One of the joys many people have when they first see a newborn is to compare the features of the child to the parents. Does the child look more like the mother or the father? Of course, sometimes, the child does not look like either person, but instead looks like an uncle or an aunt. But most of the time, someone will notice a “close family resemblance.”
Perhaps you look like someone in your family. I can remember several years ago when I saw my mother from a certain angle, her facial features reminded me of my grandfather. I have a half-brother that looks exactly like my dad did. At one time, Andrew looked like me. We can all relate to someone, somewhere that looks like another person.
Whether or not you look like someone else, you were meant to bear God’s image. That does not mean in the physical sense as I have been sharing; rather, it is that mankind was made by God to have a healthy dose of His DNA. We will never be divine as He is, but our character, our desires, and our very lives were supposed to be a mirror-reflection of him.
But sin damaged that mirror. We can still see an image there, but it is well-distorted. But God has plans to restore that image.
That is the message of this week’s passage. Last week, we saw that suffering makes us (and Creation) long for God. This week we will see that God uses that suffering as a tool to make us more like Him. It isn’t that God causes all suffering, but He does use it.
He also gave His children the Spirit to overcome it. It is the Holy Spirit that provides eternal hope in the midst of suffering. And Romans 8 is all about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, which is why we have renamed the series at this point to Life in the Spirit.
But the purpose of the Spirit is not just to provide hope in the midst of suffering. No, the purpose of the Spirit is to work in us and through us that we might become more like Jesus. That is, that we become the image of Christ. For us to become like Christ is the will of God!
If God’s will is for us to become like Jesus, then how does that happen? Well, once again we can thank Paul for providing us some insights to that question. We turn to Romans 8.26-30 to see what we can learn.
God’s will is for us to become like Jesus.
That is the single point we need to know today. But He does not just flip a switch to make it happen! We flipped a switch to turn us away from God. Technically, Adam did. He flipped the switch called sin and tainted our image. But God is exercising His plan to restore that image. And, as I said last week, that plan is not just to restore us to what we were meant to be, but to restore all of Creation to what God intended it to be.
Now, once again, this message is meant entirely for those who believe. Paul’s words in Romans 8 are mostly to those who are children of God. In fact, from Romans 8.9 forward, his words are exclusively to those who are God’s children, that is, those who are saved.
We see this truth clearly in Romans 8.30 when Paul reveals God’s process for making His children like Jesus, who in verse 29, Paul calls our big brother. This process in verse 30 is often called “The Golden Chain” and consists of the following steps: foreknew -> predestined -> called -> justified -> glorified. Each of these steps in the “chain” are necessary to conform our image to the image of Jesus.
So, if we are going to be conformed to the image of Jesus, we should consider what that image is. Unlike the physical characteristics I mentioned earlier, we need to think about what Jesus did, and we need to do the same. Besides the mundane aspects of life like eating and drinking, a very incomplete list, but a few very important aspects of what Jesus did while on the earth, would include: prayer, healing, teaching, and showing what it means to love others.
Well, if those things were what Jesus did, and we are to be conformed to His image, then guess what God wants for us, and from us. But God’s goal for us is not just that we do these things now, but that we are prepared to live with Him eternally. And so, we see three elements in Romans 8.26-30 that help us to be conformed – we talk with Him, we learn through suffering, and we get prepared to be with Him for eternity.
Let’s briefly cover each.
Do you have trouble praying? Would it help you to know that Paul did too? In Romans 8.26, Paul talks about the challenge people have in knowing what to pray. But here is the key, he didn’t write that people struggle, he wrote that “we” do not know. And thus, the Holy Spirit intercedes for “us.” The “we” and “us” are inclusive, meaning if you struggle with knowing what God wants for you or how you should pray for a person or in a situation, you have something in common with Paul. And because the “we” and “us” are inclusive, I don’t think anyone is left out of the equation.
But verses 26-27 provide confidence that when we do not know how to pray, the Spirit prays for us.
The Spirit does know the will of God and turns our prayers into something that make sense to God, even when they don’t make sense to us. Please notice that the Spirit does not remove our weakness in prayer, He simply helps us in our weakness. Even the best of prayers and pray-ers are not as good as we might think they are. We simply do not know for what we ought to pray. But again, the Spirit does.
Let me say it this way, “If you are in a situation and you don’t know what God wants you to do, so you pray for deliverance, but God actually wants you to remain in that situation, the Spirit turns your prayer into a prayer that God will sustain you in the situation. If you pray to remain in a situation, but God wants you to be delivered, the Spirit makes the prayer about God working to get you out of a situation.”
Remember, Romans 8.15 says that we can cry out to the Father because we have the Spirit. Romans 8.23 says we groan while we wait. And now Romans 8.26 says that groanings make their way to the Father in a clear manner, and are delivered “according to the will of God” (verse 27). Now, many debate whether the groanings in verse 26 are ours or the Spirit’s, but that is not what is important. What is important is that the groanings are properly translated to be according to the will of God.
I know that I (as well as many others) have said, that God always answers prayers, and that sometimes the answer is “No.” But really, if verse 26 and 27 mean what they say, then God always answers, “Yes” because when our prayer reaches Him, the prayer has been translated by the Spirit into what God desires. So, the prayer that God, the Father, hears may not be the prayer we think we are praying. But the Spirit intercedes so that the prayer is made on our behalf according to the will of God. And as I have already said, God’s will is to conform us to the image of Jesus. I will say more about verses 26 and 27 in Monday’s video.
