God Has a Plan
Scripture: Romans 8:28–8:30
If we were to take a survey of people’s favorite Bible verses, I am sure that one of the verses that would appear near the top of the list would be one of the verses in our Scripture text today. When I say the reference Romans 8:28, how many of you know what the verse says? How many of you have memorized it? For me, it always comes back in the King James Version, because that’s how I memorized it many years ago: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose.Now let me ask you another question. Without looking, how many of you can tell me what Romans 8:29 says? What about Romans 8:30?
We are going to cover just 3 verses in the message today. These 3 verses are so packed with reassurance and meaning for the believer that we could actually do a series of messages on them. But I am going to try to capture the essence of them in a single message.
We have already discovered one thing. In many of our minds, verse 28, the popular verse in this text, has become disassociated from the context. Yet is it is absolutely essential that this verse be linked with verses 29-30 and that these three verses be linked to the larger context of which they are a part.
Let me read the three verses. (I am reading from the English Standard Version).
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
First, let’s set the larger context. In the previous section, Paul has been talking about suffering. Do you remember all the groaning that was going on in that passage? Then we came to the reassurance of verse 26, that the Holy Spirit is praying for us. In our weakness, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit prays for us. Now the question is: what is the result of those prayers? What comfort can we take from them?
The answer is to be found in the 3 verses we are considering today. Verse 28 begins with the words: “And we know…” Because of the Spirit’s intercession for us, even in our weakness and in our suffering and in all our groaning, we can know certain things. We can have certain assurances.
To understand those assurances and what they are based on, let me just highlight the logical flow and structure of the passage.
What do we know?
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
The heart of the passage is in the middle of the verse: all things work together for good. The translations differ in how they render this phrase. But whether “things work together for good” or whether “God works all things together for good,” the essence is the same. God is clearly the active agent behind this assurance. But to whom do these reassurances apply? To whom is this promise made?
Imagine walking down the street and finding a check for a million dirhams. That is exciting, isn’t it? But then you look at the name on the check: Daniel Smith. What good is that check to you? Here is someone’s guarantee to pay one million dirhams. But it isn’t made out to you. It won’t do you any good at all.
So whose name is on this check, this guarantee that “all things work together for good”? To whom is this promise made? We can identify them in three ways. First we can go back a verse. This promise is made as an answer to the Holy Spirit’s prayers in the previous verse. For whom does the Holy Spirit pray? According to verse 27 he intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. Who are the saints? In some church traditions, this word has been used to refer to a special category of extra holy or spiritual people. But this is not the Biblical use of the term. In Romans 1:7, Paul writes: To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints. Paul uses the word “saints” to refer to all of those who name Christ as Savior and follow him by faith. They are the “set apart ones”, set apart as God’s special and holy people.
The second way to identify those to whom this assurance is given is found in the opening phrase of verse 28: for those who love God. Once again, I believe that this phrase is used to identify every born-again child of God. Back in Romans 1:7 again, we see that Paul is writing to those who are “loved by God.” In 1 John 4:19, John makes the connection that “we love God because he first loved us.” As followers of Christ, we have experienced the love of God, and his love for us has produced in us a great love for God.
Finally, the verse concludes with another identifying characteristic of those to whom this promise applies. It is for those who are called according to his purpose. This promise is for those who are called and engaged in fulfilling the purposes of God. We will flesh that out in a moment. But for now, I repeat that this is a definition that applies to every true, born-again follower of Jesus Christ. He had a purpose in saving you. He has a purpose for your life.
Let me stress what we have discovered so far. The promise of Romans 8:28 is not a promise of “common grace” that applies to all mankind. It is a very specific assurance to those who have been justified by faith; to those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God; to those who love God, and who have been called out of the general mass of humanity to fulfill God’s special purpose. This is not a blind optimism of the human spirit, which blithely declares, “Everything will work out OK.” It is a specific promise of God to specific people. My question to you is: are you one of those people? If you are not sure, I would refer you back to my earlier messages from Romans on what it means to be “justified by faith.”
But assuming you are one of those people to whom Paul is referring, let’s press forward with the logic of the passage. Verse 28 opens with the words, “And we know…” How do we know? On what do we base this assurance? Verse 29 begins with the word, “For” or “Because”. That is why we must not separate verse 28 from verses 29-30. The promise of verse 28 depends on the spiritual realities described in the next 2 verses. Let me read them again.
29 For (because) 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
These verses are packed with truth. We are swimming in deep theological waters. We could spend weeks and weeks in discussion and debate. Whole libraries of books have been written in the effort to expound these verses. In these verses we come face to face with the mysteries of God’s sovereignty and the paradox of how God’s sovereignty interfaces with man’s responsibility. In one short message, I am not about to untie this Gordian knot of theology. Rather than bog down in the details of what we do not understand in this passage, I want to simply make four assertions based on these verses; four bold statements of propositional, Biblical truth for us to take away and think about.
1. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.
For me, this is the clearest “takeaway” from these verses. We tend to think about our salvation from our own, human perspective. We perceive the work of God as beginning in our lives when we heard the Gospel and responded to it by faith. But Paul turns back the clock into eternity past and God’s foreknowledge and election. Listen to how Paul describes it in Ephesians 1:4-5:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—
The beginning of our salvation is found “before the creation of the world” in the eternal sovereignty and purposes of God, and it will be completed in eternity future. And from beginning to end, it is God’s work. God is the subject of every verb in these verses (29-30): He foreknew…he predestined…he called…he justified…he glorified.
