(Romans 8:28 NASB) 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.
The story is told of an airliner which began to develop trouble in mid-air. One engine began to smoke. Over the speaker came the pilot’s reassuring voice informing the passengers of a small problem. One engine had caught fire, but it had been extinguished. With three remaining engines, the plane would easily reach its destination. Then a second engine failed. Once again, the pilot calmly assured the passengers there was no danger; two engines would suffice. A third engine failed. Now the pilot informed the passengers that it would be necessary to land short of their destination. Finally, the fourth engine failed, and from their windows the passengers saw the plane’s crew in parachutes descending to the earth.
The pilot’s calm and reassuring voice again came over the speaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are having a problem with the airplane. We will need to make an emergency landing. The pilot and crew have abandoned the plane and are parachuting to safety. There is no need to panic. The plane is operating on automatic pilot, and everything is under control … control … control …”
There are times in life when things seem to be out of control. At those times atheists and agnostics are quite convinced, following our analogy, that the plane has no pilot. If ever there was a pilot, he has bailed out, leaving them to themselves to face threatening dangers.
We who are Christians believe there is a God. When life goes smoothly for us and God’s blessings are evident, we are tempted to believe we are in control. We may even think we do not need God.
When the bottom falls out and the trials of life seem to be swallowing us up so that we seem to lose control, we may still believe that God is in the cockpit. But we may begin to question whether God is really in control. We may be tempted to think God’s control over creation might be limited and fallible.
Alongside the theme of glory in the Christian life is the theme of victory. We get to be on the winning side, though our contribution is almost insignificant. We are protected by a God whose love cannot be measured and from which, as Paul will eloquently explain, absolutely nothing can separate us.
This section begins with some concluding remarks on how God responds to our prayers and the trials that motivate them. Paul briefly outlines God’s plan, emphasizing God’s effective work in our behalf. Following this, Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:31). His answer includes a listing of problems and situations that might threaten us, but are unable to ever “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39). Even though we don’t know how to pray according to God’s will, the Spirit does. That is why it all works for the good. God gives us what we truly need, not what we want.
8:28 We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.NIV This verse develops the thought introduced at the end of verse 27. Paul emphasizes that the Spirit’s efforts on our behalf are carried out in full agreement with God’s will, to bring us to maturity. This is expressed elsewhere by Paul: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4 niv).
Everything that happens to us in this life is directed toward that goal. What happens may not itself be “good,” but God will make it work to our ultimate good, to meet his ultimate goal for our life. In the kjv this well-known verse reads, “All things work together for good to them that love God . . . “The wording is smooth and familiar but, unfortunately, can lead to a misunderstanding of Paul’s point. God works all things for good, not “all things work out.” Suffering will still bring pain, loss, and sorrow, and sin will bring shame. But under God’s control, the eventual outcome will be for our good.
God works behind the scenes, ensuring that even in the middle of mistakes and tragedies, good will result for those who love him. At times this will happen quickly, often enough to help us trust the principle. But there will also be events whose results for good we will not know until eternity. Paul knew this from his own experience: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12 niv); I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 niv).
Who are called according to his purpose.NRSV God’s Spirit called us, convinced us of our sinfulness, showed us what Christ could do for us, and then helped us to accept Christ. Our ultimate destiny is to be like Christ. God’s design is more than just an invitation; God summons us with a purpose in mind: we are to be like Christ and share his glory.
|IN ALL THINGS|
|God works in all things—not just isolated incidents—for our good. This does not mean that all that happens to us is good; evil is prevalent in our fallen world. But God is able to turn it around for our long-range good. Note that God is not working to make us happy, but to fulfill his purpose. Note also that this promise can be claimed only by those who love, God and are “called according to his purpose.” Those who are called are those the Holy Spirit convinces and enables to receive Christ. Such people have a new perspective on life. They trust in God, not life’s treasures; they look to their security in heaven, not on earth; they learn to accept, not resent, pain and persecution, because God is with them.|
When Paul speaks of the spiritual life in Romans 8, he speaks much of suffering. We who are in Christ need not suffer from guilt or fear, for our sins have been forgiven. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1-4).
When we sin as Christians, and deal with it through confession of sins to God, we need never doubt that we are justified by faith because God’s Spirit dwells within us, bearing witness that we are God’s sons. Further, because the Spirit of God indwells us, He not only leads us to do the will of God, but He empowers our bodies to do so (8:5-17).
Justification by faith and the ministry indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit are not promises of present perfection. We are still fallen creatures with mortal bodies, awaiting our future adoption and bodily release. Not only are we imperfect beings, but we live in a fallen and imperfect world resulting in suffering and groaning in this life as we await that which is perfect.
