Summary: We’re not exempt from affliction, but God is working behind the scenes to bring good out of trouble. He’s not holding back; He’s involved. This should give us a better attitude toward suffering.
Sermon Series on Romans 8> Reasons to be ENCOURAGED
Reason #7, God has a plan! Rom 8:28-30
We look at our lives and sometimes wonder what God’s higher purpose must be. Paul has already stated that it’s difficult enough knowing what to pray about (26-27); it’s even harder to fathom why life can be so rough. At trying times, the comfort isn’t necessarily in knowing why, but in knowing that there is a “why”; there’s a reason for our distress. We’re not exempt from affliction, but God is working behind the scenes to bring good out of trouble. He’s not holding back; He’s involved. This should give us a better attitude toward suffering.
Paul isn’t referring to fate, or luck—those are imaginary and impersonal forces. Paul is describing the sovereignty of God. We trust a mighty Lord Who is in control. The NASB translates the first part of verse 28: “We know that God causes all things to work together for good.”
Everyone seems to know this verse, but many misquote it. The promise is for “those who love God and have been called according to His purpose”. All things do work together for good, but only for those who have responded to God’s love. The promise doesn’t apply to everyone. It doesn’t apply to people who want no part of God interfering with their plans. In chapter one Paul describes the Gospel as the “power of God unto salvation,” but only “to everyone who believes” (vs 16). Salvation is open, offered to all, unlimited in its sufficiency, but its application is limited to those who turn to and trust in Christ. This conditional promise doesn’t work for those who reject God’s love. The invitation is universal, but the benefits apply only to those who are “called according to God’s purpose”.
When things are going reasonably well—when we’re healthy and prosperous—this is an easy verse to believe. But when life seems out of control, we believe only with great difficulty the assurance of verse 28. When our health fails, when we suffer a financial setback, when there’s conflict within our families, or when we’re confronted with evil in this world, it’s not easy to accept the verdict of this verse. It may be easier to grasp God’s intention if we better understood what is meant by “good”. Good doesn’t mean rich, or healthy, or even successful, as the world defines success. “Good” means to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, verse 29. The events of life shape our character, or more accurately, God uses the difficulties we face to make us more like His Son. This transformation is an on-going process (sanctification). God works all things for good, but not all things work out. Sometimes life hurts. We may experience loss, disappointment, or other set-backs. Sometimes we blunder and fall. Sinful choices result in guilt and shame. But under God’s management, the outcome is ultimately for our good and His glory.
I’ve had to walk with many people who were experiencing hardships, and I’ve had troubles of my own. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that God has a plan. I wish I understood all the reasons behind human misery, though I suspect the answers may be beyond human comprehension. My biggest comfort is in knowing that God will somehow, someday bring good out of suffering.
That being said, Romans 8:28 is a verse I sometimes resent. It’s often used rather flippantly. In the moment of my pain I know intellectually that God has a plan, but while I’m hurting what I really need is some reassurance that people care about my hurt. The truth of this verse doesn’t mean we won’t or shouldn’t feel pain. Those who quote it need to add a hug or two. It’s easy to drop platitudes. But most people don’t need answers; they need compassion.
Paul is describing in vs 29 God’s elect, those who’ve been chosen from the foundation of the world (c.f. Eph 1:3-6). Paul writes to encourage and assure us that our salvation is a settled issue. There’s no “ifs ands or buts”—we’re guaranteed Heaven on the basis of God’s choice. God has accomplished and secured our salvation. God “foreknew” what will be by determining what will be (Haldane). The New English Bible renders verse 29, “God knew His own before ever they were.”
I heard about a man who was asked to give a testimony in church. He spoke of his troubled past and how God loved him, called him, saved, and delivered him. His story was a stirring witness to the power of God. After the service someone stopped him and commented, “I appreciate all you said about what God did for you, but you didn’t mention your part in it.” The man apologized and said, “I should have mentioned that my part was running away, and God’s part was running after me till He caught me” (Boice). Similarly, a friend once told me, “I didn’t ‘find’ God; I wasn’t looking for Him—He found me.”