My Hope: Called
2/20/2017 2:50:52 AM
February 19, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Romans 8:28-32
Last week I was talking on the phone with my friend, Mike Nicholson. Mike is a pastor down in Dutton, on the other side of London. When he was in seminary he did 2 years of field placement here at Priory and we became very good friends.
Mike had a funny story to tell me. He said that at his church they started a men’s small group and they were using a Bible study curriculum by a well-known American pastor and author. After the first session, Mike wasn’t particularly impressed with the material. He thought it was a bit dry.
A man from Mike’s church approached Mike and said, “Pastor, I don’t know if I can keep doing this study.” Mike asked him why, thinking he, also, found it dry. Nope. The man replied, “I think this guy is a Calvinist!” That was why he didn’t think he could do the study- the author was a Calvinist!
Mike looked at him and said, “I’m a Calvinist.” His parishioner was startled! He looked at Mike like he had just admitted to being a murderer or paedophile. He couldn’t imagine that Mike is a Calvinist! Mike and I laughed because I, too, am a Calvinist. As I like to put it, though, I’m a “closet Calvinist.”
[pic] Mike proceeded to explain to the guy from his church what it means to be a Calvinist, including the fact that many self-styled Calvinists today have never actually read Calvin for themselves, and thus misrepresent Calvinism to a great degree. It turns out, the guy from Mike’s church hadn’t read much by Calvin either, not a surprise. But worse, all that he knew about Calvinism he had read on Arminian web sites. So he hadn’t even read anything by a Calvinist, let alone Calvin himself, before he decided that not only was he, himself, not a Calvinist, but that Calvinists are evil heretics and a whole bunch of other stuff.
After talking it through with Mike, this guy didn’t change his mind to become a Calvinist, but he suddenly realized he probably shouldn’t write off an entire group of evangelical Christians without at least reading something written by one of them. He came to see, at least a bit, where we Calvinists are coming from and began to understand why there is a division in the first place.
Mike and I had a good laugh because we have both had numerous conversations with people over the years who immediately write off Calvinism without understanding the nature of the debate between Calvinists and Arminians.
Now, why do I bring this up? Not because we are going to debate the pros and cons of Calvinism this morning. And, if you’re wondering what Calvinism is, don’t worry about it too much. It’s actually a pretty precise argument about the nature of how we come to Christ. The opposing view, Arminianism, puts more emphasis on human decision to come to faith. Calvinism emphasizes the work of God in bringing a person to the point at which they even want to come to faith. The main term involved in this debate is “predestination.” What does this word mean? The Bible uses it. Paul, who puts a huge emphasis on human responsibility to put their faith in Christ, also says that we who are saved are “predestined” to salvation, that we are the “elect.” What does this mean? How does predestination mesh with human responsibility to put ones faith in Christ? Where you come down on this puzzle makes you either an Arminian or a Calvinist.
All this is to say, today we are going to look at one of the major texts that shapes our understanding of how a person comes to Christ and one of the major texts Calvinists base their understanding on. Regardless of whether or not you are a Calvinist or an Arminian or if you don’t even know which is which, this text is an important one for all of us to wrestle with. It is an important component in our hope for salvation. That makes it an important part of our story.
One verse in our text, verse 30, has been called the “Golden Chain” of salvation. Verse 30 talks about the fact that those God predestined (there’s that word again), he called; that those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. This is the chain of salvation, the steps or links of God’s activity in bringing people to salvation. Keep an eye out for it as we read.
So let’s turn to our passage today, Romans 8:28-32.
What It Says
What does this passage say? What is Paul getting at? First, let’s take a minute to talk about verse 28, “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.” This is an important verse for us as Christians. We live in a fallen world. We often wonder why bad things happen. Why does God allow sin? Why does God allow suffering and evil to seemingly go unchecked? That’s the broad, big picture aspect of this question. More personally, we often ask, “Why has this bad thing happened to me? If God loves me, why have these bad things happened to me? Why does God allow it to happen? Where is God when bad things happen to me and or the people I love?”
