Lesson 29: Romans 8:28
The Good End of All Things
by Bob Burridge ©2011
When things do not go well, people often try to find comfort by looking for something good in the situation. There was an old song I remember hearing a lot when I was very little, “Look for the Silver Lining”. It was my parent’s favorite song. Optimism has always been a popular attitude. Stories of “Pollyanna” and “Little Orphan Annie” have been favorites to tell children. Even when things look gloomy, something in our human nature hates to see naked tragedy. We instinctively try to dress it up in more attractive attire.
Often the trials mount up, the hard times linger on, or catastrophe crushes the spirit. The clothing we use to dress up our calamities just doesn’t seem to fit any more. The ugly nakedness of adversity shows through. Optimism fades into doubt and pessimistic gloom. People ask in discouraged frustration, ” What good could possibly come of this?”
This is the troubled world in which we are called to live. God has not left his children to live here in false hopes or in dismal gloom.
In the last section of his letter to the Romans, Paul talked about how believers long for the glory that lies ahead for them. All our sufferings here, and all that’s in the sin laden world we live in, are eclipsed by the glories promised in which we hope. Creation itself looks to be set free from the way man abuses God’s world for self glory. We long for the day when we will inherit the promises of eternal glory. The Holy Spirit in us encourages us along as we agonize toward that day.
Paul assures us that there is
a Christian optimism for his children.
This optimism is not just self deception or wishful thinking. It is based upon an unfailing reality.
Romans 8:28, “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.”
What Paul teaches us here is something he says “we know …” It’s not just an empty hope that things will work out — somehow. It’s not just a selective blindness to reality. It’s a certainty that comes to our hearts by the testimony of God’s Spirit testifying in us by the written promises in God’s word. Since it is based upon the assurances of God himself it cannot fail.
This is not something new he gives us here. It’s something we already know from what God has told us. This is a reminder of what we can rely upon when times get tough. Though we groan, we know that everything is under the control of our Heavenly Father.
The good he is promising here is made clear in the context. It’s not just some theoretical “good” that has nothing to do with us personally. It is the future glory Paul has just been writing about. It’s the inheritance that all believers will receive as heirs with Christ. All our trials and disappointments fit us for our life in eternity and the perfect blessings of God.
There are benefits for us in this life too. Our Lord lets us go through tough times to make us grow in holiness, and in humble dependence upon our Heavenly Father.
Everything works together to produce this good. Specifically here, Paul is speaking of the hard times we face in this life. The theme of this passage is enduring through the groanings and anxieties of our fallen world. Paul tells us plainly that nothing is excluded. All of life is a complex and intricate pattern displaying the plan of God. But it’s our afflictions that particularly contribute to our growth and benefit.
Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-5 “… we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Paul suffered some type of physical problem he called his “thorn in the flesh”. Many have debated what that was. We don’t know for sure. Paul prayed repeatedly to be cured of it, but God said it was needful for him to suffer with it to keep him humble. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
It’s hard to imagine any suffering greater than what Job went through. In one sudden moment his whole life changed. He got news that invasions and disasters had wiped out all he had: his servants, his oxen, sheep and camels. A storm collapsed the house where his children were eating and all were killed. Later he was stricken with a horrible disease that caused intensely painful boils all over his body. By it Job learned a classic lesson that is basic to all human struggles. Though we may not understand tragedies as they occur, we dare not question God. Job, as far as we know, never learned about the great spiritual battle behind the scenes. But he did learn from God that there is comfort for believers as they endure great suffering.
It’s not just the afflictions. All things are orchestrated together by God in concert for good. The absolute sovereignty of God is one of the clearest, most direct teachings of Scripture. Aside from our human philosophies, assumptions, and prejudices, it is undisputed that nothing but the decree of God directs events in the course of time.
God uses even evil and our sins to promote his holy and wonderful plan. He used the ancient rebellion of Satan to display his justice against evil. He used the fall of man in Adam to show his grace in the plan of salvation. He used the wicked men who crucified Jesus to accomplish the atonement
By the goodness and power of him who brings light out of darkness, God overrules the evil of our sins and produces exactly what he had eternally intended. Even from his own children’s rebellion, he draws out benefits for those saved by grace.
Far from condoning or excusing sin, God, by means of it, exposes how deplorable it is. He shows us what is in our own hearts aside from his restraint. He shows us what we deserve if it was not for the forgiveness we have in the Savior. He reminds us how much we need to depend upon him in all things. He stirs us to prayer and vigilance all through the day. He keeps us humble in our reliance upon his mercies, presence, and power.
David learned by his own sins and sufferings. He wrote in Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.”
God’s care is an amazing orchestration of the most minute incident into the symphony of eternal glory.
