Trusting God to Work it Out
August 20, 2022 | Brian Bill
Over the past couple years, I’ve gotten to know a guy I see when I’m out in the community working on my sermons. We’ve had some gospel conversations in the past and he knows I’m a pastor. On Wednesday, he came up to me and said he had a question he wanted to ask me: “What percent of your people actually understand what you’re preaching about?” My initial answer was, “Hopefully everyone.” I could tell he didn’t buy that, so he continued, “Are you sure? Why don’t you do a survey because it’s probably less than you think.” I responded by saying, “Game on.” I know this is risky but raise your hand if you find the sermons understandable.
Before he walked away, he challenged me to keep the sermons simple and applicable. I’m going to take his challenge seriously and do my best to make this sermon as understandable as possible because I’m sure he’ll want a report.
Last week, we learned that creation and Christians are groaning. This world is out of whack and believers are bummed out. We were challenged with this truth: To get through your groaning, focus on the glory to come.
In our passage today, we’re going to see the Holy Spirit groans when we’re hurting. Listen to Romans 8:26-27: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Let’s hold on to this truth: “You’re not alone when you’re in the groan zone.” The groan zone is when you sigh more than you speak, when your inner agony is so deep you can’t even express it. Perhaps you’re there right now.
Paul begins, “Likewise the Spirit helps us…” Paul frontloads the Greek word “helps” with two prefixes to intensify it. It’s like he put it in bold letters, all caps, italicized it, and used a yellow highlighter. The root means, “to lay hold of something” and the two prefixes mean “along with” and “in the place of.” The word “helps” is in the present tense, meaning He helps constantly and continually. It’s also in the active voice, meaning the Holy Spirit is dynamically active, not passive. He takes the initiative in our sanctification, enabling us to live the Christian life.
Jesus said it this way in John 14:16-17: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” The title “Helper” can also be translated as Comforter. The Holy Spirit helps by counseling, comforting, and convicting (see John 16:8) because He’s with us, right next to us, and He is in us.
When the Spirit Helps Us
You’re not alone when you’re in the groan zone. There are two specific times when the Holy Spirit helps us.
1. When we’re weak and weary.
The Spirit who is holy helps us “in our weakness.” This word means “without strength” and speaks of being incapacitated. Some of us think we need to be strong for God but 2 Corinthians 12:10 says: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2. When we’re perplexed about what to pray for.
The Holy Spirit also helps us when “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought…” Sometimes all we can get out is some sighing and a lot of crying as Psalm 5:1 says: “Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my groaning.”
There have been many times as a pastor when I have been at a total loss about what to pray for. I’ll never forget how paralyzed and perplexed I felt about 15 years ago when I was asked to do the funeral for two children who were murdered by their father. Walking into their bedrooms and seeing their unopened Christmas presents was almost unbearable. As I tried to put the message together for their funeral, I could barely move my fingers on the keyboard. I reached out to some pastor friends for help, but the biggest help came from the Holy Spirit as he took my pitiful prayers and turned them into a message of comfort for the family.
What the Holy Spirit Does
The second half of verse 26 tells us what the Holy Spirit does: “But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us.” In contrast to our paltry prayers the “Spirit Himself” prays for us. The word “intercede” means to “speak on behalf of, to plead someone’s case before a superior.” It was used of rescuing someone in trouble who had no resources to escape.
We not only have the Spirit interceding in our heart; we also have the Son interceding in Heaven. Jump ahead to verse 34: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised to life—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
We have two perfect prayer partners always interceding for us! This means you’re not alone when you’re in the groan zone.
How the Holy Spirit Intercedes
I find it so comforting that the Comforter groans with me as I deal with all the garbage in my life.
The last phrase of verse 26 tells us how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us: “with groanings too deep for words.” Notice “groanings” is in the plural, which speaks of intensely deep groanings. I find it so comforting that the Comforter groans with me as I deal with all the garbage in my life.
He does even more in verse 27: “And He who searches our hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
1. God the Father knows our motives.
I take great comfort knowing that God knows what’s in my heart (sometimes I find discomfort with this realization). The word for “search” means to make a thorough investigation. This is in the present tense, indicating this is God’s continual activity as we see in 1 Chronicles 28:9: “…For the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.”
2. God the Father knows the mind of the Spirit.
Since the Father knows what’s in our hearts, he certainly knows the mind of the Spirit. In fact, there is complete unity within the Trinity.
3. God the Holy Spirit helps us pray according to the Father’s will.
I wonder how many of my prayers are according to my will and not according to God’s will. 1 John 5:14: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”
The Holy Spirit prays constantly and continually for believers as He takes our frail, feeble and faulty prayers and translates them to the Father so they are acceptable and in harmony with His holy will.
After John 3:16, Romans 8:28 may be the most treasured verse in the Bible: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
As loved as this verse is, some of us pushback from this passage. I can think of a few reasons for that.
- It’s been misused. Sometimes this verse has been thrown in the face of those who are suffering.
- It’s been misquoted. This verse is often taken out of context. Many are familiar with verse 28 but less familiar with verses 29-30. Often when it is quoted, 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.
- It’s been misunderstood. My goal today is to help us fully understand what God is saying to us.
Let’s look at God’s promise, His purpose, and finally the process He takes us through.
“And…” This connecting word shows 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…” The word “we” reminds us this is a universal truth for all Christians. The word “know” refers to assurance. Notice it doesn’t say, “we hope” or “we wish” or “we think,” but “we know.”
If you don’t believe in God’s sovereignty, you’re going to have a hard time with suffering. Here’s the conclusion we must come to: 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.”
