The Golden Chain
July 11, 1993
This is the passage that explains Romans 8:28. That verse is true because these verses are true. Without this passage, Romans 8:28 is just wishful thinking.
When you look at Romans 8:28, one question comes to mind. “Paul, how can you be so sure?” Paul says, “We know.” To which we answer, “Paul, if you could walk where I walk, you wouldn’t say ’I know’ because you wouldn’t be sure.” How do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all things that are happening to you are somehow in God’s plan working together for good?
Thankfully we don’t have to wonder about the answer to that question because the Apostle Paul, after he gives us that amazing statement in verse 28, tells us how he knows that all things really work together for good. Verses 29-30 tell us why verse 28 must be true. To say it another way, if verses 29 and 30 aren’t true, then verse 28 isn’t true either.
Five Links in the Chain
“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. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” I want you to circle or underline five words in this text:
Those five words make up the golden chain of your salvation. It is a golden chain of five links. The chain begins in heaven, moves down to earth, then moves back to heaven again. These five words comprehend the entire work of God on your behalf. No other statement in the Bible so comprehensively contains what God is doing to accomplish your salvation. He begins in eternity past and finishes in eternity future. To say it another way, your salvation begins in heaven, comes to earth, and ends up in heaven.
Your salvation begins with the first link—foreknowledge. That’s the link that starts in heaven. Then we come to predestination. That’s the link that brings us down to earth. Then we come to calling. That’s the link where you are hooked onto the chain. Justification is the link that takes you back up to heaven. Glorification is the link that secures your eternal place in heaven. Those five things are the five links in the chain of your salvation. They are true of every believer. They are true only of believers. If you are a believer, these five links in the chain explain God’s plan from eternity past to eternity future to accomplish your salvation. It’s because these five things are true that we know beyond any doubt that all things indeed work together for good.
Link # 1: Foreknowledge
This is the most important of the five words; it’s also the most difficult to understand. Let me say that differently. It is the one that is most often misunderstood. In both English and in Greek the word foreknowledge is actually made up of two words that are joined together. The word is made up of two smaller words—knowledge and before. In its simplest form, the word means “to know something before it happens.”
There are two kinds of foreknowledge. One is human foreknowledge and the other is God’s foreknowledge. It’s important for us to understand the difference. Human foreknowledge is the ability to know what’s going to happen before it happens because it’s always happened that way before, therefore you’re pretty sure it’s going to happen that way again. For instance, I know the sun is going to rise tomorrow morning. That’s foreknowledge based on past experience. It’s always happened before, so it’s very likely to happen that way tomorrow. Or you might say it’s hot today, but I know its going to be cold in January. That’s a pretty good bet for Chicago. That’s foreknowledge based on past experience. Or you may say, I know there are only 30 seconds left, but if we can only get the ball to MJ, he can get it in the hoop and win this game. That’s foreknowledge based on past experience.
Now there’s a second kind of foreknowledge. It’s God’s foreknowledge, which is entirely different. God’s foreknowledge is his divine ability to know what is going to happen before it happens because he intends to make it happen. We see this in a limited way in our own experience. For instance, you may say, “When church is over at noon, I’m going to go home and I’m going to eat lunch. I know that. In fact, I know I’m going to have roast beef.” How do you know that? You know it because you have determined that you will do it. You aren’t guessing or theorizing. You are really just announcing a personal decision. You know you’re going to have roast beef not only because you know you’re going to have it but because you yourself are going to prepare it. But there is a limit to that kind of foreknowledge. Something could happen to change your plans. You could pass out in the service and end up in the hospital. Someone could say “Let’s go out to the Bohemian Crown for lunch.” You could have a wreck on the way home. Lots of things could happen. So even though you think you know what’s going to happen, you can’t totally control the future.
God is not like that. God’s foreknowledge doesn’t simply mean that he knows by looking down the corridors of history what’s going to happen because he’s God and he can see what’s going to happen. That’s true, but it doesn’t go far enough. God knows what’s going to happen because he is sovereign over all the earth. He reigns over all creation. He knows what is going to happen because he either directly causes it or gives his permission for it to happen. Every event in the universe falls under one of those two categories—directly caused or divinely permitted.
