MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 12, 1999 FROM ROMANS 8:28-29
Over the past several weeks, we have seen several of the ministries the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer. As we turn to verse 28 this week, the text takes an important turn. Beginning with this text and continuing through the end of the chapter, the focus turns from the specific ministries of the Spirit to God the Father. There is a shift from one member of the Trinity to another. Last week, we saw that we do not know how to pray as we ought. That is, we often don’t know what to pray for because there is so much about the will of God we just cannot know. We are weak in this sense. The good news is that our weakness does not disqualify us from having God’s will for our lives. The reason is because, though we do not know the specifics of God’s will for us, the Holy Spirit knows exactly what needs to occur for God’s will to be done in our lives. So He takes our longings and translates them into the specific prayers which will bring the will of God in our lives. In that way He is glorified because He not only answers our prayers, but, in the face of our weakness, He actually prays the prayers that are answered.
As Paul moves into verse 28, although he shifts from the ministry of the Spirit to the ministry of the Father, his intention is the same. That is, to stoke the fires of hope and confidence in God within the believer. That remains his desire in these glorious final verses in Romans eight. Though there are only 12 verses remaining in this chapter, these 12 verses are among the most theologically compressed in the entire New Testament. There is so much here in this brief section. Because these texts are so compressed with glorious truth and because these truths are so crucial for the believer to live in victory and faith, we will not hurry our way through them. Let’s begin this section reading verses 28-29. Paul says, “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. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Except for maybe John 3:16, you would be hard pressed to find a more often quoted Bible verse among Christians than Romans 8:28. It has given untold comfort and courage to countless people who have been in painful situations where the circumstances of their life made absolutely no sense to them. It is intensely consoling to know that just because life sometimes doesn’t make sense to ME, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense to God. And not only DOES it make sense to God, He is actually using my painful circumstances for good. The pain is not pointless—it will not be wasted. This text is so important to Christians who live in a pain filled world, because the truth of this text helps us to do one of the most important things any Christian can ever do, trust God. This text births trust for God in our soul.
It enables us to trust God because this truth attacks the very heart of two of Satan’s most debilitating, faith-killing lies in times of pain and trial. This truth in this text drives a stake through the heart of lies which, when we believe them, reduce us to quivering masses of fear in times of suffering and trauma. The first lie we are tempted to believe in the midst of suffering is that God in some way is not able to completely control our circumstances. Let’s face it; if He is not able to do that, then it is impossible for Him to be able to make good come out of the pain of our lives. The ability to make something good come out of pain implies that God is totally in control of the circumstances. This lie questions His power to make anything good come out of evil. In times of trial, we are tempted to question, “How on earth is God controlling this—it all seems so perfectly OUT of control and the pain, tension, stress seems unbearable. How could something that feels this overwhelming in any sense be under control?” That questions God’s power. This lie is as old as creation itself. When Eve told the serpent that they would die if they ate the fruit, Satan in saying, “you will not surely die” was in part lying about God’s ability to carry out the truth of the threat. And we know that this lie questioned God’s power because he backed it up by telling Eve that if she ate of the fruit, she and Adam would in some way be equal to God, “You will be like Him knowing good and evil.”
The second lie this text attacks is the lie, God in some way is not good. In the midst of trials, we may wonder how a good God could allow these awful things to happen to us. This too is a very old lie. Satan convinced Eve the reason God didn’t want her and Adam to eat the fruit was because He did not want what was best for them—namely, that they would be like God, knowing good from evil. He questioned God’s goodness toward them. These are faith killing lies and everyone in this room has believed them at some point. If you don’t think so then ask yourself this question: “Have I ever worried or been exasperated in times of trial?” If the answer is, “yes” then you have believed one or both of these lies. Because if you believed with all your heart that (1.)God is all powerful in his dealings with you. He is totally able to control every circumstance and (2.)God is nothing but good in His dealing with you and He plans for good to come out of this, you would never worry in the midst of crisis.
Assuming we want what is good for us, if God is strong enough to completely control what comes into your life and if He is good enough to limit what comes into your life to that which is for your good, why would you ever worry? There would no ground for worry—no place for it to take root because all things are totally controlled by One who is committed to do what is ultimately good for you. Where is the room for worry there? Our worry comes from a vacuum in our faith and the two lies that fill those vacuums are “God is in some way not ABLE to control this madness.” and/or “God is in some way not good in all this.”
Romans 8:28-29 attacks these lies head on because it affirms BOTH God’s sovereign power and his good, sovereign purpose. The overarching truth that comes from this text is this: Everything in our life conspires for good because of God’s good, sovereign rule and plan for believers. The first point addresses God’s power while the second point addresses his goodness. The first point under this idea is found in the first half of verse 28 and is, We can maintain hope in the midst of trials because of God’s sovereign power to use anything for good in our lives.
