Romans 8:28

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NRSV).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

WE CANNOT UNDERTAKE ANALYSIS of a Scripture passage without saying something about exegesis.  This process amounts to careful historical, literary, and theological analysis of a text. Exegesis has been called by some as scholarly reading, which means reading in a way that determines the essence of the text through the most complete, systematic notation possible, examining the phenomena of the text and grappling with the reasons that speak for or against a specific understanding of it. Another appropriate description of exegesis is “close reading,” a term borrowed from literature. Close reading means the deliberate, word-by-word or phrase-by-phrase consideration of all parts of a text in order to understand it as a whole.

I find several biblical commentaries to be helpful in unpacking the exegetical meaning of Scripture. In particular, I speak highly of Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, edited by Tremper  Longman and David E. Garland,  and Zondervan Bible Commentary, edited by F.F. Bruce. I also frequently use The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), and The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, translated by Alfred Marshall. I often refer to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Daniel J. Treier and Walter Elwell. Reference texts like these can be quite useful when examining a passage of Scripture.

Exposition

Paul introduces yet another benefit of life in the Spirit. He writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NRSV). Some of the ancient authorities read, God makes all things work together for good, or in all things God works for good. Matthew Henry writes, “That is good for the saints which does their souls good. Every providence tends to the spiritual good of those that love God” (1). Henry believes this passage means God uses all circumstances to aid in breaking us off from sin, bringing us nearer to Him, weaning us from the world. He adds, “When the saints act out of character, corrections will be employed to bring them back again” (2). Romans 8:28 brings comfort, direction, and hope to Christians every day. 

This verse contains a promise for believers. Paul is telling us that those of us who love God and are doing our best to obey his commands will come out on top even when bad or wicking things touch our lives. God will always use whatever happens to His chosen to ultimately bring about good. There is obviously nothing good about cancer, sex trafficking, addiction, or death. Such evils exist in the world, and will remain so until Jesus returns to conquer Satan and restore creation to its intended purpose. Romans 8:28 serves to remind us that although sin and Satan are powerful forces on earth , God is more powerful. He is able to redeem and restore any situation, and He will continue to do so until Christ returns in all His glory.

It is not likely Paul literally meant “all things.” This would be rather general, including any and all situations anywhere and everywhere on earth no matter who is involved or affected. He is instead referring specifically to those things that are generally considered adverse and are turned around and used for good; i.e., for accomplishing God’s will for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. This fits nicely with Romans 5:3-5: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” Indeed, no matter what we face God is there, working all things out in such a manner that it will ultimately bring about His will for us.

Certainly, we don’t like to fall victim to adverse circumstances. We want God to rescue us from bad situations. Why should a pastor and his family die in a head-on car crash with a drunk driver? Why did Nabeel Qureshi, after converting from Islam to Christianity and joining Ravi Zacharias in a global effort of evangelism and apologetics, die of stomach cancer? Why are churches wiped off the face of the earth by tornadoes? Perhaps the answer is hidden in a remark a Christian said to me nearly two years ago when I was still struggling in active addiction and facing some serious challenges. He said, “God wants you to know that everything you’ve gone through from the time of your birth to this moment right now was ordained by Him to help make you into the man He needs you to be in order to fulfill His purpose.” Whoa! That’s pretty heavy.

Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.” This is a companion verse to the promise in verse 28. God allows everything into our lives for one of two purposes—either to bring us into a relationship with Himself or, if we already know Him, to make us more like Jesus Christ.

Some biblical scholars consider Romans 8:28-29 the “the golden chain of salvation.” It is important to read Romans 8 to the end. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God did not spare His only Son; rather, He sent Christ to be a propitiation for our sins. Jesus paid the wages of sin and destroyed Satan’s authority over the believer. Paul said, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?” This verse can be interpreted as saying, Shall Christ who has died so that we might live thereafter condemn us? Or, by inference, does Jesus bring about calamity in our lives? Does He put a snare before us that prevents our circumstances from turning out for good in the end? No! Instead, Jesus is constantly interceding on our behalf before the Father (8:34).

