Copyright © 2011, John W. (Jack) Carter.
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In the first chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, Paul has discussed in detail man's need for salvation, that: (1) all people intrinsically know of God, and recognize that He is righteous, and we are not; (2) there is nothing we can do to lift ourselves out of our sinful state, and (3) the result of sin in our lives is always negative, destroys our health, our relationships with one another, and always results in eternal separation from Him. However, because of God's love for man, He, the Messiah Jesus, came to earth to proclaim His plan of salvation: complete forgiveness of sin that is offered as a free gift to all who would place their faith and trust in Him. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the necessary penalty for sin so those who place their faith and trust in Him would find forgiveness of their sins, appropriating for themselves Jesus' the righteousness of His nature. Those who trust in God are then accepted by Him as adopted sons and daughters, members of the Family of God. As Paul continues in Chapter 8, he begins to describe the nature of what life is like for those who put their trust in God as their Savior and Lord.
What is the difference that is experienced in this life when one comes to faith in God through Jesus Christ? When one comes to God, he/she brings with them all of the baggage and encumbrances of a life that has been immersed in ungodliness. God calls upon the faithful to repent, to turn away from ungodly attitudes and actions, and He gives power, through the Holy Spirit to accomplish that task as He removes much of our desire for apostate behavior. Still, Christians can never seem to shed all of their ungodliness. Christians have been forgiven for their sins, their names have been "written in the Lamb's Book of Life," yet they still return to God regularly to seek forgiveness for transgression. No man is perfect, and no mortal man will ever be free of sin's impact. As the Holy Spirit continues to convict Christians of their sin, they often find themselves in a quandary of guilt and doubt. Debates are engaged over such questions as, "how can bad things happen to good people?," "why would God let this happen?," “why me?”
God has promised eternal salvation to his children, those who place their faith and trust in Him. However, God did not free us from the responsibility for our choices and actions. He did not free us of the consequences of our continued rebellion against Him as we continue to sin. All people, both Christian and non-Christian are free to make all of their own choices concerning attitudes and behavior, and more often that not those choices are still self-centered. The result of those choices can have a dramatic impact on one another as we treat each other with less than the love that God desires. We hurt and abuse one another. Divorce and suicide rates among Christians differ little from the rest of the world. Church fellowships experience more internal strife than their secular counterparts. People fail to find the peace and joy of their salvation, and in seeking answers to those difficult questions, it is easy to be misled. It is easy to be convinced that, if we continue to sin we can lose our salvation. However, we will see that if that were the case, no person could ever be saved for no mortal person is free from sin, only from sin's eternal condemnation. When we sin, we lose fellowship with God and damage our relationships with one another. When we sin, our ability to be used by God for His kingdom purposes on this earth is compromised. When we sin, we put in motion circumstances that bring pain, shame, and hurt upon ourselves and upon others. What is God's response when we, as Christians, are less than perfect? How do we relate, as Christians, to tragic circumstances that are brought about by our arrogance and sin?
Romans 8:28. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Next to John 3:16, Romans 8:28 may be one of the most important verses of scripture for Christians to embrace, to understand, and to remember. John 3:16 reminds us that God loved us so much that He came to fulfill His plan of salvation for all who would place their faith and trust in Him, giving them everlasting life. Romans 8:28 then describes how God works in the life on one who has turned to Him in faith.
Paul starts this statement with an emphatic, "as we know." Paul proclaims that there is no reason to doubt that which is to follow. This is simple knowledge that does not require a degree in theology to understand: God works in the life of a Christian. This is a rather profound statement when we consider our continued ungodliness. If we received what we truly deserve, God would take back salvation when we sin. However, we did not receive salvation through the cessation of sin. We did not receive salvation by any work, but rather, it is a gift of God's grace and love and in that grace and love, God continues to work in the life of a Christian, convicting of sin, and working through sin's circumstances to bring people to a greater commitment and stronger faith. When we consider this, how can we do anything but praise God?
"All things work together." Of course, things do not work. Circumstances themselves have no power to produce work. It is God, through the Holy Spirit that produces all godly work in the life of the believer, and it is God who has the knowledge and wisdom to illumine life's circumstances with His purposes. Why do Christians suffer? Suffering is generated by one’s emotional and physical response to grief, loss, and pain; an emotion that is shared by all people.
Paul states an axiomatic truth: God applies all of life's experience for ultimate good to all those who love Him. We have little argument with this truth when those experiences are positive and enlightening such as those times of mountain-top spiritual encouragement. It is a little harder to recognize and understand where God is working when we find ourselves in the slough of despond. It is harder to see God when we are looking through the filter of loss, hurt, and pain. It is these times when we can find the greatest encouragement in His promise: God works in ALL things for good for those who love Him. Regardless of how bad we think things are, God has a plan and purpose for our lives, and our godly response to those times of pain can always serve to bring us closer to Him. Our godly response to circumstances can also put things into a proper and wiser perspective.