But prayer is only one of the three items today. The second is suffering.
Romans 8.17 says that if we are going to be glorified with Jesus, then we must suffer with Him as well.
Romans 8.28 is a very famous verse and one that should, and often does, provide comfort in the midst of suffering. And let’s remember, this passage, from verse 17 through this point has been about suffering. This verse does not stand in isolation. Therefore, in context, the hope we have is real.
The previous verse (v. 27) says the Spirit intercedes for us and prays according to the will of God. Now, in verse 28, Paul wrote that God makes good out of whatever the situation. We may consider everything around us to be caving in on us, but whatever is happening, it is only a part of the “all things” that God not only can, but does, cause to work together for good. This verse reminds me of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5.18 that we can “give thanks in all circumstances” knowing God can turn the situation for His good and His glory. Paul did not write we are necessarily to be thankful for all circumstances, but again, knowing God can make good from bad (or even evil) is comforting.
But we must be honest and admit that the good that will come may not be experienced by us, at least not in our lifetime. All things work together for God’s good, not necessarily our good, at least not in this life. We are to endure. We are to have hope. But the true goodness that comes from our suffering may wait until the next life.
Again, we have to keep this verse in context, and the context is that if we want to be glorified with Jesus, we must suffer with Jesus (Romans 8.17). And we have to look no further than Jesus to see that although He experienced good in His life on earth, His suffering on the cross was not good, nor was it turned to good, in His time on earth. The goodness was not meant for Him then, but the goodness that was realized through that suffering will last eternally. The same is true for all of God’s children.
So, God will make all things work together for good. And many of us will experience at least some of that goodness during our time on earth. But we must be careful in using this verse casually, because we do not know what suffering we, or someone else, may need to endure to accomplish God’s will – which again, is not just to get us through the challenges of life (although the Spirit does aid us in that), but to conform us to the image of Christ. Again, more on this verse in the daily videos this week (Tuesday).
And that brings us to “the golden chain” in verses 29-30.
The words in the golden chain are: foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified. The five words in this chain are loaded with theological significance. And many people disagree on the meaning of some of these words, which has created a lot of “baggage” on words such as predestined. But we are not here to consider these words in the larger context of Scripture (although that is important). Our goal needs to be to discover what Paul meant when he wrote this sentence to a church that had not met him, and was likely suffering persecution at the hands of other Romans and the emperor (Nero). I will break down the terms a bit in the videos (March 29-April 2) and relate them to Holy Week. This Wednesday, I will share why this verse can give us hope and how it concludes this section of Scripture so well.
So, without going into detail on the various terms, why can we have hope? Why can we trust that God has something better planned for us than what we are currently experiencing? Why can we believe that He will work all things together for good – His good, which will benefit us as well.
Because all of the words in this golden chain are in the past tense. They were in the past tense when Paul wrote them, and they remain that way today. And in the Greek, it is more than in the past tense, it is in a fixed tense. It cannot change. What does that mean?
Well, God already knew what He needed to know. God’s work has already been carried out. It has already been fulfilled – not just by Jesus’ work on the cross, but in us as well. Our calling is certain. He has not made a mistake. Our justification was made on the cross. And if you are a believer in the work of Jesus, then those items should not be questioned. That does not mean that we may not have doubts about our faith, or question the significance of these types of terms, but it does mean that we trust that what God said happened, happened.
But then we get to the last link in the chain. And we must note that this word glorified is also in the past tense. Now, I don’t know about you, but I do not feel like I am glorified. That is, I do not feel like my image matches the image of Christ – which I have stated is God’s will according to this passage.
But it does not matter what I feel or think. What matters is what God knows. And the matter is already settled for God. The matter was already settled by God.
That is why we can be certain that God will work all things for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. The end is already secure. It is already a done deal for God. We may not be able to comprehend it, but we must remember that God is outside of time. God did not only create the heavens and the earth at the beginning, God created the beginning as well. God created time.
So, for God, in one sense, we are already glorified, because God is not bound by time like we are. And if we are already glorified, let me take us back to Romans 8.1, so we can even better understand why there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. How can we be condemned if we are already glorified? As Paul wrote to the Ephesians (2.6), we are already raised up with Jesus and seated in heaven with Him. I cannot fathom the fullness of that statement, but that does not make it any less true.
So, if we are already glorified and with Jesus in heaven, then how can we face condemnation from God, from others, or even from ourselves?
That truth should provide you with assurance. On earth, once you are conceived, you are the biological child of your parents. Their DNA is imprinted on you and you will have some of their traits. You may even look like your parent, or a mixture of both parents. In other words, you will have their image.
You may not like your image. You may not like your parents for that matter. But the result is done. You are their child.
With God, once you are saved by His grace, through faith, you are the spiritual child of God. His DNA is imprinted on you in a fresh way. You may not always like your life, and you may question why God allows certain things in your life. But once you are His child, your destiny is certain. It cannot be changed by anyone. And His goal is that you would begin to take on the image of the one who took on humanity…who gave Himself for humanity…who went to the side of the mountain when no one else would, and no one else could.
God’s will is for you to become like Jesus. And He will use whatever He needs to use to do that. That would be a scary proposition except that we can know that God can, and does, work all things for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose.
His goal is for us to become like Jesus. So that should be our goal as well.
We have been studying prayer over several weeks on Sunday night. We are discussing the formation of a new prayer ministry. Pray that God will provide clarity on how to move forward.