The Hidden Will of God

The hidden will of God (His decretive will) includes all He has ordained through every event in history, including the thoughts and hidden intentions of every person. It is critical to realize that, although God works out everything according to the counsel of His sovereign will (see Eph. 1:11), not everything God ordains in His hidden will is pleasing to Him. God’s decretive will is defined as the sovereign, efficacious will by which He brings to pass whatever He pleases by His divine decree. God’s decretive will can have no other effect or consequence than what He commands. He did not request the light to shine in the universe. Neither did He coax, cajole, or woo it into existence. It was a matter of His absolute authority and power through decree. No creature, including man, enjoys this power of will.

As finite beings, we cannot know  or comprehend the hidden will of God. We can only look back in history and know only part of what God’s hidden will was for any particular situation. God’s decretive will always come to pass. Whatever happens has been ordained by God to bring about His sovereign will. As Christians, we are not permitted to know (nor should we seek to know) the hidden will of God. Instead, we must live by what has been revealed in Scripture, trusting that regardless of the circumstances God will bring about good. Rather than causing anxiety about what will happen, we need to take comfort in Paul’s words. Because Christ intercedes on our behalf in every instance, we can enjoy true shalom. God protects us from annihilation no matter what happens in our daily lives (Phil. 4:6-8).

Believers can also rest in the knowledge that God is and will always be as He has revealed Himself in His Word. He is unchanging (Heb. 13:5-6). Christ alone is sufficient for meeting our every need (Phil. 4:13). He is our Rock of Refuge (Psa. 18:2); our very present helper in time of need (Psa. 46:1). God’s hidden will is never meant to be punitive; rather, it testifies to His infinite goodness, mercy, and grace. We can rest in the knowledge that God’s communicable attributes—wisdom, goodness, love, mercy, holiness, righteousness, and justice—are at the root of His will for us and his love for all mankind. God always exercises His power according to His wisdom and knowledge. He sees all time at the same time, allowing Him to know what happened, what is happening now, and what will happen in the future all at once! His wisdom and knowledge are inseparable from His goodness, love, and mercy. He is good toward all He has made. His attributes are identical with His essence.

Martin Luther expounded upon Romans 8:28 in his Commentary on Romans. He wrote, “We must not be surprised that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, since He works together with God’s saints in all they do… He works together with us all things” (3). Luther remarked that God makes all things work for good even though they are evil (in themselves, e.g., sickness, persecution, etc.). There is an underlying suggestion in this Scripture passage that such predestination for good does not apply to those who walk in the wisdom of the flesh and are not called according to the purpose of God. Luther notes that Paul’s use of purpose in Romans 8 means God’s predestination, or His free election, to use whatever happens to further His will.

Regarding Predestination in Romans 8:29

It is critical that we understand the scope of predestination as it is used in this passage. There is much debate between the early Reformers as to whether God chooses to save “only a certain person or persons,” thereby condemning all others to damnation. I believe God preordained the redemptive plan, not who will live and who will die. In any event, “predestination” in Romans 8:29 has a broader scope than identifying those who will receive salvation. The backdrop is “adoption.” It refers to our sharing in the suffering of Christ, and our ongoing sanctification. As we shared in His suffering and death, so also shall we share in His resurrection and new life. As children of the Father, and brothers and sisters of the Son, we enjoy the benefit of God’s will working through whatever circumstance we might face.

Accordingly, Paul assures us that we are more than conquerors through Christ who strengthens us. Therefore, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:38-39). God works everything God for good for those who love him, and who are called according to his purpose. Praise God!

(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nahsville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1080.

(2) Henry, 1080.

(3) Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, J. Theodore Mueller, editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954).

 

Suffering Without Sinning

I am reading Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth About the Gospel, by David Limbaugh. He made a comment in the book that I’d like to share with you. He wrote, “We must not use our suffering as an excuse to sin, but as an opportunity to grow spiritually.” Not only is it a chance for us to mature, I believe we need also recognize that our suffering can be an opportunity for others to learn from our circumstances. We, in no way, should find occasion to sin because we are suffering. We cannot rebel, or argue with God, or hate or resent others. We cannot look to relieve our suffering through our own selfish acts.

