When I was a kid I did not enjoy going to the dentist. I don’t think I’m all that unique in this, it seems to be the experience of most young kids. There wasn’t anything really all that bad about the dentist or getting my teeth cleaned. It was just something I didn’t really find all that comfortable. Laying back in a chair under a bright light while someone I don’t know sticks their fingers in my mouth. It’s just weird. But, there was one thing about going to the dentist that made it all worth it as a kid. Once the cleaning was over and the dentist came in for the final check I would get up and they would lead me over to a big plastic treasure chest filled with goodies and I would get to choose a new toy to take home with me. It was awesome! Even when I was a bit older in middle school when I was ‘too cool’ for pretty much everything the dentist would still lead me over to the chest! Of course, I would pretend to not be excited and act all mature but as soon as it opened and I saw all the bouncy balls and G.I. Joes and those plastic jumpy frogs, I would immediately reach down like a 6 year old and claim my treasure.
As we draw near our passage today, some of that feeling comes flooding back for me. Because simply put, Romans 8:28 is a treasure chest of joy for God’s people. And in a small measure I feel like the dentist leading you to that chest and inviting you to enjoy its abundance. Well, let’s pray, that God would do just that.
I do believe today marks something of a momentous occasion for us as a Church. Ever since we began thinking about preaching on Romans, and now that we’ve been in it for some time, there’s been not just a few of us who have been eagerly looking forward to the day we arrive at Romans 8:28. And, the day has come!
I know I’ve said many times the brightest gem in Romans 8 is v1. And I think that’s true, v1 does indeed shine the brightest. But, I also think v1 isn’t the most famous verse of chapter 8. No, that honor belongs to v28. Why? Because it’s one of the greatest promises God makes to His people in the Bible. It’s not surprising, then, to find that throughout the ages, whether under threat of persecution or at peace, Christians have found rich comfort in troubles and robust courage to endure sufferings of all kinds in Romans 8:28.
Let’s begin with the context, and ask the question: why is v28 placed where it is in Romans 8? Specifically, why does it come after v18-27? Well, look back at v18. There we’re told we live in ‘this present time.’ A time in which we will experience suffering of many kinds. But even though this is true, this present age is not all there is. See that? We who are in this present age groan inwardly and long eagerly for…what? For the age to come! When Christ returns, and our adoption and redemption will be full and final. We long for this, and so does all creation. As v18-27 continues on we also learn that in our suffering we’re not left alone but have the great help of the Holy Spirit who groans within us, interceding to the Father, on our behalf, according to God’s will. And not only so! As v26-27 give way to v28 we learn more that encourages us in this present age. Yes, we look forward eagerly to the age to come when suffering will be done. Yes, we love the help of the Spirit in our weakness as He groans within us. And…see it Church…in this v18 world where suffering plagues us, v28 teaches that God sovereignly works all things together for our good. This is a great promise indeed!
So why does v28 come after v18-27? I think v28 exists, where it does, in our Bibles, to give more firmness to our feet as we walk through this fallen world. How does it encourage and give firmness to our feet? By showing God to us. Not a God subject to chance and circumstance and the will of man, but a God who is over all things, and working all things, so that in all things we receive the greatest possible good. Why does God do this? For His greatest possible glory.
Now that we’ve seen the verse in its context, we can began unpacking it.
You heard it read earlier, but we can’t read it enough so hear it again. Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
Let’s take this a phrase at a time.
“And we know…” That Paul speaks like this, saying this great promise is something ‘we know’ means, for Paul, this is no theory, this is no positive thinking, or optimistic notion he subscribes to. To him, this is fact. He had just admitted in v26 that there are times in his own weakness when he does not know…and must rely on the help of the Spirit to see him through those times, whether lengthy or brief. But here in v28, we find that this is something he knows. He knows from his own experience, its proven true in his own life as he has lived through great suffering and seen the sovereign hand of God work it all toward his good. Paul knew this and he wants us to know it, so he says, “And we know…” So Church, as we go through the rest of this verse I’d like you to be asking yourself some questions: do I know this? Have I known this to be true?, Do I love the truth that the God in His sovereign grace so rules over all the affairs of my life that all things now work toward my good? Or is this just a theory to me?
Before he states the great promise do you see Paul defines who this promise is for? See it as the verse continues…
“And we know that for those who love God…” Before the promise is given we learn the promise only belongs to a certain group of people, “…those who love God…” The promise discriminates, and is only in operation for some people, not all people. Only for those who love God, do all things work together for good. Do you wonder at this? Couldn’t Paul have put it differently and said something like, ‘All things work together for good to them who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?’ He could’ve said that, but he didn’t. Why is that so? Why does he frame this in terms of love toward God? There are probably many reasons he does it, but one of them is many describe their Christianity solely in terms of the mind, regarding Christianity as only a matter of believing the right things. This was an issue in Paul’s day, it has been an issue throughout Church history, and it’s still a problem present today. And Paul’s eager to show us that the Christian faith, while it does have much to do with the mind, and much to do with what we believe, it goes beyond the mind to the center of who we are, to the heart. It’s one thing to believe in God and to agree with certain doctrines about God, it’s another thing to love God with the heart. Right? Is there not a great difference between ‘I believe in God’ and ‘I love God’? This aims within us. Do we desire God, yearn for His nearness, and long for His presence? Do we love Him?
