[Mel Lawrenz is Teaching Pastor at Elmbrook Church. His newest book is A Chronicle of Grief: Finding Life After Traumatic Loss (IVP).]
One valid way of describing the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is the promise of the restoration of dignity. God created humanity according to his image and his likeness, and thus invested humanity with incalculable worth. Because the human race has become twisted and corrupted by sin, barely reflecting Godlikeness, God chose to make redemption and restoration possible. This saving mission has many descriptions: reconciliation, justification, adoption, redemption, sanctification, glorification. The mission of Jesus was to seek and to save the lost. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit combine in this great saving feat, and human beings gain worthwhileness in the process. This is the gospel.
One of the most quoted verses of the New Testament is Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is the “all things” idea that catches our interest.
Almost everybody is trying to understand the mystery that life sometimes seems so good, and at other times so bad. “All things” are full of contradictions. The people we love the most are those who can hurt us the most. The natural world can be breathtakingly beautiful, and then turn into a hostile environment. You can go to Washington, D.C. and walk among the stately pillars and facades, the monuments to the fallen soldiers, the memorials to great leaders—and wonder how the government can be replete with so many weaknesses and engender such a low level of confidence in the populace.
Life is full of crosscurrents and contradictions. In almost every area of life we are left wondering: Is there some good that can emerge from all these contradictions? What can be salvaged from “all things”? So when Romans 8:28 says that “in all things” God works for the good of those who love him, we want to know how that works.
Just before Romans 8, the apostle Paul describes the inner spiritual battle within the self: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (7:19). No wonder life is full of conflict and contradictions. No wonder we want to believe that somehow, “in all things God works for the good.”
The very next sentence in Romans 8 describes how “all things” can somehow work out in the grand scheme of life. Here we find again the idea of humanity created in the image of God: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (8:29, italics added).
Here is the big picture. God created a world and a special class of creatures known as human beings as a spectacular expression of God’s own glory, power, majesty, holiness, beauty, and love. But humanity became corrupted. Bent toward transgression; misguided by sin; blind to reality. Diminished, shattered, subject to every form of indignity. Men and women, gangs and governments, dictators and wife beaters and slave owners became the despoilers of dignity. And sometimes they construct whole bureaucracies of indignity or campaigns of murder.
God was not content to leave a broken world broken, and so a way of restoration was forged. This plan was “predestined,” which means to be arranged ahead of time. Paul’s point here is that the proclamation about Jesus’ mission and message was not a random innovation. No one spontaneously fabricated Jesus from Nazareth as savior figure.
The purpose of Jesus’ mission was to make a way for the restoration of human nature for anyone (“to be conformed to the image of his Son”). The “image of [God’s] Son” is not different from the creation principle of being created “in the image of God.” Humanity was created in the image of God; Jesus is the perfection of humanity, and thus the perfect picture of what this image is (see Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15).
This is the dignity of Jesus—a worth or value that exceeds simple human value. He suffered indignities at the hand of human authorities, but his true worth was never compromised.