God’s Good Purpose of Salvation

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Romans 8:28-30

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called The Greatest Chapter in the Bible, and today we come to one of the greatest verses in the Bible. When we started this series, I told you that: “If I were on a desert island and I could only have one book it would be the Bible, and if I could only have one book in the Bible it would be the book of Romans, and if I could only have one chapter in the book of Romans, it would be chapter 8.” Well, let me take that one step further now: “If I could only have one verse from chapter 8, it would be verse 28.” This is truly one of the greatest verses in the Bible. So, let’s look at verses 28-30 together now. (Read Romans 8:28-30 and pray)

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These three verses form an amazing part of God’s word. Many of us are familiar with verse 28, less familiar with verses 29-30. But the three verses work together to show us God’s good purpose of salvation in our lives. There are some things in these verses that are hard to understand. For example, a lot of people struggle with the whole idea of predestination. But I hope that you will see through the message this morning that predestination when properly understood is one of the most comforting and assuring doctrines of all. We will get there shortly, but we don’t want to skip verse 28, so let’s get started there.

I. God works all things for good for believers (28)

Romans 8:28 tells us the amazing truth that God works all things for good for believers: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

We can break this verse down into two important truths: what God does, and who he does it for.

   A. God works all things for good
      – suffering; sickness; sin; salvation (ex. Joseph; Job; Jesus)

So first of all, what God does: God works all things for good. Notice Paul says this is something that we know. “We know that in all things God works for good.” We don’t think; we don’t guess; we don’t cross our fingers and hope for the best. We know God works all things for good.

We know this because of who God is. God is sovereign, and he is good. All things are under his control, and he wants only good for his children. God’s actions flow from his character. As Thomas Brooks writes: “God, in that he is good, can give nothing, nor do nothing, but that which is good.” And so, we know this must be true. God works all things for good.

Now this does not mean the same as when people say everything works out in the end. Things don’t magically work for good on their own. No, Paul says it is God who works all things for good. Our faith is in God, not in things.

It also doesn’t mean that all things are good. There’s a lot of bad in this world. There’s a lot of suffering and evil. The Bible says we’re not supposed to call evil good or good evil. (Isaiah 5:20) Paul doesn’t say all things are good. Rather, God works all things for good.

And that means even the bad things. Even things like suffering, sickness and sin. Just look at Joseph who was ripped from his family and sold into slavery by his own brothers. That wasn’t good, but God brought good out of it. Just look at Job who suffered great loss and illness as well. That wasn’t good either, yet God brought good out of it. God can even bring good out of sin. Just look at Jesus. The greatest sin ever committed was putting Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God on the cross. And yet out of the worst sin, God brought the greatest good.

Every bad thing from your past, every trial you are going through right now, anything that might happen to you in the future, whatever Satan or the world might throw at you, God can take it and turn it to good. What an amazing promise! What does God do? God works all things for good.

   B. For believers
      – love God; called according to his purpose

Secondly, who does God do this for? For believers. In other words, this is only a promise for believers. Those who reject Christ in this life have no promise from God that he will work all things for their good. In fact, the Bible makes clear that apart from Christ we will face eternal death and separation from God. And that is certainly not good.

Paul uses two phrases to describe believers in this verse. They are those who love God and have been called according to his purpose.” Paul is not describing two different groups of people here. The two phrases go together. Those who love God are those who have been called according to his purpose. Those who have been called according to his purpose are those who love God. Both phrases describe the Christian believer. The first phrase describes it from our point of view. The second phrase describes it from God’s point of view. So, who are Christians according to this verse?

First of all, they are people who love God. There is no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t love God. Jesus said that’s the greatest commandment – “You shall love the Lord your God.” This is such an important description that Paul puts it first in the sentence. It’s so important that in the original language he even puts it before the part about God working all things for good! Christians are people who love God.

Secondly, they are people who are called according to God’s purpose. This is who we are from God’s point of view. We are a called people. God called us to himself. He called us to Jesus. He called us to salvation. We are called according to his purpose. The word translated “purpose” here comes from a word that means “planned in advance.” Once again, God is sovereign, and nothing can stop God’s plans or purposes from being fulfilled.

