Let’s dig into verse 28.
- And, hopefully, discover what it is Paul wants to convey.
- Which, it seems, centers on assurance and Jesus Christ.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
There is a lot of cool stuff in this verse.
- (1) The fact that the believer can definitively know what Paul is about to reveal – “we know”.
- (2) The fact that “all things work together for good” – whatever this might mean.
- (3) The fact that there are those “called” according to a “purpose” – whatever this might mean.
BTW – The ESV says it is “all things” that “work together for good”.
- Is it really “all things” that “work”?
- The NIV has a better word choice.
- “…in all things God works for the good…”
(1) We Know:
Paul says that “those who love God” (believers/the church) know.
- There are two aspects of this knowledge.
- The thing we know.
- Why we know it.
The thing we know will become clear soon enough.
- This is the very thing we are trying to understand.
Why we know this “thing” goes back to the indicatives of the Gospel.
- We will rehash this a bit at the end of verse 29.
(2) All Things and Good:
“all things work together for good”
- This text is ripped out of context as much as any other in the New Testament.
Most often it is used as a form of encouragement to a suffering believer.
- The sentiment behind it is usually, “Don’t worry, God will make it all better”.
In other words, it is used to teach that God will take this event – this unfortunate/unwanted circumstance…
- And turn it into a good/wanted circumstance.
It is important we get this right.
If this is the meaning of the text…
- Then, if a person really is a Christian,…
- Every bad event or circumstance in his or her life…
- Should be followed by an event or circumstance that puts right the bad circumstance.
As Doug Moo points out:
- “Certainly Paul does not mean that the evil experienced by believers in this life will always be reversed, turned into ‘good’” – Doug Moo.
If all this were so, it would mean that this text can be used to authenticate true belief.
- And by extension support the theology of the prosperity Gospel.
But this is not what Paul is doing.
- As Tom Schreiner points out:
- “The intention in using this phrase is not to distinguish true from false believers” – Tom Schreiner.
Now, God can do this, no doubt.
- Bring a good circumstance out of a bad one.
But, is this really what Paul is teaching here?
- We need to dig in and find out.
What are the “all things”?
Given the context of Romans 7-8, the “all things” are:
- This “body of death” (7:24).
- The “sufferings of this present time” (vs. 17).
- And the “we ourselves…groan inwardly” (vs. 23).
In other words:
- The “all things” is the “now” of the Christian life.
Or in Paul’s own words:
- 2 Corinthians 11:25–28 (ESV) — 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
What is the “good”?
The “good” is not a negation of the “sufferings of this present time”.
- In fact, the presence of suffering in the Christian life is why Romans 8 is so powerful.
For, as Paul has already taught, suffering is a necessary part of being “in Christ”.
- N.T. Wright puts it this way:
- Our “suffering [is] according to the pattern of the Messiah”.
The “good” is not referring to a set of better life circumstances that will replace bad life circumstances.
- Doug Moo captures this well:
“The idea that this verse promises the believer material wealth or physical well-being, for instance, betrays a typically Western perversion of ‘good’ into an exclusively material interpretation” – Doug Moo.
The “good” is something that will happen…
- Even though the “now” of the Christian life consists of the “all things” just discussed.
- Even though, just like unbelievers, the Christian life is one of groaning.
So this “good” doesn’t displace the “all things” of our life “now”.
- Paul would never say that!
- The “good” is something that will happen in spite of the “all things” of the Christian life.
So what is the “good”?
- It is all the “not yets” of the Christian life.
- Our future glorification – our new nature and new status, etc.
- Scholars call it “eschatological glory” (Doug Moo).
- Or, our future full conformity to the image of Christ (Doug Moo).
(3) Called and Purpose:
“for those who are called according to his purpose”
- The “called” here are obviously the “those who love God” from the beginning of the verse.
- But why restate with this word choice?
Craig Keener makes this observation:
- “Paul’s own audience would think of Israel as the people God had chosen…”
But Paul has already, and is here, turning that on its head.
Keener says the church at Rome would, “…recognize that Paul’s argument was designed to show that God was so sovereign that he was not bound to choose (with regard to salvation) based on Jewish ethnicity” – Craig Keener.
In other words, Paul is talking about the future of all God’s people.
- And inclusion as God’s people is not based on ethnicity or badges of membership – circumcision, etc.
- Inclusion as the “called” is to be “those who love God” – whether Jew or Gentile.
- It is to be those who participate in God’s purpose.
- (We will have more to say about “called” when we deal with verse 30).
What is this purpose?
It is helpful here to know what Paul may have been trying to counter in Rome.
- A place that, culturally, was deeply Hellenized.
In such a culture, Craig Keener points out…
- The idea of fate was seen as a predominate power in determining people and their future.
- But, Keener says, “Paul goes beyond this, not resigned to impersonal fate but trusting the benevolent design of God” – Craig Keener.
In other words, and this is huge…
- The called’s “not yet” life is not tied to fate or current circumstances (suffering or ethnicity)!
- It is tied to God’s purposes – as revealed in Jesus Christ!
- Verse 29 will give us more detail about this.
Let’s end with a paraphrase of verse 28:
- “We know that groanings and present sufferings do not negate or thwart God’s purpose of future glory for all believers.”