A biblically-grounded understanding of disability sees a disability as a display of God’s glory. Accordingly, by the sovereign work of God, that which has come to pass, must of theological necessity be the best of all possible worlds. Therefore, even disability necessarily displays the perfection of God’s purposes. Further, God through his Word shows a particular delight in displaying his eternal power and goodness through those things considered weak and of little account by this world’s standards. Disability then, in a peculiar fashion shines forth the radiance of his glory.
God’s Work of Salvation and the Display of His Glory – Romans 8:29-30
Romans 8:29-30, often referred to as the “golden chain,” lay out the order of salvation from foreknowledge to glorification, from beginning to end, and from before time to the glory of all things; each link an inexorable step on the pathway of redemption.
Foreknowledge. This theological concept is where Paul begins: “For those whom he foreknew” (8:29). How we define foreknowledge goes a long way to defining the whole chain. Thomas Schreiner asserts, “One’s understanding of Paul’s soteriology is significantly affected by one’s understanding of the verb proginoskein, to foreknow, since predestination unto salvation is limited to those foreknown” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 443). There are two primary ways of understanding foreknowledge. First, it is merely the knowledge of what will be, or simply knowing everything that will occur. Pelagius states, “God’s purpose in his plan to save by faith alone those whom he had known in advance would believe, and those whom he freely called to salvation he will glorify all the more as they work toward it. To predestine is the same as to know in advance. Those whom God foresaw would be conformed in life he intended to be conformed in glory” (Pelagius, quoted in Martin Bray, Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament (City, ST: InterVarsity, 2005), 167). God chooses those who he, through his foreknowledge, knows would choose in their own free will in time and history to be saved. In that sense, foreknowledge is just confirming what the free agent chooses according to their own free choices.
Second, Douglas Moo explains, “Paul does not say that God knew anything about us but that he knew us, and this is reminiscent of the OT sense of ‘know.’ Moreover, it is only some individuals—those who, having been ‘foreknown,’ were also predestined, called, justified, and glorified—who are objects of this activity” (Douglas Moo, The Letter to the Romans, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2018), 554). Since God is completely sovereign, for him to know something is the same as if he chose it. Foreknowledge is as predestination, separated only by time and history. Further, Moo shares, “The Puritan Willam Perkins distinguished between foreknowing as eternal election and predestination as election in time” (Moo, The Letter to the Romans, 555). From before the foundation of the world—before creation, before time—God foreknew; he planned all that would come to be for the good of those he would make his own. Schreiner states, “Therefore, believers will grasp that all things conspire for good because of God’s sovereign rule and plan for believers. The good realized is not due to fate, luck, or even moral superiority of believers; it is to be ascribed to God’s good and sovereign will, which has from eternity past to eternity future secured and guaranteed the good of those whom he has chosen” (Schreiner, Romans, 443).
Predestination. “He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29). God conformed those he predestined to the image and likeness of his Son. Moo affirms, “Now it is God’s purpose to imprint on all those who belong to Christ the image of the second Adam” (Moo, The Letter to the Romans, 556). This predestinating occurred before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:20; Eph 1:4). Therefore, the predestination occurs without reference to any gifts, strengths, or wisdom found in the ones so chosen. Only that those chosen bear the imprint of the image of Jesus. John Calvin explains, “The meaning then is, that gratuitous adoption, in which our salvation consists, is inseparable from the other decree, which determines that we are to bear the cross; for no one can be an heir of heaven without being conformed to the image of the only-begotten Son of God” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 318). Predestination is not just to election generally but to the image of Christ, that is to his cross specifically. We are predestined to take up the cross in our lives and thereby able to be called his brother.
Called. “And those he predestined he also called” (Rom 8:30a). Moo shares, “The next link is the verb ‘he called,’ which denotes God’s effectual summoning into relationship with him” (Moo, The Letter to the Romans, 556). Paul talks about a general call to all people in Romans 1:19-23, whereby he reveals himself in and through creation, so that men are without excuse when it comes to knowing the invisible attributes of God. His almighty power and sovereign creation. A general call of the gospel (John 3:1i6) also reaches out to all people. However, the term called used here refers to a specific, individual call of the gospel which must be responded to positively. Those who are foreknown and predestined will in time necessarily respond to the call of the gospel. This again is not to be understood as a general call of the gospel to all men, but a specific effectual call to the destined individual. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first-fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Justified. “And those whom he called he also justified” (Rom 8:30b). Those who are effectually summoned by the call of the gospel, respond to that call and are thereby justified by faith. Justification is a forensic relationship by which the called now stand in relationship to God. A position whereby all sins past, present, and future, are reckoned forgiven and atoned for.
Glorified. “And those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30c). Those whom he justified in time and history will be glorified out of time and history. Though this statement carries with it a present and future fulfillment, we already stand in a position of glory with relation to the gospel but have not yet received it in its fulness. This will occur at the final judgement and the restoration of all things. Schreiner states, “No one who is foreknown or predestined will drop out of the process” (Schreiner, Romans, 446).
Since the entire chain is accomplished by the sovereign acts of God, nothing necessarily would keep them from being achieved by those with an intellectual disability. No one has a privileged position when it comes to the process of salvation. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. People are not saved because of any inherent ability they possess, but all are saved by grace. The grace required to save a person with intellectual disabilities is not different in kind than the grace required to save someone who is typically developed.
Rev. Eric Nelson, SHN President & Founder