No wonder this is such a favorite verse of Scripture. This verse tells you that no matter what happens, God is in control, and God is working for your good. God takes even the worst things in your life and works them for your ultimate good. And that means in Christ you are safe. Nothing can ultimately harm you in Christ. God works all things for good for believers.

II. God works out his good purpose for you in salvation (29-30)

Now that’s just the first verse! Verse 28 states a general principle – God works all things for good for believers. Now in the next two verses Paul takes this general principle and applies it to the specific subject of salvation. He shows us step by step how God works out his good purpose of salvation in the life of the believer. And he tells us five specific steps in the process. Look at verses 29-30: “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.” (Romans 8:29-30)

We’re going to go through these five steps in a moment, but first I want you to notice two things about these actions or steps. First, notice that God is the subject of all these verbs. In other words, God is the one who does all these things. The work of salvation is all of God. It is only for us to repent of our sin and believe the gospel. So first, these are all things God does.

And then secondly, all five of these actions apply to the same group of people. Do you see that little word “also” repeated over and over again? Paul isn’t talking about five things God does for different groups of people. These are five things that God does for one group of people – those who believe in Christ and are saved.

These verses are often called the golden chain of salvation, because one action follows another like links in an unbreakable chain. If God does the first action for you, then you know he will do the second and the third and all the rest as well. So, let’s look at these five actions of God together, these five unbreakable links in the golden chain of salvation.

   A. God foreknew you (i.e. chose you) (cf. Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:20)

First of all, God foreknew you. That’s how verse 29 starts out: “For those God foreknew.” The word that is translated “foreknew” here can have several different meanings depending on how it is used. When used with human beings, it simply means you know something in advance. You know your friend is coming over later, you know what time the sun rises tomorrow, you just know that ball is going over the fence.

But when the Bible uses this word with God, it means something more than just knowing something before it happens. When used with God in Scripture, it carries the idea of not only knowing but choosing. Let me give you a couple of examples.

When Peter preached to the crowd about Jesus in Jerusalem, he told them this in Acts 2:23: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” (Acts 2:23) God did not simply know in advance that Jesus would go to the cross. God chose for Jesus to go to the cross. Peter says this was God’s set purpose. Romans 8:28 says that we are called according to God’s purpose. Acts 2:23 says Jesus went to the cross according to God’s purpose. And the same word “foreknow” is used of both.

Or we could look at 1 Peter 1:20: “He [Christ] was chosen before the creation of the world.” (1 Peter 1:20) The word translated “chosen” here is the same word translated “foreknow” in Romans 8 and Acts 2. So why do we translate it “chosen” here instead of “foreknew?” Because God didn’t simply know that Jesus would be our Savior. He chose Jesus to be our Savior.

Foreknowledge works differently with God than with people because God is sovereign. God foreknew Jesus would go to the cross because it was God’s purpose for Jesus to go to the cross. God foreknew you because, as Romans 8:28 says, you are called according to his purpose. There’s a reason verse 28 comes before verses 29-30. Verses 29-30 explain to us what verse 28 means when it says we are called according to God’s purpose.

And so, when Paul says God foreknew you, it means more than God just knew in advance you would believe. It means God chose you. In fact, when you think about it, it can’t mean merely knowing in advance because, remember, Paul is only talking about what God does for believers here. Everyone whom God foreknows in verse 29 ends up in heaven in verse 30. God knows all people in advance, but not all people go to heaven. And so, this word must mean more than just knowing something in advance. When the Bible says God foreknew you, it also means God chose you.

      1) God chose you because he loved you (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Jeremiah 31:3)

You might wonder why God chose you. Was it because you were better than other people? Was it because he knew you were going to do something really good in your life? No, there is only one reason the Bible says God chose you. God chose you because he loved you. Doesn’t God love everyone? Yes, but God has a special love for his people, and God chose you because he loved you in this special way.

It’s similar to what we read about Israel in Deuteronomy 7. God says to Israel through Moses: “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples … but it was because the LORD loved you.” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8) Once again, doesn’t God love everyone? Yes, but he had a special love for Israel, and that’s why he chose her to be his special people.

God says: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) That means God loved you from the very beginning, and he will never stop loving you. Why did God choose you? God chose you because he loved you. That’s it. Nothing else.

