The Big Picture (Romans 8:28-30)

God has a plan for every Christian, and it is a plan for our good. Romans 8:28 clearly tells us: “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” And deep down, every Christian believes that about the future – we know there is a wonderful home for us in heaven. We can also sometimes look back at our past and see a little of what God was doing and why; in hindsight we see the “silver linings” of the dark storms we endured. But the tricky part is in the present. It is hardest to believe that our current pain, suffering, and trials are somehow working for our good. And what do we mean when we talk about difficult things turning out for our “good”? Does God use every earthly hardship we face to eventually produce earthly blessings for us or others? We know that Romans 8:28 holds a rock solid promise for every believer. But to fully understand the promise of Romans 8:28, we must also look ahead to Romans 8:29 and Romans 8:30.

God’s will for every Christian is that they be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). That means that He wants to make us like Jesus. And He will do what is necessary to make that happen. He may use good health, great friends, a loving family, and much success to bring us joy and thankfulness and gently guide us to grow in grace and godliness. But He may also use injuries, illnesses, persecution, and family conflict to teach us humility and force us to turn to Him for help. God’s big picture plan is to prepare His people for heaven, to make us ready for eternity with Him in His kingdom. To make that plan happen, God has been at work in the life of every Christian since before they were even born. He chose to set His love and mercy on believers (“foreknew” in verse 29 means an intimate relational knowledge, like you “know” a close friend, not just “knowing” that something would happen), who then at some point in time felt the call of the gospel on their lives and responded in repentance and faith. Thus they were “predestined” or chosen by God to be saved, so that they then responded positively when He “called” them to salvation (Romans 8:30). God “justified” or made His people right with Him through their faith in the blood of Jesus, and one day they will be “glorified” or made perfect with Him in heaven forever. Bible scholars calls this “golden chain of redemption.” In God’s mind, every step of the Christian’s salvation is an unbreakable chain of events that has already happened – He sees the whole big picture all at once. But for us in the here and now, we must trust in the big picture without being able to see it. Our job is not to try to be God and figure everything out, but to simply trust in the Lord, obey His Word, and believe that all things will work for our soul’s good in the end.

Finally, an important observation we must make is that the amazing promise of Romans 8:28 is only for those who “love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” For the worldly person who loves sin and self instead of Jesus, for the one who does not want to know Jesus and do what He says, there is no promise here. If you have never surrendered your life to the lordship of Jesus Christ, then all God’s work in your life up to this point has been to lead you to repentance. If you have hardened your heart, then today’s passage says to you to stop resisting the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and instead bow the knee of your heart to Christ. To know that you are in the hands of a loving Father who is working all things for your good is the greatest of all blessings. But to know that you have chosen to do life on your own apart from God’s grace is the most tragic of all tragedies. Choose the better path in life and eternity and let Jesus be your Lord and Master.

The Text (Romans 8:28-30)

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Questions to Think About

  1. Can you think of some past suffering you faced that you can now see God was using for your good?
  2. What hardships are you facing right now? Is it difficult to believe that God is working in those trials for your good?
  3. How do people who do not have the hope of Christ deal with the many difficulties and sorrows of life?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

He Helps Us Pray (Romans 8:26-27)

Have you ever really wanted to pray but found you did not know what to say? Or have you ever felt a strong burden to pray and didn’t even know what to pray about? If so, take heart, because if you are a Christian, then God the Holy Spirit will help you to pray when you cannot do it on your own.

