The Good Life and the Good Work of God (Part II)
In part 1 of this blog post, we examined why believers need assurance that all things will work together for good. Upon salvation through Christ, God removes condemnation, and we receive righteousness. However, Romans 8:27 tells us that suffering, weakness, and groaning still beset us on all sides, even though we have Jesus within us. In Romans 8:28, Paul assures believers with an incredible promise. He writes, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." The promise is for those who are loved by God and those who love God. The order of love is essential. God loved us first, and his commitment is dependent on his unfailing love. We are called to reciprocate that love for him by responding to his call to be shaped by his purpose. God works all things for good according to his purpose for his glory and our good. But, how does he all things, including bad things and temporary good things, out for good? Romans 8:29-30 demonstrate his work in our lives to redeem us and glorify us.
In Romans 8:29-30, Paul writes, "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." These verses reveal that God's work is good because it results in conforming his covenant people into the likeness of his Son, with all the benefits of being in Christ. These verses are often called the golden chain of the salvation-redemptive story. There are five links in the chain that can pull a person from death to life. While there is an intellectual stimulation in considering these links, we should not remove ourselves from the beauty and richness of God's personal intervention in our lives. Ultimately, these links are covered in the blood of Jesus and infused by the call of a Sovereign God to his people. He desires that they respond in faith to his redemption. The five links in the gold chain are as follows: God foreknows. God Predestines. God calls. God justifies. God glorifies.
Before we begin examining and applying each of these links, it is important to remember that each of these links is dependent on a Sovereign God reaching out to humans who must exercise their free will to follow him. While it is true that God initiates our salvation story, we are very much a part of fulfilling the purposes of Salvation-Redemption Story unfolding in the Kingdom of God.
The first link in the chain refers to the foreknowledge of God. God foreknows all things. In his foreknowledge, he knows who will be a part of his covenant community in Christ. However, this does not mean that God merely knows facts and information. Foreknowing also means fore-loving those who will receive his Son, Jesus Christ. It is difficult to understand that God knew us before the world began and indeed before we were born. In Eph. 1:4, God's word says, "He [Father] chose us [Covenant People of God in Christ] in Him [Jesus Christ] before the creation of the world." The truth in this Scripture must be held with tension and mystery toward God's Sovereignty and his goodness to us.
The second link in the chain, when accompanied with the first, teaches us that "for those he foreknew, he predestined. Foreknowing means "to know in advance" and predestine means "to decide upon beforehand." What did God know in advance and decide upon beforehand? According to the scriptures, he knew who would belong to him in Christ. Paul shared this and elaborated on it more to the Ephesian believers. In Eph. 1:5-6, 11, he writes, "In love…he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved… 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…". The combination of foreknowledge and predestination of the covenant people of God in Christ was to fulfill the purposes of God. In Rom. 8:29b, Paul shares this purpose of God was for us "to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." The reason for our conforming is so that we will experience salvation and sanctification, growth in Christ. In addition to this becoming like Christ, we lay hold of the eternal treasures of being a co-heir with Christ. These first two links in the chain are often unknown to us before God calls us through Christ and the calling of the Spirit. We sense and hear the call of God to respond to his message of hope and forgiveness in Christ in the present.
The third link in the chain is the first visible or aural link in the chain, the Call of God. It is the call of a foreknowing God to his predestined covenant people that initiate our free will to respond in faith. God calls to us, and we must call back him with confession and repentance. Roman 10:13 says, "For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." The call of a Sovereign God and free creatures' response in faith is the right application of predestination to salvation.
The fourth link in the chain is forged immediately after a response to God's call in Christ. Paul writes, "…and those whom he called he justified…" When a person receives Christ, they are immediately declared righteous before God. They lay hold of the grace and hope and glory of God in Christ. In Rom. 5:1-2, Paul writes, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." In justification, the perfect Son of God became sin for us so that we might become righteous before God (Rom. 5:21).
The fifth link in the chain is the final link in the chain because it represents the end by which God is working all of his purposes together with for good for his people. In verse 30c, Paul writes, "…and those whom he justified he also glorified…". Our future glory is because of God's foreknowing, predestination, calling, and justification by faith in Christ. This is the culmination of our conforming to the image of Christ. We should not think that glorification comes before conformation in Christ. We should also not expect that glorification is possible without justification in Christ alone. We must endure and trust that God is working all things together for those who love him and are called according to HIS purposes. In II Cor. 4:16-18, Paul reminds the believers of what is to come. He writes, "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
So stay at it and keep trusting in our Good God and his Good Work in your heart and the world around you. Pastor Tim Keller writes, "While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life's joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world's sorrows, tasting the coming joy."