Glorification - Romans 8:18-39
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He was one of the most influential Christians of his age. He had an intellect which was second to none, such that he became vice-Chancellor of Oxford University no less and was involved in producing several theological masterpieces. That was in the first part of his life. Onward and upward, so it seemed. But then came a new regime under a new King; and as a result he lost his post, was pushed into social exile and was hampered and harassed by the new government. And if that were not enough, he lived long enough to bury all of his eleven children, ten of whom died in infancy, together with the love of his life, his wife Mary. Tell me: how do you cope with a thing like that? When your whole world collapses in ruins around you is there anything that will sustain you and keep you? Well, let me tell you what this man, John Owen, wrote after the death of his first ten children, ‘a due contemplation of the glory of Christ will restore and compose the mind….[it] will lift the minds and hearts of believers above all the troubles of this life, and is the sovereign antidote that will expel all the poison that is in them; which otherwise might perplex and enslave their souls.’ And that is a pretty good summary of what Paul writes at the end of Romans 8 as we come to the final ‘shun’ of the Christian faith- glorification. It has been said that if Paul’s letter to the Romans is the high peak of Scripture, then chapter 8 is the high peak of Romans. It does not get any better than this.
And tonight we are going to look at two astonishing claims which lie either side of an unbreakable golden chain which holds them together.
Claim one is in verse 28, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ We might ask: ‘Is Paul really serious in saying that God is working for the good of those who love him in all things, even the hard and painful things. The kind of things John Owen had to suffer?’ That is precisely what he is saying, which is why Paul wrote these words at this point in his letter because a few verses earlier he had been talking about the whole of creation groaning because of the corrosive effects of sin, and a few verses later he will speak of Christians suffering persecution and famine. You see, here Paul is speaking about what is called ‘Providence’, which we can think of as ‘God our heavenly Father working in and through all things by his wisdom and power for the good of his people and the glory of his name.’ And the good which God has in mind for each of his people, the purpose or destiny he has for each one he has saved is spelt out in the next verse, namely, that they are ‘to be conformed to the image of his Son’- that is become more like Christ. And God will use hardship and suffering as the spiritual sandpaper we sometimes need to smooth off some of our rougher edges so that we conform more closely to Jesus.
Let me give you a moving example of what might be thought of as hard Providence which illustrates the astonishing claim of verse 28. One of the most influential Evangelical scholars of the post war era was John Wenham. He was involved in a car accident when he was quite advanced in years and in the event his wife died. The remarkable thing that happened afterwards was this: he found himself in hospital in the same ward as the very driver who had caused the accident which killed his wife, more than that- the next bed. Do you know what Wenham did? He led that man to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Wasn’t that a Christ like thing to do? You see, John Wenham really did believe that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
And that story also illustrates claim number 2 which appears at the end of the chapter, that nothing in the whole of creation ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
One of the fears which will sometimes plague the earnest Christian is the fear of not making it to the end, the fear that something will happen which will disrupt their faith and throw them off track. It may be the threat of possible persecution; the possible loss of a loved one; that when it comes to death itself then their faith will fail. Do such thoughts not bother you or is it only me? It is when the ‘what if’s’ which can so loom large in our minds that we effectively become paralysed in our Christian walk. But here Paul faces those ‘what if’s’ head on. And when you give it a moment’s thought you realise that what is happening to us at such times is that we are succumbing to emotional thinking, allowing our unruly imaginations to run away with us. Paul’s remedy is that we replace emotional thinking with evangelical thinking, that is to allow our minds to be shaped by the Gospel not our guts, which is why Paul raises questions and provides answers. ‘Think it through’ he says, ‘If the God of the universe is for us, then who can be against us?’ It’s a no contest. If God did not withhold his greatest gift from us- his Son, why do we think he will withhold from us lesser gifts? It’s a no brainer. No one on the judgement day is going to be able to accuse us before God, even our own consciences because God has already declared us to be in a right standing with him-justified- because of our faith in Christ. There is no barrier big enough which will keep out Christ’s love, no wall high enough which it cannot surmount, no sin deep enough that it cannot forgive. In fact we are not going to leave this would as mere survivors, those who have scraped into heaven by the skin of their teeth, we are ‘more than conquerors’ says Paul, through Jesus ‘who loved us.’ So no matter what trial or opposition you might care to envisage, nothing, literally nothing will ever, ever be ‘able to separate us from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus.’ Now, do you believe that? Because God wants you to believe it because it is true, it is the gift of assurance he wants to give to you.
But God doesn’t want us to take it blindly, as we have seen; he gives good reasons for us to believe it. But the real, solid basis for us embracing and delighting in both claims- that God works all things to the good for those who love him and nothing can separate us from God’s love in Jesus, is provided by that golden chain of verses 30, ‘those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.’ What’s that all about?
Well, to help us understand it, it is important to note that the chain is sort of compressed in the previous verse, verse 29 which focuses for us the design and purpose of the chain as a whole: ‘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.’
