“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.…”
For most people, “Happy New Year!” is a mere wish, a kind and friendly expression of hope that no calamity, no misfortune, no grave illness or sadness will befall one’s neighbor or loved one during the year ahead. Whether things will indeed turn out that way is an entirely different matter, as even the most optimistic well-wisher will readily admit. For it is simply not in his power to deliver on that wish! And, if asked what will determine a person’s happiness, success, health, and good life in the new year, the typical worldling will shrug his shoulders or throw up his hands in want of a solid, reliable answer. “Life’s a crap-shoot,” you hear people say. “You take what you get.” Another might venture the optimistic cliché: “Look on the bright side! Things could be a lot worse!” By and large, people regard life as a sort of gamble; and they plainly say so when they use such negative expressions as: “It’s just not in the stars!” “He was dealt a bad hand.” Or positively, “Just lucky, I guess!” or “The odds seem to be in my favor!”
Then, of course, there are those who imagine that they are actually in control of their own destiny — like the man whom Jesus called a “fool” in Luke 12, verse 20. They think that they will make their own “happy new year” through good investments, hard work, and “clean living;” and so they plan out their future on the basis of the “leading economic indicators,” actuarial tables, the amount of physical gold they have in their safes, and the performance of their investment portfolios! To them, reverses in life come as a complete shock, and any unforeseen change in their “game plan” throws their whole existence into chaos and despair! And they find to their dismay that they never really were “in control”!
People in both categories are in for a mighty “rocky” new year, simply because they have no way of knowing for sure what life will bring. They have no assurance, no real hope, nothing to give them true peace of mind, as the new year approaches… just one big question mark to haunt them from day to day!
We Christians, on the other hand, can be upbeat and confident as we enter upon the year 2016! Why? Oh, because we have peace of mind and conscience, real assurance of happiness, and freedom from worry and anxiety! For the Apostle Paul shows us in our title-text that we Christians rest OUR hopes for the New Year upon our gracious God because of what He has already done for us and because of what He promises yet to do for us.
Paul begins with a statement of assurance and of certainty which has been gravely twisted and misapplied by the children of this world. He says: “We know that all things work together for good.” People paraphrase this passage every day —people who don’t have the slightest idea where it’s from or what it’s about, who have no interest in religion or the Bible or God for that matter— and they try to comfort one another by saying: “It’ll all turn out for the best, you’ll see.” Sadly, their comfort is as hollow as a dried-up gourd! For the blessed assurance here in our title-text, dear to the heart of every true Christian, is limited —not as to its scope, but as to its beneficiaries, as the words themselves clearly show. “We know, we [Christians] know,” says Paul, “that all things work together for good to them that love God,” NOT to them that hate Him, despise Him, think they can do just as well without Him, and feel quite frankly that they don’t need Him! Unbelievers can take no comfort from this passage whatsoever, for its assurance doesn’t apply to them at all! The Psalmist Asaph writes, for example, that even the seemingly prosperous among the wicked in this world have nothing to look forward to but “slippery places, …destruction, [and]…terrors!” (Psalm 73:18-19). For them, it’ll all turn out for the WORST if they continue in their unbelief!
No, beloved brethren, the Lord’s Apostle very specifically limits the beneficiaries of this assurance to “them that love God,” to them, as we shall see, who rest their hope in confident faith upon what God has already done for them and who “love [Him]” because He loved them first (I John 4:19), namely, to His believing children, all true Christians.
Now, what has God already done for us which identifies US as the beneficiaries of this assurance for the new year ahead and throughout our lives? Paul summarizes all of it briefly in just a few words when He says that we Christians are “the called according to His purpose.” God’s primary will and “purpose” for sinful mankind is that “all men be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4), for “the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). God’s earnest call goes out to all men in the Gospel of salvation. Sadly, however, many refuse His gracious call, spurn His grace, and reject salvation, the Bible tells us, “always [persistently] resist[ing] the Holy Ghost,” and thus are lost by their own fault. Such people keep from themselves the blessings of salvation, as well as the assurance in our title-text that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
And now, the Apostle lists in chronological detail what the Lord has already done for us to make us the heirs of everlasting life and beneficiaries of the assurance upon which our hopes for the new year rest: He “foreknew” us, Paul says. God looked ahead from eternity, from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), and chose us to come to faith (Acts 13:48b). He “predestinated” us “to be conformed to the image of His Son,” to “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27), and thus to be “brethren” together with Christ, our Elder Brother, in the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19) — NOT because He saw anything good in us, NOT because He foresaw our faith and knew that we wouldn’t resist His Holy Spirit the way others would —no, He did all this “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (II Timothy 1:9).
