Dr. Richard L. Strauss
April 21, 1991
Purpose: To help us live triumphantly in times of trials, by understanding the certainty of future glory.
He was a British actor who gained considerable wealth and fame, particularly for his portrayal of a wacky French detective named Inspector Cleuseau. What many people don't know is that Peter Sellers was a troubled, restless and dissatisfied man throughout much of his adult life. In his later years, before his death in 1980, he suffered a loss of personal identity, and began to use the voice and accent of the character he played. As one of his several wives put it, he was "...in a constant state of turmoil about his purpose on this planet."
Purpose! He didn't understand his purpose. He probably didn't even know that there was a purpose for being on this earth. Many people don't. Life has no meaning for them. It makes no sense. As Shakespeare put it through the mouth of Hamlet, life is "...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Is that the way you feel about it? Or do you know that you have a purpose for being here. Can you define what your purpose in life is as a child of God?
If you can't, listen closely today, because the Apostle Paul is about to explain to you what life is all about. He had a little inside information--he wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And understanding what he said can help you cope with the trials of life and live triumphantly. That's what Romans 8 is all about: triumphant living! Victory over sin! Peace and joy! Harmony and hope! It's both desirable and possible! First, because we have the Spirit dwelling in us (Romans 8:1-13). Second, because we have an honored position in God's family (Romans 8:14-17). And as we are seeing now in verses 18-30, because we have a glorious future to look forward to.
Something wonderful is going to happen to us, and that can make a world of difference in the way we live our lives right here and now. God is going to turn our groaning into glory! In verses 18-27, we saw the presence of groaning. Suffering is an inescapable ingredient of living. But woven throughout the passage is the promise of glory, and now Paul wants to expand on that. We as God's children will someday be glorified! And preparing for that day is our primary purpose for being on this planet. Let's explore that idea as the Apostle explains it.
God's Purpose of Glorification
Romans 8:28. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
There's that word purpose. Believers may get down periodically over the difficult circumstances in their lives. But they can be assured that through it all God is working out a grand and glorious purpose which nothing can thwart and no one can hinder.
The Assurance of God's Purpose
"We know." Anybody who truly knows the Lord and His Word will gladly acknowledge this as true. We know it from our own experience. As we look back over our lives we can see examples of how God worked seeming tragedies together to accomplish His own perfect purposes. And as we peruse the pages of Scripture we see numerous illustrations of it.
Joseph is a good example. Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Falsely accused of trying to seduce his master's wife and languishing for years in an Egyptian prison. But the day came when he could say to his brothers, "...you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good" (Genesis 20:20). There are days when we have our doubts; we're all human and we all have our moments of weakness. But when we get our minds back on the Lord and our thought back on His Word, we become assured of it anew.
The Scope of God's Purpose
"All things." All things means just that: all things. Paul mentions some of the things that he would include in Romans 8:35: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword. That means it would include adversity as well as prosperity, pain as well as pleasure, losses as well as gains, sorrow and sadness as well as joy and happiness. It would include disappointments, delays, poverty, privation, sins and failures, sickness, suffering, sorrow, death, tears and bereavement. It covers the forces of nature, the deeds of evil men, the activity of Satan, the state of the weather. Everything! It may not all be good in and of itself, but God promises to work it together for good.
It's like baking a cake from scratch. Not all the ingredients are good. I don't particularly enjoy eating things like baking powder, raw flour, raw eggs or bitter chocolate. But when it's all blended together by a master chef with some butter and sugar and other nice things, it turns out to be good. And that's what the divine Master Chef does with the circumstances of our lives--He takes the bitter and the sweet and works it all together for good.
The End of God's Purpose
"Good!" What is the good? Some folks seem to think that Paul is referring to our health, wealth and happiness, our comfort and convenience, our prosperity and pleasure. If someone is suffering some painful experience, these well-meaning but misguided believers will say something like, "Remember Romans 8:28." "Claim Romans 8:28." The implication is, "Even though it hurts, you can count on God to turn it around to your happiness." And we have lots of stories to illustrate that.
One I've often heard is the story of Wallace Johnson, founder of Holiday Inn motels. When he was 40 years old he worked in a sawmill, and one morning the boss told him he was fired. Depressed and discouraged, he felt like his world had caved in. When his wife asked him what he was going to do, he said he was going to mortgage their home and go into the building business. His first venture was two small buildings. And within 5 years he was a multi-millionaire. When he got fired, he couldn't understand why God had allowed it, but it all turned around to his profit.
This may disappoint you greatly, but there is nothing in the context of Romans 8:28 that would even remotely hint that this is what Paul means. I can't find anything here about health, wealth and happiness in this life as the world defines it. Let Paul tell you the "good" that he has in mind.
Back in Romans 8:18, he mentions "the glory which shall be revealed in us." In Romans 8:19, he talks about "the revealing of the sons of God." In Romans 8:23, he alludes to "the adoption, the redemption of our body." They all refer to the same event, the day of Christ's return, when "...we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2); when our lowly bodies will be transformed--"...conformed to His glorious body" (Philippians 3:21).
