God’s Golden Chain
By David Feddes
Imagine for a moment that you’re stuck, really stuck. You somehow got your vehicle into some deep mud, and you got bogged down. You gun the engine several times, trying to get out, but your wheels just spin and sink deeper. You’re stuck, and there’s no way to get yourself out.
Then just as you’re shaking your head and wondering what to do next, a truck pulls up. It’s a four-wheel drive. You see the big tires; you hear the engine growl: “Rrrooom, Rrrrooom.” Yes! This is exactly what you need. The driver of the truck hops out and says, “Need some help?” And you say, “Do I ever!”
The driver reaches into his truck and grabs a paper chain. He hands one end of the paper chain to you, along with a piece of tape, and he says, “Here, tape this end to your vehicle, and I’ll tape the other end to my truck.”
Now how do you feel? Can you count on that paper chain to pull you out? Of course not! The truck may have a four-wheel drive, big tires, and a powerful engine, but if your only connection to it is a paper chain, it doesn’t matter how strong the truck is.
You need a strong connection.
If you’re stuck in mud, you don’t just need something with enough power to pull you out; you also need a strong connection to that power. That’s also true spiritually. If you’re stuck in the mud of sin, you need something with enough power to pull you out and you need a strong connection.
Jesus has more than enough power to pull you and me out of the sin we sink into. Jesus’ blood poured out on the cross has astonishing power to rescue from sin, and his resurrection from the dead has infinite life-giving power. But as great as the power of Jesus is, it won’t help us, it won’t pull us out of our mess, unless we’re connected to Jesus by an unbreakable chain.
Is there any such chain? Yes, thank God, there is. It’s not a paper chain strung together from our own flimsy efforts. It’s a chain in which each link has been forged by God himself. In Romans 8:29-30 the Bible says, “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.” Foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified–these are all links in “the golden chain of our salvation,” as one historic statement of faith puts it (Canons of Dort).
When you look at Romans 8:29-30, you don’t have to be a grammar expert to see who does everything. God foreknew; God predestined; God called; God justified; God glorified. God is the subject of all these verbs. God is the one who does it all.
You see, God didn’t just send Jesus to die and rise again and then hope that somebody might somehow link up with Jesus. God wasn’t about to let the final effect of his Son’s death and resurrection depend on a flimsy chain of what we decide to do. No, God decided to forge the chain himself, an unbreakable chain that links sinful people to an all-powerful Savior.
Let’s look at God’s golden chain in more detail.
Let’s begin with the words, “Those God foreknew.” God knows everything. He knows every atom and molecule. He knows every thought going through your mind right now. He knows everything that has ever happened in the past; he knows everything that’s happening right now; and even more amazing, he knows everything that’s going to happen in the future. Is that what the Bible means when it speaks of “those God foreknew”? Does it mean God looked into the future and saw the actions and qualities of certain people?
No, it’s true that God knows the future and knows all about everybody long before they are born, but that doesn’t capture what the Bible means when it speaks of those God foreknew. The Bible often speaks of “knowing” in a way that involves more than being aware of some fact. Knowing often means choosing.
For example, in Amos 3:2 God says to his Old Testament people, Israel, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.” The word translated “chosen” is actually just the Hebrew word for known. “You only have I known,” God says to Israel. Does this mean Israel was the only nation God knew anything about? Of course not. God knew about all the other nations. But he knew Israel in a special way. He singled Israel out. He set his love on Israel. He chose Israel.
The most striking example where “knowing” means “choosing” is found in 1 Peter 1:20. There our translation says that Jesus “was chosen before the creation of the world.” In the original language, the word translated “chosen” is the very same word translated as “foreknown” in Romans 8:29. Literally, Jesus was “foreknown” before the creation of the world. Does that mean only that God looked ahead and saw that Jesus would come? No, it means much more than that. God didn’t just know it; he made it happen. He chose Jesus to be his supreme revelation and the source of salvation for his people.
In a similar way, when the Bible speaks in Romans 8:29 of those whom God foreknew, it’s not just speaking of people God knew about ahead of time. God knows about everybody ahead of time, and this verse is talking about some particular people, not about everybody in general whom God knows about. “Those God foreknow” means “those God chose ahead of time,” people on whom he set his special love and purpose. Ephesians 1:4 declares that God “chose us in Christ before the creation of the world.”
On what does God base his choice? Well, it’s not based on anything he sees in us. God didn’t look into the future and say to himself, “It looks like this person will be well-behaved, and that person is going to respond to me the way I want, so I think I’ll choose them.” If that were the case, then God would never have chosen anybody. We’re all sinners. Of ourselves we don’t have the ability to respond to God the way we should.
The apostle Paul, who wrote Romans 8, knew all too well that God’s choice isn’t based simply on looking to see how we respond to him. As a young man, Paul heard the message of how Jesus died and rose again to save his people from sin, and his only response was to hate the name of Jesus and go around killing Christians. If God chose people based on how he saw them reacting to the message of Jesus, he would never have chosen Paul. But he did choose Paul, and eventually he changed Paul’s heart so that Paul ended up believing in Jesus and living for him.
