Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 25, 2018
As always, let us begin by reciting our monthly memory verse, Romans 8:18. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” This is the last Sunday in March, therefore, this is the last Sunday that we will be reciting verse 18. However, do not set verse 18 aside forever. The key to long term memorization is long term repetition. We must continue to train our minds, month after month, or we will soon forget.
By way of a spoiler alert, I can already tell you what our memory verse for next month will be. It will be Romans 8:28, which will be our sole focus this morning. Like verse 18, it is a verse that provides us with great comfort and hope in times of suffering. Therefore, if you are an overachiever, feel free to start memorizing that text today. So with that said, please stand in honor of the living Word of God and follow along with me as I read Romans 8:28-30.
And last week as we examined verses 18-27 we acknowledged that this present time in our Christian walk is a difficult one. That as Christians we have trials and tribulations. The health and wealth prosperity Gospel is a complete and utter lie. Jesus himself says in Matthew 7:14 “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” And in John 16:33 Jesus tells his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” Jesus does not say you may have tribulation. He says that you will have tribulation.
And all we have to do is look at the life of the early Church, persecution, scattered, famines, 11 disciples were martyred, John was exiled, Paul was beaten, stoned, whipped, imprisoned, shipwrecked and then killed. Epaphroditus almost died delivering provisions to Paul. The churches in Macedonia experienced extreme poverty and afflictions. The Church in Smyrna experienced tribulation, poverty, and slander. Members of the Church in Pergamum were killed. And this list can go on and on an on.
Christians are a people who are destine to suffer in this present time, just like our Savior who suffered in his life and in his death. This is our lot in this life. This is why the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Suffering as a Christian is not strange, it is natural. In fact, not suffering is strange. All of your comfortable lives should be indictments in your walk, for a care free life could be an indicator that your faith is not real, that you are not an actual Christian. For Christians are those who share in the afflictions of Christ.
Now having said all of this, are we who suffer for the sake of His name, merely to grin and bear it? Are we to just suck it up? Or has God, in His grace, given us spiritual weapons to help us in times of suffering? That answer to that question is obvious. God has not forsaken us, he equips his children through His Word, and we saw this last week.
First we saw that the way you respond to suffering and the despair that could naturally follow is to have hope. What hope? The hope of what waits for us in glory, our eternal destiny. This is our memory verse, verse 18. We must get our eyes off the waves of this world and set our eyes upon Jesus, sitting at the right hand of God.
The second way that we respond to suffering is through prayer. And in our weakness it is the Holy Spirit that comes to our aid. The Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer, intercedes for us according to God’s will so that we pray in line with God’s purposes. And does God answer prayers that are in accord to his will. Absolutely.
The Sovereign God
Today we will look at the third weapon that we can use against the sin of despair. And this weapon is the knowledge of the Sovereignty of God.
AW Tozer stated, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Why did he say such a thing? Because it is true. Your view of God is a compass of our life. Unfortunately, for most of us, if not all, our view of God is terribly low, and in fact, many of your views of God are idolatrous.
Many people have wrongly taken God, and molded Him into a God that makes them comfortable; a God that they can wrap their heads around; a God that is just like themselves. They have a small, idolatrous view of God. And because of their small view of God, they do not fear God; they do not submit to God; they do not trust in God; they do not worship God.
And this is why Christians must be Bible people. For the Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible revelation to us of who God is. This is the primary purpose of the Bible, to reveal to us the one true living God. For God is not a god to mold, God is the one true God to behold. And when you have a true view of God, it changes every aspect of your life. It changes how you wake up, it changes how you eat food, it changes your marriage, it changes how you raise your children, it changes what you do for a living, it changes where you go to Church, it changes how you spend your money, and it changes how you respond to suffering. Which leads us into our text today.
So with that said let us look at verse 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.” Let us begin with the implicit question that AW Tozer posed, who is God? The Bible has some pretty big things to say about God.
What does Sovereign mean? The Greek Word for sovereign Lord is the word despotes. It is where we get the word for despot, which means a ruler with absolute power and authority. Normally, in it’s common English use it is used to describe someone who is tyrannical or brutal in their authority. That is not how it is used here, but it is used to describe that preeminent position that God has over all things that exist, space, time, and matter. This would include galaxies, stars, planets, natural laws, wind, rain, vegetation, animals, insects, people, viruses, bacteria, atoms, and electrons. God has absolute power and authority over all things created.
