Paul's Epistle to the Romans, The Blessing of Guidance

 (28) The Blessing of Guidance
Romans 8:26-30


26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

 

The Blessing of Guidance

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession* for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

The Spirit helps us with our weaknesses. It is not the case that He helps at times when we are weak, but since we live in a state of weakness, He is helping us continually. We are often perplexed in our prayer life. We do not know how to pray, as we should. We pray selfishly and ignorantly. The great comfort we have during this period of waiting for the Lord’s return is the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is the One who helps our our weaknesses. We have one great weaknesses while waiting for the Lord to return to us, and that is we know not what we should pray for as we ought. There are two obvious reasons why we cannot pray, as we should. First, we cannot pray right, because we cannot see into the future. We cannot see even an hour ahead, therefore we may pray to be saved from things, which are for our own good, or pray for things that would eventually harm us. Second, we cannot pray right, because in any given situation we do not know what is good for us. Often, we are like a child who wants something that is bound to hurt him. We cannot know our own real need; we cannot with our finite minds grasp God’s plan; in the last analysis, all we can bring to God is an inarticulate sigh, which the Spirit will translate to God for us. The perfect prayer is simply, “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit. Not my will, but thine be done.” The only thing our Lord’s disciples asked Him to teach them was how to pray. Each believer encounters that same difficulty in knowing how to pray and for what to pray. Consequently, God has given His Holy Spirit to make intercession for us with groaninges which cannot be uttered. Even when we do not know what to say to God, the Holy Spirit interprets our innermost feelings and intercedes in our behalf. God hears these inarticulate sounds when the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us, otherwise, our desires would remain unexpressed. The indwelling Holy Spirit alone knows how to interpret our needs, He makes His intercession within us, inspiring our yearnings, and thus fulfilling His gracious function as the other comforter (or advocate) whom the Lord Jesus promised, a comforter of like character with Himself. Since we do not know what to pray for without His help, we are exhorted to pray “at all seasons in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18). This does not have anything to do with praying in tongues as some suggest. The groaning is done by the Holy Spirit, not believers, and is not stated in words. The help the Spirit gives is His interceding.

Paul prayed for the removal of a hindrance in his life, but God did not take away that burden—“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Paul knew there was a danger that others would think more highly of him than they ought because of the visions and revelations he had experienced. However, he himself was protected from self-exaltation by a persistent “thorn in the flesh.” No one knows with certainty the nature of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” It may have been a physical malady such as defective eyesight, a lisp, epilepsy, or recurrent malaria. Or, perhaps it was spiritual in nature—temptation or satanic persecution. It may have even been an individual or group who continually harassed Paul. In any case, it was bothersome to him. But instead of removing the “thorn,” God assured Paul that His grace and strength would be sufficient for Paul to bear it. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” destroyed his pride and kept him dependent on divine power. Therefore, although unpleasant, Paul regarded the “thorn” as an aid rather than a handicap.

There is mystery here. We are peering into the unseen, spiritual realm where a great Person and great forces are at work on our behalf. Although we cannot understand it all, we can take infinite encouragement from the fact that a groan may sometimes be the most spiritual prayer. The Spirit helps in every way, but in the matter of prayer, He does in the heart, what Christ does before God. Creation groans, we groan, and the Holy Spirit groans. However, the Spirit groans within us, and in doing so strengthens us to bear our trials with confidence and courage, and at the same time directs our hearts to God. These groanings do not necessarily find expression in actual speech, but they are effective with God, because as we are told in the next verse, He searches the heats of men. Human language is, it would seem, not essential to Divine intercession.

27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints* according to the will of God.

God, through His omniscience* is the One who searches the hearts. Therefore, He is entirely acquainted with the desires of our hearts, even though they cannot be uttered. God knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. God’s knowledge of the mind of the Holy Spirit does not come from His intercession in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is one with the Father and with the Son in the Trinity, which is the “Godhead.” Since the Spirit’s groanings are in accordance with God’s mind, His intercession for us is consistent with how God deals with us and it fulfills His purposes for us. The Spirit articulates those prayer burdens that God’s people cannot even express. The Spirit’s intercession can be trusted because He intercedes according to God’s will. Moreover, because they are always in accordance with God’s will, they are always for our good. Thus, intercession is made for us not only by God the Son, who sits at the right hand of God the Father, but also by God the Spirit who dwells within the believer.

