The Lord's Day Morning
August 2, 2009
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Lord, our God, we praise You for all the great things that You have done in calling us and regenerating us, forgiving us our sins, bringing us into union and communion with Jesus Christ. Our hearts brim up and well over with thanksgiving to You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for all that You are. We invoke Your presence. We need Your help. Come, Holy Spirit. Help us now in our hearts, in our souls, with our lips, with our minds, to worship You, the one, true, and living God, in spirit and in truth, to the praise of Your glorious and matchless name. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Please be seated.
Turn with me now to Romans chapter 8 as we continue in our summer series of expositions on what we have called The Best Chapter in the Bible. And this morning we come to verses 28 through 30 — marvelous and beloved and well-known text of Scripture that it is to all of God's children. And before we read the passage, let's once again look to the Lord in prayer.
Father, we come again into Your presence. We bow before You as Your needy servants. We need Your help, Holy Spirit, that we might read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is God's holy, inerrant Word:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. 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. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.”
Amen. May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant Word.
“If you live inside this massive promise, your life is more stable and solid than Mount Everest. Nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside of Romans 8:28 is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty. Outside this promise of all-encompassing future grace, there are straw houses of drugs and alcohol and numbing TV and dozens of futile diversions. There are slat walls and tin roofs of fragile investment strategies and fleeting insurance coverage and trivial retirement plans. There are cardboard fortifications of deadbolt locks and alarm systems and antiballistic missiles. Outside, are a thousand substitutes for Romans 8:28. Once you walk through the door of love into the massive unshakeable structure of Romans 8:28, everything changes. There come into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply can't be blown away anymore. The confidence that a sovereign God governs your good and bad and all the pleasures you’ll ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life.”
Well, no prizes for guessing who wrote that — the give away phrase was “future grace” and for some of you that must mean John Piper. Yes, it's taken from John Piper's book, Future Grace, but isn't he right? If you live outside Romans 8:28, there is only sorrow and instability and unpredictability. But inside, oh, what extraordinary blessing.
Paul has been speaking in Romans 8 about the adequacy of God in various circumstances. He begins the chapter by speaking of the adequacy of God to deal with the guilt of sin. He has told us that to those who are in Christ Jesus, there is now therefore no condemnation. He has spoken about the adequacy of God in the event of death, and twice in Romans 8 he has referred to the resurrection of the body from the dead. He has spoken of the help that God gives to those who face terrible suffering and pain and distress. He has spoken in the immediate context of the paralyzing inadequacy that we sometimes feel in prayer, reminding us that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf with groans that cannot be uttered.
Four particular words, I think stand out in Romans 8 so far - one, is the word righteousness. That to the guilty sinner, there is the righteousness of God imputed to their account; the righteousness of the obedience of Jesus Christ received by faith alone. The second word is sonship. That to those who believe and trust in Jesus only for their salvation, they are now brought into a position whereby they are enabled to say, “Abba, Father.” We know God as our Father in heaven. The third is Holy Spirit — the Spirit who leads us and guides us and directs us and helps us in our prayers and assures us again and again in the face of conflict and distress that we truly are the children of God and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
And the fourth word is security. Security — our beloved text this morning — “all things work together for good”, or “God works all things together for the good of those that love Him”, or the ESV — “and we know that for those that love God all things work together” — all of those translations are possible.
We are talking this morning about the doctrine of providence — that God sees before, that He orders and governs by His most wise and holy and powerful sovereignty, all the actions and all the creatures that are at His disposal. All of creation, including you and me, is under the sovereign providence of God. Now, I want us to see four things in this passage this morning. The first of which is this: I want us to see first of all the character of those to whom this promise is made.
