And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:30
This is a comforting verse for the believer. In it we are told that those God has predestined from eternity past have assurance that the gift of salvation will be carried through to completion. (Phil. 1:6; See also Romans 8:38-39; 1 Peter 1:5; Ephesian 1:13, 14; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2)
But if you notice, the word “glorified” is also in the past tense, as if to say, “You, who were predestined, called, and justified, are also already glorified.” Almost every passage you read in the New Testament that speaks of the believers final glorification places it in the future (Matthew 13:43; Romans 5:2; Colossians 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:14). The believer’s hope (the word “hope” itself indicates a future reality, not a present one) is in our final glorification, when we be like our Lord Jesus (1 John 3:2). So, why does Paul place our glorification in the past, along with other aspects of our salvation that are historic realities we experience before the second coming of Christ, as if it has already taken place?
Here are a couple of things to consider:
First, I believe Paul is giving us a glimpse of how God views us from His all-knowing and unconstrained perspective. God experiences time in a very different way than His creatures. (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8) This delves into the doctrine of Divine Eternality. He is able to see the past, present, and future with equal vividness. His memories do not fade and he knows exactly what the future will look like. Nothing is hidden from God, nor does anything surprise Him. Your sin does not surprise Him. Your “choice” to serve Christ does not astonish Him. He holds past, present, and future in perfect harmony and clarity of vision.
Secondly, we also see that God is sovereign, not only over all creation, but particularly, over the salvation of the elect. Before the creation of the world and time as we understand it, the Father chose us in Christ (Ephesians 1:4). At the moment of His effectual call upon us he justified us in Christ and in time. But Paul goes on to say that those who are still waiting in this world, governed by time as God created it, have also been glorified. The past, present, and future meet in the timeless and sovereign God. He is “I am”, not “I was” or “I will be” . He not only knows what the future will look like, He decrees how it will be carried out.
Take comfort in the wonderful truth that our Sovereign God has glorified those who He has called and saved, even though we, from our limited creaturely perspective, wait for that day. From God’s perspective, “It is finished” did not just include our justification at some moment in our past or our present sanctification as we grow in Christlikeness. It encompassed our assured glorification in Christ. As they say, “It’s a package deal.” That is part of the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ: the good news of our unquestionable glorification.
We may understand our glorification as something to come, but God knows it as already done. Choose to see it from God’s perspective and rejoice!
This just a short quote from John Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. This is why I enjoy reading Calvin. He recognizes that doctrine is not merely cerebral stuff. He writes with the purpose of reaching the mind and heart, to point us to Christ and encourage us towards obedience.
Christianity is a doctrine not of the tongue, but of the life, and is not apprehended merely by the intellect and memory like other sciences, but it is revealed only when it possesses the whole soul and finds its seat and habitation in the innermost recesses of the heart. – John Calvin
It is not uncommon to hear Christians criticize the use of theological terms by saying, “Well, that word isn’t in the Bible. So, why would we use it?” Words like justification, common grace, limited atonement, glorification, aseity, omniscience, hypostatic union do not occur in the biblical text. I understand their sentiment. This usually stems from a desire to remain faithful to the Word of God, and the fear of introducing new elements into Christian teaching that could be considered outside the bounds of scripture (Prov. 30:5-6; Rev. 22:18; Gal. 1:6-9) We do not want to add anything to the Bible or what the Bible teaches.
However, I would suggest that the careful use of theological terms can go a long way to enhance our understanding of the scriptures. When appropriately used, theological terms can clarify the meaning of particular passages and words that might otherwise be confusing.
An example might be helpful. Let us take the term effectual calling. Dr. John Frame defines this term as “God’s sovereign summons that actually draws a person into union with Christ.”¹ But, as he points out in his Systematic Theology, this is not the only use of calling one finds in the Scriptures. Calling can also refer to the giving of a name, getting someone’s attention, or an invitation of some sort.² Theologians came up with the term effectual calling to distinguish how the word calling is being used in particular passages. That is vitally necessary because no word has just a single wooden meaning. Words, often times, are nuanced or have subtle shades of meaning. The context surrounding the word will, in many cases, determine how a word is being used and, therefore, we must adjust our definition to fit that context. The word effectual in front of the word helps us avoid misunderstanding.