Knowing = Loving = Choosing
We’ve got to add something else at this point: The word “knowledge” in the Bible means more than mere mental cognition. It is not simply the ability to know some facts. The word “know,” especially in the Old Testament, has the idea of “knowing intimately.” It means “to know with affection, to know in a loving way.” For instance, we’re told in the Old Testament that “Adam knew Eve” (Genesis 4:1, NKJV). Now that doesn’t mean that he simply knew who she was. That means that Adam knew Eve in the deepest, most loving, most personal and intimate way. In Amos 3:2 God says to Israel, “You alone have I known of all the families of the earth.” (NKJV) What does that mean? He doesn’t know who the other nations are? No, this is God speaking. He knows the names of all the nations. It means that he knows Israel in an affectionate, loving, purposeful sense, in a way that he does not know the other nations. That’s why the New International Version translates the same phrase as, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.” In this context, to know is to choose.
When you apply it to salvation, to say God foreknew you means that God fore-loved you. He not only knew you before you were born, he loved you before you were born. Before the world was created, he not only knew he was going to create you, he knew he was going to love you. He loved you before you loved him. He chose you before you chose him. He sought you before you sought him. He found you before you found him. Love begins not with us but with God. Even before Christ came, he knew you and he loved you.
It’s like an expectant mother who loves her child before it is born. While the baby is growing inside her, she prays for the baby, she sings to the baby, she pats her tummy and talks to the baby. She has a relationship with her child before her child even knows who she is. Or you might think of parents who are adopting a child. They can truly say to that child, “Before you knew us, we knew you. Before you loved us, we loved you. Before you chose us, we chose you.” And in the very same way, God loved you first, sought you first, chose you first. Salvation begins with God.
Charles Spurgeon, the great British preacher of the last century, said, “I’m glad God chose me before he saw me, because if he had waited until he saw me, he might not have wanted me.” God didn’t wait to see if you were going to be pretty or not. He didn’t wait to see if you were going to be nice or not. He didn’t wait to see if you met his specifications. He loved you before you came into this world. The first link in your chain of salvation is foreknowledge: His purposeful loving choice of you.
Link # 2: Predestination
This is a hard word, one that scares many people. But there is no reason to be frightened about predestination. It’s a thoroughly biblical doctrine. “For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that Jesus might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Predestination is another long word made up of two shorter words: Pre + Destination. What is a destination? It is the final stop. It’s where your trip is going to end. If you set out on a vacation, you’ve got a destination in mind before you leave. You’re going to Wisconsin or you’re going to New Orleans or Washington or Texas. The prefix “pre” means before. So what does it mean to predestinate something? It means to decide beforehand where you are going to end up. It means to decide beforehand where the journey is going to end.
When you board a plane, you know where it’s going. If the schedule says “San Francisco,” you expect to land in San Francisco. But suppose the pilot says, “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a choice of seven destinations: San Francisco, Omaha, Birmingham, Vermont, Raleigh, Sheboygan, or Seattle. Let’s spin the wheel and see where we’re going to go.” You’d be jumping off that plane because you want a plane that’s predestined to go exactly where it is supposed to go.
I Don’t Want to Go to Havana
On Wednesday morning our Haiti team is going to be getting on a plane at Midway Airport. We’re flying to Miami and switching planes for the flight to Haiti. Now I’m no expert on flying, but I know this much. If they say the plane is going to land in Miami, that’s where we’d better be when the plane lands. If we land in New Orleans, I’m going to be very upset. But if we get off the plane and we’re in Havana, I’m going to be upset and scared to death. Because I’m getting on a plane that is predestinated to go from Chicago to Miami and nowhere else.
Our text is saying that God has predestinated you to reach a certain destination. What is the destination he has set for you? God has predestined that you would someday be like Jesus Christ. We will one day be conformed to the image of Christ. The word “conformed” means to be shaped or molded. God is determined that one day you will look like Jesus.