I. Character of those to whom this promise is made
The character of those to whom this promise is made — this promise is not for everyone. This is not a general carte blanche statement on behalf of the apostle that for every single individual in the universe, God is working for their good. This is a promise for those who love God. This is a promise for those who are called according to His purpose. If you’re not a believer, if you’re not trusting in the Lord Jesus, if the Holy Spirit doesn't dwell in your heart, if the old stony heart of unbelief hasn't been taken away and you don't have this morning a new heart of flesh, if you’re not saying this morning, “I love the Lord Jesus Christ” — “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believers’ ear; it calms his sorrows, heals his wounds, and drives away his fear” — I'm saying this morning, if you’re not a believer, if you’re not a Christian, this is not a promise for you. All things are not working for your good.
My dear friend, I have to say this in all honesty and sincerity and faithfulness to the Word of God, that if you die outside of union and communion with Jesus Christ, all things are not working for your good - all things are working for your eternal damnation. Outside of Jesus Christ there is no forgiveness. Outside of Jesus Christ there is no justification. Outside of Jesus Christ there is no salvation. This is a glorious, wonderful, extraordinary promise for those who are believers — for those who are trusting in Jesus only. That's the first thing — the character of those to whom this promise is made.
II. Comprehensiveness of this promise
Secondly, I want us to see the comprehensiveness of this promise. All things, all things, all things — Paul encompasses here within the purview of the promise that he makes with regard to the providence of God, that that providence entails everything, all things. Paul isn't saying here that bad things won't happen to you. He's not saying that. He's not saying if you come to Jesus, if you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, if you are a child of God, that bad things, wicked things, evil things, malevolent things just won't happen to you. You will be kept in a cocoon where evil things will not be able to touch you. Paul isn't saying that.
My dear friends, Reverend Ike is dead. Reverend Ike died this week. Reverend Ike came on our TV screens on a weekly basis and told us that God did not want any Christian to be poor. He didn't take up — when he took up the collection in his meetings — he spoke about donations and not change. He said change makes ministers nervous. He boasted that his garage was full of Cadillacs, and indeed it was. I heard him say one time that if it's hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, then it's even harder for a poor man because a poor man doesn't even have anything to bribe the gatekeeper with. My friends, that's blasphemy. That's nothing short of blasphemy, and I want to tell you this morning that Reverend Ike is dead.
Paul isn't saying here that bad things don't happen to God's people. This is not a promise - when he says that all things work together for good for those who love God — he's not saying just the good things. He's not saying, you see, that God, well you've heard it, “stands aside when bad things happen.” You've been to funerals, the death of a young person perhaps in terrible circumstances, and there's a terribly sincere cleric at the graveside and in an impassioned tone he’ll say something like, “Don't blame God. God wasn't in this. God wasn't there. God was standing at the wings — His hands were tied, just like yours and mine. This is fate. This is circumstance. This is chance. This is who-knows-what, but God isn't involved.” I want to say my dear friends, I don't find that comforting at all. There is no shred of comfort in that theology or that doctrine.
You remember Joseph, young man, well a mother's boy to be sure, concerned about his appearance and labels and clothes for sure, not for him looking after sheep, but at home with his mother — sold. Actually, his brothers tried to kill him — sold him into slavery. He was accused wrongly, falsely accused, of rape and imprisoned for ten years. Remember what he says at the end of his life to his brothers? “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” What his brothers did was evil. It was malevolent. It was bad. And Joseph wants them to understand that they are responsible for their actions, but in a way that theologians and philosophers call compatabilism — for another time and another space — at the very same time, God is at work. God is ordering. God is structuring to ensure that the outcome for one of His own children, whom He loves, is good.