The phrase “according to the will of God” is, literally, “according to God.”

I am convinced that most Christians, who read these lines, recall one time or another when you were so burdened you could not utter words in prayer. All you could say was, “O Lord…have mercy!” or words similar to those. Nevertheless, the Holy Ghost knows the burden, the desire, the longing of the heart of the believer; therefore, He helps us at such a time.

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

There are no accidents. God is working out all things together for good for those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose. It may not always seem so! Sometimes when we are suffering heartbreak, tragedy, disappointment, frustration, and bereavement, we wonder what good can come out of it. However, the following verse (v.29) gives the answer: whatever God permits to come into our lives is designed to conform us to the image of His Son. When we see this, it takes the question mark out of our prayers. By faith, we believe that He who gave His own Son can only mean good for us in all that He does. Impersonal forces such as chance, luck, or fate do not control our lives, but the One in control is our wonderful, personal Lord, who is “too loving to be unkind and too wise to err.”

When left to our own resources, suffering is more likely to harden and embitter, than it is to enable and dignify. However, the Bible is full of occasions where God turned things around; making good out of what is evil. You may remember that Joseph could look over his life, a life that had been filled with disappointments, and sufferings, and say to his brothers—who were responsible for his misfortune—“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…” (Gen. 50:20). And I am confident that we as children of God, will be able to look back over our lives someday and say, “All of this worked out for good.” Job could say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him… (Job 13:15). That is the kind of faith in God we need. We know that He is going to make things work out for good, because He is the one motivating it. He is the one who is energizing it.

Paul has already given us two sources of encouragement for the believer, in the midst of the distress of this world. He has presented the future adoption of our bodies at the coming of the Lord as a source of strength and hope. The Spirit of God within us is also given as a source of strength. Now the apostle lists a third source of encouragement for the believer. In the midst of the sufferings of this life, God has given us knowledge that He is working-out every detail of life to fall in line with His eternal purpose for our lives. He is doing it for them who are the called according to his purpose. There is nothing in the make up of our universe to make us optimistic that everything will eventually work out to the satisfaction of good people. Rather, Paul is simply saying that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him. The called is not used here in the general sense of “many are called but few are chosen,” but in the specific sense of those who comprise the family of God. Therefore, the promise of all things working together for good is given to a specific group, the called (i.e., those who are in Christ Jesus and justified by His blood, and who have responded to His call.). The world in general does not have this promise. All things, however contrary to us, are under His control. Troubles, therefore, do not hinder Christian progress. Instead, they serve to further the intention of God’s grace.

To them that are called—The two descriptions, those who love God, and those who are the called are to one another as cause and effect. Those who love God are necessarily those who are called. It is significant that a believers love for God always follows God’s calling of him, and is undoubtedly the product of the indwelling Holy Spirit—“We love Him because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). The call (always in the Epistles an effectual call) produces the response of love for Him who calls. As believers, we were foreknown and foreordained prior to our birth. Yet God does not manipulate us like puppets. Rather He calls us; He beseeches us to receive His offer of salvation. When we are quickened by the Spirit of God, and respond to His call in faith, we are then justified in His sight by faith.

29 For whom He foreknew*, He also predestined* to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

For whom He foreknew,—This and the next verse confirm verse 28, providing the ground of the certainty that God works all things together for good. While God foreknows all men, according to His attribute of forethought, yet obviously the word here refers to those who have been described as “them that love God.” God foreknew us in eternity past. This was not a mere intellectual knowledge. As far as knowledge is concerned, He knew everyone who would ever be born All ideas of human merit are absent from this passage, since what is being stressed is the absolute sovereignty of God in all His purposes and actions. Foreknowledge is not the same as predestination; the very verse before us distinguishes the two. His foreknowledge marks out the persons; His predestination determines His purposes and acts on their behalf. Illustration: On the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter vividly illustrated the harmony between God’s sovereignty and man’s personal responsibility. Even though the Cross was in the eternal plan of God and part of His sovereign will, those who crucified Christ did so as a rebellious act of their will. Therefore, they bore personal responsibility for Christ’s death. We too are responsible for our personal actions and behavior. “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23).

