Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

All Things for Good

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

I assume you heard this during the announcements, but I want to re-highlight the invitation to come back on Christmas Eve. We have two identical services; each will last under an hour. We’ll sing many of the classic Christmas hymns, read of a few of the classic Scripture passages about Jesus, and I’ll share a short sermon. By popular demand, we’ll end each service with singing and candlelight. If you come to the 5:30 pm service, we’d encourage you to plan to stay for 30 minutes after the service. And if you come to the 7 pm service, we’d encourage you to come 30 minutes early. Bring some cookies to share and just enjoy one another.  

Scripture Reading 

Please turn with me in your Bibles to the letter we call Romans. It’s in the New Testament, which is the part of the Bible written after Jesus came to earth. It’s a letter written to a church in the city of Rome, a church full of people trying to do what we’re trying to do: make sense of the good news of Jesus for our everyday lives. I’ll be in chapter 8 right where Davis left off last week.  

I’ll say at the outset of this sermon that it is not one to give you lots of practical applications, but I do hope it encourages you. If you picture your heart like a huge bucket needed to be filled with encouragement, I want this passage to not simply fill the bucket to the top but to see it overflow.  

Follow along with me as I read Romans 8:28–39, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.  

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, 

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; 
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Introduction 

When our small group Bible Study got together last week, we talked for a few minutes about favorite Christmas traditions. I mentioned how, when I grew up, my family always cut down our own Christmas tree from a farm. I loved that. We still do that in my family. In fact, if you stayed for our congregational meeting last week, I teased Davis before I introduced him to you as a new pastor-elder. I mentioned that he uses a fake Christmas tree in his living room but that you shouldn’t hold that against him as you voted. There isn’t actually a scriptural requirement for mature Christians to cut down a tree.  

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance connected me with one of his acquaintances. The person was looking for a co-author or heavy editor or ghostwriter on a book project because she had a compelling story to tell of God’s faithfulness. My friend thought I might be a good person to help her get the story written well. I’m not sure I’ll be the right person to help. But I did a little research and listened to a television interview the husband and wife had done. At one point in the story, they talked about a Christmas tree farm and cutting down a tree with their family, so I immediately liked them more. Some Saturday in some December, Scott, the father of four, said to his wife and kids, “Let’s just jump in the van and get our tree.” So they pulled up to the little shack at the edge of the farm and the greeter says, “How are you today?” Scott says, “We’re having a wonderful day!” Everyone in the car just laughed and laughed and they pulled into the farm and got their tree.  

If you’re sensing I’m not telling you everything, you’re right. Scott had been losing his coordination for the previous year, and just before they jumped in their van to get their tree, Scott and his wife told their children the results came back that he had ALS or Lue Gehrig’s disease. They had wept so long and so hard together as a family that when the teenager in the shack at the farm asked how they were doing, all they could do was laugh because they had used all their tears.  

We call Christmas the most wonderful time of the year. And sometimes it is. And sometimes it isn’t.  

In the Christmas hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful,” there’s a line about being “joyful and triumphant.” One reason we chose to teach through Romans 8 during the four weeks of Christmas was to acknowledge that the real meaning of Christmas has a deeper joy and more gritty triumph than we often discuss. We believe the hope and offered to Christians by God in Romans 8, when rightly understood, is big enough and sturdy enough to hold you tight when you have cried so many tears that you can only laugh.  

In the background of this passage in Romans 8 lurks the fear that God’s love can’t coincide with our suffering—either our suffering indicates God no longer loves us or that he’s not able to love us even if he wanted to. Perhaps these questions are on your mind this season. Perhaps you wonder if your trials are so significant that they can separate you from the love of God; in fact, perhaps you wonder if your trials are the wrath of God. Christmas may or may not feel like the most wonderful time of the year, but no matter what it feels like, Romans 8 aims to encourage you that God is bigger and better and more strong and sovereign and more loving from beginning to end than we could even imagine. 

1. The statement of God’s sovereign goodness toward his own, vv. 28–30 

Look with me at how our passage begins.  

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

We can get hung up on theological sounding words like predestined and foreknowledge and justified and gloried. Many pastors spend several sermons just on these verses—a sermon for each phrase. Maybe someday we will too. For now, don’t get caught up. Before these verses are controversial doctrines to parse out, these trues ought to be precious. God aims for these verses to encourage you that he has done everything needed so that you will be happy and holy forever with him—not just happy and not just holy, but happy and holy forever with God and his people. There is an ethical side to our future, and there is a happy side to our future. That’s what it means for God to conform us to the image of his son, that is, the image of Jesus. Jesus was and is happy and holy, and he’s our older brother. And God’s aim in redemption is to create a large and happy and holy family of brothers and sisters who all dance and sing in their father’s love. These verses encourage us that before you ever had a thought about God—in fact, when you were his enemy (Romans 5:8)—God was thinking about you, and his thoughts were thoughts of love.  

