And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according toHis purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
At 6:00AM, Wednesday, Wenda and I were drinking coffee in our bed. We were sharing a few things that are stressing us right now – wondering where God might be in them and what He might be up to. In other words the truth is we simply could not seem to find God anywhere in the issues pressing us. How is that for transparency? Of course, no one here has ever been in that place.
One of those points of stress was that it was Wednesday and I had absolutely no clue as to what the Lord wanted for the Sunday gathering. Suddenly, it was impressed upon me – I believe by the Holy Spirit – that we should begin to give thanks unto the Lord for His incredible goodness in our lives even though there were some areas where that goodness seemed hidden. In the course of doing this a couple of scriptures came into my mind. One I have already presented – Romans 8:28. The others turned out to be the following verses: Ps.119: 67 – 68 & 71 Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. You are good and do good; It is good for me that I was afflicted; That I may learn Your statutes.
Three words kept coming to me, which I now present as the theme of this message: ‘Defining the Good.’
When we look across the church world it is clear that there are many “theologies” regarding the issue of good and bad in relation to the life of the believer. I do not want to spend time trying to undo any particular position on this subject, but I do need to establish the position I am working from.
In reading scripture, church history and human history it seems clear enough to me that bad things often happen to good people and good things often happen to bad people – and at the end of the day both bad people and good people will have had their share of both good and bad.
Jesus told us: “…for He (God) causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” He also warned that it is very dangerous when we assume that those who are suffering indicates that they are worse sinners than others who are not suffering. (Remember His reference to those killed by a falling tower). The presence of bad things in a person’s life does not in itself make that person bad anymore than the presence of good things in a person’s life makes that person good.
As in the message I presented last Sunday, I am brought back again to this fundamental fact of the Christian faith: the real issue is not the present details of my life (good or bad) but what is happening in my heart in the presence of those details. Viewing my life from this perspective brings the liberating understanding that even in a season of “bad things”something very good is happening – and that good relates to the formation of my heart.
I know there are people here today who really need to hear this word. I know that, not so much from any knowledge of your circumstances, as by the testimony of the Holy Spirit in my spirit. You are passing through a season of suffering – a season of “bad things”. Speaking out of my spirit let me say, you have been blindsided; you are facing things you never thought you would. The mental game has been relentless. You have been told incredible things – things like you are a failure, there is sin in your life, you are losing your faith, God is angry with you and that what is happening right now is the judgement of God upon you for some deep, dark sin in your past.
Again, out of my spirit I am compelled to declare that all of that garbage is the lie of our accuser; his diabolical voice runs through all of those thoughts, and the only way to slay that lie is to hit it dead on with truth. The only thing that is finally true of each of us is what God says concerning us. And that truth can never be made “untrue” by the present details or circumstances of our life. So let’s look at one tiny point of truth concerning who we are regardless of where we are in terms of life experience.
On the basis of the Romans text, we need to understand that “all things” do not inherently or arbitrarily work together for our good. Remove God from the “all things” and believe me, nothing works for good. But the defining truth is that God Himself is personally involved and it is His involvement that makes the difference between a bad outcome and a good one. Apart from “God causes” there is no hope or guarantee of good – either immediately or ultimately. Our fight against the lie begins with this eternal truth: God is right now intimately and personally involved in our lives in the very presence of the “all things” that are happening.
The second great truth is that God does not cause all things that happen to us but: A) nothing happens outside of or beyond His sovereignty, andB) within His sovereignty He engages all things redemptively for the sake of His redeemed. This means that even when we are dealing with things that God has not caused we can do so with this incredible hope that He is actively engaging those very things redemptively. How else can good come out of bad except that God has redeemed the bad? God did not cause sin but He sure enough engaged it redemptively.
We come now to the theme of this message – ‘Defining the Good.” What is “the good” that God is working “all things” together to accomplish? I began by researching the word ‘good’from the original language of the text. I was absolutely overwhelmed with all that is written on this single word – just from the first resource I looked at. All of that is rich and valuable. However, I was more interested in the contextual usage of the word ‘good’ rather than the meaning of the word itself.
I knew what had come to me Wednesday morning in that moment of (and I do feel this is the right word) revelation. I was pleased to find abundant confirmation of this from a variety of resources.
Verse 29 reveals ‘the good’ towards which God is causing ‘all things’ to work in our lives: ‘…conformed to the image of His Son, so that He (the Son) would be the firstborn among many brethren.’
Verse 28 ends with the words, ‘according to His purpose.’Verse 29 tells us exactly what that purpose is. Notice also that verse 28 tells us we ‘are called according to His purpose.’ This is a great deal more than being called unto His purpose; this touches something more fundamental than that. This call originated in and was entirely determined by the Sovereign God. It was not engineered at the time of your birth or even when you came to faith. This call was established before time, before the foundation of the creation; it was fixed in eternity. In that sense the call itself had absolutely nothing to do with us.
