems always to be directed toward the people God chooses, and His predestination seems to be directed to the plan or program He has prearranged for them. God’s sovereignty in both areas is required for Romans 8:28 to be true. God must be sovereign in the choice of who will be saved. He must also be sovereign in bringing about all of that for which saved men and women hope.
We began this study by focusing on two of the most crucial terms in this text. We first considered the methodology employed in seeking to define them. From there we defined “foreknowledge” and “predestination” in accordance with the method explained. Now we must move on to the meaning of the verse as a whole before concluding with some observations and practical implications from our text.
(1) Romans 8:29 was written to help explain how Romans 8:28 can be true. The word “For” at the beginning of this verse shows its connection to verse 28. In this verse Paul offers an explanation of how Romans 8:28 can be true. God can claim to be working all things together for the good of His own because He is sovereign. His sovereignty is evident in His eternal decree, His eternal purpose which He determined before time began. His purpose included the choice of those whom He would save (“Those whom He foreknew”). In His sovereignty, God predetermined and prearranged the plan by which all whom He chose would be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. The God who chooses to save some has a plan and a program by which His purpose to sanctify His children will be accomplished.
(2) In our text, it is God and not man who is active and predominant. Why, when we speak of the process of sanctification, do men become prominent when it is not so here? Man is prominent in chapter 7. So is the flesh, failure, frustration, and death. God is prominent in chapter 8, and so is the Holy Spirit, life, and hope. Sanctification, like salvation, is something men cannot produce through their own efforts. Sanctification is the work of God, for men, and through men. We are involved in the process, but God is prominent. Sanctification is not something we do for God but something God does for us. In our context, sanctification is that which God accomplishes through suffering. God is also prominent in our passage because He is ultimately the one for whom sanctification is being accomplished. Our holiness is not so much for our happiness as it is for His glory which we will see later.
(3) The sovereignty of God enables Him to establish a plan in eternity past and to carry out that plan perfectly in time. The tense here is past. Both God’s “foreknowledge” and His “predestination” are already determined, and the program has been set into motion. At best, men can only plan and work for future events. God alone can plan them, promise them, and be certain that His plans will be accomplished. Only a God who is sovereign, a God who is in complete control, can plan the past, make promises in the present, and assure us that it will be achieved in the future.
(4) God’s foreknowledge seems to be directed toward those people whom He has chosen; His predestination is directed toward the plan or the program He has foreordained for His people. God does not choose to save some only to hope that all works out well for them. God has a specific goal in mind, a goal for which He has chosen them, and a goal to which He has made certain they will attain. Some people think of God as a warm, “people person” who loves men and delights in blessing them. They fail to appreciate that God’s blessings are only certain if He is sovereign and if His purposes are certain. Predestination provides the plan by which God’s people are to be blessed.
(5) In Romans 8:28-29, God’s foreknowledge and His predestination are intertwined. In Acts 2:23 and here in Romans, God’s foreknowledge and His predestination are linked together. They are inter-dependent. God’s ultimate goal is not to save men but to glorify Himself. In order to do this, God purposed to save some. Those He purposed to save, He also determined to sanctify. He is glorified when those He saves are like Christ. God’s eternal decree, His all-inclusive plan established in eternity past, had to include not only the choice of those whom He would save but also the process through which He would bring them into conformity to the image of Jesus Christ.
It seems inappropriate to consider one element of God’s eternal plan apart from the other. I am afraid, for example, that we make too much of a distinction between salvation and sanctification. Paul presents the argument in Romans that sanctification is the goal of salvation. God is represented as purposing both the salvation and the sanctification of those whom He has chosen. If you are saved, God’s purpose is to sanctify you.
Why then do we hear some talk as though there were “two roads” for the Christian to take, the “high road” and the “low road”? The “high road,” we are told, is the path of discipleship. The “low road” is that of spiritual mediocrity. Discipleship is separated from salvation, as though it were a second step, distinct from our salvation. As I read this verse, I hear Paul saying that all those whom God chose to save, He predestined to sanctification. There is no separation between salvation and sanctification. There are not two roads. There is one. Those who are chosen were chosen to be saved and to bear the image of Jesus Christ. While some may rebel against God, our text assures us that all who are saved will ultimately be sanctified. There are no dropouts, not because we are faithful but because God is sovereign.
(6) Verse 29 indicates God’s immediate purpose for us. God’s purpose for choosing us and the goal of the program He has predestined is our conformity to the image of Jesus Christ: “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” This goal is also stated in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of which belongs to the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
How often we hear the gospel presented in terms of our good but not in terms of our godliness. I believe Paul wants us to understand that godliness is our ultimate good. I fear that we think of happiness as our good. God’s purpose for us is to make us godly, which is for our good and also for His glory.
