A Question about God's Promise
June 9, 2023, 11:00 AM

Question: Regarding the promise in Romans 8:28, would you say that this promise stretches back to before we were converted? In other words, we were under the wrath of God but elect sheep that were not yet called out. God can use even our sin to show us our need of repentance and turn us to Christ. Now…that certainly works to our good, but the question is…is this promise encompassing that? “We love Him because He first loved us.” So, it seems to me it stretches back, but I know others that say this promise is only for those that are converted.

Answer: Greetings and thank you for your question. I think your questions gets at the heart of something that confuses a lot of people, even Bible believing Christians. That "something" is we (as human beings) are bound by time. We can't help but think in terms of past, present, and future. We are creatures, this is our lot, we are temporal beings. Thus, we look at Christians and separate their lives into "before Christ" and "after Christ," or "before conversion" and "after conversion." So, before conversion, a person is "dead in their sins and trespasses," a "slave to sin," one who is "walking according to the course of this world," etc. The Apostle Paul even speaks like this in Romans 5, when he says, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly...For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life" (Romans 5:8, 10). So clearly, from a human point of view, we were enemies of Christ until the moment of conversion, at which point, we become sons and daughters of God by faith in Christ. We were enemies, now we're friends. We were under wrath, now we receive grace. We were children of the devil, now we're children of God. This is the experience of every believer whether they came to Christ early in life, or on their death bed.

Having said that, we need to recognize that God is not bound by time. God is eternal, He exists outside of time, though He acts inside of time. So, when you look at Romans 8:28, you need to ask yourself, from whose point of view is this verse being seen? Is it describing our experience, or is it describing God's acts on behalf of His people? Let's look at the verse along with verses 29-30 because they really form one thought:

[28] And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. [29] For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. [30] Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 NKJV)

The first part of v. 28 is often used by Christians to comfort one another, typically when bad things happen. We tell them that all things are working for your good. This is a promise for Christians ("to those who love God") for only a Christian loves God. But once you get to "those who are called according to His purpose," you start coming over to God's point of view. The two groups of people represented by "those who love God" and "those called according to His purpose" are the exact same group of people. You cannot love God if you weren't called according to His purpose. If that's not enough, vv. 29-30 enforce that thought. Those who are called according to God's purposes are "those whom He foreknew." Now some understand this to mean that God foreknew their faith. God looked down "the corridor of time" and saw you would have faith, thus, He called you. However, the verb "foreknew" carries the connotation of setting one's love upon another. In other words, God loved you before you were born, before the world existed. God foreknew all those who would love Him. God foreknew all those He called according to His purpose. Throughout the rest of this passage (often referred to as "the golden chain of salvation") we see this same group of people whom God called according to His purpose carried along the chain of salvation. Those whom God foreknew, He predestined, He called, He justified, He glorified. In fact, the original Greek of those verbs (foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified) is seen in a "past tense" kind of way, indicating from God's perspective, these are already settled facts. The whole structure of the passage is such that you can shorten it to say, "Those whom God foreknew...He also glorified." That's how certain our salvation is from God's point of view. 

So, for the one whom God foreknew, we can also say that all things are working together for the good. In what way, one may ask? Well certainly from a human point of view, we cannot say God is pleased with our sinful, rebellious life before conversion. But we can say that God is providentially working all of the events of one's life to bring them to that moment of conversion and leading and guiding them beyond that point as well. I think many Christians who came to faith as adults, can look back on their lives and see God's hand at work even when they were walking in unrighteousness. I know I can. I've done foolish things in my life that have killed others, but I was providentially preserved. I've made decisions where if I made the opposite decisions, would not have brought me to where I am today. 

Another great passage that sees the life of a believer from both God's perspective and ours is Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:1-10. In Ephesians 1:3-14, we see our salvation as a Trinitarian work conceived of and sealed in eternity past. We are chosen by the Father before the creation of the world. We are redeemed by the Son. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit. From the Father's perspective, we are chosen, redeemed, and sealed. It's a done deal. When you get to Ephesians 2:1-10, we see our salvation in "time and space." From our perspective, there was a time in which we were dead in trespasses and sins, a time in which we walked according to the course of this world, a time in which we were sons of disobedience. But you get that wonderful transition in v. 4, "But now." When we were dead in our sins and trespasses, God made us alive in Christ. We are saved by grace through faith unto good works. From our perspective, we were dead and now we are alive. From God's perspective, we were chosen before the foundation of the world. 

So, this is a long answer to your question, but I believe you are correct when you say the promise of Romans 8:28 stretches back to before our conversion. 

I hope this helps.

~Pastor Carl