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What’s the “Good” of Romans 8:28?

Romans 8:28

Disappointments, grief, difficulty, trials, and strife fill our lives. These things have touched each of us. It is the human experience. But in the midst of suffering, we cling to a promise found in Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome:

“For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28, NIV

Christians find comfort, encouragement, and hope in these words. And rightly so. Unfortunately, many of us have misapplied this well-known verse. Our understanding is shortsighted. We slap God’s promise on the current and temporal, expecting our physical circumstances to soon look “good” – better even than when things went awry.

Isn’t that what Romans 8:28 means? After all, it says that God “works all things together for our good!” Doesn’t God divinely control all the events and circumstances of our lives to make things turn out great for us?

In order to understand “all things work together for good” accurately, we must not only consider the entire verse, but also the context of the larger passage.

In Romans 8:18-39, Paul is comparing present, earthly suffering of believers with the eternal glory to come. (See Romans 8:18.) On this earth, we “groan” or experience difficulties because of the effects of sin. But God has conquered sin. In His sovereignty, He is working out His plan to save, sanctify, and glorify those He has “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28-30).

The Who, What, and How of Romans 8:28

With the larger context in mind, let’s discover the “who,” “what,” and “how” of Romans 8:28:

  • Who is the promise for? – This promise is only for Christians, those who have entered into a saving relationship with Jesus. Not only did Paul write this letter to believers, but the verse itself defines the “who” – “those who love [God], who have been called according to His purpose.” We cannot apply this verse to all people.
  • What is our “good?” – This is probably the most often misunderstood and misapplied part of this verse. “Good” does not mean our happiness, physical comfort, or material abundance. The larger context of the passage refers to our spiritual condition and sure hope of one day sharing in Christ’s glory. God’s purpose for us is to be “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (verse 29). This is our calling, God’s goal – and “good” – for us. In His power and sovereignty, God is working through the circumstances of our lives to make us like Jesus and to bring us to our eternal glory.
  • How does God accomplish it? – God works in and through our trials, difficulties, and pain and suffering to move us toward His will (Romans 8:27) which is conformity to Jesus and future glory with Him (Romans 8:29-30). (See Romans 5:3-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7, and James 1:2-4.) In order to be like Jesus and share His glory, we must also share His sufferings (Philippians 3:10-11). God uses and works through our physical circumstances to bring about the spiritual condition He desires in us.

God’s “good” is eternal

God’s “good” for us is far greater than our temporary, physical circumstances. His plan is spiritual in nature and eternal in scope. God intimately knows our physical needs and cares greatly about each one (Matthew 6:25-33). But He cares even more about our spiritual condition. He wants us to be like His Son.

Is this understanding of God’s “good” for us different than you’ve understood it in the past? In what way?






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5 Responses to What’s the “Good” of Romans 8:28?

  1. Marilyn Saxon August 8, 2015 at 12:57 am #

    Thank you for your article on Romans 8:28. This is such an awesome verse. It has helped me to understand God’s love in new ways. When struggles & affliction come to me they point me right back to the Father. I thank Him for everything and continue developing intimacy with Him. My prayer is “conform me to the image of Jesus Christ.”

  2. Trenda April 2, 2018 at 12:42 pm #

    God’s purpose for us is to be “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (verse 29). This is our calling, God’s goal – and “good” – for us. In His power and sovereignty, God is working through the circumstances of our lives to make us like Jesus and to bring us to our eternal glory.

    Thank you, Kathy. Very good article. However, I have a friend with a chronic illness who is struggling in his faith and is asking why he is having to suffer so long? Is he a slow learner; need more growing than other people who don’t have intense suffering? I find these questions challenging and appreciate your thoughts.

    • Kathy April 2, 2018 at 6:11 pm #

      Trenda, I have many of the same questions! And I don’t have the answers. However, one thing that comes to mind is Paul’s own testimony in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul suffered more than most of us and I am sure he was more spiritually mature than most believers. Paul’s attitude was that when he suffered and was “weak” it was an opportunity for God to display His strength. When a believer suffers trials and difficulties, it is a chance for God to demonstrate His strength, power, and grace in that person’s life. Perhaps God wants to work through your friend’s life to reveal Himself to others.

  3. Shirley Stafford April 5, 2018 at 9:26 am #

    Kathy – Thank you for the devotional on Romans 8:28. I plan to use it at our prison Bible study tomorrow. I feel sure that God led me to it and it will answer a lot of the questions that the men have in their own walk with God. You are being used by our Lord in a great way.

    • Kathy April 5, 2018 at 11:22 am #

      Shirley, thank you for coming by! I am so glad that the post was encouraging to you. I pray God will use it mightily in the lives of the men you will be teaching!

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