      2) God chose you before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)

When did God choose you? Ephesians 1:4 says: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4) God loves you with an everlasting love. He looked forward in time. He saw you. He loved you. He chose you before he even created the world.

Charles Spurgeon said it best:

“I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love.” (Spurgeon’s Autobiography)

What’s the first step in the golden chain of salvation? It goes way, way back – back before the creation of the world, back before you ever heard the gospel or believed. God foreknew you. God chose you long before you ever chose him. (cf. John 15:16)

   B. God predestined you (John 6:37,39; Ephesians 1:11)

The next link in the chain is predestination. God predestined you. Some people struggle with this idea of predestination, but once you understand that God foreknew you and chose you, predestination is not that hard to grasp.

      1) Those God foreknew, he also predestined

Paul says in verse 29: “For those God foreknew, he also predestined.” (Romans 8:29) Once God chose you for salvation, he also predestined you for glory. Predestination simply means this. Everyone whom God saves will make it to heaven. That’s not so bad, is it?

When you buy a plane ticket, you have a destination. If all goes well, you will make it to your destination, hopefully on time. But your ticket marks out your destination in advance. It is your pre-destination. Everyone God foreknows or chooses, he also gives them a ticket to heaven. He predestines them, and their destiny is secure. Even if the flight is bumpy, even if you hit some turbulence along the way, God is sovereign. You can trust that he will land the plane, and it will be right on time. Those God foreknew, he also predestined.

Jesus says the same thing in John 6: “All that the Father gives me will come to me…. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:37,39) We see the same sequence in Ephesians 1:11: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11)

      2) God specifically predestined you to be made like Jesus

God foreknowing you simply tells you that God chose you. God predestining you tells you what God chose you for. God chose you for a purpose. Now Paul tells us exactly what that purpose is.
God specifically predestined you to be made like Jesus. Look at verse 29 again which tells us we were “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29) God predestined you to be made like Jesus.

Many of you know Pastor Chip. He was my mentor and predecessor. He pastored this church well from 1991 to 2012, and I served as Associate Pastor with him back in the 1990’s. One day I was going around asking people to complete a sentence for me. It was a really simple sentence. “I want ____________” and you had to fill in the blank with the first thing that came into your mind. I got a lot of interesting answers as you might imagine. When I asked Chip, he answered me without hesitation: “I want … to be like Jesus.” I never forgot that.

That’s what God wants for you, too. And the good news is that God has predestined all believers to be made just like Jesus. Jesus is the first of many brothers. As a believer you have been adopted into God’s family. God wants to make you like your older brother.

Jesus died to make you like him. It’s the purpose for which God chose you. And God will make it happen, because it is your destiny.

   C. God called you (Matthew 22:14; 2 Timothy 1:9; Jude 1)

Let’s go back to our golden chain. 1) God foreknew you. 2) God predestined you. And 3) God called you. The first two links in the chain happened long before you were born, even before God created the earth. But this link takes place in your lifetime.

      1) Those God predestined, he also called

Look at verse 30: “And those he predestined, he also called.” (Romans 8:30) We saw this back in verse 28 where believers are described as those who are called according to God’s purpose. God called you to himself. He called you to Jesus. He called you to become a Christian.

      2) Two types of calling in the Bible (outward and inward)

There are two types of calling we find in the Bible – what we might call an outward call and an inward call.

The outward call is God’s general call or invitation that goes out to everyone through the preaching of the gospel. Not everyone responds to this call as there are many people who hear the gospel, yet do not believe. This is why Jesus can say in Matthew 22:14: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14) The word “call” there is used in the sense of the outward, general call that goes out to everyone.

But the Bible also talks about an inward call, and this is the main way the word call is used in the Scriptures. We sometimes call this inward call an effectual call because it has its desired effect. The person whom God calls inwardly responds to the gospel and believes.

For example, we read about this inward call in the book of Jude: “To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1) Notice that unlike the outward call, everyone who receives this inward call believes. Those who are called in this way are loved by God and kept by Christ. They are believers.

We find another example of this inward call in 2 Timothy 1: “God … saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” (2 Timothy 1:9) Here we find a number of the same concepts we have just been looking at in Romans 8 – God’s calling, God’s purpose, and God’s grace that was given to us in Christ before the beginning of time. That’s the third link in the chain: Those God predestined, he also called.