God’s power or ability to take the pain in our lives and use it for our ultimate good is implied when Paul says, “…in all things God works (or literally, “works together”) for good…” There are several illustrations which help us to picture God’s power and authority to control evil and make it work for good. Picture our lives as a symphony. Within the symphony there are very beautiful, melodic sounds, but there are also very coarse, hard, even shrill sounds. I don’t know of anyone who would enjoy the sound of repeatedly banging a drumstick on the rim of a drum. It is harsh and, by itself, annoying. The same could be said for other individual sounds. But the composer is not thinking about the individual sounds but how those sounds can be blended together to create a beautiful finished product. Well, God is the composer of our lives and He uses the dissonance of pain in our lives to produce a finished product that is beautiful.
The same could be said of a chemist. On the walls of any chemistry lab are individual chemicals that are toxic, even lethal to humans. But when those toxins are mixed in the right amount into a compound with other chemicals, they can produce medicines that bring healing, not death. God is the Master chemist who has the ability to bring even things that are toxic, painful into our life to produce something good. He is in control of the process. He is in control of all of life circumstances—they are all carefully pre-measured and worked into our lives to make something good.
Perhaps the greatest human example of this in the Bible is Joseph. The first half of Joseph’s life was concentrated misery. He is spoiled by his father, resented, even hated by his brothers who sell him into slavery. He works long and hard and with great integrity for Potiphar and what does it get him? He’s framed by Potiphar’s wife. He is thrown in prison and left to languish there. Do you suppose that Joseph, as he was sitting in that prison ever wondered how his God, could have allowed things to spin so far out of control? We can’t say, but many of US would be asking that question. Where was God when his brothers threw him into that pit? Where was God when he needed protection from Potiphar’s wife? Where was God in that prison cell? How on earth could God free Him from an Egyptian prison? None of it made any sense at all.
It makes sense to us because we know the rest of the story, but up to that point it sure must have seemed like a hodge-podge of lousy circumstances combined together to make one man’s life miserable. Was God hamstrung by Joseph’s brother’s resentment? Was He thwarted by the sin of Potiphar’s wife? Was He intimidated by the formidable Egyptian prison? No, of course not and the reason is because He is the sovereign Lord of the Universe. He is immeasurably BIGGER than the sin of the brothers and the vanity of Potiphar’s wife and the walls of that prison. He was not only not stymied by all those things, he was using all those horrible elements to make something good. All these dissonant notes of Joseph’s life were penned by God and as we know, He resolved them all into a beautiful chord didn’t he? All these toxic, potentially lethal elements were measured and mixed by God and He blended them all together to create a man who would be prepared to do much good. That is, among other things, this infant nation Israel would survive the drought which God knew was coming.
God can use “all things” to work together for good because He is bigger than all things. Nothing ever spins out of control with God—He has a handle of everything. No crisis, catastrophe, circumstance is so large, so devastating, so hurtful that He is still not big enough to cause to make good come out of it. He is sovereign—He rules over all, including that which causes us pain and suffering. Lamentations 3:37-38 speak of God’s total control. “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? 38Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” Nothing ever happens without God’s superintending control.
Our problem is, we may be sitting right in the middle of a whole bunch of circumstances that sound like miserably dissonant notes. The problem is not that God is not bigger than our dissonant circumstances. The problem is, he just hasn’t yet resolved the chord. Our life may be chocked full of toxic, potentially lethal circumstances right now. The problem is not that God has been too weak to keep those things out of our life. The problem is only that he is not finished with the compound and the truth is, He won’t be completely finished until we see Him and are glorified in heaven! So our choice is, will we, in faith believing, patiently wait for God to finish his work and make something beautiful out of all the smelly circumstances in our lives, or will we question God’s power? God is able, mark it down.
The reason we can bank on God’s power to bring good out of evil in our lives according to the text is because God has already ordained He has already willfully decided what all of this pain will produce in us. The second half of verse 28 and 29 says, “who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brothers.” Not only does God have the sovereign power to bring good out of pain, but there is a second truth here as well. That is, We can maintain hope in the midst of trials because of God’s good, sovereign purpose in our lives. There is so much here. We will briefly address the issue of God’s predestined purpose in our lives, but first we need to make sure we know what is meant by “good” when we say that “all things work together for good.” “Good,” as Paul defines it, is not measured in terms of comfort or wealth or earthly pleasure. “Good” is specifically defined as being “conformed to the likeness of His Son.”