That brings us to the second bold assertion based on these Scriptures.
2. What God starts, he finishes.
There is no break in the activity of God. He never leaves a task uncompleted. He leaves no abandoned projects; those whom he foreknew he also predestined. Not some of them; all of them. Those whom he predestined he also called. Not some of them; all of them. And those whom he called he also justified. Not some of them; all of them. And those whom he justified he also glorified. Not some of them; all of them. Here Paul is so certain of his ground that he speaks of the future as though it were already here. We know from earlier in chapter 8 that our final glorification as the sons and daughters of God is yet to come. We “wait for it”. Yet Paul speaks here as if it were already accomplished. What God starts, he finishes.
That leads us to the third truth of these verses.
3. God’s purpose for his children is to make us like Christ.
Here we are zeroing in on the heart of this glorious passage of Scripture and the reassurances of this wonderful passage. To understand what God is doing, and to understand the “good” that he promises in verse 28, we must understand the eternal purpose of God. What does he want to do in your life and in mine? This is the heart of what Paul is proclaiming here: 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.
God wants to conform us to the image of his Son. He wants to shape us and mold us until we bear the family resemblance. He wants a glorious spiritual family, in which all the adopted sons and daughters look and act like the honored elder brother, the firstborn Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Last week, I spoke at a conference in Kenya for the Sudan branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators. In the 1970’s, my oldest brother, Jon, pioneered the work of Wycliffe in Sudan. Throughout the week, I kept hearing the same thing over and over from those who had worked with him. “You look just like your brother, Jon.” “You sound just like your brother, Jon.” “You laugh just like your brother, Jon.”
I wonder if people can say that about you and me. “You look like your elder brother, Jesus. You speak like your elder brother, Jesus. You act like your elder brother, Jesus. When I see you, I am reminded of Jesus.”
Paul is harking back to what he told us earlier in verses 14-17.
because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
We have been adopted into the family of God. Now we are called to bear the family resemblance. We are to be conformed to the image of Christ, out elder brother and “co-heir”. That is God’s purpose. He is busy now transforming us into Christ’s image in terms of character and behavior. And he will transform us physically in the future by giving us new bodies, just like Jesus’ own resurrected body. What God starts, he finishes.
That brings us to the fourth bold assertion of this passage.
4. God has a plan to fulfill his purpose and everything that happens to us fits into that plan.
Now we have finally come down to the essence of Romans 8:28 and its wonderful assurance. This is why it has been a favorite verse of believers down through the ages. Everything that happens to me; ALL THINGS fit into God’s plan and he is using them to fulfill his purpose of molding me into the image of Christ and making me a worthy son in the family of God.
Think of God as the sculptor and each individual child of God as a piece of art. God as the sculptor is carefully working together all the elements of our lives, all things, to carve into our character the image of Christ. And in this wonderful verse, we are promised that there are no random or wasted strokes. This verse does not promise us that there will be no pain in our lives. But it does promise that there will be no unnecessary pain. God is sovereignly working “all things together for good” to fulfill his good plan and purpose.
God’s plan for each one of us is different. He treats no two exactly alike, for we are not alike. We are each uniquely created, right down to the uniqueness of our fingerprints and personalities. And as the master craftsman, God knows exactly how to take each one of us; how to shape us; what needs to be cut away; which tool will cut just deep enough but not too deep, and leave the right finish. There are no wasted strokes. All things work together for good.
This is the reassurance of Romans 8:28. God is at work in your life and mine. He has a plan, and everything that is happening to us fits into that plan. But remember, God is not finished yet. Have you ever noticed that a workshop is often a messy place? There are shavings and chips and rough edges. Don’t judge the craftsman by the neatness of his workshop; wait until you see the final product.
Let me ask. What are you facing in your life right now? Can you believe that God is sovereign over that circumstance or person or situation? Can you trust God to use that, as painful and hard as it may be, to shape and mold you into the image of Christ? Can you trust him not to cut too deep, or to strike the mallet to hard or to cut away too much? Can you trust him that there will be no wasted strokes? That God will do exactly what needs to be done to produce Christ’s image in you? Can you trust him to finish the work that he has begun?
And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. And that purpose is to shape us and transform us into the image of Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- The middle of Romans 8:28 contains a wonderful reassurance (“all things work together for good”). To whom does this promise/assurance apply? Why is this important to understand?
- Do you think these descriptions in verse 28 apply to all true followers of Christ or only a special category of Christian? Give reasons for your answer.
- Tying verse 28 to verses 29-30, Pastor Cam made four propositional statements of Biblical truth. Read each one and discuss your reactions to it: (agree, disagree, uncomfortable, reassured, etc.)
- Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.
- What God starts, he finishes.
- God’s purpose for his children is to make us like Christ.
- God has a plan to fulfill his purpose and everything that happens to us fits into that plan.
- How does understanding the context of Romans 8:28 influence your understanding of the verse and its promise? Does this perspective give you a greater or lesser degree of comfort as you face difficult circumstances in life?