Adoption: God’s Care for His Children

Sermon by Derek Thomas on November 19, 2003

Romans 8:26-39


Romans 8:26-39
God’s Care for His Children

Turn with me now to Romans
chapter 8, Romans chapter 8, a section of Scripture that is probably one of the
most well-known, favorite passages, I’m sure, to many of you. We’ll pick it up
at verse 26. Romans 8:26:

“In the same way the Spirit also
helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit
Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches
the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the
saints according to the will of God. 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. 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. What
then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who
did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not
also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s
elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus
is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who
also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will
tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or
sword? Just as it is written, ‘FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY
LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.’ But in all these things
we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that
neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor
things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,
will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our
Lord.”

Amen. May God add His blessing to the reading of His holy
and inerrant word.

We are coming to the end of our
consideration together this fall of the doctrine of adoption, or sonship, that
God in His grace has brought us into a relationship with Himself whereby God is
our Father, Christ is our Elder Brother, and the Holy Spirit is, as Paul refers
to him in this eighth chapter of Romans, “the spirit of adoption,” the spirit of
sonship. We’ve seen together some of the implications of that doctrine in terms
of our communion with each other. We’re brought into a family, with brothers
and sisters and obligations that accrue as a result: we’re to love one another
and serve one another. We’ve seen something of the way in which God has brought
us into a family and therefore, in a sense, matriculated us. Taking a line from
what Paul says in Galatians, that we are “no longer under the Law,” in the sense
that we no longer live under tutors and guardians as was paramount under the old
covenant; we are members of the new covenant. And as such, we see and are given
larger blessings than some of our brothers and sisters under the old covenant.
We have the freedom of the house and the run of the house.

And tonight I want us to return
again to this magnificent eighth chapter of Romans and to something now that
Paul says in verse 29, “Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become
conformed to the image of His Son.” That’s God’s goal and purpose: to make us
like Jesus. And then you notice what Paul says, “In order that He (that is,
Jesus) would be the firstborn…” the one of pre-eminence, that is to say “among
many brothers. Isn’t that a beautiful picture? Jesus and His brothers? Jesus
and His family? Jesus and His spiritual siblings? You and I, that is, who by
grace have been brought into fellowship and union with Christ.

Now let’s look at the context in
which Paul says this because what Paul wants us, of course, to see and be
encouraged by here in the closing verses of Romans 8 is that God intends to
bring all of us home. He intends to bring all of us home. It is said
that John Knox, when he was dying, asked his wife to bring him his Bible, and at
this point in Knox’s life he was unable to see. And he asked her to open the
Scriptures. “To what chapter?” she said. “To the eighth chapter of Romans.”
And he wished his fingers to be placed on these closing verses of Romans 8
because in them was all of his certainty and all of his hope and all of his
assurance. Paul is dealing here with the adequacy of the grace of God to deal
with every contingency in life. And Paul is arranged over the way in which the
Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God, that we
are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, that we cry, “Abba, Father”;
that there are times in the depth of our perplexity and trial when we know not
what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit makes sighs and groans too deep for
words, helps us in our infirmities, prays along with us, sustains us, keeps us.
And now in verse 28 and the verses that follow, Paul wants us to understand and
to appreciate that God is determined to bring us all the way home, that Jesus
might be “the firstborn among many brothers.”

I. Everything that happens to
us happens according to God’s plan — God has a purpose.
Let’s think along three
lines of thought here. First of all, that there is a purpose to God’s work.
There is a purpose. We know that for those who love God all things to “work
together for good…for those who are called according to His purpose.” There is
a purpose in what God is doing. God is working and superintending everything on
behalf of His children: those whom He loves, those whom He adores, those whom He
cherishes. That everything that happens, happens according to this purpose,
this plan. Paul is thinking here of the control of God, the sovereignty of God
over everything: over time and space, over your life and mine, over every
contingency. That things happen, things occur because God wills them to happen,
because God is executing His plan, because God is working out His decree. That
the future is known to Him, just as the past is known to Him, just as the
present is known to Him. There is no plan B in the purposes of God. There is
no second-rate plan that God has to hurriedly bring into execution because the
first plan has failed. God has a plan. God has a purpose. That’s what
theologians call “the decree of God.” It’s what The Westminster Confession
elaborates on in wonderful and extraordinary detail, in chapter three of The
Confession
.

