Scripture Reference: Genesis 4:1, Amos 3:2, Romans 8:29-30, Romans 11:2, 1 Corinthians 1:24, 1 Peter 1:20
You've Been Chosen ForeverDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 9, 2008
Selected highlights from this sermon
Our salvation is deeply rooted in God. From eternity past to our eternal futures, God has taken the initiative and worked for our benefit, even sacrificing His own Son for us.
Perhaps no other verse in Scripture exemplifies what He’s done for us throughout eternity better than Romans 8:29-30. A close read reveals that all of the verbs used are past tense – even those yet to come in our future.
This morning we’re going to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool. There’s no shallow water today but we’re going to swim and we’re going to swim with blessing.
I’m going to speak to you today on the topic of God’s relationship to you and your salvation. If you are here today as a teenager, I want you to listen because this is about your ability to understand and to grasp what God has done for us in Christ. If you are an older Christian, you are going to rejoice because you may already know this. If you are a new Christian, you will be standing in wonder about the glorious salvation that God has given to us. And if you are not a Christian, or you are a seeker, and you don’t think that you’re going to be interested, be sure to listen, because at the end of this message I’m going to give you hope, and I’m going to give you the best news that you will ever hear, because the best news that you will ever hear will never come from Washington. The best news you will hear is that which comes from the Word of God, applied by the Spirit of God, designed to transform your life, so listen carefully because you are listening to that which God has written in His Word.
The text of Scripture is Romans 8:28, and by the way, if you missed the last message, I encourage you to get a copy of it because this message follows it in sequence. This is number five, by the way, in a series entitled Children of an Awesome God from the eighth chapter of the book of Romans. So take your Bibles and turn to Romans 8, and today, as perhaps never before, it is so important that you have an open Bible. You have to see it in order to believe it.
Now, in Romans 8:28, the Bible says that all things work together for good, and last time we learned how God takes things that aren’t good, because much that happens to us isn’t good. Much that happens to us is evil but God takes that which is even evil and He never changes evil into good, but He does use evil to work together for good to them that love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. Last time we learned how that even the worst of circumstances can become our servants if we respond to them correctly.
Now the promise of Romans 8:28 is limited to people who love God and to those who are the called according to his purpose, and now verse 29 begins with the word for. Notice it carefully. What he is saying is that we can be sure that all things work together for good to them that love God because or for - and now he begins to go into the interesting subject of all that God does for those who believe in Jesus Christ, and are members of a very select company. And now he begins.
Look at the text there in verse 29. There are five verbs that are listed in the text, each of which should be underlined in your own personal Bible. It says in verse 29, “For those whom he foreknew (there’s the first verb) he predestined (that’s verb number two) 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 (that’s number three), and those whom he called he justified (that’s number four), and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Five verbs in these two verses describe what God has done in order to save you.
Let me give you a couple of preliminary thoughts. First of all, notice that this is what commentators have called the golden chain with five links, because each of these verbs is linked together. The group that God starts out with—those whom He foreknows—they are the very ones that He ends up with, those whom He glorifies. There’s no slippage in the process. So the five verbs are linked together in a golden chain, beginning in eternity past and going forth to eternity future.
Notice also that God is the one who acts. He is the subject of these five verbs. It is God who foreknows. It is God who calls. It is God who justifies. God is the one who is acting, and you and I are the ones that He is acting upon. God is the subject and we are the objects. We are the beneficiaries of these five incredible verbs.
Notice also that all the verbs are in the past tense. I love this. You notice He says He foreknew them, He called them, He justified them and He glorified them. It’s a done deal. God says, “It’s a finished process.” They are in the past tense.
All of that by way of introduction, and thank you to those of you who are sitting in the front row because I can see that some of you have your Bibles open, and some of you in the balcony, you found the Bible, and now is the time to listen. Yes, it is deep, but the deeper you go, the deeper and the greater your blessing. It’s a promise. When we have finished this message, if God fulfills the prayer that I’ve had, you’re going to worship in a way that perhaps you have not worshipped before. Your pride is going to be crushed in the presence of God and I hope that you will be able to say, “Wow, I didn’t know He did all this for me.” Are you ready now for the five verbs? How many of you say, “Pastor Lutzer, I’m ready now for the five verbs.” Those of you who didn’t raise your hands, you need to listen even more carefully. All right, that’s the deal. Let’s plunge in.
First of all, we know, by the way, that all things work together for good. You say, “Well, how do we know?” We know because our salvation is so deeply rooted in God. That’s how come we know, and now let’s begin.
