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For the good of those who love him

Sermon passage: (Romans 8:14-17, Romans 8:28-30) Spoken on: September 20, 2015
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Romans

Tags: Romans, 罗马书

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Sermon on Romans 8:14-17, 28-30

Title: For the good of those who love him
Speaker: Rev Wong Siow Hwee

I usually take about two weeks to write a sermon. So this was written in the midst of election fever. Nationwide, we asked ourselves: who are the right people to lead us forward? What kind of society do we want? The answers to these questions will determine our immigration policies, our taxation and so on. Similarly, we have our own set of questions in our Christian faith信仰. Brothers and sisters, have you thought about this? If the bible is an answer, then what is the question? I wish I could tell you that it is easy, but it isn’t. I have discovered that my questions have changed as I mature in my spiritual journey. For now, I ask these questions: What is God’s plan for his people? How does he achieve it? And lastly, how should the community respond and live accordingly? In many ways, these questions are quite similar to our election questions. The end results will determine the character and identity of the people of God.

Romans is a good book to reflect on these questions. From chapter 1 to chapter 8 of Romans, it is a continuous train of thought. From one point to the next, Paul made his case for his understanding of salvation救恩. Now, why is salvation necessary? Because humanity had a problem. Because of sin, we were estranged from God. Separated from God, we were on a downward spiral. We thought we could use the law to justify ourselves; much like how some religions think that morality is the answer. But justification by works has failed repeatedly as an experiment, whether in Israelite history or even in human history. In the end, the law was used to convict us and bring us death instead. It is in this context that Paul spoke about God’s salvation: a new life through union with Jesus Christ. Paul was convinced of this: this is the salvation he experienced personally. A salvation based on the resurrected Christ he witnessed. A salvation totally unlike the legalism of his past. This salvation is the solution to the problem with humanity: a new life through union with Jesus Christ. A new life that is transformed by grace and expressed in love. Brothers and sisters, Christianity is about this new life. In our cell groups, as we share with one another using Romans 12-16, I hope we internalize this new life. On the pulpit, I can explain the logic and show you the big picture. But it is in the cell groups, amongst a group of people that understand your struggles and difficulties, that’s where you receive support and encouragement in shaping your new life in a concrete way.

Like I said earlier, Romans 1-8 is one continuous train of thought. And after describing and arguing for our new life in union with Jesus Christ, if we feel persuaded by Paul’s exhortations, then today’s passage is further reinforcement for our conviction. It is telling you: if you are committed to this, then don’t give up and never lose hope. The reinforcement is this: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”(v.28). This is the key idea, an unshakeable tenet of our faith. A key idea that allows us to trust and commit ourselves to God’s plan of restoration and reconciliation. When Paul used the words “we know”, he was presuming that both he and his readers accepted this as a fact. And he was right. I also believe that his readers in Rome would also accept his statement without question.

But sadly, that is no longer the case today. The personality and ways of God were inculcated to the Jews through their psalms, their stories during Passover and their historical writings. Even the early gentile Christians who were mostly proselytes, they would have a similar understanding of God. Paul could make this presumption without further explanation because he knew that “we know”. But sadly, that is no longer the case today. In this day and age, we come with many different mindsets about God. If we are not careful, this presumption turns into a dangerous assumption. Some come with pagan ideas, equating God with the fertility “gods”. God becomes a deity granting what you pray and wish for. Some come with Western philosophical frameworks, God is a mixed bag of concepts. God becomes the embodiment of their ideas of justice, success or love. Even if you grew up from young in church, your idea of God may be a children version that needs to be transformed as you mature into an adult.

Maybe it is the election season, but when I read the phrase “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”, my first thought is the character played by Selena Tan in the local movie I Not Stupid.[1] She plays a domineering mother dressed totally in white who demands total obedience. Her repeated lines are "Do you know how lucky you are to have a good and responsible mother?" and my favourite "This is all for your own good". So when Paul said that God will work in all things “for your own good”, I don’t know about you, but I’m a little hesitant about promises like these. We come with different mindsets, such that there is no longer any “we know”. If I demand that you just believe it by faith, it is just blind allegiance since it is not based on informed knowledge. Instead, what I’m going to do now is to present God’s manifesto. With proper understanding, then today’s passage truly becomes a reinforcement of your faith. Even if you have already committed yourself to God, my presentation will demonstrate why it is indeed so worthwhile.

