Romans 8:28-31, God's Chain of Salvation

By J. C. Wenger


There are five great links in God's glorious chain of salvation: (1) Foreknowledge: we are "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (I Peter 1:2); (2) Predestination: 'he predestinated us to be adopted as his Sons through Jesus" (Ephesians 1:5); (3) Calling: our God has 'called [us] . . . out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9); (4) justification: being declared righteous "through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Those are the four links which are already realized in the experience of those who arc Christians. But Paul moves on, for in God's sight it takes all five links to form the golden chain of salvation. (5) Glorification: this is stage 3 of divine salvation, when we are in heaven with God, glorified in the same way as our ascended and enthroned Lord Jesus (John 12:16)! This link is not yet realized, but in Paul's overview it is certain: link I leads directly to link 2, and so on to 5. Someone has called this the most daring step of faith in the New Testament!

Does this chain of salvation imply any sort of arbitrary election to faith? No, it doesn't. What it does say is that God knew his believing ones from all eternity; such believers are called the elect. This is the language of trust and praise. I he invitation is still true: Whoever wills to come may do so! Perhaps three crisp statements will help us lay hold of the truth: Christ's atonement on Golgotha was adequate for all, it is offered to all, and it is intended for all. "Elect" often seems to mean that we are precious to God (L. Verduin).

God's Gracious Providence

We can best understand Romans 8:28 by examining what follows. There are two different readings here. The late manuscripts read: "All things work together for good to those who love God .. . ." (Compare the KJV). (This reading is supported by such manuscripts as Sinaiticus, C, D, and G.) The other reading, adopted by the NIV, reads: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him...

(This reading is supported by the Chester Scatty Manuscript of about AD 200, by Vaticanus (B), and by various other authorities. Both Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were made in the fourth century, likely about AD 340, and where they differ, Vaticanus is perhaps slightly preferable.) This is not one of the easier questions to be settled by textual criticism, but I am inclined to keep God as the one who causes all things to work together for our good.

This verse does not teach fatalism. It does not say, "Whatever happens has been decreed by God; so do as you please, it is all bound to come out as God has planned it!" Rather, it is saying that what takes place is used by God for his eternal plan. To use one rare word we could say, It is used in God's "salvific" intention! God's concern is to see people become saved. He can use many things to bring them to repentance and life eternal. In no sense does Romans 8:28 relieve people of responsibility for their health and welfare-including their eternal welfare. Rather, it assures us of how eager God is to see us become his sons and daughters. We humans must assume total responsibility for what we do rather than live carelessly while appealing to Romans 8:28!


Our Security in Christ

If God is for us, who can be against us? (8:31). What does human opposition or even demonic hostility amount to if God is there "in our behalf' (this is the force of the Greek)? How do we know that God is there for us? The yardstick of God's love is Golgotha. He did no: spare his own Son (8:32); he did not rescue Jesus who in human weakness cried to God to take the awful cup of suffering away from him, if possible. Rather, God allowed the Romans to crucify his son in behalf of us all. The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). And since he has given us a divine sin-bearer, "how will he not also . . . graciously give us all things?" (8:32). If God allowed his Son to die in our stead, will c he withhold any trivial gift that we may need? If we ask in line with his holy will (I John 5:14) he delights in showering his gifts upon us! Paul is stressing our spiritual security, for God is active in keeping us for eternal glory.

We turn from God as lavish giver to God as the one who pronounces us righteous against all the accusations of

conscience, of Satan, and even of divine Law. Who will bring any charge against those wham God has chosen? (8:33). It is none other than the Almighty who pronounces us righteous! And who is able to pronounce condemnation? God has entrusted this task of judgment to only one man, Christ Jesus; he "has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). Our Lord is surely far from pronouncing condemnation on us. Rather he is "interceding for us" at the right hand of God (8:34). Our future judgment is in the hands of him who is our Intercessor!

