For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.Romans 8:18, ESV.
This is what the Apostle Paul immediately confesses after rejoicing over the magnificent claim that to be in Christ is to also be a blessed child of God, free from condemnation and possessor of abundant, eternal life with God (see Romans 8:1-11).
There are many reasons for why I love the Bible, but Romans 8:18 in connection with the truth of Romans 8:31 is near the top of that list. The Bible assures my trembling heart of my glorious future with God, without ignoring the hard reality of my present sufferings. After experiencing the trials of 2020 and the rocky start to 2021, this truth about the Bible I believe will preach with power.
Far from telling God’s children to just pretend that times are not that bad, the Bible invites them to view the sufferings of the present time through the lens of the awesome promises that God makes in His Word. And, in light of those promises we are to press forward, not with drooping hands and weak knees, but with a heart inflamed with a bright and burning joy—not because Christians are out of touch with reality, but because of the sure hope that we, as the Children of God, have in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, let me share with you the glorious truth that I sense God leading His people to rejoice over, even in the sufferings of these present times.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?Romans 8:31, ESV.
Let me unpack that verse by taking three quick steps.
First, let me help you see that ‘us’ is not a reference to the entire world, but a very specific reference to the redeemed children of God who are in Christ.
I could name several reasons for why I think it important for you to see ‘us’ in that way. I could appeal to philosophical reasons, or I could appeal to just the practical implications of not seeing it that way. However, and no disrespect to philosophy and theologians, but I don’t think that will persuade you to see ‘us’ that way.
I have lived among you Sand Mountain and surrounding valley peoples for my entire life, and so I like to think that I know how you people think and process things. You are not philosophers, nor are you theologians immersed in technicalities. You are people of The Book. You just want to know what the Bible says. And so, I will show you just that, and then I am going to challenge you to believe it.
Thankfully, there is no need for philosophy or technicalities here. All we need to do is to simply look at the context. There is absolutely no doubt that Paul is explicitly talking about the children of God in Romans chapter 8, verse 31, because that is all he has been talking about!
Romans 8:1, no condemnation now for those in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:9, those who have the Spirit of Christ living in them belong to God.
Romans 8:14, those who have the Holy Spirit of God living in them belong to God as children.
Romans 8:16, His Holy Spirit bears witness with us that we are in fact His children.
Romans 8:23, we who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
And then my goodness you have to account for the explosive statements of Romans 8:28-30, And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.
So, unless you are a goofy universalist who thinks that every single person is a redeemed child of God who is going to heaven, then I think it is quite clear that Paul is explicitly speaking in Romans 8:31 about the same redeemed children of God that he has been talking about for the first 30 verses of Romans chapter 8.
That’s the most important reason for you needing to see that ‘us’ is an exclusive reference to the redeemed children of God—because that is exactly how Paul is using it!
So, here is the glorious truth we get now from understanding that: God is not for everyone. But, He is absolutely for His children.
Here’s the second step: Because ‘us’ is referring specifically to the redeemed children of God, then we have a question that needs to be answered. Is God really for His children?
Thankfully, Paul doesn’t tell us to reason by our feelings here. He gives the answer to his question in the verses immediately before it. Let’s look at Romans 8:28-30 again.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.Romans 8:28-30, ESV
Let me make two very clear observations about this very difficult passage.
1. The good of verse 28 does not deny the sufferings of verse 18, which is the verse we read at the very beginning.
Here’s what I mean: all things work together for good does not mean all things are easy for the children of God. All things work together for good does not mean that ‘bad things’ never happen to the children of God. All things work together for good does not mean that you should just suck it up and pretend that everything is okay.
I know there are some coffee cups and t-shirt companies that would love for that verse to mean that, but my goodness—if that is what Romans 8:28 means, then what in the world happened with Joseph!
Remember him? The Old Testament guy whose brothers threw him in a pit and then sold him into slavery. The guy whose Egyptian master threw him under the prison for several years on the basis of false accusations. Bad things happened to Joseph. But, Joseph had come to know God in a way that it affected the manner in which he interpreted these bad events of his life. In fact he reveals his theology at the end of his story in the book of Genesis. He tells those nasty brothers of his, As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Don’t romanticize that. His brothers meant evil when they threw him into that pit. They meant evil when they sold him to Egypt as a slave. Joseph has not lost touch with reality pretending that nothing bad had ever happened to him. His faith has enabled him to see that God, in all his wisdom, has hijacked their twisted actions and straightened them out to meet His good purpose.
