Robert Jeffress - The Greatest Promise In The Bible
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. In the face of an extreme hardship or a painful loss Christians often quote the verse that says, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him". And while that promise is certainly meant to be a comfort, the real meaning of this popular verse is often seriously misunderstood. We'll turn to Romans chapter 8 today for the context and conditions of what I like to call "The Greatest Promise in the Bible" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Occasionally somebody will ask me what my favorite verse in the Bible is. It should be no surprise that my favorite verse would be found in my favorite chapter in the Bible. My favorite verse is one that is a favorite of many of you as well. It is a verse that Christians, historically, have clung to in times of uncertainty, confusion, or tremendous loss. In fact, when I say the reference to this verse - many of you can recite it along with me. It's Romans 8 verse 28, "And 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".
I believe that verse is perhaps the single greatest promise in all of the Bible. But it's not only the single greatest promise in the Bible, it's also the most misunderstood and misapplied promise in the Bible as well. Today we're going to discover what that verse actually promises, and what it doesn't promise. If you have your Bibles, turn to Romans chapter 8. To understand this promise, we need to understand the context of the promise. What is this promise actually saying? I said a few moments ago that many people misapply and misunderstand this promise, so I think it would be helpful to, first of all, examine what this verse is not claiming.
First of all, this promise is not claiming that all things are good. You've heard it a million times: oh, there's something good in every situation. There's something good in everything. Try telling that to parents whose child has just been murdered. No, Paul was no Pollyanna. He wasn't saying there's some good in every situation. The fact is dark is not light. Sorrow is not joy. Death is not life. Paul is not saying that all things are good. There are some things that happen that are absolutely, totally, completely evil and there is not one ounce of good in them whatsoever. Paul's not claiming that all things are good, nor, secondly, is he claiming that we can see good in all things.
Again, some people say: well now, if you just look hard enough, or you wait long enough, you'll be able to find that silver lining in the cloud. Have you heard that before? Just wait long enough and you'll be able to see the silver lining in the cloud. He's not saying that we can see good in all things. I've told you before my dad used to work for the airlines: and because of that we got to travel on passes on our vacation: unless a paying passenger showed up to take our seats. And whenever we'd get bumped off a flight, my parents would say: now remember, all things work together for good: there is a reason God didn't 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, you know? How did that work out for them? Now look, 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. Nevertheless, there are two basic problems with that kind of reasoning. That is, just looking hard enough and you'll find some good in every situation. First of all, sometimes we go our entire lives without ever seeing the good in the situation.
Have you discovered that life is not like a television program, that everything is resolved in 30 minutes, or 60 minutes? Doesn't work out that way, does it? There's not a happy ending to every story. Not in this life anyway. Sometimes we go through our entire lives without ever seeing any good. But the second, perhaps the biggest problem with that kind of reasoning - that if you look hard enough, you can see the good in every situation is - we have a wrong view of the word "Good".
You know, we're trying to define good in our own terms. God causes all things to work together for good - well, what does God mean when he says: all things are working together for good? What does he mean by good? Let me give you a hint: when God says all things are working together for good - those of you who are athletes in school - God is not saying everything's working together to make you a star athlete. Single adults here today, he's not saying God is using all the disappointments in your dating life to bring that perfect husband or perfect wife into your life. God is not saying God uses the hardships you're facing at your job to help your career, and make you more successful in your work. He's not saying any of those things. That is not what the good is that Paul is talking about.
Well if Paul is not saying all things are good, or that we can see good in all things - what, then, is this promise saying? I want you to write down these three statements. First of all, this promise is claiming that God has a purpose for your life. God has a purpose for your life. You see, when people quote this verse, they usually only quote the first portion: and we know that God causes all things to work together for good - period. No. It goes on to say: for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. The word "Good" is related to "Purpose". What Paul is saying is all things are working together for God to accomplish his purpose in your life. And what is that purpose?
Look at verse 29. He states it, "For whom God foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his son, that his son might be the firstborn among many brethren". Do you realize that out of the mass of fallen humanity, out of billions and billions of people, God chose to save you? And he chose to save you for a purpose: to make you, to mold you into the image of his son Jesus Christ. You see, God had one son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and God was crazy about his son. In fact when he was baptized, remember what he shouted from heaven? This is what? My son in whom I am well pleased.
