We're more than halfway through Romans 8, and let us take a timely recap of the big argument in Romans 8. This is important before we proceed on to these verses, which are often cited and could be familiar to many of us. Romans 8 flows from the question Paul poses in Rom 7:24 -- "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Here, Paul is not talking of death in a mere physical sense, but the full state of things in this fallen world. Romans 8 helps us see the fullness of the Godhead is involved in our salvation from sin and death, and this chapter unpacks for us what the love of God applied to us means.
A helpful breakdown of the chapter (adapted from Warren Wiersbe’s With the Word) is as follows:
(a) Liberty (v.1-9)
(b) Life (v.10-17)
(c) Hope (v.18-25)
(d) Help (v.26-30)
(e) Love (v.31-39)
Today's study takes us to the great verses in Romans 8, and the focus is on God's will. But we're not speaking of God's will for our lives in the sense of what jobs we should take, who should we marry etc. Instead, we are going to focus on the broad sweep of God's will from eternity to eternity, and examine God's purpose for us in light of this grand and great scale.
(A) Who are the subjects of God’s will? (Rom 8:28)
According to Rom 8:26, we have the Holy Spirit, the ’paraclete’ to help us. As we have studied before, we know that the Spirit prays for us according to the will of God, not according to what we desire (Rom 8:27). We have a problem. The problem is that we don't know how to pray as we ought, i.e. according to the will of God. But, we have the Spirit who is interceding for us according to the will of God. What does this mean? There is a communication with the Godhead and we are not observers on the side eavesdropping. We are wrapped up in the conversations of the Triune God and our lives are wrapped up within the desire and will of God. Nothing catches Him by surprise, and nothing causes Him to regret. It is purposeful and intentional and wholly God-centred. The will of God is not some unfolding map out there, but it reaches into the world we are living in.
We read in verse 28 that the Holy Spirit is praying to God the Father for “us”. We know that the "us" refers to Christians, but let's pay closer attention to the phrases used to describe "us". Paul describes the "us" as "those who love God" and "those who are called according to his purpose". The Spirit prays for those who love God. 1 John 4:19 and Romans 5:8 tells us that we love because He first loved us. While we were still weak, at the right time, and while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The love of God is not merely shown in the act of dying, but also in the posture -- this is a God who died for His enemies. Hence, those who love God (as referred to in this verse) have first experienced His love. What does it mean to be called? Earlier in the book, in Rom 1:1 and more helpfully, Romans 1:7 we see that it refers to those who are loved by God and called to be saints. The Spirit prays for us -- we who love God because He first loved us, and are called to be saints.
Romans 8 reminds us that these are the people that are the subjects of God's will. This may not be new, but this is an important truth. It speks of our identity in Christ. Perhaps we struggle with this, and we don't feel like God loves us, and we struggle with the guilt that comes with it. Romans 8 reminds us simply that whether or not we feel like it, we are the subjects of God's will.
(B) What has God willed? (Rom 8:28-29)
In verse 29a, we read of the final purpose of God’s will for the saints -- "to be conformed to the image of his Son". This highlights how our end state is not something wispy in paradise or an escape, but it is a something specific, bending and moulding to the image of Christ. Many of us are familiar with the idea that we are becoming like Jesus in terms of our moral nature, but the verses before remind us that there is more to it. Romans 8:11 also tells us that we will become like Him in His physical resurrection. Our conformation is full and complete and we will look like Him.
Our transformation also impacts the Son (Rom 8:29b). It makes him the firstborn among many brothers. The Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ beyond just moral behavior and comfortable Christian lives. It is about becoming so utterly God-centred that in every area of our lives, we resemble the complete allegiance of the Son who submitted to the will of the Father, even to death and obedience on the Christ. In Heb 12:1-2, we learnt that Jesus looked forward to something on the cross -- the perfection of our faith, the finished work of salvation. It did not end with just an empty tomb, but also looks forward to your glorification and mine. Our story goes through from Romans 8 to the end of Revelation. God wants more for us than to be honest and kind and good people, but He wants us to be conformed to image of His Son and this will bring Him great joy.
