And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Were you to ask me what my all-time favorite verse of the Bible is, without hesitation I would say Romans 8:28. I favor many verses for various reasons, for example, Genesis 1:1 is foundational: “In the beginning God created the heaven[s] and the earth.” God as Creator settles a lot of unanswered and unanswerable questions. Along with that is John 1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” reveals that Jesus Christ is the Creator, who “was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). It was He who, “being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8) because, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). I take comfort from knowing that, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). He will meet my every need.
Sometimes, everyone comes to a point in life, maybe more than once in a lifetime, when we feel abandoned by our Shepherd, and we feel that our needs are not being met. In those times, I take refuge in the assurance of Romans 8:28, but it can easily be misunderstood to mean that everything will always be good. That has certainly not been my life experience. To properly understand the significance of this verse, we must see it in its context and examine it in its original language, Greek.
In context, Paul is addressing a group of Christians in Rome. He assures them that for those who have placed their trust in Christ, there is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Those who “are in Christ Jesus” manifest that fact in the way they conduct their lives, i.e. “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” and he explains what that means in the succeeding verses. Those who walk (conduct their life) after (according to the leading of) the Spirit have the Spirit of God dwelling (residing) in them (v. 9). Let that thought sink in and penetrate your heart. If you are a child of God, you have His Spirit taking up residence in you! Because that is true, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (v. 16). If you are truly God’s child, you should never have a doubt about that. If you do, the Holy Spirit is there to reassure you of that fact. Now, if you never get that reassurance, you need to reexamine your status before God and get that settled. God will let you know whether you are His or not; He does not want you to be deceived.
Another benefit of being a child of God, is that you share the same inheritance with Christ (v. 17). All the unimaginable glory of heaven belongs to God’s children for eternity! The condition (“if so be that we suffer with him”) means we “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (v. 1). Here in America, we have not experienced persecution like many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, but we should not get too comfortable in that thought. Persecution may yet come. Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19, emphasis mine). Unless you have just not been paying attention, there is a growing animosity toward Christians in this nation. Have you sensed it? Have you been rejected by friends or family because of your faith in Christ? Have you suffered with Him and because of Him? Take heart, such suffering is only temporary for God’s children, but the payoff is out of this world (v. 18)!
God’s Spirit in us also helps us in our weakness. When we stray and “walk after the flesh,” the Spirit is there to remind us and bring us back in line. Also, when our heart is burdened to the point that we cannot express what is in our heart so that “we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (v.26). Because God’s Spirit indwells us, He knows us intimately, better than we know ourselves, and He gives expression to the Father of what is on our hearts.
Verse 29 tells us that God, in His foreknowledge, predetermined (predestined) that His children would be conformed – molded into – to the image of His Son. That is God’s purpose for our lives. We are not completely passive in this process, but as we make ourselves available and malleable to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our life, God, not we, shapes us into the form of Jesus Christ to minister to the world around us, and yes, even to suffer for Him.
It is in this context we read, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (v. 28). The Greek syntax places the words of greatest significance at the beginning of the sentence, and those of secondary significance at the end of the sentence. The strict translation of the Greek text is: “We know, moreover, that to those [who are] loving God, all things work together for good, to those according to [His] purpose called [are] being.” First, we who are His children know. This is not up for debate. It is firm. It is assured, and this we know because the Spirit informs us. We are those “who are loving God” consistently. For us, “all things” – the Greek panta is all inclusive – work together for our “good” (Greek: agathon, meaning benefit). This does not say that everything that happens to us will be “good.” Just look around. We see our brothers and sisters suffering with cancer or other illnesses. We see them losing employment or in financial difficulty. We see them struggle with familial difficulties or other relationship problems. Perhaps we experience those things ourselves. No one can say these things are “good.” But the promise of this verse is that God will use those trials for our benefit. God blesses us with many good things, but often, when things go well, we forget the source of those blessings. Sadly, it is the trials that come into our lives that draw us closer to God. Those are the times of our greatest benefit, and God uses those times to help conform us into the image of His Son. Remember, our inheritance is not in this world but with Christ.
God uses ALL things – good and bad – to work for good for His children. This promise does not apply generally to all people. This promise is specifically for God’s people – those “who are called according to His purpose” – that of being conformed to the image of His Son.
When I experience trials in my life, Romans 8:28 gives me the assurance that God works all things for my benefit, and I trust Him for that. Paul ends this chapter in Romans by asking, “If God be for us, who can be against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (vv. 31, 35). His answer, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us … [nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 37, 39). No, all of these things work together for our good – our benefit.