I have been reading, studying and thinking (meditating) about Romans 8:28-30 recently. While I don’t think I’ve sucked every bit out of the passage I have found it to be full of ideas that blow the status quo of Christianity out of the water. Don’t settle for less if you’re a believer. Anything less is just an imitation of Christ, and we don’t need that. Here’s the text:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
I have heard the first part of verse 28 out of context lots of times, and its not done anyone who is quoting it or listening to it out of context much good. Granted, I’m taking these three verses out of Romans 8, which you need to read in context. Romans 8:28 starts with God’s causing all things to work together for good to those who love God. God is the one who’s in charge, not me. When something happens that seems unjust or unfair instead of asking why (which the answer will be because mankind is corrupt and in desperate need of a savior) we should be asking when will the justice be corrected. Then, immediately afterward we should ask, “What can I learn from this because God is using it for my benefit?” When what looks like garbage happens in my life, including my sinning, God can still use it for His good. He can still use it to His glory.
I used to look at pornography with as much frequency as possible (Mom, I know you read this, don’t beat yourself up for this, God has used it to His glory, seriously) when I was younger. I was addicted to the fleshly feeling of lust. I wanted more and more exposure to sexual things because the emotional feeling was exciting. It wasn’t satisfying, but it was exciting. Then, afterward I would feel guilt for looking at such things. Fortunately I’m not alone in this wrestling of the flesh so when I come across other youth or men I am able to offer them hope and empathy. I am able to take them to places and scripture that lead them to a better understanding of who they are in Christ and how that can help them cease walking in the flesh and live in victory over the flesh. God has been able to take what was a past sin, and use it as one of my very ministries! Instead of my living righteously for my whole life I have constantly wrestled with various sins so that now I can understand my brothers and sisters in Christ and be an edifying member of the body.
But God doesn’t stop there. You see, when you sin, God has covered it in the blood of Christ and you are instead accredited with the righteousness of Christ so God is given glory for His grace, mercy and love even in our sin (which was His sin on the cross). So not only is the event possible to be used by God, but he gets the glory for what happens no matter what. That beats the snot out of any sort of guilt, shame or punishment for our sins, plus it gives us a glimpse into God’s perspective. You cannot be in a situation that God cannot use in your life. Period.
Some look at that verse and say, “But it says those who love God.” And then get off on a high horse about how some people, when they sin do not love God. Not loving God while you sin does not mean that you don’t love God at all, does it? Don’t sell someone a shorted check of Grace. Either Christ died for all of our sins (which we’ll look at in a moment) or he didn’t. God can use events in our lives for His glory now, later or in eternity… don’t limit an infinite God to your puny perspective. I’m learning that I need to quit trying to short sell God in this very area.
Then, the hum-dinger of Romans 8:28, the second part, comes out: Because we love God, we’re called according to His purpose. Instead of lacking purpose in life, instead of not having a calling, we’re called to God’s purpose. What purpose can be better than that? When earthly things take place they’re usable by God for our good, His glory and we are called and can be used for His purpose! Though it is in an Old Testament context Jonah was walking in the sin and selfishness [ha ha, the word fish is in the middle of that word, get it? Jonah? Fish?], then did God’s will through the help of a fish, and then walked in the selfishness again with the plant but God used Jonah for His purpose. Paul died, was resurrected, was lashed, shipwrecked, tortured, homeless, and naked (See II Corinthians 11:23-27). All of those to God’s glory for God’s purpose. Paul could not write with such authority if he had not been associated with Steven’s murder, and then once establishing His relationship with Christ, turning around and being involved with all sorts of physical hardships in Christ’s service. Instead, God used those things to validate Paul’s ministry and Paul knew it. Instead of finding sorrow in those things he knew they were part of his sanctification and growth. On top of that he knew that God had eternity in store of him, in which God would forever be revealing Himself to Paul and all believers (Ephesians 2:4-7).