That's what he talks about in the very next verse.
Romans 8:29a. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son."
"Conformed to the image of His Son." That's our glorification, and that's the good in this passage. That's God's ultimate goal for us--not necessarily our worldly interests, but our Christlikeness. That's the end in view--not making everything fine and dandy in this life, but making us ultimately like Jesus. That's His purpose for us--not necessarily our earthly happiness, but our genuine holiness--because He knows that holiness will provide us more true happiness than anything else we could possibly dream of. And He assures us that He can use every circumstance in our lives, pleasant or unpleasant, to help accomplish that great purpose.
But He isn't going to do that for everybody. Having seen the assurance of His purpose, and the scope of it, and the end of it, look at the objects of it.
The Object of God's Purpose
"...To those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." That's a description of believers, true believers in Jesus Christ. Does every Christian love God? I don't see how a person could be the recipient of His gracious forgiveness and His eternal salvation and not love Him. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "If anyone loves God, this one is known by Him" (1 Corinthians 8:3).
Loving God, and being in His conscious thoughts and providential care go together. Is every Christian called according to His purpose? I should say so. It was Paul again who wrote, "We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24). Called people are distinguished from unbelievers.
It is only for the true believer, the person who loves God and trusts Him as His called one that all things work together for good. If a person doesn't love and trust God, he may resent what happens to him, fight against it, let it breed anger and rebellion in him (Barclay, 119).
It's like going to a doctor. You may not like the treatment he prescribes. It may be uncomfortable and unpleasant. But if you trust him, you accept the treatment, knowing that it will be for your good. Almighty God is the ultimate doctor. What He prescribes is always intended to move us along the path toward Christlikeness. And when love Him and trust Him, we allow the things He prescribes to accomplish His purpose for us, and we become more like Jesus.
I can tell you that having what the doctors call an incurable cancer has not been particularly enjoyable. But I can also tell you that during this time since I learned of my illness, I have developed a greater desire to grow in Christlikeness than I ever had before. I fall so far short, and have so far to go. But the desire is more intense than it ever was before the disease. I'm beginning to understand God's good purpose for my life.
And someday the process is going to be complete. I shall be perfect like my Savior. As Charles H. Gabriel put it in his beloved gospel song, "O that will be glory for me; When by His grace I shall look on His face, that will be glory for me!"
That's God's purpose of glorification. Let's now turn our attention to the process that guarantees our arrival at the destination.
God's Process of Glorification
There are five links in this chain, and when we get through with it, one thing should be perfectly clear: our arrival at glory is all of God. There is nothing we can do. God does it all.
Dr. H.A. Ironside used to tell about a man who gave his testimony, telling how God sought him and found him, saved him, forgave him and cleansed him. Another brother, somewhat deficient in Bible doctrine, came to him on one occasion and said, "You didn't say anything about your part. Salvation is really part us and part God, and you should have mentioned your part." "Oh," the man said, "I apologize for that. I should have mentioned that My part was running away, and His part was running after Me until He found me" (Stedman, From Guilt to Glory Volume I, 251).
So let's go through the process with Paul and watch God do His work of running after us. The first element is His foreknowledge.
"For whom He foreknew" (verse 29a). Don't miss the "For" (or "because"). We can know that God is going to accomplish His good purpose for us because in eternity past, He knew us. Foreknowledge means more than just knowing ahead of time what we would do, and choosing us on that basis. In fact it doesn't say anything about "what" God knew; it talks about "whom" He knew. He obviously knew what we would do or He wouldn't be God. But the point here is that He knew us personally from eternity past.
As He said to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you" (Jeremiah 1:5). And as He said to the people of Israel through the prophet Amos, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). The word "know" is often used almost synonymously in Scripture with "love." The idea is "to know with delight and affection." Before we were born, God set His love upon us and entered into a unique love relationship with us.
Romans 8:29. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren."
As soon as some people hear that word "predestination," they think immediately that God said something like, "OK, you people over here will go to heaven, and you over there will go to hell." But predestination is never applied to unbelievers or hell in Scripture. It simply means that in eternity past God made a decision about us whom He foreknew. He decided that He would use every circumstance in our lives to accomplish one great purpose: to make us like Jesus.
That doesn't mean we'll all be carbon copies of Jesus in physical features, or that we'll all have the same personality He had. But it does mean that we will have the same basic character He has: loving, gracious, gentle, unselfish, patient, kind, compassionate, and most significant of all, holy.
When God created man, He made him in His own image. That image was marred by sin, but God is in the process of restoring it, bit by bit, transforming us "...into the same image from glory to glory" as Paul put it in his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 3:18). And one day He will finish the job and make us perfectly like Christ, "...that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." The firstborn was the child who had the preeminence. God's plan is to make many more sons and daughters just like Jesus, in order to further exalt and magnify Him--show off His glory. As L.S. Chafer said, "God was so pleased with His Son that He purposed to make many more just like Him." After foreknowledge and predestination comes calling.
"Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called" (verse 30a). Our calling moves out of the realm of eternity past and into the realm of present time. This is what brings us to Christ. It is not just a gracious invitation, but an effectual calling that results in our coming to Christ for salvation. There is a sense in which the invitation goes to all. As Jesus said, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). Not all are convinced of their need and drawn by the Holy Spirit to trust Christ for salvation (refer to John 6:44), but rather, only those whom God knew and predestined. But 100% of those whom He foreknew and predestined are called. None are lost along the way.
"...whom He called, these He also justified." And we all know what that means if we've been moving through this book, since justification by faith is the major theme of the book. The sinner who trusts Christ as Savior receives from God's gracious hand the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17), which allows God to declare him to be righteous--right before God, just as if he had never sinned.
"...And whom He justified, these He also glorified." We've reached the goal of the whole process. We're there: God's purpose for our lives. He pulls back the curtain and reveals what He has been doing all along with the human race, why He created us and what life is all about. It's future, and yet He speaks of it as though it's already happened because it's absolutely certain. There isn't a shred of uncertainty about it.
This is what all creation has been eagerly waiting for in verse 19. This is what we personally have anticipated in verse 23. This is what the Spirit has been praying for in verse 26. This is the purpose for which God called us in verse 28. And in verse 30, we've arrived: complete conformity to the image of the glorified Christ, gloriously transformed bodies united with perfected spirits, which will reflect the glory of Jesus throughout the ages of eternity. Glorification. And 100% of those whom He foreknew, and predestined, and called, and justified, He will glorify. Not one will be lost along the way. It's a sure thing.
If you have trusted Christ as Savior from sin, you have a glorious future ahead of you. You're going to be like Jesus. Every event in your life is designed by God to help you along the way toward that lofty goal. And viewing every circumstance in that light will keep you moving in that direction, keep you growing in Christlikeness. That's why it's so important to understand the word of God--to see what it says and how it relates to our lives. It give us meaning and purpose. Now we know why we're here! Are you fulfilling God's goal and purpose for your life?
In the book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom relates how when she and her sister Betsie were transferred to a concentration camp during World War II, they found their beds infested with fleas and lice. Betsie insisted that they thank God for them. Corrie resisted. How could God use fleas and lice for good? When they began to have Bible study with their fellow prisoners, they realized that they were never interrupted by the guards, even though Bible study was frowned on. They later discovered why the guards never came near their barracks: They wanted no part of the fleas and lice. Satan probably sent those fleas and lice to make them miserable and discourage them from Bible study. But God wanted to use them for good--to make them more like Jesus: thankful, and compassionate, and concerned about the eternal destiny of their fellow prisoners. And they let Him accomplish His purpose in their lives.
He wants to use the trials in your life for good. Will you let Him? Will you view them as opportunities to grow more like Jesus? After all, reflecting His glory by expressing His likeness, is God's purpose for your life. That's why He made us.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now, I have to warn you that if you have never trusted Christ as Savior, there's no glory ahead for you. I don't take any pleasure in saying this--it's not something I enjoy talking about, but it's something that Scripture teaches and that the Lord Jesus Himself taught. He actually said more about hell than He said about heaven. He said that those who have not believed on Him are condemned already because they have not believed in the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18). They have not put their trust in Him as God's Son and all that He is and all that He's done at Calvary when He paid for our sins. Why stand under this sentence of condemnation when God offers us eternal forgiveness and salvation. If we will acknowledge our need and acknowledge that Jesus Christ died in our place and rose again to give us His life--eternal life--He forgives us and assures us of everlasting life and glory. Will you trust Him?
Let's bow together prayerfully in His presence right now. With our heads bowed prayerfully before the Lord, let's deal with this issue first. Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin? Do you have the certainty that He is your Savior; you are God' child? Do you have the assurance that heaven is your home? It's not because of anything you've done. You can't ever do enough to be assured of that. That's why God had to send His Son. He did all that's necessary when He died at Calvary and rose from the grave. And now He asks us to put all our eggs in His basket--to put our full confidence and trust in Him. To turn from our sin in faith. Will you do that right now? Settle it in the quiet of your own soul; commune with God. "Lord, I'm a sinner." Tell Him that.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus died for my sin. Lord Jesus, I'm putting my faith in You. Come into my heart and life right now and give me your eternal salvation."
That's it. Oh, you'll want to live for Him if you mean business with what you do right now. There'll be some changes made, but that's the issue between you and eternal life: faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Christian, do you view the circumstances of your life as an opportunity to grow in the likeness of Christ, or have you been complaining lately? Will you covenant right now that by God's grace, you're going to look at every event in your life as if it were an opportunity to grow in the likeness of Christ. Oh, there'll be days when you blow it. We all do. We're human. But you've got to make that decision at some point in your life--that by God's grace, that's the way you're going to view life. By His power, you want to accomplish His purpose for you being here. Tell Him so, will you?
Lord, by your grace and power, mold us, we pray--continually, more and more with each passing day--into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, our wonderful Savior, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Continue to ROM 16: If God Is for Us