It says, “For those whom He foreknew.” You know from time to time people say to me, “Oh Pastor Lutzer, do you believe in the doctrine of election?” I always smile when they ask that question. I say, “Of course I believe in the doctrine of election. All Christians believe in the doctrine of election and predestination.” If you don’t believe in election and predestination you either are not saved or you’ve not read the Bible because it’s there, and it’s in many places of Scripture. Of course all Christians believe. It’s the interpretation that some give it that is the cause of differences. So what I want us to do as we go through these five verbs is to simply lay aside all of the pre-ideas that we have as to what we think it should say, or what we think God could not have said. Let’s just take and put all that aside. All of you motor boaters, shut off your motor. You know the motor boaters who say, “Yeah, but, but, but, but, but, but.” Quiet your engines. Put your gun away. Let’s just go into this text and see what it says, and then we’ll deal with some of the implications. And when it’s over those of you who are not part of this inner circle you’ll be taught as to how you can become a part of it. We’ll get to that, but let us just rejoice in what God has done.
“Those whom He foreknew” – verb number one. Now the average Christian thinks this: Because the Bible talks about those who are chosen or those who are elected, the average Christian thinks, “Oh, see, there it is. What God did is He saw into the future, and He saw who would believe on Him, and on that basis He elected them to eternal life. And you see, because He knows all things, He foreknew those who would believe, and it’s the basis upon which they were saved or elected.” Well, that’s a nice idea but it’s not taught in the Bible. The word foreknowledge does not mean simply to know ahead of time. Of course, God foreknows who’s going to believe. He foreknows all things because He’s omniscient, but that’s not what is being taught here. The word foreknowledge as it is used in this context and used elsewhere in the Bible invariably means to fore-love. It means to have a relationship with. Even way back in the Garden of Eden when it says that Adam knew his wife, it wasn’t a matter of intellectual knowledge. It was a relationship, and that’s the way the word is used throughout Scripture. The Bible says in Amos, “You only have I known,” God says of Israel. You only have I known of all the families of the earth. No wonder some translations simply translate it, “You only have I chosen from all the families of the earth.”
Obviously God knows all the other families in the sense of His omniscience. That’s not what is meant. Now your Bible is open. Turn to Romans 11:2. Paul is talking about the Jews and he says in verse 2, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” Well, obviously if you’re talking simply about God’s omniscience, He knows all the nations of the earth. He means God has not rejected His people whom He fore-chose and fore-loved. And that’s the way Peter uses the word too. First Peter 1:20 says that Jesus was foreknown from before the foundation of the world. Well didn’t God, in terms of intellectual knowledge, know all people from before the foundation of the world? No wonder the NIV simply translates it, “He was chosen from all the people of the world.”
Now here’s the bottom line. There is no instance in the New Testament where the Bible talks about foreknowledge regarding future events. It only speaks about the foreknowledge of people. In a sense we have to go back to Ephesians 1 where the Bible clearly says that we were chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. I am amazed at the amount of ink that writers have sometimes dedicated to trying to explain the two things that that verse says, namely that God made the choice and it was made from before the foundation of the world. The bottom line is this: The reason that you believed in Jesus is not because God foresaw that you would believe, even though, bless God, He knows all things and He did foresee who would believe, but it was based on God’s choice—those whom He foreknew. It is what God did for us, and this knowledge of God, this idea of God about you, has existed from all of eternity.
Do you realize that you existed as a loved one in God’s mind for as long as God has existed, namely from all of eternity, because God never learns anything new? Has it ever dawned on you that nothing has ever dawned on God? There was never a time when God said, “Well, yeah, you know I didn’t know about that person, but now I’m working him into my schedule.” You were in God’s heart, fore-loved from before the foundation of the world.
All right—those that He foreknew. You’ll notice that the text says He predestined this group. Very clearly it’s the same group. He predestined them. What does it mean? It means to predetermine. Literally it means to mark out beforehand. It was a word that was sometimes used by surveyors. For example, the city of Washington, D.C., was worked out by surveyors before the buildings were built. That’s why you have Pennsylvania Avenue going up to the Capitol building and going past in the direction of the White House. It was all worked out ahead of time.
In the very same way God mapped out ahead of time what He wanted you to be, namely to be conformed to the image of His Son so that you might be the firstborn, or that Jesus might be the firstborn among many brethren. God says, “I have one Son. I want more sons and daughters and I will redeem some for myself,” and that was mapped out and that was His intention for you. You say, “Well what does God have in mind for me?” Well, there it is in the text—to be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the firstborn among many, many, many brothers and sisters.
