A Wonderful Promise and a Plan that's Almost too Good to Be True
Topic: Topical Passage: Romans 8:28-30
A Wonderful Promise and a Plan that’s Almost too Good to be True
I’m just curious: how many of you have a favorite verse in the Bible. Now, for how many of you is Romans 8:28 that favorite verse?
When I was thinking about what I wanted to preach on today, I told Elise, “I just want to preach on God’s goodness!” So I landed on these three verses. Let’s go ahead and read them together (Rom 8:28-30).
My outline this morning is simple. We are going to look at a wonderful promise and a plan that’s almost too good to be true.
1. A Wonderful Promise (v. 28)
It is interesting how words change in meaning over time. “Wonderful” in our day and age usually just means “very good.” But it used to mean “that which inspires wonder or is awesome.” Romans 8:28 is truly a “wonderful” promise in both senses. Let’s break it down. First, I want you to see the context of the promise.
The Context of the Promise: Suffering
In order for us to understand this promise in all of its glory, we need to read it in light of its context. So turn back with me to v. 18 (v. 18). Now turn ahead to vv. 35-36 (vv. 35-36). What do these verses teach us about the context of Romans 8:28-30? The context of this passage is suffering!
I pray that this sermon is a blessing to everyone, but I expect it to especially bless those who are going through trials.
Next, I want you to see the extent of the promise.
The Extent of the Promise: All Things
One of the reasons this promise is so wonderful is because of its breadth. It encompasses “all things.” That means the good as well as bad. In fact, based on the context we just discussed, it especially means the bad! We don’t need a promise to tell us that good things work together for good. We do need a promise to tell us that bad things work together for good.
So the extent of the promise is all things. Next, what is the nature of the promise?
The Nature of the Promise: Sovereign Goodness
Notice what Paul is not saying. He’s not saying that everything is good, as if to say that there is no sin or tragedy in the world. Instead, he’s saying that all things work together for good.
God’s sovereignty plus God’s goodness equals a powerful combination. God takes bad events and circumstances and turns them into good for His people.
By the way, God has always done it this way. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” If you know the story, you know that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. And yet his confidence in God’s sovereign goodness allowed him to say to them later, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.”
In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter talks the same way about Jesus’ death. He says in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” The murder of Christ is the ultimate example of evil working together for good!
So the nature of the promise is sovereign goodness. Next, let’s consider the recipients of the promise.
The Recipients of the Promise: Christians
Take a look at verse 28. “All things work together for good” for whom? (“Those who love God”) Who are further described as what? (“Those who are the called according to [God’s] purpose.”) I would make two statements about the recipients of Romans 8:28: first, it is for only Christians. Second, it is for all Christians. You say, “How do you know?”
Well, the first phrase that Paul uses to describe the recipients of this promise is “those who love God.” Obviously, it is very important that you love God. I hope you love God! But honestly, that phrase is a little ambiguous as it relates to determining the recipients of this promise. Could Paul mean that this promise applies to Christians who are walking with God as opposed to Christians who are not walking with Him? That cannot be what he means because of the next phrase that he uses–because Paul further defines those who love God as “those who ae the called according to His purpose.”
Now, the New Testament speaks of a general call to salvation that goes out to all of the world. But that cannot be what Paul is referring to here. Why? Because of v. 30 (v. 30). So in this passage, the word “call” refers to the effective call to salvation that always results in a person’s believing in Christ. Why? Because everyone who is called is also justified and glorified.
So when Paul says that this promise is for “the called,” he is referring to believers who have responded to God’s call to salvation. This promise is for only believers.
But in being for only believers, this promise is also for all believers! And that is incredibly encouraging, because it means that wherever you find yourself along your Christian journey, this promise is for you! You do not have merit this promise by achieving some advanced level of Christianity. Why? Because this promise is not based on what you do; it is based on what God did for you!
So we have in v. 28 a truly wonderful promise. But there still are many unanswered questions! How does God turn evil into good? What is the definition of “good”? And most importantly, what is that purpose or “plan” that Paul refers to at the end of v. 28? That leads us to our second point: a plan that’s almost too good to be true.
