Let me spend a few minutes again summarising this marvellous chapter and some of the wonderful things we’ve learned so far.
First of all, it begins in verses 1 to 4 with the marvellous promise which is so re-assuring for sinners like us that for those who are in Christ Jesus — united to him through faith — there is no condemnation, no condemnation. And there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because of what God the Father has done for us by his Son.
And then in verses 5 to 13, Paul explained how believers are no longer in the flesh, but we’re in the Spirit. The flesh is the realm of the human only, which is now characterised by sin and death. But the realm of the Spirit is characterised by righteousness and life. And those who are in the realm of the Spirit, have our mind set on the things of the Spirit; and we walk according to the Spirit, following his lead, and doing his will. And then, just as the Spirit raised Jesus Christ from the dead, so he will raise us from the dead too.
And then in verses 14 to 17, Paul tells us how God the Father gave us the Holy Spirit of Adoption to persuade us of the wonderful truth that, through faith in Christ, we’ve become God’s children. And the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we’re his sons and daughters who will inherit everlasting life in God’s heavenly kingdom. And though we may have to suffer so very much in this troubled life, nevertheless we have the Spirit of Adoption to re-assure us of the Father’s love; and the Spirit enables us to cry out to our loving, heavenly Father for the help we need.
And then in verses 18 to 25, Paul began by saying that our present sufferings — all the trials and sorrows of this troubled life — are not worth comparing with the glory which God has in store for us when Jesus Christ our Saviour returns and we’re glorified in his presence. And Paul spoke about how all of creation is longing with eager expectation for the day when it will be freed from its bondage to decay. And not only is the creation waiting for that day, but we’re waiting for it too. The Holy Spirit inside us, who is the pledge and guarantee and assurance of the life to come, makes us long for the consummation of our salvation, when we’ll be glorified in the presence of our Lord. That’s what we’re longing for. That’s are great hope. And it’s sure and it’s certain. And so we wait for it with patient endurance.
And finally, we looked at verses 26 and 27 last time, and the promise that the Holy Spirit is able to help us in our weakness. And in particular he helps us when we pray. We don’t know what we ought to pray for, because how can we know the depths of God’s will? But the Holy Spirit helps us.
And so, do you see? God has glory in store for us in his presence. That’s the great hope God has given to his people. But right now, we have to put up with, and to endure, all kinds of suffering and weakness and trials and sorrows and disappointments and frustrations and our own weakness in this troubled life. And so, to encourage us, Paul has written about how God has given us his Spirit to re-assure us of his love. And that helps to sustain us everyday. And then the great hope God has given us of future glory also sustains us and it enables us to endure all things patiently. And then, we’ve also got the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness. We’ve got all these things to sustain us.
But that’s not all. Not only do we have the Spirit to help us, but, Paul says, we also know that for those who love God all things work together for good. And that’s what verses 28 to 30 are about.
Verse 28: Work together
Listen again to verse 28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Let’s take these marvellous words in turn. First of all, in all things God works for our good. So, there’s no restriction on what Paul is saying here about the things God works together for our good. There are no limits. All things work together. All the good things that happen to us. And all the bad things that happen to us. And all the really, really, really bad things that happen to us. God is able to work them all together for our good. So, no matter what happens to us, no matter what people say to us, no matter what they do to us, we know — don’t we? — that God is able to work it all together for our good.
The story of Joseph in the Old Testament teaches us this. Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. What a disaster for him! Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him so that he was thrown into jail. What a disaster for him! The cupbearer to the king forget all about him so that he languished even longer in prison. What a disaster for him! But the Lord God was working in the background, working all things together for good.
When I used to walk the children to school, I would sometimes seen an engineer from BT kneeling down in front of one of those metal cabinets on the side of the road. I suppose it’s a telephone exchange. And he’s got the doors open and inside it’s just a mess of wires. Hundreds and hundreds of wires. How does he makes sense of them? I don’t know. Well, how does God makes sense of all our lives? I have no idea, but I know that he is able to make sense of it all. And not only can he make sense of it, he knows exactly how to work it all together for good.
Once we believe this — that God is able to work all things for our good — then it should help us to face the troubles and trials of this life. People may try to hurt us. They might cause us trouble. They might leave us heart-broken. And while it’s true that they’ve hurt us, and caused us troubled, and they’ve broken our hearts, so that sometimes we want to weep; nevertheless we know that God is able to work it together for our good. And, of course, the all things that God works together for our good includes the coronavirus crisis. God is able to use this experience for our good.
So, there are no restrictions. There are no limits. God — who rules over all — will work all things together for our good. He always knows what is best for us. And he always knows how to work things out for our best. And so, we can always trust in him to work things out.
Verse 28: Who?
Who does God do this for? Does he do it for everyone? Well no, he works it all out for good for those who love him. And those who love him are those who have been called according to his purpose. Do you see the two sides of that in verse 28? There’s our side: we love God. And there’s the Godward side: he called us. And, of course, the reason we’re able to love him is because he first called us. He called us to Christ through the preaching of the gospel. But, of course, not only do we have the external preacher who stands up and preaches to our ears, but there’s also the internal preacher, the Holy Spirit, who preaches to our hearts at the same time, convincing us and persuading us of what we’re hearing. And the Holy Spirit works in us to change our hearts so that we’re able to trust and to love the Saviour. We love him, because he first loved us and called us into fellowship with Christ.