What did Job say when he lost everything he had, and his ten children? He lost all ten of his children in one day - in one catastrophic incident. What does he say? “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Paul isn't saying here that God works in a general way in the universe but not in the little details, not in the fine print. You see, there are those who want to so maintain human libertarianism - the freedom of the will to make certain choices that are real and not imaginary choices — that they will say things like, that God is in charge of the big picture but He's not in charge of the little picture; He's not in charge of the little details. My friends, it is Jesus who says that not a sparrow falls to the ground. I love animals, you know I love animals. Even a sparrow, especially one who as recently flew into the window of my office at the Seminary and I heard “bang” — it dropped like a stone. I was immediately out there, held the little thing in my hands and I think I terrified it to its death. (laughter)
I am saying to you this morning, God is in charge of a sparrow that falls to the ground in some back street in Jerusalem and little boys collect them, sell them to the poor, for a penny, for food. God is involved - I'm telling you this morning. And to some of you it's a great note of comfort, like me — that not a hair, not a hair falls to the ground. You understand why I find that comforting? Not a hair falls to the ground that is outside of the sovereign, gracious purpose of Almighty God. It's all part of His plan. Now my dear friends, you may be dismissive of a hair falling to the ground — I'm not — but even that tiny little hair is part of the “all things.”
Everything, in all its exquisite and intricate detail, the thing that's on your mind, and if you were to utter it this morning somebody might say in some moment of just unbelievable insincerity and — and — and say to you something like “That's big!” And what they’re really thinking is, “How can they be so concerned about something so trivial?” But it's not trivial to you and it is encompassed within the comprehensiveness of the promise God makes here. He works all things - even that, even that incident, even that difficulty, even that problem - all things.
III. Conquest envisioned by the promise
The third thing I want us to see here in the conquest envisioned by the promise. The conquest envisioned by the promise — He works all things together for good. We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good — for good.
Now, what is that good?
Well, Reverend Ike said it was a Cadillac and he was wrong. He was dead wrong.
What is that good that is the ultimate goal of the determinative purposes of Almighty God? Well, the text tells you what that good is. The good, in the end, is glorification. It goes all the way down to the final verse, the final word, of verse 30. That's God's ultimate purpose — He is going to glorify you and me who are trusting in Jesus Christ.
There is coming a day and you and I will stand in the new heavens and the new earth with new and glorified and wondrous resurrected bodies and we’ll be standing in the presence of glory itself — shining in the face of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ. God is working out a purpose on behalf of His children and that purpose has in view our conformity, verse 29, to the image of God's Son. He's going to make us like Jesus — that's a lot of work.
Now, that [work] takes place in Paul's thinking and analysis here according to a five point plan, the five points of providence. It begins with foreknowledge and then moves to predestination and then to calling and then to justification and then to glorification. Now you may ask: Why not sanctification before glorification? And you only have to ask yourself: When is sanctification fully realized? — in the glory, in glorification.
It begins with foreknowledge. Now I know, I know that terribly sincere Christians get all hung-up on the second word, predestination, and in order for predestination to mean anything except predestination you have to somehow do something extraordinary now to the word foreknowledge. And here it is - God can see into the future those who put their faith and trust in Jesus. He can see into the future those who decide for Jesus. Well, that's true, He can, but that's not what Paul is saying here.
To “know” in the Old Testament is “to love,” and what Paul is saying by the use of the word “foreknowing” — those whom He did “foreknow” — is saying that God set His love upon us, His affection upon us, in eternity. His purpose is to bring us into glory, but that purpose began in eternity past. It began before the world was made. It began before you and I were a twinkle in our father's eye. He set His love on us.
In Genesis 18 and verse 19, we read concerning Abraham that God says “I have known him” — some translations say, and the ESV says “I have chosen Him.” To foreknow is God setting His sovereign, gracious, extraordinary love upon an individual. And those whom He foreknew, He predestines.
Now, predestination is a family secret. I have never once attempted to argue about the doctrine of predestination with those who aren't believers — it's a waste of time. It's a family secret. It's when you become a believer. It's when you come to trust in Jesus and you flop down on your knees and, what are you going to say? When you get on your knees? “Time out Father. I just want to speak to myself for a minute. I want to thank myself for that extraordinary insight that I had — how insightful I was to put my faith in Jesus. It was all of my doing! Now…where was I?” I've never heard anybody pray like that. Now when they stand up and talk all sorts of nonsense will come out, but in their hearts they understand that we are saved only because of God's sovereign, divine, monergistic activity.