This is a very good question to ask. I think it’s a question we have all asked at one point or another. We all experience times when God feels far away. We all experience difficulty, even tragedy. This verse helps us wrap our heads around it, or at least one facet of it. God works in or through all things for the good of those who love him. That does not mean God causes all things that happen to those who love him. Sometimes things happen to us that are the result of sin, either our sin or someone else’s sin. God does not cause those things to happen. However, God can work through them for our good.
Similarly, this verse does not say that all things that happen to us are good. There are unpleasant things in this life. [R. Kent Hughes, Romans, p. 167] This verse does not say that all things will turn out ok in this life. Sometimes Christians experience pain and loss that is not repaired in this life. Sometimes evil wins in this life. Sometimes Christians are killed for their faith and their killers go unpunished in this life. So this text is not saying all things in this life are good.
Furthermore, Paul is not saying that all the things in this world are improving, that they are working towards goodness. [CH Dodd, Romans, p. 153] Paul is far too much of a realist to believe in global progress without the return of Christ!
So what is Paul saying? Paul is talking about “God’s cooperation with us in things, even things which are hostile to us.” If you continue to verse 29, we see that those God foreknew he also predestined, and here’s the key, to be conformed to the likeness of his Son! So what is the good God is working towards? It is not that we have a pleasant experience of life. No! It is that we be conformed to the likeness of his Son! And so, for those that love God, he cooperates with them in all circumstances, in all things, so that they will be conformed to the likeness of his Son. That is the goal. That is the “good” for which God works in all things. God works in all things so that those who love him will be shaped to be like his Son. That is God’s purpose in calling us. That is the goal we are working towards. That is the “good” God works for in all things.
Now, look down at v. 32. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” When we think about God working for our good, we must remember that this “good” is to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. But we must also remember that God did not spare Jesus. Rather, it was through tremendous suffering and enduring the evil of sinful men that Jesus won our salvation from sin! God did not spare his own Son, but allowed him to suffer for a bigger purpose. Thank God! So we should expect no less. God may call us to suffer too, for a greater purpose. We can take hope, seeing that God gave his Son for us, he has proven he will give anything for us to become like his Son. God won’t hold back anything to accomplish that purpose. And we know God has glorified Jesus for his obedience in suffering on the cross. We know, then, that God will glorify us for our obedient suffering too. Back in verse 30, that is the goal of the golden chain- that we be glorified, which means being made in the likeness of Jesus.
That is the framework within which Paul is working. Notice that those who love God are precisely those who God has called. We love God because God has called us. God does not call us because we love him. God does not love us because our behaviour has earned his love. [Dodd, p. 153] Nobody loves God without God’s prior work in them. We are all sinful and in rebellion against God. God loves us and so he calls us. We love him back because he has called us. So it is a work of the Spirit in us for us to love God. That work of the Spirit is the call of God upon us. When we respond, we love God back and the process of transformation to be like Christ has begun.
When verse 30 says that God “foreknew” some, whom he also predestined, the word for “foreknew” is a relational word. The knowledge is the knowledge of knowing a person through relationship. This is not “informational” knowledge. It’s the not the knowledge of facts, not even the knowledge of facts about who will respond to Jesus. It is the knowledge of knowing a friend, a loved one. God’s foreknowledge of us is a relational knowledge. [Douglas Moo, Romans, p. 532] Just as Jesus is the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” we are known by God and loved by him before our creation. And it is that love and foreknowledge that moved God to predestine us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. This was God’s plan all along. This was God’s plan of salvation- that ultimately we would be conformed to the likeness of Christ so that Christ would be the firstborn among many children of God. This is God’s plan of salvation in a nutshell! His plan is to redeem fallen creatures, and not only to forgive them, not only to declare them in a right relationship with him, to be justified, but also to remake them, to reshape them, to give them new life to be like Jesus.
Those God knew beforehand, he predestined to be reshaped to be like Jesus. Those he predestined he called, those he called, he justified. These are necessary steps to be conformed to the image of Christ. We talked about justification last week. Justification means God declares us to be in a right relationship with him. It is the same root at righteousness. God did not just call us and leave us impotent to be reconciled to God, he did not abandon us to our own devices to fix the problem of sin. Rather, those he predestined and called, he justified with a righteousness from God through Christ.