Today’s passage in Romans 8 discusses the believer’s experience of Spirit-led prayer. Earlier in Romans 8, Paul talked about the Holy Spirit’s ministry in saving Christians from their sins and empowering them to live new lives in Christ. He explained that the Spirit’s presence and ongoing work in believers is proof of their status as God’s adopted sons and daughters. Now, in verses 26-27, Paul talks about how the Spirit helps God’s children to pray. There are times when we are weak and do not know how or what to pray (v. 26). Sometimes, all we can do is just groan from our souls – there are no words for our sighs and cries. But God hears those prayers! His Holy Spirit lives in us, and He makes “intercession for us,” which means that He carries our prayers to the Father even when we cannot voice them ourselves. The Spirit can and does intercede for us because He is God. The Spirit can search our hearts and communicate our desires and needs to God while communicating His will to us (v. 27). Nobody really understands exactly how this experience works, but every Christian can testify to times when they knew that the Spirit was guiding their prayers. As Jesus explained in John 3 to the Pharisee Nicodemus, we cannot see the Spirit, but we can see the effects of the Spirit as He works in our lives.

How do we access this type of Spirit-led prayer more often? By continually “walking in the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, 4). We spend time in God’s Word regularly, studying and meditating on it in quiet places on our own. The Holy Spirit then takes the Bible that He inspired and impresses specific life applications on our minds and hearts. This sharpens our prayers to be about God’s will instead of our own. The Spirit purifies our thoughts and wants as He brings Scripture alive to us. Then we obey what God has shown us in His Word by His Spirit, and we begin to experience the supernatural peace of God’s presence and favor. Our minds are being led by the Spirit instead of our sin natures, so we get God’s promises of “life and peace” (Romans 8:6). As we develop the habit of walking in the Spirit, we will then get to experience more of the amazing prayer times that Paul describes in today’s passage. Such intense prayer may not happen every day or week, but if you are walking in obedience to the Lord, there should be times when you feel and know that the Spirit is guiding your prayers. If you have been feeling spiritually dry for a long time, it may be that you need to get alone with God in His Word and listen for the still small voice of the Spirit applying biblical truth to your life. God promises us that “you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Will you seek after God’s Spirit in prayer today?

The Text (Romans 8:26-27)

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you ever had any really intense times of prayer? What happened?
  2. What have you learned from listening to Christian mentors (parents, teachers, pastors, coaches, etc) share about their experiences with prayer?
  3. Are you there any sinful desires, attitudes, or behaviors that might be hurting your prayer life right now? What could you do to put yourself more in tune with the Holy Spirit’s leading and guidance?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

The Christian’s Great Hope (Romans 8:18-25)

At times, life can really beat you down. As I write this, my back hurts, hopefully just from a muscle strain. I hurt it playing basketball with a compression sleeve on my knee, which I am convinced did not let me bend my leg far enough on my right side and led to the injury. I had hurt that knee in the fall playing basketball with an ankle brace (same leg – the right one), which I am convinced put too much stress on my knee because it didn’t allow my ankle to move enough. I had the brace on my ankle because I sprained it playing basketball at the end of the summer. Before my 30’s, I could play ball whenever and never got hurt. Then I hit 34 and tore my Achilles’ tendon and pain management started to become part of my thought process whenever I have a chance to play. So now I am resting and hopefully healing and have sworn to never wear any kind of brace or sleeve again!

And this current health battle I face is minor compared to the struggles of others. My wife has suffered daily headaches and back pain for years from a bad car accident when she was in college. Your parents, grandparents, and other teachers can probably share similar stories of pain and suffering, some from aging and diseases, and some from the hazards of life. Based on all the boots and braces I see around campus, you may have already faced some sports injuries that have shown you the weakness of your body. Or maybe you have had serious illnesses; we have even had a few students at NRCA fight cancer. Maybe your recent battles have been emotional stresses with friends or family. The truth is that many of you don’t need anyone to convince you that life can be hard.

