The Golden Chain of Salvation

Rev. Gise J. Van Baren

Romans 8:29-30 "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified."

We must notice, beloved, the first verse of this important chapter of God's Word where the confession is made: "There is (that is, on the basis of Christ's death and resurrection mentioned in the preceding chapter) therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." That is the triumphant, glorious cry of the church and of its individual members. No condemnation!! And the remarkable thing is that the chapter concludes again, from a different perspective, but equally triumphantly, "There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This means for God's people, that is, for all who believe, that there need be no fear of death. Death came as condemnation. It came as God's sentence upon the sinner. But now there is "no condemnation." Death for the child of God has changed its character. It becomes now only the doorway or entrance into glory. There is no more need to fear God's wrath. In examining ourselves, we see how many times we transgress God's law. Sometimes we begin to wonder how we could ever be saved! But the Word of God assures us that there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore the child of God believes that, whatever anyone may claim, the fact is: God declares us to be sons of God who are not under condemnation.

We saw in earlier verses that the God's creation, ourselves, and even the Spirit of God groan in anticipation of the glory that is coming to God's people. Creation, oppressed and still feeling the effects of God's curse and the sinfulness of man, groans--waiting for the redemption of God's people.

God's people groan in their times of trial and adversity on this earth. They are looking for something better to come--for their hope is in heaven.

And the Spirit groans with groanings which can not be uttered on behalf of God's people who sometimes can not even pray. All of this shows an anticipation for that which is to come.

The verse preceding our text is well known to all of us. There the Word of God reminds that because we are not under condemnation, "All things work together for good to them that love God." That blessed truth has comforted the saints through all the ages.

Then follows our text. This presents what some have called "The Golden Chain of Salvation." That's a familiar passage too. If we memorize texts, this is one we could well memorize. It has been used, I know, on at least one occasion in our Christian Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a theme for the children's program: "The Golden Chain of Salvation." And in my mind's eye I can still see the paper chain stretched across the front of the auditorium. The children marched up to the platform and recited from Scripture some texts illuminating the truth concerning that "Golden Chain." It is this very "Golden Chain" of salvation which leads to the inevitable conclusion of the chapter: nothing can separate us from God's love.

That "Golden Chain" is indeed something to see. It is not an ordinary chain. It is not a chain of man's devising. It is not a cheap chain. It is indeed a "Golden" chain of salvation. Understand that well. It stretches from eternity, through time, to everlasting life.

Notice, then,

The Golden Chain of Salvation

  1. The Chain Originates in Eternity.
  2. The Chain is Displayed in Time.
  3. The Chain Ends in Everlasting Glory.

I. The Chain Originates in Eternity.

It originates in eternity in the Counsel of God. That is taught in many passages of Holy Scripture. That God determines the membership in His church from eternity, is clear from a passage as Ephesians 1:4, "As He has chosen us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him." We are in Christ before the foundation of the world!! This is that eternal act of God which involves the gathering of His people according to His plan or His Counsel. This eternal act of God begins in eternity and continues unto everlasting life and heavenly glory. It is brought to completion when God gathers His people and brings them to Himself in the new heavens and the new earth to dwell with Christ forever and ever. That's the work of God.

We must notice a couple of things about this chain which "begins" in eternity. In the first place, notice that it is identified with GOD--and wholly with GOD. It is not God doing His part and man doing his part. That would be Arminianism. That view is popular with many today though it is hardly Scriptural. Nor is it God and man working together, cooperating in man's salvation. That is the view known as synergism--a view held by many Lutheran churches. But the emphasis is rather wholly upon God: this is His work. It is His work before the world was formed; from eternity. He determined, planned, pre-determined the destiny or the end, of every moral rational creature. And it is because this is wholly God's work, because it is not the work of man, that it can be said with such confidence in verse one, "There is now no condemnation!!" Why not? Because GOD did it, not man; GOD did it!! So there can be no condemnation!!

Does this mean that children of God can now simply do whatever they wish, live in whatever way they please since God determined eternally that they are going to be saved? You know that this is not true. Philippians 2:12-13 points that out clearly as well. There the Apostle Paul says to the church of Philippi, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." That is activity--activity of the child of God as he walks in the midst of this earth: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Does that mean that we finally accomplish our deliverance--that we earn something? No, for the Word of God hastens to add, "For it is God that worketh IN YOU both to will and to do of His good pleasure." God works in us. That's the beauty of the work of God.

Let us look now at the links of that golden chain of salvation as these exist eternally in God. The two words in our text which can be identified as "links" are His "foreknowledge" and "predestination." "For whom He did foreknow, them He did also predestinate" that they might be conformed to the image of His Son. These are the golden links rooted in eternity: foreknowledge and predestination (here: of the elect).

