The Promises of Predestination

Romans 8:28-30

August 19, 2007 | Brian Bill

After John 3:16, Romans 8:28 may be the most treasured passage of Scripture.  Let me read it right now: “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.”

Some of us may feel like this passage has gone by the wayside. It sounds good but when everything’s going bad, it’s hard to believe.  Sometimes we may feel like the parakeet in Max Lucado’s book, “In the Eye of the Storm.”  

Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming.  One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.  The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner.  She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage.  The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up.  She’d barely said “hello” when “sssopp!”  Chippie got sucked in. 

The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie — still alive, but stunned.  Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water.  Then realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do…she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.  Poor Chippie never knew what hit him. 

A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering.  “Well,” she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore — he just sits and stares.”  

From the looks of things, it looks like we have some Chippies today.  Let’s admit that we have some problems with Romans 8:28.

1. It’s been misused.

Like many other Christian clichés, this verse has been thrown in the face of those who are suffering.

2. It’s been misquoted.

This verse is often taken out of context and key words are left out.  I’ve heard it put like this: “Everything will work out in the end” or “This tragedy is a good thing.”  These words are not only hollow; they are hurtful to someone who is already hurting.  

3. It’s been misunderstood. 

My goal today is to help each of us fully understand what God is saying to us so that we can stop staring and start singing again.  This morning my outline is very simple.  

I want us to look at God’s promise, His purpose, and finally the process He takes us through.

Here’s the entire sermon in one sentence: “God’s good for us is not our comfortability, but our conformity to Christ.”

God’s Promise

The first thing we see is a promise.  Someone has said that Romans 8:28 is a “soft pillow for a tired heart.”  Let’s look at this amazing verse phrase-by-phrase.

“And…”  This connecting word shows that the truth from the verses that come before is continued here.  As we learned last week we are never alone when we’re in the groan zone.  In the midst of sighing and suffering the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

“…we know that…”  This is a word for assurance.  Notice it doesn’t say, “we hope” or “we wish” but rather “we know.”  How can we have this kind of assurance when our experiences have been so excruciating?  We know not by looking at events but by knowing God and His Word.  There are a lot of questions we can’t answer but this we know – that God is at work.  

Everything is either allowed by God or brought about by Him

Friend, if you don’t believe in God’s sovereignty you’re going to have a hard time with suffering.  Check this out: Everything is either allowed by God or brought about by Him.  If you aren’t settled about the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, you need to settle it right now.  Here’s the truth in a nutshell: “He’s God and you’re not!”  Impress Isaiah 55:8 upon your heart: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.” 

“…in all things…”  Not only can we have assurance, did you catch how absolute this is?  Not “some thing” or “most things” but “in all things.”  There are no exceptions, no footnotes, and no caveats.  That means all the bad and the sad, during times of poverty and prosperity, and in seasons of success or suffering.  The word “in” reminds us that we can know these truths when we’re in the groan zone.

“…God works…”  God is always at work, whether we see Him or not.  He is sovereign, either causing all things, or allowing all things to happen.  Beth pointed out John 5:17 to me some time ago and I’ve never forgotten it: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” 

“…for the good…”  Most of us define “good” differently than God does.  We like to feel good, to have good money, to have good health, to have a good job, a good house, and to be in a good relationship.  In short, we think the “good life” means a better set of circumstances, certainly better than we have right now.  

But according to Ecclesiastes 6:12, we can’t really know what is good for us: “For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow?”  God certainly knows what is good for us because He’s a good God.  God is not saying that all things are good but that he works His ways and His will together to accomplish His good.  With that in mind, even problems can be profitable.  Why?  Because God’s good for us is not our comfortability, but our conformity to Christ.

Everything put together is good.  The individual ingredients in a cake mix are not necessarily good to eat on their own – flour, sugar, baking soda, eggs, oil – but when they’re mixed together the taste is definitely good.

You might be tasting just one nasty ingredient right now but God is at work mixing everything, folding everything together to accomplish His good for us.  We might not always immediately understand the good that God is accomplishing…but He is working His will, in a way that gives Him glory and brings us ultimate good.