2. A Plan that’s Almost too Good to Be True
Have you ever heard something that was almost too good to be true? Maybe wives, this happened to you when your husband proposed. Or you found out you were expecting a child. Or maybe you came into a large sum of money–I don’t know! Romans 8:29-30 details a plan that almost too good to be true!
What is this plan that’s almost too good to be true? Once again, let’s break it down. First, I want you to see the essence of the plan (v. 29).
The Essence of the Plan: Christlikeness
You might have noticed as we were reading these verses earlier that there is a chain of very important verbs in vv. 29-30. You also might have noticed that Paul breaks that chain so to speak at the end of v. 29. Why does he do that? He does so in order to elaborate on one specific point, which happens to be the essence of God’s plan for the believer–and that is conformity to the image of Christ.
One of my favorite books on sanctification is called Changed into His Image. It’s a perfect title, because that is what sanctification is all about! But in an even broader sense, it’s not just what sanctification is all about; it’s what your entire salvation–including glorification–is all about!
In fact, glorification seems to be primarily what Paul has in mind when he refers to our being conformed to Christ’s image in v. 29. You say, “How do you know that?” Well, look at v. 30 (v. 30). The end of the chain is glorification, which takes place after Jesus returns and in which we receive our glorified bodies, never to sin again.
We can also tell that Paul’s focus is on glorification here because he refers in v. 29 to Christ’s being the “firstborn among many brethren.” That reminds us of 1 Corinthians 15:20, in which he says that Christ is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep,” which is a reference to the resurrection and to glorification.
So when Paul says that we as believers were predestined to Christlikeness, he is talking about that moment when we see Jesus and become completely like Him.
However, that is not to say that this passage does not have significance as it relates to our sanctification. Because as Pastor Kit has said before, sanctification and glorification are connected. We have begun even now on our journey to Christlikeness that will finish when we see Him.
So the essence of the plan is Christlikeness. But what are the steps in plan? The first step in the plan is foreknowledge.
The Steps in the Plan
This is a hotly debated concept as it relates to Calvinism and Arminianism. What does it mean that God foreknew believers? Some people think that it means God foreknew their faith. He could see that they would receive His offer of salvation; therefore, He chose them.
However, I don’t believe that is the best interpretation of this passage for a number of reasons which you can ask me about later, if you’d like. Most importantly, the verse does not say that God foreknew something about us; it says that He foreknew us. What is going on here?
The Jews often used the word “know” to refer to an intimate relationship–similar to the way we might talk about knowing a person as opposed to knowing about him. So what does it mean that God foreknew us?
If you’ve ever been married or in a relationship, perhaps you have pondered where that relationship started. Did it start on your wedding day? Of course not! Did it start when you got engaged? No, unless maybe it was an arranged marriage! Did it start on your first date? Well, sort of, but you probably knew each other before then. Did it start the first time the two of you spoke? Who initiated the relationship? Who knew about the other person first? Was there body language or other types of signals that took place before your first conversation?
Foreknowledge means that if you were to ask the same question about your relationship with God and where it started, the answer would be that it started with a loving thought in the mind of your heavenly Father before the world began. And that is a comforting thought.
So the first step in God’s plan is foreknowledge. The second step in His plan is predestination.
This is a word that gets a lot of flak sometimes, but it is a Bible word! Romans 8:29 clearly teaches that if you are a Christian, you were predestined to be like Jesus. This is a choice that God made about you before you were even born.
So the second step in the plan is predestination. The third step is calling.
I explained earlier what the word “called” means in this passage. It is the effective call to salvation that always leads to a person’s repentance and faith.
The fourth step is justification.
Paul talks extensively about justification in the first half of the book of Romans. He says that we are all sinners who deserve God’s wrath but that God sent Jesus to live a perfect life and die on the cross for our sins–to be our substitute, so that when we trust Christ as Savior, God the perfect judge declares us “not guilty,” because our sins are exchanged for Christ’s righteousness.
Justification takes place the moment I get saved, and it is one of the main reasons why even though I still sin as a Christian, my future is secured. Because God has already declared me “not guilty” for all of my sins–past, present, and future, and that cannot be undone! Justification is also a motivation for humility, because I realize that my salvation is not based on my works; it is based solely on God’s grace to me through Christ.
