What do eternal security deniers make of the apostle Paul’s famous “golden chain of salvation,” as we sometimes lovingly call the truths in Romans 8:28-30? They deny unbreakability of every link in this golden chain.
The truth is that God orchestrates the whole of his providence in the lives of “them that love God” for their good (v.28)—he makes all that happens to them work to strengthen and build up their personal Christianity (faith, marks, fruit, good works), so that they glorify him all the more. And Paul explains, in brief, why this is so: it is because they are “the called [to a glorious future] according to [God’s] purpose,” namely his decree of redemption established in eternity past (compare Ephesians 1:4-5, 11).
In the passage at the start of this chapter, notice the apostle’s repeated reference to this one particular group of people: “them…them…them…” Paul first refers to these people as “them that love God”; and then he describes them—all of them—in a number of different ways, each way affirming a different truth:
All of “them that love God” are “them who are the called according to [God’s] purpose.” And they alone are thus effectually called (i.e. their calling produces the intended result: their coming to Christ).
All these same people are “them” whom God especially “foreknew”193 (and God foreknew no-one else in this sense).
All these same people are “them” who are predestinated by God the Father to be conformed to the image of his only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ194.
All these foreknown, predestinated, called and justified people are “them” who are eventually “glorified” by God.
Notice that Paul uses this word “glorified” in its past tense, because he is describing each of these things as having already happened, as it were, according to God’s eternal decree—although the glorification of the saints is a future event to them while they still live in this world.
What is this glorified state? It is what Paul had said earlier in that these people are “predestinated to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” In order for these fallen, totally depraved sinners to become so conformed to the image of the Son of God, it was necessary for God to give all these foreknown people to his Son, and for his Son to save them from their sins.
Deniers of the doctrine of God’s preservation of his saints (also known as eternal security) assert that Paul’s “them” should be understood as an unfixed, indefinite, decreasing number of people. They say:
Not all of those people who are called by God according to his purpose are (or become) “them that love God” in a continuing sense—because some, they say, will cease to love God when they change their mind about him and thereby stop being Christians.
Not all of those people who are justified will be glorified, because some of them will lose their salvation.
It is as though, they say, God wills to save all to whom the Gospel is preached, but his will is thwarted because so many reject the Gospel, and because many who accept it at first lose their faith later—slipping away through God’s fingers like sand.
This is clearly contrary to what Christ promises: “of all which he [God the Father] hath given me I should lose nothing” (John 6:39; see also 17:1-5, 24).
Conformed to the image of the Son of God
Paul also taught in his epistle to the Ephesians concerning this image of God: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
The phrase “after God” indicates that the Christian will bear the restored image of God. This image consists in knowledge (i.e. experiential2 knowledge of God), and righteousness, and true holiness—and we are being “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18; see also Colossians 3:10). Paul even describes this as “put[ting]…on the Lord Jesus Christ”, and as “Christ be[ing] formed in you”, the believer (Romans 13:14; Galatians 4:19).
These three identifying features of the image of God—knowledge, righteousness and true holiness—were lost by the fall of the human race in Adam, when he committed the original sin3 (Genesis 1:26-27). They are restored by the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and sanctification. They are integral parts of the new life in the Christian.
This image of God is perfectly manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ—which is why Paul also teaches that Christians are to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).
To be conformed to the image of the Son of God is to bear the image of God. Paul even describes this sanctification as “Christ be[ing] formed in you” (see Galatians 4:9).