This will only come when our Lord Jesus Christ appears. As sons of God, we will share in this reign, but we must be prepared and proven by suffering, just as Christ had to suffer. We are comforted by the certainty of the hope of glory, and we are sustained by the ministry of the Holy Spirit until that day.
Paul turns in verses 28-30 to yet another truth which should sustain the Christian in the midst of the suffering and groanings of this present life—the sovereignty of God.
Whatever the Christian sees happening, we may be assured that it is not only under God’s control, but its purpose is to produce what is for God’s glory and for our good.
When life’s trials cause some to wonder if God even exists, and others to wonder whether He is in control, the Christian may be assured that God is there. He is in charge of bringing about His purpose for His glory and our good. Let us savor the truth of God’s sovereignty. While His sovereignty brings terror to the hearts of unbelievers, it is music to the Christian’s ears.
Verses 28-30 provide the Christian with the key to understanding how life’s problems should lead to our praise of God. Our study will show us how and why.
The Structure of Our Text
While verses 28-30 constitute one paragraph and should be understood as a whole, we must focus our attention in this lesson on verse 28 and consider verses 29 and 30 in our next lesson. Verse 28 is a general statement concerning the implications of God’s sovereignty for every Christian: God’s sovereignty means that all of life’s experiences are orchestrated by Him to produce that which is for our good.
The particulars of the general statement in verse 28 are spelled out in more specific terms in verses 29 and 30. The entire process from the beginning to the end of the Christian’s life is described here. It begins with God’s sovereign election or choice and ends with God’s divinely purposed conclusion—our glorification. We may therefore summarize the structure of our text in this way:
God’s greatness assures us of our good — Romans 8:28
(1) In choosing to save us
(2) In guaranteeing our godliness — Romans 8:29
(3) In drawing us to Himself
(4) In declaring us righteous
(5) In securing our glorification — Romans 8:30
Our Approach in This Study
Even though our approach to the study of this verse may seem unusual, it is absolutely necessary. Every passage of Scripture should be studied in this way, although often we do not do so in the actual exposition of a text. We will study this one verse phrase by phrase, in some instances considering even a single word.
Every word is packed with meaning; we dare not overlook any detail. After studying the text in this way, we will seek to draw out the lessons of the text with several summary statements and then suggest some practical implications of what Paul has taught in this one verse.
This word “And” hardly seems to be worthy of notice. What can it tell us? A great deal! If the first word of this verse was “therefore,” we would look for a conclusion. If it were, “but,” we would look for some kind of contrast to what had just been written. If it were “for,” we would expect an explanation or some supporting evidence.
“And” tells us that Paul wants us to see the connection between what he has been saying and what he is about to say. The sovereignty of God, of which Paul is speaking in verses 28-30, must be understood in relationship to the spiritual life and specifically to suffering (verses 18-27). The sovereignty of God has many avenues of application, but here Paul applies it to suffering.
Before praising God, the last thing Paul talks about is God’s sovereignty and His love. When these two attributes merge, along with His other attributes, there is every reason for praise.
Paul does not say here, “I know.” He says instead, “We know.” The “we” speaks of both Paul and the entire Roman church. Paul is saying, “All Christians know this …”
The truth of which Paul speaks is a truth he believes is universally held by all Christians. It is also appropriate to infer that the truth taught here is not one understood or believed by non-Christians. That truth of which Paul is about to speak is known to all believers, but not to those outside the faith.
“We know …” A definite note of certainty is here. Paul does not say, “we think,” or “we hope,” but rather, “We know.” Other matters were more inferential, less clear and certain, or matters of personal interpretation and conviction not to be argued about or imposed on others but kept to oneself (see chapter 14). Paul was convinced that all, including him, knew and believed God’s sovereignty.
Paul wanted to teach the Romans a number of truths, truths which, it would seem, he doubted they knew. Why else would he bother to write this very systematic, theological epistle? There were things the Romans either did not know or seem to have forgotten. Thus Paul sometimes writes, “Or do you not know?” (6:3, 16; 7:1). Here the sovereignty of God is something Paul presumes all his readers know.
The sovereignty of God must therefore be a very foundational and fundamental doctrine. It must be a doctrine clearly taught which every Christian should know.
It should not be obscure, hidden amid other truths. It is not a doctrine which only the mature can extract from the Scriptures. The sovereignty of God is a truth every Christian is assumed to believe and understand.
Somehow many Christians today fall far short of what Paul assumes to be the case in his own day. He does not assume that Christians knew all the truth, but he did assume that the Roman saints knew of the sovereignty of God.
How did these Roman Christians, and Paul, know of the sovereignty of God? On what basis could Paul assume this? I wonder if the sovereignty of God is not so self-evident in one’s salvation that no one can miss it.
