All Things Work for Your Good
A sermon based on Romans 8:28-30
Sunday, August 21, 2011 – Pentecost 10A
You get seriously injured in a car accident. You lose the job you depended on. A friend you loved is now dead. The doctor tells you that you have cancer. Why would God allow this to happen? What does he have in mind? If God really loved me, why would he let me suffer so much misfortune, so much hurt, so much pain?
That was the question the Roman Christians were asking. Ridiculed, arrested, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus, they wondered, "If God really loved us, why does he allow us to suffer so much?"
Through the apostle Paul, God gave them the answer to their question. God let them suffer for their benefit. You see, God tells us that he uses all things, even suffering and pain for the good of his people. Though we may not know how, he promises that he will harmonize everything in a way that serves our ultimate good. What comfort that gives when we're going through some suffering or pain, that all of it, every event in history, every circumstance in our lives, is used by God for our best interests.
And should we doubt that God really works for our good, Paul reminds us of all that God's already done for our salvation. He reminds us that God worked all things for our good in the past, from eternity even, when he chose us to be his own. He shows us that God works all things for our good now in time—just as he sent his own Son to die on the cross for us. And he promises that God will continue to work all things for our good in the future until he takes us to the glories of heaven.
Listen again to God's comforting Words to the Romans and to us through the apostle Paul as they're recorded for us in Romans 8:28-30…
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. 29 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. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
It's easy to trust that God works all things for your good when things are going well, isn't it? When you're healthy and wealthy and have lots of friends. But how about when God's love seems to be far away… when you're hurt, sick, or feeling all alone. How can you be sure that he still loves you then? How can you know that he's working out your suffering, pain and misery for your good? How do you know that this verse applies to you: "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."?
Now if you're like me, when you first hear that passage you wonder who's meant. God works all things for the good of who? Only for those who love him?! At first glance that verse might bring more terror than comfort. Have I always loved God? Well, maybe on occasion I've tried to love him, but perfectly? All the time? Not me. And not you either.
I'm sure that, like me, you too can think of countless times you've been unloving toward God. Have you ever chosen to love yourself more than God and decided to sleep in instead of come to hear his Word at church or in Bible class? Or have you ever chosen to watch TV instead of read his Word? Well, tuning God out and ignoring him—that's not very loving. Have you ever sold God out and pretended you didn't know him, have you ever acted like you weren't a Christian with your friends or co-workers? Denying him—that's not very loving. Have you ever known what God wanted you to do or how you should act and done the opposite instead because you loved your comfort, your pleasure, or your sin more than God? I know I have. That's not very loving. I've been anything but loving to God. Surely this passage can't apply to me…
But Paul doesn't stop there. He points out that this verse does apply to me and to you because those who love God are not sinless people who love God perfectly all the time. But rather, those who love God are those "who have been called according to his purpose." But what is that purpose? How do we know we've been called? Paul explains…
I. In Eternity Past
In verse 28 Paul tells us what we already know—that somehow God is using these events, even the pain and suffering we endure, for our good. But in verses 29 and 30 he gives us the proof. He tells us how we know this promise applies to us. He shows us that we have been called according to God's purpose and what that purpose is.
He says to us, "Look at what God's already done for you. Look at what he does for you still. And look at what he promises he will do for you." Paul's first proof that the promise of God's providential care is yours is God's love for you from eternity past… "29 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."
Can you even begin to grasp that amazing truth? God chose you to be his very own before the world began. God knew you before he created the world. (cf. Ephesians 1:4) And this "knowledge" isn't just that he knew who you were. It's not just that he knew all about you. He knew you as his friend. In Amos 3:2 God said of the Israelites, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." In Matthew 7:23 Jesus said of those who rejected him, "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" Surely God knows all people. He knows all things. But he chose to know the Israelites as his friends, in a way he would never know those who rejected his grace.
And he knows you. God has known you from eternity past as his dearly loved friend. He's known you with an intimate care, with love and concern. Before you existed God chose to love you, not because of anything you did or would do, but simply because that's how God is. What amazing love! And that loving foreknowledge led him to predestine you… "For those God foreknew he also predestined…"
Literally, "those he foreknew he set the boundaries for ahead of time." God chose your boundaries, he laid out your destiny—where you'd be born, where you'd live, who your parents would be, who you would come into contact with who would share the gospel with you. Some of those things you had no control over. Some of them he allowed you to be a part of. But he did it all motivated by his love for you with a specific goal in mind… "to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers," or as Paul wrote in Ephesians 1, "He chose us…to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ."
You didn't choose God. God chose you to be his own. He chose to make you sinless and holy just like his Son. He chose to adopt you as his own children, as Christ's own siblings. And that decision certainly wasn't based on anything you've done or will do. For if that were the case, you can be sure that none of us would be God's own. For none of us can meet his holy standard of perfection. But in his grace, he planned your salvation before you were around, before the fall into sin, before the world began! And in predestining you, he took care of all the steps of your salvation, from start to finish. He left nothing undone…
II. In Present Time
You see, in time, God has done everything needed for your salvation from A to Z. He made it possible for you to be adopted as his son or daughter, to be his own child and Christ's brother or sister. How? In two ways. Paul writes, "…those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified."