We can also consider Christ here who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself! (Hebrews 12:3) Consider Jesus who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2)! Consider Jesus, through whose suffering, stripes, and substitutionary death we became the children of God!
Don’t romanticize that. The cross was meant for evil by those who hammered the nails through His hands and feet. It was traumatic. It was tragic—but it was glory cloaked in tragedy. Those who crucified The Lord meant it for evil, yes. But God meant it for good, that many people would be saved for eternity.
So, on the basis of the entire story of The Bible, I joyfully submit to you today that God works all things—including the bad things that happen to us—for our ultimate good.
But what is that good purpose? Paul doesn’t leave us hanging here either.
The first word of verse 29, For, reveals the evidence that God is in fact working all things together for the good of His children. Read it with me…
For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.Romans 8:29-30, ESV.
Here’s the second very clear observation in this difficult passage.
2. The evidence that God is for His children working all things together for good is that He is standing at both ends of eternity as the worker, the orchestrator, and the guarantor of their salvation.
Listen to me. There are sufferings, trials, and hardships in this sin broken world that occasionally come upon the children of God. But the encouragement here is two things I think. The first is that God is not shocked by my sufferings in this present time. He knows my trials before they occur, and that is comforting because the second thing is that God is also sovereign over all things that happen to me.
He is straightening out all the good, the mediocre, and the bad things in my life to shape me into the glorious image of His Son.
When disaster leaps upon me like a lion, it is The Lord who muzzles it. When the ground beneath my feet gives way like a sinkhole, it is The Lord who builds a platform under my feet. When the sea rages like a tsunami against me, it is The Lord who sets its boundaries.
But, I didn’t just come up with that overnight. I had to go through some trials to learn that. So, let me share with you some personal trials I have endured—and then let me preach with joy how God has preserved, and grown my faith.
- On March 12, 2020 I came home from FCA to find my wife, at that time 5 months pregnant, doubled over in excruciating pain. My heart beat out of my chest as we drove to Huntsville, bracing for the worst news we could get, and praying for the mercy of God to intervene.
- On March 13, 2020 my wife went into emergency surgery to remove what we later learned could have been a life threatening situation had we delayed in going to the hospital.
- On March 15, 2020 my life dramatically changed because of this new virus called COVID and the world literally shut down in a way unlike anything I have ever experienced.
- On October 12, 2020 we left our house at 3:30 AM with my three-month old son to have his cleft lip repair surgery at children’s in Birmingham. I can not find the human words to describe the angst that hurt my soul as we turned him over to the nurse and watched as they carried him away. Tears welled up in my eyes even as I wrote this. I will never forget the look on his face for as long as I live. A moment of pain etched forever into my memory.
In the midst of all this there was the chaos of national anarchy in the streets, chaos over a presidential election, and of course ten months of COVID. And, let’s just be frank—the first two weeks of January have just been a huge pile of garbage.
Now I don’t want for you to misunderstand me, I am not gloating. There are people reading this who have experienced trials and sufferings far more difficult than mine. I assure you, I am not competing with you. I do not make mention of my personal sufferings to boast in any way, for I assure you that my many moments of weakness, doubt, and anger far outweighed any moment of personal strength that I may think I displayed.
But, I boldly confess that I am where I am today only because of the sovereign grace of a loving God who has muzzled every lion, built platform after platform, and parted every sea that has tried to devour me. The only reason that I dare make mention of my personal trials over the last year is to joyfully boast of Christ’s strength made known in my weakness.
I want you to know that when I proclaim to you that Yes, God is for His children, working all things together for good—I want you to know that it is not a truth I picked up from seminary or from some other preacher—I have learned it through His Word at work in my own life, I believe it, and I rejoice over it with all of my heart.
And so, because I believe that God is for His children—I now have the joy of taking this third and final step to encourage you with the answer to the second half of verse 31, who can be against us?
I sense that I just need to let Paul speak for Himself. So, here is Paul’s answer to that question.
32 He who did not spare his own Son but, gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Romans 8:32-39, ESV.
On that basis of that answer, I joyfully say to you with all the confidence in the world…
Yes, God was for His children in 2020, and God is still for His children—even in 2021.
I pray you are encouraged, and that Christ is making much of Himself in your heart right now.