Good morning. Let’s pray:
Heavenly Father, open our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the truth of your living word we pray. In Jesus name. Amen.
Life can feel dangerous. This pandemic has heightened that sense for many, but it’s always been the case. It’s easy to give way to fear and anxiety but we don’t need to. Why? This next section of Paul’s Letter to the Romans gives us an answer to that. We’re looking at Romans 8.28-30. And my title this morning is ‘How We Know We’re Safe For Eternity’.
These verses make me think of a TV programme I watched. It featured a talented young British rock climber. He was in Yosemite National Park, in the west of the USA. He’d gone there to climb some exceptionally difficult routes. We saw him attempting to climb a long slab of overhanging rock at a great height. He was upside down the whole way, almost as if climbing across a ceiling. If he had anywhere to put his feet at all, they were continually slipping, leaving him hanging by his hands. Sometimes he was just holding on by his fingers. Sometimes he would jam his hand into a crack and swing from it. It was obvious that he was finding the going intensely difficult. His face was often contorted with the effort and struggle of it all. Things were not going as smoothly as he’d hoped. His frustration was frequently boiling over and he would cry out at his failure to make progress. What’s more, again and again he lost his grip altogether, and simply fell.
But however many times he fell, he knew that he’d make it to the end eventually, his frustrations went hand in hand with confidence. And it was obvious that he was relishing the whole experience. How come? Two reasons. For one thing, he was on the end of a rope that was firmly held by his climbing companion. Every time he totally lost control and fell, the rope took his weight and he was hauled back up to try again. And for another thing, when he finally slogged his way to the end of the climb, the views were utterly spectacular. All through the climb, he had those views to look forward to. He knew that he was safe during the climb, however hard he found it. So he wasn’t in any serious danger. And he knew his destination was worth the effort. Because of his own mistakes, and because of the sheer difficulty of the climb, it was a painful struggle but it was secure, and it was exhilarating. What God tells us in the words of the apostle Paul in this passage made me think of that climber. And I have three points to make from these verses:
1. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A STRUGGLE WITH SIN AND SUFFERING
The apostle Paul has come to the climax of his teaching in these first 8 chapters of Romans. He’s addressing believers – men and women, Jews and Gentiles, who had faith in Jesus Christ as the Saviour and Lord of the world. He’s been spelling out how Christ has rescued them from sin and death. And he’s been talking about what life as a believer is like. He’s made quite clear that the life of faith is a struggle. It’s a struggle with sin. So he says in Romans 7.21:
…when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
Living by faith involves struggling with sin. And the life of faith is also a struggle with suffering. So earlier in this chapter, in Romans 8.17-18, he speaks of how believers are to suffer with him (Christ), and he talks of the sufferings of this present time. Believers struggle with sin even though they are no longer enslaved by it. And they struggle with suffering. And it all gives rise to a kind of silent scream in the believer’s heart. As he puts it in Romans 8.23:
…we ourselves…groan inwardly…
But that’s not the whole story. Because not only do believers groan inside. They also rejoice. Romans 5.2-3:
…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…
Why the joy? Well, these verses give the reason why rejoicing ultimately overwhelms struggle in the life of the believer. So:
2. NOTHING CAN GET IN THE WAY OF GOD’S GOOD PURPOSE FOR THOSE WHO TRUST HIM
Take a look at Romans 8.28:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
What is that good purpose of God for us? Answer: Glory. That’s what’s in store. At the end of the line is glory. What does that mean? It means both being like Jesus, and being with Jesus. Believers (Romans 8.29) will be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son. We will be changed into the people we were created to be. No more sin that sickens the heart. Imagine that! The sinful nature within us that kicks and claws against all that is pure and holy will be finally and utterly destroyed. The character and goodness of Jesus will be ours. We will be like him. And that will be so that (Romans 8.29) he might be the firstborn among many brothers. God’s plan is for a massive family of brothers and sisters, with Jesus there at the heart of it. He will be our brother. We will know him and be known by him, face to face. That will be unimaginable glory.
