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February 2024

Romans 8 and the Language of our Walk, Part 9

Romans 8:28

THE LANGUAGE OF FOUNDATIONS

Thinking about Romans 8:28
The previous installment closed with one of the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible, 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.” I want to consider just that verse in this segment. We quote it all the time, but have we thought seriously about what it means? The verse begins with an affirmation, “And we know that….” Our assurance for knowing that God controls our circumstances lies in the comprehensive nature of our salvation rather than our feelings at any given moment. God’s grace covers us. He leaves nothing to chance. Verse 28 reveals just one more facet in the deep body of truth in the chapter. God controls our circumstances, the day-to-day events that so often make us feel like we are in freefall. When we recognize God’s protection over life—an exercise that I must remind myself to do practically every day—we can discipline ourselves to trust him who is altogether trustworthy. Following his affirmation, Paul places the main clause between statements that specify who receives the benefit:

“…for those who love God…
…all things work together for good…
…for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Some modern versions place the two for clauses together for clarity, but the original language has them in this order. I want to consider three questions on this part of the verse:

  • First, what does Paul mean by the word all in “all things”? How comprehensive is the term?
  • Second, how does Paul’s description of the saints as “those who love God” relate to his description of us as “those who are called”?
  • Finally, how should we understand the word good?

The “All Things” God
Whatever else we notice about this verse, it is comprehensive. Can we think of a more audacious claim for Paul to make than to say that all things work together for good for those who love God? Given what we have considered in the first part of the chapter, we have only one way to understand the meaning of the term, and that is exactly the way it appears. Everything that happens to us works together for good. Nothing can happen to us that God cannot work for his good purpose. But “all things” are not limited to the world outside of us. The context extends to what we do as well. One pastor said, “When Paul says, ‘all things,’ he means even our sin.” Think about that for a moment. God’s grace is literally creative. That is, he does not have to stop after he fixes what we have broken. He is able to call new things into existence out of rebellion. David wrote in his psalm of confession following his violation of Bathsheba, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” (Psalm 51:10). The word in this psalm is the same one that Moses uses in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created…” The Old Testament word for create is barah. It is only used of God. Paul writes that those who are saved by faith are “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). When God grants salvation, he does not help marginally bad men improve their resumé . He recreates broken men and gives them purpose. The once critical man becomes known for his compassion. The formerly aggressive man grows into someone who is gentle. He who once was obsessed with his personal success becomes humble under the Spirit’s ministry. When we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works,” God makes something absolutely new.

Those who are Called
If anything is clear from the earlier part of the chapter, “those who love God” and “those who are called” are one and the same. We do not come to life in Jesus because we are intelligent enough to recognize our need. We come to him because he calls us. Calling in the Scripture always emerges from God. We will discover the place of calling in verses 29 and 30, which we will examine in the next session.

The Meaning of God’s Purpose
The term good in Romans 8:28 has a definite meaning in the context of God’s purpose. It does not mean “good fortune.” I used to work with a lady who often testified about her faith in God. I believe that her faith was real, but at the same time, she talked about how she prayed that God would grant her a winning state lottery ticket on her next purchase. Such prayers miss the purpose of a life built on faith. We are not the focal point of our salvation. God is. And his understanding of “good” is far deeper than ours. God brings difficulties into our lives to strengthen us. Sometimes, he calls us to suffer and even die for his name. His purpose spans all of history and focuses on bringing glory to himself. Since no greater being exists than God, no greater purpose can exist than to see God magnified. This is not to say that he selfishly pursues his goals without regard for the servants whom he calls. His act of redemption cost him nothing less than the death of his Son. He counted his chosen people as his treasure and chose to pay the cost for our redemption. His people will stand forever as a testimony to his infinite grace and love on our behalf. Therefore, the “good” for which God works all things looks toward his eternal purpose rather than our momentary comfort. His good becomes evident in the way that we reflect his grace. When we grow the fruits of salvation, we become a testimony of the altogether good King of salvation.

 

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