So He predestined you. It’s a perfectly good word, used many times in the New Testament, especially for those who are chosen.
Third, you’ll notice that the next word is called. I pointed out last time that in verse 28 when it says, “To those are the called according to his purpose,” this is not the external call. This is not the call to everyone to believe on Jesus, and we always give that call, and we’re going to be giving that call at the end of this message, but that’s not the call that Paul has in mind here. It is the inner call of the individual drawn by God who responds to Christ. You say, “Well, does Paul use the word call in that inward sense elsewhere?” Oh yes, he does. In I Corinthians 1:24 notice Paul says, “We preach Christ to the Jews a stumbling block, to the Greeks foolishness.” In other words, we preach to everyone. “But to those who are called by God among the Jews and the Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” This is the inward call. It’s what you sensed when you knew that you had to receive Jesus Christ as Savior, and God overcame your blindness, overcame your stubbornness, overcame your resistance, overcame your great propensity for self-protection, and you finally acknowledged that you needed a Savior. That was the call of God.
Now, let’s just get blessed by this. In eternity past He foreknew you. In eternity past He predestined you that you would become a member of God’s family that Jesus would be the firstborn among many, and now you had to be born, you had to hear the Gospel, and that’s when the calling took place. The calling took place when you believed on Christ. The inward call of the Gospel is an effectual call. If God calls somebody, they respond. When Jesus was at the tomb of Lazarus and He said, “Lazarus, come forth,” Lazarus didn’t say, “Well, Jesus, I’m not sure whether or not I want to.” Jesus said, “I didn’t ask you. Come forth,” and Lazarus came forth.
You say, “Oh, but does God override the human will?” Of course not! What God does is He works in our hearts to change our disposition so we do exactly what we want to do and in doing what we want to do we are responding to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We think it’s our decision and it is, but behind that decision is God because no man can come except the Father drag him, the Bible says. So that’s the call.
Now those whom He called He justified. We’re going down and we’re looking at the verbs. He justified. Justification is so critical that I’m not going to comment much on it here because I have an entire sermon coming up on it when we get to verse 33. “Who shall say anything against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” But if you don’t understand justification, if you do not properly get a handle on justification by faith and what justification means, you cannot, in my opinion, live a confident, God-filled life unless you understand it.
But let me give you just a little indication. It is not just forgiveness. It is forgiveness, but it is so much more. Imagine this. Imagine that when you came to Christ all that God did was forgive you. So if that’s all that happened, the next time you sinned where would you be? “Oh, you know God forgave me, and now I sinned and I confessed my sins, and God forgives me again, but where do I really stand when I do sin? Do I have a permanent relationship with God or is it just based on when I’m forgiven and when I’m not forgiven?” Oh no, no, it is so much more. It is God declaring you to be as righteous as Christ, and I’m going to say something to shock you. If all that He did was forgive you when you came to Christ, you’d never make it to heaven, because forgiving you does not make you perfect and you can’t get into heaven unless you are as perfect as God. If you are not as perfect as God, forget it. Wives, look at your husbands. Say to them, “Husband, forget it.” All right? You know he’s not perfect. None of us is, but God credits us with the righteousness of Christ, and says, “I count you as perfect as Jesus.” That’s how we get into heaven, and that’s what justification is all about. Those whom He called He justified, and then those whom he justified—oh, I love this—He glorified.
God said, “It’s a completed deal. The group that I justified is the group that in my book is glorified.” As I say, the verbs are in the best tense. Be blessed by this, folks. We have some members on the church staff who are Bears fans, and you know the Bears usually play on Sunday afternoons, and the pastoral staff is here Sunday afternoons doing counseling, meeting with people and so forth, so they can’t see the games, so do you know what they do? I shouldn’t tell on them but they have these VCRs and they set the VCR and now they even have something I’ve never seen called TIVO. I don’t know what in the world that is. Remember I’m the kind of guy that my VCR flashed 12 noon for about two years before I got it fixed. So what they do is they videotape the game, and then they don’t want to know what the score is even though the game is over because they want to go home and watch the game, and they want to watch the game and they want to go through all that excitement, and if they knew the score in advance it just robs them of all of the anticipation.