“Ray, You’re Not There Yet”
That’s a long journey. For most of us, it takes a lifetime to get there. I have been reminded a couple of times this week about how far short I personally fall from being like Jesus. If that’s the destination, there have been a couple of days this week where I’ve felt like I’ve been moving backwards. Some dear friends pointed out some things in my life that need to be changed. They said, “Ray, you’re not there yet. You’re not even really close.” It’s always humbling to face your own failure, your own shortcomings, and the weakness of your own life. If I didn’t believe in the sovereignty of God, I would despair. I must say, if it depended on Ray Pritchard, I’d quit right now. There are days where it seems the car is driving over the cliff, days when you feel like you’re going down a cul-de-sac, days that you feel like you’ve crashed, days where you feel that the car is going backwards, in reverse, 100 miles an hour.
On those days—and all of us will have them—you’ve got to remember that it is God’s will for you and me to be like Jesus Christ. On those days when we feel like we’re falling short, we’ve got to remember that God has taken personal responsibility to see that we one day look like Jesus. If it depended on me, if it depended on you, it would never happen.
I think we could say it this way. God has predestined every Christian to three particular things. Number one, you are predestined to go to heaven. If you are a believer, you are predestined to go to heaven. Number two, if you are a believer, you are predestined to be like Jesus when you get there. Number three, if you are a believer, you are predestined to be part of God’s great eternal family over which Jesus reigns as the exalted Head. When we finally get to heaven, and when we finally look like Jesus, in that day the Lord Jesus Christ will be exalted as the firstborn among many brethren and we, his blood brothers and sisters, will forever praise and worship him as the exalted head of the redeemed family of the people of God. Between now and then, God is shaping us by all that happens to us into the image of Jesus Christ. That includes our suffering, that includes our moral character, and one day it’s going to include our future glory.
Link # 3: Calling
“Those he predestined, he also called.” There are two kinds of calling in the Bible: The general call and the specific call. The general call is the call to salvation that goes out to all people everywhere. It is universal and non-discriminatory. It is the invitation that God gives to the whole race. “Come and trust my son Jesus Christ.” The general call is related to verses like Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation,” John 3:16, “For God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That is the general call of God. That call is given to everybody. It may be accepted or it may be rejected or resisted.
That’s not the call that Paul is talking about here. This verse speaks of the specific, personal, inward call of the Holy Spirit whereby the Holy Spirit calls and woos you and wins you and draws you to Jesus Christ. It’s the saving call of God. Theologians call it the effectual call. It’s the invitation which also gives you the ability to respond.
“Lazarus, Come Forth!”
Let me see if I can explain the difference between the two calls. Think of the story of Jesus raising Lazarus. Lazarus has been dead for four days but Jesus hasn’t arrived yet. So you in desperation go to the mouth of the tomb where Lazarus is buried, and you cry out to your dear friend, “Lazarus, come forth! Don’t you understand, we want you back! We need you! Oh, Lazarus, we miss you so much. If only you would get up and come to us, we would gladly welcome you back. Lazarus! Please come back to us!” Inside the tomb lies a dead man. His ears cannot hear. His eyes cannot see. His lips cannot speak. His limbs cannot move. Though you shout, he does not respond. What’s the matter? Doesn’t Lazarus love us? Doesn’t he want to come back to be with us? Have we done something wrong? Why doesn’t he answer our call?
But then Jesus comes and stands in front of the tomb. Jesus opens his mouth and shouts out, “Lazarus, come forth!” Inside the tomb, a stirring. Inside the body that has been dead for four days there is a spark of life. The ears begin to hear again. The eyes begin to see again. The lips begin to speak again. The limbs begin to move again. Lazarus comes back from the dead. Why? The same words were used, but there is a different result when Jesus gives the call. Lazarus hears his Master’s voice and comes back from the dead.