Probably no doctrine has evoked a greater variety of interpretations than that of God’s foreknowledge. Although it is true that foreknowledge means to know beforehand, in the context of God’s purpose, to interpret the expression in this way would be an oversimplification. For God to preview history in order to discern our response to the gospel, and then act accordingly, would make the creature sovereign over the Creator. When God takes knowledge of His people it is more than just a basic understanding of them. It is the knowledge a father has of his child. God knows and loves the world, but His foreknowledge of His own is an intimate knowledge, which results in an abiding love (5:8) for us that, draws us to Him in salvation.

God alone has complete knowledge; nothing can be hidden from Him—“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Prov. 15:11). Nothing escapes His notice. He is absolutely omniscient. He is constantly aware of all that is going on in the universe. Of course, the important point in this context is that He knows where there is real faith and where there is only an intellectual assent to facts. Foreknowledge must be understood as a part of God’s relationship to His creation (Jer. 1:5). Reconciling God’s foreknowledge with the moral responsibility of humankind is a wonderful mystery of theology. In any case, God’s salvation is born out of His eternal purposes and is not dependent upon our own initiative or the world’s changing circumstances—“He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you”  (1 Pet. 1:20). Christ’s work for us was no afterthought on God’s part. The Redeemer was destined to die for us before the creation of the world. But at the end of the times, that is, at the end of the dispensation of law, He appeared from heaven to rescue us from our former way of life. Lincoln comments: “In these last times—the world’s moral history was closed at the cross of Christ. It has shown itself fully and got to its end before God.”

He also predestined—What was it that was predestined. It was that those who are saved will be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the foreknowledge of God was knowledge with a purpose that could never be frustrated. It is not enough to say that God foreknew those whom He realized would one day repent and believe. Actually, His foreknowledge insures eventual repentance and belief.

That ungodly sinners will one day be transformed into the image of Christ by a miracle of grace is one of the most astounding truths of divine revelation. The point is not, of course, that we will ever have the attributes of deity, or even that we will have Christ’s facial resemblance, but that we will be morally like Him, absolutely free from sin, and will have glorified bodies like His.

God’s foreknowledge or predestination is not the same as fatalism. Fatalism says that the world is plunging headlong toward an indeterminate end. Paul teaches that there is a very determinate end for those who are the called. Their end or goal is to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We are not plunging downward but are progressing upward in being sanctified toward the Son of Righteousness. As believers, we should become more and more like the Master every day. God has planned for us a final and complete conformity to the resurrection glory of the Lord—“And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (I Cor 15:49). As we have borne the characteristics of Adam as to our natural birth, we shall also bear the image of Christ in our resurrection bodies. It is the eternal purpose of God that we become increasingly more conformed to the image of Him who is the Supreme Being in the universe.

to be conformed to the image of His Son,—Believers are to be conformed not merely to something that is like Him but to what He is Himself both in His spiritual body and in His moral character. In the latter respect, Christ is to be visible in believers now—in their actions, attitude, and words. The conformity to Christ will be fully and permanently accomplished, spirit, soul and body, when the Lord comes to receive them to Himself. This is not accomplished by their self-effort, but by the foreknowledge and foreordaining grace of God.

that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.—The resurrected and glorified Lord Jesus Christ will become the head of a new race of humanity purified from all contact with sin and prepared to live eternally in His presence. Moreover, Jesus has the highest position as the head of this new group of people. “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). And he is the head of the body, the church; He alone, and no one else. He directs, controls, guides, and governs the church. The church is His body; He is its source and its life. Christ is not the first of a series, but the source. Christ is the source of new creation and the sovereign Head of that new creation. That in all things He might have the pre-eminence; He alone, not angels or men. Christ has unshared supremacy; He has first place; He is in a class by Himself; He is eminent above all others. It is not enough for Christ to be present, nor prominent; He must be pre-eminent.

30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Everyone who was predestined in eternity is also called in time. This means that he not only hears the gospel but that he responds to it as well. It is therefore an effectual call. All are called; but only a few respond to the effectual (conversion-producing) call of God.

All who respond are also justified or given an absolutely righteous standing before God. They are clothed with the righteousness of God through the merits of Christ and are thereby fit for the presence of the Lord. Justification is a vital doctrine in Paul’s thinking. When God justifies us, He reckons us as if we are righteous because of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. He imputes the righteousness of Christ to our account.