Several years ago we experienced a fire in our home. I had installed a wood-stove as the primary heat source for our house, and I did not properly insulate the hot pipe, called a thimble, that penetrates the wall and joins the outside chimney. Of course, immediately upon realizing we had a fire in the wall we called the fire department, evacuated the children from the home, and my wife and I went to work to bring the fire under control in preparation for emergency assistance. Neighbors, who were listening to a scanner, came running to the house with a fire extinguisher, which they used to put out the fire in the wood-stove, which they promptly removed from the house. When the firemen arrived we found ourselves making jokes, and basically had a "good time" putting out the fire. Little did we realize what was going on at the time. The experience revealed a perspective in our lives that we had never previously considered. My wife and I had literally no concern for the house or its contents since our children were safe. Sure, we might miss some of our possessions, maybe some old photographs, etc, but we came to the quick realization that there is nothing of real importance that the loss of our home and possessions can take from us as long as we are safe. Houses can be rebuilt. Possessions can be replaced. We were also part of a supportive church that would have lavished us with assistance. We had no worries.
At the same time I remembered another individual who had recently lost her home, and she was emotionally devastated, descending in to a downward spiral of depression, bitterness, and anger towards God. What is the difference between us? For us, a large part of our confidence comes from the promise of Romans 8:28. God has a purpose in all things. He has promised to take care of us, as He always has done, and even in this experience God will have some purpose in store. Suffering is an emotion that is driven by how we perceive our experience. When my wife was recently diagnosed with an extremely dangerous and viral cancer, her question was not “Why me?,” it was “Why not me?”
Why do good people suffer? We can truthfully argue that no person is good, so therefore, no such argument exists. The question should be, "why don't we all get what we deserve?" We do not receive that condemnation, because God loves us and has a purpose for us. Yet we suffer from a variety of reasons. Probably the greatest source of suffering comes from our choice of perspective. I found that we would have experienced little, if any, "suffering" with the loss of our house and possessions. Governor Jeb Bush made a comment following a series of devastating Florida hurricanes that generated billions of dollars in property damage, referring to it as the "price of living in paradise." As glib as his statement may have sounded, it is true that we all accept some level of risk as we make choices in this life. We need weather for life to exist. We choose to live in hurricane-prone areas because we enjoy the climate (other than the hurricanes.) So, in accepting risk, we often pay for the chances we take. Thousands of people fulfilled a desire to live in New Orleans when they fully knew that the coastal city lies below sea level, protected by a fragile levee system that cannot withhold a serious storm. When the levees broke following the deluge of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 the city experienced its greatest disaster when it was flooded. We sometimes suffer from the risks we take. However, we can even see how God has provided for those who experienced loss. The outflow of gifts and assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has surpassed anything that this country has ever seen.
I was once braced by a grieving mother with the question, "Why did God kill my baby?" After some frantic prayer, my answer was, "God did not kill your baby. He loves you and your baby. A man chose to drink himself to the point of recklessness and take the wheel of a car. He killed your baby as a consequence of his own arrogant and selfish choices." After another hour of talking with her, I think she found some encouragement. We often suffer because of what we do to each other as we make selfish and sinful choices. How can God take this experience of grief and work it for good in the life of this young mother? I have to lean on God's greater wisdom to answer that question. I can lean on Romans 8:28, being reminded of His promise when his purpose is unseen. Songwriters Eddie Carswell and Babbie Mason recently published a popular contemporary Christian song, penning the words:
God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind
So when you don't understand, When you don't see His plan,
When you can't trace His hand, Trust His heart.
Romans 8:29. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Paul does not leave us clueless as to a purpose behind God's promise. God is God. He is Holy, and He is Eternal. His attribute of Eternity results in His omniscience: From His perspective, God sees all of the events of creation from its beginning to the end of the age as if it is an open book. He knows all things. God knows the sin I will sin tomorrow since He has "already" seen it. He does not have to prophesy future events. For Him, they have already occurred. Much debate has surrounded the choice of translation of those Greek words that are rendered "foreknow" and "predestined." After all, if God already knows our choices, are our choices our own? We can get into a deep, distractive, and philosophical discussion as we try to split hairs over definitions and lose sight of Paul's message. When God works in our lives, He does so to bring us closer to becoming an image of Jesus, the One who was sinless and perfect before God. We are free to make our choices, and God does know what they are. Still, God uses the circumstances that come from those choices for His purpose in the life of those who love Him. The Holy Spirit may bring those circumstances to the forefront of our life experience in order that we would recognize our sin, repent, and turn back to God.