It was for this that the Son endured the cross, and God is utterly committed to this! How do we know this? In Rom 8:28a, we read that "all things work together for good". It shows the comprehensiveness of God's will to make our transformation happen! Everything is wrapped up in this single purpose -- our conformation to the image of His Son. Not only that, do you see how He pronounces it as good? This is just as it was described in Gen 1. Through the work of Jesus and the ministry of the Spirit, all things will be made good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. He is not merely making us nice people to teleport us to heaven. This has many practical implications for the now, and challenges our view of life and our fight against sin. It's not just about not lying etc, but it's more than that! This is God's final purpose and will for the saints of God!
(C) What are the key events in God’s will? (30)
Paul lists 4 key actions that tell us what specifically he means by ‘all things’. These form what can be called a "golden chain"
We won't get into theological debates here. This idea of predestination does not mean that we have the right to walk around and be proud because we are predestined and those around us are not. To put it simply, it is another synonym for grace, because it means that we did not earn and merit it, or even ask God for it. We have no claim on our salvation, or on anyone else's. If you understand predestination, you will be humbled and amazed that God would save you.
|"called"||Historical past (same moment)||There is a word content, and there is a response. Think of a Shepherd calling the sheep. Think of Jesus calling Lazarus from the dead. |
What, then is that word by which we are called? What brings us back to life? The words are the words of the gospel. These are the words that bring us to live. It is not a magic formula, but the work of Jesus and His call brings us to life.
|"justified"||Historical past (same moment)||Simultaneously, then, we are declared righteous. This is the meaning of justification. It happens at our calling, because the gospel is the news that makes me right. In and of ourselves we cannot be made right, but we need the righteousness of another.|
|"glorified"||Future||Though it's in the future, it is so certain that it is in the past tense. It is tied to the chain of events. What does it mean? God's will and purpose does not stop in justification but goes straight through to glorification. We are completely conformed to Jesus, so much so that we share in His glory!|
Many of us would be familiar with the idea of predestination, and we've covered the calling and justification before. However, the idea of glorification may make many of us uncomfortable, because we don't think we're worthy. But remember that these verses are 28 verses into the chapter. In everything, we are glorified in Christ. This has very practical implications in our lives. If we believe that Jesus is righteous and worthy of praise, learn to declare the truth that all that is His is mine, regardless of what people around us say and certainly regardless of how you feel. The truth is that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, and as we have learnt in previous weeks, we await a future hope for this world is not our home. We have no lack of anything. To the degree that we understand our union in Christ, we will see how this changes and applies to our life right now.
As you look at the events in the ‘golden chain’, we may realise that sanctification is missing from this chain. Let's not forget that the whole chapter has been about the Spirit's present work. Also, Paul is trying to argue something specific here. He has already argued what we have to do, but at the end, he is giving us the great assurance that God's will for us is so secure secure. The key events of God's will (in the golden chain) are not left to chance. Imagine if your pilot took a chance in your journey, or if your surgeon took a chance in surgery. That's a ridiculous thought, isn't it? Both the pilot and the surgeon are in complete control from start to finish. Do you think for a minute that God Almighty has any less control from the moment you were conceived to the last breath you take? This is the God who has shown up in our lives. This is not a "what if" or "maybe" God. What kind of a God is this? How would you describe Him? Is this the God you believe in?
Romans 8:28-30 proclaims to us that the God who has called us because He has predestined us will not leave us there, unchanged and similar to when He called us. He justified us, and promises that we are headed to our future glorification. This is a reassuring truth, because nothing we could ever do could foil His plan. His plan is perfect, and all things are working toward that one end, where we will conform to the image of His Son. Do you see God's will moving in your life like a thread in the short span of your life? Today, would you rest for a minute if you believe it were so? Would you be like Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1:25-30 to rest and fall in worship as you encounter this God?