And so, we see that the promise that God will work all things together for good is a promise made to Christians only, to those who have been called to Christ and who therefore love Christ. This promise is for Christians only. But every Christian has this marvellous promise to re-assure us everyday that God will work out all things for my good.
Verse 28: God’s good purpose
But then what does Paul mean by ‘good’? If God works all things for our good, what is the good he’s aiming at? And what’s the good we should be expecting from him? Well, the good he’s aiming at is related to the purpose he had in mind when he called us into fellowship with Jesus Christ. The good he has in store for us is the fulfilment of his purpose for us.
And what is his purpose for us? What is his plan for his people? Well, that’s what verse 29 tells us, because in verse 29 Paul unfolds God’s purpose for his people. So, let’s look at that verse now.
First of all, Paul refers to those whom God foreknew. Now, in the Bible the word ‘know’ often means to choose someone, or to set your love on someone. Take Genesis 18:19, for instance. Literally, it says that God ‘knew’ Abraham. However, many English translations say that God ‘chose’ Abraham, because that’s what the verb ‘to know’ often means. To know someone in the Bible means to choose them and to set your love and affection on them.
Or in Jeremiah 1:5, God said to Jeremiah:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
In other words, I knew you, and set you apart and chose you to become a prophet. Knowing, setting apart, and choosing are used in parallel because they mean the same thing.
So, the word ‘know’ in the Bible often means to choose someone and to set your love on someone. And so, back in Romans 8, when Paul tells us that God foreknew his people, he means that he chose them and set his love on them. And when did he do this? Well, the prefix ‘fore’ means ‘before’. And from a verse like Ephesians 1:4 — where it says, ‘he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world’ — we learn that ‘before’ refers to ‘before the world was made’. So, before the world was made, God knew his people. He chose them and set his love on them.
Now, from time to time people will say that God must have seen something in those he chose to explain why he chose them and not others. So, for instance, he saw that some people would be morally fit for heaven. Or, he saw that some people would respond to the gospel with faith. So, because he saw that some were morally fit or because he saw that some would believe, he chose them. But that’s not what Paul says. He’s not saying that God foreknew something about his people; instead he’s saying that God foreknew his people. Full stop. It’s not that he saw that his people were different from others; and so he chose them because they were different. No, it’s not that, because, you see, the only thing that makes us different from others is the fact that God chose us. We didn’t deserve to be chosen. But God graciously set his love upon us and he chose us before the world was made.
And then we have the word ‘predestined’. And the word ‘predestined’ simply tells us that when God chose his people, he chose them for a particular destiny. Now, many people don’t like this idea and they question why Presbyterians believe and teach this doctrine. Why do we believe in predestination? Well, the answer is very simple. Why do we believe it and teach it? Well, because it’s in the Bible. That’s why.
So, what is the destiny God had in mind for his people when he chose them? Paul tells us:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
When God chose his people, the destiny he had in mind for them was that they might become like his Son. And Paul means conformed to the likeness of his Son in glory. He’s thinking about our final destination, when we will be brought — in body and soul — into the presence of the Lord Jesus in his heavenly kingdom of glory and we will be made like him.
Remember how the Apostle John put it? He said in 1 John 3:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
When he appears at the end of the age, we shall be like him. All the sorrow and sadness and the suffering and the weakness of this troubled life will be over, and we will be glorified in the presence of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. That’s the destiny God has in store for his people. And that’s the purpose he had in mind when he called us into fellowship with his Son. And that’s the good he’s aiming at when he works all things together for us. He’s working all things together in our life to ensure that one day we will come into the presence of his Son and be made like him in glory.
And when that happens, Jesus Christ our Saviour will be surrounded by many brothers and sisters. He’s the firstborn, Paul says in verse 29. And he means that the Lord Jesus is the pre-eminent Son of God. But he will not be alone, because he’ll share the glory of heaven with all his brothers and sisters who have been adopted into God’s family through faith.
My time is almost up. But let me comment on verse 30 briefly. Those God predestined to become like his Son, he called. He called us through the preaching of the gospel and by the power of his Spirit. And God’s call is effective, isn’t it? He not only calls his people, but he draws them to Christ by his Spirit who works powerfully in their hearts and minds.
And those he called to Christ, he also justified. So, he pardoned our sins and he accepted us as righteous in his sight. Even though we may have done everything wrong, he treats us as if we’ve done everything right.
And then those he justified, he also glorified.
Notice, it’s all God’s work, not ours. He predestined us. He called us. He justified us. He glorified us. We owe it all to him.
And notice that all of the verbs are completed actions. He predestined us. It’s done. He called us. It’s done. He justified us. It’s done. He glorified us. It’s done. Is it done? We’re not in glory yet, are we? No, we’re not in glory yet. But the hope of glory is so sure, it’s so certain, that Paul speaks about it as if it has already happened.
And so, we’re to be like Abraham, looking forward to, and longing for, a better country. A better country than Northern Ireland. A better world than this world. We’re looking forward to new heavens and a new earth and to the glory to be revealed in us when Christ returns. And we know that God will work all things together to ensure that we are indeed glorified in his presence.