“For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified. What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:29-31 HCSB)
Several years ago, my wife and I attended our High School class reunion. Yes, we are members of the same high school class and were high school sweethearts. However, she lived her entire life in that town and attended school with many of the same kids throughout her childhood. On the other hand, I had only attended high school in that town and knew most of them for only a few years. These facts were quite obvious when we returned and attended the reunion and some of them whispered, “Who is that with Tina?” Admittedly, I had changed my physical appearance much more than she when I had shaved my head several years before and have since kept it shaved. Those who really knew me and had stayed in contact with us during those intervening years easily recognized me.
There is certainly a distinct difference between knowing someone in a general way and really knowing them on a personal and intimate level. There are people I know in a very casual way and I really don’t know much about them or their personal lives. This often happens with colleagues, coworkers or friends that we interact with but only do so on a surface level or on an occasional basis or infrequently. I have a few “friends” at work that would fit into this category. I know them, but I know very little about their personal lives, their background, or their quirks and habits. Then there are folks that I do know in a more personal way. Perhaps we’ve been friends or colleagues for many years. We are very familiar with each other’s work habits and skills and we know and trust each other. There are also folks that I know in a much more personal way. I know their likes and dislikes. I know their personal quirks and habits. In many ways, I can even anticipate their thoughts and words. I know a few friends, my children and even my grandchildren in this way. Finally, I know my wife. As mentioned above, we’ve known each other since high school. We will have been married 43 years this summer. I know her and she knows me, intimately.
Now, imagine God knowing you in that intimate way but even more deeply, more intimately. We get to this idea of God knowing us and we tend to think of it in ways that are more like a coworker than our spouse. One of the things that simply amazes me about my wife is that level of love and intimacy that are intricately tied together. She knows me, knows my quirks, knows my bad habits and my struggles and she still loves me. But God knows even my deep secrets, my hidden sin, my doubts, my private thoughts, my fears and failures and He still loves me. God KNOWS me, and He knows you, too.
“For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:6-8 HCSB)
I mentioned last week that many of us reach these verses about God’s foreknowledge and predestination and we tend to stumble over them. So, let’s spend a few minutes talking about these issues. First, let me simply point out that foreknowledge of an event is not cause of an event. Acknowledging God’s sovereignty and His knowledge of the past, present and future is simply not the same as being the cause of the events. God is capable of having perfect knowledge of the past/present/future because God is not bound by time constraints. We currently live within the realm and constraints of time and space but God doesn’t. God is able to fully know our past choices, our present reality and even our future opportunities because He is God and is not constrained by the laws of the universe He created. He defined and created them, but He’s not confined within them. For us, tomorrow is still a possibility but for God it is already a present reality and a past event. So, while God knows the choices you will make He has still given you the freedom, ability and responsibility to choose.
Now, this is where things get difficult. We have the ability to choose but we also have the responsibility for our choices. We always, always want the freedom and ability to make our own choices, but we rarely want the responsibility and accountability for our choices. Simply stated, sin is saying to God “I’m in charge of me and my choices – you aren’t – and I choose this.” You have every right to do so, but you also take on full responsibility and accountability for that choice. This is where our culture intersects with and struggles with the biblical message of the Gospel – personal sin and accountability. Let me be very clear, you can choose what you want but what you want is most often in opposition to what God wants for you in that situation. You might think that’s presumptuous and hurtful, but it is also truth. Our selfish desires are always in opposition to God’s desires for us in that circumstance. God gives you freedom to choose and with that comes responsibility and accountability for your choices.