That’s God’s purpose for those who love him. But can we be sure that what God purposes and plans will become reality? Yes, because what God plans, happens. That’s the point of Romans 8.28-30. Romans 8.28 again:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good
All things in the end work for the good of the believer. That’s not saying that all things are good – of course not. Very far from it. And God is never the author of evil. But in an astonishing way, God does weave everything into his plan so that the end result is good. That’s an astounding truth. We can see it supremely at the cross. The killing of Jesus was the most evil act that mankind ever committed. But through it God redeemed his people. All things don’t necessarily work to bring about our plans. And they certainly don’t always work for our ease and comfort. They can cause us great suffering, but that’s exactly why we need this reassurance. Even terrible failures on our part, or disappointments or disasters are all caught up in God’s great plan to make us like Jesus and to bring us to glory. That’s his amazing promise. And when we know that’s true, it completely changes the way we view what happens in our lives. So:
3. GOD HAS SECURED US WITH HIS UNBREAKABLE CHAIN OF SALVATION
Paul spells out this unbreakable chain of salvation in Romans 8.29-30:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined…And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
There’s a famous photograph of one of my boyhood heroes – the brilliant Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He’s standing in front of the chains that were used to launch the biggest ship the world had ever seen - the Great Eastern. They had to be huge chains for an immense task, and they dwarf Brunel. Each massive link interlocks with the next and they look indestructible. Do you see this great, indestructible chain of salvation that Paul describes here? Five massive links forming the chain of salvation. Christians who are fearful for their salvation need to understand this: our salvation does not depend upon us at all. God has forged the chain and it cannot be broken.
The first link in the chain is foreknowledge.
For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined...
Does God’s foreknowledge mean simply that God looked ahead and saw who would respond positively to him and decided those were the people he would save? No, because that would turn upside down everything that Paul is saying. It would make our salvation depend in the end on us. It’s far more than that. This is knowing like parents know their children. This is knowing in the sense of choosing to love. Before the creation of the world God chose his people and set his love upon us.
Then the second link in the chain is predestination.
Romans 8.29 again:
For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
God has decided before the creation of the world that his people will be made like Jesus. Children of God with free access to their loving Father, destined for the glory of eternal life, and heirs of all the riches of God. Predestination is God’s unchallengeable determination at any price to save his people who can do nothing to save themselves. So we’re not to get hung up on this, as some do. Rather, we’re to take great comfort in it. This teaching on predestination is for those who of us who know only too well that the Christian life is a struggle. It’s for those of us who see the condition of our own hearts and how vulnerable we are. It’s for those of us who feel the heat of the fire all around us and who need to know that God will bring us through.
The third link in the chain is God’s calling.
And those whom he predestined he also called…
God’s calling of people is when his plans for us swing into action and by the work of his Spirit he causes the gospel to break through our defences and brings us to faith. In our ignorance we usually think at first that we become Christians because we were looking for God and we found him, and we decided that we would commit our lives to him. But it was not us who found God, God found us. He had our coming to faith planned before the creation of the world. Does that boggle our minds? So it should. If we’re believers does that give us the most profound sense of security in Christ? So it should. Foreknowledge, predestination, calling – then:
The fourth link in the chain is justification.
Romans 8.30 again:
…and those whom he called he also justified…
Justification is a word that comes from the law court. It is God’s announcement now that believers are acquitted of all sin and rebellion. God the judge no longer looks at us, sinners and rebels that we are, but at Jesus who is our representative and substitute. As the apostle says back in Romans 8.3.23-24:
…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
And the result is spelled out back at the start of this chapter (Romans 8.1):
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Which brings us to the final link. So:
The fifth link in the chain is glorification.
Back to Romans 8.30:
…and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Steve Donald in his helpful new book on marriage discusses the singleness of the influential Bible teacher, preacher and scholar John Stott. At his packed memorial service in St Paul’s Cathedral, John Stott’s friend and ministry partner for over 50 years, Frances Whitehead, said of him:
The more I observed his life and shared it with him, the more I appreciated the genuineness of his faith in Christ, so evident in his consuming passion for the glory of God, and his desire to conform his own life to the will of God.
There was somebody who had taken hold of the wonder of God’s promise of glory. Foreknowledge; predestination; calling; justification; glorification. That is the strong chain of salvation. This is what the fearful Christian needs to know. Do you have faith in Christ? Then know that whatever happens you are safe with Jesus for all eternity. You are roped to him like that climber was roped to his companion. You will certainly struggle. You may fall again and again. But you’ll always be safe. So do not fear. Keep going. And rejoice. He will get you there in the end. And the destination is glorious. Let’s pray:
Heavenly Father, we praise you that through Jesus and with this unbreakable chain of salvation you have made us safe for ever. Help us by your Spirit to know this wonderful truth in the deepest recesses of our being. Help us to remember it when we’re struggling. And strengthen our joy in this wonderful truth we pray. In Jesus name. Amen.