March 10, 2024


God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 42

Romans 8:28-30 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney

We’re going to begin this morning by reading a familiar verse together – Romans 8:28 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(Romans 8:28).  When I read this verse, I’m reminded of standing on the pinnacle of a tall mountain overlooking a vast series of rolling peaks and valleys stretched out below.  From this sweeping view I get the sense I can see almost everything.  But I know better.  Even though I can see a great deal, there’s still much I cannot see.  Many of the wooded hillsides, sprawling valleys, and shaded ravines are still hidden from my eyes.  I recognize that though my view may be elevated and vast, it is still limited. 

Romans 8:28 is a mountain top verse; it gives us such a magnificent perspective of life we almost feel as though we can see it all.  But we know different.  We are very aware many of life’s valleys and ravines are still hidden from our sight. Why, then, did God give us this verse, if not to give us such an elevated view? The reason is simple: God gave us this verse is not so that we can see everything but rather to deepen our trust in God who does see everything.  These twenty-seven words are intended to deepen our trust in God and His sovereign plan for our lives.  It is not possible to have complete rest until you have complete trust.  Having God’s all surpassing peace means trusting God’s all surpassing providence.  God wants us to trust His plan for our lives by learning to strengthen our faith in Him.    

Two Faith Building Truths: 1) We can have an unshakable confidence amidst life’s trials, 2) We can have an unwavering security in God’s plans for believers. 

  1. We can have an unshakable confidence amidst life’s trials.  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(Romans 8:28). I read this past week about an elderly pastor who carried a bookmark in his Bible made of silk threads woven into a motto.  The back of it was a tangled web of crossed threads that seemed to have no reason or purpose. When he would call on someone who was in great trouble, sorrow, or death, he would often show this confusing network of woven threads.  When the person he was showing it to couldn’t make sense of the unintelligible array of threads, the old minister would ask him to turn the marker over.  Immediately all of the puzzling network of strings made sense; they formed the phrase, “God is love.”  It is much the same with all the tangled incoherent patterns of the lives of those who’ve been called according to God’s loving purpose.  

The Bible has no shortage of reminders of seeing this mountain top truth at work. There were many times in Jospeh’s life he must have deeply wrestled with the pain and agony of his great trials.  But his underlying conviction of his brothers’ cruelty of selling him as a slave to Egypt was what they intended for harm, God meant for good (Gen. 50:20).  When the nation of Israel sinned against God in the Old Testament, He repeatedly warned them, but they wouldn’t listen.  So God severely disciplined them sending them to Babylon as captives.  Yet, even there God sent them a letter by the hand of Jeremiah the prophet, saying: I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT).  

Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse captures this well.  He rightly points out there is no limit or exception to God’s promise to us in this verse. If all things work together for our good, then all the attributes of God, all the works of Christ and all the gifts and powers of the Holy Spirit are at work for our good.  There is no will or act of creatures, men, angels or demons that can do other than work our good.  No dog can bark against us, no man can speak or act against us, no sinister power of evil can be against us, but all must be for our good.  There is no phenomenon of nature – fire, flood, storm, earthquake – that can work us ultimate ill. The law of gravity cannot trip us up or cause anything to fall upon us unless it has first been sifted through the will of God’s purpose for our good.  Every experience of our individual circumstances, whether temptations, or whatever concerns us, humbles us and forces us to rely on Him who alone can satisfy.  All things work together for our good; otherwise the Lord will not permit them (Barnhouse, p. 158, vol. 3). God’s promise is intended to give us an unshakable confidence amidst and despite life’s difficult trials.  

  1. We can have an unwavering security in God’s plan for believers.  In the two verses that

follow, Paul explains what he meant in verse 28.  He is going to give us another mountain top view.  If you thought the first was breathtaking, wait until you hear this one!  Paul is going to show us God’s plan for our lives in five phases.  See if you can hear them as I read these verses: 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 (Romans 8:29-30).  Did you catch them? Those whom God Foreknew He Predestined, He Called, He Justified, and He Glorified.  Notice in all five phases God is the One who does everything from start to finish for our good. Our unwavering security comes from the fact that all whom God calls He will justify.  And all He justifies, He will glorify.  God who began our salvation will finish it. Nothing will get in the way of or stop His plans. Together these five phases form five inseparable links of what has been called “the golden chain.”  Each golden link is forged and hammered out and crafted by God. It reaches down to us from eternity giving us an unwavering security in God’s plan for our lives.  Let’s look at each golden link.  Five Golden Links of Salvation 

