“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified.”
Last week, we discussed what we called the foundation of the one of the greatest promises in the Bible: Romans 8:28. We are spending three weeks covering verses 29 and 30, looking at what Paul’s basis is for making such an outrageous promise like, “for those who love God all things will work together for good.” Last week, we examined verse 29, and the concepts of “Foreknowledge” and “Predestination”, and this week we are going to look at what Paul means by “Called” and “Justified” in verse 30.
But before we move forward, let’s do a quick, simple recap of the two truths we examined last week:
- Foreknowledge: God’s unconditional, loving-choice of me, from before time began.
- Predestination: God’s sovereign plan to work all things together, from before time began, to make me more like Jesus.
So God’s foreknowledge of me is the engine in the car, and predestination is the direction. Before you or anyone else was created, God, who exists outside of time, said “I love you and I want you” (foreknowledge) and then planned all of history to work towards molding your rebellious heart to look more and more like Jesus (predestination). We discussed the incredible comfort this brings because: 1) it both humbles you, and emboldens you. God does not love you because of the incredible things you have to offer – you have nothing to give Him that He doesn’t already have. This means that if He has chosen to love you, He is doing so simply because He has chosen to love you – He loves you for you. 2) God is in control of everything in our life. From our first birthday party, to where we go to college, to whether or not we make the team, to getting rear ended on the way to work, to the death of a spouse – God has predestined that all of that work together for the ultimate good: conformity to Christ. There are no accidents in God’s plan.
And those two already show us an incredible amount of proof for why a promise like Romans 8:28 is to be trusted – but Paul has offered us more, and I pray that the immensity of God’s love stuns you as we look at it.
Now, we see that foreknowledge leads to predestination, and predestination leads to calling, and calling leads to justification. And we want to look at Calling and Justification today, but I am going to examine them in reverse order, primarily because we have already spent a considerable amount of time defining “Justification” through our series in Romans 8, but we haven’t covered what the Call of God is.
So, what does it mean that we are “Justified”? Earlier in Romans 8, Paul explains that if anyone is “in Christ” then there is “no condemnation” (vs. 1). What is “condemnation”? Condemnation is the penalty for guilty sinners; it is the Father’s look of disapproval on your life from you falling short of His standards. But how could there be no condemnation? Is he saying that there is no condemnation because there is no sin, because we are good enough? No, he isn’t, he explains in verse 3, “For God has done what the law (God’s standards), weakened by the flesh (Our sin), could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because two thousand years ago, God took on flesh, and Jesus Christ absorbed all of the condemnation that our sinful lives deserved. The Father had to empty His cup of wrath and justice upon sin, otherwise He wouldn’t be a good God, He would be unjust – but God, being so loving and good, absorbed the penalty Himself. And for those who put their faith in His sin-absorbing work, there is now not a single drop of condemnation left – in fact, God has given us Christ’s very own righteous record, so we now appear before the Father as perfect and pleasing as Jesus does. 2 Cor. 5:21 explains, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is justification: the penalty of sin, which is eternity separated from God, taken away and being made right before God because of Christ’s sacrifice as our substitute.
That is what it means to be justified, so what does it mean to be called by God? Well, let’s look at three aspects of the Call of God: we see that the call of God is 1)powerful 2) personal and 3)partners with people
- “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:22-24) So, there are two groups of people Paul is talking about, Jews and Greeks, and they do not believe in the Gospel; they think it is foolish and dumb and doesn’t make any sense. The Jews believed that the messiah was supposed to come back in power, like a military general and purge the nation of Israel – so a crucified messiah just didn’t make any sense. The Greeks believed that the gods were these powerful beings who exploited humans for their own benefit and pleasure – so the idea of a Supreme Being taking on flesh and willingly be killed was just preposterous. But, at the end of the verse Paul says that the same group of people suddenly see Christ as the power and wisdom of God – what happened? What changed? There was a call, “but to those who are called…”
- In 2 Cor. 4:4, we see that Paul explains that the reason that we see that the reason we don’t believe in the Gospel isn’t because we are stupid – it is because we are blind. Eph. 2:1 explains that before we are saved, we are “dead” in our sins. So how do blind people start seeing, and dead people come alive?
- In Genesis 1, we see God creating things by speaking them into existence. He doesn’t work on something for a while and fashion it out of preexisting material – He opens His mouth, and simply commands that there be something there, that was not once there (Rom. 4:17). We see this mirrored in Christ’s earthly ministry, where He healed diseases, calmed storms, fed thousands and raised the dead simply by speaking. Think about this: when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in John 11, Lazarus has no ability to hear what Jesus is saying – he is dead. But Christ’s call for Lazarus to “come out” creates what it commands. This shouldn’t surprise us, as we see in Col. 1:16 that Jesus was the one through whom everything was created – He is just continuing His creating and ruling ministry. And in 2 Cor. 4:6 Paul quotes the beginning of Genesis as a picture of what God does to remove our spiritual blindness, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” So one day, we were blind and dead to God – we didn’t want him, we thought He was a stumbling block and folly – and then God called us and said, “Live!” – and we awoke. His call created what it commanded.
