Monthly Archives: November 2016

Romans 8:29 – Future Assurance

We ended last week with a paraphrase of verse 28:

  • “We know that groanings and present sufferings do not negate or thwart God’s purpose of future glory for all believers.”


So this is what we know.

  • The question now is “why do we know this will happen?”
  • What is our assurance of this truth?


As we deal with verse 29, these are the right questions.

  • These are the questions Paul is contending with.


I agree with Bird:

“…we must refrain from reading into the text debates about divine sovereignty, the basis of election, and human free will. While the text no doubt raises the question for readers, even so, answering it is not Paul’s main concern” – Michael Bird.


So using our paraphrase, we can frame our question for exploring verses 29:

  • Why is it that groanings and present sufferings do not negate or thwart God’s purpose of future glory for all believers?


Paul’s answer:

  • Romans 8:29–30 (ESV) — 29 For those whom 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.


Today we will deal with verse 29.



Verse 29:

For those whom 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.


The first and main thing he does to answer the question we raised is…

  • Connect us to Jesus Christ!


In other words:

  • Those who love God” (vs. 28).
  • Those who are called” (vs 28).


It is these that have full assurance of future hope/glorification because…

  • From the very beginning, the Father connected them to their future by way of Jesus Christ!


This is the idea behind being “conformed to the image of his Son” (vs. 29).

  • It is all about Jesus!


But what exactly did Paul mean with “he foreknew he also predestined”?

  • What was foreknown and predestined?




Paul says “those” God “foreknew” (vs. 29) – who are those?

  • Those”, of course, are “those who love God” (vs. 28).
  • And they are “those who are called” (vs. 28).


What does it mean that he “foreknew” (proginosko) them?


Commonly, the word simply means, “know beforehand or in advance” – BDAG.

  • Simple enough.


There are some, however, that suggest that “proginosko” in verse 29 means more specifically:

  • choose someone beforehand” – BDAG.
  • In other words, “predetermine”.


Others critique this understanding of the word as being one read in light of:

  • “…later theological debates, such as…the debates of the Reformation era” – Craig Keener.


I think scholars like Doug Moo, Robert Jewett, and Michael Bird are right to pull back a bit from this specific meaning.

  • Moo says, “Paul does not intend to give a complete picture of his, still less of NT, soteriology” – Doug Moo.
  • (More on Moo’s view next week – he doesn’t pull back much).


This means the point of Paul’s use of “foreknew” in verse 29 is that:

  • God always knew…
  • He would, before the creation of the world…
  • Have a people for Himself.
  • A people who loved Him.


And, in keeping with Paul’s concerns, God knew:

  • This people would be “Gentiles as well as Jews” – Keener.


And God knew:

  • He would make both of them His people “through Christ” – Keener.


In other words, “foreknew” here is:

  • General language about the assurance of God’s mission to create a people for Himself.
  • This is not language about a system of salvation – like T.U.L.I.P.




What about predestined?

  • Is Paul saying that the method God would use to create a people for Himself would be predestination?
  • In other words, is Paul’s point that God makes Himself a people by predetermining and choosing them beforehand?


Again, I think Bird and others have a better handle of this text.

  • “Predestination here is not an absolute decree to elect some and not others…” – Michael Bird.


So what is predestined if not the people?

  • The thing that is determined and predestined beforehand is this…
  • Believers will be “…conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.


In other words, it is both that:

  • Christ is to whom believers will be conformed.
  • Christ is to be the firstborn.
  • Christ, Christ!


God will create His people by conforming them to the image of Jesus Christ.

  • And Christ will be the means.
  • These are the things predetermined in verse 29.



Foreknew and Predestined Wrap-Up:

So the whole point of all this language for Paul is that…

  • God always intended to, is and will “create a Christ-shaped family, a renewed humanity modeled on the Son” – Michael Bird.


And in our text, Paul:

  • “…concentrates on that which God planned and purposed for them” – N.T. Wright.
  • The creating them through Christ…not on a method of salvation.


As we said earlier:

  • From the very beginning, the Father knew He would have, and connect believers to their future, by way of Jesus Christ!


This is why:

  • Going back to our paraphrase of verse 28…
  • “We know that groanings and present sufferings do not negate or thwart God’s purpose of future glory for all believers.”


Our future glory doesn’t depend on us.

  • It is God who creates and conforms us to Christ.
  • And we inhabit what God has always known and planned.
  • We “who love God” aren’t left in a vacuum, or to fate and the winds of chance.


