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.
Note 1 at Ro 8:29: The word "foreknowledge" refers to God knowing who would accept His offer of salvation in advance of them actually doing it. The Scriptures teach that we (believers) were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). That's how infinite God's ability is to know our choices in advance.
The Scriptures also reveal that there are some things God does not know. Twice in the book of Jeremiah, God said the fact that people would offer their children as sacrifices to demon gods never even came into His mind (Jer 19:5 and 32:35). There are some things that God Himself said He had never foreseen.
It is most probable that the Lord has the ability to know everything in advance, but He simply doesn't choose to exercise that ability in every situation. He told us to be wise concerning that which is good, and simple (or innocent) concerning that which is evil (Ro 16:19). He also told us to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and things that have virtue and praise (Php 4:8). That's the way He desires us to be because that's the way He is.
Therefore, when God acted surprised that Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden tree, He probably was. As we have already pointed out from Eph 1:4, God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. He knew there would be a transgression and a need for redemption before man was even created. But apparently, He did not utilize His foreknowledge to the extent that He knew every move that man was making. No reason is given for this, but certainly one reason is that an absolute use of God's foreknowledge would hinder His relationship with man.
God sent two angels to Sodom and Gomorrah to see if their actions were really as bad as had been reported to Him (Ge 18:20-19:29). The Lord tested Abraham (Ge 22:1-10). After the test, He said, "For now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me" (Ge 22:12). The Lord repented for choosing Saul to be king when He saw the way he turned out (1Sa 15:11). The Scripture contains many other examples besides these.
God's ability to know all things in advance is limitless, but by His choice, God does not know every detail. Understanding foreknowledge provides the foundation for understanding predestination (see note 2 at this verse), calling (Ro 8:30), and election (1Pe 1:2).
Note 2 at Ro 8:29: This verse provides the key for unlocking the answer to the doctrine of predestination. Predestination is dependent on foreknowledge (see note 1 at this verse).
The word "predestinate" means to predetermine. "Predestinate" and its variant "predestinated" are only used four times in the New Testament (Ro 8:29-30; Eph 1:5, and 11). People have interpreted this doctrine as saying that God predetermines everything in people's lives, including whether they will be saved or lost. This interpretation is not consistent with other doctrines or examples in Scripture. This belief will destroy people's motivation to fight evil and do good. If God predetermines everything that happens in people's lives, then everything that happens to them is God's will--even sin. That is not true.
This verse limits God's predestination to only those whom He foreknew. This means that only those people who God knew would accept His offer of salvation have been predestined. He does not predestine people to be saved or lost. Those whom He foreknew in Christ have been predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. As we can tell by observation, God doesn't even force that to happen. With some Christians, this will not occur until they receive their glorified bodies, but it will occur.
God gave all people free will, and God will not violate that free will except in judgment. Even in judgment, God is only enforcing the choices that people have already made of their own free will. All people have a God-given right to go to hell if they want to.
Just as in Ro 8:28, God works everything together for good for those who already love Him. And even then He does not take away their free will. Everything that happens to them is not good, and it is not from God. However, God, in His infinite wisdom, can work it together for good (see note 7 at Ro 8:28). Ro 8:29 is simply continuing to develop the truth that God is for man and has predetermined that those who have come to Him for salvation will be saved to the uttermost.
Understood correctly, this verse provides great reassurance to believers that God is for them and working with them to bring them to the complete stature of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 4:13).
Note 3 at Ro 8:29: This English word "firstborn" was translated from the Greek word "PROTOTOKOS." According to Strong's Concordance, this is a compound Greek word comprised of "PROTOS," which means "foremost (in time, place, order or importance)," and "TIKTO," which means "to produce (from seed...)." Therefore, this word "firstborn" could refer to either first in order or importance. Both of these applications are true of Jesus.
Although others were raised from the dead before Jesus (see note 3 at Mr 16:6), Jesus was the first one to be raised from the dead never to die again. Jesus was also the firstborn in the sense of importance, since His resurrection made all other resurrections possible.
In context, Paul was stressing that we believers are predestined to be just like Jesus, then he drew from scripture that prophesied Jesus being the firstborn (Ps 89:27). Therefore, the point being made is the extent that we will be conformed to the image of Jesus. There are other children who will become just like Jesus, and it is in this sense that "firstborn" is used here.
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