All Things Are Good For Us
Re-Translated In February 2000
1. As we look to Christmas this year, a number of persons are preparing to receive baptism. In this church we present commemorative Bibles to those baptized [here]. As the baptismal service draws closer, the pastor also makes a number of preparations and one of them is to prepare and write a message in the commemorative Bibles. It goes without saying that at the moment they were purchased, when their names were recorded in them and a message was inscribed in them, these Bibles already belonged to those who would receive them. [The Bibles] are with me, but they are not mine. However, although these Bibles already belonged to the baptismal candidates, they haven't become theirs yet. In the process of time [the Bibles] will be handed over to them and they will truly become theirs.
2. Well, the text at the end of the scriptural passage we read today says the following: "God called out preordained persons, he justified those he called out, and he has given glory to those he justified," (verse thirty). Setting aside the phrase "preordained persons" since I will touch on it later, let's hold on for the present [because] it is the phrase "he has given glory" that catches our attention. As it has repeatedly appeared in the text so far, the words "to give glory" stand for the perfection or completion of salvation. It [stands for] participating in eternal life and participating together in that glory which the Christ of the resurrection has revealed. On the other hand, those of us in this present reality, though we claim to have received the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, we have a body in which sin resides and we live often times sighing and groaning over hardships. Therefore, we patiently endure and wait in hope for the time of the perfection of salvation. We might think [the phrase] "he has given glory" is incorrect and the right way of saying it should be "he will give glory" because the perfection of salvation is at the end.
3. But, in spite of this, Paul uses the expression "he has given [them] glory." Why is that? Because it has already been prepared for us. You might say it is the same as what I said earlier about the commemorative Bibles. They are not in the hands of the people, but they already belong to them. Likewise, glory has already been given to us. Therefore, we can understand that our lives are processes for that glory to be truly revealed on us. The message given to us today makes this evident.
The Intercession Of The Spirit
4. First off, let's read from verse twenty-six through verse twenty-seven.
"Likewise, even "the Spirit" helps us weak ones; for, we don't know how we should pray, but the "Spirit" himself intercedes for us with groanings which cannot be expressed in words. The One who sees through the hearts of men knows what the thoughts of "the Spirit" are; for, "the Spirit" follows the will of God and intercedes for the saints," (verses twenty-six through twenty-seven).
5. The faith life is a day to day life lived in hope. The person who has received the first fruits of the Spirit which makes him a son1 of God lives by waiting in hope for the time when he will truly be made a son of God. Paul plainly calls that the redemption of the body. We live with a body that houses sin. Sin would like to control us in the body and the Holy Spirit would like to set us free from sin. Therein lies a feud and lies the battle. We have trouble due to that. There is where our groanings lie. But, it is not the groaning of the dying, but a groaning that comes from birth pangs. While we groan, we live by waiting in hope for what we cannot see. In order to wait in hope for the invisible, we need patient endurance. Consequently, the faith life is also a lifestyle which lives with a patient endurance supported by hope. It is also to live by putting one's wishes and hopes in God and staying in prayer; for, a specific demonstration of patient endurance supported by hope is our prayers.
6. But, it is also true that our weaknesses are demonstrated in [our prayers] as well. Amidst the agonizings of reality, we often lose even the words to pray. We get to where we don't even know how we should pray. No matter how we express it in words it seems all wrong. We end up not understanding what we should seek for. So, the act of praying itself doesn't seem right. And worse, if we have prayers that are not right, it seems best not to pray.
7. However, Paul does not say "please stop praying." Because God knows humanity's weakness. Paul says here that even in the times we are unable to pray, we do not groan all by ourselves. At such a time the Holy Spirit himself is surely groaning with us. He intercedes on our behalf with his groaning.
8. Scholars suppose that what was on Paul's mind when he wrote this was probably so-called prayer in tongues. (Regarding prayer in tongues, please read [this section] together with chapter fourteen of The First Epistle To The Corinthians.) Checking with other biblical passages which speak on prayer in tongues, I don't think this [scholarly] conjecture is totally accurate. Paul's message here affords us one understanding on prayer in tongues. Here he means that there is prayer offered up by God by means of the assistance and intercession of the Holy Spirit, which surpasses what could be expressed in human language.
9. But, this was never limited to prayer in tongues in just one form. For some it may come in the silence which has lost words to pray. Or it may come in the crying voice that can only call on God's name. It may come in the sobbing of a person shedding tears in God's presence. But in any of those times we surely experience that our prayers are not supported by just our impoverished words alone. Going way beyond words, there is another One praying for us. This, Paul states, is the intercession of the Holy Spirit.