Somebody had said, “Why did Jesus say, ’Lazarus, come forth?’ Why didn’t he simply say, ’Come forth?’” Because if he didn’t say, ’Lazarus, come forth,’ every dead person in the world would have come out of the grave.” He’s the mighty Son of God. When he calls, he not only calls, he gives the ability to respond. What I’m saying is, you didn’t save yourself. You didn’t come to the Lord. He called you first. Salvation doesn’t begin with you. It begins with God.
Link # 4: Justification
This is the link that takes us back to heaven. “Those he called, he also justified.” To justify means “to declare righteous.” Justification is that act whereby God declared you righteous the moment you trust Christ while you are still a sinner on the basis of the death of Christ. That’s a long sentence. It just means that because of your faith in Christ, the righteousness of Christ is credited to your account in heaven while you are still a sinner. As a result, you’re set free. You’re not guilty. The record is wiped clean. You’re not condemned any more. What about faith? Isn’t there a response? Yes. But where does the faith come from? It doesn’t come from man. It is a gift of God. Even the faith to believe the gospel comes as a gift from God in heaven.
Link # 5: Glorification
“Those he justified, he also glorified.” What does it mean to glorify? It means to be clothed with the glory that God himself has. All that heaven has is given to you when you are glorified. Wait a minute. This text is telling us that God not only saves you, he glorifies you. That happens when you die, when you go to heaven, when you’re in the presence in the Lord, and it especially happens when Jesus returns to the earth. Glorification is still in the future for the children of God. It hasn’t happened yet, and it won’t happen as long as you live on this earth. I’m not glorified yet, you’re not either. All of us, even the best of us, are badly unglorified.
But notice the tense of all these verbs: Foreknew, Predestined, Called, Justified, Glorified. They are all in the past tense. But how can “glorified” be in the past tense when the glorification is in the future? How can God speak of our future glorification in the past tense if it hasn’t even happened yet? The answer is this: It is so certain that God speaks of it as past tense even though it is still future to us. In God’s mind past, present, future are all the same, In some sense we can’t fathom, our glorification has already happened. It’s so certain that God can speak of it in the past tense.
Where Did Those T-Shirts Come From?
In a very limited way we see the same principle at work in our own world. Go back to the night the Bulls won the championship in Phoenix. Barely five minutes after the game Bill Cartwright comes out wearing a Three-Peat T-Shirt with all the designs on it. Where did he get that? The game just ended. They didn’t print the T-shirt between the end of the game and the interview in the locker room. No, somebody back here in Chicago was so sure of the Bulls victory, even though it was in the future, they treated it as though it was in the past, and printed those T-shirts because they were certain the Bulls would eventually win. That’s just one way of illustrating the truth that your future glorification is so certain that God speaks of it as if it had already happened.
J. Vernon McGee used to explain it this way. If God foreknew 100 people, then he predestined 100. If God predestined 100, he called 100. If God called 100, he justified 100. If God justified 100, then he glorified 100. It’s not as if God starts out with 1500 people but loses some in the process. It not as if he foreknows 1500, then he predestines 1200, then he calls 800, then he justifies 400, and only has about 60 or 70 left to finally take to heaven. It’s not a declining number. The number is exactly the same throughout. As many as he foreknew in the beginning, exactly that many will he glorify in the end. Dr. McGee says it like this: “The Lord is in heaven counting his sheep. “94 … 95 …96 … 97 … 98 … 99 … McGee, where’s McGee? I can’t find him!” No, it’s not like that. Everyone he foreknows, everyone he predestines, everyone he calls, everyone he justifies—all of them will eventually be glorified. No one will be lost in the process.
Jack Wyrtzen has a wonderful way of saying it: “I’m as sure of heaven as if I’d already been there 10,000 years.” Why? Because it doesn’t rest on me. It doesn’t rest on you. It rests on the word of the eternal God. If God has said he’s going to do it, he will do it. You can book it, you can take it to the bank. What God says he will do, he will do.
