We see so many things going wrong in the world today that we wonder if God is really in control as much as people seem to believe. We suffer relationship problems, money issues, physical and mental anguish, and wonder whether God is really with us. Is God really working things together for good? Is God really for us? All our struggles seem to indicate the opposite! One verse in the Bible seems to imply that God is in full control of all that happens:
“And we know that all things work together for good to those to love God, who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Unfortunately, when we do not know the reasoning behind a biblical text, we might conflate the meaning beyond what was really intended. If a friend tells you, “everybody knows that,” are you to believe that the world’s six billion people are included in that assessment, or just the people who are within the speaker’s sphere? To include all six billion people is to conflate, or add more to the saying than was intended by the speaker.
The saying in Romans 8:28 above is a declaration from someone who has come to love God. He has found God to be true, faithful, trustworthy, interested in his life, wise, and helpful. He has come into the knowledge that whatever is happening in his life is something directed by God for his good, even when the situation is uncomfortable in some way. Paul, the author of Romans, has suffered some pretty terrible things. Second Corinthians 11:22-27 tell us of his being whipped, imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and more. Yet his love for God endured.
This Romans 8:28 passage is the perspective of someone who has grown in their relationship with God to absolute trust. This is the place of enjoying eternal life, of resting in God, to which the Spirit works to bring us.
That verse is found in this particular place in Romans 8. It does not appear in the book of Galatians. Why not? Because that epistle is addressed to a church which is falling away from God’s grace, trusting in their works rather than God. Such trust doesn’t lead anyone to love God (just look what the legal-minded religious rulers did to the Christ).
Whatever we believe about a verse has to agree with everything written earlier in the book in which it appears. If you go back to Romans chapter three, you’ll find that nothing is working together for good –- rather, all of us have fallen short of God’s glory and face a horrifying future. For the person apart from God, everything is working against him or her: the world, the flesh, and the devil. All of these are conspiring to bring utter corruption of their souls before the final damnation at the great white throne of God.
So from the beginning of the epistle to the Romans we find that all are guilty of sin and worthy of punishment. But something happens between chapter 3 and chapter 8 (in which the verse at the beginning of this article appears) to change everything. What is it? What separates the two groups of people, one without hope and one with?
Romans chapters 2-3 shows that the whole world is guilty before God, both Jews (God’s chosen people) and Gentiles. Our unrighteousness has to be dealt with; we must be made righteous by some other means than by doing good works. In chapters 3-4 we learn that God has made faith in Jesus Christ the way of obtaining righteousness.
In chapter 5, we learn of the wonderful benefits of this life of faith, and its pathway to spiritual maturity. The first five verses of the chapter tell us that when we go through tribulation while still having faith in Jesus, then we will increase in our endurance through trials; continuing in endurance, we pick up personal experiences of God working on our behalf and grow in character; with a good foundation of knowing God’s working in our lives, we obtain hope in spite of whatever comes. We have kept believing God in hard times and kept finding Him faithful. This is the work of faith, and it develops a strong bond with God. This is the pathway Paul traveled, and he obtained a hope that helped him endure his trials.
So you see, the verse that all things are working together for good to those who love God is meaningful to those who have gone through tough times and found God trustworthy. It doesn’t make any sense for those who disbelieve God or have grave doubts about Him.
Romans 7 is about the man who is struggling to be good and finding himself constantly unable to do the good he wants to do. He is a slave of sin. But then he finds the answer (outlined in chapter 6) of just dying to his works to rest in Christ. He follows the truth of Romans 6:11-13, yielding himself up to God daily. Trusting in God’s promises to make him righteous, he no longer sees himself by his works, but in the light of God’s good favor. This is the victorious person in Romans 8 who loves God. This is the person who is predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), because he lives by faith, not by works.
If you do not have the assurance that all things are working together for good by God acting for you, do not despair. It takes times to come to this place; it is a place of spiritual maturity, not mere Bible knowledge. It takes an active faith day by day in God’s written promises, with an open ear to hearing what God wants to say to you. Our works do not lead us there; rather, the Spirit does it while we work for Him.