Grace For The Journey
In today’s blog we come to Romans 8:26-30. This is a text that contains verses that are greatly debated in theological circles. The major reason for this, as with the majority of theological debates, is that man wants God to fit within his own theological system. Passages of Scripture are then interpreted in light of the logic of that theological system rather than in careful consideration of its grammatical and historical context in order to know God as He reveals Himself whether He fits our system or not.
The truth is that there are many things that we simply do not understand about God. Not only is God not fully comprehensible to finite man by virtue of God’s infinite nature, but additionally, God has only given us a limited revelation of Himself. Moses recognized this in Deuteronomy 29:29 when he said, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Paul also recognized this and exclaimed in Romans 11;33-34, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?”
We also must keep this in mind as we study this passage this morning. There are concepts within it that are hard, if not impossible, for us to fully comprehend. We are bound in the box of the physical world of matter, space and time. God is not, so we must be very careful not to place upon Him the same limits that apply to us. If what God reveals about Himself does not seem logical to us, then the error lies in our logic. Remember, the validity of logical conclusions can only be as good as the validity of the observations and suppositions that lead to the conclusion. We err when we demand that God ‘s nature and behavior must fit within the dictates of our own observations, experiences and values. We must take God for what He reveals Himself to be, not what we want Him to be.
In the chapters leading up to Romans 8, Paul has set forth clear displays of God’s character and His response to mankind. In the first three chapters Paul has proven that all men are guilty before God and justly deserving of His holy wrath. In the last half of Chapter 3, Paul explains that the only way for a man to be justified before God is through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who paid the redemption price for man by atoning for sin on the cross of Calvary. The nature of such saving faith is demonstrated in Chapter 4 by the example of Abraham who “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” In chapters 5, 6, and 7, Paul has explained some of the ramifications and benefits of being justified by faith. The believer has been radically changed having been “crucified with Christ” and receiving a new nature. Sin is no longer the Christian’s master and the bondage of the law has also been broken. However, the believer will struggle with sin because he remains in an earthly body that has not yet experienced the fullness of the redemption that is to come. We no longer have to sin, but we will do so because of our present weaknesses until we receive our resurrection bodies.
In Chapter 8, Paul starts dealing with the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Those who are in Christ Jesus are no longer under God’s condemnation, and the Holy Spirit, who indwells them, has begun the process of sanctification. The Christian is to no longer have his mind set on the flesh, but rather in living according to the Spirit he is “putting to death the deeds of the flesh.” As joint heirs with Christ, true Christians will
inherit the kingdom of God with Him. Those are wonderful promises concerning our future destiny. We suffer in the present because of the world’s hatred of Christ as well as from the consequences of our own sin, the sin of others and the curse of sin upon the world. All of creation is anxiously longing for “the revealing of the sons of God” when the curse upon it will be lifted. Believer’s eagerly await the same event when we will receive our full adoption as God’s children by receiving our resurrection bodies and being with Christ for eternity. That is the Christian’s great hope. That is the context of Romans 8:26-30 where we find that . . .
Paul lays a
For our hope,
For it is in
God, through the
The Holy Spirit,
Is intimately involved
With His people.
He is sovereign,
And will always
Fulfill His promises.
The Spirit’s Intercession.
The first basis of our hope comes from God’s intimate involvement with us. He cares about us so much that He has given the Holy Spirit a special ministry of intercession on our behalf. The Spirit’s intercession is always perfect because there is perfect communication between God the Spirit and God the Father, and He always intercedes according to the will of God.
His Help: The suffering that we endure in this life lets us know that we are weak. It is difficult enough to face persecution, but even more so to do so with a godly attitude that would include loving them and praying for those who persecute us and despitefully use us (Matthew 5:44). We need the Spirit’s help to do that.
It gets frustrating living in a sin fallen world.
We long to be in a better place.
We need the Spirit’s help in
Being content in the present
While looking forward to the future.
God has work for us to do
While we are still on this earth.
The Spirit helps us to accomplish that.