Those who are foreknown are predestined. Those who are predestined are called. Those who are called are justified. And those who are justified are glorified.
The final step in God’s plan for me is glorification, which we’ve also talked about earlier.
But I want you to notice in this verse that the word “glorified” shows up in what we would call a past tense! Why is that? Is Paul talking about some kind of glory that Christians experience here and now? I would say no, and my reason is found in vv. 18-25 (vv. 18-25).
These verses are all about hope. They are about waiting for glory when Christ returns! And Romans 8:30 flows right out of these verses. So Paul cannot be talking about some glory that Christians experience in this life!
So if that is the case, then why does Paul use a past tense in v. 30? Here is the best answer: it is because based on all of those words we just discussed (foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification), our glorification is as good as complete, even though it hasn’t happened yet. That is the whole point of Romans 8! You are secure in Christ! Nothing can separate you from His love! You can be confident that you are going to make it to heaven.
So we’ve talked about the essence of the plan and the step in the plan. But now, what is the reason for the plan?
The Reason for the Plan: Christ’s Glory
Have you ever asked yourself, why did God save me? There are multiple good answers to that question, but according to this passage, the purpose of God’s wonderful plan to conform you to Christ’s image is Christ’s glory (v. 29).
Why did God the Father want Jesus to be “the firstborn among many brethren”? Because as we sometimes say, “Imitation is the greatest compliment.” So God chose to save us and change us into Christ’s image in order to honor His Son. This is an incredible thought, but my salvation somehow emphasizes Christ’s preeminence (which is a word that just means His “firstness”). That means that you have something important to live for! As one commentator put it, you have a dignified calling!
So what do we do with all of these truths? I’d like to close with two basic applications.
1. Believe God’s Promise.
One pastor called Romans 8:28 the greatest promise in the world. I think he’s probably right. “All things work together for good.” What can you possibly add to that!?
But let me ask you a question: do you believe Romans 8:28? If you answer “yes,” then you’ve got to throw out a lot of stuff! First, you’ve got to trash your victim mentality.
It was the day after Christmas this past week. We had had a wonderful Christmas day at home with our family! It was beautiful–watching the girls open their presents, cooking and eating together, spending time together as a family, Face Timing with loved ones…. But then that night, Klayton decided to fuss and keep us up for a while. And then the next morning, there was some snow on the ground, so I felt obligated to take my family to go play in the snow, but I didn’t really want to; and then by the time we got loaded up, it was raining, so I decided to drive toward Lucerne to look for more snow, but there wasn’t any snow in that direction, so we ended up just driving around for an hour and a half and then coming home. And let me tell you, I was struggling. Because in my mind, I had made myself out to be the victim of this “horrible, rotten, no good, very bad day.” I wasn’t believing Romans 8:28! Because the Bible says, “Kristopher, all things work together for good to those who love God”! That means that God is going to make your looking-for-snow debacle this morning serve His good, eternal purposes! You are not the victim here!
In fact, in an ultimate sense, you are never the victim! Especially you, Christian! Why? Because Romans 8:28 says that in every, single, circumstance of life, God is doing you good! Do you believe that–truly, in your heart of hearts?
In order to believe Romans 8:28, you’ve got to trash your victim mentality. You’ve also got to stop beating yourself up. You say, “I get it, Pastor Kris, all things work together for good.” But that doesn’t apply to my sin.” No, it actually does. It says, “all things.” Is sin a thing? Then it’s included in Romans 8:28!
You say, “How can that be? Isn’t sin obviously bad?” Of course, but the verse doesn’t say, “All things are good,” it says, “All things work together for good.” Romans 8:28 isn’t teaching that bad stuff doesn’t happen or that there is no sin in the world. It’s teaching that God is bigger than your sin! Hear me on this one! God is bigger than your sin!
You say, “I’ve messed up so bad in my life. I can never go back. I’ve hurt so many people! My life is just a graveyard of dead hopes.” Stop it!
