Morning Devotional

More Than Conquerors

No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.

[Proverbs 12:21]

What do you fear most in life? In those quiet, reflective moments as you contemplate your future, what anxiety robs you of joy?

If you are a student, maybe it is the fear that you will never graduate or that you will never be able to find a job. If you are single, maybe it is the fear that you will never find a mate. For some of you, your greatest fear is that you will remain stuck in an unfulfilling job or an unsatisfying marriage. For some of you, your greatest fear for the future is the loss of something important to you, such as the loss of your mate, the loss of your job, the loss of your savings, or perhaps the loss of your health. What is it that you fear most in life? Whatever that fear is, the concluding verses of Romans 8 have wonderful words of reassurance that should remove any anxiety that is draining your life of joy right now.

Last week, we looked at what I call the greatest promise in the Bible–Romans 8:28, which says, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” That verse is not saying that all things are good, and it is not saying there is good in everything. There are some things that happen to us that are absolutely terrible and evil. But God has the ability to cause all those things to work together for good. And the “good” is not our happiness, our fulfillment, or the achievement of our potential. The “good” for which all things are working together is God’s purpose.

What is God’s one purpose for which He is working together all things in your life? Romans 8:29 tells us, “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.” God saved you to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that while Jesus will always be the first, He will not be the only child of God; there will be many men and women who thought like Jesus thought and acted like Jesus acted. That is God’s purpose for which He is molding all things in your life. God is using everything in your life, including those terrible tragedies, to make you like Christ.

Proverbs 12:21 says, “No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.” That verse does not mean nothing bad ever happens to the righteous. That phrase “no harm befalls” in Hebrew literally means “nothing without purpose happens” to the righteous. That is the promise of Romans 8:28. You cannot be assaulted by adverse people or adverse circumstances except by the will of God, and He is working those things in your life to make you more like Christ.

Morning Devotional

The Condition Of The Bible’s Greatest Promise

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son … and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

[Romans 8:29-30]

Romans 8:28 is the Bible’s greatest promise, but it is not a promise for everyone. Notice the condition: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” The Bible says there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who love God and those who hate God. The only people who can know that God is working all things together for good are those who are properly related to God through faith in Jesus Christ. If you are not a Christian, Romans 8:28 does not apply to you. You do not have any assurance that all things are working together for good. The promise of Romans 8:28 is limited to those who know God, who are called according to His purpose.

Paul explained what he meant by that in verses 29 and 30. These verses have been called the five golden links in the chain of salvation. “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son … and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

First, notice the word “foreknew.” In the Old Testament, “foreknew” meant to enter into a relationship with. Before the foundation of the world, God chose to set His affection on you. His choice had nothing to do with your good looks, your good works, or your potential. Second, the Bible says whom God foreknew, He predestined. That word “predestined” means to mark out the boundaries of. God set a pattern for your life. He determined your destiny. Third, the Bible says whom God predestined, He called. There was a moment in time that God called you to salvation. Fourth, when God called you to salvation and you responded in faith, He justified you. Justification is the judicial act by which God declares a sinner not guilty before Him. The moment you trusted in Christ as Savior, all your sins were forever forgiven. Fifth, those whom God justified, He glorified. Glorification is the time when God will give His children new bodies free from sin, sickness, suffering, and sadness. Notice that while our glorification is yet future, in this verse it is in past tense, as if it has already happened. Remember, God is not limited by time like we are. God treats our glorification as a done deal. You have already been glorified.

A final word I want to look at in this promise is “together.” The Bible does not say that God uses each thing individually for good but “all things together for good.” Like the ingredients in a cake, God takes the good things, the not-so-good things, and the terrible things in your life, and He blends them together in the right proportion, for the right amount of time, to produce good in your life. Together, they mold you into the image of His Son. Aren’t you grateful for a God who is able to do that? That is why Romans 8:28 is the greatest promise in the Bible.