I recently witnessed someone close to me who experienced one of the greatest and most difficult losses one can imagine. As a Christian, the experience of grief was certainly tempered and shaped by God's love and His promises. Yet, grief is grief, and all go through the experience, whether they are a Christian or not. Since that loss, this individual has felt a greater empathy towards others who have a shared experience and she can bring encouragement in the dark hour that I, nor few others, can. Through this her faith is strengthened, and she has come closer to God. Through this experience, others are encouraged, and their suffering is lessened.
Just as a refiner uses heat to remove impurities from natural ore, God uses the experiences of our lives to bring us closer to him, making us a little more patient, a little more caring, and a little more mature in our faith. When our faith is strengthened, we suffer less when circumstances do occur. When our faith is strengthened we become a little more like Christ who is Faith.
Romans 8:30. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Paul then describes the sequence of changes that take place in the life of a believer as they experience God's working in it. God has a plan for the life of the believer, a plan (a predestination, if you will) that has direction and purpose. God is taking those who trust Him from an apostate, ungodly, state to the point of bringing them before His throne of grace in an eternal relationship with Him. God's plan first involves the call to faith in Him. God revealed that plan to man from the beginning, first through Adam, and many others including Noah, Abraham, and other patriarchs and prophets. He fully revealed and fulfilled that plan through His Son. God's promise of salvation from eternal separation from Him was always offered to all who place their faith and trust in Him, and God's response to that decision is to forgive us of the sin that separates us, a sin that carries a penalty of death that Jesus paid on the cross, once and for all. This is the justification that Paul speaks of. One might state that a definition of justification might be, "Just as if I never sinned." Though we have sinned, and we continue to sin, God treats us as though we are righteous when He still works in our life and allows us to come to Him directly in prayer. As He continues to work in our lives, we should be growing in our faith, and our bent towards sin should be diminishing. Finally, God promises glorification for those who He has called. Glorification is that process that takes place at death for those who love God. Those who have rejected God will spend eternity separated from him (condemnation to a hell of godless experience), and those who have placed their faith and trust in him will spend eternity in fellowship and relationship with him in heaven: glorification.
It is this sequence of experience in God's plan that finds its foundation in Romans 8:28. God has a plan for all people, a plan that would save them from the eternal consequence of their sin, a plan that involves a choice to turn to Him in faith, a plan that brings Him to become a part of the life of those who do, and a plan that keeps the faithful securely in His family for eternity.
Romans 8:31. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
When we are ignorant of God's plan, purpose, and working in our life, we can come up with a very narrow world view in which we are at its center, and the rest of the world is at odds with us. We may perceive in the selfishness of others an inadequacy in ourselves, or we may perceive imperfection in ourselves that somehow lessens us when we see others. Our self-centered view sees a world that is somehow against us. However, Christians are embraced by God as His own children, and He works in their lives to bring them closer to Him. When we are the center of our own world, we stand on shaky and weak ground, unable to bear the circumstances of our own sin and the sin of others. However, when we step off of the throne of our lives and place God there, it is in His strength and for His purpose that we live. The Holy Spirit leads us from our own selfish desires to seek God's purpose for our life, lifting us above the pettiness of our own little world. As a child of God, Christians have an advocate in the Father, and if we find abuse at the hands of others because of our faith, it is not us who is rejected, but it is God. God loves us and cares for us, working continually in our lives to bring us closer to Himself. With the very God of creation as the central authority of our life, the authority that we give to others is diminished. There is little importance in what people think of me any longer. What is important is what God sees in me. I can be a fool in the eyes of ungodly people as long as I am not a fool in God's eyes. We are injured by others when we give them authority to do so, and by so doing give them authority over our feelings and emotions. When God is one's only authority, the ability of others to injure is significantly diminished. The very God of creation stands behind the Christian, holding him/her in love and grace through all of life's circumstances. With God holding us so, who can stand against us and defeat us?
Romans 8:32. He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
When we look at our own impurity before God, we can easily be immersed in guilt if we listen to the unholy spirit's condemnations, either at the hands of others or from satan himself. The condemning spirit might argue, "you have sinned, so God does not love you any longer." "God is going to remove His grace from you if you don't ______ (fill in the blank with the professed work of salvation.) Though God does lead the Christian to live an holy life, salvation did not remove us from the mortal consequences of sin. Faith in God simply saves us from sin’s power to separate us from God. God paid a tremendous price to assure our salvation when He "spared not His own son." Paul presents a simple argument that is even defensible with human reason: If God loves us so much to give us Jesus Himself, there is no limit to the ways that God will meet our needs. He is working with broken vessels that are in need of repair, and He works to that purpose. Does God not love me because I am a broken vessel? It is because I am a broken vessel that God loves me, and sent His Son for me, to save me from my own self-destruction. God's purpose is to bring that broken vessel into His family, and a father embraces an adopted child, He serves to nurture and grow that child into one who approaches Christ. God gave His Son so that we could be saved, justified, and glorified. God will, therefore, give to us all that is needed to keep us in that purpose if we will let Him.
