Conforming to Christ

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.     

Romans 8:28-29

As one of the top five online “most searched” verses [1],  Romans 8:28 is often taken out of context. There are several things it doesn’t mean.

First, this doesn’t say that all things are “good.” The Bible never implies that war, disease, divorce, abuse, injustice, tragedy, immorality, and on and on are good things.  Second, it doesn’t say our definition of “good” matches God’s definition of “good.”  Our preference would be not to go through any difficulty in life, and we define “good” as what is most pleasant at the time. Third, this is not a universal truth. Good is not ultimately experienced by all, but only those who love God (i.e, Christians). Fourth, this promise does not say that we will always see or understand the good that God is doing.  Whether it is the death of a child, a divorce, or a tornado destroying your home, we may never understand the “why” this side of eternity. But, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean these things are not being used for God’s purposes.

The surrounding verses are key (as in all scripture interpretation) to understanding its meaning. In the context of Chapter 8, Paul earlier says, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18, NIV). Then, as a consequence of the Fall of mankind into sin, he speaks of the resulting groans of creation, believers and even the Holy Spirit as we look forward – through the sufferings – to the glory to come in Christ’s return. Our present wait is much like the labor of childbirth, though painful and difficult at the time, it results in the blessed arrival of a child. When Christ in glory returns, all suffering will be over for the children of God and creation. (Revelation 21:1-4)

We may never fully realize the “good” God is working this side of glory. However, if we know that God is working in all our circumstances, including our present sufferings, to conform us to the likeness of Christ, we can approach the joys and sorrows of life with a different attitude. We are better able to endure those difficulties when we know that God is preparing us for glory through the sanctifying process of conforming us to more completely resemble Christ.

Your Response:

Instead of having a “pity party” next time things don’t seem to go your way, pause to consider:

  • What is my normal, natural, fleshly response in this circumstance?
  • While a seemingly trite phrase, take seriously the question, “What would Jesus do?”
  • What fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control) is lacking in you that God may be using this circumstance to conform you into the likeness of Christ?
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1 Romans 8:28 was #5 in 2011, down from #3 in 2010 on the Five Most Popular Verses at the Bible Gateway website

Creation’s Groans

No matter which side of the environmental/man-made global warming debate you take, we all have to agree that the earth is not in the pristine shape in which it was created. From the Christian worldview, there is the understanding that God created the universe, and in the beginning, it was all good! Man and nature lived in wonderful harmony…there was no sense of enmity or predatory temperament between animals or man. All was in oneness with God, too. Creation was spoken forth and what comes forth from God is necessarily in harmony with His character.  At the end of the act of creation, God was satisfied as indicated by his “rest” from creation on the seventh day. It was finished!

In that final day of creation, God created man in a unique sense – “in Our image” – with the responsibility to “rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (Genesis 1:26, NASB).  As chapter 2 of Genesis gives an expanded view of the sixth day of creation, we see that Adam was given this responsibility:  “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it”  (Genesis 2:15, NIV)He was to be a husbandman (farmer) who protected the land.  This was work but it would not be frustrated labor.

However,  with Adam and Eve’s rebellious decision to disobey God, a curse came not only  upon man but on nature, as well:

 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  (Genesis 3:17-19, NASB)

Thus, creation was brought down to the level of death and decay – not God’s original intent – but subjected by God to this level because of man’s disobedience.  Man’s sin then, as now, had a ripple effect and even creation was impacted by man’s sin.

What are we to do, then? Can creation be restored by our efforts to do away with greenhouse gases, lessening our carbon footprint or enforcing radical population control? No! Paul suggests that the only way creation will be restored to its original intent is when Christ returns and man is glorified. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19, NIV).There is a wonderful picture in this verse in the phrase “waits in eager expectation.”  It is the idea of someone on their tiptoes, straining forward to gain a perspective of something to come.  The closest mental picture I get of this would be of the crowds on the parade route, waiting for the Royals’ carriage or motorcade to pass by. As word comes of its approaching, people are straining to catch a glimpse as the King and/or Queen passes. In the same sense, creation is essentially straining to see the sight of the King of kings, returning and God’s children coming into their glory. This will also be the day of liberation for creation for which it anxiously awaits (Romans 8:21).

Until then, creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth. The groans are for glory and as we’ll see next week, we share in those groanings.

YOUR RESPONSE: 

  • In light of our inability to restore creation to its pristine state, we still have the God-given responsibility to be stewards of creation as it is. In what ways are you practicing conservation of resources, enabling future generations to benefit from God’s resources.
  • Much of the environmentalism of today smacks of “creation worship.” Take some time to read up on environmental issues from a Christian perspective. Here are a couple of sites to check out: The Cornwall Alliance: http://www.cornwallalliance.org/, with supporters that include prominent religious individuals from the Roman Catholic, Jewish and Evangelical worlds such as Charles Colson, James Dobson, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, R. C. Sproul, Richard John Neuhaus, and D. James Kennedy; The Christian Climate Initiative: http://christiansandclimate.org/. You will see that even these groups disagree as to the extent of man-made global warning, but they both see the need for Christians to take action in environmental stewardship.
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  • Photo courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print. Harris and Ewing, photographer. No known restrictions on publication. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during a royal visit to Washington, D.C., 1939. Click on photo and enlarge. Look at those individuals, who are four or five deep in the crowd, as they strain to see. This is the picture of creation’s eager awaiting of the coming liberation!