A lot of people have been quoting Romans 8:28 lately. With big problems looming in our country and around the world, we’ve all been looking for some “good.” We want to believe that no matter how things look right now, everything is going to work out in the end.
Disappointments, grief, difficulty, trials, and strife fill this life. 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.
Do all things really work together for good?
Isn’t that what Romans 8:28 means? Isn’t our commonly condensed version of this passage – “all things work together for good” – accurate? 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).
So, what is the “good” of Romans 8:28?
One of our biggest problems in misunderstanding Scripture is failing to consider the surrounding literary context. (See “How Literary Context Helps You Understand the Bible.“) With the larger context in mind, let’s discover the “who,” “what,” and “how” of this passage:
- 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. Verse 29 specifically says God’s purpose for us is to be “conformed to the likeness of His Son.” 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” for us 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. (See also “6 Ways God Uses Trials in a Christian’s Life” and “3 Important Truths in Romans 8:28.”)
Is this understanding of God’s “good” for us different than you’ve understood it in the past? In what way?
By the way, I’m working on a third devotional in the “Deep Rooted” series. “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Romans” will be released Fall 2022!! I can’t wait to share all the beautiful truths about God and our great salvation with you! In the meantime, check out “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Book of Acts” and “Deep Rooted: Growing through the Gospel of Mark.“
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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.”
Hi there,yes god work all things for our good because of he’s might, power,ability and sovereignity because ones past mistakes and happenings can be good for another one undergoing the same kind of things,also b coz of his unlimitless(Omniscience, because one might ask or reason why is he close to the broken hearted and using broken vessels eg. ones mistakes and missteps can be agood thing to another one and be used to anothers advantage as a guide or path for future experiences basically as a teaching so it does work for the good at the end,& not only spiritually but physically also. I mean man can use ones mistakes and missteps against us but God has the ability to use it for others advantage as a testimony!
I agree with you! Scripture teaches us that God can and does work for our physical good and temporary circumstances. The article focused specifically on the context of Romans 8:28. In that context Paul specifically taught that God is working to conform us to the image of Christ. And although God cares very much about our physical circumstances He cares even more about spiritual well-being. That is why He often leaves difficult physical trials in our lives – to use them to refine us spiritually.
God does work things out for them that love Him. For real.
Not lip service.or if you’re accept in a certain church or group. His sheep’s know His voice.
You’re right the promise is qualified – for those who love Him and are called according to HIS purpose. Not our purposes or our temporary desires. He is constantly working in and through everything for our spiritual, eternal good – which is our spiritual maturity and His glory!
Yes, yes, yes! Well said and explained. I whole-heartedly agree! Thank you for sharing so well, so we can reshare!
This is a great reminder of what this verse really says. And truly it speaks of the best “good” anyone could EVER receive.
1. Are all christians called according to HIS purpose?
2. Can you explain for those who love Him and are called according to HIS purpose?
3. And isn’t his PURPOSE to make us more like him?
Hi Karen, thanks for coming by! Yes, God calls all believers to a specific purpose. The priority purpose for all believers is that we grow spiritually into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29). He also has a unique purpose – set of works – for each believer (Ephesians 2:10). God’s promise of “good” isn’t for unbelievers. They cannot be formed into the likeness of Christ without the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. They must first come to Jesus for salvation. His promise is only for those who are in a saving relationship with Him. In Romans 8:28 Paul uses the phrase – “those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” – to describe believers.
Reaffirmed the studies We aredoing on Romans. What book gives you context of what was going on during time of a verse or how the word is meant to be used. I.e. “good” today or gods good?
Thank you! I agree so much with understanding the meaning of verses by looking at the context. This is a verse we have used often in our prodigal group but now I’m thinking we were using it in a wrong way. I am looking for some verses that will give me hope for my prodigal, possibly unsaved son. I’ve been learning about hope (combined with faith) as a confident assurance and I don’t have a confident assurance he will be in heaven. I was relying on this verse to give me the assurance that at least whatever happened, it would be good according to God.
Hi Lynn, thanks for coming by. Yes, we so often misunderstand Scripture when we don’t consider the greater context. I am so sorry to hear about your son. I know that is so incredibly painful for a parent. You cannot believe for your son. You can continue to love, support, and show him grace. And pray that God will use what you have taught him to draw him back. Ultimately you son has free will to choose God or not. But here is good news: God is always good; He desires for your son to know Him; God is able to break down every barrier! May God woo your son back to Himself!
So much to learn! I appreciated this explanation of Romans 8:28-29. What you said makes a lot of sense! I look forward to Deep Rooted in Romans when it comes out this fall. Take care and God bless you.
Hi Barbara, thanks for stopping by! Romans is such a wonderful book full of incredible truths. I can’t wait to share it!