One day the Bears were playing a playoff game, and it was after the evening service, and somebody came to me and whispered the score in my ear. This was somebody else who had watched it. So now I’m leaving the church, or preparing to, and one of these staff members walks by me and I said to him, “Hey, do you want to know what the score is?” and he said, “Oh no, no, don’t tell me the score. It’ll ruin it.” I thought to myself later if I had just told him that the Bears lost he could have gone home and spent two or three hours with his wife and children rather than watching it. Right? [laughter]
You see, to us there is anticipation when the game is played because we don’t know how it’s going to come out. You know what God says? It seems to us in life today that we’re playing with the devil and he sometimes seems to be getting one touchdown after another and we can’t even kick a field goal and get it between the posts, and we wonder, “Where are you, God?” Do you know what God says? He says, “When the final, final playoff game is played, when everything is at stake, I have already recorded the score in heaven, and the score is Jesus one-hundred, and all of His enemies zero. Alright? [applause]
And then God says, “And all those who trust in Jesus win along with Him.” So because I already know that He has won, as far as I’m concerned those who belong to Him have won too. Those whom He has justified He has glorified. It’s a done deal for you, my friend. [applause]
I’m sorry, but I love this. Is anybody else out there being blessed? [applause] The Bible says that God calls those things which are not as if they are. That’s why Isaiah 53 was written in the past tense. Hundreds of years later Jesus was to die, and how does Isaiah write it? “He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities.” What do you mean, Isaiah, He was? It hasn’t happened yet. God says, “It’s happened.” It’s a done deal. Those whom He justified, He glorified.
What do we make of all this? There are a couple of transforming lessons that should leave us rejoicing in God, and then for those of you who don’t feel that you’re a part of the inner circle, hang around. I’ve got something for you.
First of all, God ends with the same number that He began with. Those who are foreknown are the same ones who are predestined, and clearly in the text, the predestined ones are the justified ones, and the called ones and the glorified ones. The very same that He begins with, He ends with. Nobody falls between the cracks when it comes to God’s purposes. You know the Bible says in John 10 that Jesus is the good shepherd. What would you think of a shepherd who is given a hundred sheep in the morning and he’s supposed to bring them all back to the fold by evening, and he comes back in the evening and he’s got 92. The other shepherds say, “What is this? You were given a hundred in the morning. Now you have 92. What happened to the other eight?” “Well, you just don’t understand how stubborn they were, and furthermore, they have free will, and you know I’m not going to intervene with a free will. I mean, you know, here’s a sheep that takes a wrong path, and you know you have to respect their free will.”
Come on. I don’t care how rebellious the sheep are. I don’t care what their wills are. If you were given a hundred sheep in the morning, if you are a good shepherd, you have a hundred sheep safely in the fold by evening. All right? God bless you. [applause] Of course God ends with the same number He begins with. If you read the Gospel of John over and over again (possibly twenty or thirty times), the elect are referred to as “those whom thou has given me” six times in John’s Gospel. “I pray for those whom thou has given me for they are thine; those whom thou has given me that they may see their face.” You see, the Father gave the Son these people (these sheep) as a gift. He’s going to carry them safely all the way home. This verse will take you all the way to heaven if you’ve been foreknown, and in a few moments I’m going to tell you how you can find out. It’s all good today.
Secondly, God gets the purpose He longs for, and that is to bring many sons and daughters into glory. This was His desire. In the book of Hebrews, it tells us about His desire, and that’s why it says that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers. He calls us His brothers and sisters. God says, “I want to see all of these people glorified along with him,” and that’s why Jesus said, “To him who overcomes I shall grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I overcame and sat with my Father on his throne. I want you to participate with Me. I want you to belong to Me.” The very throne of Jesus—it’s too much for me to grasp, but God gets exactly what He wants.
Is there any chance that the purpose of God will be thwarted? The answer of course is no, and God has a desire for those who belong to Him, and that desire will be fulfilled. If you want to know where you’re going to end, you’re going to end up in this life being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and the life to come reigning and ruling with Him, and God gets that. By the way, there’s no room here for pride. It is not as though we’re worthy. This is undeserved, incredible, unbelievable grace, and if there’s anything that should humble us it should be the fact that we think we chose Christ.
At the age of fourteen I thought I received Christ, and I did. I did respond to Christ, but it was only later that I began to realize it’s because of God’s grace toward me to my heart, and I was choosing Christ because Christ chose me. Wow! Praise God. God gets what He wants. There’s no room for pride. It’s all of grace.
Finally, God enables us to know whether we are among the foreknown. See there’s somebody who is saying, “Oh, yeah, but I don’t know. If I’m chosen, I’m chosen. If I’m not chosen, then I’m not chosen. Que Sera Sera.” That’s not where the Apostle Paul went, and that’s not where you should go, and that’s not where Jesus went. The fact that the Apostle Paul knew this did not stop him from church planting and giving his life for the cause of the Gospel because he knew this, that God had many people in certain cities. In fact, God told him one time to not preach there because I’ve got many people, and it says that those that were ordained unto eternal life believed. So Paul gave his life to the proclamation of the Gospel and you and I have to give our lives to the proclamation of the Gospel too.