How could Paul, for example, not have concluded that God was sovereign in His salvation as he considered the way in which God brought him to Himself (see Acts 9:1-30)? Had the Romans not found in their own salvation that it was God who sought and saved them and not they who sought Him?
Does Paul see the sovereignty of God as so evident in the truths he has taught in chapters 1-8 that one could not reasonably think otherwise? In the next major section of Romans, Paul illustrates, clarifies, and defends in very specific terms the sovereignty of God in the context of God’s dealings with the nation Israel (Romans 9-11). Surely the sovereignty of God is self-evident both in His dealings with us and with others as seen in the Scriptures.
“God Works …”
God is in control. As Paul states in verses 29 and 30, God is the one who chooses us to be saved. God is the one who purposes our sanctification. He is the One who calls us to Himself and justifies us. He is the One who glorifies us. And, to be more precise, He is the One who has done all these things so that they are as good as done, even if their final consummation is yet future. This is why he uses the past and not the present or future tense.
“God causes all things to work together”
We must be careful to note that God is not the cause of all things. In particular, He is not the cause of sin. God is the Creator. As such, He created the universe, including this earth and all that is in it. God is the originator of many things.
But in this verse, Paul is not speaking of those things which God brings into existence; he is referring to God as the orchestrator and controller of all that takes place in this world. God has given certain tasks and responsibilities to men.
He has ordained governments to punish evil doers and to reward those who do what is right (see Romans 13:1-7). He has even given a certain degree of liberty to Satan (see Job 1 and 2).
While God permits things to happen which displease Him, He does not allow anything to happen which is contrary to His sovereign purpose.
Taken individually, the events and circumstances God allows may not, in and of themselves, appear to be of any value or good to the Christian. But Paul does not say that each event is good or even that each incident will produce that which is good.
He informs us that all of the events, working together, produce what is good.
To illustrate, the ingredients which go into a cake are not very tasty when eaten individually. Flour, sugar, shortening, eggs, salt, baking powder, and spices are not something we want to eat one ingredient at a time. But mix all of these together in just the right proportions, and then bake the combined mixture, and you have a delicious treat.
Each event in our life is like one ingredient in a cake. It may not seem good, by itself, but when mixed by God with other correct events, it will surely produce what is good.
Paul speaks here of God’s sovereignty in terms of His choosing and blending of all of our experiences, in such a way as to produce that which is good. God causes all things to “work together” for good. This means we cannot judge the goodness of God’s work until His program is finished.
Have you ever been too hasty in testing the cake batter? Almost always the result is unsatisfactory.
Until God’s recipe for our lives is complete, we dare not judge God’s cooking. We had best entrust ourselves to Him as the cook, knowing that He always blends the right ingredients, at the right time, in the right way, and in the right proportions.
When God causes all things to “work together” for the good of His children, His “working together” is such that one believer is not blessed at the expense of another. All that God brings to pass, or allows, in my life is for my ultimate good.
More than this, when God works in behalf of the good of His children, He does not “rob Peter to pay Paul.” He works in the lives of each believer in such a way that other believers are benefited as well.
In war, a commanding officer may be required to sacrifice some of his troops for the good of the cause. He may send one group to fight a losing battle to divert attention from another group by which he hopes to win the victory.
God’s sovereignty far surpasses this kind of control. God does not work in such a way as to bring about the casualty of one believer so that another believer will be blessed. God works so that the good of each and every Christian is accomplished.
Think of the incredible power of God suggested and required by the truth of His sovereignty. Since all things “work together” then the more things included in the category of “all things,” the greater God’s power and control must be. It is difficult for anyone to orchestrate several different events at one time. But God controls all of the events in the life of every believer.
More than this, God controls what He is doing in the life of one believer in such a way as to harmonize with what He is doing in the lives of all the rest. Such a task is beyond human comprehension. It is a task only a God with infinite power can accomplish.
“God causes all things to work together”
We have seen that “all” means that everything which affects the life of the Christian is under God’s control and thus is a part of God’s will for us. God causes “all things” to work together for our good. We are much more willing to attribute the pleasant events of our life to the hand of God than we are the painful experiences.
We find it difficult to believe that an act of deliberate cruelty intended by the offender to hurt us is really being used by God for our good.
If we are to take Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 literally and seriously, we must face the fact that “all things” includes those things which we find painfully unpleasant. We may even think they are unbearable.
- “All things” includes the sin of others and even our own sins.
- “All things” means there is nothing which falls outside of God’s control and which works contrary to our good.
- Not one thing falls outside of God’s control.
- “All things” are caused to work together so that God’s will—our good—is accomplished.