- I have always found the illustration of sleeping to be the most helpful to describe this. God’s call is not like a phone call from your parents, that you can look at, hit the ignore button, and then keep on doing whatever it was you were doing. When I was younger, I was an incredibly heavy sleeper, and my sophomore year in high school I took a zero hour class and had to get up really early so I could get a ride from my dad. And I would always sleep through my alarm, and my dad would come into the room and tell me I needed to get up or he was going to be late for work. Well, eventually he started to get frustrated with that, so one day he took a cup of water and splashed it on my face. Another time he just grabbed the side of my mattress and flipped it over! That definitely did the trick. Now, I’ll tell you what, I when the cold water was splashing against my face, or when my limp body was flailing through the air, I was not thinking, Hmm, should I get up, or keep on sleeping? Not a chance! I was up! That is what God’s call is like – it is entirely effective. But rather than waking up to a groggy morning like I did in high school, we awaken to beauty, life and freedom, forever.
- This is important to understand – God calls individual persons, not just general groups of people. Jesus explains that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44). Notice the singular focus that Jesus is speaking in – He uses a single person as His example. This call comes directly from God Himself, speaking personally, to individual people. Don’t you see how important you are to God? He doesn’t just create a system like the DMV where you sign up for salvation, or assign an angel to come and deliver it to you – the King of the universe knocks on your front door, awakening you to join Him in His celestial Kingdom. It is easy to say that you love a group of people in general, like “I love America”, because it is so vague and non-specific that it has no real costs or ramifications behind it. But when I make it specific and say “I love you”, I am saying that you now have my heart and I will lay down my life for you good. God’s love isn’t general and vague; it is specific and it is costly.
- Partners with People
- You might be thinking, “Okay, if this is how God works, then why on earth should we do evangelism then? If God can just save people whenever He wants, why doesn’t He just do it Himself?” That always seems to be one of the questions that is asked most when discussing this. A quote I have always found helpful on the matter is, “God’s sovereignty in salvation does not make evangelism unnecessary, it makes it possible” – John Piper. If the conversion of souls were left up to us no one would be saved – God must intervene, through His Holy Spirit (John 3:6). But, God’s call always comes through the medium of the Word of God being shared and proclaimed by people. Romans 10:14 and 17, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” If you are a Christian, you have been given the privilege to be a messenger of Christ in this world, bringing good news to an exhausted world. But, you can rest in the fact that you are not the ultimate, decisive factor in changing your friends’ or family’s minds. You are responsible to simply be faithful to presenting the Gospel as clearly and accurately as possible, and trust that the heart change that needs to happen in them to accept it is up to God.
- In the book of Acts, we see Paul preaching a lengthy sermon in Antioch and the response is stunning, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) God led Paul to preach a sermon, but there were those who were already “appointed to eternal life”, just waiting to hear. Look friends, salvation is God’s business, He is the only one who can change hearts – but if we do not go and share the Gospel, no one will be saved. There are over three billion people on this planet who have never heard of the name of Jesus, and if we do not take the Gospel to them, they will go to hell. There are thousands of people in our city who do not know Jesus and they are waiting to hear to the Gospel, waiting for someone to come share the good news. They don’t know that they are waiting, they don’t know that they are asleep, and we have the message that can awaken them. And we may share and they laugh at our face, mock us, shame us or attack us. We do not know who God has called, He has just sent us out to go and preach the Good News to every person on the face of the planet. We trust Him, even if we don’t totally understand everything. And when we share and they soften and turn to Christ, we will know that it was God’s sovereign, effective call that melted their heart of stone and He gets the glory.
- The doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation does not make weak evangelists – it makes the boldest evangelists with spines of steel and hearts that burn for the lost to know Christ.
So, what is the call of God? The call of God is God’s powerful, personal work in someone’s heart in response to hearing the Gospel. It is the moment when a sinner turns, and chooses Jesus. This is who the promise of Rom. 8:28 is directed towards, “to those who are called according to his purpose.” So, if you love Jesus today, if you desire God, if you want to repent of sin, and want to see God as sweeter than life, then you have been called by God. This was not your own doing. God has saved you. If you have never submitted to Christ as Lord and Savior, but you are feeling drawn towards it now, that is God’s calling you. Surrender to Him, and follow Him. He will not relent, He won’t back down, so why not now?
Now let’s pray for those who are in our city, our schools and our families who are appointed for eternal life, waiting for someone to share the Gospel with them and be called out by God and be freed from their condemnation. Let’s pray for boldness and humility to speak God’s truth, no matter what the cost. Let’s trust God more than we doubt our own ability. Let’s pray for those around the world who have never heard the name of Jesus that someone would go to them. Let’s pray for God to raise up missionaries from our church to go to these places and proclaim Good News! God is calling us to join Him in His mission to redeem His children, let us not waver.