Finding Rest in God Alone Part 1 – Romans 8:28
Pastor Mark Hardy December 16, 2012
There is a beautiful poem entitled God’s Tapestry by an unknown author, which has always been an encouragement to me. It goes like this:
My life is just a weaving
between my Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaves so skillfully.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reasons why.
The dark threads are as needful,
In the Weaver’s skillful hands
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.
Just as the underside of a canvas can look like pure chaos with all of the random color threads and knots, so our lives and the world we live in can be just as confusing and messy. This side of heaven we may never know why God has allowed certain “dark threads” to be woven into our lives: the death of a loved one that leaves us hurting and lonely, an on-going illness that drastically limits us, the loss of all our possessions through a fire or flood that shatters our dreams, a financial reversal that threatens our retirement, even tragedies like the senseless evil demonstrated this last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that breaks all of our hearts. But as the Master Weaver, God sees the upper-side of the canvas and is skillfully weaving in His infinite love, wisdom, and power our lives into the beautiful pattern He has planned. This is what we are going to be looking at this morning.
As we continue on in our study of Romans 8, we now come to the verse 28 that is one of the best-known and most-loved texts in the Bible. R.A. Torrey called it, “A soft pillow for a tired heart.” (Newell pg. 329) Although this verse is often turned to and quoted during the difficult times in our lives, it should also be a driving motivation in our daily Christian lives. Turn in your Bible to Romans 8.
In Romans 8:28 we see three truths about God that should give a deep sense of rest and security to every believer.
The first truth about God is this:
I. God Orchestrates all Things for Good
A. Look at v. 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.
1. The word “And” (de) here best indicates that Paul is making a transition to an entirely new discussion. Although the Holy Spirit was Paul’s main character of vv. 1-27, now he changes the focus to God the Father.
2. In the first part of this chapter (vv. 1-27) human responsibility and divine sovereignty in the sanctification process have bounced back and forth. But now in the last part of this chapter (vv. 28-39) the overall theme of security is bolstered most firmly by the focus on God Himself as the bottomline.
3. Paul does not deny human responsibility, even in v. 28, but his primary emphasis now shifts to the sovereignty of God in salvation. For if any of our security depended on us it would be tentative to say the least.
4. Now notice that back in v. 26 Paul said, “…we do not know how to pray as we should,” but now in v. 28 he says “we know” (oidamen). This means that we as believers have a common knowledge of something that is derived from examples in Scripture, as well as, our own personal experience.
5. And what specifically is it that we know? Paul states, “…that God causes all things to work together,” which literally the Greek just reads, “…all things work together for good,” as stated in the KJV.
6. Whereas there is much debate as to the addition of the words “God causes” into this sentence, it is really not a matter of vital importance how you translate it because there is no way Paul is saying “all things in and of themselves work together for good.” In either case it is the sovereign providence of God that is contextually the undergirding and directing force behind all the events of life.
7. By “providence” of God we mean that it is God’s sovereign hand that is ruling and overruling in the affairs of life. And there is absolutely nothing that exists in heaven or earth that is outside of His sovereign control.
8. Not the evil plans of sinful man (Neh. 4:15), the holy angels (Heb. 1:14), Satan and his fallen angels (Rom. 16:20; Eph. 6:10-16), the rulers of the world (Ps. 2:2-9; 48:4-8; 149:9; Prov. 21:1; Acts 9:15), the physical creation and the elements (1 Sam. 12:18-20;Ps. 46:4; 72:3; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7), or even the heavenly bodies (Judg. 5:20).
9. Alfred Martin said it well, “The statement of verse twenty-eight would be absolutely impossible if God were not sovereign. If there were the slightest element of chance in the universe, or if any creature could commit the smallest act outside the decree of God, then there could be no assurance that all things would work together for good to those who are mentioned. In order for all things to work thus, God must be in absolute control. When one thinks of the world-encircling results of one small act or word, one can readily see the disastrous effects which would follow if God’s sovereignty were relaxed for even a moment.” (Rick’s notes pg. 194)
10. Now the one Greek word translated “all things” (panta) here is utterly comprehensive, in that it has no qualifications or restrictions. In other words, “all means all;” it encompasses everything.
11. There is not one thing that is excluded. It includes everything that is both good and bad—prosperity and adversity, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, happiness and suffering, freedom and persecution, health and illness, holiness and sin, life and death.
12. Remember that in writing to the Romans, Paul is addressing the church that would soon experience the most horrific kind of persecution and bloodshed, as it is Rome that used Christians for human torches and threw them to the lions for entertainment in the Coliseum.