First of all, let’s get clear two words Paul uses. He speaks of God foreknowing certain people. This is not God knowing in advance those who would have faith in Christ and so he saves them as a result. God knows everything- that is part and parcel of what being God is. So to say he knows who will believe is not very interesting at all. Rather, in the Bible ‘to know’ isn’t just mental knowledge, like ‘I know oranges are round.’ It is a word which denotes a special intimacy, such as when Adam ‘knew’ Eve in Genesis 4:1, which the NIV translates as ‘making love’. It is the same word used in Amos 3:2 when God says to Israel, ‘You only have I known of all the families on the earth’, that is Israel alone is the object of his special love. So this ‘foreknowing’ is really ‘foreloving’. In eternity past, the Triune God foreloved, in this special way, certain people who were not particularly lovable. But nonetheless, God fixed his love on them like Adam fixed his love upon Eve. And this foreloving logically led to a predestining, a choosing; just like Israel was chosen from among all the nations of the earth, certain individuals are chosen by God. Why? For what purpose? Paul tells us, in order ‘to be conformed to the image of his Son.’ This is why God not only created you, but saved you if you are a Christian. This is your purpose for living on this planet, why God has directed the course of your life, and the course of world history actually, so that you would be at the right place at the right time to hear the right person share with you the Gospel and help you change and mature as a Christian: he wants you to be just like his beloved Son and to share the same intensity of love that he pours out on his Son. That is, your sanctification culminates in your glorification and there is no one greater and more glorious in the whole of the universe than God’s Son and he is determined that you will end up looking and being just like him!
Now let’s just think about his a little further. Our glorification, which is the final link of the golden chain of salvation in verse 30, is not something vague and general it is clear and specific. It doesn’t just refer to our moral character such that we will be like Jesus in that we will be pure as he is pure, love as he loves, think as he thinks- though it includes those things. It refers to our whole being including our bodies. When Christ was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven he took his transformed, glorified body with him- his soul, which animates his body, was united with his body for ever and it is in this radiant, resplendent body that he now rules the universe. Do you think we will have anything less? The salvation Christ brings is a complete salvation, not just saving our spirit, but every single atom of us- body, mind and soul.
And when you think about it we will need a glorious body to live in a glorious new world. Earlier in verses 20 and 21 Paul has talked about the whole of creation being subject to futility, a kind of lostness and corruption because of God’s curse on our sinful ways, and it is longing to be set free, yearning to be rid of its decay and to live again. That is going to happen, says Paul, with the ‘freedom and the glory (there’s the word again) of the children of God.’ There is going to come a day when the whole of the universe is going to be radically transformed; it is going to be a glorious universe and so we are going to need transformed glorious bodies to inhabit it. You see, these physical ears of this age will not be up to hearing the sweet music of the next age. We will need new eyes to see the new colours of whatever sunsets there may be in the next world; new fingers to feel the new sensations of a world which is untainted by sin, and new vocal chords which will carry the praises of God in a new atmosphere so that everything is wonderfully beautiful and worthy of a majestic Christ. In short, our bodies will be like the glorious body of Christ, together with our hearts and minds. Can you imagine how wonderful it will be to wake up in that new glorious universe each day and your first thought in the morning will be of God? Won’t it be a sheer delight to wake up and hear not the birds singing but angels whose delicious songs of adoration and joy will make even the finest rendering of Bach’s ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s desiring’ sound as if it were being played on a beginners recorder by comparison? Jesus is glorious- and the amazing thing is that we will be glorious too.
But our glorification is not the supreme goal of salvation; the real goal we find to be in what Paul says next, ‘that he (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.’ The firstborn in Scripture is the one who is of supreme eminence. The exalted Son of God makes us his ‘brothers and sisters’- we are adopted as God’s children, but this adoption is unlike any other in that we are given the same Spirit generated DNA- as Jesus, if I may put it like that. As Peter says we become ‘partakers of the Divine nature’ no less (2 Peter 11:4). Can you imagine that?! And amongst all the millions and millions and millions of people who share that nature, God the Father whose heart is so full of burning love for his Son, wants him to stand out. And he does stand out: he stands out as the one who died to forgive these millions, who poured out His Spirit to transform these millions and who now kindly and personally cares for these millions, some of whom had dreadful lives while here on earth. In other words, the goal of God’s great plan of salvation is ultimately the exaltation of his Son for ever.
But how is all this guaranteed? How can we be sure it is going to happen? By the logic and order of salvation which is the golden chain of verse 30, ‘And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.’
Just try and grasp this the best you can: in eternity past God foreloved you so that he set his heart on saving you (predestined) and for that to become personally real in your life, when you heard the Gospel message, his Holy Spirit worked in your dark, hostile mind to enlighten it and subdue it so you would be enabled to believe (he called you); and then God declared you to be in the right with him, acquitted of your sin and accepted by him (justified) and so with all those links in place, comes the final link in the golden chain with eternity future in mind he ‘glorified you.’ The astonishing thing is that while this is still future, Paul uses the past tense -glorified to get over the fact that our ultimate salvation is so absolutely certain that it can be spoken of as having already taken place as far as God is concerned- it’s as good as done. This chain of salvation can’t be broken because God forged it. God the Father has determined it, God the Son has ensured it and God the Holy Spirit applies it, both in the sense that he converts us and sanctifies us, but also in that he is the one who is going to raise us from the dead with new bodies, as he did with Jesus.
Too often as Christians we short change ourselves. We think of the Gospel as the means whereby we can be forgiven and given a new lease of life on earth. But that doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. The Gospel brings us into the very heart of God and his eternal purpose of glorifying his Son. In other words, it is all about Jesus- and us in so far as we are united to Jesus. What we have experienced now of God’s love in Christ is like tasting a grain of salt compared to the banquet yet to come. And it is by having our eyes set upon the one who is the chief host at the banquet- Jesus- that enables us to be more than conquerors in this flimsy, passing world.
I began by referring to John Owen, from someone who knew the deep sorrows living in this world could bring, so let me end by relating his advice,: ‘Do any of us find decays in grace prevailing in us; -deadness, coldness, lukewarmness, a kind of spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us?.... Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, indeed, no other way but this alone, namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding in it. Constant contemplation of Christ, his glory, putting forth its transforming power is the revival of all grace and its only relief.’
So Christian you don’t have to be afraid because, ‘those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.’
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