“Moreover,” Paul says, “whom He did predestinate, them He also called” —called to faith by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel; “and whom He called, them He also justified” —made them by faith the personal recipients of the forgiveness which He declared for all the world in Christ (II Corinthians 5:19); “and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” As the “heirs of salvation,” we are already now, as “partaker[s] of Christ’s sufferings” by faith in Him, destined to be partakers with Him “when His glory shall be revealed,” Peter tells us in his first epistle (4:13); we already now have a “crown” to which we must “hold fast,” lest we lose it (Revelation 2:10; 3:11); we already now have the “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), the expectation of having in its indescribable fulness that glory which is even now ours as the adopted children of our heavenly Father by faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior, having been “prepared for [us],” Jesus says, “from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). No wonder Paul writes in the 18th verse of this same chapter that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”
All this our gracious God and Lord has already done for us in testimony of His great love for us, as the basis for our trust in Him, as the foundation upon which to rest our hopes for the New Year and for our entire future as His dear children! All this confirms to us, makes us “KNOW, that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose”—“ALL things,” whether they appear to be good or bad in this present time, joyous or grievous, happy or sad—“ALL things” will be turned into good for us because of what our loving Father has already done for us and for our salvation!
“What shall we then say to these things?” What is the inescapable conclusion to which we must come, also in regard to those things which He promises yet to do for us? “If God be for us,” [and that fact is obvious from what the Apostle has already shown us here in Romans 8], “who can be against us??” (v. 31). With our almighty God and Lord fighting for us, in whom He has a special “vested interest,” what enemy, temporal or spiritual, would be so foolish as to imagine a victory over us as even a possibility?? Yea,
Though devils all the world should fill,
all eager to devour us,
we tremble not, we fear no ill,
they shall not overpower us!
For not only does the Lord Himself fight for us, but He makes us able to fight as well, to resist the devil steadfast in the faith, to refuse the enticements of worldly friends and acquaintances, to do battle with and daily defeat our own sinful flesh, to turn a deaf ear to false prophets and ear-tickling teachers of religion —all of this made possible for those who “take unto [themselves] the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13) by faithful continuance in His Word. “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee,” He promises you, dear fellow-Christian (Joshua 1:5); and on that promise you can most assuredly rely as you march forward to meet the enemy as a soldier of the Savior’s cross, confident of victory!
But the Lord does not only promise to defend us against our enemies in the new year ahead and all through our life here in this world; He also promises to provide us with everything we need, blessings both temporal and spiritual, as the gifts of His precious grace. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (v. 32). After having “invested” in us His only-begotten Son as the ransom-price for our redemption, don’t think for one minute that the Lord would spare any further cost to secure that investment for eternity!! That simply wouldn’t make any sense at all, Paul tells us! —No, our gracious God will “freely” for Jesus’ sake “give us all things” in addition to what He has already given us, namely, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation; faith to accept and receive those treasures; and a renewed life of righteousness as the fruit and evidence of that saving faith.
What a promise to set our minds at ease, as we look ahead to the new year! For even with life’s temporal uncertainties, we Christians have no cause whatever to whine and wring our hands in anxious care and worry, saying with those who have no heavenly Father: “‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek!)… But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Jesus tells us, “and all these things [these “extras,” these minor “fringe benefits”] shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31-33). So, “cast all your care upon Him, for He careth for you” (I Peter 5:7), careth so much that He “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all!” (Romans 8:32).
“Happy New Year!” is no idle wish from one Christian to another. Rather, it is the expression of firm conviction that our gracious God and Lord will continue to shower down upon us in this coming year an abundance of blessings both temporal and spiritual, as He has in the past, and as He has promised to do in the future; that “all things [will] work together for [our] good” in accordance with His all-wise and gracious will for us; that He will mightily defend us from all our enemies of body and soul; and that He will generously and freely provide us with all that we need for our temporal and spiritual welfare here in this present life, until the glory unspeakable for which we have been foreknown, predestinated, called, and justified by His surpassing grace and favor is ours in its fullness in our heavenly home above!
As we thus rest our hopes for the new year upon our gracious God and Lord and confide in His sure promises, may each and every one of us have, in the fullest sense of the word, a truly Happy and Blessed New Year, for Jesus’, our Savior’s, sake!
— D. T. M.