“God causes all things to work together for good”
All things … includes all sufferings, sorrows, infirmities, and everything else of a discouraging and calamitous nature which might befall God’s child on earth. “For good … ” cannot mean earthly prosperity, success, bodily health, or any other purely mortal benefit, but is rather a reference to the eternal felicity of the soul. Whatever might happen to the Christian in this life, absolutely nothing can happen to HIM, that is, his saved inner self. This is true because God is able to overrule every earthly circumstance in such a manner as to compel its contribution to the eternal redemption that awaits the children of God. As Brunner warned,
No universal optimism is meant – (such as) everything will turn out all right for everybody in any case. There stands here the significant limitation, “to them that love God.”
Work together for good … speaks of a situation in which God is surely at work on the Christian’s behalf, but it also speaks’ of a situation in which the saved person’s reaction to life’s woes is a controlled response.
Some ships sail east, and some sail west, By the selfsame winds that blow.
It’s the set of the sails and not the gales That determines the way they go! – Anonymous
The reaction of the child of God, or his response, to the ills of mortal life must be one of patience, submission, humility, prayer, love, hope, and faith. Even adversity of the severest kind must be made to yield its precious fruit in the heart of the Christian. It has been proved again and again by Christians that “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New.”
Them that love God … identifies the persons who shall receive the blessing of having all things work together for good on their behalf, this identification being further pinpointed by the last clause, “them that are called according to his purpose.” Who are the people who love God? Christ said:
Christ’s apostles stressed the same truth:
This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments (1 John 5:3).
This is love, that we should walk after his commandments (2 John 1:6).
Them that are called according to his purpose … At this point, the great Biblical doctrines of calling, foreknowledge, and foreordination (or predestination) begin to emerge, doctrines which have evoked entire libraries of discussions, theories, and explanations, and which, in the fullness of their total meaning, may not be fully comprehensible to finite intelligence. These great teachings point toward God, upward and heavenward, and are like massive mountain peaks reaching up into the clouds, the summits of which extend far beyond the boundaries of human vision. Despite this, the foothills reached by our understanding afford beautiful and breathtaking vistas of these “deep things of the Spirit of God.”
Moses E. Lard said that
“Those who are called” is simply another mode of designating the saved. It and the expression “those that love God’ are descriptive, not of different persons, but of the same. The two clauses also express important facts in their lives.
Of deep interest is the “calling” mentioned here. Who are the called, and how does the calling occur? Paul gave the answer thus:
Whereunto (unto which salvation) he called you through the gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:14).
In one sense, the totality of human kind are called by the gospel, as indicated by Christ’s express command that the divine call should be proclaimed to “the whole creation”; but the phrase “according to his purpose” delimits the persons here spoken of to them that fulfilled God’s purpose through their affirmative response to the call.
Called according to his purpose … means to be called “in one body (the church)” (Col. 3:15), and that “through the church” there might be made known “the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10,11). This, properly understood, eliminates the widespread misunderstanding with regard to God’s calling of the redeemed. Paul here did not speak of individuals as such, but of the whole body of the saved. That body, composed of the whole number of the redeemed, is indeed called and foreordained to eternal glory; but of an individual person, it must be said that he is called from before all time and predestinated to everlasting life, only if his affirmative response to the divine call has brought him into union with Christ, and if he so continues. See under following verses.
“Purpose … ” here is translated from a Greek term prothesis, meaning God’s placing all future events before his mind so as distinctly to see them.
Thus, the germ of foreknowledge is found in the very first word of Paul’s revelation on this tremendous subject. God’s purposing was “kept in silence through times eternal” (Rom. 16:25), and was an event prior to the creation of the world, “which in other generations was not made known” (Eph. 3:5), “which hath been hid for ages and generations” (Col. 1:26), “which God who cannot lie, promised before times eternal” (Titus 1:2). God’s eternal purpose of gathering the saved of all ages into one body “in Christ” was a design “which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7), which must be identified with “the mystery of God.” A careful study of the passages here cited shows that in all of the “mystery” passages Paul was speaking of “the wisdom of God” and of his “eternal purpose” of uniting all people in Christ through the church which is his body.
A further word from Lard on this is:
We now have but little difficulty explaining the clause “called according to his purpose.” In the prothesis all things pertaining to man’s redemption were set before God, and among them his predetermination that man should be called by the gospel, “to which salvation he called you by our gospel.” Hence, to be called according to God’s purpose, prothesis, is to be called by the gospel. It is therefore not to be called by some secret impulse of the Holy Spirit; neither is it to be called “effectually,” or “ineffectually,” as the schoolmen phrase it. This call we are absolutely free to accept or reject; and, accordingly, as we do this or that, we shall be saved or lost.
The word “for” is significant. God does not necessarily bring into our lives those things which are, in and of themselves, good. He often brings into our lives those things which are painful which cause us to groan.
