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Sovereign Election in Romans

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;

—Romans 8:29

The verse above is often interpreted to mean that God chooses his people according to his foreknowledge of their free choice. In other words, he only rubberstamps, in advance, the choices others will make. That is the majority view among those who identify as fundamentalists and evangelicals. It is the opinion I held for many years, and argued strenuously. But that interpretation displays an ignorance of the meaning of the word “foreknew,” and, more embarrassingly, a deplorable understanding of simple rules of grammar. Even worse, having committed those errors, those who cling to this view refuse to be corrected when Scripture, that is, God himself, comes right out and states, in the plainest possible language, that they are wrong.


God did not choose His elect on the basis of any foreseen faith or good works. To the contrary, God made His choice for reasons found exclusively within Himself:

Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call— . . . —Romans 9:11

God’s sovereign choice of whom to save was made long before any person was born. One example is His choice of Jacob over Esau, a selection made before either twin entered the world and did anything to supposedly earn God’s favor or wrath. Hendriksen notes, “The divine purpose, springing from election and executing its design, determines who are saved. Everything depends on God who calls (effectively draws) some, not others. . . . In the final analysis the reason why some people are accepted and others rejected is that God so willed it. The divine, sovereign will is the source of both election and reprobation.”

—Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 352.

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