RC Sproul famously says, “There is no maverick molecule if God is Sovereign.” For if God did not have absolute control over all things, then he cannot be trusted to bring about what he has promised. The verse that I believe is a slam dunk on this issue is Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” There is nothing more seemingly random then lots being cast. They are just like dice. This verse is explicitly saying that every dice roll is determined by God. That if I had two dice in my hand and cast them onto this floor, it is God who ordains what the outcome would be. And I could do that 1 million times, and every single time, God is the one who determines every outcome.
Now the implications of this truth are life changing. This is where past paradigms in your life start to crumble. This means that every event that has ever occurred in your life was ordained by God. Every moment of your life has been determined by God.
Listen to Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Before you existed, your days were formed for you. Today was formed for you before time existed.
I don’t have time to read to you all the text that point to this fundamental truth about the Sovereignty of God, but it is everywhere. The first Sunday I preached on the sovereignty of God, almost five years ago, I quoted nearly 50 verses that tell us that God is sovereign over all things. In fact, just to my right on the banner that you look at every single Sunday, Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
All Things Means All Things
And with this foundation, that God is despostes, sovereign, we can move back to 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.” When God says he uses all things for our good, he means all things. He does not mean some things, he means all things, big and small, cataclysmic and mundane, evil and good…all things.
This means that God is sovereign over even the bad things in life. This means that God is ordaining suffering. We have already seen this in Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” The wrath that is revealed is a creation that is cursed, death, disease, division, etc. Likewise we just studied in in Romans 8:20 that God subjected creation to futility. It is through this wrath upon the world, and through the cursed creation that many of our sufferings come. However, here are a few more verses that support that God ordains suffering:
Therefore, Christian, your suffering is not random. Your suffering is the will of God. This means that your suffering has a purpose, and as Romans 8:28 says, the purpose of your suffering is that it is for your good. Suffering such as cancer, open heart surgery, a wayward husband, a wayward son, the loss of your job, the loss of a child, a church split, no health insurance, slander, persecution...all of those things in our lives that we groan against are working together for a believer’s good.
Now, for non-Christians, this is not true. Verse 28 only applies to those who God has called, who love God, not those who are unsaved. For the unsaved, their suffering is not for their good, it is for their ultimate bad. In fact for those who are not Christians, your suffering is just a foretaste of the groanings of Hell. And this cursed creation is as good as it will ever get for eternal torment awaits you.
But for Christians, suffering has been flipped on its head and the Sovereign God of the Universe is using it for His glory and your good. Suffering becomes a tool in the hands of God to reach the end that He desires.
But how? How does God use suffering for our good, for in the midst of our suffering, it does not feel very good. Many ways. More ways than we have time to cover this morning, but here are a few.
One way is through discipline. Hebrews 12:6 - “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Suffering is not punishment, but it may be discipline. An example of this is the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7. Paul says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” A thorn was given to Paul to keep him humble. What is this thorn, no one is completely sure, but make no mistake, Paul wanted it removed. But God did not, for the thorn was the instrument that taught the Apostle Paul humility.
Another way that God uses suffering is that it draws us to the Lord. Listen to what it says in 1 Peter 4:19 - “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” It is through suffering that we must turn to the Lord and trust in him. When everything is roses, is it not our nature to draw near to Him, but the moment things falls apart, what do we do? We rightful turn to the Lord and cry out, we groan inwardly with the help of the Spirit. Last night I read a quote by Charles Spurgeon, ““I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”
Another good that can some out of suffering is a deeper knowledge of the Lord. Everyone knows that the plight of poor Job. If you recall the story, it was God himself that brought Job to Satan's attention. God was the cause of Job losing all this wealth, losing his family, losing his health, and emotionally losing his wife and friends. And at the very end of the Book of Job, Job says to the Lord, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
6therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Without suffering, Job never speaks these words. It is the midst of suffering that God reveals himself to us. My guess is that many of you can testify to this truth, perhaps even now. A phrase that I have used in the past is that brokenness brings clarity. In our suffering we can see better the mercy, grace, steadfastness, and comfort of our Good Father.
And the final one, which is the preeminent one, and which fits into the context of Romans 8:28 is that suffering molds us to be Christ like. Look at verse 28 and 29, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” It is in suffering that the dross of our sin and flesh is burned away. It is through suffering that the grip of this world is loosened. It is through suffering that we set our eyes upon glory when we lay hold of him who has laid hold of us. God uses suffering to fulfill our destiny and conform us to the image of His Son.
So do not complain when suffering comes upon your life. Rejoice in your trials and tribulations for it is through them that he brings us to glory.