Morning Devotional

The Author Of Your Life Plan

In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

[Psalm 139:16]

What does God mean when He gives this promise in Romans 8:28: “God causes all things to work together for good”? He is not saying everything is working together to make you a star athlete. He is not saying all the disappointments in your dating life are working together to bring you a perfect spouse. He is not saying the hardships you are facing at your job are working together to make you more successful. Then what is this promise saying?

First of all, God has a purpose for your life. People usually only quote the first portion of this verse: “God causes all things to work together for good.” But it goes on to say, “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” The word “good” is related to “purpose.” This verse is saying that all things work together for God to accomplish His purpose in your life. What is that purpose? Paul said in verse 29: “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.” Out of billions of people in the world, God chose to save you. And He chose to save you for a purpose: to mold you into the image of His Son. God wants you and I to love what Jesus loved, to think as Jesus thought, to do the things that Jesus did. The Bible says God uses all things in your life to make you like His Son, Jesus. The word “good” is not a synonym for “healthy,” “successful,” “admired,” or “fulfilled”–that is not what everything is working together to accomplish. Instead, everything is working together to make you like Christ.

Second, God’s purpose for your life includes “all things.” God causes all things to work together to make you like Christ. When you have a steady income, when you are in a fulfilling marriage, and when your health is great, it is easy to say, “Yes, all things are working together for good.” But it also means that unwanted divorce, that undeserved termination, and that unfair accusation–all those things are also working together to accomplish God’s purpose in your life: to make you like Christ. In fact, have you noticed it is those mighty blows from the Master’s hammer, those hard things, that forge the character of Christ in your life? It is not the easy things that make you look like Jesus; it is the difficult things. God uses all things, especially the hurtful things in your life, to mold you into the image of His Son.

Third, God is in control of all that happens to us. People say, “Things just have a way of working themselves out.” But that is not what Romans 8:28 is saying! Things do not work out for good by chance. On the contrary, if things are left on their own, they usually work out for bad. The law of entropy says everything is spiraling downward. Romans 8:28 says, “God causes all things to work together for good.” God is the one who is in control of every circumstance in your life. In fact, God is the author of your life plan. Every detail of your life has been planned by God.

The Content of the Bible’s Greatest Promise

The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.

[Proverbs 16:9]

Romans 8:28 is perhaps the greatest promise in the Bible. It says, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” What is this promise actually saying? Many people misunderstand this promise, so it would be helpful to examine what this verse is not claiming.

First of all, this promise is not claiming that all things are good. Some people say, “There is something good in every situation.” Try telling that to a parent whose child has been killed. No, Paul was not saying there is good in every situation. Dark is not light. Sorrow is not joy. Death is not life. Paul is not saying that all things are good. Some things that happen are absolutely evil.

Second, this promise is not claiming that we can see good in all things. Some people say, “If you just look hard enough or wait long enough, then you will be able to find that silver lining in the cloud.” Paul was not saying that either. He was not saying that we can see good in all things. My parents often quoted this verse when I was growing up. When things did not go my way, they would quote this verse to me. For example, after I lost a contest at school, they would say, “Robert, don’t worry about that; God had His reason. God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” But that was not the case in every situation.

My dad worked for an airline, so we got to travel free of charge, unless paying passengers showed up to take our seats. Many times, we would be on our way back from vacation, eager to get home, but at the last minute, the airline would say, “Sorry. A paying passenger has shown up, so you are bumped.” We would end up spending the night in the airport. Whenever we would get bumped off a flight, my parents would say, “All things work together for good; there is a reason God did not have us get on that airplane. Maybe it was going to crash and burn, and God spared our lives.” I remember as a little kid wondering, “What about the people who did get on the airplane? How did that work out for them?” I appreciate what my parents were trying to do. They were trying to help me see the bigger perspective in life and not judge everything by an individual circumstance. But there are some problems with that kind of reasoning.