Pain often reveals God’s purpose for us. God never wastes a hurt! If you’ve gone through a hurt, he wants you to help other people going through that same hurt. He wants you to share it. God can use the problems in your life to give you a ministry to others. In fact, the very thing you’re most ashamed of in your life and resent the most could become your greatest ministry in helping other people. Who can better help somebody going through a bankruptcy than somebody who went through a bankruptcy? Who can better help somebody struggling with an addiction than somebody who’s struggled with an addiction? Who can better help parents of a special needs child than parents who raised a special needs child? Who can better help somebody who’s lost a child than somebody who lost a child? The very thing you hate the most in your life is what God wants to use for good in your life.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1, verses 4 and 6, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things” (NLT). This is called redemptive suffering. Redemptive suffering is when you go through a problem or a pain for the benefit of others. This is what Jesus did. When Jesus died on the cross, he didn’t deserve to die. He went through that pain for our benefit so that we can be saved and go to Heaven. So that we can live a life free from bondage and disease.

There are many different causes for the problems, pains, and suffering in our lives. Sometimes the stuff that happens to us we bring on ourselves. When we make stupid decisions, then it causes pain in our lives. If we go out and overspend and buy things we can’t afford and assume we can make the payments in the future, and then go deeply in debt and lose our house, we can’t say, “God, why did you let me lose my house?” We can’t blame God for our bad choices. But in some of our problems, we’re innocent. We’ve been hurt by the pain, stupidity, and sins of other people. And some of the pain in our lives is for redemptive suffering. God often allows us to go through a problem so that we can then help others.

We are exhorted to “put on Christ” and to imitate Him, our High Priest and our Teacher, so that we might partake of His divine nature. In order to redeem us, our Lord took on flesh and gave all to the Father. In order to be Christ-like, we, too, must take up our cross, accept suffering, and strive to offer Him all. It says in Luke 14:27, “And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple.” 2 Cor. 4:8 tells us that in all things we suffer tribulation but are not distressed. Philippians 3:8-11 says, “Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ. And may be found in Him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God: justice in faith. That I may know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings: being made conformable to His death, If by any means I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead.”

Think of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, under so much stress and agony that He literally sweated blood. Think of Him being hounded and mocked by people who should have fallen to their knees and kissed His feet, adoring Him and begging Him for mercy. Think of the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars with a crown of thorns thrust onto His head, being spat upon, beaten, and nailed to a Cross. God Himself suffered in His human nature, so why should we be spared? Thing is, we need to have a right attitude about our suffering. We need to realize that uncomfortable things will happen to us in this life, but this helps us to help others.

Many of us think we suffer because of our circumstances. We believe that if our circumstances would change, we’d be able to act right. But God wants us to become so mature and stable that we act right even when none of our circumstances are good. There are different levels of faith, and most of the time we want to use our faith to get rid of a problem. But sometimes God’s plan is for us to exercise a higher level of faith that will carry us through life’s challenges. This requires even greater faith than being delivered from a situation.

As Christians, we may also face trials and suffer simply because we live in a world full of sin. But Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you]” (John 16:33, Amp) What a promise! Understanding the reason for our suffering and having the assurance of the final glory we’ll share should make it a little easier to enjoy our lives even during the times of sharing in suffering.

God uses trials in the believer’s life for several reasons. They purify us (See Malachi 3:3-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9. Psa. 66:10) by making us rely more on God and His grace. James tells us trials increase our patience (See James 1:3,4,12) and God uses them to glorify Himself. (See 1 Peter 4:12-16). Paul sums it up well when he states, “my strength [in trusting and drawing closer to God] is made perfect in weakness.” (See Gal. 12:9). The non-believer suffers in despair. (See Gal. 6:7-8). He has no hope and no assurance that he will be delivered out of his trials by God.

Because God sees the end from the beginning, He knows where we’re weak and where we need refining. Suffering is like a refiner’s fire. It burns away all the impurities, leaving only that which is profitable. We will be rewarded for our sufferings. (See Matt. 5:10-12) In them we can comfort others who are going through the same difficulties. Remember, Jesus suffered more than any man, but to the greater glory. In His sufferings, he made the way for us to be reconciled to God. If in our sufferings we can lead others to Christ, then we should suffer joyfully. Remember, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (See Rom. 8:18) This is so much better than sinning because of our suffering. Only when we earnestly look forward to the glories of the Kingdom of God can we view our own sufferings in proper perspective.