Brothers and sisters:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
For those he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
so that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers and sisters.
And those he predestined he also called;
and those he called he also justified;
and those he justified he also glorified.
To understand this verse, we need to think through four truths:
- God has an eternal purpose and He is able to accomplish His purpose.
- God’s eternal purpose includes calling to salvation a people for Himself.
- God’s purpose for those whom He calls to salvation is their ultimate, eternal good.
- Knowing that God is working all things together for our good brings great comfort during difficult trials.
One of the most helpful things that you can learn about your Christian life is how to handle the trials that inevitably will come your way. Jesus explained that there are some who receive the word with joy, but their faith is only temporary. When affliction or persecution because of the word hits them, immediately they fall away. They didn’t expect affliction or understand how to handle it. They signed up for success, not suffering. They wanted prosperity, not persecution. So, they fell away when the trials hit. It is especially in times of suffering that Satan, whom Peter describes as a roaring lion, seeks to devour you. So, it is essential for your spiritual survival that you know and apply what the Bible teaches about trials.
Romans 8:28 is one of the most familiar verses on this subject. The NIV reads, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” All things don’t just happen to work out for good on their own. Rather, God providentially works all things together for good for His people according to His purpose. But while Romans 8:28 is a source of great comfort when it is properly understood, it is often misunderstood and misapplied. Some think that it teaches a positive outlook on life, that everything will turn out for our happiness in this life. But this denies or greatly minimizes the reality of suffering and evil. It insensitively says to those who are suffering: “Don’t worry, be happy, your loss isn’t really so bad.” But the verse isn’t saying that.
Sometimes well-meaning Christians recite Romans 8:28 to a person in the throes of grief, trying to help or comfort. But at the moment of loss, the grieving person mostly needs your presence and your help with practical matters. Later, if need be, you may be able to help him understand and apply this verse. But it will help us all to weather suffering better if we understand this verse before the storm hits.
All things are not good. It would be mockery to say that they are. The death of a child is not good. Cancer is not good, drug addiction is not good, war is not good, blasphemy is not good. Many of us have some salt with our meals. Table salt is made up of both sodium and chloride. By itself, sodium is a deadly poison, and so is chloride. Put them together, and you have table salt. Salt flavors food, and a certain amount of salt is necessary for health and life. We cannot live without some salt in our systems. God can take things that are bad and put them in the crucible of His wisdom and love. He works all things together for good, and He gives us the glorious, wonderful promise that He will do so.
We know that we have victory over sin and over Satan, but this verse in Romans teaches us that we also have victory over our circumstances. It says that all things work together for good. Many times, this promise has been trivialized. For example, someone may be driving down the road and a tire will blow out. The person may say, “Oh, well, the Bible says that ‘all things work together for good.'(1) Maybe there’s a sale on tires.” That isn’t what this verse means. The good is not to make us necessarily healthy or happy but to make us holy, to make us like Jesus. If the goal of our lives is not to be like Jesus, that goal is too small. Our goal must be to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. Whatever the circumstances that come to us, we can rely on God’s promise in Romans 8:28. No matter our circumstances, no one can take this verse out of the Bible–and may Satan never take it out of your heart.
Let’s ask ourselves these questions when we don’t understand how the situation at hand can be working for the good:
1: What are the most difficult trials that you have been through, and how may God be working these for our ultimate good.
2: Why does Romans 8:28 only work if God is sovereign over all the evil that happens? Why does denying that truth not help?
3: What does it mean to love God? Is it primarily a feeling? If it includes feelings, how can we keep our feelings passionate?
Lord, in your mercy give us the wisdom to understand that all things do work towards good for all who love you, help us to understand that You want good for Your people, and that we must be patient allowin You to put everything in the proper order so that good will happen in Your time. Amen.