The Promise of Being Conformed to the Image of Jesus (Romans 8:29-30)
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. —Romans 8:29-30
What do you do, as a Christian, when your world falls apart? How do you respond? What are you to think? The biblical books of Job and Ruth are in our Bibles to help us grapple with the reality of righteous suffering—the suffering we face that is not a direct result of our own sin. As you study these books and biblical characters like Naomi and Ruth, they remind us that the sovereign Lord who stands behind our good also stands behind our suffering. Because the Lord is doing all things for the good of his people and the glory of his name, he does not waste our suffering. How we understand God to be at work in our suffering will determine how we respond when we suffer. In short, our sovereign Lord is at work in our suffering to prepare us for eternal glory by causing us to look more and more like Jesus. Consider how the apostle Paul explains this reality in Romans 8:29-30.
Those who love God—that is, those who are called by God—are promised that the sovereign Lord is working out all things for their good (Romans 8:28). "All things" include hardship, loss, and suffering—a glorious promise for all who are in Christ. In verses 29-30, Paul explains the basis for this promise. He highlights four aspects. Let’s call them four pillars on which this glorious promise stands.
We can trust that God does good for us who follow Christ because he knew us before the foundation of the world. “Foreknew” in verse 29 may be helpfully translated as “foreloved.” The knowledge God had of his people was not mere intellectual knowledge; it was an intimate knowledge. And this eternal love he has for his people is evidenced by the glorious end for which he predestines them—Christlikeness. God calls his elect to salvation in Christ so that we would look like Christ and exalt the Son as “the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29). Jesus took on our humanity, rescued us from sin, was raised from the dead, and is now exalted in glory. He was the first, and we will follow in his steps.
Effectual Calling or Regeneration
The promise that God works all things for our good is grounded, secondly, in God’s effectual call—God’s call that affects our salvation (v. 30). We are born into this world as children who deserve God’s wrath because we have inherited Adam’s sin. That is, in our sins, we were dead to God. But, in the same way that Jesus called Lazarus back to life, so also, God called us to spiritual life. By this effectual call, God made us alive together with Christ. We can believe the promise that God is working all things for our good because he not only loved us before the foundation of the world for the purpose of conforming us to his image, he also called us out of darkness and death and gave us new life in Christ and empowered us to obey by his Spirit.
Justification is a glorious truth and the third ground for the promise that God is working all things for our good. By faith, we were united with Christ in his life, death, burial, and resurrection. One of the blessings of our union with Christ is justification. Because we are one with Christ, his righteousness is counted as ours, while our sins are counted as his. We stand before God as not guilty because Jesus died on the cross as guilty. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for all who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).
So, we’re back full circle. God calls us to image Christ and share in his glory. Through all we may face in this life—good/bad, joy/sorrow, prosperity/poverty, health/sickness, life/death—God is at work for the good of his people. What is that good? That we would look like Christ and share in his glory. But notice how Paul states it, “those whom he justified he also glorified" (v. 30). Both of those actions are past tense. Though our glorification is still in the future, Paul declares that in the eyes of the sovereign Lord, it is already as good as done. He who called us will glorify us. How? Through all the things we face in this life. Even—or especially—our suffering. Christian, God does not waste our suffering.
So take heart! He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it, working all things for your good and his glory. And whatever suffering we face in this life will not compare to the future glory that awaits us.
As a Christian, how do you respond when things don’t go your way? What do you do when your world falls apart? Why do you think you respond the way you do—no matter how small or large the crisis is?
How does understanding what God is doing in your suffering help you endure suffering in faith? How does each specific ground for the promise that God is at work for your good in all things encourage you, help you?
Does the doctrine of election scare you? If so, why? How can you meditate on these verses (Romans 8:29-30) to help you understand that the doctrine of election is meant to be a sweet encouragement, especially in times of discouragement and doubt?