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
The child of God experiences countless times of joy and gladness over the course of his life. But no one can dispute the fact that our earthly pathway is also beset with many obstacles and dangers. There are many hardships, many afflictions, many disappointments, many sorrows and heavy burdens to bear. And always, to one extent or another, there is the hatred and persecution of the ungodly. The circumstances of life can appear so dark, so uncertain, so chaotic, as they do at this time. The trials and tribulations of this present time can seem overwhelming.
This certainly had been the experience of the Roman Christians as well. They had suffered through adversity and persecution, and more was to come. Many were imprisoned, and some would be thrown to wild beasts, crucified, or burned as human torches.
In light of the suffering of God’s people, Romans 8 is a song of hope and of victory. For God’s children who experience the difficulties and sufferings of this present time, this chapter provides comfort and assurance. We are given to rejoice in the wonder of our salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (v. 14). As children of God, they are heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. The inheritance will be eternal glory.
But the apostle emphasizes that God’s people will experience suffering in this present time. As joint-heirs with Christ, they suffer with Him. But the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in them. And the sufferings and afflictions of the children of God also point to that final glory.
In this beloved verse, the apostle Paul declares that all things not only point to our future glory, but also actually work together toward that goal. All things— adversity, affliction, even death—work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose! “We know” this, Paul exclaims. What a blessed assurance!
The apostle states that all things work together “for good.” Here the word “good” refers to that which is useful or salutary, something profitable. All things work for something that is beneficial or advantageous to them who love God. All things are working together toward an end that is good, toward a beneficial goal. For those who love God, the goal implied can be nothing else than God’s glory in the final salvation of His people. The context here indicates that all things are pointing toward that goal of the final salvation of the children of God. Now Paul emphasizes that, in addition, all things work together for this final glory of God’s children.
We must understand this “all things” in an all-comprehensive sense. Comprehended in this are things both great and small. Included are the great and important events of life and history: wars, storms, and calamities such as the present pandemic. But also the small, seemingly insignificant things of life are included: the day- to- day activities in our lives. It includes the angels and principalities and powers of heaven; the whole earthly creation—all the creatures thereof, all its history and development—works for the salvation of believers. Even all that is evil is included: the devil and his hosts, wicked men, and wicked powers. Good things, such as peace, health, prosperity, and life are included. But also war, sickness, adversity, and death work for good.
The emphasis here falls especially upon things that we would consider evil or bad. Of course, anyone would agree that good things work together for good. Even the ungodly would say that peace, health, prosperity, and life work together for their good. Man’s reasoning easily comes to that conclusion. For us, too, in times of health and prosperity it is not hard to say, “The Lord is good.”
But when evil, difficult things come upon us, it sometimes can appear to us that all things are against us. When we lose our job and experience financial hardship, when we lose our health and experience deep suffering and affliction, when we are overwhelmed by sorrow as we see the power of death in our life, we so easily despair. We cry with Asaph, “Will the Lord cast off for ever? And will he be favorable no more?” (Ps. 77:7)
Jacob experienced that despair when he left the standpoint of faith and judged things in the light of reason and experience. His sons had returned to him from the land of Egypt where they had gone for corn. They told their father that, in addition to Joseph, now Simeon was also gone, and presently they must take Benjamin back to Egypt with them. Then Jacob cried out, “Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me” (Gen. 42:36).
Considering the difficult lives of the believers in Rome, we can say further that Paul has especially in mind suffering for Christ’s sake when he speaks of “all things.” These Christians would experience severe persecution at the hands of the Roman emperors. But Paul assures them that the fierce persecution and their horrible sufferings work for their good, for their final salvation and glory.
For all things “work together” for good. This implies activity. This is work in unison, in harmony. They work together for a common end—the salvation and glory of the elect of God. Though, from our perspective, things seem to work against each other; though we see conflict both in the world and in the church, God sovereignly causes all things to work together for good! Consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly, all things work together for good. The example of Joseph is clear. The sons of Jacob certainly intended evil when they sold their brother Joseph to the Ishmaelites. But even through this evil deed, God sovereignly governed their every intention. As Joseph later explains to his brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me: but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
But what then is the basis for this amazing assurance? We read, “…to them who are the called according to his purpose.” God’s purpose is His eternal counsel, His decree, His plan. It includes all things. Nothing escapes the determination of God’s purpose. It includes the hairs of our head and the sparrow that falls from the house-top, but also the rational, moral deeds of men and angels. God, according to His purpose, directs all things unto the goal of His glory in the salvation and final glory of His people in Christ.
Consider what this means. This means that our assurance stands unshakably founded upon God’s counsel. God’s purpose is sovereignly free. He determined all things as He pleased. God’s purpose is unchangeable. Man frequently changes his mind and alters his course. But God declares, “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). God’s purpose is efficacious. Nothing can resist or hinder its execution. God’s purpose is perfectly wise and good. God has determined the best means for attaining His glory.
This means that our assurance finds its heart in Christ Jesus! Christ was ordained to be the firstborn among many brethren (v. 29). All things were created with a view to Him and to His final glory and victory. In Christ all things have their reason and their unity. According to Ephesians 1:10, God’s purpose was “that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ.”
But even more we are included in God’s purpose as those who are called: “to them who are the called according to his purpose.” This calling is God’s act in Christ by which He translates us irresistibly out of the darkness of sin and death into His marvelous light. This calling is an act of God’s grace wrought by His Spirit. It is a calling unto salvation that comes through the preaching of the gospel. But though the preaching is general and reaches all who hear, this calling of God through that preaching is particular, coming only to the elect. That is plain, for the apostle refers to “them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Through this efficacious calling of God we receive spiritual enlightenment—eyes that see, ears that hear, a mind that understands spiritual things. Recognizing our sin and misery, fleeing to the cross, we receive by faith all the blessings of salvation. We see that we belong unto our faithful Savior. And even in the midst of suffering and adversity we see that all things are subservient unto our salvation. Christ assures us of everlasting life and glory, for nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Is not that your confession? Paul explains, “We know!” We, with all the saints, must confess, “We know that all things work together for good.” This is the knowledge of a true and living faith, which is the gift of God. Not all men receive this assurance. There is no assurance for the wicked. The wicked can only rightly say, “All things work together for evil to me.” God sovereignly uses all things to work unto the condemnation of the wicked reprobate (Ps. 73:18).
But all things work together for good “to them that love God.” True love is not a mere emotional attraction or a sentimental feeling. True love is a spiritual relationship that unites, which rejoices and finds pleasure in the fellowship of another (Col. 3:14). All true love is essentially God’s love. We love Him because He first loved us. He fills us with the Spirit of our exalted Lord. As those who are the called according to His purpose, we are enabled to love God.
Thus, as those who love God, we confess that all things work together for our good. By reason and experience we are often inclined to cry with Jacob, “All these things are against me!” It is not easy, especially in these unsettled times. It is so hard to see why—why this burden of affliction or sorrow or adversity? And the how—how does this work for good? Let us not forget that the Lord’s ways are far higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts (Is. 55:8, 9). How little we understand of God’s wondrous works and ways! Yet our heavenly Father is doing a perfect work also in our lives.
But even now, by faith, we know that all things work for our good! Even in the midst of suffering and adversity, we are confident that all things are for us. We know that neither tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword is able to separate us from the love of Christ. We confess that in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us!
Blessed assurance! Thanks be to God!