Do you know what’s wrong with that thinking? It refuses to see God as bigger than your piddling little sins. Now, I’m not in any way trying to minimize sin. Sin condemns people to hell. Sin put Jesus on the cross. We had better never excuse ourselves even the slightest sin. But the message of the gospel is that God is bigger than your sin! “Your sins, they are many! His mercy is more!” Not only will God forgive your sins, but He will use those sins to bring about good for His people–and if you are saved, that includes you! How big is your God?
At the very bedrock of all Christian flourishing is an unshakeable commitment to the truth that God. is. good. Do you believe it?
2. Embrace God’s Plan.
We talk often about the importance of interpreting Scripture in context. One of the worst misuses of this passage is to divorce v. 28 from vv. 29-30–in other words, to improperly define the word “good.” How does God define the word “good”?
“I lost my job. Romans 8:28 must mean that God is going to give me a better one!” Maybe, maybe not. But Romans 8:28 doesn’t promise you that!
Now, let me be clear: we serve a good God, so He may very well take away your job in order to bless you with a better one. But when God says that all things work together for good, He immediately turns around and defines “good” to mean “Christlikeness.”
The shallow interpretation of Romans 8:28 that takes “good” to mean “an improvement in my circumstances” totally breaks down when it comes to life’s deepest sorrows. Take that last illustration: “I lost my job. Romans 8:28 must mean that God is going to give me a better one.” Now replace the word “job” with the word “daughter.” “I just lost my daughter. Romans 8:28 must mean…” what?
Do you see why for some people Romans 8:28 is a hopeless platitude? In fact, it can feel like a verse that people throw at you when they want you to shut up and stop burdening them with your grief. (That’s what happens when we misuse it.) Romans 8:28 is not light! It does not promise us that everything is going to get better here, in this life. Sometimes, things get worse.
You say, “Pastor Kris, I’m a little confused. I guess I don’t really understand Romans 8:28.” Romans 8:28 is about God’s determination to use everything in your life to make you more like Jesus until the day you see His face. The question is, will you embrace that plan?
Christians often try to replace God’s plan to make them like Jesus with their own plans to make their lives better. Instead of the grand truths of foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification, they are focused on their next bathroom remodel or a new medical treatment.
Maybe what you need to do today is to surrender your plan for life to get better and embrace God’s plan to make you like Jesus.
Our own plans do not make us happy. I was not happy when I was driving around looking for snow last week with my family! As a Christian, what allows you to be happy, even when things go wrong? It is your willingness to embrace God’s plan!
When you embrace God’s plan to make you like Jesus, changes begin to happen. You start judging your days in terms of how many times you lost your temper instead of by how many times you got what you wanted. Little sins you didn’t even notice before start to grieve you. And then you notice your prayer life changing. Before it was “Give me, give me, give me”; now it’s “Lord, make me more patient, etc.” Then, even your conversations begin to change! You don’t dominate the discussion talking about your plans to make your life better! You see, at the heart of it all, your desires have changed. You truly want to be with Jesus and to be like Him more than anything else in this world.
I long to see more and more people in our church go through this process! It is often painfully obvious whether you have done so or if you are still clinging to that desperate plan to make your life better. Will you drop it?
None of us have arrived in this area, have we? That’s why I think Paul prefaces this entire discussion with the words “and we know” in v. 28. You don’t need me to tell you that God is good and sovereign. But in another sense, you do! The Romans already knew these truths, but they still needed Paul to tell them again! I need to preach these truths to myself every single day. And so do you.
Christian, God’s plan for you in Romans 8:29-30 is the best plan that could ever be made! Will you embrace it?
I’d like to close this morning with an appeal to unbelievers. I heard a pastor say and I think he’s right that perhaps the most practical question you could ask yourself as it relates to Romans 8:28-30 is “Am I in? Am I a recipient of those blessings?” If you have never put your faith in Christ as your Savior and been justified–if God has never changed your heart so that you truly love Him, then the answer is “no.” But it does not have to stay that way! God wants to have a relationship with you, and He sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sins. Won’t you forsake your sin and trust Him today? If so, then you, too, will be a recipient of this wonderful promise and a part of this plant that’s almost too good to be true.