For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
‘Predestined’ is the second of the five links in the golden chain.
For James Packer, the famous theologian, thinking about this word was ‘like looking into the sun’. On a sunny day we can feel the sun’s warmth but it is impossible for us to look into the sun as it is too bright. Similarly, God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) and in studying God’s predestinating purpose we are looking at a light that dazzles with brilliance and overwhelms us. However, we can at least feel the warmth of God’s predestinating love. Let us pray for this today in our meditation.
Predestination means that God, of his own will has foreordained many people to wonderful privileges in Christ for eternity. ‘Pre’ means ‘before’ and God’s choice of us goes back to eternity (Ephesians 1:4) when he chose us and planned a glorious future for us in the Lord Jesus. He decides to save us, he decides what salvation will involve and how we come to Christ. This is why I am a Christian today so all the praise and credit has to go to God himself. This is God’s salvation from beginning to end – that is what the first part of this verse teaches.
The rest of verse 29 informs us about the privileges and intention of God in predestinating us to be saved. This is mind boggling and amazing. God is holy so we are called to be holy and here we are reminded that God’s ultimate purpose for our lives is that we should be conformed to Christ’s likeness. His reason for choosing us is clear: namely, to be ‘conformed to the image of His Son’. God’s goal for each Christian is to make us eventually as morally pure and holy as Christ is and at his personal return in glory for our bodies to be raised in the likeness of Christ’s glorified body (Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2). That is the destination and future God has predestined for all believers. That will be achieved when we die and ultimately when our bodies will be raised at the return of Christ, but here and now we need to grow in faith, love and obedience to Christ. This work began when we were ‘made alive’ by the Spirit at a time when we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5) and brought to Christ. We are then helped by the Holy Spirit and our intimate union with Christ in our struggles with indwelling sin, the world and the devil. When the Rev John Stott (1921-2011) was asked near the end of his life by a TV reporter: ‘You have had a brilliant career…. what is your ambition now?’ He replied simply: ‘To be more like Jesus.’ That was his one ambition. Is it yours?
We must not miss the significance of the final words of the verse. Perhaps you should underline the words in your bible for we are prone to think only of ourselves in the golden chain in verses 29 & 30 or to think about particular links in that chain which interest us but overlook these final nine words which are of major importance. In fact they express the ultimate divine purpose in pre-destinating us to the likeness of Christ. That purpose is that Christ will be pre-eminent and receive all the glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
What do the words mean – ‘that He might be the firstborn among many brothers’?
The term ‘firstborn‘ is a redemptive term and refers to the senior of the children in a family who is singled out for honour, and ‘brothers’ refers to those, men and women, who trust in Christ and love God the Father. In God’s plan very many people worldwide in all generations have been chosen by the Father to be saved and brought into his family. Notice therefore the word ‘many’. God’s family is already huge but finally when Christ returns in glory there will be so many that ‘no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb‘. (Revelation 7:9).
In a nutshell, the words at the end of this verse confirm that more important than even the blessing and glorifying of Christians at the end of world history is the pre-eminence and supremacy of Jesus Christ. The ultimate aim of God’s purpose is not only that we are forgiven and enter heaven, but that Christ should be pre-eminent amongst his people. That is what Paul states clearly in Ephesians chapter one. The Father’s electing love and choice in eternity of all who will be saved in Christ has the purpose of being ‘to the praise of the glory of his grace’ (v.6) which is emphasised again in verses twelve and fourteen.
This is a truth that will set us free. Excitingly, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory to bring to glorify his church, renew creation and judge angels and people, at that point whether willingly or unwillingly ‘every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:10-11).
Is Christ pre-eminent in your life and in your church?
Dr Eryl Davies (Heath Church Cardiff)