God has a purpose for our lives and so being distracted by this world and trying to reconcile this world with the flesh is only going to lead to disappointment instead of having a perspective that looks at God’s working in our lives for His glory, our growth and with His purpose. We are called to God’s purpose… there is meaning to life. On top of that Ephesians 2:10 says that we’re going to walk in the good works that God has planned for us. We cannot fail to do God’s planned works for us, they’re predestined.
Verse 29 starts out with God’s foreknowledge of us: “For those whom He foreknew….” God knew us in eternity past. Intimately. He didn’t just know me, Randy Peterman, a little bit, He didn’t just know all about my musical talent [or lack there of], he didn’t just know I’d know how to program computers or that I’d live to be [insert the age I live to be here], but he knew me intimately, 100%. What’s so amazing about that? Several things: God knew me and still He chose to die for my sins on the cross. God knew me and still planned for me to do good works. God knew me and is going to reward me for those good works he has planned for me no matter how many beautiful women (that he created) I defiled by lusting after them. He knew me, knew how I would screw up with my wife, children and anyone else I’m involved with and still died for me on the cross. That’s what’s so amazing about that. God foreknew me and loved me anyway. That’s love.
Beyond foreknowing me He also, “…predestined to [me] become conformed to the image of His Son…” So not only did He know me and promise to pay for my sins, but he also promised to sanctify me, or set me aside to be conformed to and identified with His Son, Christ. I don’t have to worry about whether I will one day be a godly (godlier) man, I know that Christ is my position (Colossians 3:3), but also my destination when I’m with God in the heavenlies. My sanctification (spiritual growth) is guaranteed. There is nothing else so liberating in life than to know that you don’t have to try any more, because God’s doing it and He’s conforming you to the image of His Son. The world sometimes practices self mutilation wherein they carve or manipulate their flesh. By trying in the flesh to live a righteous life we are simply doing the same thing inwardly. Instead we must rest in God’s work and walk in our relationship with Him, it will guarantee results rather than bring them into question because of a faulty source (the flesh). We’re predestined: it is our destiny. That predestination is so that Christ would be the first-born of the brethren. Christ would be the first to be resurrected and we will follow in Him and have eternal life. God uses our Christ-conformance to His glory in many ways, including Christ being glorified as the first-born.
As if being foreknown, predestined to be conformed to Christ image and bringing Christ (and therefore God) glory, we are called with a purpose (again, reiterating what was written in verse 28). But those whom God called he also justified. That’s a past tense word there. I have been justified. I have been made just in God’s sight. When he looks at me He sees a Randy that has no sin or blemish on him. He sees the resurrection of Christ in me. I am made just. As has been said before, “Justified, its just as if I’d never sinned at all.” And I’ve sinned, let me tell you. But I don’t have to worry about it because Christ took care of it. The worldly concern for sin and the flesh is not my concern because mine has already been taken care of and is being conformed to the image of Christ! I can stop worrying about doing righteous deeds in the flesh since the flesh is dead and my new life in Christ is inherently filled with righteousness.
Beyond justification I am also glorified. I’m going to confess to not having grasped all that glorification means. It is hard for my mind to wrap itself around my being glorified. God being glorified is understandable, but I have been glorified. A past tense word, again. Second Corinthians 3:18 says it well:
18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. We are being conformed to Him who is glorified, therefore we are glorified as well. What an amazing thing that all of this is true of every believer. It makes me want to be more gracious with other believers who are not aware of this so that they may see the truths of this lived out in me. Fortunately as I abide in Christ and rest in what God is doing in me He will do things like that through me.
What a rich passage this is. I suppose much more could be drawn from it, but as I live I learn places that this (and many other verses) apply to me. Furthermore, I am learning how they apply in different areas and scenarios. I find myself looking at trials, past since, present since, and future growth with hope. All of it, every single bit of my life can be used for God’s glory and my good. I can’t ask for more than that.