Often these unpleasant experiences are the result of our own folly or sin. Sometimes we may suffer through no fault or failure of our own. Our Lord’s suffering was not due to any sin on His part. The chastening of the Father is not necessarily that which we have experienced because of our sin or disobedience (see Hebrews 12:1-13).
It is vital that we understand the term “good,” or we will completely reverse the meaning of this verse. Asaph, the psalmist who penned Psalm 73, went through a period of great anguish and anger toward God because he failed to understand the meaning of “good.” A portion of this psalm is cited to illustrate the importance of correctly defining the term “good.”
A Psalm of Asaph. 1 Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart! 2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; My steps had almost slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant, As I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no pains in their death; And their body is fat. 5 They are not in trouble as other men; Nor are they plagued like mankind. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them. 7 Their eye bulges from fatness; The imaginations of their heart run riot. 8 They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high. 9 They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth. … 12 Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased in wealth. 13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, And washed my hands in innocence; 14 For I have been stricken all day long, And chastened every morning. 15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” Behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children. 16 When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight 17 Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. 18 Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! 20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form. 21 When my heart was embittered, And I was pierced within, 22 Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before Thee. 23 Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. 24 With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. 28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works (Psalm 73:1-9, 12-28).
Asaph’s first words were “God is good to Israel.” He is also good to those who are pure in heart. But Asaph was wrong in his definition of “good,” for he thought good must be understood in terms of peace, prosperity, and a comfortable life. He thought of good in terms of pleasure and the absence of pain and more in terms of this present life than of eternity.
Asaph thought this way until he came to the sanctuary of God. There he began to view life from the divine perspective and from the vantage point of eternity rather than in terms of this present age. From the divine perspective, the good life of the wicked was uncertain and incredibly short. He now saw “good” in terms of intimacy with God. He could say, “the nearness of God is my good.” He recognized that while his sufferings drew him nearer to God, the prosperity of the wicked only drew them further from Him.
Asaph’s definition of “good” changed from a warm, fuzzy feeling now to enjoying God’s presence, now and for all eternity. He saw that if suffering draws one nearer to God, it is not evil but good. He recognized that if prosperity and the absence of pain turns one from God, that is evil. His definition of “good” made the difference. We must be very careful to define “good” as Asaph came to understand it, in terms of eternity and in terms of intimacy with God.
The “good” God brings to pass is the result of the “all things” which God has brought into our lives. The “good” may therefore be viewed presently in terms of our attitude toward God and in terms of the faith and perseverance which trials are intended to promote and produce. But most of all, “good” must be viewed in terms of our full adoption as sons when our Lord returns to the earth.
God is represented as the source of that which is good. Paul does not tell us that God causes everything. He surely does not tell us that God causes evil. He does tell us that God causes that which is “good.” This is consistent with the teaching of our Lord and of James:
“Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:11-13).
Let not one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt any one. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then, when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (James 1:16-17).
The “good” which God brings about is His “ultimate good” or “final good” for us. Since God causes all things to work together for good, we dare not assume that every individual event or circumstance will be perceived as good at the moment. It will only be recognized as good at the end of the process, when God is finished with His work in and for us.
In the light of verses 29 and 30, we can reasonably say that the “good” of which Paul speaks here is the “good” of His purposes and promises. The “good” of which we are assured is that good which God long ago planned, predestined, and presently is bringing to pass. We cannot see this good with our physical eyes, but God’s promises and His prophecies set it out for us to see through the eyes of faith. Such was the faith of the saints of days gone by:
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
- The rejection of Jesus by His people, Israel, and His subsequent sham of a trial, conviction, crucifixion, and death can hardly be seen as good—apart from His resurrection and the salvation which His work at Calvary achieves and assures.
- The persecution of the apostles, and of Christians down through the ages, is good only in the light of God’s approval, His eternal blessings, and His rewards for those who have been faithful.
The “good,” which God is presently bringing about for us through His control and arrangement of all our circumstances and experiences, is the good which He has purposed. It is the good which His Word has promised. It is not present pleasure or happiness. It cannot be found in one or a few experiences, divorced from the rest of life. It is the culmination, the climax, of all the experiences and events of our life. It is a good that is so good we cannot even fathom it. We would not even know what we should ask for because it is beyond our mental grasp:
But just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND WHICH HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
“To those who love God”
“To those who are called according to His purpose”
These two statements must be understood together and separately. Together, these two phrases inform us that those who are the recipients of the good God is bringing about are the sons of God, those who have been justified by faith. Those who are the enemies of God look forward to a very different end: “… wrath … in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS” (Romans 2:5-6).
The expression, “those who love God,” is a description of Christians with respect to their response toward God. Unbelievers are born sinners with an innate anger and hostility toward God:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature, children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Of all the expressions which describe the relationship of the Christian to God, why this one? Why does Paul describe the believer as one who loves God? I think we will better understand when we consider the references to loving God in the Old and New Testaments:
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
“Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12).