What does God do with those he justified? He glorifies them! Notice, though, that glorified is in the past tense. From our perspective, we are called and justified, but we have yet to be glorified. We are not yet like Jesus. We are not yet glorified. But in God’s eyes, he has already decreed that our glorification will take place, thus, in terms of our predestination, calling and justification, it is a completed action. [Moo, p. 536]
This leads Paul to ask, “What, then, shall we say? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Remember, we began with the concept that God works for the good of all who love him. This sort of brings us back to that same point. If God knew us before creation began, if he predestined us to be shaped to be like Jesus, if he called us and justified us and will glorify us, then do we really need to worry about those who oppose us? Do we really need to worry about the people of this world who hate us, stand in our way, try to tear us down, belittle us, ridicule us, mock us or try to hinder us in any way? God’s been at work reshaping us to be like Jesus since before the world began. What can a mere human do to stop that?!?
It doesn’t make it pleasant when we are oppressed. It doesn’t make it pleasant when people stand against us. It doesn’t mean it is good for them to stand against us either. But when people do stand against us, it shouldn’t demoralize us. It shouldn’t call into question God’s sovereignty, goodness or love for us. Instead, we should see it in its proper perspective and recognize that the God who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will give us all we need to endure difficulties and ultimately be refined to be like Jesus.
What It Means
So what does this mean? What do we do with it? How do we understand it? Paul’s discussion focuses almost entirely on the work of God in bringing us to salvation. This is important because we usually experience God’s work differently. We experience God’s work on us and in us within time. We remember a time we didn’t love God. We remember a time we were not justified, when we were still in open rebellion against God. And that can shape our understanding of God’s work in us and for us.
Paul reminds us, in this passage, that God’s plan for us is far greater than what we have yet experienced. He reminds us that God’s plan for us stretches back, not just to before we believed, but to before we were even born! And this is both a sobering and encouraging reminder. On the one hand, it is sobering because it humbles us. It reminds us that we did not come to God, he came to us. We were not seeking God out, as if God was hard to find. Rather, we were lost in our sin, we were lost without a hope of finding our way home, and God came to us, called us, rescued us. God rescued us as lost sinners. We can take no credit for that! We can take no credit for our salvation. We can take no credit for having sought out God. Rather, we are reminded that God is the shepherd, we are the lost sheep, he comes looking for us, not the other way around!
This is also encouraging. We can find courage and hope in the knowledge that God loves us, and not because of what we have done, are doing or will do in the future. God loves us now and has loved us from eternity. He is the one seeking us for salvation, not the other way around. And so when we hit difficult times,
whether they be difficult circumstances or periods of dry faith, or doubt, or falling back into sinful behaviour, we know God is still looking for us. He is still calling us. He has predestined us. We don’t have to carry the weight of our own salvation on our shoulders. Jesus carried that weight in his shoulders.
We were called to salvation. Our responsibility is to respond to the call through the power of the Spirit. Now, on the one hand, all are called. God makes the offer of grace to all sinners. In his parable of the great banquet in Matthew 22, in verse 14 Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” There is a general call to all of humanity to turn to God so that nobody can say on the day of judgement “I didn’t know I had to turn to you. I didn’t know that what I was doing was wrong.”
But for those who are saved, there is a different call. There is an effective call; a special call. This call not only calls us to repentance, but enables us to do it. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, shaping our will, illuminating our mind to see the truth, humbling us in the sight of our sin, and empowering us to repent and turn to Jesus in faith. [Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 943] You see, even faith is a gift given to us by the Spirit. It is God who works faith in us!
And much of this special calling is the work of the Spirit in us to illuminate our hearts and minds. The Spirit convicts us of sin, so we can take responsibility for our sinful behaviour. Before we are called, we turn a blind eye to our sin, or seek to mitigate it or justify it. But when the Spirit begins to call us effectively, our eyes are opened to our sin and we feel conviction about it.
The Spirit also illuminates or enlightens our minds to understand who Jesus is and put our faith in him. That is, in effective calling, the Spirit opens our minds to believe in Jesus. [Stanley Grenz in Gordon T. Smith, Beginning Well, p. 104] The god of this age has blinded us to our sin (2 Cor 4:4), but God causes the light of the knowledge of the glory of God as seen in the face of Christ Jesus to shine in our hearts! (2 Cor 4:6) You see, people reject Jesus when left to their own devices. The Jews found Jesus offensive, a stumbling block. The Greeks found Jesus foolish, a saviour who dies? A man resurrected? “But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:24) Why? Because of the work of the Spirit to illuminate the hearts and minds of those who are called by God to salvation.