Paul is saying that God uses all these painful things in our lives to make us look more like Jesus and for the genuine Christian, looking like Jesus is the highest good because conformity to His image is the reason God saved us for His glory. So many Christians believe that God’s ultimate purpose, his highest goal in saving them is to keep them from going to hell. That is one blessing, but his highest purpose is to glorify himself. The reason we are conformed to the image of Christ is ultimately for Christ’s glory. Paul says the reason we are to be conformed to Christ is “so that he [Christ] might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Its not about us ultimately, but Christ. Spurgeon said that god was so pleased w9ith His Son that He desired to multiply His image. “The Father will[s] to have His Son’s beauty reflected in ten thousand mirrors in saints made like Him.” That magnifies the glory of Christ. Some may ask, “how does God’s agenda for His glory fit in with the fact that God has promised that these things will ultimately be for OUR good?” And the answer is--God has designed the universe in such a way that whatever is for His glory is for our highest good. The road leading to the glory of Christ is the same one leading to our ultimate pleasure. What’s good for God is good for us.
So, when we claim this glorious promise that all the pain works for good, we must see the good that results is being made to look like Christ. Compare your life like a large block of granite and God is the sculptor. When we first come to Christ, our hearts are so rough and ragged and even the most mature saint when he dies only faintly resembles Jesus. We’re not finished until we are glorified in the presence of God. Then, at that moment, the believer fulfills the purpose God has for them—to look like His Son, thus making Him preeminent among many others who look like Him. So, in this life, God is in the business of knocking off of these blocks of granite whatever doesn’t resemble Christ.
What are His sculpting tools? His tools include Satan who He allows to claw and scrape at us through oppression, temptation and accusation. His tools include our wicked flesh which again and again compels us to see how horribly sinful we are. His tools include the trials, the tribulations of this life which drive us unrelentingly back to the cross. Anything that brings us to the cross and death to ourselves is His tool because all his Sculpting work is done only in the shadow of the cross. The process of becoming Christ like in this life always happens through death to self. Its as we die, that the life of Christ may be manifest in us. Anything He can use to kill off, through the cross, whatever doesn’t look Like Christ, is God’s tool to shape us into the image of Christ.
Some of the tools are like dynamite and they take off large chunks of rebellion and self-reliance and fear and idolatry. Others are more refined to do finer work. But God is the Sculptor and He superintends the entire creative process, carefully controlling which tools will be brought in at which time and how much dead rock they will chip off of us. He knows exactly what the finished product will look like and He knows precisely what tools need to be used and in what order to fashion the likeness of Christ in each individual piece of rock—all of which are different and require a different touch from the Master.
One of the strongest roots for our confidence is seen in the fact that God does not simply make it up as He goes along. He is not working “off the cuff.” Paul says He is simply allowing a carefully ordered plan which he purposed before the creation of the world to be worked out in our lives. There will be no surprises in the process for Him. He has already decided WHO he will make into the image of Christ and what He will use to achieve that goal. We see this in verse 29 where Paul says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” There are those who say that this verse teaches that God predetermines those who are to go to heaven on the basis of those who He knew would decide for Christ. In this sense, God’s decision as to who would go to heaven is based on His foreknowledge of who would decide to follow Christ.
This cannot be the case. The word “foreknow” means that God knows beforehand. And when God knows someone in this sense it doesn’t just mean that he is aware of what they would do. When God “knows” someone, he is intimately acquainted with them. Jesus will say to many in the judgement, “I never knew you.” He isn’t saying, “I’ve never had the pleasure of your acquaintance.—I wasn’t aware of you” He’s omniscient. No, he’s saying, “I never had a relationship with you.” This knowing of “foreknowing” isn’t just an intellectual awareness. When God foreknows someone, he knows them in a much deeper sense. Before they are born He “knows” them in this deeper sense. And those whom He foreknows in this intimate sense He predestines—that is, He willfully and unconditionally ordains or destines them to look like Christ before they are born.
This teaching raises many questions and we will address those in future weeks as we get further into this text and especially when we study Romans nine which is all about God’s electing purpose. Suffice it to say for now that Paul’s point is to give the church great confidence by saying this. His point is simple. We can have great hope by affirming that the trials and pain in our life are totally controlled and WILL, without question, result in making us look like Christ. And that is the ultimate GOOD. We can be confident of that because He has already predestined that it will occur. We don’t need to wonder whether it will occur—it already HAS occurred in the mind of God and it WILL be brought into existence. “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6. “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” First Thessalonians 5:24. We can be utterly assured of it because our completion is not only a work in progress, it is a work already done. May God give us the grace to replace the lies with the truth for God’s glory and our peace in the midst of trials.
Page last modified on 1/1/2002
(c) 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 - All material is property of Duncan Ross and/or Mount of Olives Baptist Church, all commercial rights are reserved. Please feel free to use any of this material in your minstry.