It unfolds in space and time by
means of a covenant. God makes a covenant. You see it in the Garden of Eden.
You see that promise that God makes to Adam and Eve: that from the seed of the
woman would come One who would crush the very head of Satan. There’s God’s
plan. There’s His purpose–it’s a part of His purpose. You see God singling out
Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans and giving Him a glimpse of His plan and His
purpose that from Him would issue a seed as great as the night sky and the sand
upon the seashore. God has a plan. God has a purpose. You see him
raising up someone like Moses in the midst of Pharaoh’s Egypt that He might
bring His people out of bondage in order that they might worship Him. You see
Him raising up King David, and with King David reiterating that plan and that
purpose and that covenant: that he would be the forerunner, the king that would
signal the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

His plan is wise; every aspect of
it is respondent of the wisdom of God, because it’s God’s plan. God adapts
means to ends. He sets targets, orchestrates forces that are too complex even
for us to imagine and talk about. And all of history–imagine it, my friend,
that all of history has been part of the execution of God’s plan to bring you to
this point in this building tonight. It’s all part of God’s plan. It’s all
part of God’s decree. It embraces everything, everything. “All things,” Paul
says, not just the good things, not just the happy things, not just the pleasant
things. Praise God for the happy things. Praise God for the times of laughter
and joy. Praise God for those precious moments when joy fills our hearts and
we, as it were, in the words of the 23rd Psalm, ‘lie down beside
still waters and our cup overflows, and we’re conscious of goodness and mercy
following us all the days of our lives.’ Thank God for those days.

But there are days of trial too
and days of difficulty and days of sorrow and days of bereavement and days of
loss. And Paul says, ‘Those things are part of God’s plan too…all things…all
the happenstances.’ Don’t you love it when Calvinists and Presbyterians talk
about happenstances and chance and luck?

I love that verse in the Old
Testament describing the death of King Ahab. “And a certain man drew a bow at a
venture.” Ahab’s in a chariot and dressed in ordinary, civilian clothing. He’s
got some armor on, and the arrow catches him in the joints of the armor. And
he’s taken out of the chariot, and he leans up against a tree, and he’s dead.
It was just a random, a “lucky” shot. But it was all part of the execution of
the plan of God. It was all part of the purposes of God.

You see, my friend, if you don’t
believe that it leads to despair. Oh, there are theologians and books coming
out by the truckloads suggesting something quite different to all of that: that
God doesn’t know the future, that the future is open to Him, that God orders
some things but not everything. What a recipe for despair! That I can drive up
I-55 tonight at 7:30 with “Jehus driving furiously” in every lane, like
maniacs, not concerned about their own lives and least of all about mine, and to
be able to say a little prayer–and if you’ve never said a little prayer when
you’re driving up I-55, you’re a different person than I am–and to know that
everything, everything, absolutely everything falls beneath the canopy of and
embrace of the decree and plan and purpose of God. What a glory that gives to a
sense of our direction in life. That life isn’t meaningless. That life isn’t
vanity. There’s a purpose to life. That life can be full. That coming to know
Christ and knowing His word and hiding it within our hearts and seeking to live
before it brings a fullness and a sense of “peace that passes all
understanding,” knowing that we walk in His ways, and that He leads us and He
guides us and He directs our paths. “How shall a young man learn to direct His
paths? By taking heed thereunto according to Thy word.” There is a purpose.
There is a plan, and it’s comprehensive, and it embraces everything. There is a
purpose in God’s work.

II. There is a fullness in God’s
work — His plan is absolutely complete.
Secondly, there is a
fullness in God’s work. There is a fullness in God’s work. Five great truths
the apostle now singles out. He puts it like this: In verse 29, he introduces
the idea of foreknowledge and then, of course, in verse 30 he continues the
idea–foreknowledge and predestination and calling and justification and
glorification.

He begins with
foreknowledge
. It’s not what God knew
that Paul is concerned about here. He’s not saying that God knew a lot of
facts. That’s true, of course, but that’s not what he’s thinking about.
It’s whom did God know
? And He knew you, my friend: you who trust in
Jesus, you whose faith is in Jesus, you who come tonight with empty hands and
say, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” God foreknew
you. Paul isn’t saying that God foreknew that you would choose Jesus. You
know, people get all hung up about things like that. That’s not what Paul is
talking about. He’s saying, ‘He foreknew you!’ “For those whom
He foreknew”–however you have it in your translation. And the emphasis is on
the person. God has known us for a long time.

