Quick review. “All things work together for good to those who love God…” If you don’t love God, you can’t bank on this promise. And we talked about what it means to love God. Loving God himself, not his gifts, not his benefits, but loving him for who he is.
The promise itself – “all things work together for good” – ALL THINGS, not just some things. Not just the easy things or the good things, but the hard things and the bad things.
The promise of God working all things for our good–the good and the bad–is reserved for those who love God, and lastly, to those who are called according to his purpose.
Why does Paul mention these two things instead of just one of them? If he had only said that all things work together for good for those who love God, it would have sounded like the promise rests on how much and how consistently we love God. I don’t know about you, but my love for God is a flimsy ground for this promise. Love for God is an experience in my heart. And my heart is notoriously fickle and variable and weak. To have such a massive promise rest on such a fragile human experience alone would be like having a 70 story skyscraper rest atop a quarter inch styrofoam board.
“All things work together for good… for those who are called according to his purpose.” Here we have God’s work, not my experience. God’s call, not my consciousness. Since it is from God, this is solid. This is powerful and deep and strong. It’s dependable. You can count on it.
What if we truncated the verse to read, “All things work together for good for those who are called”? Then we would wonder, how do I know if I am called? We would want some sign that God has in fact done this great and powerful and wonderful thing and called me unto salvation.
So Paul gives both. He tells us the objective, solid, divine work of God that makes the promise unshakeable: HE called us according to HIS purpose. And he tells us what happened in us when God called us so that we can have assurance that we’ve been called, namely, we love God.
So we have two things that must be true of us if this promise is to be ours. Our love is subjective, and God’s call is objective. Our love is our act, and God’s call is his act. Our love is an effect, and God’s love is the cause. God calls us. The cause. And in response to God’s call, we love him. The effect.
In other words, the call of God according to his purpose is part of the massive, unshakable foundation Paul is laying in Romans 8 that keeps this promise from falling through a quarter inch styrofoam board. You are not the key here. God is the key here. Because if everything is riding on your love, your love is too fragile and uncertain to keep the promise. But God’s call is not fragile and not uncertain. And God’s calling not only brought your love into being but the call of God will keep your love for God going so that the promise of Romans 8:28 will be true for you forever.
How do we know that this calling guarantees our enjoyment of this promise forever? I think we can sum up the most important things about this call under two questions: 1) What happens when a person is called? 2) What is the effect of this call long term?
First, what happens when a person is called? God calls a person to Christ by bringing them into contact with the gospel of Jesus Christ and then making their dead hearts alive so that they hear the gospel as irresistibly true and beautiful.
The next two verses are the most important. Verse 29 starts with the reason we can be sure that all things work together for good for those who are called. It’s because v29–
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.
Paul gives us the reason for why all things work together for good for the called. What does he say? He says, we can be sure all things work for the good for those who are called because the called have been predestined. Therefore it is sure. Specifically he says in v29 that they are predestined to be like Jesus. And it says, Jesus is the firstborn among many brothers. This has fantastic implications. This means Jesus is our older brother.
Imagine if you had someone who was a combination of the Hulk without the anger management issues, the brains of a Tony Stark, the divinity of a Thor and the compassion of Black Widow rolled up into one. And then suppose this mythical figure was your older brother. You’d feel pretty invincible. That’s the idea. Jesus is our strong, wise, divine, compassionate older brother.
And at the end of v30, it says, those who are called will be “glorified.” In other words, predestination stands behind your call and makes it sure. What God predestines happens. That’s what it means to be God. Destiny is as good as reality when it comes from God. We get to live out our destiny. What he says, he does, he accomplishes. It’s guaranteed.
This is why Paul added the words in v28, “according to his purpose” – “All things work together for good… for those who are called according to God’s purpose.” God’s call does not come without a purpose. There is a purpose for our calling. For all believers, the purpose is glory. We are predestined for glory.
30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Justification is the legal declaration that we have been forgiven of our sins because we have repented of our sin and placed our faith in Christ and Jesus has taken our place and suffered in our place. Thus, when God looks at us, he sees us justified in Christ. We are declared righteous. We are declared innocent.
Glorification refers to the moment when we are finally united with Christ and our salvation is fully actualized. We will become like Christ and be with him for all eternity.
My favorite movie of all time is Glory. It’s about the Civil War. And it chronicles the transformation of two in particular. One is played by Matthew Broderick. He is the colonel and Denzel Washington plays the part of an escaped slave who enlisted in the army. The first scene was Matthew Broderick as a frightened soldier and throughout the movie you see him mature from a fearful leader of an unruly group of soldiers to a valiant leader who charges up a hill courageously and dies in glory. Denzel is an angry killing machine. The only reason he enlisted was his seething anger. He wanted to kill some white soldiers who are fighting for the South. And seeing the colonel fall in battle, Denzel lifts up the flag which had been carried by the fallen flag bearer and he too rushes up the hill only to die in glory.
For Christians, life here on earth is going to be hard. And we, too, must undergo a painful transformation. But the finish line is going to be glorious.
The called are justified as well as glorified. Glory – that’s the finish line. How can we be confident that all of us who are called will cross the finish line? We can be confident because when God predestines something to happen, it happens. And so God brings to pass what he predestined by calling us and then justifying us and then glorifying us.
What do we learn from this? We learn that God’s calling here is his sovereign action to bring us from the spiritual deadness of unbelief and hostility to God to the spiritual life of faith in Christ, and along with it, an ability to love God. All things work together for good for you if this has happened to you. Nothing can stop everything from working for your good. Nothing can stand in your way. Everything will work for the purpose of getting you to glory.
Second, what is the effect of this call long term? Long term, the effect is that those who are called gain an absolute eternal security for their future salvation. All the called are justified, and all the justified will be glorified. There are no dropouts. There are no permanent backsliders. This is why all things work together for good for those who are called according to God’s purpose. His purpose is to save us completely and everything hinges on God’s grace, His initiative, His power.
But someone may say, what if I give up? What if I stop believing? What if my love for God grows cold and dies? The answer is simple. It will not happen for those who are called. And the reason is not that it doesn’t matter if your faith fails and your love dies. The reason is that the God who calls, keeps. The God who, by his sovereign grace, called you, will, by that same sovereign grace, keep you believing and keep you loving.
God will confirm you to the end because he called you. That is what God’s faithfulness means. God called you according to his purpose to save you, and God always does what he purposes to do. God is faithful. Therefore, if he called you, he will keep you.
So now we have begun to see the rock solid nature of the foundation underneath the promise of Romans 8:28. The foundation is not merely your love for God. Your love, my love, is like a quarter inch styrofoam board. It’s flimsy. It can’t bear much weight. Instead, we need a foundation solid enough to bear the weight of life’s difficulties, and our own temperamental hearts. We need a foundation that rests on the eternal purpose of God, the predestination of God, the calling of God, the justification of God, and the future glorification of God, which is guaranteed.
Everything will surely work together for your good, not because you or I have the moral power to keep loving God, but because the one who called you is faithful and will work in you to keep you loving God no matter what happens. The God who calls keeps.