He chose us.
It is the same word, by the way, in the Old Testament that is used of David choosing five stones out of the brook with which he will kill Goliath. He selects them — I want that one, and I want that one, and I’ll have that one. I don't know why one and not another — I don't have the answer to that question. But all I know is that if God hadn't chosen me, I would never have chosen Him.
“I sought the Lord, but afterward I knew.
He moved my soul to seek Him seeking me.
It was not I that found O Savior true, no I was found of Thee.”
He foreknew, He predestined, He called. He called me —
“I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come unto Me and rest.’”
He opened my heart. He drew me to Himself. He gave me faith —
“a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”
And He justified me. He placed me in a right relationship with Himself. He reckoned the righteousness of Jesus to my account and He reckoned my sin to Jesus’ account.
“He made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be reckoned the righteousness of God in Him.”
He set His love upon me. He chose me. He drew me with the cords of love. He justified me, and then Paul says, He glorified me. Now you’re expecting him to say, He will glorify me, but he puts it in the past tense because it's certain, you see.
William Perkins was one of the greatest theologians at the turn of the 16th, 17th century. Right about 1600, he taught theology at Cambridge University in England. He was probably the best theologian alive at that point. He's the man who said about theology that “it's the science of living blessedly forever.” I love that. He wrote a book. It was his magnum opus — it's based on this text. He called it The Golden Chain. That's what you have here. Five links of a chain that's wrapped lovingly and affectionately around you in eternity, ensuring that you’re brought to eternity. It's a golden chain of five links of foreknowledge and predestination and calling and justification and glorification. That's the conquest. God is working all things together for that good — for that good. The pains, the trials, the heartache, the disappointments, the frustrations — they’re all part of what God is doing to bring you inexorably to glory..
IV. Confidence with which the promise is made
Now, if Paul speaks of the character of those to whom the promise is made, and the comprehensiveness of the promise, and the conquest of the promise, in the fourth place, he speaks of the confidence with which this promise is made
And you see there in verse 28 at the beginning, “we know” — this is something that we know! This is something that is part of our belief system. We know this. We are absolutely certain about this.
I was in Iowa this past week — cornfields and cornfields and more cornfields. And I had planned to be home on Friday evening. I wanted to be home on Friday evening. It was my thirty-third wedding anniversary. I said to Rosemary on Monday morning, “I’ll be back on Friday night.” I looked at my iPhone application on Thursday afternoon at the Weather Channel — storms everywhere. I still said to Rosemary Thursday evening when I spoke with her, “I’ll be home tomorrow night. See you tomorrow night.” I flew to Cincinnati — well, you know the story. I didn't get home. I got to Atlanta at 12:30 — past midnight. Do you know where half the population of America was on Thursday night? (laughter) In Atlanta airport! Long lines everywhere. You want to see — you want to see the various exigencies of human frustration? Atlanta airport on Thursday night — I was among them! I went up to this young girl behind a desk. She worked for Delta because you have to go through Atlanta to get to heaven. Everything goes through Atlanta. I said to her, “Please, please get me home. It's my wedding anniversary. I want to go home.” And sensing something of my frustration I think, she said to me, “You know” — she said — she pursed her lips — “You know, Mother Nature has something to do with this.” Well, that was it. (laughter) But instead of getting angry with her for this, this reference to the deity called Mother Nature, I got angry with myself. I stood there in front of her and I was thinking inside, “What is your text on Sunday morning? Ahh, yes, Romans 8:28.”
Even this, trivial for most of you I'm sure — but it wasn't for me — even this is part of God's plan, part of God's purpose, to ensure that I will get home to glory, because what this text is saying my friends, is that we are kept in the palms of His hands, and no one, and nothing, can snatch us from it.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You for this word of promise. Hide it in our hearts for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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