Paul’s story has been repeated countless times: people who would never choose Christ on their own end up putting their faith in Christ because God made a choice to save them. In the Bible Jesus tells his people plainly, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). This doesn’t make us robots who don’t make a choice. Every Christian does choose the Lord Jesus, but any choice we make for the Lord flows out of his choice of us.
If you know Jesus as your Savior, rejoice that God chose you. That’s exciting—but it’s also humbling. We might like to think that we choose God, but God’s choice comes first. We might think that if God chooses us, it’s because of something he sees in us. But God doesn’t base his choice on anything in us.
In fact, God often chooses people you and I might not choose. You might not like people of a certain race, but in Christ God chooses people from every tribe and language and people and nation. You might not choose criminals; you’d rather lock them up and throw away the key. But God chooses people in prison, even murderers and people on death row, and stirs them to repent of their sins and to receive salvation in Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things… so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29).
None of us can brag that God chose us because of our qualifications. If God has chosen to save you, it’s not because he saw something impressive in you but only because of his love. And why does God love? Because he loves. There is no further explanation. God loves, not because any of us is so loveable, but simply because God is love.
God’s choice rises out of God himself; it doesn’t depend on us. And it’s a good thing, too. If it depended on us, the whole chain that connects people to Christ would be ruined. The first link in the chain would be flimsy, manmade paper, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. However, God’s choice doesn’t depend on us but on him, so the first link in God’s golden chain is as strong as God himself. God foreknew–he set his mind and purpose on people–based only on his love.
Let’s look at the next link in God’s golden chain. “Those he foreknew,” says the Bible, “he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” What does “predestined” mean? It means that when God chooses people, he also decides in advance what he is going to make of them, what their destiny will be. And what is that destiny? “To be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” In simpler words, the destiny is to be like Jesus.
That’s why it would be silly to say, “Predestination means that if God has chosen me, then I can sin all I want. It doesn’t matter what I do.” Of course it matters! God doesn’t just decide whom to choose; he also decides what to make of them. He decides their destination. And that destination is to be like his holy Son Jesus. Predestination is just a big word for the fact that God has a perfect plan all worked out for making people who aren’t anything like Jesus into people exactly like Jesus.
God does this, says the Bible, so that Jesus might be the firstborn among many brothers. God didn’t send Jesus gambling that a few people might believe in him and the Christian religion might catch on here or there. God wouldn’t let the sacrifice of his dear Son turn out to be ineffective. God wanted Jesus to be the first of many, not just a few, and so he didn’t leave the outcome to chance or to mere human decision. He predestined and planned for people from all over the world to be saved through Christ and to become like him, so that Jesus might be glorified as the first and foremost member of a huge family of brothers and sisters.
The third link in God’s golden chain, after foreknew and predestined is called.” God’s choosing and predestination don’t stay hidden in the heights of heaven or in the mists of eternity. That word called refers to something that happens in the here and now. God touches people on earth, right here, right now, and calls them into faith in Jesus Christ.
What does the Bible mean when it speaks of those whom God called? Well, at one level, there’s a general call of God that goes out to people everywhere. The gospel call goes out to countless people attending churches, or hearing of Christ on radio or television, or reading the Bible or listening to a neighbor speak of Christ. This general call of the gospel can be heard by anyone within earshot.
But in Romans 8 God’s call refers not only to that general call but also to an inner, individual call by which God opens your heart and mind in a very special way so that you know God is calling you personally. Jesus said that a shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).
The Bible book of Acts includes many examples of people who heard the voice of the good shepherd calling their name. When Acts describes people putting their faith in Jesus and becoming part of the church, you might expect it to say that “people wanted a relationship with God” or that “the church was attracting more and more people.” At a certain level it would be true enough to say those things, but what does the Bible say? It says, “The Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47) The Lord added to their number! His inner, effective call saved them and drew them to his church.
The apostle Paul preached Christ in a certain city, and some people believed his message. Today someone might report on that by saying, “A number of people made decisions for Christ.” But what does the Bible say? “All who were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Sure, these people made decisions and chose Christ, but why? Because God had made a decision and had chosen them. “All who were appointed to eternal life believed.”
Acts 16 mentions a Greek businesswoman named Lydia who became a Christian. A news reporter describing the scene might have said, “Paul spoke and Lydia found him convincing, so she decided to become a Christian.” But how does the Bible describe it? It says, “The Lord opened her heart, to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). Sure, Paul preached. Sure, Lydia made a decision to respond. But it was God’s Holy Spirit who opened Lydia’s heart, and she was responding not just to the voice of Paul but to the call of Jesus, her shepherd.