I love how Robert Jewett sums this verse up:

“Paul’s aim here is not to establish and abstract doctrine of predestination…or to invite ‘reflection on the classic problems of determinism and free will’, but to reassure the vulnerable, harried believers in Rome that their lives and work have significance in the grand plan of God for the restoration of the creation through the recovery of ‘sonship’ by conforming to the image of Christ” – Robert Jewett.


So let’s deal with this conforming business.



Conformed, Image of His Son, Firstborn:

…conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

  • This is what the foreknowing and predestining are all about in verse 29.
  • As we said – it is all about about Jesus Christ.


But what does Paul mean with this language?


All of it relates back to things Paul as already discussed.

  • In other words, our glorification – our new nature and new status.


Let’s take a look:

  • Conformed, “symmorphos”, means this:
  • We are transformed into a “similar form, nature, or style” as something – BDAG.


And whose form or nature are we transformed into – who is the “something”?

  • “…the image of his son” – Jesus Christ.


This, once again, is language of:

  • Christification
  • Deification
  • Theosis


In other words:

  • “It is as Christians have their bodies resurrected and transformed that they join Christ in his glory…” – Doug Moo.
  • We are being and will be changed to be like Christ!


Or as Bird explains:

“Here Christology and ecclesiology converge as believers will one day become miniature Jesuses who reflect his image, just as Jesus reflects the image of God” – Michael Bird.

  • This stuff never gets old!


So, what is this “firstborn among many brothers” business?


The idea here is that Jesus as the new Adam…

  • Recovered what it was to be God’s image bearer.
  • He did what Adam and Israel failed to do.
  • He acted “as the true child of God” – Robert Jewett.


As the new Adam and the “true child of God”, Jesus was rightfully the:

  • “firstborn, the preeminent” of all believers – (Jewett).


And His resurrection, the first fruits of the believers’ resurrection…

  • Was the vindication of this fact.


Paul explains this in Colossians:

  • Colossians 1:18–20 (ESV) — 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent [same root as firstborn]. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.


All of this focus confirms for us…

  • That it is Jesus Christ who is the main point of verse 29.


And Jesus’ role as “image” and “firstborn among many brothers”…

  • Is the ultimate foreknown and predestined fact that gives us hope in the midst of our sufferings…
  • And brings about our glorification.


Let’s wrap all this up with our paraphrases:

  • We know that groanings and present sufferings do not negate or thwart God’s purpose of future glory for all believers. (vs. 28)
  • Because God determined before the creation of the world to create by, in and through Jesus Christ – His preeminent Son – ‘a Christ-shaped family’ consisting of both Jew and Gentile. (vs. 29)



Rabbit Trail – God’s Foreknowledge and 1 Samuel 23:1-13:

It is worth pointing out a feature of God’s foreknowledge that is overlooked.

  • It’s a feature that works against the idea that “proginosko” necessarily means that God’s knowing the event beforehand equals Him actualizing the event or outcome – making it so.
  • In other words, that foreknowledge equals predestination.


In 1 Samuel 23, David asked God, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” (vs. 2).

  • God said, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah” (vs. 2).


David was afraid and asked again.

  • God said, “…go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand” (vs. 4).
  • David did and saved Keilah.


Then, Saul heard that David was at Keilah.

  • Saul said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars” (vs. 7).


David hears that Saul is coming and he asks God:

  • Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard?” (vs. 11).


God’s reply:

  • He [Saul] will come down” (vs. 11).
  • They [men of Keilah] will surrender you” (vs. 12).


So, what did David choose to do?

  • He left Keilah.


But what about the idea that God’s foreknowledge equals predetermination?


God knew beforehand two things that would happen.

  • (1) Saul would come.
  • (2) Keilah would hand David over to Saul.


But here is the thing:

“Neither of these events that God foresaw ever actually happened. Once David hears God’s answers, he and his men leave the city. When Saul discovers this fact (v. 13), he abandons his trip to Keilah. Saul never made it to the city. The men of Keilah never turned David over to Saul. Why is this significant? This passage clearly establishes that divine foreknowledge does not necessitate divine predestination” – Michael Heiser.


Now, it seems rather strange that God knows things in the future that don’t happen.

  • If an event doesn’t happen, what is it exactly that God foreknows?


God foreknows what philosophers call counterfactuals.

  • God foreknows what would happen in any situation if, for example…
  • David stays in the city or leaves the city.


