For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These are God’s Word of comfort to you, as given through the Apostle Paul. They speak of the surety of your salvation, because Jesus Christ himself has accomplished your salvation for you. There’s no work for you to do, no debt for you to pay, because Christ has already done all the work and paid all the debt for your sins. You are forgiven from your sins, you are saved from eternal death, you will be raised up from the dead to live with the Lord eternally. This is sure and certain. It is God who justifies, and He has justified you freely in His sight.
So, it is in this light of the surety of God’s forgiveness of your sins that Paul’s earlier comments about God’s predestination ought to be interpreted (Romans 8:28-39). Paul says that God predestined you “to be conformed to the image of his Son” and that God called, justified, and glorified you in Christ. What does this all mean?
One thing that is important to remember is that we were conceived and then born into this world in the image of Adam. If you recall, when God created Adam in the beginning, He created Adam in His (God’s) image. But, Adam’s sin marred this image; Adam fell from what God had created him to be. Adam lost, in essence, part of his humanity.
And we, as descendants of Adam, also inherit this marred image; we are fallen creatures, less than God created us to be. We see it every day in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. We shatter promises, we break faith with others, we struggle with sin which torments us; and, we are affected by the struggles of others against sin. So, to be born in the image of Adam is to be born marred into a fallen world, to live amongst others who are also marred, and to have to deal with the brokenness and disfunction which this all entails.
But, this is not how God created Adam to be, and it is not what He intends for us for eternity. In fact, God drove Adam from the garden so that he wouldn’t live forever in this marred state or in this fallen world. He drove Adam from the tree of life so that he wouldn’t live forever struggling with sin in his fallen humanity and estranged from God, other people, and the rest of creation.
So, God promised to remove the taint of sin and expel death from this world. God promised a Savior, the coming Christ, who would take your sins away from you, redeem you from death, and recreate you into his image. All who have faith in Christ receive this salvation freely, because Christ came to give it to all people.
This, then, is what it means that God has conformed you to the “image of his Son.” In Baptism, God kills the old Adam in you and then raises you up out of the waters to rebirth you into the image of Christ. And since Christ, as the Son of God, is the image of God (Colossians 1:15; John 14:9), this means that you too are being rebirthed into the image of God and made His children. God is restoring you to how you were meant to be. God is beginning your restoration in Baptism, just as He began the restoration of all creation in Christ’s Baptism (cf. Matthew 3 compared with Genesis 1).
However, right now you continue to live in a fallen world and remain fallen creatures. Even though God has rebirthed you into the image of His Son, you still struggle with sin, still get sick, still die. Yet, now, you are no longer defined by the dead image of Adam, because you bear the living image of Christ. And daily, God works to increasingly conform you to this image, a daily dying and rising in your Baptism. You daily die to your sins and rise to new life in Christ; we call this Law and Gospel working upon us, but that’s just a fancy way of saying that everyday we feel the weight of our sins and our fallenness upon us and long for forgiveness and restoration. And Christ gives you this forgiveness and restoration freely, because he has chosen you as his own.
And ultimately, when Christ returns at the resurrection, you will finally be perfectly conformed to his image and live forever directly with God and each other. You will no longer have to struggle with sin, decay, death, and evil. You will be fully restored, just as all creation will be fully restored. And you will behold God face-to-face.
Now, who did God do all this to? He did it to those he predestined. That’s a tough word for us to handle. It is used in the sense of God calling people to be His people and conforming them to His image. It’s a tough word for us, I think, because we always want to be in charge. We want to be in the driver’s seat. We want to direct where the ship is headed. But, predestination tears all that down. We’re not in charge; God is. God’s not our co-pilot; He’s the pilot. It’s Him who acts, does, creates, redeems, re-creates. It’s Him who Baptizes. It’s Him who calls us and continually comes to us in the Gospel and Lord’s Supper. God is the one acting for our salvation, and that’s a good thing, because He’s the only one who can do it and He is ever faithful.
And you are those whom He has called, chosen, pre-destined. Why? Because God is gracious and merciful and sent His Son to die and rise for you so you can be conformed to his living image, rather than remain in the dead image of the fallen Adam. And how do you know you were chosen and predestined? Because God tells you that you are. There are no caveats in the Bible. Christ died for the sins of the whole world and God desires all people to be saved (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). And as God calls people as His own, He also arms them with His Word so that they may bring God’s Word to others so that the Holy Spirit may bring them to faith in Christ for their salvation. Everything’s free, and God gives us everything we need to proclaim this Good News, the Gospel, of Christ to others.
You’ll notice that there are no caveats in Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel in Romans 8:28-39. He doesn’t say that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us – except for Steve.” No, he says we, all of us, all of you. Likewise, throughout the Bible God sends word of Christ to all people. Even in the Old Testament, he has Jonah go to bring His Word to the people of Nineveh in Assyria; political enemies of the people of Israel and yet those to whom the Gospel is also meant to be proclaimed. And in the New Testament, He has His people go to all the nations (the Gentiles), even Paul who was once a zealous Pharisee who had persecuted Christ’s people, but whom Christ himself called to be an apostle to the Gentiles to bring the lost to faith.
All those who have faith in Christ are part of his Church. We are united with those of the Old Testament who had faith in the Christ who was to come as well as all those of the New Testament who have faith in the Christ who has come and who is returning. This is the holy communion of all the saints. And, in Revelation 21 we see a beautiful image of the way Christ views his Church. St. John says that he saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This is the bride of Christ, the Church which spans both Testaments. And Christ loves her with a pure love, which forgives sin and cleanses us, and he prepares a place for his bride to dwell with him eternally in perfect communion.
You are part of this bride of Christ. I can confidently proclaim to you that God chose you to be His own people. That Christ died and rose for you. That Christ is here with you now through Word and Sacrament. That Christ is returning on the last day to resurrect your bodies to reunite your souls with them so you may live forever with him and each other in a creation that has been fully restored to perfection.
This is God’s Word for you. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is meant for you and all people. And that’s very freeing. We don’t have to wonder why some believe and some don’t; that’s God’s problem to worry about. We just trust that He will work through the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith. We just proclaim Christ’s forgiveness, redemption, and restoration to all people and let God work out the details and trust that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Image: Apocalypse 36. A new heaven and new earth. Revelation cap 21. De Vos. Phillip Medhurst Collection, By Phillip Medhurst – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32382811)