Our suffering is a reminder that we live in a fallen world. Today’s reading in Romans tells is that all of creation is under the curse of sin (Romans 8:20), and that our environment “groans” as it waits for the day when God will redeem it at the end of the age (Romans 8:21-22). But even more important to God will be the redemption of His people. Christians suffer for a little while now, but it is a small thing compared to the glorious future we have awaiting us in the next life (Romans 8:18). We face physical hardships like pain and sickness now in our weakened earthly bodies. We suffer emotional stresses and sometimes persecution for our faith. At times we sigh and even “groan” as we wait for the perfect resurrection bodies that we will receive in the new heaven and the new earth (Romans 8:23). Even more so, we groan under the weight of our sins and long for that wonderful day when we will no longer have to battle temptation and the guilt of the times we disobey God. We hope for a future we cannot see by hoping in a Jesus we cannot see (Romans 8:24). But by faith we patiently trust that one day our hope will become sight when we die and enter the welcoming presence of our Lord (Romans 8:25). Our hope is certain, not mere wishful thinking. As we read yesterday, we have already begun to experience the “first fruits” (Romans 8:23) of our salvation through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts (Romans 8:14). This process of sanctification, or changing of our heart from evil to good, is our proof that Jesus is real and so are His promises of heaven to His followers. Don’t lose heart in your pain. Let the great hope of heaven encourage you today in whatever trials you face.

The Text (Romans 8:18-25)

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you experienced any physical injuries or emotional stresses in the past few years that have reminded you that our world is messed up from the curse of sin?
  2. Do you have any family or friends who have suffered or are currently suffering greatly in some way right now?
  3. What is life like for suffering people who do not have the Christian’s hope of heaven?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

The Test of Sonship (Romans 8:12-17)

When considering close friendships, how can you tell if someone else is a Christian? More importantly, how can you tell if you are a Christian? Well, we could consider things like, “Does the person claim to be a Christian?” or more specifically, “Does the person say they believe Jesus is God and that He is the only way to heaven?” We might also look at evidence like whether or not the person reads the Bible, prays, or goes to church. But as Dr. Evans chillingly cautioned us last week in chapel, simply knowing and doing the right things does not make someone a Christian. As Jesus Himself said, many will come to Him on the last thinking that they belong in heaven when in fact they never knew Jesus at all (Matthew 7:21-23). No, if we are really serious about our own eternal destiny and the eternal destiny of those around us, we need a better way to evaluate faith.

Fortunately, Scripture gives a better test in our passage today – the test of sonship through the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that when people truly come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, they become God’s own adopted sons (and daughters) by the power of the Holy Spirit who comes to live inside them (Romans 8:15). This work of the Spirit sets us free from fearing God as His enemies and instead witnesses within our souls that we have become God’s friends and children (Romans 8:16). To be a child of the King of Kings is to be totally loved, forgiven, and accepted. Christians have been brought into God’s family not because of what we do or have done, but because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Jesus paid the sin debt that we could not have covered with a million years of good works. Our response to that gift is thankfulness and joy, which in turn leads us to a new life led by the Spirit of God within us. We are now “debtors” to God, not living as slaves serving a distant Judge out of the fear of punishment, but as children gladly obeying a caring Father who rescued us from sin and death and hell (Romans 8:12). We now seek to “put to death” or get rid of sin in our life (Romans 8:13) and instead be led by the work of the Spirit, which makes us desire to do God’s holy will. To be led by the Spirit is, as Dr. Evans explained well in chapel last week, to be growing in our love for God and our hatred for our sin, to be putting more and more of our trust and fear in our God instead of our circumstances or other people.

Do you want to know if you are a son or daughter of God? Look to the witness of the Holy Spirit within you. Look for the fruit that only the Holy Spirit can produce – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Don’t look for perfection, but look for progress. Are you growing in faith and godliness? Ask yourself, “Do I love Jesus? Do I want to do what He says? Do I want to live for Him? Do I have compassion to see others know Jesus? Do I feel sweet fellowship when I am with other Spirit-led Christians?” Today’s passage makes a clear statement about the authenticity of people’s faith: “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). A person willfully currently choosing a life of sin and disobedience may indeed have received the Holy Spirit in the past but be severely resisting or quenching Him to their own hurt in the present. However, they might not have the Holy Spirit and be a child of God at all. Today’s text warns us to take following God very seriously because it says that the proof of spiritual sonship is not found in what we say we believe or an experience we claim to have had. Instead, Romans 8 points us to how the Holy Spirit transforms our lives to become more like Jesus. Sons and daughters will be like their Father. The sons and daughters of God are heirs with Christ, set to inherit all the joys of eternal life now and the blessings of heaven forever after our death (Romans 8:17). May we all be led by the Spirit and rejoice in our adoption as God’s children.