This means that our choices matter!

  • It doesn’t mean, however, that God doesn’t use means to influence our choices.
  • In our 1 Samuel example, God used the truth of a counterfactual to motivate David to flee.
  • But it was David who chose to flee.



Romans 8:28 – Stop Getting It Wrong

Let’s dig into verse 28.

  • And, hopefully, discover what it is Paul wants to convey.
  • Which, it seems, centers on assurance and Jesus Christ.



Verse 28:

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


There is a lot of cool stuff in this verse.

  • (1) The fact that the believer can definitively know what Paul is about to reveal – “we know”.
  • (2) The fact that “all things work together for good” – whatever this might mean.
  • (3) The fact that there are those “called” according to a “purpose” – whatever this might mean.


BTW – The ESV says it is “all things” that “work together for good”.

  • Is it really “all things” that “work”?
  • The NIV has a better word choice.
  • …in all things God works for the good…



(1) We Know:

Paul says that “those who love God” (believers/the church) know.

  • There are two aspects of this knowledge.
  • The thing we know.
  • Why we know it.


The thing we know will become clear soon enough.

  • This is the very thing we are trying to understand.


Why we know this “thing” goes back to the indicatives of the Gospel.

  • We will rehash this a bit at the end of verse 29.



(2) All Things and Good:

all things work together for good

  • This text is ripped out of context as much as any other in the New Testament.


Most often it is used as a form of encouragement to a suffering believer.

  • The sentiment behind it is usually, “Don’t worry, God will make it all better”.


In other words, it is used to teach that God will take this event – this unfortunate/unwanted circumstance…

  • And turn it into a good/wanted circumstance.


It is important we get this right.


If this is the meaning of the text…

  • Then, if a person really is a Christian,…
  • Every bad event or circumstance in his or her life…
  • Should be followed by an event or circumstance that puts right the bad circumstance.


As Doug Moo points out:

  • “Certainly Paul does not mean that the evil experienced by believers in this life will always be reversed, turned into ‘good’” – Doug Moo.


If all this were so, it would mean that this text can be used to authenticate true belief.

  • And by extension support the theology of the prosperity Gospel.


But this is not what Paul is doing.

  • As Tom Schreiner points out:
  • “The intention in using this phrase is not to distinguish true from false believers” – Tom Schreiner.


Now, God can do this, no doubt.

  • Bring a good circumstance out of a bad one.


But, is this really what Paul is teaching here?

  • We need to dig in and find out.


What are the “all things”?


Given the context of Romans 7-8, the “all things” are:

  • This “body of death” (7:24).
  • The “sufferings of this present time” (vs. 17).
  • And the “we ourselves…groan inwardly” (vs. 23).


In other words:

  • The “all things” is the “now” of the Christian life.


Or in Paul’s own words:

  • 2 Corinthians 11:25–28 (ESV) — 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.


What is the “good”?


Good “Nots”:

The “good” is not a negation of the “sufferings of this present time”.

  • In fact, the presence of suffering in the Christian life is why Romans 8 is so powerful.


For, as Paul has already taught, suffering is a necessary part of being “in Christ”.

  • N.T. Wright puts it this way:
  • Our “suffering [is] according to the pattern of the Messiah”.


The “good” is not referring to a set of better life circumstances that will replace bad life circumstances.

  • Doug Moo captures this well:

“The idea that this verse promises the believer material wealth or physical well-being, for instance, betrays a typically Western perversion of ‘good’ into an exclusively material interpretation” – Doug Moo.


Good “Is’s”:

The “goodis something that will happen…

  • Even though the “now” of the Christian life consists of the “all things” just discussed.
  • Even though, just like unbelievers, the Christian life is one of groaning.


So this “good” doesn’t displace the “all things” of our life “now”.

  • Paul would never say that!
  • The “good” is something that will happen in spite of the “all things” of the Christian life.


So what is the “good”?

  • It is all the “not yets” of the Christian life.
  • Our future glorification – our new nature and new status, etc.
  • Scholars call it “eschatological glory” (Doug Moo).
  • Or, our future full conformity to the image of Christ (Doug Moo).



(3) Called and Purpose:

for those who are called according to his purpose”

  • The “called” here are obviously the “those who love God” from the beginning of the verse.
  • But why restate with this word choice?


Craig Keener makes this observation:

  • “Paul’s own audience would think of Israel as the people God had chosen…”


But Paul has already, and is here, turning that on its head.

