Called according to purpose (Romans 8:28-31)

People like to know that there is a reason for things. We want to believe that life has a purpose. A question which likely occurs at some point in everyone’s life is: Why am I here? Why is often the most difficult question to answer. Attempts to answer it are seldom completely satisfactory. Paul in this passage may be giving at least a general explanation. D.G. Barnhouse comments:

“Beyond all the doctrines that are linked with this text there is the very practical truth that we may have the absolute assurance that the plan of our own individual life has been fixed in God. He is pursuing a definite purpose leading to a definite end, and we may live in quiet assurance that all is well with us, even though we are passing through deep waters.

It is possible, here and now, for us to know that all things work together for our good. To lay hold upon this fact is to calm the turbulence of life and to bring quiet and confidence into the whole of life.”

Indeed verse 28 begins with “we know” and not we guess or hope or wish. This strong assurance is given to those who love (agape) God. The words Paul writes are rich in meaning. Purpose can also be translated “design” and being called describes “being invited.” Chuck Swindoll points out: “Throughout Romans, Paul used the term “good” almost exclusively in a moral sense. “Good” is that which pleases God because it reflects His nature and conforms to His original created order.” Putting these words together, we understand that by God’s design we are invited to reflect His good nature and thereby please Him.

Paul lays out how this happens in verses 29-30. It starts with “whom He foreknew.” This is much more than just advanced knowledge. It says that God knew us intimately before we were born, which describes a scrutinizing knowledge that goes beyond mere awareness. As Douglas Moo explains: “When God knows a person, he does not learn some information about that person; rather he comes into relationship with that person.”

With this foreknowledge God has “foreordained” (determined, appointed) us to be conformed to the image of His Son. Chuck Swindoll states this truth: “Those the Lord knew intimately and actively beforehand, He appointed in advance to become like Jesus in their character.” So why are we here? What is the purpose of life? God invites (calls) us to grow to become more like Christ.

Paul continues the outline of God’s design in verse 30. God has appointed us to be called, justified, and ultimately glorified. Justified by Christ’s sacrifice, we are being conformed to His image so that we may be glorified and thus glorify God. Our response to God’s invitation (calling) demonstrates the goodness of God’s plan for our lives. D.G. Barnhouse summarizes our calling:

“The inward call of God is the effect of His eternal predestination and purpose to conform those whom He has chosen to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

“The inward call is the voice of the Holy Spirit within the heart of those whom God has chosen unto Himself before the foundation of the world. It is a voice that speaks with the power to wake the dead, to bring life to the believer. Those who have been thus called are alive in Christ.”

next: Romans 8:31-34

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Working together in our weakness(Romans 8:26-28)

It is a common practice to hold on to the words of one or two verses in the Bible for assurance during troubling times. Here we have two powerful verses (26 and 28) that have encouraged many Christians for generations. This can be helpful, but we may miss an important central truth if we don’t consider context and the larger passage. In the preceding verses Paul is addressing the involvement of the Holy Spirit in our lives as he discusses hope and eagerly expecting adoption as sons of God.

Verse 26 begins, “And similarly” which many conclude refers to the “groans” in verses 22 and 23, but perhaps this adverb is meant to connect the two verbs before and after it. Waiting eagerly through perseverance does relate well with the Spirit helping our weakness. This verb translated “help” (or aid, assist, take share in) occurs elsewhere in the Bible only once in Luke 10:40 (Martha wants Jesus to tell Mary to help her). The word means far more than just assist. The verb encompasses the sense of not only taking hold together with someone, but taking a real interest in what they are doing. How wonderful that God takes such real interest in our weakness (literally: want of strength)! He cares enough to get involved. D.G. Barnhouse makes a couple good points about our weakness:

“The word translated “infirmities” is in the singular. We do not have a series of weaknesses or infirmities, but one great weakness, one infirmity. This is our total inability to do anything for ourselves or for the creation in which we live. But weakness and infirmity form the perfect framework for the exhibition of the splendor of divine power,”

“This weakness is just the atmosphere that the Lord likes to find in us. For it is against such infirmity that He can best display His power. If we wish the Lord to work in our lives, there must be a clear recognition of sovereign grace. If the work is to be truly effective, we must realize our weakness; the atmosphere must be one of known difficulty. If the work is to be outstanding, we must realize utter nothingness; the atmosphere must be one of known impossibility.”

