Providence and Salvation
This sermon series has attempted to answer the question, 'Do all things really work for our good?'. And as we have examined the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, and Jonah, we have continually answered that question with a resounding 'Yes!'.
We should note, however, that as we turn to Romans 8 this morning, we see that we cannot answer 'Yes' to this question without a qualification. In Romans 8:28, Paul gives us a promise saying, "God causes all things to work together for good". But this promise comes with a condition, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose."
So the sobering news of Romans 8:28 is that the promise that God is causing everything to work together for good does not apply to every person. The promise applies specifically to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
It is important to note that Paul connects the conditions of loving God and being called according to His purpose in this verse. From beginning to end, the Bible declares that the very reason we are able to love God in the first place is because we have been called according to His purpose.
To give a qualified answer to our question then, 'Do all things really work for our good?', the answer is 'Yes' if we are called by God.
What then, does it mean to be 'called by God'? Is the call of God like an invitation? Is the call of God like when we call our pet from outside, 'Here Fido. Here Fido. C'mon inside.'? No. God's call is not like this. When we call our pet, there is no guarantee that the pet will come.
The call of God, by contrast, is like what we see in the call of Jesus to the corpse of Lazarus. Lazarus, who had been "in the tomb four days"(Jn. 11:17), is called by Jesus, "Lazarus, come forth"(Jn. 11:43). And we read that, "he who had died came forth"(Jn. 11:44).
You see, the call of God has the power to produce what it commands. It is what theologians describe as an 'effectual call'. This understanding of the call of God is also confirmed for us in the passage we are studying. In Romans 8:30 we read that those "whom (God) predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."
There is such a thing as an 'outward call'--this is what I do every time I preach the gospel. And I know that when I call you through the preaching of God's Word, many of you can, and do, resist the outward call. But there is an 'inward call' that comes from God. This cannot be resisted. The inward call of God is not an invitation. When God calls you, He also justifies you, and when He justifies you, He also glorifies you.
So you see, the question of our sermon series, 'Do all things work together for our good?', begs another-a more important--question: 'Am I justified in the eyes of God?'. For only if I am justified in the eyes of God can I claim the promise that God is causing everything in my life to work together for good.
If justification is the hinge on which God's good providence in our life turns, then we would be wise to review what it means to be justified.
If we turn back to Romans, chapter 5, this is what we read, "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"(5:1). Here we learn a number of things. To say that we are justified by faith is to say that we are not justified by good deeds. Getting into heaven has nothing to do with your exemplary church attendance, your generous contributions to charity, or your good morals. Justification is the result of faith. And just as faith leads to justification, justification leads to peace with God.
Now if peace with God is one of the results of justification, this implies that there was a time when we were not at peace with God. And this inference is confirmed for us in Romans 5:10 when we learn that we were once "enemies" of God.
Now, I admit, to say that we were God's enemies is to say an unpleasant thing. But I ask you, if we were not God's enemies what was Jesus saving us from when He died on the cross? And if we were, in our own right, deserving of God's favour, why is God's grace considered so amazing?
Friends, what is amazing about God's grace is summarized in Romans 5:6: "Christ died for the ungodly". What is amazing about justification is that we, who were enemies of God, are handed a peace treaty-a peace treaty resulting from God-given faith and not our own good works (Eph. 2:8).
What kind of faith is this that justifies us? We are given a clue in 5:9 when we are told that we are "justified by the blood of Christ". It is not any kind of faith that justifies us, but faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
I hope you can see the reason we have backtracked to Romans 5. The reason we have backtracked is because before we can claim that Romans 8:28 applies to us, we need to be sure that Romans 5 describes us. Before we can be confident that God is causing all things to work together for our good, we need to be sure that we are no longer God's enemy.
As we think about what God's providence means in terms of our salvation, I want you to be comforted by two closely related truths. The first great truth is that, if you have been justified, God has promised to cause everything in your life to work together for your good. The second great truth is that, if you have been justified, God promises to finish that work by glorifying you in heaven.
There are some in the Christian Church that suppose that salvation can be lost. Some suppose that, after having faith in Christ, we have the ability to ultimately turn away from Him. Those who believe this do not understand providence.
Salvation is God's work, not ours. And, as God's work, He will see your salvation through. God will see that those He predestines are called, He will see that those He calls are justified, and finally, He will see that those He justifies are finally glorified in heaven.
Those who suppose that our salvation can be lost have also failed to understand Romans 8:28-that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose."
They have failed to understand what Romans 8:28 means by the word "good". When Paul says that God is causing everything to work together for our good, he means our spiritual good. I hate to burst your bubble if you have imagined Romans 8:28 to be promising you physical health, wealth, and prosperity.
Understanding the context of Romans 8 as I do, I do not expect all things to work together to increase my earthly comfort, but I do expect to all things to work together to increase my faith in Jesus Christ. As Charles Spurgeon once wrote, "I do not know that it is for my good that I should be respectable and walk in good society; but I know that it is for my good that I should walk humbly with my God . . . I am not certain that it is altogether for my good to have kind and generous friends, with whom I may hold fellowship; but I know that it is for my good that I should hold fellowship with Christ, that I should have communion with him."
We should also note that while all things work together for our good, it is possible that any one of those "all things" might destroy us if taken alone. An excellent analogy for this is prescription medicine. As I look into my medicine cabinet I see that each medicine contains numerous chemicals. And some of these chemicals, if I were to take them separately, would be detrimental to my health. But the chemist, knowing how the chemicals react with one another, mixes them in such a way that the compound of these chemicals brings relief to my body.
In the same way, we should not question God on one particular act of His providence. There is no promise in Scripture that says that everything that happens to us will be good. No, when God promises good for us, the Bible is not talking about individual events, but about a Divinely wrought mixture of the total sum of our experiences.
Paul is promising that God, who began the work of salvation in you, is governing your life in such a way, that every event is preparing you for heavenly glory.
The worst thing I could lose is not my wealth; it is not my physical health; and it is not even my family. The worst thing I could lose is my salvation. The worst thing I could lose is eternity with my Lord. Thankfully, we have a promise from God. He who called us, has justified us, and He who justified us promises to glorify us in heaven.
As we count our blessings, as we consider the providence of God in our life, remember that there is nothing better than the provision of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God! Amen.