(7) There is a corporate emphasis here and not just an individual application to Paul’s words. All whom He has foreknown, He has incorporated into His predestined plan, which will result in the sanctification of each and every believer. How often we stress the individual side and omit the collective side. Ephesians 4 stresses that corporate side. God is not building up only individuals as He conforms them to the image of Christ; it is the church as a whole which is being built up. God uses the individual members of the body in the process of building up the church. In our individualistic age, we must beware of individualizing our salvation, or we may fail to grasp the corporate dimensions. I encourage you to study Ephesians 2:11-22 and 3:9-11 to better understand your life in the corporate plan of God.
(8) The final words of verse 29 call our attention to the ultimate purpose of God’s foreknowledge and predestination—His glory, through the exaltation of Jesus Christ. The word “that” in verse 29 brings us to God’s highest goal, His own glory: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.”
The “first-born” was the first of others, often many others in the Old Testament. The first-born was the son who received the birthright, who received a double portion, and to whom the headship of the family passed. The position of “first-born” was one of preeminence, prestige, and power. That is the goal of God for His Son, Jesus Christ. God is at work causing all things to work together for the good of His sons (8:28). He has not only chosen them in eternity past, but He has predetermined a plan whereby all His sons will be conformed to the image of His “first-born,” Jesus Christ.
Our Lord’s likeness, His image, is majestic, holy, and awesome as revealed in John’s description of Him in Revelation 1. But it does not seem to be this likeness which Paul has in view. Rather, it is the character of our Lord which so beautified Him in the days of His appearance on the earth. His character, evident in His body, the church, brings glory to Him, and thus glory to God. By being like Christ, we honor Him and bring glory to God. God’s ultimate purpose for working all things together is not for our good, though it does accomplish this, but for His glory. Those who understand God’s grace gladly stand out of the spotlight so that God receives the glory He deserves, which He planned and purposed in eternity past and which He is presently working. To God be the glory!
(9) The sovereignty of God is the basis for our security—and our assurance of the certainty of our hope. If our hope were based upon our own faithfulness, we would be, of all men, most miserable. Focusing on ourselves brings us to the despair of Romans 7, a chapter in which man is prominent. Focusing on God brings us to the certainty, hope, and rejoicing of Romans 8. In this chapter, God is prominent—not men. It is His sovereignty which assures us that His promises are certain.
I am reminded of an incident in the history of Israel in which this same confidence in God is illustrated.
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why doth Thine anger burn against Thy people whom Thou hast brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Thy burning anger and change Thy mind about doing harm to Thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants to whom Thou didst swear by Thyself, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people (Exodus 32:1-14).
From outward appearances, it would seem as though God were about to turn in His resignation and give up on Israel. Moses pled with God for his people. I believe God spoke as He did to bring Moses to the place where he could appeal to Him on the basis of His character, His glory, and His promises. I think it was Moses who wanted to resign, and God simply beat him to the punch.
These words of Moses are the basis for our security. They are the assurance of every imperfect saint. They direct our attention to the fact that we will reach the goal God has purposed and promised because God’s glory depends on it.
Moses could not plead with God for His blessing on his rebellious brethren on the basis of their deeds. He could not even plead with God for their lives. But He could appeal to God’s character and to His purpose. God had both purposed and promised not only to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt but to bring them safely into the land of Canaan. The issue here was not the goodness of the Israelites or even their sin. The issue was God’s glory. His glory rested on the fact that He would complete what He started. He promised to bring them into Canaan. He must do it—not for Moses’ sake and not for the sake of the sinful nation Israel. He would do it for His own sake. Because God’s glory is at issue, if for no other reason, He will complete what He started.
This promise was not only for Israel. It is a promise God has given to us as well: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
His glory is linked inseparably to our good, and we can be sure that He will accomplish His purposes—for our good to be sure, but most of all for His glory.
I offer one final word. If God is this committed to conforming us to the image of Christ so that He will be glorified in Him, do we dare to think that our sanctification is anything less than certain? If God’s glory is linked to our sanctification, how seriously do you think He takes sin in our lives? The sovereignty of God is no excuse for sloppy, sinful living. It is the reason for our security, our certainty, and our sanctification. Let us eagerly seek Him and His purposes, so that He may be glorified.
207 “The term ‘sovereignty’ connotes a situation in which a person, from his innate dignity, exercises supreme power, with no areas of his province outside his jurisdiction. A ‘sovereign’ is one who enjoys full autonomy, allowing no rival immunities.
“As applied to God, the term ‘sovereignty’ indicates His complete power over all of creation, so that He exercises His will absolutely, without any necessary conditioning by a finite will or wills. The term does not occur in Scripture, although the idea is abundantly implied.” H. B. Kuhn, “Sovereignty of God,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975, 1976), Vol. 5, p. 498.