“…of those who love Him…”  This is a phrase that is synonymous with believers.  What that means is that this promise is only true for those who are truly saved.  1 Corinthians 2:9: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

God’s Purpose

The last part of verse 28 spells out that God has a purpose behind His plan: “…who have been called according to His purpose.”  This thought is also expressed in Psalm 57:2: “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills [his purpose] for me.”  The word “purpose” means to set something before oneself.  What that really means is that there are no accidents in God’s economy.  

That reminds me of the cowboy who applied for an insurance policy.  The agent asked, “Have you ever had any accidents?”  After reflecting for a moment, the applicant responded: “Nope, but a bronco did kick in two of my ribs last summer, and a couple years ago a rattlesnake bit me on the ankle.”  “Wouldn’t you call those accidents?” asked the puzzled agent.  “Naw,” the cowboy said, “They did it on purpose!”

God’s ultimate purpose is not to save me, or to meet my needs.  His ultimate purpose is to bring glory to Himself by conforming me to the image of his Son.  We see that in the middle of verse 29: “…to be conformed to the likeness of His Son…”  If God’s glory is the goal, then His good for us is not our comfortability, but our conformity to Christ.  That means He is more committed to our holiness than to our happiness.  

2 Corinthians 3:18 says that He is making the saved like His Son: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Whatever you’re wrestling with today, remember that God’s plan is bigger than your problem.  I love the wit of Charles Spurgeon who once said, “I’m glad God chose me before He saw me, because if He had waited until He saw me, He might now have wanted me.”  

God’s Process

In order to accomplish this purpose of bringing glory to Himself, God designed a process that is found in verses 29-30: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  This passage explains Romans 8:28 and is what makes it true.  Go back to verse 28 where Paul uses the word “know.”  How does he know with such certainty?  Because of this chain reaction of salvation.  It’s a process that commences in heaven and culminates in heaven.  Once God starts it, it will be completed because salvation from beginning to end is the work of God. 

And, it never needs to be repeated, nor can it be.  We see this in the use of five key words, like links in a chain.  These parallel clauses are closely connected.

1. God chose us. 

This is the word “foreknew.”  Before you and I were even born, God knew us as Jeremiah 1:5 says: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…”  This is a corrective for us when we are tempted to say that we chose God.  This is absurd because God has taken the initiative in the chain reaction of regeneration.

2. God changes us. 

Foreknowledge determines who God’s children will be; predestination determines what God’s children will be.  Remember Chippie?  God is chipping away at us to conform us into the image of Christ, not to make us comfortable.  Don’t get all hung up on the word “predestined.”  

In this context it means that God has decided beforehand where you are going to end up.  Your destination has been decided because God has determined that one day you will be like the Lord.  If you are a believer you have been predestined to go to heaven.  You’ve also been predestined to be like Jesus when you get there.

3. God calls us. 

The next link in the chain is the word “call” which means invited and was originally used of those who received invitations to a banquet.  

God has given a general “call” to everyone and then a specific call to those who will respond.  This specific call is an irresistible inward pull of the Holy Spirit as He woos and wins you to Jesus Christ.  Theologians refer to it as the effectual call.  Let me put it in terms that I can understand.  If you’re a Christian, than you’re called; if you’re not a Christian, then you need to respond to His call.

Dr. Harry Ironside used to tell the story of an older man who testified in a service how God saved him from a life of sin.  He told how God found him at a terrible place, saved him, cleaned him up, forgave him and gave him a brand-new life.  

After the service was over, a legalistic brother said, “Well, you gave a wonderful testimony and gave glory to God but you left something out.  You didn’t talk about your part of salvation.  Don’t you know that salvation is part us and part God?”  The man responded quickly: “You’re so right, my dear brother.  I did leave my part out.  My part was to run away from God as fast as I could.  God’s part was to run after me until He caught me.”

4. God cleanses us. 

We’ve been studying the word “justified” throughout the Book of Romans.  It essentially means “to declare righteous.”  All of the righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited to our accounts while we are still sinners.  We are considered clean.

