Romans 8:28-30 (see also Romans 11:2)
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.
While the immediate context does not explicitly state the identity of “those whom He foreknew,” Romans 10:21-11:2 does state: “But as for Israel He says, ‘All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’ I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” Thus, if those foreknown at Romans 8:29 are the same ones foreknown at Romans 11:2, meaning Israel, with such foreknowledge being indicative of prior knowledge (Acts 26:4-5; 2nd Peter 3:17), then the net effect of Romans 8:28-31 would be that since we have seen how God worked all things to the good for those whom He knew before, we know that He will do the same for those who love and are called by Him now, and thus conclude, “who can stand against us?” By the time of the writing of Paul’s letter, these forerunners would have been sealed in eternity with the incorruptible nature of conformity to the image of Christ, in having been called, justified and by then, glorified, so that by their example, believers who would receive the same benefits may be emboldened by God’s providence in the midst of their own trials: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
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)
White adds: “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)
The concept of Israel having been foreloved, or even foreordained for that matter, would not be in dispute, but what would be disputed is the eisegesis of taking “those whom He foreknew” and importing the unconditionally elect of Calvinism, set apart from Calvinism’s non-elect caste. In contrast, it is indisputable the Romans chapter’s 9 through 11 contain a significant Jewish theme, and Romans 11:2 specifically identifies Israel as having been foreknown, and therefore there is credence in connecting such a theme to similar wording at Romans 8:28-30 which immediately prefaces the ensuing Jewish theme. For just as we may reasonably identify the hardened of Romans chapter 9 as Israel on the basis of clarifying remarks at Romans 11:25, we may also reasonably identify the foreknown of Romans 8:29 as Israel on the basis of clarifying remarks at Romans 11:2.
There is no argument that those in view are those in Christ, but there is also a reasonable case to be made that such believers can draw strength from the experience of those who had come before them, namely, Israel who was foreknown. (Romans 11:2)
Non-Calvinist, Dave Hunt, comments: “...Romans 8 is clearly addressed to Christians.” (Debating Calvinism, p.87, emphasis mine)
For this reason, the more common non-Calvinist interpretation of the foreknown of Romans 8:29 is that of being representative of future Christian believers, rather than being indicative of Israel. Here is the dissenting non-Calvinist viewpoint:
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, 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) 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)