There are two basic problems with saying that if you just look hard enough you will find good in every situation. First of all, sometimes we go our entire lives without ever seeing the good in the situation. Life is not like a television program that resolves everything in 30 minutes. There is not a happy ending to every story–not in this life anyway. Second, perhaps the biggest problem with that kind of reasoning is that it is based on a wrong view of the word “good.” We are trying to define good in our own terms. But what God says is good and what we think is good are not always the same.

Practical Principles About Suffering

But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

[Romans 8:25]

There are two practical principles about suffering in Romans 8 that I hope will be an encouragement to you.

Principle number one: present suffering enhances future joy. Imagine it is a hot summer day, and you decide to host a party at your house. Half of your guests are outside on the patio. The smart half are inside enjoying the air conditioning. As a good host, you decide to walk around with a tray of iced tea. First, you serve tea to your guests outside, and then you come inside and serve tea to your guests there. Which group do you think is going to enjoy that tea the most? It is going to be those who are outside in that sweltering heat. They are the ones who are the thirstiest. It is the same way with suffering. Those who suffer most in this world are going to be those who enjoy Heaven most in the next world. I think that is what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 5:6 when He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Principle number two: present suffering is real, but it is also temporary. In Romans 8, Paul compared the suffering in this world to the pains of childbirth. If you are a mom, I want you to remember the pain of being in labor: the suffering, the screaming, and the groaning. Now imagine that your husband is standing by your side as you go through that experience. He is gently holding your hand. And as you are screaming out in pain, he says, “Honey, what is the fuss about? Your suffering is just in your mind.” Or, “Honey, this is not unusual–lots of women have gone through this.” Would that make you feel better? What would be your reaction? The suffering you are experiencing is very real, and the only thing that makes it tolerable is the knowledge that it is temporary and that it is going to produce something better–a child. It is the same way with suffering. Look at what Paul said in Romans 8:25: “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” Make no mistake about it: the suffering you are experiencing is very real. When you go alongside a loved one who is suffering, do not diminish the reality of that suffering. Do not tell people that if they had more faith they would not suffer as much as they do. No, the suffering they feel is real. The word of hope you can offer to those who are suffering is this: it is temporary.

Some of my favorite words about suffering were written by Philip Yancey. He said, “The Bible never belittles human disappointment [or suffering], but it does add one key word: temporary. What we feel now, we will not always feel. Our disappointment is itself a sign, an aching, a hunger for something better. And faith is, in the end, a kind of homesickness–for a home we have never visited but have never once stopped longing for.”

The Suffering Of The Holy Spirit

The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

[Romans 8:26]

In Romans 8, Paul described not only a suffering of creation and even of Christians, but he also described a suffering experienced by the Holy Spirit. Paul said, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

Notice who does the groaning in this verse–it is not us. It is the Holy Spirit. Not only that, it is a groaning that is so deep it cannot be expressed in words. I believe Paul was saying that one of the limitations of being in our present bodies and possessing our limited understanding is sometimes we do not know how to pray. Maybe, like me, you have been so weighed down by something that you fall on your face before God and say, “God, I am so tired and filled with fear that I do not even know how to pray right now.” When that happens, Paul says, you have a friend, a helper, the Holy Spirit, who comes alongside you and prays for you to the Father. Romans 8:27 says that God “knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are one. They have a special language with each other, They have the same purpose and the same mind, and They pray and talk to each other on our behalf. Regardless of what suffering you are going through, you have a friend who comes alongside you and prays for you.

Think of it this way: Let’s imagine on Sunday at the end of the worship service, I decide I need to move my pulpit off the stage. So I start straining and trying to lift the heavy pulpit. Finally, I start to move the thing and get it going. Then a friend of mine walks by. He looks at me and says, “Pastor, that pulpit sure looks heavy. I wonder why they make pulpits so heavy. Pastor, do you think we ought to think about getting a Plexiglas pulpit? If we had a Plexiglas pulpit, it sure would be easier for you to move.” And on and on and on he goes. What do you think would be going through my mind while my friend is talking? The first thing I would want to say is inexpressible. But then I would say to him, “Instead of talking, help me with this podium.” I do not want to hear a lecture from him. I do not want to hear what I ought to be doing. I want him to get underneath the weight that I am carrying and help me. I do not want him to walk by with his hand on the podium; I want him to get underneath it. Only when I hear him grunting and groaning, like I am, will I know that my friend is really sharing the burden with me. It is the same way with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not just come alongside us when we are going through suffering; He bears the weight with us. He prays for us in ways we cannot even begin to understand. That was what Paul was talking about when he described in Romans 8:26-27 the groaning of the Holy Spirit of God.

