Vol. 2 - No. 1

January, 1983

A STUDY OF ROMANS 8:28

By Tom Baker, Jr. 

"We know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose." (ASV).

This is one of the better known passages of Scripture and is often quoted by those seeking to give encouragement to any who has suffered some loss or disappointment. It is truly one of the most consoling and comforting passages in the Bible. When all seems to be going against the faithful child of God, he can find strength and hope in these words. It seems, however, that some have been guilty of abusing this great promise by assuming that may sins and weaknesses might be justified in the life of the Christian by misapplying this passage.

An example of an abuse of this nature is found in the following statement made by a Baptist preacher: "If 'all things work together for good to them that love God,' and something comes to me and causes me to die and go to hell, would that be for my good? Why, you say, 'No, of course not.' Then it cannot happen. Well, somebody says, 'What about those sins?' The Lord overrules our sins for our good and no matter how much sin we may commit the blood of Christ covers it." (Ben M. Bogard in the Porter-Bogard Debate in 1948, page 364) "It cannot happen." What cannot happen? He says that a Christian cannot so sin as to be lost because God causes his sins to work for his good! That is a wresting of the verse. Certain questions need to be considered if we are to properly understand and apply this passage.

Let us consider what the "all things" are that "work together for good." Why is it that when some read this verse they immediately conclude that "all things" refers to sins and weaknesses of the believer? What things are included in the "all things" Paul speaks of here? Let us remember that there are some things which never work for the good of anyone! Peter tells us to "abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). Doing evil "that good may come" is not allowed by our Lord. Surely Paul does not mean that murder, stealing, lying, fornication, and such like, work together for the good of anyone. (See Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 5:20, 6:2, 12-14).

Therefore, there must be some limitation under-stood in the use of the words "all things" in this passage. Paul himself cites an example of such a limitation in 1 Corinthians 15:27: "For, He put all things in subjection under his feet. But when he saith, ALL things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things unto him." In other words, God has not been put in subjection to Christ, therefore, "all things" in 1 Corinthians 15:27 does not include God, the Father. Paul also said, "All things are of God (2 Corinthians 5:18). Does it mean that sin, ungodliness, fornication, and such are from God? Or, do we understand certain limitations? Consider also 1 Corinthians 3:21; 13:7, et al.

The context must be considered in determining what Paul meant by "all things" in this verse in Romans. Notice that "sufferings" endured by Christians (Romans 8:18), opposition from and false charges by the enemies of truth and righteousness (vv. 31-35), even "tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword --none of "these things" (vs. 32 -- same as "all things" in vs. 28) will destroy us, but, to the among those who are "called according to his purpose." Even if we "know not how to pray as we ought" (vs. 25), God works it out for good. Verses 31 through 35 are statements made to confirm the promise of verse 28. These things "work together" (Greek: sunergeo -- work with); one authority suggests that God works with "all things" for our good. (Thayer, p. 603). Truly, there is much comfort in the promise!

There are many examples in the Bible which confirm the truth found in verse 28. Study the case of Joseph. He was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers and later imprisoned be-cause of the false accusations of Potiphar's wife after he had rejected her advances. When his brothers later feared that he might take vengeance upon them he said, "And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." (Genesis 50:20).

In the New Testament, Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed in Philippi, but it worked out to the good of the cause of the Lord. Later, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem to protect him from a mob, then after accusations were made against him, he was held for trial, first before Felix, then Festus and Agrippa, and finally Caesar, but Paul later wrote from Rome, "Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which have happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel (Read Philippians 1:12-20; Colossians 1:24).

Another question we need to consider is what is the "good" that is produced by the "all things" of this passage. We have already seen the good that came in the aforementioned cases of Joseph and Paul. Consider the good that comes from the following causes: Chastening "yieldeth peaceable fruit." (Hebrews 12:11). "Tribulation worketh steadfastness hope." (Romans 5:3-4). Temptation, when endured and overcome, results in the proving of our faith and "worketh patience" which meets God's approval, and finally, the crown of life. (James 1:2-4, 12). Peter says "manifold trials" prove our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7); enduring griefs and suffering wrongfully is acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:19-20), and reproach "for the name of Christ," and suffering "as a Christian" brings God's blessings and glorifies Him. (1 Peter 4:12-16; see also Matthew 5:10-12). Steadfastness, patience, hope, God's approval, peaceable fruit, and the crown of life are all mentioned as resulting from the suffering and persecutions endured by those who love God.

And this brings us to still another question: "All things work together for good" TO WHOM? According to the text, the answer is to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Obviously, "them that love God" and "them that are called according to his purpose" are the same people; not two classes of people.

But what does it mean to be called "according to his purpose?" In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul said that God "called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Those called by the gospel are those who are called out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9). They are called "into his own kingdom and glory." (1 Thessalonians 2:12). They are the ones who have been "delivered out of the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of his love." (Colossians 1:13). It was and is God's eternal purpose to save man through the gospel of Christ. That is why Jesus commanded the apostles, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:15-16). When the gospel  is preached, that is God calling, and when men obey it, God delivers them out of darkness and translates them into his kingdom. The obedient are the ones "called according to his purpose." And they are the ones who love God, the ones who are led by the Spirit, the children of God. (Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26-27).

That is why Jesus declared, "If a man love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23). He tells us what it is to love him in -John 14:15: "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments." John writes, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." (I John 5:3).

To love God is to keep his word. It is to hear the gospel call and obey. This is being called "according to his purpose." God has determined to save those who hear the gospel and obey. To all those who respond to his call by obedience and faithful continuance in the faith (Colossians 1:23), "all things work together for good!" We are assured of it. "We know that all things work together for good," partly by experience, and partly because of the confidence we have in the promise of God. Sometimes we may not see the good that comes from certain adversities, but it comes, even as God has promised. Then at times, we can look back at things that have happened in our lives which then seemed to be tragic, but later worked out for good.

So let us trust his word that such things will work together for our good. You can depend on it!