Romans 8:33-34. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. 34Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
This discussion was prompted by those in the Roman church body that are condemning one another. The Jews are condemning those who do not keep the law, judging them as lesser Christians. Those who think they are more spiritual are condemning those who they think are less. Certainly such condemnation of one another is still prominent in the body of faith. Entire denominations of Christians condemn others for their differences. I have been condemned within the body of Christ simply for the geographic location of my birth. I have certainly been condemned by those who disagree with some of my theological positions. Not only do we condemn one another, we often condemn ourselves. Paul is speaking to those who condemn one another for the sin that still vexes their lives, and in all of the condemnation either one for another, or even for ourselves, it is always condemnation for sin. However, how can I condemn someone for their sin? I am not free from sin. God has simply forgiven me and embraced me, accepting me into His presence. That has not changed the fact that I am still imperfect, and I have no authority to condemn someone else without hypocrisy. It is only God who is in a position to judge us. It is only He who condemns, not for our actions but for who we choose as our Lord. When we take it upon ourselves to condemn someone else, we are elevating ourselves to the position of God Himself, and we usually condemn others for their actions. The voice of man has no authority to judge or condemn, whether he be lay or clergy. One who condemns a Christian is only speaking from hatred, not from love. Only God is in a position to judge, and as God judges a Christian, the Christian is judged with Jesus as his/her advocate. Jesus died and was raised so that the Christian would stand before God responsible for their choices, but uncondemned.
Romans 8:35-37. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
Paul was certainly emphatic concerning the eternal security of the believer. God's plan for the salvation of those who would put their trust in Him is founded on His tremendous love, a love that does not change. God does stop loving when one of His children stumbles. God's love never ends; there is no power in all of creation that can cause God's love to fail. Paul clearly identifies that there will be tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness (low socio-economic status), danger, and violence in the life of a Christian. Paul certainly experienced a lot of these situations after he turned his life over to the Lord on the Damascus road. A Christian's life is not free of suffering that is brought on from any number of sources, and none of that suffering is related in any way to God's love. When we face tribulation, God is there to strengthen. God is there to encourage in times of distress, to provide basic needs in time of famine, to give dignity to the naked, to give protection to those who are in peril and in danger of violence. Even the prophesies describe a life of faith as one in peril as the faithful takes a stand against this wicked world. These experiences do not separate us from God, they only serve to give God opportunity to provide for us as we depend more on Him.
Romans 8:30. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul then moves from stressors that face us in this world to those that face us from without, making his list quite inclusive of everything that impacts our lives. When he refers to "us" he is referring to those who have placed their faith and trust in God, those who He has called, whom He has justified, for whom He has sanctified, and of whom he will one day glorify. What can separate us from God's love? What can interfere in the life of a Christian and reinstitute their condemnation? Death cannot separate, nor can anything in life. This makes a quite inclusive list of those things we will experience. Paul also goes on to include the powerlessness of any authorities either in heaven (angels) or hell (principalities or on earth (powers)) to impact God's love for His children. Nor can anything in the past or anything in the future impact God's love for us. God does not think less of you because of the sins of your past, nor because of the sins you will commit in the future. This is hard for we who treat love so conditionally to understand or even believe. There is nothing in creation or in eternity that can separate us from God's love.
This is a profound difference in the life of a Christian from the life from one who is not. Both will face the trials and difficulties of this life. Both will suffer abuse by others. Both will face death. However, the Christian will never face these things alone. When one turns their heart and life over to God, He places the Holy Spirit into the heart of the believer who serves to guide, direct, and comfort. He also serves as eternal evidence of God's working in the life of the believer. When the Christian faces the stresses and losses of life experience, God has the ability to integrate all of those experiences into His plan to bring the believer closer to Himself. We can praise God in the good times, and we can praise God in the tough times, for God is always there, and will always use those experiences for the edification of those who trust in Him. We can turn a deaf ear to those who would condemn us, and recognize as heretics anyone who would claim that God is going to leave us, for there is nothing in creation, past or present, and nothing in eternity that can separate us from God's love. For this, God is worthy of all honor, and praise, and glory that we can raise. God is worthy to hold our hearts, our souls, and our very lives.
 Matthew 19:17.
 At this time it is becoming evident that immediate, radical, surgery provided an entire and permanent cure.
 The fire was brought under control with minimum damage, partly because of our quick work of getting it under control. Keep fire extinguishers in your house!
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