We know that everything works for good for those who love God, those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).
This sermon is about nothing; and it is about everything. It’s about how nothing in all this world can separate the baptized believer from the love of God that’s in Christ Jesus. Nothing. Not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. Nothing. Not even death. Especially not death. Nothing. It’s about how everything works out for good in Jesus. Everything, the good, the bad, even the ugly. Everything works for good for those who love God. And nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing and everything.
Do we actually believe this? In the face of real tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword? Do we actually believe that as the baptized children of God, our sufferings will be vindicated and have meaning, the suffering and hardship of our lives won’t simply be washed away, they will all become a tapestry of good, and there is purpose and meaning in what we suffer now? Do you believe this?
The next sentence provides the foundation for this verse and keeps it from being simply a Hallmark inspired sentiment: For those whom He (God) foreknew (those are the ones who love God and are called according to His purpose), He also predestined (destined in advance) to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the first-born among many brothers.
Predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, the image of Jesus. What on earth does that mean? Now stay with me, we’re way past Sunday School Bible stories with this one. It means this. The Father looks at His only-begotten Son and sees in His Son perfected and glorified humanity. Through His Son, He makes man in His image, to reflect the Son into the world. Adam blew it. He sinned. He listened to another word, a foreign, alien word that drew him from God and from the Tree of Life to sin, to rebellion, to death, and ultimately to a hell that was never intended for human beings. Adam ceased to reflect Christ into the creation; he now reflected himself. And so the Father looks on His fallen creature and a creation subject to death and decay. Sin illicits God’s wrath, and He is plenty angry over it. Your sin deserved death and damnation, and don’t think for a moment you can weasel out of it with your little prayers and pious platitudes.
But the Father has a way of loving and embracing His fallen world and sinful humanity. Only one way. He loves His fallen creation and He embraces it this way (outos), He sent His one and only Son, His only-begotten from all eternity Son, into our flesh. The fulness of the Deity dwelling in bodily form. This is the way God loves the world, and how He loves a fallen humanity turned against Him, and how He loves you sinner though you are, He gives His only-begotten Son in the flesh to die, so that whoever believes in Him, that is, whoever trusts in the promise of life in His Name through His death and resurrection, will not perish in hell forever, but will have eternal life with God. That is your destiny in Christ, a destiny worked out from before the foundations of the world in Christ.
It all happens in Christ. Christ is the new and second Adam, undoing what the first Adam did, rescuing fallen humanity and a cosmos captive to entropic chaotic corruption by embodying in His own flesh all of sinful humanity and all of creation, embracing it all in His once for all death, and raising it all up in corruptible in His resurrection.
In Christ, you were foreknown by the Father. You are known to God only in Christ the Son; apart from Christ God does not know you or anyone. In Christ, you were destined, even before you were conceived, even before you existed, you were destined to be conformed to the image of Christ, who is the image of God. That is your destiny, a plan worked out long before you ever had any say in it, a plan devised by the Holy Trinity from all eternity to save the cosmos in the death of the eternal Son in the flesh.
In Christ it’s all a done deal. You were predestined in Christ to be conformed to the image of Christ. You were called in Christ, baptized into His death and resurrection, having heard the good news of Jesus and having the good news work its way with you. You were justified in Christ, declared before God’s judgment throne “innocent.” Not innocent until proven guilty, but innocent. Not with your own innocence. You have none. And you have no case, so don’t bother arguing it. You are justified.
A sentence has been spoken over your head by the blood of the cross where the Son of God took away your sin. God declares you innocent, and all you can say to that verdict, all you dare say to that verdict is “Amen.” So be it. If God says it, that settles it. Right now, as we speak, you stand before the all-holy Judge, who is a consuming fire, you stand before Him spotless and blameless, clothed with the perfect life and death of Jesus. That’s what it means to be justified. It means to appear before God as Jacob in the OT appeared before his father disguised as his elder brother Esau to receive the elder brother’s blessing. We receive the blessing of the Son clothed in the Son, and the Father is delighted to bless us, for He loves His Son and He loves you in His Son. That’s what it means to be justified.
There’s more. Those whom He justified, He also glorified. Note this. Past tense. Done. Glorified. You are now, even as you sit here and listen to me, you are already seated at the right hand of the Father in glory. You are glorified in the glorified flesh of Jesus Christ. He embodied you in His death, He embodied you in His resurrection, and now He embodies you in His ascended glory. Your life is hidden in Christ, you are glorified in Christ. In your self, it is anything but glorious. You suffer, you sin, you die. But in Christ, you are glorified and pure and holy.
So there you have it. God has done all the verbs that count eternally. Foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified. He does them all. They are, as we speak here, past and done in Christ. That’s takes everything eternal out of your hands. Even before you were, you were known in Christ and destined in Him. This is not a verse that explains why some are saved and not others. Predestination is not an explanation for salvation. This is a statement of boldness, confidence, and certainty, that nothing in this world can rob us of our salvation which was, is and ever shall be a done deal in Jesus. That’s why Paul takes it up here in Romans chapter 8.
If all of the above is true; if you are known, destined, called, justified, and glorified in God’s beloved Son Jesus, then what on earth or in heaven can mess you up? You are spiritually bullet-proof in Christ. You wear Him like a suit of spiritual Kevlar. If God is for us, and He is in His Son, who can be against us? If God gave us His one and only Son, how will He not give us all things? If we are justified, forensically declared righteous with all the charges laid on Jesus and we declared innocent in His blood, who can bring charges against us? If God is the one who justifies us, who is left to condemn us? The devil? He has nothing to say. The world? What does the world have to say in face of God? Ourselves? Only if we claim to be greater than God. You see? When you say, “I can’t forgive myself, you’re overruling God.” Repent. God has forgiven you; see yourself as God sees you in Christ, not as you see yourself.
Who can condemn us? Jesus was condemned, literally damned on the cross in our place? Who can condemn us? Not only did Jesus hang damned on the cross with our sins, but the same Jesus appears before the Father bearing the wounds of His sacrifice and intercedes for us as our Defender and Priest. He never lets the Father forget those wounds by which we have our salvation and life. And He never lets us forget either, as He gives us the gift of those very wounds in His Body and Blood.
Who can separate us from God’s love in Christ? Do you actually think it’s possible to wedge a baptized believer apart from Christ? Throw the works at us – tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. Add anything you want. A bad childhood, a broken marriage, sickness, mental illness, think of anything. Death, devil, angels, powers, the past, the present, the future. High things, low things, any thing. No, Paul says, in all these things we more than conquer, we “hyper-conquerer,” we conquer beyond conquering. Not in ourselves. But in Christ, through Him who loved us to death on a cross. Christ has conquered, and in Him, you and I conquer all things in His victory.
Now on this side of the grave, the victory looks to all the world like defeat. And that’s why Paul has to write it this way. It must be trusted, believed for Jesus’ sake. Christ has conquered, that’s a fact of history. He died, He rose, He reigns. And in Him you conquer too, that a matter of faith. You must believe it. In this world, the victory looks like a cross and a tomb. The victorious life of the Christian looks anything like victory in this world. It is filled with tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. The sheep under Good Shepherd Jesus look like sheep being led to the slaughter; hardly a victorious image. You won’t hear that on channel 40 by the moussed up teleevangelists.
It is all in Christ – your destiny, your justification, your glorification. It’s all a done deal in Christ. You have been baptized into that destiny; God has put you into the safest place there is, into the death and life of His Son Jesus. And from that vantage point, you too can say to your dying day: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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.
In the name of Jesus,