I’m often asked in my position at
the seminary to write testimonials. I don’t know what possesses these students
to recommend me as someone to give them a testimonial for their future lives and
prosperity, but they often do. And one of the questions that I’m often asked
is, “How long have you known this candidate?” And I have to be honest. In most
cases, I’ve only known them for three or four years at most. God has known
us forever
. God knew us before we were born. God knew us before the
creation of the world. And you understand, of course, that in the Bible ‘to
know’ is a very intimate word. When Adam knew his wife, Eve, it’s very
intimate word. And God foreknew you. He set His love upon you; He set His
affection upon you.

“Those whom He foreknew, He also
predestined”–ah, there’s the word.
That God has determined a person’s destiny beforehand. That’s not to say
that you don’t make decisions, and that you don’t choose. I chose Christ. Yes,
it was an act of my will. I can tell you the time and the date. It was
December the 28th, 1971. It was 11:30 pm, approximately at night. I
can tell you that. I was conscious of the exercise of my own volition in
choosing Christ; saying “No” to a past existence in a past world. Yes, I chose
Him. But He determined that I would choose Him. It was not I that chose; it was
He that chose through me. He made me willing. He drew my affections.

You see, take prayer. When you
give thanks for your conversion. You’re a Christian tonight; you’re a believer;
you’re trusting Jesus Christ, and you’re giving thanks to God for your
salvation. Now, has anyone here ever gotten on their knees and said something
like this: “Lord, I just want to take this opportunity to thank myself for
being so wise in choosing You. You know, Lord, I know I should give You all the
glory, but, you know, I really did good,” as you say ungrammatically, “I really
did well when I chose Jesus.” No, there isn’t anyone in here who’s prayed a
prayer like that. When you are praying for the conversion of your brother or
your mother or your children…some of us have prayed prayers like that for over
thirty years. I’ve never, ever prayed, “Lord, Lord, I want them to be able to
do it all by themselves, unaided by any sort of interference of your part.” No,
you don’t pray prayers like that. You say, “Lord, save them because they cannot
save themselves.” Isn’t that what you pray?

By the way, my friends, shouldn’t
that be the burden of our prayer meeting here on Wednesday night. We need to
shake ourselves and make use of this time of prayer more than we do, and to pray
for the lost and perishing, that God in His sovereign power would intervene and
raise like Lazarus from the dead. You know, predestination only makes sense
when you’re a Christian. There’s no point in talking about predestination to
somebody who isn’t a Christian. You’re wasting your time and your breath.
“It’s a family secret,” as Calvin says.

And then, calling…foreknowledge,
predestination, callingGod called us.
Now there are two kinds of call: there is an external call–there’s a general
call, a universal call–and there’s an effectual call, a special call. You know,
you are too polite to do it here, but imagine, imagine you’re in a parking lot
and you’re sitting in your car and you saw someone twenty, thirty, forty yards
away. And you don’t have manual windows anymore; you all have these little
buttons and you press it and the window goes down and you shout, “John!” Well,
of course, if there’s more than one John, you know, several people may turn
around, but let’s imagine there’s only one John there. Everybody hears that
call. Some of them will think, “How rude.” But John will turn around and if he
recognizes you, he’ll probably come in your direction and say, “Hello” and “How
are you?” and “How nice to see you.”

It’s what Jesus did, wasn’t it,
at the tomb of Lazarus? That’s the great illustration of an effectual call.
You know, Matthew Henry said, “Jesus had to say, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’
You know, had he simply said, ‘Come forth!’ all the dead would have come
forth. He had to specify Lazarus in order to make sure that it would be
Lazarus, and only Lazarus, that would come forth.”

And
justified
…foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification…
‘All those whom God foreknew, He predestines; and all those whom He predestines,
He calls; and all those whom He calls, He justifies’–He makes us right with
God on the basis of the finished work of another, a substitute, a sin-bearer,
our divine Messiah, Jesus
. We come with nothing in our hands and we grasp
Him and Him alone. “God made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we
might be reckoned the righteousness of God in Him.” Justified, acquitted, so
that on the Day of Judgment we might here no word of condemnation for all of our
sins and all of our guilt, because Jesus has taken it for us. This legal term
that declared us to be right with God on the basis of the substitutionary work
of Jesus.