The help of the Spirit is necessary since we don’t even know how to pray as we should. Paul assures us (verse 27) that God does know. God is the one searching (investigating, exploring) our hearts. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And the “mind” (intention) of the Spirit is of course in harmony with God. Therefore believers, the ones loving God (verse 28), can know that it is all working together for God’s good purpose. It is all working toward our revelation as children of God.

next: continue with verses 28-30

Hope for what we do not see (Romans 8:23-25)

Against the background of the entire universe groaning and waiting with expectation, Paul (verse 23) brings the focus back to believers and the Holy Spirit. We also sigh as we eagerly expect the fulfillment of God’s promise in ourselves. In a world desperately searching for hope, believers already have the “first fruit” of God’s promise with the indwelling Spirit. F.F. Bruce calls this the “first installment or down-payment of the eternal heritage of glory which awaits believers.” Paul understood the agricultural term “first fruit” as evidence of a bountiful harvest yet to come. The Holy Spirit provides the assurance that our adoption and the promised redemption of our body are certain so we can look to the future with confidence. Douglas Moo writes:

“We are already God’s children, adopted into His family, but we are not yet His children in the full sense. We do not yet perfectly manifest our Father’s character or share in all the blessings He bestows on His family.”

It is this perfect fulfillment of God’s promise for which we have hope. This is the hope of our salvation. Sometimes it is too easy to become discouraged when we look at our shortcomings and do not see the expected growth in Christ. Paul makes a common-sense observation in verse 24. Hoping for what you already see is not really hope. If you can see it, then there is no need for hope.

Paul’s understanding of hope is perhaps a little clearer with verse 25. This is not the wishful thinking that many people have in mind when they express hope for something to happen, thinking that they will likely be disappointed. Christian hope is so much better: one preacher calls it the difference between “hope so” and “know so.” The hope Paul describes carries the assurance of a certain expectation because it is guaranteed by God. The Greek word translated “patience” (endurance, perseverance) is employed by Paul as the mechanism of hope. The literal meaning is to remain when others depart. The Holy Spirit provides the power of our enduring hope.

next: Romans 8:26-30

 

Waiting for the Revelation (Romans 8:18-22)

Sometimes it seems much of life is spent waiting for someone or something to arrive. Recently I experienced an illustration of this as I waited for a package to make its way here from the West coast. Modern technology made the wait worse as I could track every stop it made on the long slow (free ground shipping) journey across the country. Finally the delivery day dawns, but the exact hour is still unknown. Time passes too slowly, and I sigh with disappointment each time I hear a truck drive by without stopping. Paul describes a similar picture with global significance.

In verse 18 Paul calculates that our present experience is not worthy of comparison with the coming glory to be revealed. He is confident that the revelation (uncovering or manifestation – the Greek word is apocalypse) will be more wondrous than anything we presently experience. We are far from alone in this anticipation; indeed Paul writes of the creation “anxiously watching” (verse 19). The word he uses refers to stretching your neck out in order to glimpse what remains out of view. Clearly the impact of the coming revelation will be universal, and all creation is invested in the outcome.

Paul describes (verses 20-21) a world that is currently “subjected to vanity” (folly, uselessness, fruitlessness) and “enslaved to corruption” (spoil, ruin, decay). It should come as no surprise then when he states (verse 22) that all the creation “groans together” and “travails together” (the pains of childbirth). So what then is this eagerly expected revelation that promises to free the creation from the slavery of corruption?

It is the revelation of the sons of God (verse 19) which brings the freedom of the glory of the children of God (verse 21). This is the revelation that all are awaiting! When that day finally arrives, all will see the children of God become what God always intended through the power of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ!

next: Romans 8:23-28

Co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15-17)

It is important to know who you are. Your identity is key to understanding your purpose, and it gives direction to your actions. In the struggle between flesh and spirit, Paul aims to assure the Roman believers (and us) that they are now adopted sons of God. They need not live in fear as slaves, but rather may live confident of their inheritance as the children of almighty God. We read these words and we know in our hearts that they are true. The original Greek manuscripts did not include punctuation which allows D.G. Barnhouse to point out an interesting way to read verses 15-16:

“The RSV has a most interesting translation of this passage. Differing from all other translations that I have seen, it throws out the punctuation between our text and the previous one and makes them read, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” It is thus seen that the work of the Holy Spirit is to engender true prayer within us. Phillips states it, “The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God.”

Verse 16 declares that it is the Holy Spirit Himself that testifies or bears witness to this fact. What better evidence of this truth could their possibly be! The claim of our inheritance stands on solid ground. It is worth noting that the witness is not to, but rather with our spirit. Our spirit, our inward conviction agrees with the testimony of God. Because of Christ the verdict is certain: we are children of God.