Those who are justified are also glorified. The final step in the purpose of God is the glorification of His people. We will ultimately be completely conformed to “the image of His Son.” “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col 3:4). This is God’s view of salvation. Actually, we are not glorified yet, but it is so sure that God can use the past tense in describing it. We are as certain of the glorified state as if we had already received it! Foreknowledge and predestination belong to the eternal past, in the eternal counsel of the Trinity; calling and justification take place in the believer’s present experience; the glow (glorification), which begins now, will not ultimately and completely be known until the future. Although salvation from our viewpoint is an instantaneous act, it has in fact, stretched from eternity past to eternity future and finds its basis, not in our merit or in the works of the law, but in the purpose of God. In the depression and turmoil of these days, nothing can be of greater encouragement to believers than to know that God is working all things together for our good and His glory.

This is one of the strongest passages in the NT on the eternal security of the believer. For every million people who are foreknown and predestined by God, every one of that million will be called, justified, and glorified. He will not lose one.

In verses 29 and 30, Paul is speaking of the experience of every Christian. “For whom He foreknew*, He also predestined* to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” This is a passage, which has been seriously misused. If we are going to understand it, we must face the fact that Paul never meant it to be a statement of theology or philosophy; he meant it to be the expression of Christian experience. If we take it as philosophy and psychology, it means that God chose some and did not choose others. That is not what it means.

Think of the Christian experience. The more a Christian thinks about his salvation experience, the more he becomes convinced that he had nothing to do with it, and God did it all. Jesus Christ came into the world; He lived; went to the Cross; He rose again. We did nothing to bring that about; that is all God’s work. Love woke within our hearts; the conviction of sin came, and with it came forgiveness and salvation. We did not achieve that; all of it is God’s doing. That is what Paul is thinking here.

The Old Testament has an illuminating use of the word “to know.” God said to Hosea about the people of Israel, “I knew you in the wilderness” (Hosea 13:5). God told Amos, “You only have I known, of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). When the Bible speaks of knowing a man, it means that He has a purpose, a plan, and a task for that man. And when we look back on our own Christian experience, all we can say is, “I did not do this, I could never have done this; God did everything." And we know well that this does not take freewill away. God knew Israel, but the day came when Israel refused the destiny God meant her to have. God’s unseen guiding is in our lives, but at the end of the day, we can refuse it and take our own way.

It is the deep experience of the Christian that all is of God; that he did nothing, and that God did everything. That is what Paul means here. He means that from the beginning of time God marked us out for salvation; that in due time His call came to us; but the pride of man’s heart can wreck God’s plan and the disobedience of man’s will can refuse the call. This is what I believe, and I believe it represents what the majority of Christians today believe. Many good Christians disagree with me, however, and I respect their views. However, if my view is wrong, it has the result of causing me to have a greater desire to give the gospel to everyone, and that is what Jesus told us to do in His Great Commission.

Intersession:
In the Old Testament, intersession is used with regard to prayer. Key examples of intercessory prayer are found in Abrahams prayer for the inhabitants of Sodom (Gen. 18:16-33) and Moses’ prayer for a sinning Israel (Num. 14:10-19).

In the New Testament, the word means “to plead on behalf of someone.” The Holy Spirit exercises this ministry, on our behalf, in the most intensive degree. The Christian, when he prays for others is interceding or making intersession.

Omniscience:
A theological term that refers to God’s superior knowledge and wisdom, His power to know all things. God is the Lord who knows our thoughts from afar. He is acquainted with all our ways, knowing our words even before they are on our tongues (Ps. 139:1–6, 13–16). He needs to consult no one for knowledge or understanding (Is. 40:13–14). He is the all-knowing Lord who prophesies the events of the future, including the death and resurrection of His Son (Isaiah 53) and the return of Christ at the end of this age when death will be finally overcome (Rom. 8:18–39; 1 Cor. 15:51–57).

Only the all-knowing and all-powerful God can guarantee real freedom from sin, decay, and death. He can begin a process of change in believers during the present age; for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Foreknowledge:
The unique knowledge of God that enables Him to know all events, including the free-will acts of people, before they happen.

God’s foreknowledge is much more than foresight. God does not know future events and human actions because He foresees them; He knows them because He wills them to happen—“My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them” (Ps. 139:15-16). Therefore, God’s foreknowledge is an act of His will.

Predestination:
Divine and unalterable determination of the salvation or damnation of human beings even before they are created.

