Redeemed For a Reason
James C. Denison
According to this week’s news reports, you had better not die in southwest France. The village in question has run out of space in the local cemetery. So the mayor has told his residents, “All persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried are forbidden from dying in the parish.” He adds, “Offenders will be severely punished.” You’ve been warned.
There are some things you can’t do much about. Whether you’re happy, sad, or indifferent about this week’s election results in Texas and elsewhere, there’s not a lot about the presidential primaries you can change today. Economists are debating whether we’re in a recession, heading into one, or avoiding one, but most of us don’t get a vote on the question.
It is frustrating to live with circumstances beyond your control. A boss you can’t fire; a health condition you can’t heal; a struggle in your family you can’t solve, a temptation you can’t defeat. As time goes on you begin to wonder if things will ever get better, if there’s a reason for any of this and a purpose on the other side.
Today’s text tells us that we are more than conquerors in the hardest places of life. We will learn again this week that God redeems all he allows. We will learn why, for what purpose, to what end. And we will choose whether or not to cooperate. I hope you’ll choose wisely. What struggle do you need God to redeem this morning?
What is God’s purpose for you?
Let’s walk through our passage, one of the most popular and misunderstood statements in all the New Testament.
Paul begins: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (v. 28a). “We know” is a traditional Jewish formula for introducing conventional wisdom. What follows is a certainty for all believers, no matter our circumstances or difficulties. This passage applies to every one of us today.
Once before, Paul used this phrase: “we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (v. 22). There are two certainties in Romans 8: suffering and redemption. We all suffer, and God will redeem that suffering for his purposes.
“In all things God works for the good of those who love him,” we’re promised. “In all things,” the apostle promises. No exceptions are listed. Paul does not claim that all things are good, but that God works for good in all things.
Jesus wept at Lazarus’ grave because his death was not good, but God used it for good when he raised him back to life. Our Savior cried out in pain and abandonment from the cross because his separation from his Father was not good, but God used it for the good of our salvation.
In “all things God works.” It is not our responsibility to redeem our situation, but God’s. The Greek for “works” is sunergei, meaning “to work together” or “make something in combination.” The events themselves are not good, but when God works them together they produce a good we could never have imagined.
Pike Wisner and I discussed this week an analogy for Paul’s claim. Imagine baking a cake. You wouldn’t want to eat flour, or shortening, or raw eggs. In fact, you couldn’t imagine that they would ever be edible. Only someone who knows about baking would see the way they could “work together” for something good. When a pastry chef takes these disparate and unappetizing ingredients and mixes them in the right way, in the right proportions, for the right time, then bakes them in the right temperature, a cake emerges from the oven. That’s what God is doing with the flour and raw eggs of your life.
In all things God is working “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
He works “for the good” because he must. Our God is “holy, holy, holy” (Revelation 4:8; Isaiah 6:3). This is how we know that he redeems all he allows–his character requires it. He never makes a mistake. He must always do the right thing. He must always work for our glory and his good.
He does this for “those who love him.” It is not that he likes Christians better than non-Christians, but that he can give only what we will receive. If we will not accept his forgiving grace by trusting Christ as our Lord, he cannot forgive us and save us. If we will not accept his Spirit into our lives by becoming Christians, his Spirit cannot redeem and transform us.
I can do things for my children that I cannot do for yours. I can discipline my sons in ways I cannot discipline yours. I can teach and mentor and help mold their character in ways I cannot with yours, or you with mine. So it is with the Father and his children.
When we “love him” as his children, we are “called according to his purpose.” “Purpose” translates the Greek word for “design” or “plan.” What is this plan, toward which God is redeeming all that he allows?
Verse 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.”
“Those God foreknew” points to the fact that God is not bound by time. He knows what we will do before we do. This doesn’t mean that he chooses for us. I watched you sit in your pews this morning, but I didn’t assign them to you. God is the Great I Am (Exodus 3:14), and is able to see tomorrow as we are to see today. He “foreknows” all that we will do, for he sees us do it.
Those he foreknew “he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” “Predestined” means to choose, to plan, to purpose beforehand. He has always wanted all of us to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), for he is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).