“You shall therefore love the Lord your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments … And it shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul … For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you, to do it, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 11:1, 13, 22).
“You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 13:3).
“If you carefully observe all this commandment, which I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in His ways always—then you shall add three more cities for yourself, besides these three” (Deuteronomy 19:9).
“Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live … In that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it” (Deuteronomy 30:6, 16).
“Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5).
“So take diligent heed to yourselves to love the Lord your God” (Joshua 23:11).
And I said, “I beseech Thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Nehemiah 1:5).
And I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Daniel 9:4).
And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42).
“But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves” (John 5:42).
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me” (John 8:42).
But just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are
in Him (1 John 2:5).
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins … If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (1 John 4:10, 20-21).
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3).
He says that those who love God, and who are called according to his purpose, know well that God is intermingling all things for good to them. It is the experience of life for the Christian that all things do work together for good. We do not need to be very old to look back and see that things we thought were disasters worked out to our good; things that we thought were disappointments worked out to greater blessings.
But we have to note that that experience comes only to those who love God. The Stoics had a great idea which may well have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote this passage. One of their great conceptions was the logos (<G3056>) of God, which was God’s mind or the reason. The Stoic believed that this world was permeated with that logos (<G3056>). It was the logos (<G3056>) which put sense into the world. It was the logos (<G3056>) which kept the stars in their courses and the planets in their appointed tracks. It was the logos (<G3056>) which controlled the ordered succession of night and day, and summer and winter and spring and autumn. The logos (<G3056>) was the reason and the mind of God in the universe, making it an order and not a chaos.
The Stoic went further. He believed that the logos (<G3056>) not only had an order for the universe, but also a plan and a purpose for the life of every individual man. To put it in another way, the Stoic believed that nothing could happen to a man which did not come from God and which was not part of God’s plan for him. Epictetus writes: “Have courage to look up to God and to say, ‘Deal with me as thou wilt from now on. I am as one with thee; I am thine; I flinch from nothing so long as thou dost think that it is good. Lead me where thou wilt; put on me what raiment thou wilt. Wouldst thou have me hold office or eschew it, stay or flee, be rich or poor? For this I will defend thee before men.'” The Stoic taught that the duty of every man was acceptance. If he accepted the things that God sent him, he knew peace. If he struggled against them, he was uselessly battering his head against the ineluctable purpose of God.
Paul has the very same thought. He says that all things work together for good, but only to them that love God. If a man loves and trusts and accepts God, if he is convinced that God is the all-wise and all-loving Father, then he can humbly accept all that he sends to him. A man may go to a physician, and be prescribed a course of treatment which at the time is unpleasant or even painful; but if he trusts the wisdom of the man of skill, he accepts the thing that is laid upon him. It is so with us if we love God. But if a man does not love and trust God, he may well resent what happens to him and may well fight against God’s will. It is only to the man who loves and trusts that all things work together for good, for to him they come from a Father who in perfect wisdom, love and power is working ever for the best.
From these texts, we may draw the following conclusions:
(1) Loving God is the essence of what God desires of men, whether that be in Old Testament times or in the New. It is God’s principle and primary commandment to men (see Deuteronomy 6:5; 19:9; Joshua 22:5; 23:11).
(2) Loving God is inseparably linked with the keeping of God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9; 11:1).
(3) Loving God and loving men sums up the requirements of the Law (Matthew 22:37).
(4) God’s blessings are poured out on those who love Him (Nehemiah 1:5; Daniel 9:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9).
(5) Loving God is not the natural response of men toward God, but that response which God Himself makes possible through the work of His Spirit (Deuteronomy 30:6).
Loving God sums up the relationship which God desires for His children. His initiating love, shown to us, is reflected in our love for Him. And our love for Him is reflected in our obedience to His commandments. If we but love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then we will love others, and we will keep His commandments. In so doing, we will show ourselves to be His sons. And because we are His sons, He works all things together for our good.
The other side of the coin of our sonship is that we not only love Him but He has called us according to His purpose. It is very important to understand that God does not adapt or modify His purpose in order to bless us. God blesses us, He brings about our good, in accordance with His purpose. Our good is subordinate to the purpose of God.
This is not always the way God’s relationship to His people is represented. There are some who see God as a lonely God, desperately in need of our fellowship and love. God does desire our love, as this text informs us, but He does not need our love so that He caters to our wants and needs to obtain it. As we shall see in very dramatic terms in chapters 9-11, God is in charge. God saves some, to the praise of His glory. And God passes over others, to the praise of His glory. His grace is sovereign grace, determined by His own sovereign will and purposes, and not determined or directed by men. We do not use or manipulate God. God uses us, to His glory—some as vessels of mercy, others as vessels of wrath (see 9:21-23).