In the Bible, Paul wrote to some Christian friends and said, “We know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you.” How did Paul know God had chosen them? Did he have a special vision from God that revealed they were chosen? Did he get a sneak peak at a secret list of God’s chosen? No, but Paul still knew these people were chosen, he said, “because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction… you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6). The powerful, inner call of God had transformed them. That was proof that they were indeed among those who were chosen and loved by God.
When God calls you, eternity touches time. God’s Spirit opens your heart. The gospel message hits you right between the eyes. You hear God’s Word and you say, “That was speaking directly to me.” You realize that God is calling you by name. You repent of your sin. You trust in Jesus. And as you trust him, you discover that you have been loved with an everlasting love, that you were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.
That is why I can preach with confidence. If the results of my preaching depended only on my ability to change people or on their ability to change themselves, I’d give up. Why should anybody listen to me? How can people stuck in their own sin pull themselves out? But I know that whenever I preach the gospel of Jesus crucified and risen, God is at work. I know that I am God’s instrument, that among those who hear me are people God has chosen and predestined to be like Christ, and that the Holy Spirit will transform them through his powerful inner calling.
This awareness also encourages me to pray for the salvation of others. I wouldn’t pray for someone else’s salvation if I thought everything was up to that person. Why pray if everything is up to the person and God can’t do anything more to change the person’s heart? But God can change even the deadest, most stubborn heart by his inner call, and so I keep praying that he will do exactly that.
Maybe you’re a Christian with loved ones who show no interest in Christ. Maybe you’re tempted to give up on them and stop praying for them because you figure they’ll never change anyway. Well, if it were up to them, they wouldn’t change. But since it’s up to God, he may yet change them. And your prayers may well be part of God’s eternal plan to bring that about. So keep on praying to the God whose inner call can change anyone.
The next link in God’s golden chain is especially beautiful: “those God called, he also justified.” This word justified means that when God calls you and moves you to repentance and faith in Christ, he forgives all your sins—past, present, and future sins–and declares you to be forever right with him. Let that good news sink in. Justified! Forever right with God!
Justification is not probation. What’s the difference between justification and probation? Well, in the legal system, a judge will sometimes tell a convicted offender, “I’m not going to punish you for this violation. Instead, I’m putting you on probation. If you behave yourself, fine. But if you get into trouble again and violate your probation, then I’m going to throw the book at you.” Now, is that how God deals with us? Does God say, “Okay, I’m willing to forgive you and overlook your past sins. But if you ever commit another sin, you’ll be right back where you started”?
No! The Bible doesn’t say, “Those he called, he put on probation.” It says, “Those he called, he justified.” Justified! When you trust in Jesus, every last sin, past, present, and future is nailed to his cross and forgiven. You don’t fall away from salvation every time you commit a sin. Long before you were ever born, God knew every sin you’d commit, but God chose you anyway and called you into a living faith in Jesus Christ. You are justified by faith, and no sin of yours can undo that. When you trust Jesus, you’re not on probation. You are justified. You are right with God, and nothing can ever change that.
Does this mean it’s okay for Christians to wallow in sin? Of course not. We’ve already seen that God’s purpose is to make his people like Jesus. But when God justifies us through faith, we can be sure that we are right with God, even when there are some wrongs that still need to be cleaned up in our lives.
Take the apostle Peter, for example. Jesus told Simon Peter that he would deny his Lord three times and that Satan was out to get him. “But,” Jesus added, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Satan wanted Peter, but Jesus wouldn’t let that happen. Jesus had already prayed for Peter, and so even though Peter’s faith would waver, it wouldn’t fail completely. Peter’s destiny was secure. Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Peter, if you turn back to me after you fail.” He said, “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” It was certain that Peter would turn back to Jesus. His Savior was making sure his faith wouldn’t fail, and that meant Peter could not lose his salvation.
Justified means that you are right with God, that your standing is based on Jesus, and that nothing can separate you from his love or keep you from the destiny God has for you.
Romans 8:30 says, “Those he justified, he also glorified.” That’s the final link in God’s golden chain. Notice that it doesn’t just say, “Those he justified, he will glorify.” No, “those he justified, he also glorified”–past tense. It’s already done. As the Bible puts it, “God raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6). God has linked his people to Christ with a bond so unbreakable that whatever has happened to Christ has as good as happened to us, and so our glorification is absolutely certain.
Most of us have seen cliffhanger scenes on TV shows or in the movies. One person is dangling over the edge of a cliff or a tall building, trying desperately to hold on to someone else. In order to increase the suspense, the camera zooms in on the fingers slipping and the grip weakening.
Maybe that’s how you picture your situation. Maybe you feel like you don’t have any footing, and you’re dangling in midair by your fingertips, trying to hang on to God. Maybe you feel like your faith is getting weaker and weaker, and you’re afraid you’ll lose your grip and let go of God entirely. But what if it’s not your grip on God that keeps you safe but his grip on you? Once you belong to Jesus, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can break his grip on you or snatch you out of his hand.
After describing God’s golden chain of being chosen, predestined, called, justified, and glorified, the apostle Paul exclaims as the end of Romans 8, “What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.