The Twenty-Third in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Epistle to the Romans
When we step back from the details of Paul’s discussion of justification and sanctification in Romans 3-8 and look at the big picture, we see something that is truly amazing. In Romans 4:5, Paul speaks of God justifying the wicked. In Romans 5:1, Paul speaks of those same ungodly sinners having peace with God, because as Paul tells us in Romans 5:6, Christ dies for the ungodly, even while we were powerless to do anything to save ourselves. Then, in Romans 6, Paul describes how justified sinners die with Christ in baptism and rise in him to newness of life. In Romans 7, Paul describes an intense struggle with sin, both before and after conversion, while in Romans 8, Paul speaks of how sinners now walk in the Spirit and how God will redeem us as individuals, even as he redeems all of creation. And now, at the end of Romans 8, Paul’s heart soars as he considers how these same ungodly sinners are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ.
We now wrap up our treatment of Paul’s discussion of justification and sanctification by turning to the final two sections of Romans 8, Paul’s discussion of the “order of salvation” in Romans 8:28-30, and the glorious doxology which ends this discussion in verses 31-39. As we turn to the first part of our text, we need to keep in mind that although this 3 verse section of Romans is best understood as a continuation of the previous section (Paul’s discussion of the intercession of the Holy Spirit) these verses have played such a huge role in the Reformed tradition’s theological development, we will treat them separately before turning to the doxology which concludes the chapter.
In verses 28-30, Paul sets forth “the way the purpose of God is worked out in believers.” Although Paul’s readers groan right along with the creation as they await personal and cosmic redemption, nevertheless in the midst of this groaning and suffering, we can take heart. For we are not suffering at the hands of a cruel fate or random chance which are beyond God’s control. Rather, we suffer because of the consequences of human sin and because of this sin, God has subjected creation to frustration. But God is in control of all of these things even while we suffer and while creation groans. Furthermore, God is directing all of history toward its appointed end. Says Paul, both the suffering and groaning as well as the coming heavenly glory, come to pass because God has willed it to be so. This is why we can take heart in the midst the suffering associated with life in this world. The same God who brings all of this to pass as part of his decree, now tells us that he is working out all of this for our good. God never promises us to keep us from suffering. But God does promise that our suffering will be turned to our ultimate good, if not in this present evil age, certainly in the age to come when Christ’s eschatological glory is revealed. While the mere thought of God’s sovereignty moves many Americans to question God’s fairness, Paul sees God’s sovereignty as a source of great comfort.
This passage, along with others such as Ephesians 1:3-14 and I Corinthians 6:11, seems to describe a basic ordo salutis (order of salvation), in which salvation begins with God’s eternal decree which is executed in time through the administration of the covenants and is applied to individual believers at the time of conversion. This, of course, is where the Reformed, Lutheran and Arminian theological traditions diverge, and this is why these verses are so important for us to understand.
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