When things don’t appear to be working together for good, how can we believe that they are? In the face of trials and tribulation, we all know that it’s difficult to stand strong. Faith can falter and fear can overtake us. As Christians, when our world seems to be falling apart we sometimes crumble too. Romans 8:28 is often used as a “go-to” verse to encourage a brother or sister in Christ, but sadly it is not always received as comforting by those who hear it.
To better understand this verse, especially when things don’t seem to be working together for good, it is helpful to consider the context of the preceding chapters. The book of Romans is the definitive statement of Christian doctrine. The book unpacks who we are without Christ and diagnoses our sin problem. It tells us about how Christ delivers us from sin and then declares who we are in Christ and reminds us of our dependence on Him for everyday living. The depths and riches of this book never cease to amaze me.
Paul’s Words and His Life
To better understand Romans 8:28 it’s also helpful to consider the life of Paul who wrote this letter. Prior to his conversion, Paul worked diligently to put an end to the growing movement that followed the way of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 9:2). He inflicted pain and suffering, even death, upon those who followed Jesus. Paul’s plan was not God’s will, nor was it God’s plan for his life. When Jesus saved Paul, he was put on a very different path—one that would lead to great personal trials and tribulation, and would even endanger his life.
Paul wrote the letter to the Romans around 57-58 AD and he wrote for many reasons. He wrote from his knowledge, his understanding, and his experiences to:
- give them a clear doctrinal understanding of the gospel, their sin and their need for a Saviour.
- remind them of who Jesus is and what He has done for them.
- teach them of the truths of God
- reveal to them all that they had been given in their salvation.
- encourage them to remember the One who is ultimately in control of all things.
- assure them of who they are in Christ
- tell them how they should live their new life in Christ
- instruct them on their reasonable service to Christ.
Paul began his letter to the Romans by reminding them about who and what they were prior to their salvation (chapters 1-3). They were sinners in need of saving. Then in chapters four and five, Paul spoke about our ancestors in the faith, Adam and Abraham, and of God’s great forgiveness. He reminded the Romans that no one can out-sin God’s great mercy and grace—no one is beyond God’s reach.
Before Paul unpacked all of the glorious benefits of salvation in Christ, Paul anticipated the confusion the Romans might have. The gospel is a counter-intuitive message of unmerited grace, freely given and securely sealed, so Paul addressed the wrong thinking that could arise. He told the Romans that God’s grace is not only freely given, it is also fully given. Therefore, they should not sin more, so that grace would abound (Romans 6:1-4) because they already have been given the abundance of His grace and the fullness of the blessings of the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:29).
After telling the Romans that the Law is good and the Law is needed to reveal who they are and to create an understanding of sin and a desire for God’s mercy and grace (chapters 1-3), Paul reminded them of the stain of sin, the salvation of the Saviour and the assurance of what they had already been given.
The Pinnacle of Romans
Romans 8 is the high point of Paul’s message. It is Paul’s declaration of the freedom that is found in Christ alone.
Romans 8:1-4 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Oh, how glorious are those words! This letter may have been written to the Romans in the first century, but it was also written for us in the 21st century! In Paul’s words is a proclamation of what Jesus has done for us by His substitutionary and atoning death on the cross. Jesus offered Himself for us and in doing so fulfilled the mission that the Father had sent Him to do. Jesus brought deliverance and set the captives free; Jesus gave sight to the blind and liberty to the oppressed (Luke 4:18).
Romans 8 continues with our assurance of adoption into the family of God and of the gift of the Spirit as our helper and comforter.
Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
By understanding and remembering what Paul wrote, we can now more fully understand the promise of Romans 8:28. We can understand the verse in a way that it will minister to us, and to others when our lives seem to be falling apart.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Always be careful how you use this verse when someone is suffering. Remember that in suffering, pain can obscure our hearing and confuse our understanding and reasoning. This verse isn’t saying that the circumstances are good. It’s saying that God will work it for good. In the midst of pain and suffering that’s hard to comprehend. Perhaps the best thing is to offer what this verse teaches rather than just quoting the words.
We know that whatever trial or tribulation, pain or suffering, we are experiencing, this is not what God had intended for us. We know that we live in a fallen world and we live with the consequences that brings. As Christians, we are sinners saved by grace to the glory that awaits us, but not from the trials and tribulations of this world. Our hope is in knowing that one day all pain and suffering will end and God’s purpose and plan will be fulfilled.
While the understanding of this verse does not remove our pain, suffering, trials, and tribulation, it does bring healing to the broken-heated by remembering that we can trust in the sovereignty of God, knowing that He is in control of everything.
Romans 8:28 begins with two very important words, “we know.” Paul is telling us that we can KNOW that He is working all things together for His glory and our ultimate good. It is an assurance that even when our present circumstances seem to indicate otherwise, we can KNOW this and we can trust in His goodness and love for us. Knowing who God is and what He has done for us will comfort us and we will remember that…brokenness leads to blessing, suffering leads to sanctification, despair leads to deliverance, and spiritual growth leads to glory!
We should never read Romans 8:28 without also reading verse 29. It tells us we are being conformed to the image of Jesus. Being conformed is an ongoing process that includes both easy and difficult times. Remember that Jesus experienced all the things that we do, so when we experience despair, death, pain, suffering, trials, tribulation, etc. we are sharing in His sufferings (Philippians 3:10)
When Trials Come
When we face the trials and tribulation of this life and when our world seems to be falling apart, when we don’t understand our circumstances and when we are tempted to ask all of the “why” questions, let us turn our thoughts to remembering the “Who” answer. Jesus IS the answer to all of our “why” questions. He is the One who Paul never tired of writing about. Jesus is the One who is our Deliverer in all things. He is the One who gave His all and saved us, so we could become the children of God.
Let us remember, “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16) and let us find our peace and comfort in knowing Him:
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. Philippians 3:10
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