13. But here we see that not one detail of good or bad things is beyond the overruling and overriding scope of God’s providence. It is only a completely sovereign God that can do this!
14. The one Greek word translated “work together” (sunergei), from which we get our English word “synergism,” means that all things work in concert and cooperation with one another. The present tense of this word indicates that this orchestration of all things is a continuing activity of God.
15. And notice that the goal to which God is continually working and orchestrating everything together is “…for good.” The word “good” (agathon) means that which is beneficial, useful, excellent, and honorable.
16. What a promise that God causes all things to work together for good! But to whom does this promise apply?
17. We see this in the second truth about God, which is this:
II. God’s Promise only Applies to Believers
A. Look at v. 28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called… (Stop there)
1. The only qualification in this marvelous promise has to do with its recipients. Notice that it is solely “to those who love God, to those who are called” that this promise is given.
2. This doesn’t describe two different groups of people but are two of the many titles or designations in the New Testament used to describe Christians. Let’s look at each one of them.
3. First, from the perspective of human responsibility Paul describes believers as “those who love God.” Actually this is placed first in the Greek text for emphasis, which reads, “And we know that to those who love God all things work together for good…”
4. Although Paul seldom uses this description of Christians (1 Cor. 2:9; 8:3; Eph. 6:24), nothing more characterizes believers than genuine love for God, for it is the first mark of true saving faith. And genuine love for God manifests itself in a sincere love of fellow believers (Matt. 22:39; Mk. 12:31; 1 Jn. 3:14; 4:7-8, 20-21; 5:1-2)
5. True believers in both the Old and New Testaments are appropriately designated as “lovers of God” (Ex. 20:6; Deut. 6:5; 7:9; 10:12; Neh. 1:5; Ps. 69:36; 97:10; 116:1; Isa. 56:6; Matt. 22:37-40; Mk. 12:29-30; Jam. 1:12; 2:5).
6. John Murray accurately states, “In such terms no criterion could be more discriminating, for love to God is both the most elementary and the highest mark of being in the favor of God.” (pg. 3:14)
7. And love for God is seen in one’s obedience to Him. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” (Verse 21) “He who has My commandments and keeps themis the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose myself to him. (Verses 23-24) “…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words…” (Jn. 15:10)
8. Now obviously since we are still sinful, we do not fully love God as we ought but our love for Him is genuine and is the deepest longing of our regenerate heart. But this cannot be said of unbelievers who, although may be “religious,” do not have a favorable heart disposition toward the one true God.
9. Unbelievers are not even neutral toward God! For we have already seen in Romans that they do not “honor Him as God or give thanks” (Rom. 1:21), they do not “seek for God” (3:11), “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (3:18), they are “enemies” of God (5:10), and their “…mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (8:7).
10. The promise that God “causes all things to work together for good” only applies to believers—“those who love God.” But remember that our love for God doesn’t originate with us; it is a God-given response to the prior love of God toward us.
11. For 1 John 4:19 says, “We love, because He first loved us.” (1 Jn. 4:7, 10)
12. Therefore, every single thing that comes into our lives, both good and bad, God sovereignly and continually orchestrates to accomplish for our greatest good, according to God’s definition of “good” not ours, both now in this present life and ultimately in our glorification or perfect conformity to the image of Christ, which we will see in vv. 29-30.
13. God will sometimes save us from tragedies. At other times He will allow us to go through them to accomplish His intended good in our lives.
14. But what possible good could come from bad things in our lives? Even though God is never the Author of sin and evil (Jam. 1:13), He can and does use it and overrules it to bring about much good in our lives.
15. The classic Old Testament example of God sovereignly using unjust suffering to bring about great good is the life of Joseph. Although his brothers sold him into slavery, God turned this into an opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and rise to a position of great prominence, from which he not only saved Egypt, but also his own people from starvation.
16. Therefore, when he finally saw his brothers he told them in Genesis 45:5, “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” And again in 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
17. And the supreme example of God’s turning evil into the good of His children is seen in the crucifixion of His own Son. In the cross of Christ, God took the greatest sin ever committed and turned it into the greatest blessing He could ever offer to fallen mankind—eternal salvation from sin (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).
18. What a promise given to believers that God causes “all things,” even the bad things of sin and suffering, to work together for our good. Such things can be used by Him to teach us to hate sin in ourselves and others, to purify our lives, to draw us closer and more dependent upon Him, to refine our faith, to realign our priorities, to strengthen our hope, and to conform us more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
19. The Puritan Thomas Watson was right when he said, “A sick-bed often teaches more than a sermon.” (Mac pg. 478)
B. Second, from the perspective of divine sovereignty Paul further describes believers as “…those who are called.”
1. Here Paul shows the reason why we as believers love God. Because we are “those who are called.”
2. The word “called” (kletois) here is not the general, external call or invitation to everyone to believe the gospel that Jesus referred to in Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Otherwise, everyone who has heard the gospel would have received it and love God.
