I need to take a short break from two series that I’m currenty post on this list (the one on election and After the Resurrection) to insert this very important public service announcement:
28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For 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. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:28-39
One of the greatest passages of scripture ever written, yet people so pick it apart instead of treating it as one train of thought that the apostle Paul develops that it’s robbed of its’ true power to change the life and heart of a believer.Â I’m going to give you a little preview – just a taste – of the riches of God’s power to change a life packed into these verses.
Many of us know verse 28 of Romans 8 by heart.Â The problem that many of us have with this verse, however, is that in our quest to keep human free will, we strip this verse down to making God reactionary instead of proactive.
Further, some people strip the doctrine of election – God’s choosing of certain men and women in eternity past for salvation without respect to anything they have done or would do to merit salvation, but simply according to the counsel of His own will – out of verse 29 to make it look like God simply makes a decision based on someone else’s decision or that He sits in heaven, wringing His hands, hoping people will come.
Let me tell you – this DESTROYS the promise of this entire passage.Â Stripping away the doctrine of election from this passage DESTROYS the entire intent of Paul’s argument. It undermines any real confidence that a believer can have in God when troubles and trials arise. It is blasphemous to do such a thing. And if you have issue with me saying it, take it up with Romans 9, Ephesians 1, Acts 13:48, John 6:37-66, Isaiah 46:9-12, Daniel 4:34-35 and a mountain of other passages that teach God’s absolute and complete control over all of human history, as He works *all things* out for His glory.Â It *is* blasphemous to strip the Creator of His glory by simply making Him reactionary and idle in salvation when He spoke worlds into existence and constantly refrains that His purposes cannot be thwarted and that no man can say to Him ‘what are you doing ?’.
Too often, because the doctrine of election is despised and people, in their ignorance and pride, see no practical benefit of it except to make them feel powerless, they miss the point. And like a blind man throwing darts at a target with his feet, they will continue to miss the point until they are given sight.
Here is sight.
Verse 29 says that those who God ‘foreknew’ – and the greek word here means to set His love and favor upon – the same way God only ‘knew’ Israel in the Old Testament or how a husband only ‘knows’ his wife intimately, this is what God chooses to do according to His own mercy and will and not based on anything that man *might* do or *will* do.Â This very point is argued in the next chapter (Romans 9:14-18).Â Those whom God sets His love, or favor upon, He marks off (predestines) to be conformed to the image of His Son.
The greatest treasure in the universe is the glory of the Creator Himself.Â It is worth more than any car, any diamond, any record deal, any accolade, any other praise by men, any self-esteem building – it IS the reason why God does all things.Â For His glory. For His name. And as you read in scripture, do not gloss over these passages that mention this. It is a far weightier matter than you may have been taught.Â It is more than just idle words. An ocean of depth lies in these words.Â And we, believers, have been predestined – marked off ahead of time by God – to be conformed to the image of this God and to reflect His glory, like a mirror on a glass building reflects the glory of the sun early in the morning. We will one day (1 Cor. 15:50-58) be transformed to reflect His glory – that is, His holiness, His incorruptibility, His righteousness, His faithfulness, His true loving nature, His moral perfections and an eternity of things we will keep reflecting throughout eternity with Him.Â Our affections will be new, so that ‘worshipping God for eternity’ won’t seem dull and boring as it does to some now.Â We will look back on the things of this world that we placed so much stock and trust in and realize they were all RUBBISH in comparison to the glory that we will then see.Â Paul tells us this very thing!
But back to the text. Those whom God marks off for salvation and to be conformed to the image of His Son, He calls.Â There are two types of ‘calls’ in scripture.Â There is the outward, general call, given to all men.Â “Repent and believe the gospel!” Acts 17:30-31.Â “Christ is risen!” – Matthew 28.Â These are proclamations that believers are called to preach everywhere and at every time. They deal with men according to their responsibility to God.Â Man was created to worship God; therefore, when man fails to do so (Romans 1:18-20), he rightlyfully incurs the wrath of God.Â And as the beginning of Romans 2 tells us, men, who in their foolishness continue to mock God with such things as a chocolate Jesus statue and South Park, are continually storing up more of the wrath of God for themselves by refusing to acknowledge and submit to him.