Does Romans 8:28 apply to us? Do we love God? Have we been called according to his purpose? Absolutely!
You have been called according to God's purpose. He's called you to faith through the means of grace. He predestined all the opportunities you would have to hear the wonderful message of his saving grace in Christ. He arranged your destiny so you could live in a land where the gospel is preached. He gives you the ability and freedom to come to worship here. He makes the gospel readily available to you that he might call you to faith in Christ through it.
Many of us were baptized against our will when we were only a few days old. There, by no choice of ours, God called us to be his very own. Others came to know of God's grace later in life through a friend or acquaintance. Through that message of the Gospel he called you to be his own. And those he called he also justified.
Literally, those he called God "declared to be righteous." God declared unrighteous sinners like you, like me, to be righteous and holy. How? By overlooking sin and ignoring it? No. He declared us righteous by removing our sin from us. Christ took all of our sins on himself. And God punished him in our place. Christ paid the penalty for each unloving act we've committed before God. He suffered the hell we deserve for each harsh word we've spoken, for every impure thought we've had, for every act of rebellion that's demonstrated how little we love God. And by Christ's sacrifice, God declared us to be righteous. He called us by the gospel to trust in Christ's death in our place and justified us in his grace. I am justified. Now it's just as if I'd never sinned at all.
And it becomes clear that we are called by God according to his purpose. We do love God. We love him because he first loved us. We love God because by his grace he called us according to his purpose. We love him because he has justified us in his grace. And we love him because of the way he loves us still, even when we act unloving toward him.
And so we can be certain that he will continue to keep his promise and work all things for our eternal good. He will continue to use the events and affairs of this life to strengthen our faith and bring us safely to the next. He won't let the investment of his Son's blood on the cross be for nothing, but will see our salvation through to the end. That's why Paul says, "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…" not "we hope…" God's working all events of our life for our good is a sure thing.
III. In Future Glory
Looking at what God's already done for your salvation, you can be confident that God will continue to work all things for your good—every event, every pain, every sorrow, and every affliction. But be careful not to misunderstand. God doesn't promise that everything will be good for you, but that everything will be for your good, that is, according to his purpose. Everything that God allows to happen to you will help you to conform to the image of Christ and be more like him. But be careful that you don't try to define what "good" is, but leave that up to God. It may not seem good to me that I have to suffer poverty, sorrow, illness or pain. But God knows what's best and will work it all for a good end.
Think of it this way. When my kids used to go in to get their shots, Becky sometimes had to pin them down so the nurse could give the shots they needed. They knew that needle would hurt and struggled to get away—to avoid that pain. From their perspective, they certainly didn't consider the pain they were forced to endure very good. At shot time they thought their mother to be the most cruel parent in the world—to hold down her own son, her own flesh and blood, to let someone hurt him. From their perspective, she wasn't looking out for their good by being an accomplice to the large needle about to stab their legs. But from an adult perspective and what we know about disease, it's far better to endure that little pain in the leg for a day, than to suffer some disease that takes a life.
And it's the same way with God. He works all things for your good. He would rather you suffer a little here, to draw you closer to him, to keep you spiritually healthy and strong, than to lose you to hell. From our perspective, the evil we endure, the pain, the hurt, the problems we face don't seem very good. But God is working them for our eternal good.
Take a look at Joseph. Joseph probably didn't think it was very good that his brothers all hated him and that he only avoided being murdered by being sold into a life of slavery. He probably had a hard time seeing how it could possibly be for his good that he was wrongfully accused and throw in prison when he refused to sleep with Potiphar's wife. But God did work these events for his good. Through the events of Joseph's life, God saved not only the Egyptians, but the Israelites and preserved the line of the Savior. Joseph's misfortunes worked for his good and ours.
God is working all things for our eternal good, to strengthen our faith in him. And just as the kite rises highest with a strong opposing wind, so often our faith grows stronger with pain and suffering. When life is good, we grow complacent and God in his love sends us some discomfort or pain to get our attention, to draw us to him, to conform us to the image of Christ for our eternal good.
Will God continue to work all things for your good? You can be certain of it. Paul tells us, "those he justified, he also glorified." God has already given you glory as his own child. You can be at peace with him in spite of the pain and suffering you face because the glories of heaven are yours. Though we wait for that future glory, Paul speaks of it in the past tense—"he glorified"—because it's as good as done.
And our response? It can be nothing but continual praise and thanks to God with an endless desire to love and serve him. Though we may at times shrug our shoulders and wonder, "How can this needle in my leg be good for me?" we remain confident that it is. For if he chose to loved us before the world began, in spite of what he knew, if he predestined us to hear the message of his grace to us in Christ, if he called us to trust in that truth through the gospel, if he justified us, taking away our every loveless sin by sending his own Son to hell, if he's glorified us already and promised to give us the full glories of heaven, how much more can't we be certain that God will work all things for our good. Go in confidence and in peace, dear brothers and sisters. Amen.