Recently I finished reading/listening to the audio book Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges. (Today, February 29, is the last day to get the audio-book for free.) In the book, the author deals with the theme of God’s sovereignty over every event in life. Using the Bible as his guide, he lays out how God not only is the Creator of our world, but is still actively involved in every detail of our life as the One who sustains and controls everything that happens in our day by day events. Overall I thought the book was excellent even though it was more of a refresher for me than a new revelation. With that said there were still a couple of “aha!” moments in the book.
Have you ever had a moment when you knew something, but yet it was articulated in such a way by someone else that it connected what you already knew in a fresh way? That is what happened when the author discussed the passage of Scripture in the latter part of Romans 8.
(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. (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.
(Romans 8:28-30 ESV)
Prior to reading this book I would have told you quite clearly that God, who is in control of all things, was working out or was actively involved in every minutiae of our lives making all things work for His glory first, yet also for our good. That our good is not determined by what we deem to be good, but rather that the wise and just Judge of all things was working for our eternal good. I also would have told you that as Christians our personal walk of sanctification should be to make us more like Christ. So in a way what I “learned”, I already knew. It was simply made clear to me in a new way.
I have no idea how many times I have read, quoted, or heard these verses in my life. Thousands of times I am sure. I’ve done personal studies on them, referenced them in Bible studies, and even preached using these verses. Yet for some reason I have always separated verse 28 from verses 29 and 30 as if they were two completely different thoughts. Many people with just the slightest knowledge of the Bible have heard Romans 8:28. It hangs on a wooden plaque in your grandma’s kitchen. It’s on stationery and coffee mugs and has become for many people so overused they don’t even stop to think of it’s meaning. If you say it with the right lilt in your voice it has this Scandinavian tone to it. Almost like an old Swedish or Norwegian folk saying. And so it becomes an overused extended way of saying que sera sera. An “Oh well I forgot to get bread, but God works all things for good” type of theology. Yet it clear when you take Scripture as a whole that it is much more than that.
Verses 29 and 30 have always stood as their own phrase to me. Almost as if though they were one sentence, not two. They describe the “process” or sanctification of a follower of Christ. That prior to becoming Christians God knew us, redeemed us, and is in the process of glorifying us. That the work that God has begun in us is so certain to be completed that Paul, the writer of Romans, uses only verbs in the past tense as if they have already happened. If we have been called of Christ we can be certain that we will in the end by glorified. These verses are a tremendous encouragement to believers of what God has done and will continue to do in our lives.
With all of that said, where is my “aha” moment that was brought to my attention in Trusting God? The moment was when the author brought out that verses 28, 29, and 30 are all one paragraph. Maybe I’m dense, but this opened my eyes to see something I don’t remember seeing before. Yet at the same time it was something I already knew. Confusing? Let me try and explain. The author points out that the “all things” that God is working out in our lives, which is for our good, is completed in verses 29 and 30. Specifically that the good that God is working in our lives for His glory and for our good is linked directly to the middle part of verse 29, “to be conformed to the image of his Son”. So everything that happens in our lives is ultimately purposed by God to bring glory to Himself and for our good, but that the specific good that God is working is our Christ-likeness. Through our trials and temptations, our sins and sicknesses, our doubts and wanderings God is making us like His Son, Jesus Christ. As Christians, when we face uncertainty, worries, illness, financial problems, and even death we can be confident that in all of these things God’s plan is to make us more like Jesus in order that He may be glorified.
This helped me to stop thinking of verse 28 as being a promise about some good that God was doing that I wouldn’t find out about until eternity, though that is certainly true in part. But rather that verse 28 is a specific promise of how God is conforming me into the image of Jesus Christ. Conform means to be similar to or to correspond to in nature. So every event and every detail of our lives is taking place under God’s control to make us like Jesus. How comforting is that when we are faced with the unknown? When fears come in and threaten to destroy us to simply fall back into His arms and know that He is making us like Him through the very trial. To paraphrase Romans 5, our suffering produces patience which produces character which produces hope which only comes from God’s love for us. And what is the hope of the believer? That ultimately we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. I John 3:2