The Entirety of All (Romans 8:28)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28
If you have been exposed to Christian circles for a while, then it is likely that the words of Romans 8:28 are familiar. But let’s imagine for a moment that this is the first time you have heard this verse.
"For those who love God all things work together for good." Let’s take a moment to consider the kinds of things that those who love God may encounter: chronic illness, natural disasters, car trouble, belittling comments, infertility, divorce, loss of a loved one, or beheading. We may ask, “Is Paul terribly naïve to the troubles of this life? Is he unaware of the heart-wrenching pain that comes even to those who love God?”
But when we review the setting of Romans 8, we find, in fact, that Paul is much acquainted with pain. He writes, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly” (Romans 8:22-23a). He will even go on to say, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36b). Paul—himself one who would be killed for the name of Jesus—was no stranger to suffering.
What, then, could Paul mean? Let’s turn our attention to the “who” here. This verse speaks of “those who love God” and “those who are called according to his purpose.” We could spend a long time digging into these words, but here are just two thoughts.
Why would these people (who may expect to be regarded as sheep to be slaughtered) love God? Read Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Here is cause for enduring, joy-filled love for God! He gave his Son for us! His heart toward us in Christ is ever for our good! He will hold nothing back since he already gave the greatest imaginable gift!
And what “calling” and “purpose” do we have in Christ? Romans 8:29-30 not only unpacks these ideas but also helps to explain the “good” that is unshakably ours in Jesus: “For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
In Christ, we have been called and appointed for being reshaped from the inside out into the reflection of our beautiful Savior. God purposes that his people will grow in the “family resemblance” of our great Brother, Jesus. And as we encounter joyful days or the most painful suffering, God will unfailingly work out his good plan and purpose. What is the end of this purpose? Glory! Romans 8:18 says it like this, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Whether these words are new and surprising or a familiar bedrock, let’s take fresh joy and fresh courage in the confidence that today’s troubles and graces are all being used for good if we belong to Christ. Just like Paul, we may be sure “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, 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” (Romans 8:38-39).
What are you facing today that is most challenging to see as good?
What is God’s greatest proof of his love and intentions for good in the lives of his people? What does it mean to you that God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all”?
Do you think that God is indifferent or uncaring when his people suffer? What does Romans 8:26 tell us about the way the Spirit helps us in our weakness and times we don’t understand?