In our text, Paul does not speak of the purposes (plural) of God but of His purpose (singular). Why is this? I believe we must conclude there is only one all-encompassing purpose. That purpose is not to save men or to bless those who believe in Him, but to manifest His own glory, not only to men, but to the heavenly hosts as well. Paul makes much of this in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:3-14, emphasis mine).
God’s singular purpose is to display His glory. His subordinate purpose for those who are His children is to save us, which involves that process outlined in verses 29 and 30. It begins with our divine election and ends with our final glorification. God’s purpose is to save us, to the praise of His glory. In accordance with this purpose for us, He controls all those things which touch our lives, bringing about only that which is good for us in the final analysis.
God is sovereign. He is in complete control of every event and of every circumstance in His creation. He does not cause all things, such as evil, but He does control all things so that His will is accomplished. God’s sovereign control extends to the acts of unbelievers, of angels, fallen or unfallen, and even to Satan. The sovereignty of God is specifically applied in our text to those who are Christians—those who have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ.
God exercises His sovereignty toward the Christian in such a way that everything that touches our lives has been allowed or brought about by Him. Those things which would prove to be detrimental to our good have been kept from us. Those things which will work together for the “good” God has purposed for us, God arranges and controls in such a way as to produce that good. Everything which touches the life of the Christian is purposed and designed for accomplishing the “good” God has purposed for us.
The “good” which God purposes for the Christian is primarily that which is still future and which we cannot presently see. It is a good we can hope for based upon God’s Word and believed by faith. That “good” includes our salvation, sanctification, and our future full adoption as sons of God. This will take place after we have been prepared and proven by suffering, and at the time when our Lord returns to this earth to subdue His enemies and to reign over the whole creation as God’s king. The “good” which is spoken of here is not so much our present happiness as our holiness.
The “all things” which God causes to work together for our ultimate good includes everything which touches our lives. In the context of Romans 8, it includes suffering and groaning. Our faith and obedience are a part of that which God uses to bring about our ultimate good. The well-intentioned deeds of others is also a part of God’s program. But the “all things” of Romans 8:28 includes our failures and our sins. It includes not only our innocent suffering, for the cause of Christ, but that suffering which results from our sin and stupidity. “All things” includes the malicious things others do to us. It includes, at times, Satan’s attacks by which he hopes to destroy us, but which God allows for our own growth (see Job 1 and 2).
The “all things” includes events which took place before we were even born, such as our divine election which Paul is about to describe. “All things” includes those things which happened before we were saved. It surely includes the things which have come about after our conversion and also those events yet to come. The “all things” over which God has control and which He is causing to work together for our good includes the minute details of our lives and not just major decisions and actions.204 God is not a distant Creator who has distanced Himself from His creation and allowed it to run by itself. God is in control over His creation, assuring that all that happens works together to achieve His purpose.
The truth of God’s sovereignty which achieves our good sheds light on other biblical texts. For example, Romans 8:28 helps to explain this command from the pen of Paul written to the saints at Thessalonica: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Romans 8:28 gives us one very important reason why we can give thanks to God in all things: God causes all things to work together for our good. There are many things for which we will find it very difficult to give thanks apart from the truth of our text in Romans.
Another verse is closely related to our text as I understand it:
Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB).
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (NIV).
The truth of Romans 8:28 is illustrated in the lives of many biblical characters. Let me suggest three illustrations for your future consideration and meditation. First, consider Joseph as a very positive illustration of Romans 8:28. Joseph was cruelly sold into slavery by his brothers. They acted sinfully out of jealousy. Joseph was treated badly by others. He was not kindly treated by his father (his favoritism was no favor to Joseph). He was not treated fairly by Potiphar, and especially by Mrs. Potiphar. He was not treated kindly by the king’s cup bearer. He could have wallowed in the suffering which he experienced. And yet Joseph seemed to understand the truth of Romans 8:28 better than we.
He could tell his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (see Genesis 45:5; 50:20).
Belief in the sovereignty of God, at work for his good in the midst of his suffering, encouraged Joseph to be faithful, to look to God and to the future for his final “good.” It enabled him to forgive his brothers, knowing that God’s gracious hand was behind their sinful actions.
We can see a more negative illustration of Romans 8:28 in the life of Jonah. Jonah was a man who came to expect and even demand “good” from God. The “good” which he demanded was his own pleasure and comfort and the destruction of those who were his enemies, even those who were innocent. He forgot that the “good” God is bringing about is the result of His grace and not human merit. God was good to Jonah, by working in his life through a great fish, through pagan seamen, through a plant, and even through a worm. God was gracious not to destroy the Ninevites but even more so not to destroy Jonah. He was gracious to allow Jonah to suffer so that his sin might become more evident and repentance might result (whether it came or not, we do not know).