But there is also a warning here: We must not look to the definition of a theological term to paint the whole picture for us. It is important that we guard ourselves from relying on such terms and their respective definitions to tell us more than is really there in the biblical text. In the end, we are called to rely on the Word of God to form and guide our signification of any theological term. Our definitions have a boundary marker: the biblical text. So, where we find terms defined in such a way that cannot be supported by the text of scripture, dropping that term or redefining it may be necessary.
We need theological terms. We need ways to summarize and distinguish concepts and different uses of word to avoid confusion and misinterpretation. They are helpful. We should seek to understand how the various theologians have defined terms. But remember this: “Theological definitions must measure up to Scripture, not the other way around.”³
¹Frame, John M., Systematic theology: an introduction to Christian belief, Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2013, 3.
²Frame, Systematic Theology, 3.
³Frame, Systematic Theology, 4.
…we evangelicals have not always been at our best. We have often been contrarians and reactionaries. We have found it difficult to hold intellectual rigor and spiritual nurture in equipoise. Cotton Mather once reported that when his famous grandfather, John Cotton, was a student back in England, at Cambridge, he was worried that “if he became a godly man, t’would spoil him in being a learned one.” But, of course, the opposite is also true. We can all think of students we have known who, in the process of becoming learned, have forgotten to be godly.
Not so many years ago, few if any Protestant or evangelical seminaries paid much attention to spiritual formation. That was something the Catholics did! Now our accreditation standards hold us all accountable for the spiritual nurture of our students. Genuine theological education should aim for transformation, not the mere transfer of cognitive data from one mind to another. We can be satisfied with neither rigid intellectualism on the one hand nor unreflective sentimentalism on the other. Our aim ought to be rather head and heart together, puritanism and pietism, both together at their best. As Thomas Aquinas, echoing Augustine, put it, “Theology is taught by God, teaches God, and takes us to God.”
Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture.
Here’s a link to the entire post: Brief Thoughts on the Future of Theological Education
Dr. John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary, in his book Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, addresses one of the major problems regarding the way that theology is taught in the academic world. He argues that the dilemma that the church faces today is that seminarians who are evangelical in their beliefs and preparing to minister to men and women in the pews are taught theology in way that undermines the authority of scripture in the church. Hence, they enter the ministry ill-equipped to handle the Bible and to minister to the needs of their respective congregations. Instead of learning theology from the pages of scripture, they are taught to compare one theologian with another, or research the history of some doctrine, or even, come up with some novel interpretation of some obscure passage for their PhD dissertation. Excuse me… since when is “novelty” the standard for good theology? That is how we get strange cults and heretical off-shoots.
Granted, their are many schools that reject this method of teaching theology. I currently attend a seminary that outright repudiates this form of theological education. But, by and large, if a student is seeking to enter the academy professionally, in most cases, they will be requried to attend an accredited liberal school, stay up-to-date with the latest theological squabble, and make, as Frame puts it, “‘orignal contributions’ to that discussion, out of his autonomous reasoning.”¹ Theologians are not called to think autonomously; they are called to think God’s thoughts after Him; their call is to to seek “knowledge and good judgment.” (Psalm 119:66) And that only comes by discerning truth as revealed by the Truth Giver.
This form of theological education does a great disservice to the church of Jesus Christ. The emphasis is on innovation and the latest fad instead of mining the depths of scripture for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ, for the glory of God. This is why Christ gave us pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-13). Any systematic theologian worth his weight in salt, “since he aspires to synthesize the teaching of the whole Bible, must spend more time with the Scripture than anybody else.”² That should be the goal of every theologian: to know the whole counsel of God. Historical theology and comparative theology have their place, but they are, at best, secondary to the study of the Bible and the development of a theological framework that comes directly from the pages of scripture.
To summarize: The study of God and all His perfections is not conducted by looking at mere speculations, the latest fads, or the concoction of novel ideas. The theological battleground in the academic world does nothing worthwhile for the church of Jesus Christ. There will, of course, be times when the church needs to step in to recognize, denouce, and correct false doctrine. The church is, after all, “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) However, what the church is in desperate need of is biblically-minded pastors and teachers that seek to do their theology from the inspired pages of God’s own Word.
¹ Frame, John M., Systematic theology: an introduction to Christian belief, Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2013, 10.
² Frame, Systematic Theology, 11.