There is also the ‘inward’ or ‘effectual’ call of God.Â This goes out to those whom He has predestined. This call possesses the ability to make happen what it commands.Â We see this with the illustration of Lazarus’s resurrection in John 11 – Christ said ‘Lazarus – come forth!’ The very thing commanded came to pass because of the power of the call of God. Likewise, God said ‘Let there be light’ and the very thing commanded came to pass.Â So those whom God has marked off for salvation, set His love upon – when the time comes and they hearÂ the gospel message – “Repent and believe!” – they do.Â Not because they are smarter than everyone else.Â Not because they are better than everyone else.Â Not because it was they who made the final choice.Â But because God showed them mercy and changed their heart from hating God and rejecting the gospel and serving themselves, to loving God (an illustration shown in passages like Ezekiel 36:22-27 for example).
Those called are ALSO Justified.Â Notice that the entire passage in Romans 8:29 and 30 is a CHAIN – not one part of the chain goes missing.Â The foreknown are predestined.Â The predestined are called. The called are justified.Â And those justified will also be glorified.Â Time will not permit me to delve further into this particular section, but I invite and recommend you head to John Piper’s sermons on these particular passages so that you can also see that even in the process of sanctification (which is included in glorification), God is responsible.Â We work…but even in our working, it is not us ultimately, but God working in us.Â We labor, but ultimately, it is not us, but God working in us.Â We work out our salavation with trembling and fear, but ultimately, not us, but God working in us to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Salvation is of the Lord.Â All of it. From the beginning to the end – God does the work and man is the recipient of grace. God is not obligated to save anyone or show mercy to anyone. But He does.Â Why is a mystery.Â Mercy, love, grace, kindness are all voluntary. He is the Sovereign of the Universe. He is not bound to do so (Romans 9:14-16).
But now, verse 31 is where these doctrines and all of their implications become sweet for the Christian.
What shall we say to these things ?Â If God is FOR US, who can be against us ?Â The entire premise that God is *for us* is assumed as valid from the doctrines of election and predestination in the previous verses.Â THIS is the foundation for this promise!
Think for a moment.Â If verses 28-30 were only speaking of God as being a passive reactor to what man does, what true benefit does the rhetorical question of verse 31 give us ? NONE! Because if your ‘god’ is only reacting to what man does instead of actively working all things in life for your greatest good (being conformed to the image of His Son) and His highest glory (being the preimminent one among all of His brethren), then we can’t have comfort when a loved one dies.Â We can’t have peace when someone we love is taken from us. There is no purpose in our suffering in a jail cell for rejecting Islam and embracing Christ in Egypt.Â There is no joy in seeing a Chinese boy get his brains blown out for refusing to spit on his bible and denounce Christ.Â These all become accidents,Â acts of the enemy (which attribute more to Satan than the bible does) and God is somehow simply sorry it happened and will try His best to spin it all around and make it good….until something else bad happens and He’ll have to spin that too.
My friends, such an IMPOTENT, HOPELESS view of God is not purported in the scriptures.
I challenge you to read the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.Â Let his travail and drama sink into your minds and then take in every word that he says in Genesis 4:3-8 and 50:20.Â Read what was written of him hundreds of years later in Psalm 105:16-17.Â And change YOUR view to match that of the scriptures.
Yes, even the BAD things now have meaning.Â They are working toward your good.Â They were designed that way by an loving, graceful, merciful God who desires that you shine with the image of His Son.Â So all of these things have *meaning*.Â Please, don’t react like a little child when your toy is taken away.Â Please don’t hang on to the things of this world so hard that you dare to lift your fist to heaven and accuse God of wrong when He takes them from you.Â Please don’t despair in hopelessness at your current life situation.Â You will not live in your parents’ home forever.Â You will not go from broken relationship to broken relationship forever.Â You will not be broke forever.Â You will not always be homeless.Â You will not always suffer pain your body.Â You will not always be confined to a wheelchair.
Oh saint reading this if you could only see these things clearly!!!Â They are RIGHT THERE!!!Â Don’t throw away the promise of God for the cheap and worthless idol of human free will!Â Don’t emasculate and de-Sovereignize God to retain your own imagined right of human autonomy!!Â Let go!!
But God, who did not spare His only Son, but freely gave Him up – think on this for a moment.Â In eternity past, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and God the Father shared perfect love, fellowship, and communion as the Holy Triune Godhead. God values nothing above and more than Himself (if He did, that would make Him an idolater).Â Even the giving up of Himself was not because God looked down and thought that we were so special He had to give Himself up for us, but for His glory and accoriding to the will of the Father (John 6:37-40).Â So Christ’s death was not about you.Â It was about Christ being exalted to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:11).Â Â You are the recipient of grace, but you weren’t entitled to it.