These two men, Joseph and Jonah, provide us with contrasting illustrations of the truth of Romans 8:28. Joseph is a good example of acting in accordance with the truth of our text. Jonah is a good example of God’s acting in accordance with the truth of our text in spite of Jonah’s sin.
In both cases, however, let us remember that God’s will was accomplished, just as He had purposed and promised. God fulfilled His promise when Joseph was faithful. He also fulfilled His promise and purpose when Jonah rebelled. God’s purposes are always fulfilled.
(8:28-39) Introduction—Predestination—Man, Struggles—Suffering: the glorious message of Romans is that God assures deliverance (freedom) from struggling and suffering—through Christ. This is the whole point of all that has been written before. Man desperately struggles against the pressures and forces both within himself and alien to himself. He struggles against the weight and discouragement of trials; against the pollution and corruption of life; against the relentless accusations and bombardments of conscience and law; against the pain and decay of his body; against the striking fear and hopelessness of an eternal judgment hereafter. He struggles against the unknown and against pain, hurt, sorrow, loneliness, alienation, aging, death, and hell (cp. Galatians 5:17). And somehow, through his suffering and struggle throughout life, he feels that his suffering and struggling are due to a wrong relationship with God.
Therefore, man views his many problems as really being one supreme problem: how to get right with God. If he can establish the right relationship with God, he feels sure God will help him through his trials and take care of his future hereafter.
This is the very message of Romans. Man needs to get right with God, for he is under the condemnation and wrath of God (Romans 1:18-3:20). Man needs a right relationship with God; he needs to be justified, that is, declared righteous by God (Romans 3:21-5:21). Man needs to be freed from the struggle of sin, for sin corrupts and leads to death (Romans 6:1-23). Man needs to be freed from the bondage of law (spiritual legalism); for the law enslaves, accuses, condemns, and strikes hopelessness within the heart (Romans 7:1-25).
All the discussion in Romans 8 up to this point has now moved to the summit. Those who love God and are called by Him will definitely be freed from the bondages and corruptions of this life and ushered into glory. God assures this. Nothing, absolutely nothing, shall prevent God’s settled plan and purpose from coming about in the life of the believer. God’s settled plan and purpose for the universe shall be consummated. He has determined two supreme things (Romans 8:29).
Believers shall be conformed to the image of His dear Son (Romans 8:29).
His Son shall have many brothers, among whom He is to be honored as the first (the most preeminent) Person (Romans 8:29).
(8:28) Assurance—Call—Man, Struggles—Salvation: God works all things out for those who love Him. This is the first assurance of deliverance. What a comforting declaration! Scripture actually declares that “all things work together for good” to the believer. Think about it: nothing could assure the believer any more than God working all things out for his good. Note four things.
1.The words “all things” go well beyond the great events of the world. God does control the events of the world, but He controls much more. He rules over “all things”—all the events and happenings that occur in the life of the believer. He works “all things” out for good in behalf of His dear child.
2.The words “work together” (sunergei) mean to create and eliminate, place and replace, connect and group, interrelate and intermingle, shape and forge, press and stretch, move and operate, control and guide, arrange and influence. The words “work together” are also present action which means that all things are continually working together for good. God is in control of the believer’s life. Daily, moment by moment, God is arranging and re-arranging all things for the believer’s good.
3.The word “good” (agathon) means for the ultimate good. We cannot see the future; we cannot take a single event and see all the lines and ramifications that run from it. We cannot see all the things that result from one single event, much less see the results of every event. But God does; therefore, God takes all the events of our lives and works them out for our ultimate good.
4.There is, however, a limitation on this glorious promise, a limitation that desperately needs to be noted. God works all things out for good only to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
- This fact is graphically seen in the Greek. The clause “to those who love God” is placed first in the sentence: “But we know that to those who love God all things work together for good.” Scripture makes sure the point is not missed. God only looks after the affairs of the person who loves Him.
- Note the words, “called according to his purpose.” The believer’s deliverance is purposed by God. God calls him for the glorious purpose of being saved from the struggle and sufferings of this life.
Note a significant fact. The believer’s position and behavior are both involved in the call of God.
Positionally, God chooses the believer by setting him apart through the Holy Spirit and through belief of the truth.
In behavior, God calls the believer to a life of purity and holiness.
The point is this: God delivers the person who is positioned in Christ and who lives a pure and holy life. The person who truly loves God and is living a godly life is the person who experiences all things being worked out for his good. It is the godly person who loves God that will be delivered from the struggling and suffering of this corrupt world.