These two verses contain much encouragement and reassurance for believers as Paul reaches for the climax of these first eight chapters of his letter. He began this chapter with “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” which is why he “is not ashamed of the gospel” (1:16). He has spoken of the Holy Spirit’s presence within the believer enabling him to live after the manner of his Lord. And now Paul introduces us to what some down through history have called the “golden chain” of redemption. It is fitting that he places it here at the climax rather than at the beginning of the letter, a mistake which theologians have made in the past; that is, in any sort of systematic arrangement of theology, which Romans anticipates more than any other writing in the New Testament, the doctrine of election is best discussed after other doctrines, such as justification by faith, law and gospel, and life in the Spirit. To begin with election often short circuits discussion of these other necessary teachings.
“For those whom He foreknew.” Biblical scholars largely agree that “foreknew” is equivalent to “chose.” It is not simply that God knew ahead of time who would choose him; God “knows” these in the biblical sense of a special intimate relationship. Besides, what God foreknows must occur by nature of His knowing it, and His knowledge is in no way dependent upon our choices. And because God knows and chooses these ahead of time, He predestines them. It makes no sense to say that God “predestines” those who choose Him; in that case, He would be rewarding them.
But the wonderful part of this verse is that he predestines them not to heaven, which is what we often think of, although heaven is certainly included. Paul says they are predestined “to be conformed to the image of His Son,” which we must be if we are to reside in heaven. To be like Christ—that should be every believer’s most earnest desire, above all other desires in this world. And thereupon, God calls us, justifies us (makes us right before Him), and glorifies us, although that glory awaits its ultimate fulfillment in heaven.
And so Paul covers election at the end where it naturally belongs, after having discussed our inability to save ourselves and our need for God’s justifying grace. And having introduced it, He will now build upon it our confidence and assurance in the One “who did not spare His own Son.” Who shall bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? Don’t even dare!