And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
This ties into the overall dialogue with the Jews by showing the Jews that the Messiah, Jesus, means far more than what they ever conceived of. Their mistaken conception was simply a conquering hero of foreign enemies, and who would establish the kingdom of Israel on earth. The Jews simply didn’t think that they needed Jesus, because they didn’t fully realize their fallen status before God.
The first thing that must be understood is that this passage is referring to Christians, that is, those who “love God” and are “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), and it is these that are the objects of God’s purposes.
B. P. Burnett comments: “Thus, it appears that it is the believers who are the ones who love God, and who are thus foreknown by Him. For in Christ they possess redemption, the forgiveness of sins, by faith. And they enjoy fellowship with God the Father through the Holy Spirit. I therefore submit to you that these believers redeemed by the blood of the Lamb are the ‘those’ of v.28 who have been predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son. Believers are predestined by God. It does not say that believers are predestined to be believers, but to inherit salvation, being justified and brought into glory. Rom. 8:28-30 is therefore not descriptive of a secret decree of election, but a defense of the decree to save believers in Christ.” (The Golden Chain of Redemption of the Silver Chain of Salvation? ~ The Object of Predestination in Rom. 8:28-30) One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “I think the biggest weakness in the Calvinist argument is that there is nothing in the context which suggests that this verse is an ordo salutis. It just isn’t there. It just says that all of these categories are true of believers, and Arminians agree with that.” (SEA)
One thing that Romans 8:28-30 is not, is the idea that God created an elect caste in contrast to an eternally non-elect caste, and having foreknown the elect caste, He predestined them to believe. Instead, this passage is explicitly about believers, and even Calvinists agree:
Non-Calvinist, Dave Hunt, comments: “...Romans 8 us clearly addressed to Christians.” (Debating Calvinism, p.87, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers explains God’s work of predestination: “What is Predestination? Predestination is not God saying from eternity that one man’s going to heaven and another man is going to hell. Predestination deals primarily with what God intends to do for those who trust Him and what God will do for saved people. Predestination teaches me on the authority of God that when I’ve trusted Christ as my personal Savior and Lord, I will be like Jesus Christ.” (What We Have in the Lord Jesus, Ephesians 1:1-12, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers adds: “When God sees me receiving Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, He predestines me to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. ... When God made the decision to conform me to the image of Christ, it started with my decision to accept Jesus as my Savior.” (Foundations For Our Faith: Vol.II, A Study in Romans Chapters 5-9, pp.105, 106, emphasis mine)
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “With respect to salvation in Christ, predestination speaks not to WHO will be among the elect, but WHAT God’s ultimate purposes are for those who are elect in Christ. So predestination to conformity to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29); adoption (Eph. 1:5); and living to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:11-12) are God’s ends for the elect in Christ. Predestination doesn’t speak to who is saved or not. Rather, it speaks to the ‘destiny’ of those who are saved/elect.” (SEA)
John Calvin writes: “I know the objections which many make here: when Paul says that those are predestinated whom God foreknew, he means that each is elected in view of his faith. But I cannot allow them this false supposition. God is not to be understood as foreseeing something in them which procures grace for them; rather they are foreknown because they were freely chosen. Hence Paul elsewhere teaches the same thing: God knows them that are His (II Tim. 2.19), because, that is, He holds them marked and as it were numbered in His roll. Nor is the point omitted by Augustine: the terms foreknowledge is to be taken as meaning the counsel of God by which He predestines His own to salvation. No one denies that it was foreknown by God who were to be heirs of eternal life. The real question is whether what He foresees is what He will make of them or what they will be in themselves.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.70-71, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, James White, writes: “The direct object of ‘foreknow’ when used of God is always personal. God foreknows the elect (Romans 8:29), His people (Romans 11:2), and Christ (1 Peter 1:20). These are all personal objects, never events. This means that, for the person who wishes to dismiss this section of Scripture using the ‘foreknowledge defense,’ the task is difficult indeed, for such a person will have to explain how this one usage is the exception, and why, in the context, if must bear a meaning seen nowhere else.” (Debating Calvinism, p.146, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, James White, writes: “It refers to the choice to enter into relationship with someone. In this case, in eternity past God chose to enter into personal relationship with His elect people, even before bringing them into existence. The relationship is so personal, so intimate, that it is proper to speak of it in the sense of foreloving. God’s eternal choice was to enter into a loving, intimate relationship with the elect. This results in His predestinating them to adoption as sons, His calling them into relationship with Him in time, His justifying them by declaring them righteous, and His glorifying them in His presence for all eternity.” (Debating Calvinism, p.146, emphasis mine)
If we are talking about His elect people in Christ, then yes, I agree that Romans 8:29 reveals God’s plan for a specific people who are foreknown by Him, but that’s not what Calvinists mean by, “the elect.” The Calvinist concept of the elect is really the elect in the Father, who on that account, are given, drawn and chosen to be selected to become in Christ. This is more fully dealt with at Ephesians 1:4.
Robert Picirilli states: “Furthermore, ‘foreknowledge’ in the Bible is, at least some of the time, something more than prescience. Arminius credited this, even in the discussion of predestination. He observed that some explain foreknowledge (in Rom. 8:29) as meaning ‘previously loved, and affectionately regarded as His own,’ while others define it as ‘prescience of faith in Christ.’ And then he proceeds to inquire whether one of these can be true without the other, concluding, ‘God can “previously love and affectionately regard as His own” no sinner unless He has foreknown him in Christ, and looked upon him as a believer in Christ.’” (Grace, Faith, Free Will, Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism, p.56, emphasis mine)
If it is speaking of those whom He has foreknown in Christ, then being in Christ is the head, not tail, of the Golden Chain of Romans 8:29-30.
Mac Brunson explains: “Long before man was ever created, God knew, ‘I am going to create man, and this would be for My glory, but man will rebel against Me, but I will demonstrate the greatness of My glory, that in this period, before there is a beginning of time, I will choose to save those who trust in the Son that I send to die for them.’”
Steven Hitchcock explains: “When the Scriptures say that God foreknew us it is saying that God knew us personally before we existed. The only way that it is possible for God to know us personally, before we existed, is in understanding that all time is preset time to God. For we are speaking of a knowing that is intimate and personal, which cannot exist unless the other person [the believer] is presently known. This is the case because the knowledge here meant is a reciprocal knowledge, based upon our communion with Him as our Father whom we love. God did not know us in His imagination before we existed as that which is only one-sided, but rather, it is in our walking with Him right now, our expressions of love and genuine interest in Him now, which He has foreknown before the foundation of the world. It is communion with us that He has foreknown.” (Recanting Calvinism, p.96)
Steven Hitchcock explains: “For in the entirety of God’s ever-continuous present experience of time, regarding us, that which He focuses on before the foundation of the world is not our rebellion against Him but our reconciliation with Him in Christ.” (Recanting Calvinism, pp.97-98)