Glorification: Conformed to Christ for the Supremacy of Christ
From Gospel Translations
By John Piper
About Glorification (Resurrection of the Body)
Part of the series Romans: The Greatest Letter Ever Written
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. 29For 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; 30and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Ponder with me one of the implications of the "for" ("because") at the beginning of verse 29. This word means that verse 29 and the following verses are a support, or an argument, or a foundation, or ground, or basis for the promise in verse 28. In other words, Paul writes verse 29 so that you will be more confident in the promise of verse 28. I promise you, God says, that all the hard things in your life will work together for your good,because I foreknew you and predestined you and called you and justified you and glorified you. So be strong and take risks and go to the hard places of need and show the world by your love that you trust God and his promises more than wealth or weapons of police or alarm systems or good neighborhoods or available medical care.
Why Are There Arguments and Not Just Raw Authority?
But here's the question: If God never lies, and if he promises in verse 28 that everything will work together for our good, then how is our faith in this promise made any stronger by a ground in verses 29-30? I mean, God has spoken in verse 28 and God is God, and his word is infallible and unbreakable. Shouldn't we just believe it because he said it? Why does Paul give arguments? How do arguments for something God has said make our confidence stronger?
Before I try to answer that question, be sure you see the significance of it. It's really a question of why we have the kind of Bible we do. God could have given us a list of affirmations about his nature and his character and a list of commandments to do. It certainly would have been a lot shorter. But instead he gave us (for example in Romans) long, complex arguments and explanations and reasonings. In the gospels he gave us narrative of Jesus' deeds and collections of Jesus' teachings and provocative groups of parables. In the Old Testament he gave us sweeping overviews of Israel's history and accounts of the origin of the world, and glimpses into the inner lives of psalmists and powerful visions and sermons of the prophets and collections of proverbs.
What's the point of all this lavish special revelation of the ways of God in the world? That's the question we are really asking when we ask, "Why does Paul buttress Romans 8:28 with an argument in verses 29-30?" Why not just tell us what God promises to do for us and count on faith to be strong in holding to the promise?
Faith Is a Response to the Revelation of Light
The answer — at least a very important part of the answer — is that faith is not a leap in the dark, but a response to the revelation of light. If faith were grounded on nothing more than raw authority, then the Bible would not have been written the way it is, and the history of redemption would not have been planned the way it was. Faith is not based merely on raw authority (like: "God said verse 28 so believe it. Period! No basis needed! No arguments required!"). Faith is not a response to raw authority; faith is a response to the revelation of light. Not physical light, but spiritual light.
Let's turn to 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 to see this and to launch us further into our text today. What Paul says in these verses is that the gospel of Christ is the revelation of this spiritual light. He calls it two things, one in verse 4 and another in verse 6. Verse 4: "The god of this world (I think that is Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see (!) the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." So there is "seeing" necessary for salvation. When Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, "We walk by faith and not by sight," he means physical sight, not this spiritual sight in 2 Corinthians 4:4. The light we must see to be saved is the "light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
When the gospel is preached we must see Christ in it as glorious, indeed, as the image of God himself. This is why the four gospels, for example, are not one-sentence books: "Christ is glorious and Christ is God." True! But faith in this Christ is NOT a response of raw authority or a leap in the dark. It is a response to the light of glory in the person and work of Christ. Therefore the person and work of Christ are lavishly displayed in four gospels and Acts and epistles and Revelation.
This is why Paul says in verse 5, "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake." Preaching ourselves would not help you see Christ. Preaching Christ as Lord and putting ourselves in the lowly position of slaves, that's what will help you see the glory of Christ so that you have sure foundation under your faith.
Then in verse 6 he describes in a different way this same spiritual light of verse 4. He says, "For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." This is the same reality as the light in verse 4, but with different words. According to verse 4 we must see "the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." And according to verse 6 we must see "the glory of God in the face of Christ." The "glory of God" is the "glory of Christ," and the "image of God" is in "the face of Christ" — which I take to mean the portrait of his whole being — his character, his nature, his person.
Here's the point: faith is not a leap in the dark. There is light all over these verses. Faith is a response to the light of God's revelation of himself in Christ in history, especially in the gospel. Therefore, to help people come to faith, and to sustain and strengthen our own faith, we need to know (notice the word "knowledge" in verse 26, "light of the knowledge of the glory of God") — we need to know the way Christ acted, what he did, what he said, how he thought, how he spoke, how he suffered, and how all this was working out the plans of God. This is the way the glory of Christ shines out for us to see. And this seeing is the way faith comes into being and the way it is sustained and strengthened.
The Connection with Romans 8:29
Now here's the connection with Romans 8:29. Paul wants us to have faith in the promise of Romans 8:28 — that God will work all things for your good — so that we will be radical, risk-taking, loving, sacrificial, Christians with a wartime mentality. But he knows that faith is based not on raw authority of mere statements. It rises in response to the revelation of God's glory. This is why he does what he does in verses 29-30, he shows us some of the ways of God. He gives us a spectacular glimpse into the sovereign, saving work of God from eternity to eternity — from the foreknowing-foreloving-forechoosing of eternity past, to the final glorifying of his people in eternity future. Seeing the glorious work of God in Christ in verses 29 is not just incidental information; it is the revelation of who God is, how God acts, how God loves and saves and keeps. The point of it is to display the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ. And to make our faith in the promise of Romans 8:28 something it could never be without it. So rivet your gaze on the glory of God in the acts of Romans 8:29-30.
