Explain Romans 8:29
How to explain Romans 8:29-31? This may take a while, and be somewhat complicated. Some people say that these verses show that man does not have free will, but that God decides specifically who will be saved and who will not. This would make the Bible contradict itself. (See What Does the Bible Say About..Free Will for the scriptures showing man has free will.) So the explanation of these verses must allow for man to choose his own course.
The best explanation I have heard is that these verses are not talking about individuals but about the church as a whole. That is, he determined from the beginning of time that the church would be the body of those who choose to follow God. He did not pick and choose individuals ahead of time, but a method by which they were to be saved. This fits in well with the discussion of predestination in Ephesians 1. It fits less well with this passage. So let’s see what it does say.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
In the verse you asked about it says that those that God knew before were predefined as being in the likeness of Christ. Does foreknowledge cause the predestination or predefinition? No. I can know ahead of time that two trains approaching each other at high speed on the same track will collide, but that doesn’t mean I caused it. God is outside of time, so his foreknowledge, in our time, is identical with his knowing something when it happens. It is not necessarily a cause of something happening.
It is this fact of God being outside of time that makes it hard to explain the passages about predestination. For God, knowing that a person chooses to follow him occurs at all times (in our time reference). Therefore we talk about foreknowledge and predestination when it is really all happening at once as far as God is concerned.
Those he knew were going to be his followers, because they in the course of our time choose to be his followers, will conform to the image of his son. They are predestined, or predefined, to this not because God chose them specifically but because God determined ahead of time what his followers would be like. The predestination is the appearance (that is, the church) and not the choosing of who will assume that appearance.
What does it mean to be conformed to the image of his son? Colossians 3:9-10 says, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” We put on a new form, that of Jesus. “For as many of you as have been immersed into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2) God preordained that those who would follow him would act like and be like the one he had preordained to save the world, his only begotten son.
The next verse says that those who were to become followers of God were called, justified, and glorified. I take the calling to mean that God saw to it that they heard the gospel. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15) Having heard and obeyed the preaching they follow his will and are justified and glorified.
Paul then concludes with the point of the whole discussion. Verses 29 and 30 are not about predestination. Verse 31 says that his point is that if God is for us nobody can be against us. If we are made to look like God then he will protect us.