There is a misconception often with the word "foreknowledge." That is the first link. The teaching of the Arminian is that God from eternity foresaw and in this sense foreknew who would accept Christ; who would open up his heart's door to admit the Christ. These teach that God, from eternity, beholding before all time who would believe, has chosen those to be His elect. Election, according to this view, rests upon a foresight of God which sees what every person would do. But that is not the idea of God's "foreknowledge." We might have "foreknowledge" in that sense. We can look ahead, and on the basis of what we believe will happen, we can make a certain determination. That's the way man might act--but it is not the way God works. God's foreknowledge is not an awareness of what is going to happen, but it is the determining force that makes the thing take place. That's foreknowledge of God. When God foreknows something, it means exactly that it shall be. It is not that God sees before time and makes His plan, but He determines before time what will take place. That's the foreknowledge of God.

You can find many Scriptural passages that show this to be the case. You can see, for instance, that "faith," (which the Arminian says that God "foresees" in every individual) is itself the gift of God. He does not simply foresee that we will believe, but He determines in His foreknowledge that we will believe. Ephesians 2:8 states, "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Or, John 6:44 declares, "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me, draw him and I will raise him up again in the last day." No one can come except God DRAW HIM. Now, how do you apply that to God's "foreknowledge?" Foreknowledge is not that He sees ahead of time that we will come, but foreknowledge is exactly that He determines whom He will draw so that we come.

"Moreover whom He did foreknow these He "predestinated" to be conformed to the image of His Son. He determined their end: eternal glory that should be theirs for Jesus' sake. Predestination is to determine one's destiny before time--determines the destiny from eternity. The next chapter speaks more of that. The great chapter of Romans 9, in verses 11 and 12, speaking of Jacob and Esau, says that "the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him that calleth, it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger." Jacob's destiny was determined from eternity--before Jacob was born, before he had done either good or evil. That presents the beauty of God's work. God determines the destiny of each.

God determined what His people would look like. He predestinated His people to be formed or fashioned after the image of His Son. That too is a remarkable statement. These look like Jesus!! Often we don't now while we are still on this earth. Nevertheless, God from eternity predestinated His elect that they would be conformed to the image of His Son.

The "image" of His Son includes true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We are conformed according to His perfections: His righteousness, His holiness, His knowledge so that there is in us shining the likeness of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. That's exactly why Scripture speaks of the fact that Christ is the Firstborn of every creature. You notice, we are conformed to His image that Christ might be the firstborn of every creature; of His brethren. That is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture also. In Colossians 1:15 we read, "Who is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of every creature." Now Jesus was born 2,000 years ago. There were millions of people born before Him. There were many children of God who were born and who died before Christ ever came into our flesh. How can He be called in Scripture "the Firstborn of every creature?" How can we read of being predestinated so that we might be conformed to His image? How is Christ then the Firstborn of every creature? How are we to understand that? Not in a temporal way since Christ was born 2,000 years ago--long after many were born and died. He's rather the Firstborn in God's Council; in God's Plan. Christ is eternally first. In Christ, God sees His people--He determines a people who will be formed or fashioned, in the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. God does all of that. That's the part of the chain that is anchored in eternity in the Council of God. God foreknows. He also predestinates.

II. The Chain is Displayed in Time.

Now we come to time. In time one sees another two links in this golden chain of salvation: calling and justification. "Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified." There you have again the work of God. God brings this chain of salvation from eternity into time. We see now how this chain involves our pilgrimage. In time are two links: calling and justification. These two links present in summary form the whole work of the Spirit in the hearts of God's elect including both faith and sanctification.

We now look at that chain as we ourselves experience it in our pilgrimage. The first link in time is calling. This calling has two aspects which must be noted: regeneration and also what is identified as the "efficacious call." Regeneration is that almighty call of God whereby He brings dead sinners to life. He regenerates, that is, He gives new birth. Regeneration is not dependent upon man's action. Man is not regenerated because he believes. Regeneration precedes any spiritual activity. Regeneration is comparable to our physical birth. That is why Jesus, in John 3:3, states that we must be "born again." We had no part in our physical birth. We did not decide that we wanted to be born. Our birth took place entirely apart from our will. So it is spiritually. God calls from darkness to light. God calls by placing the life of Christ in the heart--it's God's work. It's a powerful call. It's an irresistible call. It's a call that comes below our consciousness. It comes before we believe. It must come first in order that we might believe. Faith is then the fruit of that new life.