Neither seven nor seventeen dreaded items are able to separate us from Christ: Paul ticks off seven things which we humans fear: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and the sword (8:35). One has to wonder if he saved the one he most dreaded for last. Less than a decade later he was beheaded! He then thought of Psalm 44:22: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." Paul knew that just as Christ took up his cross, each true follower of Christ (in English, each true disciple) must likewise take up his cross, the individual cost of being a disciple (Luke 9:23). Hans Denk, a pitiably broken Anabaptist witness, said before his untimely death in 1527: "No one can truly know Christ except he follow him in life."

There was a secret source of sustenance and strength which Paul could not overlook: "we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (8:37). Divine love encompasses, soothes, and sustains those who are facing death for Christ's sake. A missionary who faced death at the hands of a well-managed rabble in a foreign country, told me later that he never experienced Christ so closely as when he was put on public trial for his Lord.

But Paul has ten more dreadful things to mention: death, life, angels, demons, the present, the future, powers, height, depth, and anything else in all creation-none of them "will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (8:39). Now that is real security!

Avoiding Misunderstandings

In dealing with a topic as serious as the eternal salvation of human beings, it is most important to avoid misunderstandings. There are voices in Christendom which cry: "Once a son, always a son!" "Once saved, always saved!" "We teach eternal security!" Are these sentiments biblical?

As far as God and his salvation concerned, they are true But it is also necessary to teach the duties which God has ordained for his children and the means by which he keeps his weak sons and daughters secure in faith. The Bible has many promises relating to the ability and intention of God to keep us in his family. There is no question about that. But it is also true that if we neglect prayer, Christian fellowship with God's saints, meditation on the Word of God, Christian stewardship, and witnessing, we ma become so lukewarm, even cold, spiritually that we return to living according to the flesh. And if that happens, God's Word reminds us forcibly: we will die! (Romans 8:13). The worst example of an apostate is Judas, a man who was capable of becoming a mighty apostle in the primitive church, and yet who for a handful of silver turned his teacher over to the Jewish authorities for ultimate crucifixion, and himself wound up a suicide. The New Testament mentions two other disciples by name who "shipwrecked their faith" (I Timothy 1:19).

In other words, our security lies in faithfulness to the one who loved us and gave himself for us. It is a security in Christ, not in carelessness and sin. John 10 indicates that the Good Shepherd is able to keep his "sheep" who follow him. It is his will to keep us, but we have to follow! The Bible abounds in warnings like Hebrews 2:1: 'We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away."

A number of years ago the outstanding Catholic radio minister, Msgr. Fulton J. Sheen, (1895-1979) told his radio audience that the church has many prelates (high-ranking clergymen) who in themselves were capable of becoming criminals. Then he went on to say that our prisons contain many criminals who in God were capable of becoming prelates in the church! The responsibility we bear for our eternal welfare is awesome. At the same time, eternal salvation is wholly of God and his grace. What a paradox!

Salvation Not by Assurance

Our security is in Christ and does not depend on our awareness of sonship or sense of Christian assurance-what the Germans call Heilsgewissheit (certainty of salvation). The faithful disciple, walking in love and holiness but lacking a robust sense of being in Christ, is a thousand times more certain of heaven than the loquacious showman who shouts about his salvation and his spiritual gifts, but who is notably lacking in personal integrity and down-to-earth spiritual brokenness and faithfulness. This can be illustrated by an Old Testament story: On the night of the exodus from Egypt, God had promised immunity from the death angel to every family who slew a lamb and sprinkled its blood on the doorposts and lintels of its house. All who were under the blood would be secure. It is entirely likely that the Israelites differed in the degree of peace and joy they felt that night. Possibly some families anxiously huddled together as the hour of the death angels coming drew near. Perhaps others were singing "Glory. Glory, Hallelujah," knowing that they were safe. But all who were under the blood were, as a matter of fact, secure. Just so now: Everyone who turns from sin, makes the surrender of faith, and walks humbly with God, is secure The degree of assurance felt by believers is bound to vary from one to another, but the reality of salvation is not dependent on one's feelings.


This articles if from J. C. Wenger's, A Lay Guide to Romans, copyright 1983 by Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa.

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June 22, 2000