Question: What exactly does 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.”) mean?
Answer: I’m glad you asked that question because it is an important question. I thank God for this verse being in the Bible. It is one of the most comforting verses I know about. For those who do not know what it says, you need to memorize it: “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.”
God is promising us as born again Christians that everything that comes into our lives, because we love God, is going to work out for our good and God’s glory. It may not seem like it when our loved one dies, or things go wrong, or we are attacked, but it is still true that it will work out for our good.
Although we may not understand how things work for our good while we are living on this side, on the other side (in heaven) we will understand. It is sort of like a tapestry work, the women will tell you that one side is beautiful and makes a wonderful picture where all the threads fit perfectly together. But, they will tell you, or you can look at one sometime (men), on the other side nothing seems to have any rhyme or reason.
Oh, there might be some of it that makes a picture you can recognize, but most of it doesn’t seem to look like anything you can make sense of. There are threads sticking out here or loose ends over there, knots, etc.
The back side of a tapestry is like life, we don’t seem to see the purpose in much of it. When you get to heaven, you will see why your brother-in-law’s baby died a short time after it was born, and your baby, born at the same time, lived. You will see why your wife’s brother, a wonderful Christian teacher, died in a climbing accident in the prime of his life after only being married a year. You will know why your mother died of heart disease, and your mother-in-law of cancer. You will know why your father-in-law died of Lou Gherig’s disease (an incurable neuromuscular disease).
You will know why you lived through Vietnam and many others didn’t. You will know in heaven why so many had to die in the twin towers in New York City, and in the floods of the South Coast storms. You will know why so many things had to happen here, that don’t make sense to us now. We have to trust God and His Word and believe that He is working everything out for our good and His eventual glory! In other words, one day, when we stand before God and He explains everything to us that we didn’t understand about this world, and why it had to happen this way, we will give Him the glory.
In this world we as Christians walk by faith, and not by sight, “For we walk (live) by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) We don’t have to understand everything now, but we do have to trust the Lord. So often I have heard of two people that were affected by some death or tragedy, one of the two decided to hate God for it, and the other trusted God even more. We have a choice in the matter.
I love that story, and I don’t have a copy, but it is about the man that was looking back over his life, as I remember it. He saw his footsteps in the sand with Jesus footsteps beside his all the way except when he came to a hard time in his life, there he could see just one set of foot prints, so he asked the Lord about this. The man wanted to know where the Lord was when he needed Him most. The Lord replied, “The reason there is only one set of footprints is because that is where I carried you.
What does it mean where it says all things work together for good to those who love God? “All means all, and that’s all that all means.” Even when we don’t understand it we must continue to trust and believe everything is going to work out for our good. God has even a way of taking our failures, and sins (when we confess them and forsake them) and turning them into good.
God can take a tragedy like Columbine, where so many students were needlessly killed and turn it into good. God does not cause the sin, but because we have a free will, He permits sin in this world for awhile. (See our article on Christian World View, Part One)
Since Columbine I have heard of youth works that have sprung up across the country to help young people. I know of at least two, if not more of the parents of those that were killed, going around the country speaking to young people.
My wife was with her high school ASB officers in training where Rachel Scott’s father was speaking. She is one of the girls that was killed in the Columbine High School Tragedy in 1999. He spoke about how God had worked in their lives as a family since her death. He told of how, she predicted her death before it happened in so many ways, and that she knew that one day she would touch thousands of lives. Someone who didn’t even know her was given a vision of something growing with her tears dropping down on it. This person called Rachel’s father after the shooting and asked if the vision meant anything to him, but the father said it didn’t mean anything to him.
Then he was given his daughters belongings, in her backpack was a drawing that she had drawn a short time before she was shot. The drawing was the same as the vision the caller had told the father about. You can see it on their web site called Rachel’s Challenge. She had drawn a flower with thirteen tear drops coming from her eyes turning into blood drops on the flower. The father realized that those tear drops turning into blood were students killed in the school. The flower growing up is the Acts of kindness being spread around the country.
The family also found on the back of Rachel’s dresser, her handprints with this inscription: “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will some day touch millions of people’s hearts.” So it is today the family goes to many schools across the nation teaching students to spread Acts of kindness like Rachel did when she was alive. He gives this example: One day a new student came to the school where his daughter was, and the new student was rejected by others, but she went over and sat by him. He told Mr. Scott after she had been killed, what she had done, and how it had kept him from committing suicide. (You can read more about Rachel on her web site, along with information about a movie on her life, and how to have one of the family members come and speak at your school.)
When this man’s daughter was killed, I’m sure he was wondering where God was when their daughter needed Him. But now even though they will never totally understand until they get to heaven why this had to happen, they are now seeing some good come out of it. And even though they miss their daughter, and I miss my mother, they are in a better place.
So I don’t know if this helps, but yes, “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” His purpose is that everyone be saved. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) God loves us and wants us to be saved; this is what it means to be called according to His purpose. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Our pastor has said: don’t always assume that it is Satan attacking only, but that it might be God allowing you to go through hard times that you might be more like Him after the experience. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith-the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:6-9)
I know when someone is going through a time of trials or testing it may seem trite to give them Romans 8:28, because it may be easy for you to say and hard for them to believe. However it is true and we need to remember this verse in our times of problems or hurts or deaths. Jesus also says: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) This is in comparison to what Satan has to offer.
Also, when suffering or persecution comes to us remember: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:12)
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
If you are not saved you cannot claim this verse of Romans 8:28 and not everything will work out for your good until you get right with God. In fact things will go from bad to worse eventually until you end up in hell. These are strong words, but this is what God says, and He loves you and He doesn’t want you to go there. However, He is a just God, and He has to punish every sin that enters His universe or else He would cease to be just and Holy. Children are born with this sense of fairness, they will always say to me, That’s not fair!” They know there has to be a right and a wrong.
This is why Jesus came to this earth to die in our place to take our sin on Himself that we might be made righteous (right in the sight of God.) “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Whose side do you want to be on? The choice is yours; you can be on the team that looks like it is winning now, but in the end will lose. Or you can be on the team that looks like it is losing now, but in the end will win. (Jim Elliott)
If you want to know that all things are going to work out for your good, then right now invite Christ into your heart and life. Ask Him to forgive you for your sin, and receive the forgiveness only Christ can give. Then and only then will you have the happiness, peace and assurance of knowing that all things will work out for your good and God’s glory. Because now you love Him and are called according to His purpose, if you have truly received Him as your LORD (this means you are saying Jesus is God) and Savior.
Gary T. Panell
For more information email me.
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