If God had had a wallet, he would have gone around showing people pictures of his son in his billfold, he loved Jesus. He was crazy about him. And in his sovereign plan he decided he didn't want to just have one child - he wanted to have many children just like his son. And so from fallen humanity God chose to save you - verse 29 says - to conform you, to mold you to be just like his son Jesus. That is, to shape you to be like Jesus in your actions, in your attitudes, your affections. He wants you and I to love what Jesus loved, to think like Jesus thought, to do the things that Jesus did. And the Bible says all things in your life are being used by God to make you like his son Jesus. This word "Good" is not a synonym for healthy, successful, admired, fulfilled - that's not what everything's working together for good to accomplish. It's working together to make you like Christ.
Notice, number two, God's purpose for your life includes all things. God causes all things to work together for the good, that is to make you like Christ. You know when you have a steady income: when you're in a fulfilling marriage, when you have obedient children, when your health is great it's easy to say: oh, all things are working together for good. But notice God says all things are working together for good. That means that unwanted divorce, that undeserved termination, that unfair accusation - all of those things - God says are working together to accomplish his purpose in your life: to make you like Christ. In fact, have you noticed it's those mighty blows from the master's hammer, those hard things that most forge the character of Christ in your life? It's not the easy things that make you like Jesus, it's the difficult things.
Nobody says it better than A.W. Tozer. He wrote: "If God has singled you out to be a special object of his grace, you may expect him to honor you with stricter discipline and greater suffering than less-favored ones are called upon to endure. If God sets out to make you an unusual Christian, he is not likely to be as gentle as he is usually pictured by the popular teachers. Now listen to this: a sculptor does not use a manicure set to reduce the rude, unshapely marble to a thing of beauty: the saw, the hammer, and the chisel are cruel tools, but without them the rough stone must remain forever formless and unbeautiful". And then Tozer's famous line: "It is doubtful that God can use any person greatly, until he has hurt him deeply". God uses all things, usually the hurtful things in your life to mold you into the image of his son. God's word is saying we can embrace the pain in our life and know that God is using that pain to accomplish his purpose to mold us into the image of his son.
Number three, God is in control of all that happens to us. God is in control of all that happens to us. You know, unfortunately this is one verse that the King James gets absolutely wrong. The King James says: and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God. If you read that, you'd say: oh, well, everything has just a way of working out. You know, things just work out: things work themselves out. No, that's not what the verse is saying! Things don't work out for good, if things are left to their own they usually work out for bad. Remember the law of entropy we talked about? Everything's spiraling downward. This verse is not saying that all things work together for good by chance.
The New American Standard is correct when it says: and we know that 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 theologian Robert Haldane said: God foreknows what will be by determining what shall be. God has written every part of your life. In Psalm 139 verse 16 the Psalmist said, "In thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them". Do you realize before you drew your first breath, God planned every incident, every detail of your life? None of it was left to chance.
Proverbs 16:9 says, "For the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps". Or as somebody said: God not only plans our steps, he plans our missteps and even our stumbles as well. God is in control of all things. But notice here Paul is not putting this in a negative light. He is saying it is a very positive truth. That is, when we are assaulted by adverse people and adverse circumstances, we can know that it's not accidental: that the incidents in your life are not an accident in your life. God has a purpose behind everything that happens to you, and nothing happens to you in your life that he is not allowed - and yes, even planned.
The great preacher of yesteryear Donald Grey Barnhouse said it this way: "There is no will, or active creatures, men, angels, or demons that can do other than work for our good. No dog can bark can against us. No man can act or speak against us. No sinister plot of evil can be against us, but all must be for our good. There is no phenomenon of nature - fire, flood, storm, earthquake - that can work us ultimate ill. The law of gravity cannot cause anything to fall on us unless it has first been sifted through the will of God and his purpose for our good". Isn't that a great assuring truth? Nothing comes into your life that has not, first of all, been sifted through the perfect, wise, and loving will of God.
