How do you respond to Romans 8:29-30?

Question: Romans 8:29–30 says that everyone God foreknew he predestined. You deny both that God foreknows and predestines individual believers. So this verse seems to refute your open view.

Answer: First, as many exegetes have noted, the sort of “knowing” Paul intends in this passage is not merely intellectual knowledge, but rather an intimate affection. Two chapters later when Paul refers to God’s people (Israel) “whom he foreknew” (Rom. 11:2), he does not mean to say that God knew about these people (as opposed to all other people) ahead of time. Paul is rather saying that God loved these people ahead of time.

Now, although God fore-loved the nation of Israel, there were still individuals within this corporate whole who clearly rejected God’s love for them (e.g. Saul, Judas), as well as individuals outside this corporate whole who chose to receive God’s love for them (e.g. Rahab, Ruth). So the fore-love spoken of in this passage is toward the class of people who keep covenant with him. Individuals can choose to either align themselves with this class of fore-loved people or not.

The same sort of thing is going on in Romans 8:29. God’s affection is set ahead of time on the class of people who will enter in covenant with God through Christ. The text does not imply that God loves certain individuals ahead of time but not others. And the text certainly doesn’t imply that God foreknows who will and will not choose to be in Christ ahead of time. In fact, any attempt to use this text to prove that God foreknows future free acts actually backfires, for the “foreknowledge” Paul speaks about is limited. Paul says “those who God foreknew he predestined…” This implies there are others God did not foreknow.

Nor can this passage be used to support that idea that God predestines who will and will not be in Christ. Read the text carefully. What is predestined is not who will be in or out, but what will happen to all who are in. They will eventually be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and glorified. God predestines the consequence of the choice to be in Christ or not, but he doesn’t predestine the choice itself. Scripture is clear that God wants every person to put their trust in his Son, and through his Spirit God empowers us toward this end (2 Pet. 3:9).

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