Finally, God’s righteous and just character and His love for mankind have intersected with His foreknowledge and provided a plan for our redemption. He knew before He created us that we would rebel, sin and head off on our own. So, His plan from the beginning was one of love, reconciliation and redemption. But God’s foreknowledge wasn’t limited to just the knowledge of our rebellion and sin but included the foreknowledge of our love for Him and, ultimately, of our submission and obedience to Him and His will for our lives. In that knowledge, He determined that we should be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus. So, God’s perfect will for us and the plan He established for us was that of becoming like Jesus in our thoughts, actions, desires and direction. That’s really the meaning of Jesus command to the original disciples and all subsequent disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23 HCSB)
So, that brings me back to our focal passage and Paul’s statement “those He foreknew He also predestined, those He predestined He also called… justified… [and] glorified.” Those that God KNEW. If you’ll remember I talked at first about knowing people and how we know them at different levels of intimacy. To know God and for Him to know us implies a level of intimacy that is far, far deeper and richer than just a surface knowledge. As James points out, “even the demons believe [or know] that God exists” but it doesn’t result in a submissive, obedient and loving relationship. Far from it, in fact. You can “know” God in the same way and refuse to submit yourself to His authority, purpose and will. Actually, Jesus gives us multiple glimpses into this kind of relationship with God and its sad results. Here’s one example:
“A ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? ” “Why do you call Me good? ” Jesus asked him. “No one is good but One — God. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and mother.” “I have kept all these from my youth,” he said. When Jesus heard this, He told him, “You still lack one thing: Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” After he heard this, he became extremely sad, because he was very rich. (Luke 18:18-23 HCSB)
This young ruler sought the key to eternal life and Jesus revealed it to him but he walked away sad, because he would not sacrifice his vast wealth for true happiness. Some mistakenly see Jesus’ response to him in the wrong light, but I want you to notice how Luke zeroes in on it, “sell all that you have and give it to the poor then you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Many read this and think the key is his wealth, or the social injustice/inequity his wealth has created. Wrong. The key is that his wealth dictated his decisions. It was his god. He claimed to know and obey the commands of God, but when Jesus called him to action by selling his possessions, donating the money to the poor and discovering real wealth and heavenly treasure – the young man refused to obey and follow.
He claimed to “know” God but his knowledge of God wasn’t deep and intimate, it was shallow and self-serving. This guy claimed to know God but God didn’t truly know him. He didn’t know God deeply enough to recognize and obey Him as revealed in the presence and person of Jesus and His call to obedience. In essence, the young man refused God’s command to obey and follow Him. Remember, those whom He knew He also predestined them to conformity to the character of Christ, and those He predestined He called, those He called He justified, and those He justified He also glorified. From start to finish.
That brings me to the last part of the passage for this week, “What else can we say about these things? If God is for us, who could possibly be against us?” If we seek to know God intimately and love Him ultimately, then who or what could possibly get in the way of God accomplishing His will in us and through us? Nothing. Absolutely nothing and nobody! When our wills are set on knowing and loving Him then His will is set on redeeming, restoring and remaking us into the very image of Christ, His Son. While God loves you like you are, He loves you too much to leave you like you are. Remember, our desires are generally at odds with God’s desires for our lives. If that weren’t true, Jesus sacrificial death would have been completely unnecessary.
“By this will of God, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” (Hebrews 10:10 HCSB)
As I mentioned above, Tina and I have been married for almost 43 years. She knows my quirks, my bad habits, my faults and my many failures. Yet, she still loves me and we continue to grow in our love for each other. I can honestly say, I love her so much more today than I ever thought possible on our wedding day. I was young, naive and stupid. I thought I knew what love really was. Boy, was I wrong. Love isn’t those “fluttery” feelings I had when I stared into those deep brown eyes. That’s hormones and infatuation. Love is what causes me to still reach over and take her hand now that the hormones have subsided and the infatuation has faded. Our vows call us to look beyond the trappings of “love” that our culture continuously flaunts and to still love each other whether we have money or not, whether we have health or not and, really, to stay committed to one another whether we “feel in love” or not.
Why tell you all of those things about my marriage commitment? Because God makes the same commitment to us. There are days when you and I are certainly more lovely and lovable than on other days – He loves us anyway. I thought I knew what it meant to love God when I made the decision to follow Him over 50 years ago. I had no clue what all it really meant. I was young, naive and stupid (that’s a recurring theme this week)… but I was willing to follow, grow and develop in my love for Him and that’s very, very important. Some folks have a false notion or understanding of what it means to have faith, to love God and follow Jesus. When they fell into one of those challenging times, they fell away from their “faith.” Why? Because they never really knew Him intimately and loved Him ultimately. I placed “faith” in quotes because I think their belief wasn’t really biblical faith. As I stated, I think they had a false notion or understanding of what those things mean.
Just like the rich young man in Luke 18, there are many who think they know and are following God but they keep feeling like something is missing, something is wrong. Jesus called the young man to repentance and to a deeper, more intimate and revolutionary relationship with God but he was unwilling to sacrifice his wealth in order to find it. He was unwilling to let God be his complete desire and ultimate love – his pride and wealth held that position. Don’t make the same mistake. Today, we still face the same challenge. Sometimes money or wealth holds that position in our lives. Sometimes our pride or power holds that position. Sometimes our physical desires or sexuality holds that position. It takes on many forms. But whatever it is in your life, don’t let it stand in the way of knowing God intimately and loving Him ultimately. Why? Because if you know HIM then nothing can stand against you in the fulfillment of His plan and purpose for you life.