3. The word “called” here is the special (or particular), inward call or summons, also termed as God’s “effectual call,” by which a person is actually brought into relationship with God and becomes a Christian (Rom. 1:6-7).
4. Thomas Schreiner accurately states, “This definition of ‘calling’ is evident from Romans 8:30, for there Paul says that ‘those whom he called he also justified.’ The text does not say that ‘some’ of those called were justified. It fuses the called and justified together so that those who have experienced calling have also inevitably received the blessing of justification. Now if all those who are called are also justified, then calling must be effectual and must create faith, for ‘all’ those who are called are justified and justification cannot occur without faith (3:21-22, 28; 5:1).” (pg. 451)
5. Therefore, without exception, all believers are called by God. This is why Paul repeatedly refers to believers as “called” ones. (1:6-7; 8:30; 9:7, 11, 24-26; 1 Cor. 1:2, 24).
• Romans 1:7 “To all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints…”
• 1 Corinthians 1:2 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” (Verse 9) “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Verse 24) “But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
• Even in Jude 1 we read, “…To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.”
6. Therefore, God’s effectual call is His actual drawing a person to salvation. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” He went on to declare in v. 65, “…No one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
7. Unregenerate man does have a choice and he always chooses what his heart desires. But as we have seen in Romans and elsewhere, apart from God’s initiative and drawing the unbeliever will never desire to “seek for God” on his own (Rom. 3:11).
8. This is why the effectual call is the work of the Holy Spirit in an unbeliever’s heart drawing him to Christ. The Spirit does this by opening his spiritually blinded eyes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, convincing him of his sin and his need of a Savior, renewing his will, and spiritually enabling him to receive Christ by faith, so that he actually becomes a born-again Christian.
9. Since people are not robots, God works in our hearts so that we truly desire to receive Christ and we reach out to him in saving faith. God’s effectual call not only precedes man’s choice but it is what makes man’s choice possible and effective.
10. Our responsibility, therefore, is simply to faithfully share the gospel with the lost and then leave the results with God. He will draw to Himself those He will draw!
11. The third truth about God is this:
III. God’s Purpose absolutely Guarantees His Promise
A. Look again at v. 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.
1. Our calling to salvation, which enables us to love God, takes place “…according to (or because of) His purpose.” The word “purpose” (prothesin) here refers to God’s sovereign will, design, or plan of salvation.
2. It is God’s saving purpose is to take us all the way to our future glorification. We will see the whole process of salvation more clearly in vv. 29-30.
3. God has an all-comprehensive plan and He sovereignly orchestrates everything in believers’ lives to contribute to the realization of this purpose. Not one detail of our lives is excluded in bringing about our greatest good.
4. We see an overview of this in Philippians 1:6 where Paul proclaims, “For I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you (i.e. justification) will perfect it until (i.e. sanctification) the day of Christ Jesus” (i.e. glorification).
5. And because of God’s saving purpose for us as well, we too can confidently rest and feel secure in God’s promise that He “…causes all things to work together for good” in our lives. This promise is absolutely guaranteed by God Himself in His purpose established from eternity past to eternity future.
6. For 2 Timothy 1:9 says that God “…has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”
7. God’s purpose will never fail to come to pass because He is the infinite, sovereign, all-powerful God who has limitless resources to always bring about what He has decreed. This is made abundantly clear in His Word.
8. Job answered to God in Job 42:2, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
9. God declared in Isaiah 14:24, “…Surely, just as I have intended so it happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand.”
10. In 46:9-11 God went on to say, “Remember the former thing long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure;’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.”
11. This is why God’s purpose absolutely guarantees His promise.
In closing, in this one gem of a verse we have seen three truths about God that should give a deep sense of rest and security to every believer: God orchestrates all things for good, God’s promise only applies to believers, and God’s purpose absolutely guarantees His promise.
Therefore, we must remember that when God, as the Master Weaver, choose to weave the dark threads, as well as, the threads of gold and silver into our lives we know from Scripture and personal experience that He is sovereignly and continually orchestrating everything in our lives together for our greatest good and His highest glory. Never forget that God sees the upper-side of the canvas of our lives and in His infinite love, wisdom, and power He is bringing about the beautiful pattern that He has planned for us.
For it is only as we believe this and continue to trust Him in those difficult times that we will truly find rest in Him alone, no matter what He may allow to happen in our lives.