Now there are two more questions about this revelation in verses 29-30 that I want to deal with this morning before we move ahead into verses 31ff next week. One is this: Why is "sanctification" not mentioned in the chain that leads from foreknowledge to glorification? And the other is: Why does Paul say (in verse 29) that the aim of our predestination is not merely to be conformed to the image of God's Son, but it is "so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren"?
Why Is Sanctification Not Mentioned in the Chain?
First, where is "sanctification" in the chain of these verses? You recall what "sanctification" is. It was the theme of chapter six. Remember verse 22: "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting insanctification, and the outcome, eternal life." So sanctification is the gradual process of our becoming holy which leads to eternal life.
Why is it not mentioned in this unbreakable chain in Romans 8:29-30? Paul mentions five links in the chain: Those whom he (1) foreknew he predestined; and those whom he (2) predestined he called; and those whom he (3) called, he justified; and those whom he (4)justified, he (5) glorified. Why didn't he say, "And those whom he justified he sanctified, and those whom he sanctified he glorified"?
The reason this matters is that someone might say, "Well, since it's not in the chain, it's either not necessary for heaven like the others, or it is not the work of God the way the others are. Both of those inferences would be a deadly mistake. Sanctification is necessary for heaven. That is why Romans 6:22 says that the outcome of your sanctification is eternal life! (See Hebrews 12:14; Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9). And that makes it all the more important that it is indeed God's work in us, so that the necessity of it doesn't throw us back on ourselves. It throws us desperately on God.
For example, Paul says in Philippians 1:6, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." And Philippians 2:12b-13, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." And 1 Corinthians 15:10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me."
So sanctification is both necessary and the work of God. So why is it not mentioned between justification and glorification. I think the reason is that in Paul's mind sanctification is included in glorification. So, in effect, he does make it part of the chain. Now why do I think this? What's the Biblical basis for it?
It comes from 2 Corinthians 3:18. Paul describes here how we are changed into the likeness of Christ — that is how we are sanctified. It happens by looking to Christ — the spiritual sight we talked about earlier (note the context!). He says, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."
Now what is so relevant in this verse for us is the word "glory." Our gradual change into the image of Christ is, Paul says, a moving "from glory to glory." And he says this is from the Lord. This is essentially the work of the Lord. So being glorified in Paul's mind is not only the final transformation at the end of the age at the resurrection when we get out new bodies; it is also the process of moving morally and spiritually toward that goal.
So in Paul's mind, when he said in Romans 8:30, "the justified are glorified" he meant, God works to make sure that those whom he justified move from one degree of glory to the next (sanctification) and finally reach perfection with new and glorious bodies like Christ's (Hebrews 12:23; Philippians 3:21). So your progressive sanctification — your becoming like Jesus — is as sure and as firmly planned and worked by God as is your election and predestination and calling and justification and final glory.
Why Is the Goal That Christ Would Be "Firstborn Among Many Brethren"?
Which leads naturally to the last question: Clearly verse 29 says that the aim of our predestination is our likeness to Christ. So sanctification is here in verse 29 as well. "Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son." So your holiness, your sanctification, your becoming like Jesus is God's aim for your life from eternity. Predestination means: Predestined to become like Jesus. That is what you should be giving yourself to. Pray and study and fight and suffer and trust to be like Jesus.
Now my question is, Why does Paul go on to say, ". . . so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." Colossians 1:18 gives the answer: "He is the beginning, the firstborn (same word as in Romans 8:29, prwto,tokon) from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything." Christ died and rose from the dead as the firstborn of many siblings so that he would be seen and enjoyed by them and by others as preeminent, superior, gloriously great.
In other words, our destiny to be like Christ is all about being prepared to see and savor his superiority. We must have his character and likeness to know him and see him and love him and admire him and make much of him. By adding the words, "that He would be the firstborn among many brethren," Paul makes plain that Christ is ever and always supreme above us,and that we must be holy in order to be with him and enjoy him forever.
Without these final words in verse 29, O how easily we would slip into a man-centered view of sanctification that make us and our likeness to Christ the ultimate goal. It is a goal. But it is not the ultimate goal. The exaltation of Christ is the ultimate goal. So consider some questions to test yourself as we close. Are pursuing your own glory or Christ's? Take some attributes of Christ that we might pursue.
- Do I want to be strong like Christ, so I will be admired as strong, or so that I can defeat every adversary that would entice me to settle for any pleasure less than admiring the strongest person in the universe, Christ?
- Do I want to be wise like Christ, so I will be admired as wise and intelligent, or so that I can discern and admire the One who is most truly and all-satisfyingly wise?
- Do I want to be holy like Christ, so that I can be admired as holy, or so that I can be free from all unholy inhibitions that keep me from seeing and savoring the holiness of Christ?
- Do I want to be loving like Christ, so I will be admired as a loving person, or so that I will enjoy extending to others, even in sufferings, the all-satisfying love of Christ?
Everything in these verses — all of God's work, his choosing you, predestining you, calling you, justifying you, sanctifying you, bringing you to final glory — is designed by God not mainly to make much of us, but to free us and fit us to enjoy making much of Christ forever.
So I plead with you: Set your mind's attention and your heart's affection on the glory of Christ so that you will be changed from glory to glory into his image, so that you might fully enjoy what you were made for — making much of Christ.