As we have considered evidences of grace common to every Christian, we have briefly touched on six distinct things for which every Christian can and should be thankful: God’s creation, God’s love, God’s provision, God’s forgiveness, God’s word, and God’s people. We could probably add many other things, but today I want to wrap up this brief series on thankfulness by pointing to one more thing for which every Christian has reason for gratitude: God’s purpose. Paul writes of this purpose to the Roman Christians:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Romans 8:28 is frequently misunderstood and misapplied by Christians. Many see it as saying nothing more than “something good” will come out of every bad situation—and usually that we will live to see that “something good.” There is some truth to the notion that “something good” will come from everything bad, but Paul has in mind a very specific “good.” The “good” he has in mind is eternal Christlikeness—that every Christian is “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” God’s “purpose,” then, is eternal Christlikeness for every Christian, which is cause for great gratitude.
Of course, to achieve this eternal purpose, God does works in us along the way. There are therefore at least three things to be thankful for as we rejoice in God’s eternal purpose.
First, we should be thankful that, through the gospel, God has made us eternal citizens in an eternal kingdom. The writer to the Hebrews tells us to “be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (12:28–29). The 24 elders in John’s vision concurred: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign” (Revelation 11:17). We are thankful that, by his death and resurrection, and evidenced by his ascension, Jesus Christ took his eternal throne and, through the gospel, makes us citizens of his eternal kingdom.
Your justification is the first step in God’s eternal purpose being realised in your life. When you were justified, you were made a citizen of his kingdom and God intends for every citizen of his kingdom to attain ultimate Christlikeness.
Second, we should be thankful that, through the gospel, God grants us victory over sin. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17–18).
Having justified us, God begins in us the process of Christlikeness by enabling us to overcome sin. Theologically, we refer to this as “sanctification.” Sanctification is the ongoing process, beginning at justification and concluding at death (or Christ’s return), of God slowly fulfilling his purpose of making us more like Christ by granting us victory over sin.
Third, we should be thankful that, through the gospel, God promises ultimate victory over sin and final Christlikeness. In his extended exposition on the resurrection—both Christ’s resurrection and the future resurrection of believers—Paul writes, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56–57). The “victory” envisioned here is ultimate victory over sin and death. A day is coming in which every believer in Jesus Christ will be resurrected to life immortal. This will be the moment of full and eternal Christlikeness—the culmination of the justification and sanctification that God grants in Christ. Our destiny is glorification.
As you meditate on Romans 8:28–30 this morning, do so with profound gratitude that your justification, which resulted in your sanctification, is headed toward final glorification and ultimate Christlikeness, according to God’s purpose.