  1. Link one: ForeknewFor those whom He foreknew (προγινώσκω – proginosko) means 

God knew believers intimately even before they were born.  This is more than a mere awareness, but a close personal relationship of care and affection.  Those whom He foreknew, He foreloved.  Some mistakenly read this to say that God foresees those who will believe, and this knowledge is the basis of His choosing.  If this were so, then our salvation would not be based on God’s mercy, as the Bible teaches, but based on our merit and ability. The Bible says our salvation is not based on our merit in any way. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).  Why did God choose you? Because of His grace.  Grace means unmerited favor. The world is no friend of grace; it does not understand God’s grace.  According to the Bible, before we came to Christ, we were blind (2 Cor. 4:4), deaf (Acts 28:6), and dead (Eph. 2:1) in our sin.  It is God who saves us giving us sight, hearing, and life.  You did nothing and can do nothing to deserve it.  You couldn’t.  You were blind, deaf and dead in sin.  Your heart and mind were hardened against God (Rom. 8:7).  You wanted nothing to do with God.  Yet God chose to love you even though He knew everything about your life. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins (1 John 4:10, NLT). This is the basis of all of God’s choosing. God told the nation of Israel: The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).  

What we’re unpacking in these words is the doctrine of election; they’re talking about what theologians call the Ordo salutis – Latin for order of salvation.  We’re trying to wrap our finite minds around infinite truth.  We need to keep two passages in mind: Isaiah 55:8-9 My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9, NLT). The second is Deuteronomy 29:29 The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us (Deuteronomy 29:29).  That stands to reason doesn’t it? If we understood God, He would be less than God.  In those areas where God has not revealed His mind clearly we can rightly adopt the attitude of what the late John Stott called Christian agnosticism (Stott, p.247).  There are areas in which we do not have enough knowledge to address as completely as we’d like.  So, the first link of the golden chain says you were saved because God foreknew and foreloved you.  I don’t understand it all, but I’m thankful!   

  1. Link two: PredestinedHe also predestined to become conformed to the image of His

Son (προορίζω – proorizo) God determined ahead of time.  In other words, it was God’s decision to choose you before you chose Him.  Just as it was God’s decision to first love you, so it was His to first choose you.  Some people have a difficult time with this.  They immediately think, If God determined ahead of time who would be saved, then He must have determined ahead of time who would not be saved as well.  We need to be careful not to take Scripture beyond what it says.  Paul is not talking about all people here, only believers.  He is not speaking about non-believers, not yet. 

Another issue people have with this truth is they think if everything is up to God, then how can He hold humans responsible for their sin? If they’re blind, deaf, and dead in sin, how can God be just in holding them eternally accountable for sin?  While it is true we were dead in our sins, and it is impossible to be saved unless God gives us sight, hearing, and life – Divine sovereignty does not mean there is an absence of human responsibility.  

There are a lot of things in the Bible that seem to say two opposite things at the same time, yet at the same time, they are both entirely true.  How is it that Jesus is both completely God and completely Man? (John 1:1; 18; 14:9).  Or how can God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit all be One God? God is One God but three Persons? (Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5). Or how can Jesus say, He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it(Mark 10:39, NAS).  There are numerous truth-tensions like that in the Bible, yet we know they’re true.  We didn’t invent these truths; the Bible clearly teaches them. We cannot fully explain them, but that does not mean we should ignore them or try to change them. 

So, the Bible says Divine sovereignty does not mean there is an absence of human responsibility. Jesus Himself shows us this.  In John 6:44 He says, No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44). Yet, say in John 5:40, you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life (John 5:40).  Why don’t people come to Jesus? Is it because they can’t or won’t? The answer according to Jesus is both even though we cannot reconcile these two truth-tensions. D. L. Moody explained it this way: The elect are the whosoever wills, the non-elect are the whosoever won’ts. 