It expresses one aspect of divine sovereignty whereby the Creator not only creates but also foreordains. It became a subject of theological controversy when pitted against the humanistic and Pelagian doctrine of free will because they are in theory irreconcilable. Neither predestination nor unlimited free will has been established to everyone’s satisfaction, but the sovereignty of God is such a dominant concept in Christian theology that it does not leave much room for the operation of human will to cancel divine determinism and foreknowledge. Predestination has been the center of attention of two of the most brilliant minds in Christian history: Augustine and Calvin.

Augustine laid out the classic formulation of predestination when he taught that: 1. Human will is enslaved to sin. 2. Grace is needed to choose God. 3. Grace is enduringly available only to the elect of God. Augustine was only reaffirming scriptural teachings, especially Romans 8:28–30 where Paul talks of the salvation of those “who are called according to His purpose.” In Ephesians 1:3–14 Paul talks of election “according to the measure of Christ’s gifts.” In John 10:29 Jesus tells the Jews that “no one is able to snatch [My sheep] out of My Father’s hand.” The Augustinian position was upheld by the Synod of Orange in 529. However, when Gottschalk tried to extend this doctrine to mean that God actively willed the nonelect to be damned, the Synod of Quiercy in 849 rejected it as unscriptural.

The Scholastics tried to reconcile predestination with reason, but with only a measure of success. For them, predestination could coexist with apparent human free will because God was outside time, and for him all things are present and there is no past and future. However, this solution was attacked by Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and others who questioned how God’s love can be harmonized with his predetermination and how God can be sovereign if he cannot change his own will. Augustinians held that predetermination was a requisite for an ordered universe. Generally, the Reformers were Augustinians and viewed the church as a community of the elect rather than as a community of sinners in need of salvation. Calvin rejected belief in the universal saving will of God. Nevertheless, a reaction to Calvinism set in as Arminius and his followers dismissed predestination as robbing Christianity of its evangelical element.

John Wesley, the fiery Methodist preacher, supported Arminianism because missionary work was meaningless if people are already predetermined to be saved or condemned. George Whitefield, an equally great evangelist, however, remained a Calvinist to the end. Meanwhile, the controversy raged in the Catholic Church as well. The Council of Trent leaned toward a semi-Pelagian position. Luis de Molina formulated a doctrine known as Molinism, which tried to give free will a role in personal salvation, while Cornelius Jansen promoted a very rigid form of Augustinianism. Jesuits favored the former and Dominicans the latter. The controversy overflowed into science and social sciences when it was discovered that there are scientific laws that are as deterministic as predestination in affecting human genes and conduct. If heredity and environment have rigid laws, how can human beings be punished for actions or conduct over which they have no control? THUS, PREDESTINATION REMAINS NOT SO MUCH A DOCTRINE AS A MYSTERY.

Saints:
 Saints are people who have been separated from the world and consecrated to the worship and service of God. Followers of the Lord are referred to by this phrase throughout the Bible, although its meaning is developed more fully in the New Testament. Consecration (setting apart) and purity are the basic meanings of the term. Believers are called “saints” (Rom. 1:7) and “saints in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:1) because they belong to the One who provided their sanctification.

When Christ returns, the saints will be clothed in their “righteous acts” (Rev. 19:8), because they will have continued to live in faith through God’s power (1 Sam. 2:9) and Christ praying for them (Rom. 8:27). The saints are also those to whom the privilege of revelation (Col. 1:26; Jude 3) and the task of ministry (Eph. 4:12) are committed.

 

Summary

There are some things a believer is absolutely sure of. He knows, for instance, that God is in control. He believes that an invisible hand is always on the world’s tiller, and that wherever providence may drift, Jehovah steers it. That re-assuring knowledge prepares him for everything. He looks over the raging waters and sees the spirit of Jesus treading water, and he hears a voice saying, “It is I, be not afraid.” He knows too that God is always wise, and, knowing this, he is confident that there can be no accidents, no mistakes; that nothing can occur which should not happen. He can say, “If I should, by God’s will, lose all I have, it is better than having all those temporary things. The worst calamity is the wisest and the kindest thing that could happen to me if God ordains it.” “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” The Christian does not merely believe this as a theory, but he knows it in fact. Every event in a believer’s life has worked out with divinely blessed results; and so, believing that God rules all, that he governs wisely, that he brings good out of evil, the believer’s heart is assured, and he is enabled to calmly meet each trial as it comes. The believer can in the spirit of true acceptance pray, “Send me what you will, my God, so long as it comes from you; there never was anything wrong that came from your table to any of your children.”

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