As a verse, Romans 8:28 is a comfort and a classic. It says,
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”
It is known and memorized by many. It is found as a text on numerous sympathy cards, plaques and pictures. When it comes to suffering and the sovereignty of God, this would be one of the most commonly quoted texts. Without question this is a magnificent verse. However, before I consider its meaning and magnificence, I think it is also important to point out how it is also misunderstood and misused.
MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND MISUSES
When somebody is suffering and going through a difficult trial, many will be quick to point out that the situation or the specific struggle is good. We need to be clear that death is not good. The agony of suffering is not good. The hurt of hardship is not good. With little sympathy and sensitivity, the flashcard of Romans 8:28 comes out as somewhat of an instant solution. The primary error people tend to make with this verse is the belief that the promise is to be experienced in this life. If a tragedy happens, it is suggested that it will work out for good in this life. Often, the many misunderstandings and misuses come with good intentions. But sadly, it can have some destructive influences on those they give this advise to. Though there have been many misunderstandings and misapplications, this does not take away from this verses meaning and magnificence.
MEANING AND MAGNIFICENCE
With full conviction and certainty, Paul begins with the words “And we know”. When it comes to God’s sovereign purpose, there is so much we do not know. But what is revealed in this verse is for us to know and be comforted by (cf. Deut. 29:29). With regards to God’s sovereign purpose it is eternal (Is. 46:10); enduring (Prov. 19:21; Is. 14:24-27), and entire (Gen. 50:20).
Paul then goes on to describe the promise of God’s purpose, “all things work together for good”. The “all things” includes the sufferings that Paul had been writing about throughout this chapter (cf. Rom. 8:18) and includes everything that occurs in our life. Instead of seeing this as a promise to receive the final good in this life, the context makes it clear that all things that take place will result in a final good when we are glorified in Heaven (cf. Rom. 8:30). What is the good this verse speaks of? It is not a reference to receiving prosperity or peace in this life, but to our being conformed to the image Christ when we are glorified (cf. Rom. 8:29-30).
However, this promise is not for all. The people of God’s purpose are “those who love God… for those who are called according to his purpose”. Love for God is a mark of genuine salvation and their calling by God is the basis of their love for God. In the Bible there are two types of “calls” when it relates to salvation. There is a general call and then there is the effectual call. The general call refers to the open invitation that calls all humanity to repent and believe. Whereas the effectual call is a summons from God in which the individual comes. Every occurrence of the “call” in the NT epistles is always referring to the effectual call.
A magnificent truth revealed by this text is that all things that occur in the life of a believer will result in ultimate good. Though things now don’t always make sense and as we experience real struggles, we can know that God is in control and nothing will thwart His sovereign plan of bring us to glory. Hardship is real, but so is our hope of future glory. The pathway we walk will sometimes be tough, but we can be comforted by the fact that the Lord will love His people to the end and bring them to glory with Him and they will receive the ultimate good of being made like Christ.