“…all things…” Notice how absolute this is. Not “some things” or “most things” but “all things.” There are no exceptions and no caveats. That means all the bad and the sad, whether we are in poverty or prosperity. This covers our seasons of success, sweetness, sorrow, and suffering. David Jeremiah says, “Too often we try to use God to change our circumstances, while He is using our circumstances to change us.”
“…work together…” God is always at work, whether we see Him or not. All things don’t work out for good on their own. Rather, God providentially works all things together for good for His people according to His purpose.
God is not saying all things are good, but that He works His ways and His will together to accomplish His good.
“…for 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 good relationships. In short, we think the “good life” means a better set of circumstances, certainly better than we have right now. God certainly knows what is good for us because He’s a good God. God is not saying 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.
Let’s illustrate. The individual ingredients in a cake mix are not very tasty on their own – flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, vanilla, salt, and butter – but when they’re mixed together and put in the oven, the taste is definitely good. You might be tasting just one nasty ingredient right now, but God is at work mixing all the ingredients together, at the right time, in the right way, in the right proportions to give Him glory and bring us ultimate good.
I skipped over who this verse is addressed to. Let’s go back to the beginning: “…for those who love God…” This promise is only true for those who are truly saved. 1 Corinthians 2:9: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
The last part of verse 28 spells out how God has a purpose behind His plan: “…who are called according to His purpose.” God’s ultimate purpose is to bring glory to Himself by conforming us to the image of His Son. As such, He is more committed to our holiness than to our happiness.
God is in complete control of every event and of every circumstance in His creation. He does not cause evil, but He does control all things so His will is accomplished. That means the incidents in your life are not incidental. Whatever you’re wrestling with today, remember God is working out His way and His will to bring Him glory and to achieve what is ultimately good for you.
To accomplish this purpose of bringing glory to Himself, God designed a 5-step process listed in verses 29-30: “For those who He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” This process is linked to the promise of Romans 8:28.
Before we go further, Paul’s purpose in writing these words is pastoral and practical. While this passage has led to controversy and conflict among Christians because of the word “predestination,” his primary aim was to comfort Christians in Rome facing persecution. Here’s how I resolve the relationship between election and free will: God is supremely sovereign, and we are responsible for our response to Him. The word “sovereign” means God has absolute authority and complete control.
The proper reaction to the consideration of God’s supreme sovereignty combined with our responsibility to believe is to be moved with wonder and worship. My aim is to simply let the Scriptures speak, not to defend a certain theological view. To that end, let’s dive in.
This is a process which 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. We see this in the use of five key words which are closely connected, often referred to as the golden chain of salvation.
But before we get to those, let’s make a couple observations. First, God is the one who does the work of salvation and is continuously working to make us like the Savior. Second, all five of these actions are done for every believer. We see this in the use of the word, “also.”
1. God chose us.
Let’s look at the first phrase, “For those whom He foreknew.” To “foreknow” means to know something in advance but also means, “to choose.” 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 consecrated you…” This is a corrective for us when we are tempted to say we chose God. 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 not have wanted me.”
2. God changes us.
Foreknowledge determines who God’s children will be; predestination determines what God’s children will be: “…He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” 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 God has decided beforehand where you are going to end up. Your destiny and destination have 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.
3. God calls us.
The next link in the chain is “…He also called.” The word “call” was originally used of those who received an invitation to a banquet. God has given a general “call” to everyone and a specific call to those who will respond. This specific call is an irresistible inward pull of the Holy Spirit as He woos you to Jesus Christ. Theologians refer to this as the effectual call. Let me put it in terms I can understand. If you’re a Christian, then you’re called; if you’re not a Christian yet, then you need to respond to His call.
One of the 18 individuals baptized last Sunday afternoon gave this simple but powerful testimony which speaks of this truth: “After being called/pulled to church, I received Jesus as my Savior.” Check out what Jesus said in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
4. God cleanses us.
The next link in the chain is “justified,” which means “to be declared righteous.” Everyone God calls, He also justifies. We are considered clean and secure because Jesus took our rottenness and in exchange, granted us His righteousness.
5. God completes us.
The word “glorified” refers to finally becoming like Jesus. While this is future, notice each of these words is in the past tense: “and those whom He justified He also glorified.”Your glorification is as certain as if it already happened. God’s purpose is to bring us all the way to glory. Our glorification is guaranteed according to Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
God foreknew you and predestined you in the past. God called you and justified you in the present. And God glorified you in the future. Your salvation is secure.
- Vernon McGee explained it like this: “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.”
You and I can hold on when we’re hurting because glory is on the way. 1 Peter 5:10: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” We can trust God to work it out because we are cocooned in His grace as He works all things together to make us more like Jesus. He weaves His way and His will for His supreme glory and our ultimate good.
I think of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, mistreated by Potiphar, and suffered greatly. And yet he could say to his brothers in Genesis 50:20: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
After my friend gave me sermon advice this week, he brought his wife over and introduced her. He told her he passed on some ideas for my sermon. She rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t doubt it. I hope he didn’t tell you to preach about Hell and damnation.” I bridged from this by telling her Hell is real and we don’t have to go there if we trust in Jesus. To which she said, “I’m sure I’ll spend a long time in purgatory, and I hope I don’t go to Hell.” I told her if she puts her full faith and trust in Jesus, she won’t have to do time in purgatory and she can avoid Hell altogether. She became nervous and walked away quickly.
Don’t walk away. God is calling you. Come to Him. Repent of your sins and receive Him as your Lord and Savior.