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. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Romans 8:28 is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. It is also one of the most misused verses in the Bible, being casually pitched out to folks who are going through everything from car problems to terminal cancer. There is great truth in this verse and great hope, but we need to look at it in context so we don’t cheapen its meaning.
Immediately preceding these verses, Paul is encouraging his readers that their present sufferings are not even worth comparing with the glory that will one day be revealed in us. He reminds us that the Holy Spirit is our ever-present help in weakness. Even when we don’t know how to pray, He is there interceding on our behalf and in accordance with God’s will. “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.” We can trust that no matter what we are currently facing, God has not abandoned us. He hasn’t given up on us. He is working for our good.
Consider what comes next. Paul says, “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.” What does this mean? If you are a Christian, God knew you and chose you as His own before the foundation of the world. (Eph 1:4) He predestined you to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, to be His brother or sister. What an awe-inspiring thing!
What does it look like to be conformed to the image of Christ? Let’s consider three of His characteristics:
1) Love. There can be no doubt that Jesus loves us. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us “while we were still sinners.” (Rom 5:8) The apostle John spends a huge amount of time in his writing emphasizing how important it is for us to love each other. In 1 John 4:7-21, the word love appears 26 times! It begins with “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves God has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” And it ends with “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” There is really no wiggle room here. If we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, we must love one another.
2) Compassion. We live in an age where it is easy to get overwhelmed by the great need in the world. There are so many wonderful organizations out there working to fight poverty, hunger, sex-trafficking, disease, etc., and they all need funding to keep doing what they’ve been tasked to do. It can be tempting to shut it all out and stay in our relatively comfortable bubbles. But Jesus didn’t do that. “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt 9:36) “He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Mt 14:14) And when Jesus heard that His friend Lazarus had died, He wept. (John 11:35) If anyone was inundated with the sick and suffering of His day, it was Jesus. He didn’t ignore it, but did what He could to help and comfort those in need.
3) Humility. This is perhaps the one we struggle with the most. It is hard to put others’ needs before our own. Yet look at our example. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:5-8) If Christ could give up His rightful place in heaven and suffer and die on our behalf, then we have no right to think of ourselves as more important or valuable than others. We must live sacrificial lives in the spirit of laying down our lives for the sake of the gospel.
- What are some other characteristics of Christ that we are called upon to imitate? (Consider Galatians 5:22-23)
- When thinking of these characteristics, which one do you find the easiest to conform to? Which one is the most difficult?
- How does knowing God chose you before the foundation of the world to be conformed to the image of Christ help motivate you to live your life in pursuit of these characteristics?
- Choose the one trait you find the most challenging and begin a daily pursuit to make that characteristic a priority in your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you produce fruit in that area.