And then we all must also acknowledge, just as Paul did in Romans 7, that we personally struggle against sin in our own lives. We need the Spirit’s help in “putting to death the deeds of the flesh” and walking in holiness. What a comfort to know that the Holy Spirit is present to help in each of all these areas.
Verse 26 also tells us of a specific weakness related to the above, “We do not know how to pray as we should.”
In the midst of suffering in this life
And facing its many problems,
We often find ourselves uncertain
About how to pay about
The things we are facing.
This could be from a lack of knowledge about either the nature of God or how He would desire us to acts, or it could occur when our emotions overwhelm us at times.
Let me give you a couple of examples. When the Twin Towers were destroyed, I admit that I sat watching in disbelief. I could write you a theological treatise on things to pray for in a disaster, but what was I to pray specifically when there were thousands and thousands of individuals directly involved in that disaster, not to mention all of its ramifications to the rest of our nation and around the world. My emotions were shocked.
It was a great comfort to know that the
Holy Spirit was interceding right then.
Or, to make this more personal, how do you pray when you face some personal distress? Would you know the proper prayer to make in these situations? You are told you have cancer. Your child has just been killed in a car accident. Your unmarried daughter is pregnant. You come home and find that a lot of your furniture is missing and there is a note pinned to the wall that reveals your spouse has just left you for someone else. You have just retired, and your spouse is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Each of these are real situations
In which we would find it
Difficult, if not impossible,
To know how to pray.
We are weak, but
The Spirit helps us.
His Intercession: It is a great comfort to know that God is so intimately involved with us that not only is He aware of the situation we are facing, but God the Holy Spirit is interceding with God the Father even as we face it. Our text says that “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” “Intercession” is to “accost with entreaty.” It is a word describing rescue by one who pleads on behalf of someone who is in trouble. The Holy Spirit does this on our behalf to God the Father
with “groanings that cannot be uttered.”
Amazingly, some Charismatics interpret this as “ecstatic utterances of glossolaly” or “speaking in tongues,” despite the fact that it is the Holy Spirit that is doing the groaning, and not the person, and the fact that these “groanings” are “too deep for words” that they “cannot be uttered.” It should also be pointed out here as a footnote that prayer always has a rational content. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14:15 that he prayed with both with the Spirit and with the mind. This is not one or the other, but both at the same time. When we cannot express ourselves rationally, it is at that point the Spirit intercedes for us.
Since the Spirit’s groanings cannot be uttered, we cannot know what this would sound like. What we do know is that it is communication of intercession on our behalf by God the Spirit to God the Father. One member of the triune Godhead is communicating to another member of the Godhead in a way that we do not understand.
His Knowledge: Verse 27 tells that this is perfect communication and perfect intercession. The one who “searches the hearts” is God the Father. Jeremiah 11:20 and 17:10 tells us that it is the Lord of hosts that searches and tests the heart and mind, because, as Hebrews 4:13 tells us, “All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” In this verse, we find that God the Father knows the mind of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:11 tells us that the opposite is also true, “For who among men knows the [thoughts] of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” This means there is perfect communication between the Father and the Spirit. There is no interference in the transmission of their communication. There are no misunderstandings. They understand each other perfectly.
An additional confidence we have in the Spirit’s intercession is that He intercedes for us in perfect accord with the will of God. When we pray, we often have our prayers mixed with our own desires that may be in conflict with God’s will. In fact, remember that a major purpose of our praying is to align ourselves with God’s will. He already knows our minds and hearts, so our prayers are not giving Him information that He does not already know. We pray so that we will know and understand God’s will, not to persuade Him to do our will. We often do not know how to properly pray as we should, but the Spirit intercedes for us in perfect harmony with God’s will.
The Spirit’s intercession gives us great comfort and confidence in God’s care for us. If He is that intimately involved in knowing our needs through the Holy Spirit’s communication, then we can be confident of the same level of care to make sure that all of His promises to us will be fulfilled.
