Recently, a lot of my posts (okay almost all of them) have been specifically about the calvinism vs arminianism and the calvinism vs hyper-calvinism debate. Someone I love very dearly struggles with many things and this post is dedicated to them. It isn’t what I would call high theology en toto, rather it is a pastoral examination of the implications of one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Pastoral implications are the practical side of theology, and should never be understated in any theological study. Today we will be looking at Romans 8, specifically vs 28-39.
Paul,.before all things, was concerned with the pastoral applications of his teachings. The christian walk with God was always something incredibly important to him. He starts off the passage under consideration with an astonishing point. He says:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
Wow. Simply wow. All things work together for the good of those who love God! But who could possibly love God? As we read earlier, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:8)” Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about being the one’s who first must love God. As Paul elsewhere states, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)” It was God who first loved us, enough to send Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, to die for us. It is also God, who, according to the second clause of vs 28, called a people according to His divine and holy purpose. What does He do for these people He calls? And how can we be sure all things will work together for our good? Let us continue on with Paul’s argument.
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. (Romans 8:29-30 ESV)
We should note three main things about this passage oft called the “golden chain of redemption.”
- God is the subject
- All of the verbs are active, finite, past tense
- “those whom” is consistently the direct object of these verbs
You might ask me here why any of this is important. Well, it sets the ground for the entirety of Paul’s argument in the rest of Romans 8 and Romans 9. This, in simple terms, is Paul’s doctrine of divine election. Now we are in a position to answer the question of what God does for the “those whom.” Firstly, God foreknew (in an active sense, denoting a knowledge based upon a free choice of God to create) these people for whom all things will work together for their good. Secondly, God predestines them to be conformed to the image of His Son (Jesus Christ). What does this mean? In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (3:18)” Our being conformed into the image of Christ is our joining in union with Him. Paul’s reference here to the veil of the hand of the Lord upon Moses’ face, for no man may see God and live (Exodus 33), is important. We have seen and have intimate communion with the Son, our mediator, who is the express image of God’s very being (Hebrews 1:3). No longer are we cut off from God because of our sins; rather, through Christ, we have been brought near. Thirdly, God calls them. Fourthly, God justifies them. He makes men, through grace and by faith (Ephesians 2:8-10), holy and righteous before Him through the imputed righteousness of His Son Christ Jesus. Finally, He glorifies them. He brings them to glory. Amen! All of this is one, interwoven argument that cannot be separated. We already have a partial answer to the question of how all things may work out for the good of those that love God; however, let us press forward.
Before we receive the rest of the answer to our question, we must reasonably ask who the “those whom” are. Paul does not hesitate to tell us. He says:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31 ESV)
Us! As we shall see, the “those whom” is replaced by the personal pronoun “us.” We, as believers, are the ones for whom all things work to our good. We are the recipients of God’s justificatory work through the imputation of His Son’s righteousness. That is why Paul may boldly proclaim “if God is for us, who can be against us?” If we have the omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, merciful God on our side who purposes all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11) then who could possibly be strong enough to stand against us in this life? Paul goes on:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:32-39 ESV)
Us, us, us, us, God’s elect, us. Can you see the great mercy and love of God towards His people? Christ is interceding, for us. Christ died, for us. God justifies, us. God gives all things, to us. What can separate us from the love of our Heavenly Father? Nothing. If we follow Paul’s argument, the reason we can have a surety that all things will according to our good is that God, the sovereign creator of all things,.is in control. How blessed we are!