March 3, 2024


God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 41

Romans 8:28-29 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney

Long before we had the tools of modern navigation such as radars, radios, electronic maps, or global positioning systems or GPS, ships crossing the ocean were equipped with two compasses. One was fixed to the deck where the man at the helm could see it. The other compass was fastened up on one of the masts, and often a sailor would be seen climbing up to inspect it.  On one particular occasion a passenger saw this and asked the captain, “Why do you have two compasses?” “This is an iron vessel,” replied the captain, “and the compass on the deck is often affected by its surroundings. Such is not the case with the compass at the masthead; that one is above the influence. We steer by the compass above.”  

One of the most needed and challenging lessons every genuine believer will face is learning how to steer his or her life by the compass above – that is learning to pilot their life by God’s perfect will. Those who’ve learned how to navigate their lives by God’s leading will tell you it often means completely stepping out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it is downright scary.  It is not always easy. But it is always worth it.  Ask any number of people in the Bible.  God called Abraham to leave his home and his family behind and travel to an unknown land (Gen. 12).  Abraham did.  And for the next hundred years through trials and storms he followed God’s leading.  Did Abraham regret it? Not at all. The Bible says, Abraham died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life(Gen. 25:8).  It was following God’s will that landed Paul in hot water more than once in his life; imprisoned, beaten, rejected – for Christ.  Did he regret it? Listen to what he says, My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God (Acts 20:24, NLT).  The list hardly stops there.  We could easily look at the life of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah otherwise known as Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, Joseph, Moses, David, the Apostles… They spent their lives learning to follow God’s leading. They did not always get it right, didn’t always stay on track.  When they strayed from God’s will, they made the necessary course corrections and got back on track.  Did they regret following God? Not at all.  Hebrews 11, the Great Hall of Faith chapter mentions 16 individuals who set their compass on following God.  Underlying their great faith was a great fulfillment in having committed their lives in following God’s will. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection(Hebrews 11:35). 

This morning we’re going to look at several needed verses from the book of Romans that help us as believers steer our lives by the compass above.  Turn with me to Romans 8:28-30.  Two Confidence Building Truths God wants us to know in following Him: 1) We can have an unshakable confidence amidst life’s trials, 2) We can have an unwavering security in who (and whose) we are. God wants us to lead us in a life confidence and security. 

Before we begin, let me pause and put these verses in perspective of their chapter. Paul recognized probably better than anyone how the problem of sin and evil continually assaults our lives from just about every direction it seems.  To make matters worse, he points out a couple of verses earlier that our own human limitations don’t make things any easier.  In verse 25 he says we hope for a future when God will make our adoption as His children a concluded reality.  But this hope is yet future, it is something we do not see (v.25).  Elsewhere Paul describes it as seeing in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).  Our present perspective of the next five days, or even the next five minutes for that matter, is hidden in the shadows of uncertainty. Not only can we not see clearly, but second, there are times we don’t even know how to pray clearly. V.26 we do not know how to pray as we should.  There are times when we want to pray but we’re not sure what to say.  Living in a sin-fallen world limits our ability to see clearly and pray clearly.  But we are not without help! It is good for us to remember the great them of Romans 8 is the security the believer due to the indwelling power and presence of God the Holy Spirit.     

  1. We can have an unshakable confidence amidst life’s trialsAnd 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). This is probably one of the most well-known passages in the Bible.  It can be a bitter-sweet verse.  Taken right, it can bring tremendous comfort.  We can confidently wrap our heart and soul around it. It can set our feet on unshakable ground.  But, taken wrong, it can leave you feeling like you just had the wind knocked out of you.  This verse is not intended to be a first-aid verse, a first-responder’s verse. This is something we need to know before things go wrong.  

Here is what Paul wants us to know: We may not see, and we may not know how to pray as we should, but there is one all-important truth we do know – 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. WE KNOW… Paul does not say: We wish, we suppose, we theorize, or we hypothesize.  He says, WE KNOW.  We know with certainty a timeless and eternal fact based on the inviolable character of God. What is this fact? God has promised to use everything in our lives; the good, the bad, the ugly toward our greatest good and His highest glory. God will never waste a believer’s pain. He is not saying all things are good, but rather, He causes all things to work together for good. Nor is he saying God is the author of evil. He did not bring evil into the world.  We did through sin. God in His sovereign goodness, wisdom, and control has put sin in a harness, so to speak, to use it for our greatest good and His highest glory.  None of the evil we see going on in the world today, as chaotic, and painful as it is, none of it is out of His control or out of His plan. 

The word work together is where we get our word synergy from. Synergy is when you have different parts working together to produce a greater effect than if they were working by themselves.  Let me give you an example.  Take table salt for instance.  Ordinary salt is made up of two poisons: sodium and chloride. By themselves they are extremely harmful. But combined they’re good.  A lot of situations in life are absolutely no good.  But the Bible says God is the Divine Chemist and He knows how to mix just the right chemicals to produce the greatest good.  

How is it we can know this? First, this verse is not a promise for everyone.  It is only for believers; those who love God.  We’ve already seen in Romans 8 if you are a believer, you have the Spirit of the living God in you.  If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (8:9). As believers, we belong to Christ. Our minds are no longer set on the flesh, the old life, but they are now set on following Christ.  The reason we know God loves us and causes all things to work together for our good is because He makes it known within us!  It is not something we learn, but something we know because He makes it known within our hearts by His indwelling presence.  It is the settled assurance that God is in control when all else is out of control.  He gives us an unshakable confidence amidst life’s trials. 