Another source of confidence for us that God will fulfill all His promises is His omnipotence in the affairs of our lives. The religions of the world; including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, the various forms of Paganism, etc., have no confidence in their god or gods. They do not know if he, she, or they are even paying attention to them, much less intervene on their behalf. The same is true of many Christian cults and sects. They do not have a personal relationship with God, and so do not have confidence in His care of them. But we do have a personal relationship with our Creator through our redemption in Christ Jesus. We have been given promises which assure us of His personal involvement with us, and that He does intervene in our lives.
Paul expressed this in verse 28, “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.”
How do we know this? First, because history records it. God has revealed Himself throughout the Scriptures as One who takes action to ensure that every one of His promises will be kept. Second, we know it by our own experiences. They began with God’s gracious actions that brought us to Himself. They continue in the present with His gracious leading and intervention in our lives. They continue throughout the future culminating in our final redemption and His taking us to heaven to be with Him forever.
His Action: The God of the Bible is a God of action. The work He is doing is detailed in this verse is His “causing all things to work together for good.” There has been a lot of spilt ink trying to explain exactly what is meant by this phrase. Most of the interpretations are slight variations on the same theme, but there are few out there that forget the context and remove the personal nature of this promise to Christians. While we would agree that God in His sovereign omnipotence controls all things, the context here is the personal encouragement that comes to believers in knowing God’s personal
care for them in their present sufferings. There are many tough things the believer must face in this present life. They cause us to long even more for our final redemption, but until that comes, we take great comfort in the intercession of the Holy Spirit and our heavenly Father’s response in working all the things that happen to us together for good. That is, for both our good and His glory.
The foundation of the claim here is that God knows what is best for you individually as well as what is best for everyone else both individually and collectively. That in itself is a proclamation of God’s omniscience – knowing all things. We are often clueless about what is best for ourselves, much less what is best for others. It is easy to make a decision between good and bad, but what about when it is between good, better and best? Which option is the best? And just because I think it is best for me, that doesn’t mean that it is the best choice, because it will affect others, and that must also be taken into consideration. We face those decisions daily. What specific chore should I do and in what order? What books should I read, and in what order should I read them? I know I need to study the Bible, but should I be studying Genesis or Revelation at the present time? You would drive yourself into a white jacket with long sleeves that tie in the back if you thought about this too long. Instead, we can rest in God’s guidance of us because He does know what is best.
God knows all things, so nothing ever catches Him by surprise. He is also all powerful, so no matter what the circumstances, He can bring everything together to produce good, even from bad things.
Now at this point you say, “Whoa, Pastor Terry!” For all of us are aware of evil things that happen. This world is filled with sin. God can’t use the sinful actions of people to produce good, can He? The answer is yes. God can produce good even from the actions of evil people who hate and sin against Him.
Paul has already told us in this chapter that we Christians will face tough things in our lives we do not like. None of us get excited about suffering from sin, whether it is our own, someone else’s or the general curse the world is under because of sin. We all properly seek to avoid it if possible. Yet, God knows just what needs to be brought into our lives in order to produce the character of Jesus Christ within us. That is why Paul said earlier in Romans 5 that he would exult in tribulations. God used those tough things to produce in him perseverance, proven character and a hope firmly based in the love of God demonstrated for all time and eternity in Jesus Christ dying as the substitute payment for our sins. James 1:2-4 says basically the same thing, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have [its] perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.?
Even when we fail the testing of our faith, God can use that for our good. How? Because it brings us back to confessing our sins to Him. He then forgives us and cleanses us. We then learn to pass the test the next time, and we help others avoid the same pitfalls. As Paul said back in 6:1, may it never be that we would sin with the idea that it would cause God’s grace to increase, yet God’s grace does abound to cover our sin (5:20). He is so powerful that He can work even our sin together for good in the process of maturing us. This should not surprise us, for we do it with our own children. When they err in the behavior or attitudes, we correct and discipline them which results in their developing a better character as they mature.
