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. 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 8:29–30)
Foreknew <=> Predestined <=> Called <=> Justified <=> Glorified.
These five words capture the drama of redemption. The salvation God gives is all-encompassing—we are cocooned into the grace of God from eternity past to eternity future. Each link is an act of God to bring us into his grace, keep us in his grace, and bring us into eternal life on the New Earth. Grace upon grace.
Grasping the Chain
Let’s think about these links that make up the Golden Chain and how we can use them in our spiritual lives.
Link 1: “Those whom he foreknew” is God’s eternal love
Foreknowing isn't about what God knew but whom God loved. God is the first person to love us. God loved us before the foundation of the world, setting his love on us to save us. The chain of events of salvation began in the eternal love of God.
Link 2: “Predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” is God’s destiny for us
My instinct is that this verse would say we were predestined for heaven. While that is true, that’s not what Paul is stressing. Paul shows how we are predestined for new life now, for spiritual transformation now. God has guaranteed our growth to become more like our big brother, Jesus of Nazareth. We were chosen for salvation, to be conformed into the image of Christ (Ephesians 1:4–5).
Link 3: “Called” is God’s gospel call
The gospel call goes out to all, but the effectual call—God calling through the preaching of the gospel, reading of the Bible, etc.—is how sinners respond to the gospel message. God calls us from the spiritual grave into new life. God called and we came running to him because of his grace.
Link 4: “Justified” is God’s declaration
God declares us righteous, not guilty, acquitted, and free from all of our sins by grace through faith in Christ. The doctrine of justification is also an imputation of Christ’s righteousness into our souls, our lives, our spiritual accounts. We are in a position of irreversible right standing before God because Jesus took our sin and gave us his righteousness.
Link 5: “Glorified” is God’s promise
Paul puts this word in the past tense too. It’s just as good as done, it is destined, it is promised—we will be glorified in the final resurrection of the dead. We will make it to the New Earth in our glorified, sin-free, death-proof bodies. Guaranteed. Salvation cannot be lost.
Now that we have the theology of the chain, what’s the spirituality of it? As the Puritans would say, “What is the experimental use of this doctrine?”
Wielding the Chain in Spiritual Warfare
There are many uses, but I have one in mind: Spiritual Warfare.
Beat the devil over the head with the Golden Chain. Whip him with it. Bash his pitiful attempts to frustrate you, tease you, and tempt you. Satan will try and heap shame on us because of our past and present sins. Grab the Golden Chain, let him hear it rattle in your hands, and knock him on that scaly head with it.
“I’m loved before the foundation of the world, Satan. I’m predestined to become like Jesus—it is happening, and you can’t stop it. Get used to it. You lost.”
Keep hitting him.
“And I believe and confess Christ’s death and resurrection—you remember that? Of course, you do. You could never forget the greatest defeat in your life. And best of all, Lucifer, you can try and heap shame and guilt on me, but I’m justified forever. That’s the all-caps label over my life! Forgiven. Free. So, beat it, or I will beat you more with this chain.”
Spiritual warfare is taking truth to lies, extinguishing the flaming darts of the evil one with the truth of God, and preaching the gospel to ourselves and any fallen angels that need a fresh reminder of their doom and God’s victory.
The Golden Chain can be used to lift you up and encourage you, to pull you away from the old nature that's pulled toward sin, and it can be used as a weapon against the wiles of the devil.
Let the Golden Chain be a source of comfort and confidence in the grace of God. You are saved, being saved, and will be saved because of Christ.
What shall we say to these things? Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not Satan, not our past, not our struggles, not a single thing can break the Golden Chain (Romans 8:31-39).
The entire artwork is a powerful visible representation. It depicts the triune God's foreknowing in eternity past to save sinners, and the links interlocking with events unfolding in each link. I'm grateful that Princeton is keeping this image alive on their site. See the whole image here.