The verse says “all things . . . for good”—not some things or many things but all things. All things “work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Note what Paul doesn’t say. Paul doesn’t say God does this generally for everyone in all of humanity. He has done and is doing this in a beautiful and specific way for his children, those who are changed by Jesus. Christian, God loves you with the intensity he loves his own son.  

We are not told how God works all things for good. Those specifics we are not told. But he does work all things—the hard things, the evil things, the lonely things, the confusing things, the Lue-Gehrig’s-disease things—and he rules over them in such a way that in the end of everything, they serve our everlasting good. What the world, the flesh, and the devil design for our harm, God turns for our good.  

Look closer again at v. 30.  

30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

If you are a Christian, this verse tells you that God loved you before the world began; he loved you when he called you, that is, changed your heart by the power of the gospel; that he loved you when he justified you, that is, when you trust Jesus God took away your sins because Jesus died for your sin and God now views you as though your life was as perfect as the life of Jesus; and he loved you when he glorifies you, that is, raises your body from the grave, gives you a new body, and makes you happy and holy forever with him and his people. As one pastor has said, there are not enough nails in the coffin to hold you when God raises you from the grave. So from before the world began, to specific moments in your life, all the way to the end of your life and into eternity, God loves you.  

This verse has been called the “golden chain” of salvation because you don’t get the picture that God is losing people along the way, like he meant to save them but didn’t or couldn’t. The picture of God in these verse is not of one who had the desire to save this or that person, but it just didn’t work out the way God hoped. That’s not the picture. Jesus said it in a similar way in the gospels.  

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. . . . 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35, 37–40) 

Notice his words about “coming down” (v. 38). Jesus came to earth in the Christmas story so that he would be a savior of everyone who looks to him for salvation. Whoever finds their hunger and thirst satisfied in Jesus, Jesus will not lose you.  

Perhaps you’ve seen people, often children, play a relay game with cups of water. You run with your empty cup of water across a backyard, plunge the cup into a bucket of water, and sprint back to the line to fill an empty bucket. Then you hand the cup to the next person to do the same until the second bucket is filled. If you go slow, you don’t lose much water. If you go fast, you spill more water.  

This passage in Romans 8 or the passage in John 6 teaches salvation is not like that relay game. God the Father does his best to save, but spills a few people here and there. Then Jesus takes the cup, and Jesus does his best, but only to spill a few people here and there. And then the Apostles take the cup. (An Apostle was an authorized spokesman for God who knew Jesus.) The Apostles run with the cup, only to spill a few people here and there. And now pastors, well, we just do our best and who knows how many people we mess up.  

No. This is not the picture of salvation in Romans 8. That picture would not be encouraging at all. It would be terrifying. The picture, instead, is of a God who has undertaken salvation in such a way that all who look to Jesus have bullet-proof security.  

2. The rhetorical Q&A about our eternal security, vv. 31–39 

Now, we move to the last half of the passage. The last part of the passage is cast in a series of seven rhetorical questions and answers. Paul knows these truths he has just written about need more explanation and celebration, because if God is so strong and so loving, how shall we then understand suffering in the life of a Christian? Paul asks and answers a series of rhetorical questions to press the love of God deeper and deeper into our heart. Here’s the first question.  

Question 1: 31a What then shall we say to these things?  

Paul believes the truth of the sturdy, strong, and sovereign love of God calls for an emotional reaction on our part. Christians read this and become filled with wonder and awe. All things, even the hard things, you’ll work out for my eternal good? That’s amazing.  

When you go to a dentist and sit in the office before your appointment and sign all their paperwork, if you actually took time to read all the fine print and if you actually understood all the fine print, your emotional reaction to the fine print would not be wonder and awe and worship. But that’s what Paul wants to stir here. He’s holding your hand as we climb the majestic mountain of salvation. And when we get to the top and look out at the panoramic view of salvation, he asks, “What shall we say to such a beautiful view.” And then he asks, “And did you see that view out this direction? Oh, and look at this one too.”  

I’ll take the second, third, and fourth questions together. Let me read them.  

Questions 2, 3 & 4: 31b If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  

Who can be against us? Well, lots and lots of people can be against Christians. But that’s not Paul’s point. Picture a courtroom. Lots and lots of people can bring charges against someone. But who matters, in the end, are the judge and jury. Paul is saying you are, in fact, a sinner, and people can call you a sinner all day long, but if God has forgiven you, then the judge and jury of the universe declares you “not guilty.” In ten years or twenty years, what others say about you matters, but in ten or twenty million years, the only voice that will matter is God’s.  