But let’s take this one step further. What about actions that can only be described in terms of utter evil. What about WWII and the holocaust? What about the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11? Can God cause even such acts of evil to work together for good? Again, the answer is yes. The persecution against the Jews in Europe during WW II and the years immediately following resulted in the formation of the nation of Israel. This fulfilled ancient prophecies. Many Jews found that Jesus Christ was Messiah in the midst of the persecution. Many mission efforts to the Jews began as a result of that war. In addition, WW II also resulted in the largest missionary effort that has every occurred. In particular, thousands of American soldiers went back to places they had fought during the war in order to fight a different battle. This one against the forces of darkness by bringing the light of the gospel to millions that had never before heard it.
The attacks on America by Islamic terrorists on 9/11 brought about a spiritual openness in the city that was not thought possible. It caused an increased desire for God throughout our nation. How many thousands have been saved or restored to active service for the Lord as a result of those attacks will only be known in heaven. In addition, it tore off the mask of Islam, and even though the media and many of our government leaders refuse to acknowledge the utter evil of that religion, many Christians have been awakened to the need of bringing the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to those entrapped in the worship of the false and evil god, Allah.
Yes, God can cause all things, included acts of pure evil, to work together for good in accomplishing His purpose for those who belong to Him. That is an important point to remember. This promise is not universal in nature. It is specifically related “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Who are the “those who love God?” Who are “those who are called according to His purpose?” They are the elect that have come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul will explain more about this idea of being called in verse 30. These are the same people that verse 26 says the
Spirit is helping in their weaknesses. These are those that verse 17 says are joint heirs with Christ. They are living according to the Spirit (verse 13). They are in Christ Jesus and therefore without condemnation from God (verse 1).
Paul has already pointed out that people do not seek God on their own (3:11). No one loves God except as a response to the love He has already shown us in Christ Jesus (1 John 4:19). When a person does love God, it is demonstrated in their desire and effort to keep His commandments (John 14:21,23; 1 John 5:2-3), which includes loving other people (1 John 4:20). The promise that all things will work together for good only belongs to true believers. They will receive a benefit even when bad things happen, and when they suffer. Believers have a reason for hope. For the unbeliever, and those with false professions of faith, all things do not work together for good. They will suffer from evil and sin without benefit. They have no reason for hope, and for them to hope for something better is ultimately foolish, for without Christ, their eternal destiny is the wrath of God.
Only a being that is omnipotent could make a claim such as this, for it demands the ability to overcome any event that occurs. It demands a power that can never be overwhelmed. Any power less than that is subject to something else thwarting its effort and making the claim false. Only God Himself can cause all things to work together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose.
This power of God is part of what makes Him sovereign, and that sovereignty is another source of comfort to the believer. Paul explains in verses 29,30, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” I will devote a whole study to this passage tomorrow, and we will be
dealing with the sovereignty of God for the next couple of days. That should help us grasp at least a basic understanding of the deep theological concepts here. But for this morning, I only want to bring out the general point of these verses. Even when I face difficult circumstances in life, I can trust the promises of my heavenly Father. He will complete the work He has begun in me. There will be a day that every true Christian will stand before Him in a glorified state as a joint heir with Christ. His sovereignty guarantees it. Let’s look at the words Paul uses to drive this truth home.
Foreknowledge is the Greek word for experiential knowledge with the prefix for “before” attached to it. God has experiential knowledge of us before we are born. I believe that God exists outside the time box that we are in. Foreknowledge is knowing things or events before they exist or happen. In Greek, the term for “foreknowledge” is “prognosis,” which expresses the idea of knowing reality before it is real and events before they occur. In Christian theology, “foreknowledge” refers to the all-knowing, omniscient nature of God whereby He knows reality before it is real, all things and events before they happen, and all people before they exist.
Both Old and New Testaments speak of God’s foreknowledge . Nothing in the future is hidden from God’s eyes (Isaiah 41:23; 42:9; 44:6-7; 46:10). God sees our lives, our bodies, and our days even before we are conceived: Psalm 139:15-16 declare, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
- God promised to bless future peoples through Abraham – Genesis 12:3.
- God told Moses what would happen with Pharaoh – Exodus 3:19.
- Through God’s foreknowledge, the prophets spoke of a coming Messiah – Isaiah 9:1-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6.
- Through Daniel, God made known the future rise and fall of kingdoms – Daniel 2:31-45; 7).