The Text (Romans 8:12-17)

12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

Questions to Think About

  1. How could considering yourself a debtor to God affect your daily life this week?
  2. In what areas of your life are you striving to put sin to death this school year?
  3. Have you ever examined your life to look for evidence of the Holy Spirit at work? If yes, what did you discover? If not, would you be willing to let God examine your heart this week?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Life Through the Spirit (Romans 8:5-11)

The famous evangelist Billy Graham often reminded his huge crowds of listeners of what we read about today in Romans 8:5-11: No one can live the Christian life through their own power and efforts. Try as they might, people who have not been born again by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit cannot please God. The preacher knew his audiences. Many of the tens of thousands who filled football stadiums across America to hear his sermons were religious and moral people. They had a good sense of right and wrong. They knew something about the Bible, Jesus, and church. But without a personal relationship with Jesus, they were still slaves to their old sinful natures. Their minds were not filled with and led by the Spirit of God. But praise God, many left those meetings having met the Lord! Before salvation they had only the “form” or appearance of godliness, but they left with the power of God inside them to enable them to do what Jesus said and live as He commanded. Hopefully, you have experienced that same power by repenting of your sin and trusting in Christ as Lord and Savior.

People without Christ have minds and hearts led by sinful desires, or what the Bible calls “the flesh,” but born-again Christians are led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5). Those without Christ are already experiencing the signs of death now, such as worry, guilt, conflict, fear, and many other bitter consequences of sin, while believers led by the Spirit experience “life and peace” (Romans 8:6). Unsaved people are at war with God because they are not willing to submit to His authority over their lives (Romans 8:7). No matter what good words or acts of kindness they might do, people who have not been reconciled or made right with God through faith in the blood of Jesus “cannot please God,” meaning they cannot satisfy God’s holy demands for their thoughts and actions (Romans 8:8). They are dead in their sins.

But if you are a born-again Christian, you are not in that awful state anymore because now the “Spirit of God dwells [lives] in you”(Romans 8:9). The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit inside you, slowly making you more holy like the Jesus who died and rose again for you, is the great proof that you belong to God. You now count yourself dead to sin but alive to the righteousness of God, the holy way that He wants you to live (Romans 8:10). The same Spirit that gave Jesus the power to rise from the dead now gives you the strength to live a new life filled with the fruits of godliness: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control (Romans 8:11; Galatians 5:22-23). If you are in Christ today, the power to live the Christian life that you want to live is in you through the Spirit. As you read the Bible and commune with God in prayer, as you learn to hear God’s voice in your conscience and respond to His Word with obedience, you will do what the Bible calls “walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) and enjoy the new life in Christ. If you find that you are not in Christ today, then may you find salvation and peace by turning from your sin and trusting in what Christ has done for you on the cross. May you stop the painfulness of trying to run your own life and instead discover the blessedness of letting Jesus be in control.

The Text (Romans 8:5-11)

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Questions to Think About

  1. What would you say to a person who describes themself as a “holiday Christian” (a Christmas and Easter celebrator) who “generally tries to live by the Sermon on the Mount” but doesn’t want to get “too serious” about following Christ?
  2. Why do you think that many famous actors and athletes like to do good works projects in their communities and countries? If they are not Christians, does their service to their fellow men and women please God? Why or why not?
  3. What are some specific ways that you have experienced new life in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit inside you?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel