When I hear that verse, what comes to my mind is something I think comes to many people’s minds: God is good, he is on my side and he’ll make good things happen to me if I believe in him, such as prosperity, success and happiness. (And I mean, not to start a controversy, but that’s what people like Joel Osteen seem to tell us.) Right?
Romans 8:28 is what I consider to be one of the most commonly quoted (and sometimes misquoted) passages of scripture. It’s kind of a feel-good scripture, isn’t it? And it’s even in a popular worship song that we sing at my church frequently (“Your Love Never Fails”). It’s great song and a great message, but only if we understand it the way that it was intended to be perceived. So here’s my attempt at explaining it.
If you read the verse isolated, it’s very difficult to understand what Paul, the author, is telling us. That’s why I want to include part of the following verse (v. 29a). This is from the English Standard Version:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
My first observance when reading this is that the promise of “working all things together for good” is only for those who believe. It’s not for the sinners of the world, but for the sinners who have recognized what Christ did on the cross and become believers, whom I like to call “sinners saved by grace.”
Secondly, this “good” that Paul tells us we are promised is not prosperity. It doesn’t mean that our lives are going to be perfect just because we call ourselves Christians. In fact, life can be even harder because we are Christians.
So then what does he mean?
Well, I absolutely love the Word of God, but it’s true that I am no theologian and I have no biblical degree. I went to college to become a writer, but I can promise you I like to know what I’m writing about. So I did a little research. In fact, I pulled out my dad’s massive ESV Study Bible from under the coffee table and flipped it open to Romans. I found this in the commentary for verse 28:
God weaves everything together for good for his children. The “good” in this context does not refer to earthly comfort but conformity to Christ, closer fellowship with God, bearing good fruit for the kingdom, and final glorification.
This definition of “good” is SO different from what we might naturally think. To me, good things are happiness and wealth. Good things are a new car, the perfect job, a family that gets along, etc. I think that’s a pretty natural way for us to feel. But those aren’t things that necessarily bring God glory or things that are “good” for us when it comes to eternity. Nope! But conformity to Christ and bearing good fruit for the kingdom are things that do bring God glory. Things that are truly good for us as his children, in order to further his purpose.
I’d also like to mention that the commentary for verses 29-30 goes on to explain why we can trust God to work things together for good:
Verses 29-30 explain why those who believe in Christ can be assured that all things work together for good: God has always been doing good for them, starting before creation (the distant past), continuing in their conversion (the recent past), and then onto the day of Christ’s return (the future).
I’m sorry, can I just pause right here and say I LOVE THIS?! God has always been doing good for us and always will. Always! So whenever I am in trouble, whenever I am heartbroken, whenever life is more than I can handle, I can know (because his Word tells me) that he is working ALL THINGS together for good. That’s all things…even the tough stuff. Everything that happens to me, everything in my life…all of it is for my good so that I may become more like Christ. That is extremely comforting and it gives me peace!
Also in my Romans 8:28 research, I found this lovely study by Bob Deffinbaugh called “A Solace in Suffering: The Sovereignty of God” that puts this verse into perspective for when we’re going through difficult times in life. Here’s an excerpt:
Paul turns in verses 28-30 to yet another truth which should sustain the Christian in the midst of the suffering and groanings of this present life—the sovereignty of God. Whatever the Christian sees happening, we may be assured that it is not only under God’s control, but its purpose is to produce what is for God’s glory and for our good. When life’s trials cause some to wonder if God even exists, and others to wonder whether He is in control, the Christian may be assured that God is there. He is in charge of bringing about His purpose for His glory and our good. Let us savor the truth of God’s sovereignty. While His sovereignty brings terror to the hearts of unbelievers, it is music to the Christian’s ears.
I really want to challenge you to consider this passage of scripture the next time you find yourself in a place where life is more than you can handle. Know that God is working all things together for good. For our good! Instead of asking God, “Why is this happening to me?” Try asking him, “How can I become more like Christ through this situation?” It’s a matter of trusting, and it’s also a matter of walking in obedience.
I want to leave you with an example of how Christ himself was obedient to God in times of suffering. Hebrews 5:7-9 tells us that during his earthly life, Christ cried out to his heavenly father to save him from death on the cross. Yet God did not change the course of Jesus’ life; God did not change his destiny. And Jesus was obedient. Oh, and by the way, his obedience is what saves us from our sins today. Please savor that today!