God predestined us to become conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. God’s plan is for us to bear the family resemblance of His Son.   What does this mean? Well, one day we’ll be able to say, “All my character flaws, all of my personal struggles, all of my debilitating insecurities are gone – forever.” We will be completely secure, completely whole, completely healed – something for which we long for but cannot attain on our own.  Lifelong quadriplegic Joni Erickson Tada perhaps said better than many of us can: Somewhere in my broken, paralyzed body is the seed of what I shall become. The paralysis makes what I am to become all the more grand when you contrast atrophied, useless legs against splendorous resurrected legs. I’m convinced that if there are mirrors in Heaven (and why not?), the image I’ll see will be unmistakably Joni, although a much better, brighter Joni. Jesus is The Blueprint for our new bodies, our resurrection bodies. One day we’re going to receive a new body; a resurrection upgrade from the former, and we will be thrilled.  At the moment, we see dimly as in a mirror.  But then we will see clearly as we are clearly seen by our Savior.  Second link is we’re predestined to be like Jesus. 

  1. Link three: CalledHe also called. God’s call comes to people through hearing the

Gospel when it is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, and they respond to it with an obedience of faith and surrender to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.   John Dyer, a Welsh poet and pastor from the 1700s once wrote, “A man may go to Heaven without health, without riches, without honors, without learning, without friends; but he can never go there without Christ.” Today our world is filled with people who are seeking some other way to God than the one found in the blood of Jesus and His precious name, but all such efforts are doomed to failure. Jesus is the only Way to Heaven.

  1. Link four: JustifiedHe also justifiedPaul has talked a lot about this throughout

Romans.  It is the great theme of Romans – We’re made right with God (given Christ’s righteousness) the instant we place our faith in Christ.  At the very moment we give our lives to Christ, He restores our worth by giving us His own righteousness.  What does this mean on a practical level? It means God completely forgives you and accepts you as His child.   It means I have peace, real lasting and eternal peace with God and in God.   

Years ago I witnessed this transformation in an amazing way. This story is so moving I’ve shared it a number of times over the years.  I was asked to visit a dying woman I’d known for years in a nursing home.  My mother-in-law knew her as well and went with me.  Knowing her time was short, she was consumed with a terrifying fear of death.  Her face was haggard with exhaustion and fear. She hadn’t slept for some time, afraid that if she fell asleep, she’d die.  She desperately longed for peace.  “Betty,” I said, “you need to know the Prince of Peace Jesus Christ.  Only He can give you peace.”  She hung on every word we shared with her. A few minutes later, she asked Jesus to forgive her of her sins and be her Prince of Peace.  Her whole countenance instantly and dramatically changed.  Unmistakable peace and joy swept over her face.  For the first time Betty had peace.  Not long after that she finally slept and was ushered into Heaven.  The enemy’s lie is that you must do something to atone for your sin and prove your love and worth before God.  Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory (Romans 5:1-2, NLT). Fourth golden link: We’re justified by our faith alone in Christ.   

  1. Link five:  GlorifiedHe also glorified.To be glorified means to reach the full splendor of 

bearing the family resemblance of Jesus.  Our destiny is that we will be given new bodies in a new world.  But Paul does not say this is yet future.  He speaks as though we have already been glorified. This has been called a “prophetic past” tense.  Nineteenth century theologian and preacher, James Denney, called this the most daring anticipation of faith…that the New Testament contains.  From our vantage point it seems like we have a long way to go. But from God’s our glorification is so certain it’s a done deal!  

Here are the five unbreakable links of God’s salvation: a breathtaking view of God’s majestic plan for our lives. God foreknew and foreloved you before you ever loved Him.  Though we don’t understand it all, He predestined you to become like His Son.  With predestination he called you through the power of His gospel, and He justified you giving you His Son’s righteousness, and glorified you making certain your future in Heaven.  I wonder how many hearing me right now are like Betty.  You have no peace.  You have no rest. It is not possible to have complete rest until you have complete trust

The devil and his cohorts were devising plans to get people to reject the Gospel. “Let’s go to them and say there is no God,” proposed one. This was met with silence. Every demon knew people know in their heart God exists. “Let’s tell them there is no hell, no future punishment for the wicked,” offered another. That was turned down, because the conscience of man tells him sin must be punished. The meeting was going to end in failure when a voice came from the rear: “Tell them there is a God, there is a hell and that the Bible is the Word of God. But tell them there is plenty of time to decide the question. Let them ‘neglect’ the Gospel, until it is too late.” All Hell erupted with hideous glee. They knew that if a person delays trusting Christ, they usually never accept Him and they never find rest. 

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