Sunday, April 27, 2008

Misfortune, Love, and Blessed Assurance

Top 12 Scripture Texts: Number 4C
Romans 8:28
Bob Rakestraw


Who are “those who love God”? This is the most troubling aspect of Romans 8:28 for me, intellectually. I have struggled for years with what these words mean in relation to the person who is going through hard times, yet believes in God in some sense. The whole verse—one of my favorite Bible verses for decades—is full of assurance as well as mystery:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (New American Standard Bible).

While the most troubling part of this verse for me experientially has been the word “good” (considered in the previous posting), the most difficult aspect cognitively has been wondering about who “loves God” in the sense intended by the verse. Can every Christian claim that God is working everything together for good in his or her life, even if they are not loving God in their daily lives? Can we apply this promise to ourselves or others no matter how we are living?

The scripture verse that comes to my mind most often in this regard is John 14:15: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” I also think of some passages in the letters of John that connect our love for God with keeping God’s commandments. “This is love, that we walk according to his commandments” (2 John 6). “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome…”
(I John 5:3).

What is Romans 8:28 saying, then? Does the promise apply only to those who are living according to God’s commandments, and, if so, how high is the standard? What if I get in a car accident while I am speeding angrily from a nasty argument I just had? If the accident was my fault, does our text of the month apply to me? Does it make a difference if I have been experiencing a close walk with God in recent weeks, or if I have been mostly ignoring God lately?

It seems to me that such questions are legitimate, even necessary, to ask as long as we focus primarily on ourselves rather than others. I should be most concerned about my own relationship with God above all. Then if I find myself in the midst of trouble—whether it be financial, job-related, family, health or otherwise—I can have the assurance that God is working all things together for my good. Because God’s Word connects love for God closely with obedience to his commandments, I don’t believe that I can claim Romans 8:28 for myself with confidence unless I am following God’s ways. God does not expect me to be flawless, but he does call me to live a godly life. And whatever he asks of us, he always gives us the grace to do. Above we quoted I John 5:3—a truly comforting verse: “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome….” God’s commands are always grace-filled, and for our benefit and joy.

How then, in the light of these matters, should we think about our friends and loved ones who are not living in harmony with God and his commandments? While it does not seem correct to apply Romans 8:28 to them (and if they are honest they will admit that), we may take comfort in the fact that God works lovingly and patiently with those for whom we pray and care about. In other words, God is at work in various ways in the lives of both faithful Christians and rebellious Christians, and even with non-Christians, for whom we are concerned. These levels of God’s activity are mysterious, however, and beyond our understanding.

Romans 8:28 is intended to be a strongly encouraging word for those living in fellowship with God—those who “love God.” Those “who are called according to his purpose,” mentioned at the end of verse 28, is speaking of the same group. Regardless of what matters of fortune or misfortune happen to us, we can rest solidly in the blessed assurance that God is at work for our benefit both in this life and the next. If we can trust God for our eternal salvation on the basis of his Word (John 3, Romans 5, Ephesians 2), even so we can trust him from Romans 8 that he is in perfect control of every aspect of our lives. Even when we fail him, we come to him seeking forgiveness and mercy. True to his promises, he cleanses us and continues his great providential ministry of working all things together for good to those who love him.



This is the last of three postings on Romans 8:28. The other two were posted April 18 and 23, 2008.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Bob;

Thank you for unpacking Romans 8:28 so carefully...I learned a lot, particularly about the depth of the word 'good' - and will need to think on that for awhile.

Thank you for continuing to write with such intellectual honesty, depth, and grace. And, thank you for allowing God's mystery to shine - the longer I live, the less easy answers I have - and the more 'mystery' seems to express my understanding of God and his ways!

Shalom;
Jane

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

Hi Jane,

Thank you for your gracious comments, and for your honesty re. the mystery aspect of life. I find, also, that I seem to know less and less, but I am also thankful that I grow more and more assured of the basic outlines of the Christian Story. My assurance seems to come from experience, scripture, reason, and tradition (the well-known "Wesleyan Quadrilateral").

Peace,
Bob

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

Hi Jane,

Thank you for your gracious comments, and for your honesty re. the mystery aspect of life. I find, also, that I seem to know less and less, but I am also thankful that I grow more and more assured of the basic outlines of the Christian Story. My assurance seems to come from experience, scripture, reason, and tradition (the well-known "Wesleyan Quadrilateral").

Peace,
Bob

Teresa said...

Hi Bob!

Love your writing...edifying as usual. :)

Would you please send me your email address? I want to send you some pictures from the wedding!

If I don't hear from you in the next few days, I'll bug you again with a phone call.

love to you and Judy!
Teresa