There's a second element of that calling of God that is mentioned in the study of doctrine: the efficacious call to repentance. It is the call to conversion. This call comes through the preaching of the Gospel. In the preaching God presents His Word which we hear with our ears and understand with our minds. That is the call of God. That call commands, "Repent. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and thy house."

There's an element of that call, however, that is directly the work of the Spirit again: the Spirit confirms the call to our hearts; the Spirit applies to our hearts that call so that he who hears of the cross, he who hears the command: "Repent," believes. He who believes, falls down in repentance and confesses, "I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." That call, too, is irresistible. Jesus said in John 6:37, "All that the Father giveth to me shall come to me--they SHALL come." He Who calls us, draws us. When He draws us, we come before His cross. HE calls. You notice: in these two golden links of the chain, that God again is emphasized. Whom He calls, them He justifies. The calling is God's work. It's not the work of the powerful preacher. It's not the work of a soul-stirring choir singing emotional songs. It's not the effect of dramas that many find so attractive today. It's not a dramatic dance which influences the sinner. It is God--God Who calls. The honor is His; the power is His. The credit, then, can never go to man.

And it is God Who not only calls, but also justifies. That's another significant element of God's work: justification. Or, as some have described it, "Just-as-if-I-died." That gives you a little bit of an idea of what the word means. Justification!! Justification is the declaration of God through His Word and by His Spirit that we are sinless, holy, before Him. Justification is a legal term. Justification involves the court; it involves the law; it involves a judge. As soon as one says, "Justification," immediately it emphasizes that a man is free. He can not be condemned. He can not be accused. He can not be cast into prison. He can not be cast into hell. Justified! Now that's what this chain involves: whom He calls, them HE also justifies.

Just a few things about that wonderful work of justification. In the first place, we teach (and we are firmly convinced that this is Scriptural) that there is eternal justification. You will find that many who teach the "free offer of the gospel," deny eternal justification. Eternal justification again takes us back into the eternal Council or purpose of God. When the Bible says that we are "chosen in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world," there is the element of eternal justification. We are chosen IN CHRIST. This means that we are chosen in connection with the cross. We are chosen in connection with sin and grace--eternally!

But our text views especially that which takes place in time. We are justified in connection with the cross. Do you hear the Word of Christ, "It is finished?" What do you think that this means? Not just that He is about to die, that His life is ended. When He says, "It is finished," it involves a confession of Christ that His work fully paid for the sins of His people. He had justified us--though we were not even yet born. "It is finished!" God's justice is satisfied. His people surely are saved. We are justified through the cross.

But as here justification follows out of the "calling," the emphasis in the text is on the conscious experience of the child of God. When God calls, draws, by the power of His Holy Spirit, He also assures us in our minds and in our hearts that we are justified. The child of God who is on his knees, who cries with the publican, "Oh, God, be merciful to me the sinner," that child of God has flowing into his consciousness the assurance that Jesus died for him.

This is not to say that there are not times when we doubt, or question. But the fact is: He died for me! I am justified.

There is another element of justification we must yet recognize: that is the part of justification that takes place in the final day of judgment. When Christ comes again, He will declare the sentence: "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." All shall know that we are justified!! No condemnation!! Jesus will justly declare, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

All mankind will hear the sentence of Christ that we are spotless, holy, righteous through His shed blood. "Whom He called, them He also justified." So these two golden links also represent not man's work but God's. Therefore the church must confess: "God did it! He called!! He justified!!"

III. The Chain Reaches into Everlasting Glory

There is one final link: glorification. "Whom He justified, them He also glorified." That leads us to contemplate the new heavens and the new earth where time as we know it shall be no more. There will be a new earth, perhaps not so dissimilar from what we see about us today--but without the curse or any corruption. And the heavens shall be joined together with this earth so that these two represent that place in which we dwell with Christ before God forever.

That glorification is something we eagerly anticipate. It's rather hard to describe the glory. It's more impossible to visualize this final glory that it would be to describe what the middle of Africa looks like. We have never been there. We've seen pictures perhaps. But that's all: just pictures. So also we try to picture what glory must be. We see glory in pictures when we read the Bible. We see the pictures of the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven: as high, as wide, and as long as a cube. The New Jerusalem is presented in an amazing way: 1500 miles wide, long, and high according to Revelation. But it's only a picture. The streets are portrayed as pure gold. Its gates are pearls. Yet the picture is nothing compared to the reality. So the picture presents in earthly language, earthly measurements, earthly values what is of heavenly worth. What do you think about when you think of glory? Golden streets? I had a man that said, "Well, what's the point in golden streets? It does not make any difference to me in heaven whether the streets are of gold, or silver, stone." But he missed the point.