This is vital because the enemy takes this very idea of purpose and uses it against us when a season of suffering comes to us. He tells us it is because we have failed to carry out the purpose of God, and therefore we should not expect anything good. But this reference to purpose relates entirely to God – God purposed, God determined, God decided, God established, God planned that He would call us. None of this is about what we have done – but entirely about what God has done. So when the accuser tries to turn this on you, your response needs to be something like this: “I think you have the wrong person here. You’re talking about something God purposed, so perhaps you should go and tell God He failed to do what He purposed.”This is not about us fulfilling a purpose; it’s about God fulfilling His purpose to call us.
I realize I am working backward through verse 28 but I am doing so deliberately. One more point before moving on: the words, ‘to those who love God.’ I can tell you that the accuser really knows how to use that phrase. The minute something bad takes place, and especially when I move to claim the promise of Romans 8:28, the first lie I hear goes like this: “Wait just a minute; the reason this bad thing is happening is because you do not love God the way you should. How dare you claim the promise when you constantly fail to love God?”
What the enemy is doing with that lie is turning “loving God” into the means whereby we earn or merit the promise, goodness and blessing of God. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not love God in order to earn or merit anything from God – we love Him because more and more we are seeing what this incredible God has done for us completely apart from anything we could ever hope to do for Him. The enemy always turns our focus to what we are doing and then picks it apart and uses it to bring accusation and condemnation. The TRUTH always turns our focus to what God has done on our behalf and in this there can be no condemnation.
When the enemy tries to turn that around and use it as grounds to condemn you and diminish your faith and confidence just begin to quote back to him the truth of what God did for you before you even existed: He called you by the sheer determination of His own purpose, He foreknew you, He predestined you to look just like His Son, He justified you and glorified you.That’s why I love God – as opposed to – loving God to earn something.
In closing this out let me try to define ‘the good’ which God is causing all things in our lives to establish. The good as defined in verse 29 has two aspects to it much like the two sides of a single coin. The first relates to us – conformity to the image of His Son. The second relates entirely to the Son – that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.
In the end this is all about what God determined concerning His Son. What He determined was that there would be a massive brotherhood in which Christ would stand as the Elder Brother, and that this brotherhood would perfectly reflect the image of the Elder Brother.
Turn and look at your neighbour, but do so with the understanding that you are not just looking upon flesh and blood or human personality – you are looking upon a brother or sister of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus Christ is that person’s Elder Brother. Go a step further: How can I be a brother of Christ unless I have the same Father as Christ? That father was not a Jew named Joseph (as much as we respect and honour Joseph’s role in the life of Christ). But the true Father of Christ was and is the Almighty God.
This means He is likewise and equally my Father and yours. And that of course, means that we are sons and daughters of this same Father God and that our family tie – our family connection, family relationship is no less true in ultimate quality and reality than that of ourElder Brother. In other words we are just as much sons and daughters of the Living God as Christ, our Elder Brother is. And nothing happening in your life right now has the power to undue your family connection.
In moving forward and in facing and dealing with the present “all things” in our lives individually let us hold to this incredible truth: God is causing those “all things” to bring about the only real “good thing” that matters, the truly awesome and indescribable “good thing” – and that is that our heart is being conformed to and reflecting the heart of our Great Elder Brother.
Don’t cheapen this “good thing” by reducing it to some materialistic definition or some life experience of fleshly comfort. Believe me; I give God thanks for every material blessing He ever grants me. But I also understand that all materialism is temporary and passes away. Christ, on the other hand, is permanent – lives forever and never passes away. And since the“all things” in our lives is about God conforming us to the image of this permanent Elder Brother then the only real “good thing” is family resemblance.
I seem to refer to my age more and more these days, but I can tell you that at 62 I have experienced some “all things” that can only be described as hellish and nightmarish; I always called them the black holes of my journey. There is not one of them I ever want to see or experience again. But with equal conviction and with God as my everlasting Judge, I can report that God was in every one of those black holes with me and that He brought His redemptive grace to bear upon the darkest of details, with the result that I always emerged looking just a little more like my Elder Brother.
So the Psalmist was correct in writing: Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. You are good and do good; It is good for me that I was afflicted; That I may learn Your statutes.
Paul wrote in 1Thes.5:18‘…in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. - and in Eph.5:20 ‘…always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;’
Essentially these verses mean the same thing. The phrase ‘for all things’ in the Ephesians text does not primarily refer to specific individual details, but rather to the whole or the sum of all when brought together. The idea is that there is an overarching purpose that covers the whole regardless of the individual details. As the overarching purpose of the whole comes into view (mostly by faith) we will find liberty to give God thanks in all things.