Grace Before the Ages Began
Before God laid the foundation of the universe, He was planning to fulfill His purposes through grace. The apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:8-9 “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” When you dwell on the fact that in its essence, grace is a response to sin – our sin, this verse is staggering. Before man existed, much less sinned, God was planning to respond to our sin with His grace manifested supremely in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. This has helped me tremendously with understanding the foundation of Romans 8:28, which is probably one of two “life verses” for me.
In probably the greatest letter ever written, in probably the greatest chapter of that letter, the apostle Paul builds an insurmountable argument for God’s grace. The “great 8:28” states that “for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” One of the main questions we should rightly ask when we read these words is “does that ‘all’ really mean ALL?”
Yes, it does. For those who have been called by God and love him through all that he is for them in Jesus Christ, every single thing in life will be worked together for their good – everything, even suffering, even sin.
How can I say that? I go back to 2 Timothy 1:8-9. When God looked out over the entire span of history (which he exists outside of) and ordained every single act that would ever occur, both in the sense of allowing things to occur through man’s determined responsibility of making moral choices (i.e. the “fall” and its tragic and all encompassing effects on all of creation) and also by directing events by effectual command, all of the billions and trillions and trillions and billions of decisions and outcomes that have ever and will ever occur were shaped in a manner to work for the good of those who love Him and are called by Him.
One of the best examples in the Bible of this is the story of Joseph. In Genesis chapter 37, we learn of Joseph being sold into slavery by his own flesh and blood brothers after Joseph revealed a rather offensive dream to them.
“Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.”
Can you imagine this? Put yourself in the situation for a moment. Your own brothers sell you into slavery because of their jealousy. What emotions would you have experienced if you were Joseph – anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, unloved, an absolute feeling of hopelessness? Remember, Joseph didn’t know the rest of the story like we do. All he saw was pain and sorrow and a situation that seemed to make no sense.
Of course, he eventually “winds up” being in the right place at the right time to save his family from starvation. But the words of Joseph reveal the astonishing reality of the situation from God’s standpoint. In chapter 45, after Joseph has revealed himself to his brothers, we read what Joseph told them.
“And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (5-8)
Joseph tells his brothers that God was working through their actions the entire time. Don’t miss this. They were sinning. There were committing evil against their brother. They were ABSOLUTELY responsible for what they were doing. They would have to answer to God for their evil deeds. But, God was working behind the scenes to save a people. “God sent me,” said Joseph.
That’s not all. In chapter 50, after Joseph’s father Jacob has died and his brothers are once again regretting their sin against their brother, Joseph offers words that are so deep, they take my breath away.
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (50:19-20)
Did you catch that? What was meant for evil, God meant for good. I almost don’t know what else to say after that but read Romans 8:28 once more. The rock-solid foundation of its promise is here. It is real. God will work all things for my good, even when it looks like evil is prevailing, even when my enemies seem to have the upper hand, even when I cannot see any possible outcome that will be good, because I know that God has been planning my good through His grace since “before the ages began.”
God is ALWAYS there, sharing in our grief and our pain, even while He has the entire scope of His sovereign plan to bring new life out of the sorrow in view; he still weeps with us and assures us that we are loved. O WHAT A GOD!