Ladies and gentlemen, God is not dead. He is alive, and he's working in your life right now. He is in control of every situation, and he's working it together to accomplish his purpose for you. Now we've talked about the context of the promise: we've looked at the content of the promise - let's look finally at the condition of the promise. This is not a promise for everyone. It is a limited promise. Notice the condition stated in verse 28, "And 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". You know in our thinking, we think there are all kind of different people in the world today, thousands and thousands of categories of people by religion and ethnicity, and economic background, and intelligence level.
No, there're not thousands of kinds of people, there are only two. There are those who love God and those who hate God. There are those who are headed to heaven, and those who are headed to hell. And the Bible says the only people who can know that God is working all things together for good are those who love God. That is, those who have been called according to his purpose, those who are properly related to God through faith in Jesus Christ. If you're not a Christian today, this promise doesn't apply to you. You don't have any assurance that all things are working together for good. This promise is limited to those who know God, who are called according to his purpose.
And Paul explains what he means by that beginning in verse 29. In these verses, 29 and 30, we have what some have called: the five golden links in the chain of salvation. Look at verses 29 and 30, "For whom God foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn of many brethren: and whom God predestined, these he also called: and whom he called, these also he justified: and whom he justified, these he also glorified". Notice, first of all, the word "Foreknew". In the Old Testament, the word "Foreknew" meant "To enter into a relationship with". It means "To set your affection on someone".
What this verse is saying is before the foundation of the world, before you were born, God chose to set his affection on you. Do you realize that? He chose to love you before you ever did anything. Now how did he choose you above other people to love? Believe me, it had nothing to do with your good looks, your good works, the hidden potential God saw in you: had nothing to do with that. Ephesians 1 verse 11 says, God chose you and me according to the kind intention of his will. God's choice of you had to do with his secret hidden will since the beginning of time. God chose to set his affection upon you. And the Bible says whom God foreknew, secondly, he predestined. Once God entered into that relationship with you, he predestined you.
That word "Predestined" means "To mark out the boundaries of". That is, God set a pattern for your life. He determined your destiny. And then the Bible says whom God predestined, he called. There was a moment in time that God called you to salvation. And when God called you to salvation, and you responded in faith - number four - he justified you. The moment you trusted in Christ as Savior, God declared you not guilty. All of your sins past, present, and future were forever forgiven. And those whom he justified, he glorified.
Now for us, stay with me on this, that's something yet to come, isn't it? There's not one of us here today who has yet been glorified. That is yet future. But notice in this verse it says it's past tense. You know why he does that? Because God's not limited by time like you and I are. God sees this as already having been completed. What that means is God is so certain that he is going to fulfill his promise to you that he already treats it as a done deal. You have already been glorified. That's to whom this promise belongs: those who are the called according to his purpose. Now let me say a word about together. God causes all things to work together for good - doesn't say all things are good: or even God uses each thing for good - it's all things together for good.
Randy Alcorn, popular author, in his book, "If God is Good", talks about his mom's hobby of baking cakes. Randy said his mom would make delicious cakes, but he remembers as a little boy his mom would always set out the ingredients on the kitchen counter first before she baked the cake: the raw eggs, the baking soda, the baking powder, the vanilla extract. And one day as a little boy he decided to experiment with each of those ingredients, and see how they tasted. So he put the raw eggs in his mouth. Pffft, you know. Then he tried the baking powder. And then he tried the baking soda. And then he tried the vanilla extract.
He said: you know, all of these things individually by themselves were very bitter. It was only when my mom put them together in the right proportion, and baked them for the right amount of time that a delicious cake was produced. And so it is with the things in our life. There are some things that happen to us, some losses, some tragedies that are bitter: there's no sweet in them at all. They are bitter in and of themselves, but what Romans 8:28 is promising is that God takes the good things in your life, the not-so-good things, and the terrible things: and he blends them together in the right proportion, in the right amount of time. They work together to produce good in your life. That is to mold you into the image of his son. Aren't you grateful for a God who's able to do that? That's why this verse is truly the greatest promise in all the Bible.