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The Sovereignty of God And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Today we come to one of the most sweeping and most loved promises in all the Bible, Romans 8: Christians believe that, sooner or later, the sorrows and pains and disappointments and losses will work together for good.
I know that the translations differ here a little bit. And they are not in the end very different. It means that God makes all things work together for good.
He is saying all things are turned by God for good. Next week when we go outside and worship in one great crowd on the parking lot in front of all the neighbors, I am going to try to unpack this promise with Biblical and historical and personal illustrations. How do all things work for good? What kind of good? But today I want to focus not on the promise itself, but what it is that makes a person a beneficiary of the promise.
Today we will ask: How can I know the promise is for me? And next Sunday we will ask: What does this text really promise me? There are two things that need to be true for this promise to apply to you. One is that you love God, and the other is that you are called according to his purpose.
Or to put it another way, for the person who does not love God and is not called according to his purpose, final optimism is foolish and out of place. Pessimism is exactly the right state of mind for one who does not love God and is not called according to his purpose. Things are not going to work for his good, but for his harm.
The pleasant things that he does not thank God for, or make a means of worship, will condemn him someday. He may look poor; or he may look prosperous in this world. That is not the way we want to be.
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We want to hear this promise as ours. We want to know that all things are working together for our good, not for our condemnation. So what must be true of us? First, Paul says that we must be people who love God.
In the original, this is the first thing in the verse: First, he does not mean that you go in an out of loving God, and if you have a bad experience when you are loving God it turns for your good, and if you have a bad experience when you are not loving God it turns for bad. It is the effective, once-for-all work of God to call me from death to life, and from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, and from enmity toward God to loving God.
The calling into love and faith is once for all, and so love for God is the mark of the truly called person — all the time. Of course, our love for God has moments of intensity and moments of weakness — just like every other love relationship we have. But in those who are called, love for God is what defines them. He is saying that for Christians — the called, those whose hearts have been brought from enmity to love for God — all things work for good all the time.
How can you know if you are in this number? The best way I can think to make the answer clear is to say three things that love for God is not. At least the essence of love for God is not these three things. Loving God is not meeting his needs.
The way we love man is different from the way we love God. He is the source of all things and has no needs. He cannot be helped or improved. There are no defects to reverse or deficiencies to supply.
We cannot love him by supplying his needs. Therefore the essence of our love for him must be an experience of receiving. And I do regard joy as essentially receiving pleasure from the object of our delight. That leads to the second thing that love for God is not. Loving God is not, in its essence, love for his gifts — gifts like forgiveness, justification, escape from hell, resurrection to a pain-free life, etc.
Indeed if we love God, we will cherish these gifts and be thankful for them, because we would not have God without them. But loving God is treasuring God himself revealed in his gifts and treasuring God himself beyond his gifts. His gifts are precious to the degree that they bring us to God and show us more of God.
When you love God, God is central in your affections, not his gifts. The essence of loving God is not the things that love for God prompts you to do. Love for God may prompt you to leave mother and father and forsake all that to declare his glory among the nations. But leaving mother and father and forsaking all are not the essence of love — they are the fruit of love. It means love is the kind of heart that prompts you to keep commandments.
Love my flock and feed them. Feeding sheep is the fruit of loving Jesus. It is something internal and involves spiritual emotions. It is not, in essence, a deliberated choice or a deed.
It is more like a reflex of the heart to the perfections of God revealed especially in Christ.
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If you equate the deeds of love with the essence of love you will produce hypocrites — people who imitate the deeds and claim to love God when their hearts are far from him. If you equate love for God with love for his gifts, you produce hypocrites — people who are very glad to feel forgiven and declared righteous and delivered from hell and heaven-bound, but have no pleasure in God himself.
What the Love of God Is Therefore, I think it is absolutely crucial that we clarify what the essence of love for God is. Let me grasp for the kinds of words that I think will help us know if we love God. Loving God is desiring God himself beyond his gifts. Loving God is treasuring God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is delighting in God himself beyond his gifts.
Love for God is being satisfied in God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is cherishing God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is savoring God himself beyond his gifts. All these words are grasping for that essential response of the heart to the revelation of the glory of God, especially in Christ through the gospel. It is a glad reflex of the heart to all that God is for us in Christ.
A Catch Effect for Some from Romans 8: Let me help you love him by exploding a certain Catch effect that Romans 8: Suppose you come to this promise in Romans 8: I must love God so the promise can be true for me.
I will love God when he treats me well enough, because, they say, love for God is essentially a response to receiving his gifts. There is no way out of that trap and that Catch 22 in Romans 8: The promise must be true for me so I can love God in response; and yet I must love God for the promise to be true for me.
The escape from the trap — and I invite you to take it right now — is to look through the promise to God himself first, before he applies the promise to you, and behold God himself in and through his promise. Look first at all that he has done in history to reveal himself. Look especially at Jesus Christ and the glory that he had before he came, and the glory of his sacrificial coming and his servanthood and suffering. Look at the mercy and wrath and justice of God mingled on the cross for utterly undeserving sinners.
Look at the power and righteousness of God in raising Jesus from the dead. Look at new-covenant, promise-keeping faithfulness that pours out the Holy Spirit on sinful people. Look at God in all these ways, I say, and behold the God you were made for. Behold the fulfillment of all your desires. Behold the most satisfying treasure in the universe.
And then when you see his glory and his worth, and when you treasure him, then the promise is yours. All things will work together for your good, because you love God. I just want to go home and watch television.
I just want to be with my friends. I just want to eat and work on my house. Have mercy upon me that I may love you. He is author of more than 50 books , including Reading the Bible Supernaturally.