Grace For The Journey
We have been looking at Romans 8:28 this week and learning how to apply the powerful truths of this verse to our lives. In wrapping up our study, we are looking answering the question, “Do all things really work together for good? Can we still believe in Romans 8:28?” To answer that question we need to look at four biblical perspectives. Thursday we saw the first Biblical truth: we must begin with God. Friday, we will look at the second principle: we need a long-term perspective. Today, we will look at the third and fourth biblical principles . . .
3) We Must Define the word “Good.”
This is the crux of the matter. Paul says that “all things work together for good.” But what is the “good” he is talking about? For most of us, “good” equals things like health, happiness, solid relationships, long life, money, food on the table, meaningful work, and a nice place to live. In general, we think the “good” life means a better set of circumstances.
Once again, that’s not necessarily the biblical viewpoint. In this case we don’t have to wonder what Paul means. He defines it for us in the very next verse: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (8:29). That makes it very clear. God has predestined you and me to a certain end. That certain end is the “good” of Romans 8:28. It is that we might be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ.
God’s good and our good are not the same thing.
Let me put it plainly. God is at work in your life making you like Jesus Christ. He has predestined you to that end. He is at work in your life making that happen. Therefore, anything that makes you more like Jesus Christ is good. Anything that pulls you away from Jesus Christ is bad. When Paul says that all things work together for good, he is not saying that the tragedies and heartaches of life will always produce a better set of circumstances. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
But God is not committed to making you happy and successful.
He is committed to making you like his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And whatever it takes to make you more like Jesus is good.
So it is in the providence of God that we learn more in the darkness than we do in the light. We gain more from sickness than we do from health. We pray more when we are scared than when we are confident. And everything that happens to you – the tragedies, the unexplained circumstances, even the stupid choices you make – all of it is grist for the mill of God’s loving purpose. He will not give up even when we do.
Anything that makes us like Jesus is good for us.
I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chattered all the way.
But I was none the wiser,
For all she had to say.
Then I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she.
But, oh, the lessons I did learn
When Sorrow walked with me.
God is at work in your life. Right now, you are rough and uncut, and God is patiently chipping away at you. But remember this: He will never intentionally hurt you. In the end, you will look like the Lord Jesus Christ.
This, I think, is our greatest problem with Romans 8:28. Our good and God’s good are not the same. We want happiness and fulfillment and peace and long life. Meanwhile, God is at work in us and through us and by everything that happens to us to transform us into the image of his Son.
Does that include the worst that happens to us? Yes.
Does that include the things that hurt us deeply? Yes.
Does that include the times when we are heartbroken? Yes.
Does that include the times when we sin? Yes.
Does that include the times when we doubt God? Yes.
Does that include the times when we are angry with Him? Yes.
He is always at work. He is never deterred by us. Nothing happens to us outside His control. There are no mistakes and no surprises.
God can do that even when we can’t.
God does it even when we don’t believe it.
God can do it even when we don’t believe it.
That is what Paul means when he says, “We know.” We know it because we know God, and He has said it. His word is trustworthy, and that guarantees it. Indeed, His character rests upon it.
We know it not by looking at the events of life, but by knowing God. We know it not by studying the pattern of the cloth, but by knowing the designer of the fabric. We know it not by listening to the notes of the symphony but by knowing the composer of the music.
There are many things we don’t know. We don’t know why babies die or why cars wreck or why planes crash or why families break up or why good people get sick and suddenly die. But this we do know-God is at work, and he has not forgotten us.
Can we still believe in Romans 8:28? Yes, but we must properly define what “good” means.
4. We Must Understand the Limitation of This Verse.
Notice the last phrase of Romans 8:28. It is a promise to “those who love God, who have been called according to His purpose.” That is an all-important limitation. This verse is true of Christians and only of Christians. It is not a blanket promise to the whole human race. Why? Because God’s purpose is to make His children one day like His Son.
Therefore we may truly say that Romans 8:28 is an evangelistic verse. And we can must two simple questions:
- Have you ever responded to God’s call?
- Are you part of God’s saving purpose?
You either answer “Yes” or “No” to those questions. There is no middle ground. Until you can answer “Yes”, this verse does not apply to you.
Two Important Qualifications
And so we come back to the basic question: Can we still believe in Romans 8:28? It sounds good. We want to believe it. I say that we can believe in Romans 8:28 as long as we keep two things in mind.
1. We must not try to explain the unexplainable.
Sometimes in our zeal to protect God, we try to explain why bad things happen to good people. That’s almost always a bad idea. We are like little children looking into the face of an infinitely wise Father. It is not possible that we should understand all he does. It is enough that we love him and know that he is there.
We don’t need to “protect” God.
He can take are of himself.
Let us be honest and confess that it is right at this point that so much damage has been done. In the end, it is not this verse that has lost its credibility, but rather our feeble attempts to justify the mysterious ways of God. Better to say nothing than to speak of things we know nothing about.
2. We must understand that God’s values and our values are not the same.
This is really like saying, “We must understand that we will often not understand at all.” Let’s be clear on this point. We are not called to praise God for evil, sin, and death. But we can praise God for the good he can work in the darkest days of life. Romans 8:28 is not teaching us to call evil good or simply to smile through the tears and pretend everything is OK. But it is teaching us that no matter what happens to us-no matter how terrible, no matter how unfair-our God is there. He has not left us. His purposes are being worked out as much in the darkness as they are in the light.
The story is told of a father whose son was killed in a terrible accident. He came to his pastor and in great anger said, “Where was God when my son died?” The pastor thought for a moment and replied, “The same place he was when his Son died.” That’s the final piece of the puzzle. He knows what we are going through for he, too, has been there. He watched his own Son die.
God knows what it is like to lose a Son.
Therefore, we can say with the apostle Paul, “We know.” Not because we see the answer, but because we know him, and he knows what it is like to lose a Son. He knows, and we know him.
Can we still believe in Romans 8:28? Let me answer that question with another. What is your alternative? If you don’t believe in Romans 8:28, what do you believe in? Fate? Chance? The impersonal forces of nature?
Yes, we can-and must-believe in Romans 8:28. It is teaching us one great truth: All things ultimately contribute to the ultimate good of those who love God.
That does not answer every question. But it does answer the big question: Does God know what he is doing? Yes, he does, and we know him, and that is enough.
This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”