The Suffering Of The Created World

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

[Romans 8:19]

In Romans 8:18, Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Isn’t it interesting that Paul did not go into a lengthy defense of the reality of suffering? He did not say, “Let me prove to you that we suffer.” He did not have to. We all understand that. Instead of defending the concept of suffering, Paul explained, beginning in verse 19, the realms in which suffering takes place.

Paul began his discussion by talking about the suffering of the created world. The suffering of creation is in some ways the reason that we suffer in our own lives. “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. … For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (8:19, 22). All of creation is suffering and groaning, looking for something better. Paul was talking about the natural world: plants, trees, animals, and vegetation. He was saying the natural world is groaning and looking for something better. He was not suggesting that the plants and the trees have feelings. But the idea is that they are under a burden, and they are looking for something that is yet to come.

What does the Bible say about nature? What the Bible says about the natural world is very different from what today’s students are being taught. First of all, God created a perfect world. This world did not evolve over a long period of time into something better; it started out perfect. Isaiah 45:18 says God did not create the world “a waste place.” When Adam and Eve inherited the Garden of Eden, there was no pollution, no thorns, thistles, or weeds. Second, sin corrupted the world. When Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, spiritual death came to all men because of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12). The environment also had a curse placed on it because of sin. After Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God, God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you … thorns and thistles it shall grow for you” (Genesis 3:17-18). It is not man’s sin against the environment but man’s sin against God that produced the curse of the created world. Third, the Bible promises that one day God will redeem the world. One day the curse He placed on the environment will be lifted. Romans 8:19-21 says, “The anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Just as you and I are looking forward to the day that we will be set free from the curse of sin and death, one day creation is going to be set free as well. God will destroy this present Heaven and earth and create a New Heaven and New Earth. And all of creation will rejoice on that day.

From Hurts To Hallelujahs

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

[Romans 8:18]

As a pastor, it seems to me that an increasing number of Christians are suffering more heartache and tragedies than ever before. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear of a marriage that is in trouble. Like me, you can probably name right now several people who have been recently diagnosed with cancer. It seems like I am doing more and more funerals not just for senior adults who have lived out their allotted time, but for those who were, in our view, taken prematurely in death. It does not matter whether suffering is precipitated by disease, divorce, or death–the question that always comes with suffering is the question, “Why?”

Recently, I was talking with a very close friend in the church who is going through his own period of trial. He said, “All week I have been asking God the question, ‘Why, Lord? Why are You allowing me to go through this?’” Oh, he knew all the theological answers, but he still asked the question: “Why, Lord?”

There are some of you right now reading these words who know what I am talking about when I speak about suffering and trials in your life. And if you are asking why these things are happening to you, I believe Romans 8 will not only give you some answers, but more importantly, it will provide you with some reassuring hope. Don’t we all need a dose of hope right now? We are going to get that in Romans 8. In Romans 8, we discover how God will one day take all our hurts and turn them into hallelujahs.

In Romans 8, we see the three birthmarks of a genuine believer in Christ. If you are truly a believer in Christ, then you will possess, first of all, an inward power that gives you victory over sin in your life. Second, if you are in Christ, you will possess an intimate relationship with God. God is your Daddy, your Papa, your Father. Third, if you are a true believer, you will also be the recipient of inherited wealth. Most of the inheritance you have as a child of God is still future. Look at Romans 8:17: “If children, [we are] heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” In this verse, the Greek construction of the word “if” is better translated “because.” Paul was saying that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, because we suffer with Him.” Suffering is not an option if you are a believer. It is going to happen in your life. Paul was saying, “Yes, there is an inheritance that is coming, but before that, there is suffering that comes.”

