Romans 8:29-30 is often used by Calvinists to 'prove' that God predestines certain people to salvation while predestining others to hell. Let's look at what these two verses actually say.
Romans 8:29-30:Vs. 29. “Because whom He foreknew (4267 to know beforehand) , He also predestinated (4309 to limit in advance, predetermine) to be conformed (4832 jointly formed) to the image (1504 likeness) of His Son, for Him to be the firstborn among (1722 position of place, state or time) many brothers. Vs. 30. But whom He predestinated, these He also called (2564 to bid, to call forth) , and whom He called, these He also justified (1344 to show or regard as just or innocent); but whom He justified, He also glorified (1392 to render (esteem) as glorious, having glory, magnify).
Plugging in the definitions from the original Greek these verses reasonably say: Vs. 29. Because whom God knew beforehand, He also limited in advance to be jointly formed to the likeness of His Son, for His Son is the firstborn in the state of many brothers.Vs. 30. But of whom God limited in advance, these He also called forth, and whom He called, He also regarded as innocent; but whom He regarded as innocent, He also esteemed them as having glory.
Contextually, Paul moves from the present tense verbs he uses in the verses prior to verse 29, to past tense verbs, so, in verses 29 and 30, Paul speaks of what God did in the past.
Since God is all-knowing, it stands to reason that He knew beforehand some people would respond to Him out of faith and because of their trust in Him, they would be saved; think Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Jacob, David, and in the New Testament, think Mary, Jesus’ mother, Stephen, the Apostles, among others. After all, God knows EVERYTHING beforehand! To Him, there is NOTHING which is NOT foreknown. Those who come to faith in Jesus are not an exception. Paul mentions God’s foreknowledge of those saved through faith because of the predestinated aspect of this verse. Here’s why ‘predestinated’ is used in verse 29. God spent a lot of time in the Old Testament placing prophecies which would be fulfilled as time passed. Many of these prophecies speak of Jesus. I learned in Bible College that some 350 different prophecies in the OT refer to Jesus in one way or another. This is important because God was putting in place His plan of salvation, having predetermined it. In other words, God predetermined that people of faith, like those mentioned, would be made in the image of His Son (1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18). We know this for two reasons: First, verse 29 tells us that ‘predestination’ refers to being made in the image, or likeness, of Christ. Jesus Christ was a living, breathing, flesh and blood human being who walked this earth. The only picture we have of Christ in which we can imitate or be made like Him is as a person. Jesus died as a Savior taking the punishment for the sin of mankind because He is the ONLY perfect person who ever lived which is something we CAN'T do. Jesus raised Himself from the dead which is something we CAN’T do (John 2:19, 10:18). Jesus literally sits in heaven as an intercessor/High Priest which we CAN’T do (Hebrews 4:14; 7:26; 12:2). Jesus will reign as a king during the millennial kingdom which we CAN’T do (Psalms 2:6-9; Revelation 20:4-6). Jesus will serve as a judge to the saints which we CAN’T do (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). So, to be made in the likeness of Christ means we are to be made like Him when He was a human. What does it mean to be made in the likeness of Christ? Bear in mind this list is NOT exhaustive, but it gives you the idea: to be like Christ is to love others (Ephesians 5:2, John 3:16, 15:13), to have the eagerness to do what is good (Titus 2:14), to sacrifice (not intended in a manner to save others, just to set self aside, Romans 6:13-14) humility and obedience (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:8), service (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, John 13:1-17), teaching others (Matthew 28:19, John 13:13), and being washed with Him in baptism (John 3:5, John 13:8, Colossians 2:12).
‘Predestinated’ in verse 29 does NOT reference salvation. This verse does NOT say that those foreknown by God are predestined to heaven, but to being made in the image of His Son. I mean, if God wanted us to know that some were predestined for salvation, why not just say so, instead of using the word in relation to being made in the image of Christ? God is no less capable of saying what He wants in this scripture than in any other. The predetermined ones, those limited in advance, were the ones to be made in the image of Christ. After all, people who do not trust Jesus in faith are NOT being made in His image. This is the ‘predestination’ this verse references. That God 'limited in advance' did not reference a number of people, but the condition or state in which they existed.
Second, there are many people who are being made in the image/likeness of Christ who will never see life in heaven because, at some point, they will walk away from Jesus for a reason chosen by them. There are several scriptures which clearly warn us about guarding our faith, and many more which warn us about the possibility of losing our salvation (please reference page on Losing Salvation). Paul, who was talking to Christians when he said it, clearly teaches in Hebrews 4:1-2 that we should fear because there are many Christians who will fall short and not see heaven because they did not guard their faith. This possibility could not exist if people were predestined to salvation chosen by God without any say for themselves.
Vs. 30. But of whom God limited in advance (those made in the image of Christ), these He also called forth, and whom He called, He also regarded as innocent; but whom He regarded as innocent, He also esteemed them as having glory. We know from scripture that God calls everyone to salvation (For a list of scriptures, please see the page on Limited Atonement Refutation). Now, not everyone accepts or wants salvation, but the offer is there. Once a person is saved in Jesus, God looks upon them as innocent, regarding them as guiltless because Jesus took their punishment. The innocent are those who will be esteemed with glory in heaven. Even though Paul speaks of things God did in the past, God will do the same for ANYONE who believes on the name of Jesus. When a person takes time to consider God’s word as He intends, it is NOT difficult to understand it as such. Definitions from the original language and context, along with a humble heart that is willing to listen to God as He teaches, is all that’s required. I’ve made my case that this passage, Romans 8:29-30, often cited as proof for predestination with regards to individual salvation is nothing of the kind.