April 22, 2008

How Do We Know That All Things Work Together for Good???

Posted in Gospel, Reformed Theology at 12:08 am by Dan Lowe

Romans 8:28 (ESV) – 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.

            This well-known verse has provided great comfort for many Christians in their times of need, for here we are assured of the fact that everything we encounter in life… the good, the bad and the ugly… will ultimately work out for good for Christians.

            Notice three things in this verse:

1)      All things work together for good.  Paul doesn’t say that all things are good.  Some things we encounter in life are not good.  Christians face trials and hardships (Read Rom 8:35-36.)  Things can get pretty bad for the Christian.  We live in a fallen world.  We look forward to the day when there will be no more death and mourning and crying and pain, but this will not be until God establishes the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1-4.)  Paul is not denying that Christians go through hard times, but when we do, we can be assured that all things… the good, the bad and the ugly… are working together (the Greek implies they are continuously working together) for God’s good purposes.

2)      This promise is for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  God does not promise that all things will work together for good to those who are apart from Jesus Christ.  This promise is graciously given to those for whom Christ Jesus died (see Rom 8:31-33.)

3)      Paul says that we “know” this to be true.  The verb translated “know” (οἶδα, pronounced oida) means “to know information about”, “to understand” or “to remember” (BDAG, οἶδα.)  The tense of the verb (perfect tense) implies that this is something we have come to know and continue to know in our present situation.

How is it that we “know” that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose?  Read on to the next two verses…

Romans 8:29-30 (ESV) – 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.

            The reason that we “know” that all things work together for Christians is because (ὅτι) of the eternal plan of God to save His people.

            Let’s follow Paul’s logical argument here, phrase by phrase…

1)      “…those whom He foreknew” – The Greek term rendered “foreknew” (προγινώσκω pronounced proginōskō) is derived from the Greek term γινώσκω (pronounced ginōskō) which typically means to “know” relationally or experientially.  In fact, it is a term which is used to describe the intimacy present within the context of marriage (Matt 1:25, Lk 1:34.)  The prefix πρό (pronounced pro) simply means “before.”  Paul doesn’t tell us here when God foreknew us, but in Ephesians 1:4 we are told that God chose us “before the foundation of the world.”  If God chose His people before the foundation of the world, then He must of known His people before the foundation fo the world.

2)      “…He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” – The Greek term rendered “predestined” is προορίζω (pronounced proorizō) and it literally means “to decide beforehand.”  Follow the flow of Paul’s thought here… God decided beforehand that He would cause those He foreknew to be made into the image of Jesus Christ.  By this he doesn’t mean that we will become divine, but that we will resemble His Son.  This is critical.  God does not simply save people so that we will be able to avoid His wrath.  God has foreknown His people and predetermined that we will be made to reflect the character of His only begotten Son, so that He might be glorified.

3)      “…in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” – “Firstborn” (πρωτότοκος, pronounced prōtotokos) does not imply that Jesus is a created being (see Jn 1:1-3, Col 1:16-19, 2:9), but that He is the “firstborn” among His people.  The firstborn in a family had preeminent status.  The firstborn had a unique place among the family (Compare Col 1:18 – “…that in everthing He might be preeminent.”)  But, notice, although this verse proclaims the supremacy of the divine Christ, it also states that we will be family with Him… we are His “brothers.”  In other words, the Exalted Savior does not consider himself complete apart from those whom he came to save!” (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary on Romans, Romans 8:29.)

4)      And those whom He predestined He also called” – God effectually calls to Himself in salvation those whom He has predetermined will be conformed to the image of His Son.  Notice that there is no question as to whether or not they will be called.  Even though there are many yet to be called to salvation, so certain is Paul of the salvation of those God has foreknown and predestined, that he speaks as if this call has already taken place (aorist tense verb.)  They are foreknown by God and predestined to salvation, therefore God will most certainly call them to Himself.

5)      “…those whom He called He also justified” – To be justified is to be declared righteous in the sight of God.   This entails both the removal of our sin and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account (II Cor 5:21.)  Again, notice the confidence with which Paul asserts the justification of God’s people.  Those whom God calls He will justify.  Again, Paul is so certain of this that he speaks as if it has already taken place (aorist tense verb); even though certainly he has in mind some who have not yet been called by God into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

6)      “…those whom He justified He also glorified” – This is parallel to being conformed to the image of His Son, who is the firstborn among many brethren.  God will make His people glorious.  Again, notice that Paul is so certain of this that he speaks in the past (aorist) tense.

Let me sum this up in one sentence… God has foreknown His people and has predestined them to be glorified (i.e. conformed to the image of Jesus Christ), therefore it is absolutely certain that they will be called by God to Himself and be justified by God and one day glorified.  God’s will cannot be denied.

This bring us back to our original question… how can Christians know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose?  Because God’s purpose is already set in stone from eternity past to save His people to an everlasting eternity to come.  Nothing can interrupt the sovereign will of God… and God’s eternal will is to do good to those whom He has foreknown and predestined… called and justified… so that they might be glorified by being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

I close this post with an exhortation from J.C. Ryle

“True Christians would do well to think about this covenant (i.e. the Covenant of Redemption, made between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in eternity past to redeem a people for God’s glory), remember it, and roll the burden of their souls upon it far more than they do. There is unspeakable consolation in the thought that the salvation of our souls has been provided for from all eternity, and is not a mere affair of yesterday. Our names have long been in the Lamb’s book of life. Our pardon and peace of conscience through Christ’s blood, our strength for duty, our comfort in trial, our power to fight Christ’s battles, were all arranged for us from endless ages, and long before we were born. Here upon earth we pray, and read, and fight, and struggle and groan, and weep, and are often sore let and hindered in our journey. But we ought to remember that an Almighty eye has long been upon us, and that we have been the subjects of Divine provision though we knew it not.”

“Above all, Christians should never forget that the everlasting covenant is “ordered in all things and sure.” The least things in our daily life are working together for good, though we may not see it at the time. The very hairs of our head are all numbered, and not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father. There is no luck or chance in anything that happens to us. The least events in our life are parts of an everlasting scheme or plan in which God has foreseen and arranged everything for the good of our souls.” (excerpted from a sermon entitled “The Morning Without Clouds” by J.C. Ryle.)

            Are you a Christian?  Then meditate on this often.  Believe the promises of God.  And rest in the confidence that the Almighty and all-gracious God has promised that all things… the good, the bad and the ugly… will work together for good… because He has foreknown you and predestined you to a glorious future!!!

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!!!

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