   D. God justified you (Romans 5:1)

The next link in the chain is justification.

      1) Those God called, he also justified

Back to verse 20: “Those he called, he also justified.” (Romans 8:30) Or we could put it this way. Everyone God calls, he justifies. Once again this shows that Paul cannot be speaking about the outward call of the gospel, because not everyone who hears the gospel believes. And God only justifies those who believe.

      2) Justified by faith: God calls; we believe; God justifies

We read in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) You are justified by faith. Justification means that God declares you righteous in his sight. He does this not on the basis of your works or performance but simply because of your faith in Christ. When you believe in Jesus, your sins are forgiven, and God declares you righteous in his sight. The sin that separated you from God is removed, and you now have peace with God, which means you have a relationship with God through Jesus his Son.

So, here’s the sequence that takes place in justification. God calls; we believe; and God justifies. Notice God does the calling and the justifying. All we do is believe. Believing is your part in salvation. God does everything else.

   E. God glorified you (i.e. will glorify you) (Philippians 1:6)

And then the final link in the chain is glorification.

      1) Those God justified, he also glorified

Back to verse 30: “Those God justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30) Glorification means you will finally be like Jesus. When Christ returns, you will receive your new resurrection body like Christ’s. Your sinful nature will be obliterated, and you will never sin again. You will be glorified with Christ and enjoy perfect, uninterrupted fellowship with God in his presence forever. And we know that God will do this for every believer, because verse 30 says all those God justified, he also glorified.

      2) Your future glory is as certain as if it already happened

Now you might have noticed that even though this glorification is something that takes place in the future, Paul speaks of it as something in the past. He doesn’t say, “Those God justified, he will also glorify.” He says, “Those God justified, he also glorified.” Why speak in the past tense about something that doesn’t take place until the future?

The reason is because your future glory is as certain as if it already happened. As far as we are concerned, yes, our glorification is in the future. But as far as God is concerned, it is as good as done. As far as God is concerned, in Christ it has already happened. Christ has already been glorified. You are united with Christ, and all that has happened to Christ, also happens to you.

So as a believer you don’t have to worry or wonder about the future. Your future is secure in Christ. As Paul says in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

God works all things for good for believers, and this is how God works out his good purpose for you in salvation. 1) God foreknew you. 2) God predestined you. 3) God called you. 4) God justified you. 5) God glorified you.

III. Your assurance as a believer in Christ

And therefore, you can have great confidence and assurance in your salvation. We often think about our assurance simply in terms of our faith in Christ. And for us that is where it begins. But in these verses Paul unveils a much deeper, richer basis of assurance for you as a believer.

   A. Based on God’s gracious choice in the past

Your assurance as a believer in Christ is first of all based on God’s gracious choice in the past. God loved you and chose you before the world began. He didn’t choose you because you were worthy or somehow better than other people. He chose you simply because he loved you, and he predestined you to become like Jesus his Son.

   B. Based on God’s effectual call in the present

Your assurance as a believer in Christ is also based on God’s effectual call in the present. The gospel call goes out to everyone but not everyone believes. If you believe in Christ, the Bible says it’s because God called you in a special way. The very fact that you believe shows that you have been called, and so you have assurance based on God’s effectual call in the present.

   C. Based on God’s certain promise for the future

And then finally, your assurance as a believer in Christ is based on God’s certain promise for the future. Those God justified, he also glorified. As far as God is concerned, it is already done.

You see when it comes to your salvation, God starts at the beginning and works his way forward. We start in the middle. We start in the middle with faith in Christ. From there we work our way backward to election and forward to glory. And so, we have full assurance of our salvation in Christ.

CONCLUSION: These are some of the most wonderful verses in all of Scripture. God works all things for good for believers. God can take the very worst things in your life and work them for good. And the most important of all those things that God works for good is your salvation.

Before he created the world, God saw you and chose you. He wrote out the ticket with your name and destination. He built the plane. He is the pilot, co-pilot and air traffic control. He controls the weather and all the elements and outside forces. He will land the plane at the proper destination, and he will do it right on time.

If you are in Christ, you are safe and secure. You don’t need to be afraid, because God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

© Ray Fowler

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