- In many New Testament passages, Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s ministry and in the formation of the church – Matthew 1:22; 4:14; 8:17; John 12:38-41; Acts 2:17-21; 3:22-25; Galatians 3:8; Hebrews 5:6; 1 Peter 1:10-12.
The apostle Peter teaches that God had foreknowledge of His Son’s sacrificial death long before Jesus died (1 Peter 1:20); see also Revelation 13:8). Jesus’ death on the cross was part of God’s eternal plan of salvation before the creation of the world. On the day of Pentecost, Peter condemns those who put Christ to death but at the same time points to the sovereignty of God: they had been given free rein to do as they wished with Christ because of “God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). Although evil rulers had conspired to kill the Lord Jesus, His death had been decided by God beforehand (Acts 4:28).
The Bible teaches that God’s children were chosen beforehand, and God’s foreknowledge was involved. The elect are those, “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2). And Romans 8:29 says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
But God’s choice of the elect was not simply based on His foreknowledge of events; it was based on His good pleasure: Ephesians 1:4-5 tells us, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will.” In Romans 11:2, divine foreknowledge suggests an eternal connection between God and His chosen or “foreknown” people because of His loving faithfulness: “God has not rejected his people whom He foreknew.”
The foreknowledge of God is far more than His ability to “see the future;” His foreknowledge is a true “knowing” of what will come to pass, based on His free choice. He decrees what will come to pass. In other words, foreknowledge is not just intellectual; it is personal and relational. Foreknowledge is equivalent to foreordination in that God ordains, or orders, all that will be.
I do not understand exactly how God had foreknowledge of me, but I am comfortable with simply accepting that in some way He did. Because I know that God is beyond my full comprehension, I can accept His revelation of Himself simply as it is given without it forcing Him to fit into my theology.
Predestined means to “foreordain” or “to appoint beforehand.” This is God’s gracious decision which appoints for the elect their goal. Included in that goal is adoption as sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5) and obtaining the inheritance (Ephesians 1:11), as well the goal here of being conformed to the image of Christ.
Purpose: A purpose of salvation is being “conformed into the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.” This is, of course, the ultimate goal of the Christian that will take place in fulness when we are in heaven and receive our resurrection bodies. We will then be like Jesus, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). God’s sovereignty gives us confidence in the present for it makes our future hope for this sure. God will be glorified. What He has done in raising Jesus from the dead, He will also do for those of us who are joint heirs with Christ.
But in the present, we are in the process of becoming more like Christ. As time passes in this present life, we should become greater reflections of Jesus Christ. In the present, we “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,” and being “renewed in the spirit of [our] mind,” we “put on the new self, which in [the likeness of] God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-23). As 2 Corinthians 3:18, states it, “we are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”
The idea of being Called here is the effectual call of God that brings a person to Jesus Christ. There is the general call of God to the world to repent and partake of the offer of salvation, but the context here is specific to those who are Christians. This is the drawing of the Father spoken about in John 6:44 when Jesus said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Those God called, He also Justified. We have spoken about justification many times already in our study of Romans. This is God’s judicial declaration of “not guilty” on the person who has placed their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins.
Those God has justified, He has also Glorified. This refers to when we will receive our inheritance and be changed into the glorified state we will have in heaven, including having our resurrected bodies. Paul uses the past tense here in demonstration of the absolute confidence we have that God will fulfill His promises to us. We can speak of a future event as having already taken place because God’s sovereignty makes is certain.
Again, we will look at verses 29 and 30 in depth next tomorrow, but for today, if you are a Christian, be at peace and rest in the confidence that comes because God is sovereign. His promises are certain. That is a comfort to every believer. You have the responsibility of telling others how they can also have peace with God and hope for the future.
But God’s promises are not comforting to sinners, for they are still under God’s condemnation and wrath. If you are reading this today and do not have confidence that if you died today you would go to heaven, then please talk with someone who has accepted Jesus as their Savior and has a growing relationship with Him. You can have your sins forgiven in Jesus Christ and then have that confidence. Don’t leave and risk a Christless eternity. Get right with God today.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!