Verse 17 continues with the implications of our identity as children of God. The children of God are heirs of God. But not only heirs; we are “co-heirs” with Christ. What does that mean? It means that the inheritance is not divided up into parts, but shared. Paul makes it clear that in order to share in the glory of Christ, we also suffer with Him. The word Paul has chosen here should not be confused with the ordinary pains or hardships of life. This word speaks more to sharing the character of Christ. As we grow to be more like Him, then we also will share the compassion He has for the world. Becoming like Christ means thinking and feeling and therefore acting more like Him every day.

next: summer break (about six weeks)

We cry Abba Father (Romans 8:12-15)

Paul concludes his comparison of living according to flesh or spirit in verses 12-13 with the outcome: death or life. He addresses us in these transitional verses as “brothers” perhaps to call attention to our common bond in Christ, assuring us that we are no longer under obligation to the flesh. Then at verse 14 he begins his explanation of who we are as “sons of God.” Membership in this fraternity is reserved for all who are led by the Spirit of God.

The Greek word translated “led” is rich in meaning. It conveys the idea of being taken hold of and in this way brought to the point of destination. This is a little different from the conception of hearing God’s voice and then moving in the direction He wants us to go. Here instead is a picture of the Spirit of God firmly holding on and making sure that we will arrive together with Him. How wonderful that God Himself personally walks with us every step of our journey!

Some translators replace “sons” with “children” but this can obscure the flow of Paul’s explanation. Paul is not making exclusion by gender, but he is using the distinctive idea of “sonship” from the culture of his time. Indeed, the Greek word for “adoption” (verse 15) is a compound word meaning literally “placed into the condition of a son.” F.F. Bruce writes:

“In the first century AD an adopted son was deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate; he was no whit inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature, and might well enjoy the father’s affection more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily.”

We therefore (all who are in Christ) are granted the privilege to cry out to our Father God using the familial¬† “Abba” (an Aramaic¬† word in the emphatic state). No longer fearful of punishment, but rather with joy we can cry “Daddy” as heirs to His kingdom.

next: continue Romans 8:15-17

The Mind of the Spirit is Life and Peace (Romans 8:5-11)

Paul in this passage continues his discussion of “flesh” and spirit.¬† In verses 5-7 he introduces the Greek word phrane which is commonly translated as “mind,” but it does not describe the reasoning ability of the brain. The word literally refers to the diaphragm or midriff of the body. The verb form can be translated “to entertain sentiments or inclinations.” Mindset rather than “set their minds” is perhaps closer to Paul’s meaning since it describes inclinations or tendencies and not logical intellect. Verse 5 then says that there are some who have a mindset inclined toward things of the flesh, while others are inclined toward the Spirit. One (verse 6) is death and of the other life and peace. The fleshly mindset is hostile to God. It cannot submit to God’s law (verse 7) and therefore cannot please God (verse 8). However, those in Christ with the mind of the Spirit have the Spirit of God dwelling in them (verse 9).

Paul’s words give assurance that the Spirit is moving us in the right direction toward life and peace, although we currently have this dying mortal body. Paul reminds us that the same Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in us and will give life to our mortal bodies (verse 11). Douglas Moo comments:

“With Christ’s death and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, the new age of salvation has begun. However, since the old age of sin and death has not yet ended, we believers live in the overlap of the ages. We belong to the new age, and our futures now are determined by that fact, but we are still influenced by the old age, and we still must face physical death.”

Paul is addressing believers and giving assurance that we have the “mind of the Spirit” so why does he write so much about the flesh? We can have confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, but perhaps he intends to warn that we are not immune to the deceptive attraction of flesh. Chuck Swindoll sees such a warning and writes:

“A believer exists according to the flesh when he or she tries to become righteous by simply trying harder. Those who train hard, expecting to leap into heaven under their own power, will fall short. That’s the old-nature way of thinking.

Fleshly thinking can have noble ideals and admirable desires, but it is also proud to the bone. Fleshly thinking presumes to achieve godly objectives without God. It rejects the grace of God in favor of its own will, its own way, its own ability to do good on its own terms. Fleshly thinking buys into the “self-made man or woman” philosophy and aligns itself remarkably well with the entrepreneurial spirit. While rugged individualism and a can-do attitude may be good for business, this kind of thinking brings death to the spiritual life.”

next: Romans 8:12-17