Keener says the church at Rome would, “…recognize that Paul’s argument was designed to show that God was so sovereign that he was not bound to choose (with regard to salvation) based on Jewish ethnicity” – Craig Keener.


In other words, Paul is talking about the future of all God’s people.

  • And inclusion as God’s people is not based on ethnicity or badges of membership – circumcision, etc.
  • Inclusion as the “called” is to be “those who love God” – whether Jew or Gentile.
  • It is to be those who participate in God’s purpose.
  • (We will have more to say about “called” when we deal with verse 30).


What is this purpose?


It is helpful here to know what Paul may have been trying to counter in Rome.

  • A place that, culturally, was deeply Hellenized.


In such a culture, Craig Keener points out…

  • The idea of fate was seen as a predominate power in determining people and their future.
  • But, Keener says, “Paul goes beyond this, not resigned to impersonal fate but trusting the benevolent design of God” – Craig Keener.


In other words, and this is huge…

  • The called’s “not yet” life is not tied to fate or current circumstances (suffering or ethnicity)!
  • It is tied to God’s purposes – as revealed in Jesus Christ!
  • Verse 29 will give us more detail about this.


Let’s end with a paraphrase of verse 28:

  • “We know that groanings and present sufferings do not negate or thwart God’s purpose of future glory for all believers.”


Romans 8:26-27 – Holy Spirit Groaning

Romans 8:26–27 (ESV) — 26 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. 27 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.


Verse 26:

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.


Likewise and Weakness:

Paul transitions from the hope we have in both the “now” and “not yet”…

  • Into another positive feature of the Christian life (as opposed to our sufferings and groanings).
  • …the Spirit…


In fact, the “likewise” here is connected directly to the hope of verses 24 and 25.

  • “…in the same way [as this hope sustains us] (Doug Moo)”, Paul says, “the Spirit helps us…


So, if the hope we have in the “now” wasn’t cool enough…

  • Paul tells us the indwelling Spirit is present with us as part of this hope.


And the best part is what the Spirit is doing on our behalf.

  • Paul says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”.


What is “our weakness”?


The things that come along with:

  • body of death” (7:24)
  • the sufferings of our present time” (8:18)
  • groan inwardly” (8:23)


The word literally refers to a physical debilitating sickness or disease – BDAG.

  • So Paul’s use here is metaphorical.
  • And he is referring to our “lack of spiritual insight” or “moral deficiency” – BDAG.


So our weakness is this:

  • Because of our “lack of spiritual insight”…
  • Because of our “moral deficiency”…
  • We don’t pray “as we ought”.


What does Paul mean that we don’t pray “as we ought”?

  • Moo says Paul is referring to content not style.
  • Schreiner agrees.


In other words…

  • The problem here is not that we aren’t articulate enough…
  • Or don’t use enough Christianese…
  • Or don’t pray in a British accent.


The problem is that the things we actually pray for…

  • Are apparently, more often than not, outside of God’s will.


So the question is what are the right things to pray for – what is the right content?

  • Generally speaking, the things that God wills.
  • “What Paul apparently has in mind is that inability to discern clearly God’s will in the many things for which we pray…” – Doug Moo.
  • Paul says as much in verse 27 – “according to the will of God”.
    • More on the 26 and 27 connection in a bit.



Spirit Intercession:

This sounds like a serious problem.

  • But this is not where Paul is headed.
  • This is not a beat down passage.


Paul has some good news.

  • Because we are in Christ and indwelled by the Spirit…
  • Paul gives us some good news that mitigates our “weakness”.


Paul says that…

  • The Spirit “intercedes” on our behalf.


In other words, due to our “weakness” and the inability it brings…

  • The Spirit intervenes for our sake.
  • The interceding or intervening of the Spirit is the “help” the Spirit brings us in our weakness.


Parsing all this out:

  • We simply have a difficult time discerning the will of God.
  • We do our best and offer up our prayer and petitions in this light.
  • However, our “weakness” means we fail to discern the will of God on a regular basis.
  • But, the Spirit does know the will of God and intercedes on our behalf.


Before we move on, we have to ask one more question.

  • Didn’t Jesus teach us how to pray?


Jesus said the following:

  • Matthew 6:9–15 (ESV) — 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


How do we square what Jesus teaches here with what Paul teaches?



Inexpressible Groanings:

What exactly is the nature of the Spirit’s help and interceding?