First of all, Paul described those who love God as those “who have been called according to his purpose” (v.28). What is the purpose of God? It is unchanged since creation, which is to bring light, order and abundance working with God. The next verse describes how this calling may be fulfilled. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. This means that we will be transformed to be Christ-like. Jesus was fully obedient to God, fulfilling his calling and eventually victorious over sin and death. But he would not be alone. We who are transformed will also follow in his footsteps. Jesus was the first to accomplish this, but others like you and I will also do so by faith. We do so in union with Jesus Christ. That is the plan of God. That is his manifesto. There is one last piece to the puzzle. What will transform us? What will enable the union with Christ? The final piece to the puzzle is the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8: 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ)—if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him.

What Paul was saying is that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of adoption. It is what makes us the child of God, just like Jesus is the Son of God. The Holy Spirit allows us to be in union with Christ, the Holy Spirit is also our witness before God. And just like how God vindicates Jesus by raising him from the dead, our vindication and salvation will also be a certainty because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

So far, I have described to you God’s manifesto, as well as how he will make all these happen. Based on the proof of success in Jesus Christ, we can also have confidence in God’s ability to keep to his promises. God has a proven track record. This is what Paul describes as something “we know”. And with such confidence in the ways of God, we can feel further assured as we commit ourselves to God. This is the doctrine of predestination.

There is a popular understanding of predestination: that God chooses who he wants to go heaven. Double predestination means that not only that, God also decides who will go hell. But I think this is way over simplified. It also over emphasizes individual salvation, whereas the biblical perspective is always about the salvation of God’s people. So this is how I understand the predestination described in this passage. Its main concern is that God has prepared for the means of salvation of his people. He has predetermined how they will be saved. They will not be called, and then left to their own devices, to make or break on their own. Predestination means that those who are called will be justified and eventually glorified. It is a doctrine of assurance for those who love God and commit themselves to God. It is not meant for speculation as who are those who would be saved. Predestination is to assure us, that in God’s good timing, all his works through Jesus and the Holy Spirit will be completed.

Predestination is however different from determinism. Determinism means that everything is fated, and everything that happens in this world must follow a fixed predetermined course. If God is described as such, then we would be mere puppets and God would be the puppet master of many evils of this world. You might then also ask why bad things happen to good people. But predestination is about the end result. It is about God ensuring that no matter what happens, his people can be eventually victorious, just like what happened to Jesus Christ.

So Christians are not exempted from the ups and downs of life. In the days of Paul, he anticipated even worse situations. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? But predestination means that none of these will deny the ultimate salvation that comes from God. In fact, when we say that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”, it means that these supposedly negative things can be used for good. We talked about how you can even have joy in the midst of suffering, that your faith would be proven pure and precious during our sermon series on 1 and 2 Peter.

I recently heard a testimony from a missionary in China that proves this even more. “During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, all religions were repressed. Churches, temples and mosques were destroyed, and many people were killed and tortured to drive people from religion. However, in the countryside in some eastern and northern provinces, Chinese Christianity suddenly started to grow very quickly as Chinese went around preaching from village to village. In some villages and small country towns, most of the people professed Christianity. The repression didn’t stop the growth, though it was usual for Christian leaders to be imprisoned.”[2] God can work through all things, even suffering and persecution, such that good will ultimately prevail.

I’ve spoken of God’s plan. I’ve spoken of how it would be accomplished. The final question in my framework would be the response. Knowing God’s plan, how should the community respond and live accordingly? Much of this will be covered in Romans 12-16, but allow me to show a sampling of these verses in case you missed this in the cell groups.
Romans 12: Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service.2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.
After knowing God’s manifesto, this is our appropriate response. Let our community become a living and holy sacrifice to God. We have the grace of conforming to Christlikeness. Let’s commit to it. God has committed himself. We, who love God, let us respond in faith too.