And those of you who feel as if you’re on the outside looking in, you say, “Well how can I know whether I’m foreknown?” I’m going to tell you right now. The Bible says, “As many as received him, to them he gives the authority to become the children of God, even to those who believe on his name.” If, while I am talking to you, you have this desire to believe in Christ and you want to believe, that is God’s gift to you, and I encourage you to respond to that gift because you would not even have that desire were it not for God working in your heart. Therefore, I urge you, as I urge you every single Sunday when I preach from this pulpit, to believe on Jesus, and when you believe on him and receive Him you will be accepted, and you will then know that you belong to God.
How does this work? First of all, it usually works with a sense of conviction of sin, where you have this conviction that you have sinned and that you can’t manage your sin anymore. You have to give up the idea of managing it. What you really need is forgiveness. What you need is justification, and then you see the beauty of Jesus. Up until that time you couldn’t have cared less about Jesus, but right now Jesus is becoming precious to you because you are in the process of being drawn by God, and in the process of being drawn by Him, God is granting you the opportunity and the ability to believe.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, do you preach whosoever will?” Absolutely whosoever will. The invitation is to everyone, but even as I preach I know that there will be some people who are indifferent and there will be some people who are drawn. You know, Dwight L. Moody, who founded our church, that great evangelist who holds with Billy Graham the distinction of being the most famous Evangelist in the world (and I am just absolutely overblown by the tens of thousands of people who received Christ under Moody’s ministry—what a gifted man), struggled with this doctrine of election as I have preached it. His friend in England, Charles Spurgeon, tried to convince him that this is indeed what the Bible teaches, and it’s totally consistent, but Moody always thought to himself that somehow if you believed this as the Bible teaches it, that it will diminish the “whosoever of the Gospel,” but of course it won’t—not at all. Whosoever will may come. If you will, you may come, and so in honor of D.L. Moody I would like to give you a paragraph of a message he preached which is my feeling exactly, because there are some of you who are listening who think to yourself, “Well you know, I don’t know if God can receive me because I’m too great a sinner.” Hey, if you think that, you are one of the great candidates in whose heart God is working. I encourage you to follow that line of thought until you realize that you may be a big sinner, but we have a great Savior for you. [applause] Amen.
So this is what Moody said at the end of a message, and I plead with you. I wish I were a D.L. Moody. I’m not, but at least I can read what he said and trust the Holy Spirit to lead it into your heart and grant you the grace to respond to Christ. This is what he said.
A young man told me last night that he was too great a sinner to be saved. Why, they are the very men Christ came after. The Bible says that this man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. The only charge that they could bring against Christ down here was that he was receiving bad men. They are the very kind of men he is willing to receive. All that you’ve got to do is to prove that you’re a sinner, and I will prove that I have a Savior, and the greater the sinner (Don’t you love this?), the greater the need of a Savior. You say your heart is hard. Well, then of course, Christ wants to soften it, but you can’t do it yourself. The harder your heart, the more you have need of Christ. If your sins rise up before you like a dark mountain, bear in mind that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. There is no sin, big or small or so corrupt or so vile that the blood of Jesus Christ can cover it. So I preach the old Gospel again. The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
If you today are listening to this, and you know who you are, don’t you? You may be listening on the Internet, maybe by radio, maybe by iPod, whatever. If there is within you the desire to believe, pursue it. Come to Christ now. Receive Him and He’ll receive you, and you will know that you, too, were foreknown in eternity past.
That’s it folks. Let’s pray.
Our Father, today we just have to say that we are staggered at the fact that salvation was such a great priority that we were loved and foreknown by You for as long as You existed, and we were in Your mind, and then that You would wait until we’re born on Planet Earth and hear the Gospel so that we could be called. We thank You today, Father, and thank You that we’re glorified. Thank You that our names are already, Your Word says, written in heaven before the foundation of the world, but now I pray for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior. They’ve listened to this and maybe they are resentful at Your sovereignty. Humble them and show them that unless they accept the Christ who is presented in Scripture, they cannot be saved. Draw them, Father, to Yourself, but it’s all in Your hands. There’s nothing that I can do. It’s Your Spirit and the Word that does the work.
Before I close this prayer, if you’ve never received Christ as Savior, why don’t you bow your head right now where you are and say, “Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner. I see today the beauty of Jesus, and the fact that He justifies sinners. I receive that gift of justification by faith. Grant me the assurance that I belong to You forever.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.