That led Paul into a discussion of suffering–a topic he explored in verses 18 to 27. What was Paul’s perspective on suffering? He said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (8:18).

The Suffering Of Christians

We ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

[Romans 8:23]

In Romans 8:23, Paul wrote, “We ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” Those of us who are children of God suffer in this world. Even those of us who have received the Holy Spirit groan from our suffering.

If you do not believe that, join me sometime in walking the hallway of a hospital. Or stand by an open grave with a mother or father as they say goodbye to their child. Or listen to the cries of a husband or wife who discovers their mate has been unfaithful. Through their inconsolable cries, you can hear that groaning. We groan in this world. And while suffering is something that every person experiences, Christians suffer more in this life than non-Christians. Why is that?

There are three reasons Christians suffer more than non-Christians in this world. First of all, we suffer more because of our sensitivity to sin. Unlike non-Christians, Christians are especially sensitive to sin in this world, to sin in other people, and to sin within themselves. David talked about this in Psalm 38:4, 10. He said, “My iniquities are gone over my head; as a heavy burden they weigh too much for me. … My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me.” A non-Christian does not feel that way about sin. But those who have the Holy Spirit feel the suffering that comes from their own sin.

Second, we suffer because of persecution for our faith. Christians living in an ungodly world suffer for standing up for their faith. In 1 Peter 4:12-13, Peter said, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”

The third reason Christians suffer more than non-Christians is because of an expectation of something better. Non-Christians have nothing to look forward to in the next life. But we do. In Romans 8:23, Paul said, “We ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” Just like creation is standing on its tiptoes looking for something better, we who are the children of God are also looking for something better. What are we looking for? Paul said we are looking forward to “our adoption as sons.” The day is going to come when you get to trade in your sin-filled, disease-ridden body that is prone to suffering, sin, disease, and death for a brand-new body from God that will never know sin, will never know sickness, and will never displease God. That is your inheritance, and it is forever. The Bible says we wait eagerly for that day.

Holiness In A Christian’s Life

If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

[Romans 8:13]

The Puritans had a word for what we call the doctrine of sanctification–they called it holiness.

Romans 8:12-14 says, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

There are three important insights to understand about holiness. First, holiness is the goal of every true Christian. God did not send Christ to die for you just to take you to Heaven one day. He sent Christ to die for you so that you can become more and more like Jesus Christ. Second, holiness is the result of obedience to God’s laws. In Romans 8:4, Paul described those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Life is like walking on a path. You are either on a path leading to Hell, or you are on a path leading to Heaven. Along the path we stumble and fall occasionally. But there is a difference between stumbling while still being on the path, and crossing the boundary and no longer being on the path. The Bible says holiness is the result of obedience to God’s laws. As long as we are obedient, we are becoming more like Jesus Christ. Third, holiness is a cooperative effort between God’s Spirit and us. If you are not a Christian, then there is no amount of effort that you can exert to be saved. Salvation is “the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is God’s work alone, but holiness is a cooperative effort between God and us.

Paul said in Romans 8:13, “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Who is supposed to put to death sin in our body? It is you empowered by the Spirit.

Paul continued, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (8:14). Did you know the Bible says there are some spiritual paternity tests you can use to discover if God in Heaven is truly your Father? That is what Romans 8 is about. Here are some tests to determine whether God is truly your Father and you are truly His child. First, do you really love God with all your heart? Do you love not just the idea of God, but do you really love God? Second, are you drawn to the things of God? Are you drawn to the Scriptures–to read them and apply them? Are you drawn to God’s people? Third, are you in the process of becoming more like Christ? Which road are you on right now: are you on the road that is making you more like the Savior or are you on the road that is making you less like the Savior? The Bible is clear: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (8:14).