You can’t justify yourself. God is the one who justifies you. But if God didn’t spare Jesus so that Jesus could forgive our sins, then how will God not also along with Jesus bless us with every blessing forever? It’s a rhetorical question. Paul is not asking a question but making a statement. Because God by sending his son Jesus has done the really hard thing of forgiving and changing sinners, he won’t ever stop loving them. It’s like saying you did the really hard thing of fighting the traffic on Jonestown Road to go buy presents on the Saturday before Christmas; you wrap the present; you put it under the tree; you know the person you bought it for will love the present; but then, well, you just decide not to give it to the person. God doesn’t do that. He’s a good God who finishes what he begins.  

Look at the fifth rhetorical question.  

Question 5: 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  

Again, condemnation is courtroom language. If Jesus was condemned for your sins, and your condemnation was completely dealt with in Jesus, then you have nothing left to fear. And not only did Jesus die, Paul writes, but he rose from the dead, ascended heaven and sits with God. What does he do in heaven? Does he now scowl at you in your sufferings? Is he disappointed with your continually neediness? No. Paul says he intercedes for you. The Son of God prays for you.  

I’ll put it like this. It’s one thing to have a police officer pull you over, give you a ticket, and then tear up the ticket as a Christmas present to you. But if the officer is still scowling and fuming and belligerent toward you, holding your law-breaking over your head, then that would not feel like much of a present. You certainly wouldn’t want to head back to the office with him and share stories about other needs in your life. But when Jesus forgives, he welcomes you into joy.  

Questions 6 & 7: 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  

The final rhetorical question asks if anything can separate us from the love of God. Paul answers his own question.  

Summary: 36 As it is written, 

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; 
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

That Old Testament reference about “sheep being killed all day long” comes from a hymn the people of God sing (Psalm 44). It came from a time when some questioned whether their trials could coincide with the love of God or whether their trials were actually the wrath of God. Paul says, No. Just as believers throughout time have felt the sting of suffering, so now believers feel it. But there is no sting of suffering—no death, no ruler, nothing in the future—that could ever separate you from the love of God.  

And all of this is to God’s praise, not ours. Notice the phrase “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37). All the good that God does for Christians is not our doing, but God’s. When you picture what it looks like to be “more than a conqueror,” the image that should come to your mind is not of Christians standing on the front line of a war, thumping our fists into our chests while we shout, “I’m a warrior; bring it on.” That’s not the picture. Instead, picture a man hooked up to chemotherapy. He looks up at his wife and says, “Even if this kills me, it will only bring me to God.”  

Conclusion 

When I was growing up my father had this sort of “bedtime liturgy” you could call it. As he would tuck us in, he’d ask, “Do you know why I love you?” And we’d say, “No, Dad.” And he’d say, “Because you are my son.” I’ve found something comforting about that circular logic. God, why do you love us? I love you because I do (cf. Deut. 7:7).  

As I said at the start, in the background of this passage in Romans 8 lurks the fear that God’s love can’t coincide with our suffering—either our suffering indicates God no longer loves us or that he’s not able to love us even if he wanted to. Perhaps these questions are on your mind this season. Perhaps you wonder if your trials are so significant that they can separate you from the love of God; in fact, perhaps you wonder if your trials are the wrath of God.  

Paul’s answer is that Christians may or may not feel like Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but no matter what it feels like, Romans 8 aims to encourage you that God is bigger and better and more strong and sovereign and more loving from beginning to end than we could even imagine. If you are suffering with Jesus, if you are experiencing famine, danger, or sword and you are clinging to Christ, then this passage is for you.  

But perhaps there are others here who only have a slight interest in Jesus. (I’m really glad you’re here.) Maybe you think you know something about him, but Jesus really doesn’t have that much to do with your day to day and week to week life, and you don’t have a vibrant connection to a local church where others who love Jesus attend—and you’re fine with that. If that’s you, I’d say this passage and its encouragement is for you too, but you might need to become a Christian first.  

I don’t know your heart and your life. But I do know Romans 8 teaches that Christians have eternal security, but that when God changes your life, a Christian is also set on a path of conformity to Jesus that changes them—not perfectly over a day or two, but in increasing ways over a decade or two. So, if over a decade or two, your not being changed by Jesus, you might need to become a Christian, and when you do, everything said in this passage that’s good can be true for you too.  

In my last sermon, I mentioned that classic scene in the cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the narrator says, “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” Romans 8 offers Christians more than a little bit more.  

Another classic scene in the Grinch movie follows with the Grinch holding the sled from slipping over the edge: “And what happened, then?” the narrator asks rhetorically, “Well, in Whoville they say—that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then—the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!”  

This Christmas, I want the love of God to grow your heart three sizes. God loves you because you’re his sons and daughters. Nothing in all creation can change that.  

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