WITH DALE RATZLAFF
We continue our study in Romans 8:28.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 is a verse most Christians have memorized, and for good reason. When we go through difficult times and cannot understand why, this verse brings comfort. It has been translated in several ways:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Updated NASB).
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (NKJV).
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).
The first thing that stands out is that one must know this truth. “Know” is in the perfect tense. We must know that this truth remains true today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter. We may ask, “How do we know this truth?” I believe there are at least three ways that help us know that God works all things together for good. First, there is Scripture. It states this truth from Genesis 50: 19–20: “But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (NAU).
In fact, Scripture is full of real-life experiences illustrating how this principle works. Take the life of Joseph for example (see Genesis 37–50). His brothers hated him. They cast him into a pit, and all but one of the brothers were ready to let him die there. They sold him as a slave into Egypt. There Joseph retained his integrity, even when tempted severely. He was falsely accused and put in prison for a number of years.
Then we have the fascinating story of Joseph interpreting dreams of his fellow prisoners. This insight resulted in Joseph being brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. Seeing Josephs’ integrity and wisdom, Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of storing up grain for the coming seven-year famine. When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food, after several fascinating exchanges, we have this record:
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay’” (Gen. 45:4-9).
Later, after Joseph’s brothers had moved to Egypt, we have this record.
Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But “Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:18-20).
Second, there is our own experience. Most of us can find places in our lives that were very difficult, places where things happened to us that we did not perceive as good. Carolyn and I well remember the struggle, hardship, and loss of friends we had when we left the ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist church. Yet now, many years later, we can look back and see God’s leading. We have been able to touch many more lives with the gospel, have more friends, and yes, have more joy and assurance than we did before. We can look back and say, we know that God was working in our lives during those trying times.
Third, there is the experience of others. Perhaps you cannot yet understand why some tragic, hurtful, or difficult thing happened to you. You do not see how it can work for good. By observing how God has worked in the lives of your friends and other Christians it will give you hope and confidence that one day you will look back and see that all things work together for good. The text says:
…we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
If we consider the wider context of Romans, we would be correct in defining “for good” in connection with our salvation and deliverance from the guilt and penalty of sin. It is not only for “our good” now in this life, but ultimately for the life to come. We believe that Paul was beheaded. It would be hard to conclude that tragic event was for his good. Yet Paul’s faithfulness unto death has given countless others the courage and resolve to stand true when facing persecution and death.
This promise is not for everyone, it is only true for those who love God. Unbelievers cannot claim this for their lives. This does not mean that God is not interested in them. Scripture is clear that:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
…who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).
Therefore God is at work with unbelievers, seeking to draw them to Himself.
There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man (Jn. 1:9).
I believe that God desires to see unbelievers see the foolishness of their ways and bow in repentance and respond to His offer of grace in Christ.
This promise that all things work together for our good is to those “who are called according to His purpose”. I believe this can be applied in two ways: first, the purpose of the call is for salvation. Second, the purpose of the call may be for a specific ministry. On several occasions Paul refers to his specific call to be an Apostle to the gentiles.
But the Lord said to him, [Ananias], “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” (Act 9:15).
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Rom, 1:1).
But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry (Rom. 11:13).
These two purposes actually merge into one. First the call is for individual salvation, second the purpose of the ministry call is to extend the call of salvation to those who have not yet heard the gospel.
We may draw several applications from this short but meaningful passage. First, we need to memorize this passage if we have not yet done so. Second, as we read through Scripture, let us look for illustrations of how God has worked this truth out in the lives of His people. Third, we can observe how God has guided the lives of our friends and family. In cementing the truth of this passage firmly in our minds, it will give us the hope and steadfastness in facing difficulties and hardships knowing that God is working all things together for our and His good. Forth, it would be well for us to contemplate our “call”. Has God called us to a specific ministry? Are we employing our spiritual gift?
Father, thank you for the wonderful promise that we can know for sure that you cause all things to work together for our good. May I fulfill your plan for my life.