5. God completes us. 

The word “glorified” means to be clothed with the glory that God himself has.  This is still future but I want to point out that each of these words is in the past tense.  That means that it is so certain that it’s as if it’s happened already.  God’s purpose is to bring us all the way to glory.  Our glorification is guaranteed as Philippians 1:6 makes clear: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” 

God’s purpose is wrapped up in this process – and that’s why we can believe the promise of Romans 8:28.  J. Vernon McGee used to explain it this way.  If God foreknew 100 people, then he predestined 100.  If God predestined 100, he called 100.  If God called 100, he justified 100.  If God justified 100, then he glorified 100.  It’s not as if God starts out with 100 and loses some in the process.  It’s not as if he foreknew 100, then he predestines 80, then he calls 60, then he justifies 40 and only has about 20 left to take to heaven.  No.  The number is exactly the same throughout.  There’s no slippage and no one gets off the bus.  

That means you and I can hold on when we’re hurting because glory is on the way.  1 Peter 5:10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 


God weaves His ways for His glory and for our good

“God’s good for us is not our comfortability, but our conformity to Christ.”   God weaves His ways for His glory and for our good.   The truth of Romans 8:28 is illustrated in the lives of many biblical characters.

  • Joseph.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused, mistreated by Potiphar, and suffered greatly.  And yet he could say to his brothers in Genesis 50:20: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
  • Jonah.  Jonah is a negative illustration.  He came to expect “good” from God which in his definition was pleasure and comfort and the destruction of his enemies.  God was good to Jonah by using pagan sailors, a big fish, a plant, and even a worm to accomplish his ultimate purpose of saving the Ninevites – and teaching Jonah a lesson.
  • Job.  Job was a righteous man who experienced incredible suffering.  The teaching of this book is that every event in our lives cannot be viewed as the result of some act on our part.  Job’s friends tried to link suffering with sin and prosperity with piety.  Job learned that there is a plan and a purpose but the particulars may be unexplainable in this life.
  • Jesus.  Perhaps the greatest illustration of Romans 8:28 is found in the life of Jesus himself.  Many awful things were done to Him – he was denied, betrayed, falsely accused, wrongly tried, found guilty, beaten, spit upon, mocked, and finally crucified.  But God brought incredible good out of this atrocious act as Acts 2:23 states: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  Note the sweet balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.  Humans did something horrible but God used what they did to carry out His plan of salvation.

As we wrap up, I see some lessons that we can learn before we head over to the picnic.


1. Surrender and be saved.  

The promise of Romans 8:28 is exclusively for those who answer the call of God and accept Christ as Savior and Lord.  In other words, there is no limit to “all things” but there is a limit with regard to those whom the “all things” applies.  Let me skip ahead a few chapters to Romans 10:9-10: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

2. If you are saved, be assured that your salvation is secure. 

What God commenced, He will complete.  You have His Word on that.

3. View your problems with a long-term perspective. 

Nothing can happen to you in this life, not one single event or an accumulation of events that can change your future glory.

4. Seek God’s development in your distress, not just His deliverance.

Can you find a better promise than Romans 8:28?  It’s better that all things should work for my good than all things should be as I would wish to have them.  One person has put this way: “All things might work for my pleasure and yet might all work my ruin.  If all things do not always please me, they will always benefit me.  This is the best promise of life.”

God’s good for us is not our comfortability, but our conformity to Christ

Professor E.C. Caldwell ended his lecture many years ago with these words: “Tomorrow I will be teaching on Romans 8 so tonight I want you to pay special attention to verse 28.  Notice what this verse truly says and what it doesn’t say.”  Then he added, “One final word before I dismiss you – whatever happens in the years to come, remember: Romans 8:28 will always hold true.”  That same day Dr. Caldwell and his wife were involved in a terrible crash with a train.  She was killed instantly and he was crippled permanently.  

Months later, Professor Caldwell returned to class, and his students clearly remembered his last words.  A hush came over the room as he began his lecture.  “Romans 8:28,” he said, “still holds true.  One day we shall see God’s good, even in this.”Because Romans 8:28-30 is true, we don’t have to just sit and stare like Chippie…we can be chipper and sing again.  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?