A Courteous Contrararian

Predestination 9

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Feb• 09•15

Paul has shifted from the present tense to our hope for the future. Creation groans, we groan inwardly, and in a few verses, the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

What is God doing in response to all this groaning? 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. He’s working his will. He’s working all things for our good. 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.

Verse 28 has always bugged me. Not the verse itself, the sentence construction. The phrases are in unbalanced parallel. Even in the translation that I memorized. And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love him, those called according to his purpose.

The second translation makes it seem like there are two groups, those who love him and those called according to his purpose. In the first, the clause seems like a clarification – those who love him have been called according to his purpose. The difference between the two is the word together. 

In the Greek, the verb in question means works together. We could say “God works together all things for the good” but it is clumsy to our ear. Inserting “all things” in the middle of the verb sounds better. But apparently there is a good grammatical reason in the Greek to insert even more words between works and together. (I stumbled upon this alternate reading years ago, although since I prefer to think God was working things for my good, perhaps I didn’t just stumble upon it.) The newest NIV even lists it in the footnotes as an alternate reading.

For we know God works all things together for the good of those who love him together with those who have been called according to his purpose.

Now the sentence is more elegant and balanced, but it makes sense in a different way. It means something different. God is still working all things for our good, but now he is doing it together with people who have been called, and he’s doing it to achieve his purpose.

And those who are called? Just to confuse things, they are not Jesus’ called, they are the chosen. The chosen are those called according to his purpose. Paul says he was called to be an Apostle, all the Apostles were called, pastors are called. We are called, but to a different task. We are called to follow the right leaders. We are the “those who love him” that he is working all things for the good of. They, the chosen, are those working together with God to bring about that good.

Now the next section makes sense in a different way as well. And flows better as a narrative. And matches Ephesians 1:1-12 concept for concept and almost pronoun for pronoun.

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

With these verses we begin to glimpse the parallels to Ephesians 1. Jesus is the firstborn among many brothers and sisters, one of his many preeminences. That he is firstborn echoes back a few verses to Paul’s claim to be among the first to believe; to Paul’s we ourselves differentiation. Now we see the cavalry emerging in Paul’s thought. The chosen were predestined, that was when they were chosen. Then God called them to their tasks, at some specific point in their lives. Those he called, he justified. Those he justified, he glorified.

How did he glorify them? Someday we’ll know. But they have been glorified even here on earth. The Apostles have made a lasting impact. We will never forget them. They shaped the church. They wrote the Bible!

The church and the Bible are some of the things they worked for our good, and the church and the Bible are still working for our good. Because the church and the Bible are God’s idea, the Apostles were only working together with him to bring them to us.

And so now, finally, we have the complete answer to the dilemma Paul brought us in in chapter 7. He didn’t do the good he wanted to do. Indeed, he performed less than optimally even when he intended better. This is not the bombastic Paul we considered early in this series. This is Paul at his most vulnerable. The dilemma is how can we live out our status in Christ.

When Paul considers it in the first person it is an act of mercy on his part. I have thanked God for Romans 7. Paul tells us that not even he can live as he should. But there’s hope. We can achieve what God would have us achieve but, as I said earlier, it’s up to us. So how can we achieve it, what makes Paul so sure it is possible? We have helps that he believes are more than sufficient.

First and foremost, we have Jesus Christ. As a reminder and an encouragement he tells us that there is no condemnation, even when we do screw up. And then be begins to lists the helps. The Holy Spirit that indwells is the biggest helper and so his role takes up most of chapter 8. We must sow to the Spirit.

Jesus alone should be enough for us. The Holy Spirit alone should be enough for us. But no. God lists additional helps. All of creation clues us in, as it waits for the children of God to be revealed. N. T. Wright says all creation stands on tiptoes in anticipation. Creation is pulling for us, cheering us on. It is groaning just like the Spirit is groaning on our behalf.

Paul has to tell us all this because we don’t seem to get it. We didn’t understand the Spirit groans for us until Paul told us because the Holy Spirit’s understanding and communications with the Father are too deep. We don’t understand how creation pulls for us either. We tend to think of creation as an obstacle or an adversary.

So the players in our struggle so far mentioned are the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and creation itself. Together they make up the “all things” that Paul summarizes in verse 28. They are all working for our good if we love God. But wait, there’s more!

We’ve never seen God or Jesus. We can grieve or quench the Spirit. We’ve always tended to misinterpret nature. So God gives us more. He not only works all these things, he works them together with those who have been called according to his purpose; the prophets and apostles and whatever other cavalry he deems necessary.

That cavalry has provided us with the Bible, quite a help, don’t you think? They also established the early church, the blueprint we still use today. (I come to this in part from Jesus’ clarification to Peter, “whatever you bind on earth has been bound in heaven…” Jesus tells this to Peter right after he tells him that all authority has been given to him – in other words Jesus has the authority and is passing some of it on to Peter and the other Apostles. They used it to finish the NT and establish the church.)

So Paul’s dilemma, way back in chapter 7, was that he didn’t do what he intended and did do what he wished not to do, because the old nature resided within him along with Jesus’ work in making him a new creation. How could he overcome the old nature?

His answer takes most of chapter 8. It is up to us, Paul implies. (If it were only up to God, Paul wouldn’t have been doing the things he didn’t wish to do.) It is up to us but we have plenty of help. We have

The Father


The Holy Spirit

All Creation

God’s Plan (which is working all these things for our good)

Those called according to his purpose

The Bible and

The church.

Quite an array of weaponry to help us. But is it enough? Here’s Paul’s take. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 

In fact, he can’t keep himself from praising God for everything he has listed in chapter 8. Here is his conclusion.

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are more than conquerors through him! Woo hoo!


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