In our last study in Romans 8:26 Paul said; “We don’t know what we ought to pray for.” Now he writes, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” We don’t know! We know! The first knowing concerns the details of what God is doing in our lives; we do not understand these things. The second knowing concerns the fact of God’s great plan itself. Paul tells us that we do know this; we know that God has a plan. He teaches this quite simply. If God has “called [us] according to His purpose,” He must have both a purpose and a place for us in it. Moreover, we know that everything will obviously work together for our good in the achievement of that purpose. This is tremendous! Because of these truths this verse has been one of the most comforting statements in the entire Word of God for most Christians.
“We know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love Him.” But do we really know that? How is this possible when the world is filled with hatred and evil, and when good people, as well as evil people, suffer daily? When times are good – when we have steady jobs, when our families are doing well, when no loved one is sick, and there have been no recent deaths – in times like these, well, it’s easy to say, “We know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love Him.” But what about the other times; what about times like what’s going on in today’s world? In such times we need to be sure we know what we are professing and are not merely mouthing pious nothings.
This great text has some built-in qualifications, and we need to begin with them, and we’ll call them “boundaries.” (1) For Christians only. In this verse Paul is talking about Christians. So to read on to the closely linked verses that follow, it is saying that everything works for the good of those whom God has predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, those He predestined and called and justified and glorified. This is not a promise that all things work together for the good of all people. (2) To be like Jesus Christ. The second boundary to our text comes from the question: What is meant by “good”? What does “good” mean if it doesn’t mean rich or healthy or successful or admired or happy? The answer is in the next verse: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son,” in other words, to be made like Jesus Christ. (3) A good use of bad things. That leads to a third boundary for this text, and it comes from another question: Are the things used in our lives by God for this good end necessary good in themselves or only in their effect? The answer is the latter. God brings good out of the evil, and the good, in our conformity to the character of Jesus Christ. (4) Knowing rather than feeling. The fourth and final boundary for the meaning of this text comes in answer to still another question: What is our relationship to what God is doing in these circumstances? The answer Paul gives is that “we know.” He doesn’t say that we “feel” all things to be good. Most of the time we do not perceive the good things God is doing or how He might be bringing good out of the evil. The text simply says, “we know” it.
After having established these boundaries, we can turn joyfully to the one part of the text that has absolutely no boundaries whatever. It is the term “all things.” This tells us that all things that have ever happened to us or can possibly happen to us are so ordered and controlled by God that the end result is inevitably and utterly for our good. Even the worst things are used to make us like Jesus Christ. And what’s more, when we begin to look at this closely, we see that they are used not only for our good but for the good of other people as well.
In the Christian life there are times the events of our lives move forward quickly and we sense that we are making fast progress in being made like Jesus Christ. At other times events move slowly, and we seem to be going slowly ourselves or even slipping backward. Sometimes we seem to be going up and down with no forward motion at all. At such times we say that our emotions are on a roller coaster or that we can’t seem to get on track. Our lives have petty annoyances that spoil our good humor. Sometimes we are overwhelmed with harsh blows, and we say we just can’t go on. It may be true; perhaps we can’t really go on, at least until we are able to pause and catch our spiritual breath again. But God has designed this plan for our lives. That is the point. It has been formed “according to His purpose,” which is what our text is about, and it is because we know this, not because we feel it or see it, that we can eventually go on.
So, what can possibly come into our lives that can defeat God’s plan? There are many things that can defeat human planning, but not God’s plans. He is the sovereign God and His will is forever being done. Therefore, you and I can go on in confidence, even when we are most perplexed or cast down.
What can happen to me that can defeat God’s purpose? Can some thorn in the flesh? Something to prick or pain me? Paul had his thorn in the flesh, but God’s grace was sufficient for him and it was in his weakness that God was glorified. Sickness? Job had boils, but God glorified Himself in Job’s sickness and even matured Job. Death? How can death hurt me? “To be away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord,” says Paul (2 Cor. 5:8). Therefore, my physical death will only consummate the plan of God for me. And as far as those who remain behind are concerned, well, God will work His will for good for them also. This is because “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.
Romans 8:28 Reflection Questions:
Explain how God turned bad things in the lives of Joseph, Job and Peter, not only for their good but for the good of other people as well in their lives.
What are the various dimensions of the purpose to which we are called in verses 28-30?
Which of these dimensions strikes you most and why?