  • groaning too deep for words” – “stenagmos alaletos


Or as other translations put it:

  • “sighs to deep for words” – NRSV
  • “groans that words cannot express” – NIV
  • “inexpressible groanings” – NET
  • “unspoken groanings” – HCSB


To begin with this is not the same kind of inward groaning believers express.

  • As we observed last time, the Spirit is not a creature and not in Garden Exile.
  • Doug Moo agrees: “…the groaning of the Spirit is very different in its nature and purpose from [our] ‘groanings’” – Doug Moo.


The BDAG makes a subtle distinction between the Spirit’s groaning and our groaning that might help us here.

  • Whereas, we groan due to our circumstances – our weakness.
  • The Spirit groans out of concern for our circumstance – “expression of great concern” (BDAG).


This distinction is helpful.

  • But it doesn’t tell us what the “inexpressible groanings” of the Spirit literally are.


Tom Schreiner thinks they are perhaps our groanings which the Holy Spirit modifies or translates.

“God searches the hearts of believers and finds unutterable longings to conform their lives to the will of God. The Holy Spirit takes these groanings and presents them before God in an articulate form…the Holy Spirit translates these groanings and conforms them to God’s will” – Tom Schreiner.



Implications for Us:

This revelation from Paul about our “weakness” should serve to humble us.

Believers, “do not have an adequate grasp of what God’s will is when they pray. Because of our finiteness and fallibility we cannot perceive fully what God would desire” – Tom Schreiner.


The implication of this is simple:

  • “…we cannot presume to identify our petitions with the will of God” – Doug Moo.


So even in our prayer life…

  • We must depend upon the Holy Spirit.
  • In the midst of our weakness, we find the Spirit’s strength and intercession!
  • And this is good news!



Verse 27:

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.


Heart Searcher:

Paul says God the Father continually searches the hearts of believers.

  • T. Wright says of Paul’s word choice for “searches”:

“The word ‘searcher’ comes from a root which suggests someone lighting a torch and going slowly round a large, dark room full of all sorts of things, looking for something in particular” – N.T. Wright.


Wright says this is both “disturbing and exciting”.

  • I think so too!


Why would the idea of God the Father doing a room-to-room search of our hearts be disturbing?

  • Short answer: He is going to find the stuff of weak creatures – sin, etc.
  • And this stuff will come under judgment.
  • Romans 2:16 (ESV) — 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.


Why would the idea of God the Father doing a room-to-room search of our hearts be exciting?

  • Because, for the believer, He will also find the stuff of those in Christ and indwelled by the Spirit.
  • And our text tells us that part of that stuff is the groanings of the Spirit.


N.T. Wright puts it like this:

“But the thing he is wanting to find above all else, and which according to Paul he ought to find in all Christians, is the sound of the spirit’s groaning” – N.T. Wright.


This is more good news for the believer!

  • God the Father, the searcher, confirms our union with Christ through the presence of an interceding Spirit groaning on our behalf.


It’s hard to find a better Trinitarian description of the Gospel than this.

“This hints at something deeper than merely prayer in the way that God wants or approves; God’s own life, love and energy are involved in the process. The Christian, precisely at the point of weakness and uncertainty, of inability and struggle, becomes the place at which the triune God is revealed in person” – N.T. Wright.



Spirit Mindset:

Paul goes on to tell us that the Father knows the “phronema” or “mindset” of the Spirit.

  • the mind of the Spirit”.


So what is the “mindset” of the Spirit?

  • the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God


The “mindset” of the Spirit…

  • Is to intercede, mediate and translate our prayers and our groanings to the Father.
  • And to do so “according to the will of God”.


In other words, the “mindset” of the Spirit is CONCERN:

  • Concern for the weakness of the believer.
  • Concern for the will of God the Father.


This is how verse 26 and verse 27 are connected and fill each other out.

  • We are weak – so the Spirit groans (show of concern) on our behalf.
  • God the Father has a will – so the Spirit intercedes for us (show of concern) according to the Father’s will.


This work of the Spirit should bring us huge comfort!

  • Why?

“We discover that God himself does not stand apart from the pain both of the world and of the church, but comes to dwell in the middle of it in the person and power of the spirit” – N.T. Wright.


And with respect to our lives:

“Believers should take tremendous encouragement that the will of God is being fulfilled in their lives despite their weakness and inability to know what to pray for. God’s will is not being frustrated because of the weakness of believers” – Tom Schreiner.