For most of the last decade, I measured my family’s financial progress based on how well we moved through Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. Since we planted a church five years ago, the progress was slow, but we rejoiced in every step towards greater financial freedom. Divine providence brought that progress to a halt over the last eighteen months. Each year we opted for a lower level of health insurance instead paying more for a higher premium. Then in April 2013 we welcomed our third daughter. This priceless gift from God who brightens our day brought with her something we had not experienced with the birth of our first daughter—crippling medical bills. Each dreaded trip to the mailbox brought more bad news and the final price tag meant we would be paying doctors and hospitals for over a year. We started cutting back in places we never thought we could cut back, and all the extra money going on the mortgage and into savings started going towards medical bills. With a new year came another premium increase and the reset of our deductible. In the first four months of 2014, I had walking pneumonia, an unexpected surgery, and one of the girls made a trip to the Emergency Room. In just over a year we received over $10,000 in medical bills.
My ideals for what our family’s finances should be were smashed. In my mind my goals still were not sinful. We weren’t shooting to be rich, just comfortable. I wanted to architect a financial future for us where we would not struggle. We would live simply, frugally, and free from worry. When the bills began to roll in, I saw them as an enemy who threatened my view of the future. They sent me into a tailspin of worry, fear, anxiety, and guilt as I wondered how we were ever going to get out from under debt so I could continue to pursue our financial goals.
Through this the Lord began to remind me of Martyn Lloyd-Jones advice to talk to ourselves instead of listening to ourselves. My fears, anxieties, and disappointment spoke loudly, and I needed the word of God to drown out their voices so my heart would be reoriented towards the glory of Christ. I naturally turned to Romans 8:28 so I could remind myself that God was working all things together for my good. Then the entirety of Romans 8:28-39 grabbed my attention and has not let go. As I have meditated on this passage again and again the last few months, four truths from this passage have sustained me.
“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.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.”
God Works Things for My Good
Paul reminds Christians of God’s providence and goodness with the declaration that God works all things together for our good. God does not take us through difficulty to harm us. The Father does not retaliate against us for our sins or play cosmic games with our circumstances for his amusement. He works everything according to the counsel of his will and great plan. We can rest in the confidence that wherever we are and whatever circumstances we face are for our ultimate good. What I needed to hear while I felt like I was drowning in a stack of medical bills is that my Father was working for my good. This did not mean that he was using my “setback to set me up for a comeback,” but that he was refining me and working in me for my ultimate good.
God Wants Me to be More Like Jesus
Verses 29-30 contain what many have called the “Golden Chain of Salvation,” showing that God planned our salvation before we were born and will be faithful to bring us to the end. In the second link of the chain, Paul says those whom God “foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” While our ultimate transformation into the image of Christ does not happen until His return, God transforms us into the image of Christ in our character each day. I hated every bill that came in the mail, but as I look back they were God’s means to make me more like Jesus. Every new bill taught me to take my anxieties and lay them at the feet of Jesus. Every recurring bill reminding me I still owed them money pressed me deeper into Jesus. I learned through this to be patient and to trust in his providence. God purged out much sin, selfishness, and worry through this process. God used financial pressure and difficulty to conform me to the image of his Son.
God Sent His Son to Die for Me
The declaration in verse 32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” sustained me more than any other during hard times. My greatest need is not to pay down my mortgage faster, but to have my sins covered so that I can be reconciled to God. Paul’s words remind us that God has met us at our greatest point of need. The thing we needed most, a substitute, God provided in the person of his perfect Son. Since he gave his son for me, we can be confident that he will give us everything that we need.
God Promises to be with Me When you read these verses out loud, you cannot help but pick up the pace and excitement when you arrive at the last few verses. The declaration that nothing will separate the Christian from the love of Christ is a shout of victory! Has God abandoned us when we experience difficult times? No! He is there and He is with us. By the provision of His Son for our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God pledges that He will never leave us and will always be with us. He is our Father, and He walks us through difficult times not to harm us, but to teach us.
God uses hard financial times to teach us something we often forget when times are easy—Jesus is better than money. Nothing can compare with the glory of God’s perfect Son who gave his life for us and what Christians should desire more than anything is to reflect his glory in our own lives. There is no shortcut to growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ and it certainly cannot be bought. Sometimes we have to be stripped of the treasures we hold in our hands so we can have a clearer picture of the treasure we have in Christ.
Scott Slayton (@scottslayton) is the lead pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church (missionchelsea.org) in Chelsea, Alabama. He graduated from the University of Mobile and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been married to Beth since 2003, and they have three daughters. He blogs on life, theology, the church, and mission at scottslayton.net. You can follow him on Twitter.