In 2008, God Is For Us!

By Neil Earle

Leave it to the resourceful John Stott to extract so much meat from just one passage. I’m referring to Romans 8:28. As Stott explained in The Message of Romans, this beautiful text has also been slightly mistranslated in the English versions.

According to careful scholars this text should read, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It could even read, “We know that for those who love God he is working for good…”

This makes more sense. There’s no way that cancer or diabetes is good, or the tragedy at Virginia Tech, or the head wounds sustained in Iraq or the 620,000 Iraqi civilians who have died these past five years. No. Nothing good here. But for those whom God has called he is ceaselessly, energetically working for good in their lives. Let’s see how.

  1. God works in the lives of his people. Jesus prays for us in heaven and sends His Spirit to intercede for us here on earth (Romans 8:26). He called us to his eternal purpose, to inherit eternal life. Thus, the evil that often occurs even in the lives of God’s people serve the purpose of perfecting us, molding us and shaping us for our ultimate life in the eternal Kingdom. Eternity is God’s main concern. Trials come to drive us back in utter dependence upon God who is our ultimate source. Paul said that about his death-defying episodes in Ephesus – “I fought with beasts at Ephesus” (1 Corinthian 15:32). Yet God delivered him again and again to teach him how to show others that God will deliver as long as he has a purpose in our lives (2 Corinthians 1:3-6).
  2. God is at work for good. Last year one of my parishioners was sternly summoned to court because he had forgotten the date of a previous court appearance. He was scared. The judge looked tough. The man just before him was trundled off to jail. Then the judge looked at my friend. “Now, Mr. _______ , I don’t know you from Adam but I am here to listen to your story.” Our member was shocked but, realizing his prayers were answered, he told his story and escaped without paying a fine. I know, I was his supervisor for community service which he served faithfully. Like Joseph’s checkered up-and-down life shows (Genesis 50:20), God makes bad things turn out good. He is just that powerful.
  3. God works for good in all things. That has to include the worst situations we can go through. I read an article “How Diabetes saved my Life.” It showed how a man diagnosed with this condition was finally forced to get a doctor’s help, get better life care, look after himself more as old age approached and radically changed his life style for good. He eats better, sleeps better, works better. It can happen. “There is no power can conquer you/While God is on your side/Take him at his promise/Don’t run away and hide.” These words from a famous hymn are a good guide as we go through 2008 together.
  4. God works for the good of those who love him. This is, as Stott says, a necessary limitation. We have to love God which means serving God and his people, serving the world as well, and spending time with God, being passionate in our pursuit of God, repenting, acknowledging our sins, and forsaking them by the power of the Spirit. Those who love God can’t stand being 2-3 days away from a Bible. It cries out to them and in the words of that book are emblazoned the promises that God will not fail us or forsake us, no matter what our handicap. Here is one of my favorites: “Even the youths shall faint and be weary…but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40: 30-31).
  5. God works for those called according to his purpose. This means life is not the random mess it sometimes seems. It is not that God is a Fairy Godmother or Genie of the Lamp. But sooner or later true Christians realize that God is there, really there, in all life’s seemingly senseless messes. That means we have to complete the circuit. Part of God’s purpose in our loves is to transmit the love and faith we feel to other people. We are his agents on earth – his hands, his arms, his eyes and ears.

This is summarized for us most powerfully in 2 Corinthians 5:20. There we are called credentialed Ambassadors for Christ, “as though God were pleading thorough us.” That’s quite a mission statement. God has a Purpose. His purpose exceeds us just “getting” salvation. It involves us being the people who display the love and mercy of God as we go throughout 2008. That’s an exceedingly high calling. We can never ever do it on our own. With God’s help, let’s get to it.