This truth is most significant at the graveside of a believer. That’s where you find out what you really believe. Just a few weeks ago, we had a service for Ruth Sprouse. She was 79 years old and came to church every Sunday until her final illness. She told me she was ready to die. She wanted to go see Jesus. I don’t know if I ever talked to anyone near the end who wanted to see Jesus more than Ruth did. We had a beautiful funeral service. At the graveside, I told the family the story of Moses standing before the burning bush, and the voice saying, “Take off your shoes, you are on holy ground.” “I feel like we should take off our shoes because we’re standing on holy ground. This is resurrection territory. It doesn’t look like it today. This cemetery looks like a place of death. But God has said that those who sleep in Jesus will one day wake from their sleep and rise from the dead.” I reminded them that if you’re a Christian you never really say goodbye. Not forever. You just say So long, we’ll see you later. Why? Because we have the promise of God that what he starts he finishes.
Three Concluding Truths
1. Our salvation is a work of God from beginning to end.
The Bible says salvation is of the Lord. Dr. Harry Ironside used to tell the story of an old man, a saint of God, who testified how God had saved him from a life of sin. He told how God had found him at a terrible place, saved him, cleaned him up, justified him, forgiven him, and given him a brand-new life. After the service was done, a legalistic brother said, “Well, my dear brother, you gave a wonderful testimony and gave glory to God. But you left something out. You didn’t talk about your part of salvation. Don’t you know salvation is part us and part God, and you left your part out.” The man who gave his testimony said, “My dear brother, you’re so right. I did leave my part out. My part was to run away from God as fast as I could. God’s part was to run after me until he caught me.” That’s exactly right. We spend our lives running away from God and eventually he catches up to us. Salvation is of the Lord from beginning to end.
2. We are therefore eternally secure since our salvation rests on God and not on us.
We are eternally secure. Those whom God saves, he saves forever. Thank God, salvation is of the Lord. It is not of man. Sometimes young Christians talk as if they are the ones who found the Lord. It’s OK to speak of finding the Lord. It’s a biblical term. Finding the Lord is biblical. But you’ve got to understand the whole picture. He found you long before you found him. Yes, you came to Christ but Christ came to you before you came to him. I’m glad that salvation doesn’t rest on me because if it did, I’d probably lose it or break it or misplace it. But since it depends on God, we will keep it forever.
3. Since that is true, we have confidence that God will complete his work in us no matter how difficult our present circumstances may be.
If you are going through difficult circumstances, remember this: God will not be defeated in your life. He will not be defeated. God will finish what he starts in your life. You may be a single mom, you may be out of a job, you may not have a lot of money, you may be in a difficult place, but God will complete his work in you.
The five links in the golden chain are meant to give you one thing: Complete assurance of your salvation. Somebody once said it this way. There will be three surprises when we get to heaven. Number one, we’re going to be surprised that some people are there that we didn’t expect to see there. Number two, we’re going to be surprised that some people aren’t there that we were sure were going to be there. Number three, the greatest surprise of all will be that we ourselves are there.
We will be surprised by the grace of God! Heaven will be so much greater than we had imagined, and Christ himself so wonderful, that we will marvel that God would save people like us. The grace of God—which seems so great now—will seem much greater then. When we finally get to heaven, we will appreciate our salvation much more than we do now.
That leads me to this question. Are you going to be there? If you died tonight, would you go to heaven? Are you sure? Perhaps you’ve been running from God and now at last he has found you. If you are not sure about your salvation, and if you would like to be sure, may I lead you in a simple prayer? I want you to be sure that if you die today or tomorrow or in 50 years, you’re going to go to heaven. The prayer goes like this:
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner. I know I cannot save myself. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Thank you for taking my sins away. Thank you for taking my place. Thank you for rising from the dead. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and save me. I receive you now as my Lord and Savior. Help me to be the kind of person you want me to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Father in heaven, you have assured us that no matter what happens, you have our best interests at heart. Thank you that our salvation is eternally secure. Thank you that you started in eternity past with a determination that one day we would be with you in heaven. O Lord, our hope is in you alone. Spirit of God, make us like Jesus this week. We pray in his name, Amen.