Now, most often the Spirit does this by opening up God’s word to us. That is, through the Bible. This is commonly through the word being preached, but may also come through personal Bible study, or reading books about Scripture. We spoke last week about John Wesley whose “heart was strangely warmed” while listening to someone read from Luther’s preface to his commentary on Romans. But the word of God is where we find out about Jesus, where we learn about him and God’s plan of salvation. Which means it is the most common place for people to be enlightened by the Spirit to the truth of who Jesus is.
When God calls us, he calls us away from sin, away from ignorance and unbelief. He calls us away from danger, the danger of Hell! He calls us out of this world, out of this present age of sin. He calls us to holiness. He calls us to glory. [Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 221] And he calls us to live lives worthy of this calling. This is part of the glorification and conforming us to the likeness of Christ.
So if this is what it means to be called, how are we to apply it? What does it mean for us if we are called? First, it is useful to humble us. Have we experienced conviction for our sin? Do we see our sin as God sees it? Have we allowed the Spirit to enlighten us to the true state of our hearts?
It is easy to think we are good people. It is easy to think that God is mighty pleased with us! But this is a lie. God is not please with us, but he does love us. And so he shows us the dirty, polluted nature of our hearts so that we will be humbled and respond to his call.
Have you responded to God’s call? Perhaps he has been calling you recently. Perhaps he has been calling you for some time? Don’t miss the opportunity to respond to God’s call!
For those who have responded to God’s call, take comfort in this. Your salvation is based on God and his plan, not anything you have done yourself. So take comfort and confidence in this. Know that God’s plan for your salvation long predates you or any decision you made. So when trials come, when affliction comes, when temptation rears its ugly head, take heart in your calling. Take heart in the golden chain of salvation: that those he predestined, he called; those he called, he justified; those he justified, he glorified. Your glory is secure. If God is for us, who can be against us?
Regardless of your circumstances, be thankful for God’s call. If things are good, be thankful that God has called you to salvation and holiness. Be thankful that God took the initiative to provide a righteousness, a way back to him, that is greater than anything you could ever accomplish yourself. Be thankful to God for calling you, justifying you and glorifying you. Thank God for this and let gratitude shape your attitude.
Finally, walk according to your call. We are called and we must respond. We need to respond to that call by living a life worthy of that call. We have not been called to freedom in order to indulge our sin! Rather, we have been called to freedom in order to live out the love of God in a sinful world. We are to be citizens of God’s kingdom, citizens living under God’s rule, who then serve as ambassadors of that kingdom to the fallen kingdom of this age. In Ephesians 2:8-10 Paul spells this out: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Our glorification, our conformity to the image of Christ is not just for heaven. It is not just for when we die. It is for the here and now. And God has prepared good works for us since the time he foreknew us and predestined us. So we need to live out God’s calling on our lives.
But what about Reach One? How does this help us to be prepared to reach one person for Christ? First, understand that God has not asked you to save anybody. It is not up to us to convince anybody about Jesus. It is not our role to save anybody. This is the work of the God through the Holy Spirit. So relieve yourself of any false sense of responsibility for the salvation of your one. It’s not up to you and be glad because that is a task too great for any of us!
So what do we do? Pray that God’s call will extend to your one person. Pray that God would call them effectively. Pray that your one person would respond to God’s special call to salvation.
As you commit yourself to cooperate with the Spirit in helping your one take steps towards faith in Christ, think about how you, yourself, have been called by God. How did the Spirit enlighten you? How did he reveal your sin to you? How did he humble you? How did the Spirit open the Scriptures to you? What has God taught you through his word?
Be prepared to share this with your one. Be prepared to share your story of calling. Be prepared to share your hope: that God foreknew you and called you, not because you are “so good” but because he loves you so much! Be ready to share your story and encourage your one person to respond to God’s call too. God is the one who brings us to salvation, but he frequently does it by means of others who have responded to his call. So if you have responded to God’s call, be ready to be a tool in the Spirit’s hand. Be ready to share about your hope and your call. Amen.
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