I encountered Romans 8:28 three times this past Sunday. I heard two sermons on Sunday and read a chapter in a book that used Romans 8:28. Romans 8:28: 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 (NASB).
This verse has always been a comfort to believers. It is always applied to troubles, trials, and tests we experience in this world under the curse of sin. God is all-knowing and all-powerful and causes all things – troubles, trials, tests, good and bad events in our lives – to work together for good. There’s cause and effect in this promise. God is the cause and the effect is all things working together for a final good. God causes this to happen for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
My concern is that none of the preachers or writers connected 8:28 with 8:29-30 for believers to understand 8:28 in its context and see the bigger picture. The two men preached with passion and sweat, but didn’t develop the power and beauty of the complete text. The “all things” that God causes to work together for good are stated before and after 8:28. All things refers to “the sufferings of this present time… In all these things (tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword) we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (8:18, 31-39) These things are evil. All things also refers to verses 29-30. The good things that God causes to work together are foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. Sanctification is not mentioned, but it is being conformed to the image of God’s Son. Believers are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. These are powerful and beautiful theological truths. Each one needs to be understood and meditated upon.
If a man peaches Romans 8:28 and doesn’t include 29-30 then it isn’t good preaching. Here’s my analogy: A person visits the Grand Canyon and only stands at the rim and looks across the vastness of the Canyon. Now he thinks he knows the Grand Canyon. But a person doesn’t really know the Canyon until he has hiked to the bottom and back to the top. (I did this with my daughter and almost died because I didn’t drink any electrolyte!) There is power and beauty deep in Canyon not visible from the rim.
God works all things together to deepen our relationship with Him. “Certainly Paul does not mean that the evil experienced by believers in this life will always be reversed, turned into ‘good.’ For many things that we suffer will contribute to our ‘good’ only by refining our faith and strengthening our hope… The idea that this verse promises the believer material wealth or physical well-being, for instance, betrays a typically Western perversion of ‘good’ into an exclusively material interpretation. God may well use trials in these areas to produce what he considers a much higher ‘good’: a stronger faith, a more certain hope.” (Douglas Moo, NICNT: The Epistle to the Romans. Eerdmans, 1996, p.530)
I may be anxious about a lost job, a life transition, a broken relationship or a health problem, and wonder how God can work “the sufferings of this present time” together for my good. God’s promise is that he can and will do it for those who love him. One person wrote, “This promise is for those who love God. In other words, if you are walking away from the purpose and will of God, it’s probably not going to work for your good… So always commit what you do into God’s hands, and it things don’t go the way you expect, you can rest in the promise of Romans 8:28. That will help to lift the weight of depression from your shoulders.” (Ray Comfort, How to Battle Depression & Suicidal Thoughts, p.78.) The writer used Job as an example. Joseph is another excellent example. They both experienced extreme trials and the trials were a part of God working all things together for their good and His glory.
God “works together” for our good the trials of this life, but let’s not miss the bigger picture. We take comfort in God’s foreknowledge of us (Psalm 139), his predestining of us, his calling us according to his purpose, his justification of us by Christ’s death and resurrection, his sanctifying work to conform us to Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8), and our final glorification in heaven.