10. The Holy Spirit dwelling within us knows us. He knows me better than I do. He understands our deep sufferings and wishes which we cannot express with words or even give a word for. Also, Paul has written that God knows what the thoughts of the Holy Spirit are. In short, thus what happens is that our thoughts are joined with God's as one through the agency of the Holy Spirit. In this way, when we are not able to offer up righteous prayers in our own words, our prayers are offered up through the intercession of the Holy Spirit as prayers that match the will of God. God responds to prayers that match his will according to the intercession of the Holy Spirit and God supports and guides us until the very completion of our salvation.
In The Likeness Of The Image Of [God's] Son
11. Well, we want to recall here what we have already read. We have been justified by the blood of redemption in the cross of Christ. Through the death of God's son we have received reconciliation with God. We participated in the death of Christ, became dead with Christ and made alive in a new life with Christ. We became Christ's, were given the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit [even] the Spirit of the Son and became persons who cry "Abba, Father" as sons of God. As sons of God we became persons who wait in hope while praying for the redemption of [our] bodies. [We] all began in God and have been dependent on God.
12. Furthermore, Paul says here that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us weak ones. This means that even the correctness of our prayers in which we hope is not the decisive factor which influences the perfecting of our salvation. It means that, as we focus on ourselves under this light, what is visible to us there, as I said earlier, is that everything is a process that is moving towards the completion of salvation. Paul expresses this in the following way beginning in verse twenty-eight:
"We know that to everyone who loves God, that is, to those called according to his plan, all things work together for good. God foreordained that he would make those he foreknew into the likeness of his son; for, the son is to be the first child among many brothers. God called out those he foreordained, he justified those he called out and he has given glory to those he justified, (verses twenty-eight through thirty).
14. We don't really know what in the world is good for us and what isn't. We often have the experience that the things we thought were good for us were actually things which brought no profit whatsoever to us. Our way of living is truly myopic. We can't see past the first inch. However, this message teaches that even though we are unable to tell what is truly good for us in our specific situations, we don't need to be anxious about it at all because there is One who knows more than we do about what is truly profitable for us.
15. Furthermore, our whole lives are truly filled with what seems only like catastrophe and misfortune. We are quite easily shaken about by these negative factors. However, this message teaches that there is no need for us to be shaken by these different aspects of life. We don't need to be slaves held back or moved by any event that comes along. Instead, he says, the different things we experience are nothing more than our servants. They work together under the command of God and are nothing more than servants which work for us for the perfecting of [our] salvation.
16. When we look back over our own walk, we thus are made to notice that in the process of coming to worship God that that truth is already evident. God has made all things work together and has taken us with him to where we are now. God has made all things work together and he has guided us so that we come to love and worship him.
17. Give it some thought. We used to live with our backs turned to God but now we are facing him. We are praising him. This was not something we had planned or brought to pass. If it was not our plan then it must have been God's. We were called to God based on his plans. Those moments, even of our pains, sorrows, and troubles have worked together and have worked for us. If all things have worked together and worked for our salvation to this very day so far, can't we simply figure it out that it will continue until the completion of our salvation?
18. Well, as I mentioned before, we'll need to touch upon the problem of divine predestination because the phrases "those who were called according to God's plan" and "those who were foreordained" will always arrest our attention. When we hear these phrases, we immediately begin an inquiry into "who the called are and who they aren't." We usually conjure up an image where God simplistically and mechanistically decides to choose some for salvation and some for destruction.
19. However, we need to keep in mind that these phrases were not originally written with such a meaning. I summed up Paul as follows, [these phrases mean] none other than the full realization that "what I am now doing is not based on my own plans." It is the awareness that if we are called by God, the basis for it does not lie on our part. It is an inner understanding that it is not our own achievements that make us into a person who now turns to God, and loves and worships him. Since it is not our own doing, this means that it comes from God's mercy. They are phrases written here that came out of thanksgiving and praise for the mercy of God. Those who don't understand this judge others who don't want to turn to God. Those who understand this pray for those who don't want to turn to God. In short, when those who have no thanksgiving or praise for the mercy of God discuss divine predestination, misunderstandings will arise.
20. Therefore, what we ought to know is not this matter of who is called. The only thing we ought to know is this matter of "where are we going now?" [We ought to know] "where does the completion of salvation lie?" What does Paul say about it? "God foreordained that he would make those he foreknew into the likeness of his son." The reason God makes us in the likeness of his son is to put us into the family that regards God's son as the eldest son. God puts us in the family that has God's son as the eldest son so that we too will take part in the glory revealed by the son. It's so that we will inherit together the kingdom of God. That is what God has planned. Therein lies the best we hope to get. We could truly call it good for us. And since [everything] is in God's plan, all things are going that way and working together.
21. Through Jesus Christ God has made this plan of his plain and clear. Therefore, Paul did not only state that God called out those he foreordained and justified those he called out. He declares that "he has given glory" to those who are justified. Regardless of how our lives are led, it is a process for the purpose of truly revealing upon us the glory that has already been given to us.
1 Refer to end note in the sermon on Romans 8:12-17 "Being Made A Child Of God."