We look for something unbelievably great and valuable. The glory of the heavenly is greater than anything on this earth. It is, after all, the glory that is related to fellowship and communion with God and His Son. It's easy sometimes to think of glory in purely earthly terms: glory, perhaps, in the way the Indian does: it is a happy hunting grounds. Everything that we desired on the earth we will get in a higher degree there. We think of heaven to be, perhaps, the opportunity to be reunited with our dear ones. We tell ourselves that we can see our wife again, a father or mother or child again. But that's not the great glory of heaven. There is neither marriage nor giving in marriage in heaven. The old relationships as we know them on this earth will not exist in that manner in heaven. And our desire to enter into glory is not is not based first on a desire to see dear ones who have gone before. We seek rather the glory of fellowship with our Lord; with the Son of God in our flesh Who died on the cross for our sins! Can you imagine, can you imagine standing before Him in the full consciousness of what He has done on the cross to pay for our sins? What will we say to Him? What kind of fellowship, communion, will we have with Him Who died for us?

And we hear from His own mouth His Word of welcome! We will see Him face-to-face. We shall hear from His mouth of the glory of God which now we as in a glass darkly. Then too it shall be a most blessed thing indeed to see how that all of the saints of all ages comprise that one glorious chorus, that one perfect body of Christ. What glory that must be! We shall see the harmony and the unity of the truth of God's Word as we have never seen it here. What beauty that must be! Indeed, He Who calls us, justifies us, and He Who justifies us, shall must assuredly glorify us.

We have a foretaste of that glory already now. There's a certain foretaste of that heavenly glory when we assemble together in church. It's an imperfect assembly yet. Our minds wander. The preacher is not always as eloquent as he ought to be. The words don't always come out correctly. We can sometimes sleep in church. Still, under the preaching of the Word and in fellowship with God's people we have a certain foretaste of the glory of the heavenly. That's why children of God grieve when they can't come to church due to sickness or some other adversity. They do not want to miss out on this foretaste. We have here a little bit of an idea of what heaven must be like when we can sing together, or pray unitedly, and have fellowship and communion about the truth of God's Word. We commonly confess our hope of glory as we hear that Word proclaimed every Sabbath Day. Truly it is a foretaste of the glory!

That's the link still to come.

There's a wonderful comfort in this golden chain of which the text speaks. The comfort is found, first of all, in the absolute certainty of this: an absolute certainty. That is because we don't find our name connected with this work, but GOD'S Name. He Who foreknew, predestinated; He Who predestinated, called, justified, glorified. God does that all!

We have our times of doubt. We look at ourselves and we see the terrible sins we commit. We see how unworthy we are. Could WE be saved? Satan tempts us too, tempts us especially in our most difficult moments, and most adverse circumstances. Satan himself disputed about the body of Moses according to the book of Jude. He still disputes. "What right do you have to go to glory? What right do you have to think you are a son of God? What right do you have to think your terrible sins are forgiven?" And we begin to say almost at the same time, "Yes, yes, there's maybe a point to that; maybe a point." But Satan tells a lie. We know it because of that chain stretching from eternity to everlasting glory. God works all of it from beginning to the end. Some call that "Calvinism"; some say that is just "Reformed doctrine"; others mock it, saying that it leads one to carelessness. But the fact is, this truth, this golden chain, gives certainty. We are assured of salvation in its entirety because of the work of God from beginning to end. You have heard the expression that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If there are five links, and if even only one is the work of man, well, then it's hopeless. That weak link will inevitably break; it can't stand. But if the links are all God's work, and they are, there is nothing that can destroy this. The child of God finds comfort and assurance in that.

And there's a great blessedness in this too--tremendous blessedness. The more we consider that golden chain, the more we can anticipate the glory that shall surely come. You reflect upon that chain--do that this week; reflect upon its five links presented in the text. Often we are quite easily satisfied with the way things go on this earth because we have our health; because we have a relative degree of prosperity. Things are going pretty well for us--at least at present. So we soon forget about the golden chain and how it extends into glory. Sometimes we become careless and we put aside His Word, the Bible; we might not even read it for days on end. And our prayers can become so routine. Does the "golden chain" then mean anything to us?

But when we think again of that golden chain, how that it "began" before the world was formed, even before time originated, and it goes through this age to everlasting, heavenly glory, then we rejoice. And as we contemplate that, then we reach a point when we say, "I can hardly wait. I can hardly wait." Now we are in transition; we are traveling in a foreign land. We are pilgrims and strangers. But the Bible has described the glory that shall be. And since we know that God works from eternity through time, bringing us to everlasting glory, we know that His Word will never fail. His people will be safe and secure until the end. We glorify Him now and shall do so forever in heaven. Amen

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Last modified, 26-Apr-1998