Donald Gray Barnhouse has this
wonderful illustration of substitution. He says, “Imagine being Barabbas, in
the cell at the time of Jesus’ arrest and trial, and he overhears the shouting
of the crowd but doesn’t hear what Pilate is saying. All he can hear from his
cell are the words, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ And there’s a rattle of keys and the
prison door is opened and Barabbas is called, and he thinks he’s going to be
executed, and he’s told, ‘You’re free.’ And Jesus is taken out and executed
instead.” Do you think Barabbas understood substitution? Do you think for
Barabbas it was some kind of legal fiction? I tell you it was about as real as
anything can be, that his life had been spared because another had been taken in
his room and in his stead and in his place.

And that fifth, glorious
word…yes, glorified. And you say, “But
I’m not yet glorified,” and you’re not. And some of you are definitely not.
But, you see, for the apostle it is so certain that it will occur that he puts
it as though it already has, because there is an exorability about the purpose
of God and there is a fullness to the work of God. Because ‘those whom He
foreknows, He predestines; and those whom He predestines, He calls; and those
whom He calls, He justifies; and those whom He justifies, He glorifies.’ “The
soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, / I will not, I will not desert
to His foes. That soul though all Hell should endeavor to shake, / I’ll never!
No, never! No, never forsake!”

III. The harmony of God’s work —
He works all things together for good.
There’s a purpose to the
work of God, and there’s a fullness to the work of God, and there’s a harmony to
the work of God. Do you notice that little word? It’s such a beautiful word in
verse 28. “God works all things together for good.” Yes, for good. You see,
it’s all very well to talk about predestination and justification and
glorification, but the reality is that my life is in a mess. The reality is
that I’m passing through trials and tribulations and difficulties, and I’m at
the point and I’m on the verge of questioning whether this purpose exists. And
Paul says, ‘Oh, yes, it exists, and I want you to know it is good.’ It’s what
Joseph came to see when his brothers had abandoned him and sold him into slavery
to a band of Midianites, when he had been falsely accused of rape. Imagine:
imprisoned, left in prison. And then that glorious revelation, epiphany to his
brothers in chapter 50 of Genesis, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for
good.” It’s what Job said to his wife, wasn’t it? “Shall we not accept good at
the hands of God and not evil?” All things, all things–even the bad things,
even the evil things are part of the plan and purpose of God for my good.

“God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform. / He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the
storm. Deep in unfathomable minds of never failing skill, He treasures up His
bright designs and works His sovereign will. / Blind unbelief is sure to err and
scan His work in vain, God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.”

And you say, “But that’s
poetry…and beautiful poetry. Prove to me that the trial that I’m passing
through now is part of the good purpose of God to bring me as a child of God, as
an adopted child of God, and conform me to the image of Christ that He might be
the firstborn among many brothers. Prove to me.”

And I say to you, go to the book
of Revelation, and what do you see in those opening chapters, and in the very
opening chapter and again in chapter four and five? What do you see? You see a
vision of the sovereignty of Jesus, and He’s sitting upon a throne. And what is
that saying? It’s saying that the One who’s in control, the One who has all
sovereignty, is Jesus. Nothing ever happens to you outside of the decree and
purposes of Jesus. There is nothing un-Jesus-like that every happens to you.
Are there crosses? Yes. There were crosses for Him. Through many tribulations
we enter the kingdom of God. But there’s a harmony to what God does. You may
not be able to comprehend it now. You may not be able to see it all now. You
may not be able to put all the pieces together. You may be hovering at ten
thousand feet and there are clouds at fifteen thousand feet, but you know every
time you fly to Atlanta, and you fly at thirty or thirty-three thousand feet,
you see the sun shining. No matter what’s happening below you, the sun is
always shining above the clouds, always.

And that’s the promise. That’s
the assurance. That’s the word, Paul says, and it is true for every child of
God. That’s what it means to have the spirit of adoption indwelling us, to have
a certainty that whatever is happening to us is happening as the outworking of
the good purposes of God. He’s determined to bring you home. “In My Father’s
house are many mansions. And if it were not so, I would’ve told you. I go to
prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come
again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there,” there, “you will be
also.” Let’s pray together.

Our Father in Heaven, we thank
You for Your words. Thank You for this wonderful reassurance of Your sovereign
purposes and good purposes. Thank You for this glorious vision that we shall be
in the family of God with Jesus as the first born and pre-eminent one, the
forerunner of our faith. What inestimable privileges are ours. Help us to
treasure them and uphold and strengthen our brothers and sisters who are passing
through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Lift those hands which hang down and
those feeble knees and help us to run with perseverance the race that is set
before us, looking unto Jesus the Author and the Finisher of our faith. Hear us
for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please stand. Receive the Lord’s benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with
you all. Amen.

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