Children have a hard time seeing the wisdom of the lessons they need to learn. Homework seems like a cruel punishment. It takes up their time and it’s intended to be challenging. However, without struggling through it our brains will not learn to think logically, we will not know the lessons of history to avoid mistakes of the past, we will not know how to communicate our ideas to others, we will not have the facts we need to make good decisions and be good in our life’s callings.
No one likes to have to go through surgery, suffer the bruises of learning to walk or ride a bike, go through the agony of losing a ball game or of apologizing to someone we offended. Yet, all those things help us to grow into what we need to be.
God our Heavenly Father brings us through very trying times. It’s hard to know why we get diseases, why loved ones die, why we lose our jobs, have our homes destroyed in calamities, or are injured in accidents. It’s hard to see criminals lose in our society, and to see people lie and seem to get away with it.
God uses all these things to make us grow into what will make us stronger and more humble. He uses them to best fit us for eternity. When that day comes, when the promised inheritance is ours to enjoy fully, when we move into the house of God to dwell forever, we will see how well he has prepared us.
This good is not assured to everyone.
The good is directed to a specific group: those who love God, and are called by him.
Those outside of Christ have no such promise from God. The world must therefore either live in resigned despair, or in unfounded optimism. It must convince itself without promise, that “all things work out for the best.” For the sinner not redeemed in Christ, all things work toward his eternal damnation. That is not an easy concept for us to accept with our limited understanding and yet flawed appreciation for the larger picture of things. As difficult as it may be to comprehend, it is clearly true according to what God tells us in his word.
On the other hand, for those in Christ, there is great promise and hope. They are called “The loved of God.” Those of the world believe they love God, but the god they love is a false god. He is not the Sovereign and Holy Creator. To them, god is not offended and is not bound by his holy nature to punish sin forever. To them, the Savior is just a good teacher or example, not a substitute for what they deserve. To them, their choices and determinations control all things. They cannot accept the full kingship of the King of kings. To love a false god is to offend the True God.
The believer in Christ has the love of the True God implanted into his heart. To them God has made a solemn promise that cannot fail. All things work in one complex plan for good. To battle the temptations of this world and to escape the despair of false optimism, we must love God as enabled by the work of Jesus Christ.
The concept of “good” itself is understood differently when we see things as they really are. At each phase of his creation God looked at what he had made and said it was “good”. The light was good, the seas and dry land were good. The vegetation, appearing of the sun, moon and stars was good. The same with the animals and humans he made to populate his new world. It would be self-centered to think that he meant only that it was good for us. It was good to him primarily. That is, it exactly conformed to what pleased him as Creator.
The good promised here is both good for us as God’s children, and good in the great plan of our Heavenly Father. All things are part of a wonderful plan that displays and declares the Creator’s glory. We cannot know how it all fits together, but we know that it does. One day we may be privileged to see what is not revealed to our finite minds at this time.
God’s children are also
“the called according to his purpose”
This is not a promise to all those invited outwardly to follow Christ. It means those called inwardly by his Holy Spirit, those called from all eternity to be part of God’s family. God’s eternal decree cannot fail or fall short of all it intends to accomplish. God decrees not only the faith he gives them in this life through the work of Christ. He also decrees their glory forever in him. Paul extends this promise beyond question in the next section of this chapter of Romans (Romans 8:29-30).
The unbeliever and the believer respond very differently to calamity.
Wicked King Saul faced challenges which he answered sinfully, disobediently. He tried to wrench blessings from the hand of God by his own efforts. He suffered in this life without comfort, and died without hope.
In contrast with Saul, King David, when he faced temptation, and even when he sinned, came in humble repentance and faith in God’s promises. He found forgiveness, comfort and hope. David was able to pray in Psalm 84:11, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly.”
In Psalm 27 he began, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 73:21-28 expresses this contrast between those without hope and the believer.
Thus my heart was grieved, And I was vexed in my mind. I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry. But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, That I may declare all Your works.
If the God of creation, who rules all the heavens and the earth, is our Lord in Christ, then what can be lacking for our absolute and complete security both now and forever? If God’s decree is certain and sure, and by grace we are a part of that perfect decree, then all things will work together in our lives for good.
This coordination toward good ought not to lead us to carelessness in living. It is our love for God and our call in his eternal purpose that makes us his. Our duty in the midst of all adversity, calamity, and tragedy is two-fold:
1. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and might. We must not let the love of the things in this world distract us from our true hope, or let temptation bring our belonging to Christ into question.
2. We are to obey that eternal calling to be a part of the purpose of God all the way to glory.
Do you want more of the confidence in times of trial and comfort in seasons of adversity? Take this verse to heart — keep it in your mind often. Dwell upon its promise until it becomes a part of the way you think every moment of every day. God assures us that all things work together for good. It’s a fact. Be reminded of, and practiced in, what you know already from what God has said.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)