  1. We can have an unwavering security in who we are.  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 (Romans 8:29). God’s plan is to make us like His Son Jesus Christ. God’s plan from the very beginning was to make us like Himself. God said in Genesis 1:26let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. Paul says those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image 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. 

My wife and I read a book years ago titled: “Don’t Let Jerks Get The Best of You,” by Paul Maier, M.D. In his introduction he writes I am qualified to write this book… because I have experience as a jerk. I don’t want to be a jerk! I don’t like being a jerk.  But it comes automatically, like breathing or sleeping.One of the major reasons people struggle with “Jerkaholism” is because we struggle with inferiority.  Deep down, inside, we feel like we’re nobodies.  So we invest our time and money and energy to prove to the world that we’re really not “no-bodies.”  All of us want to be a somebody; to feel important, to feel special.  Just watch American Idol or The Voice! Some of the people who try out have to know they sound like a cat being strangled.  Why do they try out? For a few brief moments in the spotlight of fame.  For a few minutes they feel like they’re a somebody. It temporarily numbs their sense of inferiority.  Why is that? Because of sin.  When Adam sinned, all of humanity fell from our rightful place of created dignity.  Shame, failure, regret, fear, the need for approval became an inescapable part of our lives. We lost our sense of self-worth. 

The Bible says Jesus came to forgive us and heal us of our sin; to restore our value and worth; to give us an unwavering security in who we are.  Only He can do that.  When you’re God’s child, you’re a somebody.  You no longer need the approval of others.  You have your Heavenly Father’s approval.  That’s what Paul means when he says we’ve been justified by our faith in Christ.  All through chapter 8 Paul has been saying that now because you’ve trusted Christ, you are now a son or daughter of God.  We can count on God to shape our lives to become like His Son, like an expert jeweler cutting and perfecting a diamond.  That’s the idea Paul has when he says we’re being conformed to the image of His Son.  It literally means to having the same form or appearance.     

How does God do this conform us into His Son’s image? Two primary ways:  First, He conforms us into His Son’s image through trials, temptations, pressures, pain, and difficulties. That’s what Romans 8:28-30 is all about.  All of the apostles understood this. Peter writes …now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith,…may be proved genuine(1 Peter 1:6-7).  Trials can test us, prepare us, deepen our faith and build character in our lives.  C. S. Lewis wrote, God whispers to us in our pleasures, He speaks to our consciences, He shouts to us in our pain; it is His megaphone to a deaf world.  The Apostle Paul said it this way: Therefore we do not lose heart though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all…(2 Corinthians 4:16-17, NIV).  Light and momentary afflictions.  This is a man who was beaten five times with rods, shipwrecked twice, thrown into dungeons, hated by his own people, tried in every area of his life, and he says these are light and momentary.  He’s not focused on the here and now – but God’s eternal purpose in all of it.  That’s what gives us hope – our perspective.  That’s why he says, we know that God causes all things to work together for goodIt’s what we know that makes all the difference in how we respond to problems in life.

If you look closely at Jesus life you will see that He always had God’s eternal purpose in mind no matter what He did.  That’s what got Him through the Cross.  He told the thief next to Him, Today you will be in paradise with me.  That’s perspective in the middle of crisis.  For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.  

If God is going to make you like Jesus, then He’s going to take you through the same things Jesus did.  Jesus knew loneliness, temptation, discouragement.  We are going to go through the same.  The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus was made perfect (the word means mature) through suffering (Heb. 2:10).  

A project manager for IBM lost the company 10million dollars.  Dejectedly, he walked into the president’s office and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sure you’ll want my resignation.  I’ll be gone by the end of the day.”  The president responded, “Are you kidding? We’ve just invested 10 million dollars in your education.  We’re not about to let you go.  Now get back to work.”   God uses the trials of our lives to invest in our character; to make us like His Son.  He’s not content to have just one Son in His family, He wants a lot of them.  He says, I am working in everything in your life. My purpose is to make you like My Son.

Second God conforms us into the image of His Son through His Word. Paul refers to it as the word of His grace, which can build you up(Acts 20:32). The more time we spend reading and reflecting God’s word, the more it works in us and transforms our thinking (Rom. 12:2).  I don’t know how many times something will happen in my life and some portion of the Bible will flash across my mind that gives me the answer I am looking for.  The more time I spend reading and reflecting the more I become like Him.   Like a married couple that after spending so many years together they look like each other, think like each other, share similar mannerisms.  Or have you ever seen someone whose pet looks like them?  The more time we spend with Christ, the more you begin to look like Him. 

But I have to act on what I know.  It’s not enough to know it.  If I read, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God... and I don’t do it.  Guess what?  God will humble me!  He will bring a circumstance into my life one way or another.  If you don’t learn one way, God will teach you another. 

Romans 8:28-29 is meant to serve as a compass from above – to strengthen our confidence when we can’t “see” or make sense of life or when we don’t know how we should pray. We can know God has promised to use everything in our lives; the good, the bad, the ugly toward our greatest good and His highest glory. God will never waste a believer’s pain. We can have an unshakable confidence in the middle of life’s trials and an unwavering security in who and whose we are.  Therefore we do not lose heart though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all…(2 Corinthians 4:16-17, NIV).

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