But God the Father – who loved the Son purely and infinitely more than any affection that you and I can dream of, produce or imagine – did *the* hardest thing possible in the universe: He gave His Son up for us.Â He allowed His Son, whom He loved, to pass through a human uterus into a feeding trough. He allowed His Son to be spat upon, kicked, mocked, beaten, ridiculed and ultimately MURDERED (and this was part of His plan – Acts 2:23-24!).
If He could do this – the hardest thing in the universe – how much more is it easy for Him to freely give us all things ?
Not just the things that we *think* that we need, but all of the things He knows that are best for us.Â Remember Jesus’s words in Matthew 6 ? Our heavenly Father knows we have need of these things even before we ask for them.Â He has chosen freely and graciously to show us His mercies and riches of His glory and love.Â He came and actually suffered, actually was buried, actually was spat upon, kicked, speared in the side, beaten with a cat of 9 tails which tore skin from muscle and muscle from bone, hung upon a cross with gaping open wounds and blood flowing from His body continuously.Â He did this.Â He did not have to.Â But He did.Â The Father gave His Son.Â The Son gave Himself freely (John 10:17-18).
And when you realize the implications of this, it is humbling, mind-blowing, worship-deepening and all satisfying.
Paul fleshes out more of the implications of this in the coming verses.
Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect (those chosen and predestined) ? The answer is NO ONE! It is God who justifies.Â Â There is no one to condemn – not only because Christ died for the sins of those who would believe, but He continues as a high preist interceding on behalf of His elect to this day.
Do you see the connection ?Â Do you really ?Â It’s all part of one plan.Â It’s all part of God ‘working all things for good’ to those called according to His purpose.Â This verse takes on so much more meaning and depth when you realize what ‘called’ and ‘predestined’ mean.Â Â And when you reject these concepts (and you’ll have to reject a mountain of biblical evidence along with them), you strip verses 31-39 of their power and comfort and reduce the love of God to mere sentimentalism and make yourself the center of the story, which is idolatry.
What can separate us from this love of God for us in Christ ?Â And Paul, the great apostle who has been through most of what is mentioned here, argues from the standpoint of a man in chains, persecuted for his faith – we are (we meaning believers) counted as sheep for the slaughter.
During Paul’s day, Caesar routinely fed Christians to the lions as entertainment for the general population. His guards would cut out an animal skin and sew it to the flesh of a prisoner and then, with a bloody carcass sewn to their bodies, toss them into an arena and release the lions to rip them to pieces.Â Caesar killed thousands of Christians in the early church (yes, their numbers grew quickly) by dousing them in oil and using them as living lights for his gardens.Â Homes were ransaked, women abused, people tortured, bibles burned.
And yet, as I posted yesterday, the power of the gopsel was and still is UNSTOPPABLE. Caesar might as well had tried to stop out a fire with gasoline shoes.Â God’s plans always move forward – undaunted, unchallenged, unstopped.
Paul points out every possible human condition – even DEATH – and says that none of it can separate us from the *love* of God. And that love began in v. 29 – ‘foreknew’.
Let these truths comfort you today, saints.Â Let them be the balm that soothes your heart from despair over your current situations and circumstances.Â God is FOR YOU.
GOD IS FOR YOU.
He set His love on you from eternity past.
He marked you off for salvation.
He sent His Son to die for you.
He awakened your heart to turn from sin and believe the gospel.
He saved you from that car wreck the other day by having you misplace your keys for 20 minutes.
All things work together for good.
He kept you from a horrible marriage to that man or woman by having your heart be broken into what felt like a million pieces when the relationship ended.
He kept you from causing further harm to others in relationships by ending the last relationship you were in and having you alone so that He can properly heal you before He sends you your wife or husband.
He took your grandmother home because her body was old and decaying and she was in pain.Â He gave her a new one and a joy and happiness that overshadows anything on this earth presently.
He used the death of a loved one to get you to stop drinking. Your prayers have been answered.
He sent you a friend at the right time to encourage you and keep you from committing suicide in the depths of your despair.
All things work for good.
He put you in that youth camp and put the right man there at the time who told you that you needed to love God more than your video games and you realized they were an idol and you turned from them to God.
He kept you from being the popular guy or girl at school so that you wouldn’t have ended up giving your body and soul away sexually to everyone who found you attractive.
He allowed your husband to be taken home in an accident so that his brother can be awakened to his condition and need for salvation and be saved.
He allowed your son to be taken home to him because it increased your dependence upon him in the midst of your pain.
He counts every tear, every sob, every cry, every scream and every heartbreak.
And they are ALL being worked together by Him for your good.
God is for you.
Soli Deo Gloria,