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Romans (Series 2)

What Shall We Say?

Romans 8:28-39

Lesson audio

It is at once one of the most famous and difficult passages in the New Testament. Sometimes the studies of this section get lost in predestination – but there is much more here.


Romans 8:28-30 NIV And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,[10] who[11] have been called according to his purpose. (29) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

The Question: Who really decides?

A glance at any book on theology (or a visit to Wikipedia) will show you that Christian thinkers have been debating the nature of man’s choice for a long time. It comes down to what appear to be contradictory views of the nature of the universe:

  • At one extreme there is determinism. God predestines everything; physics controls the implementation at his direction. You only think you have free will. This has recently come back as being the hallmark of many humanist viewpoints. Except for the part about God. The religious view is that God not only knows what’s going to happen, he predestined it that way. So why does one child follow the Lord and another from the same family goes astray? Predestination; nothing the parents could do about it.
  • The other extreme uses free will. The child has choices; the child makes choices. God knows what those choices will be as all times are the same to him. We make the choices; we are free to do so; but since he knows the answer, to him all things are predestined. Combine this with his intervention in the world, which limits certain instances of free will.

The variations in between are numerous. All that can really be said is that “all is surveyed, and the power given.” (Akiva) God knows the future, for all times are “now” to him. He has planned the universe by his will. And yet, we are told we have the free will to choose.

Types of Predestination

Some fruitful analysis can be made of the instances where God has made it clear that his intervention is in accordance with his predestination:

  • There are certain individuals of whom the Bible clearly tells us that they are predestined to a certain role in life. Examples of these would be Jeremiah[1] and John the Baptist.[2] These selections (see Moses) often seem arbitrary; God often selects on the basis that the individual is not really qualified; this shows that his results are God’s doing.
  • Nations and tribes are selected for particular roles in history. The most prominent example is Israel.
  • Finally, as here, certain groups of people – those who love the Lord, for example – are singled out as being predestined for certain treatment by God.

In the last instance, it’s difficult to distinguish predestination and cause-and-effect.

Our specific case

We may apply the test of Thomas à Kempis: if you knew the right answer, what would you do differently? I suggest the answer is: nothing.

We may look, however, at what God is doing in this instance:

  • We are specifically told that God has predestined those he foreknew. Is this cause and effect based on our choice, or are we robots? What we really know is what God is doing – not why we’re making our choices.
  • If predestined, he will call us to Christ. A tautology?
  • If called, justified – clearly his action, not ours.
  • If justified, glorified. This refers to the resurrection of the dead and the glory to come.

Is this a sequence in time – or just in logic?

That glory is this: that we will be like the risen Lord. Once you see that, you must realize that we are dealing with something outside our true comprehension.

One last note on this: there is power to paradox. If your religion explains everything, it explains nothing.[3] If there is mystery unsolved, God may be in it.

If God be for us

Romans 8:31-34 NIV What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? (32) He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (33) Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. (34) Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

It is a fact: the Christian life is not pie-in-the-sky, kick back and take it easy as long as you go to church. It is hard, and it is made hard by the fact that the world at large does not like Christ, Christians or Christianity. If you are a Christian, you will suffer in this world. But consider:

  • The athlete who competes for a prize suffers too – training is tough. But this suffering is willing, because of the prize at the end. So too with us.
  • The greater the prize, the greater the suffering. And what prize could be greater than the glory coming to us?
  • So then, our earthly troubles are not eliminated by Christ – but by his strength we ride over them.
We aren’t in control

The reason people are troubled by this is fairly simple: we know we are not in control. The athlete knows what the training regimen is; he can accept it or refuse to compete. We look at life and realize that there are things we cannot control, or control directly.

  • Sometimes we screw up – and we are found out. We can be accused – and in this world there is no forgiveness. (Promoted until your first mistake.) We can’t seem to avoid mistakes. Suppose one of those mistakes is eternally fatal?
  • We are often dependent upon things outside our control. (How’s your 401(K) fund this week?)
  • We often don’t have the knowledge to arrange things as we want them – if I knew which stocks were going up, I’d be a lot richer.

All these things work to convince us that things are not really under our control. It seems logical, then, to assume that things not under our control could keep us from God. After all, they are powerful things – and we are not.

It doesn’t matter

The truth, Paul tells us, is that it doesn’t matter. His logic is pretty simple:

  • Despite all our disadvantages, and the fact that we are sinners, God gave his only son for us.
  • His character is eternal – and therefore is consistent. If he did that, is it at all possible that he should cease to love us?
  • If he loves us, will he not give us all good things? God doesn’t do things half way.

God is his attributes; he is love (Aquinas). That pure love in his nature assures us that that which is truly good, is ours.

More than conquerors

Romans 8:35-39 NIV Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (36) As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."[12] (37) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (38) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[13] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Powers of this world

“Be reasonable,” says the world. Compromise; try to get the best of both. Let God comfort you spiritually – but fight tooth and nail for the next promotion. Claw, dig and scratch. Be one with this world, and use Christ as others use a liquor bottle.

God says instead, “Get your priorities straight.” The things of this world are not that important. (Consider the lilies.) The most important thing is to stay in Christ’s love. Do that; consider all the rest to be just difficulties along the way. If you do that, the things of this world will not get between you and Christ. Attitude!

Powers beyond this world

That works well for the modern materialist. But the ancient man had a different view – one which is returning to favor in our time. Ancient man was aware of the spiritual nature of the world.

In his time this might have been angels and demons; it might have been any number of gods and goddesses. But the spiritual world existed – and therefore it could be that some spirit might be able to stand between you and Christ. Certainly Satan would like to!

Today that concept is still with us – voodoo dolls to “New Age” thinking. It doesn’t matter which version you accept. There is one central fact which you must remember.

Whatever a spirit might be – angel, demon, goddess or “woo woo!” – it is a created thing. It is therefore inferior to and subject to the Creator. None of them can keep you from the love of Christ.

May I give you a parallel? If you go to the shore you will see the waves crashing on the rock. The waves are impressive; they have great power. But when the waves subside and the storm is gone, the rock is still there.

The things Paul doesn’t mention

May I point out to you the things that Paul doesn’t mention? Spirits and suffering may not keep you from Christ – but what about greed, envy and pride? Nothing in creation can keep you from Christ – except you.

[1] Jeremiah 1:5

[2] Luke 1:11-17

[3] Example: everything is arranged by space aliens. All is explained, right? And we understand nothing.

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