But also see it in another light. He does not say, ‘And we know that as long as we love God…’ or ‘And we know that for those who love God deep enough…’ no. The love in view in v28 is not a love rooted in our ability or capacity to love God. Paul states it simply, as if it were an identity marker. Who is this promise for? It’s for Christians. Who are Christians? Those who love God.
Let’s move on and see the next phrase.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” There it is (!) the great promise, that’s so grand we wouldn’t believe it to be true unless the Bible said it. “…all things work together for good…” Remember this isn’t just positive thinking, or a kind of general optimism available to us in the universe that we can tap into to live our best lives. This is a promise, a great promise from God to those who love Him. A promise clearly stating that God, in His sovereign and wise rule over all things, causes all things to work toward one goal: our good. Theologically, we call this the doctrine of God’s providence, that describes how God governs over and ordains whatsoever comes to pass.
Now, that God does this means not one detail of the Christian’s life works ultimately for evil, God works it all for good. All of it. All really does mean all here. Every single event in our lives, every single relationship, every single event, of every single day, down to every single millisecond is in view in the word all. Think about what that means. Is there a square inch, or a rogue molecule out there somewhere doing whatever it wants to do outside of God’s sovereign rule? No. God is truly sovereign over all.
But, there’s a few cautions here. First, Paul certainly doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us or everything we do in life is good, not at all. There are all kinds of evil things we do to others as well as all kinds of evil things others do to us. Sin is always evil, always regrettable, and there are always consequences to face from sin. The promise here is that God is so great and so big and so sovereign that He works all things, even evil and even sin, to our good. Again, this doesn’t ever excuse sin. But it ought to give us pause and prompt us to look for God’s purpose in our sin and suffering.
In the closing chapters of Genesis when Joseph was abandoned for dead, sold into slavery, falsely accused, sent to prison, and forgotten he probably wondered what God was up to. But when all these events played out and Joseph was exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh and his father and his brothers came to him for food during the famine do you know what Joseph told them? Did he say, ‘Wow, what a coincidence! I just happen to be in the right place at the right time to help you!’ No, he didn’t say that. He confidently told them in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil toward me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” What the brothers did was really evil, but what God was doing in it all was really good.
When Job faced the loss of all he owned and the death of his ten children he said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). And when sickness and sores racked his body and his wife told him to curse God and die Job said, “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
What about Paul? When he faced all manner of sufferings, stoning, and imprisonments he told the Church in Philippi, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).
Did all these saints believe that all things come to pass by chance? No. Joseph, Job, and Paul knew who God was and the sovereignty of God was the pillow they rested on.
We should admit, in the midst suffering we rarely see the grand purpose of God. It’s like trying to make sense of a whole puzzle by just looking at one puzzle piece. But once you finish the puzzle and step back to see whole of it you can see how each piece not only fits into it but how each piece was needed in order to complete the image. So too for the Christian. Romans 8:28 promises us that none of what occurs in our lives is meaningless, that one day we’ll be able to look back and see how each moment of life not only fits into the whole but was needed in order to bring us good.
Another caution here is this: let’s be careful how do we define ‘the good’ God is working all things toward for us. Do we define it in worldly terms, like health – wealth – and prosperity? This doesn’t seem like good idea because those were the very things Satan promised to give Jesus when he was tempting Him! So it follows that we should define ‘the good’ in view spiritually. But what good spiritually does God intend to bring us? Well, the context of our passage helps. v29 speaks of our being conformed to the image of Christ. Is that the good? I think so. Why? Look how v28 ends.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
Once again those who receive this great promise are defined. Earlier we saw it’s those who love God, now we see it’s those who are called according to His purpose. But ask, called to what purpose? That v29 follows this leads me to believe the good God is working all things toward is also the very purpose God has called us to: to grow us further into the image of Christ.
But this brings us into v29-30 which, Lord willing, we’ll cover next Sunday. For now, let me just say this.
The Horse and His Boy………Shasta, after a long and hard life concludes, “I was quite safe the whole time.” As you look over your life, can you say the same?
Romans 8:28 enables us to! Regardless of how many deep and prolonged minor keys there are in your life, God is working it all into a grand symphony culminating in our good and resounding to the great glory of His name.
But, there are two sides to the coin of this great promise. On one side is the truth that God, for the Christian, will work everything in life toward our good. But the other side is that for those who reject the gospel and reject Jesus Christ everything in life will ultimately work toward their condemnation. Conclusion? Come to Christ!
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 549.
 Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening, morning of August 5.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – The Perseverance of the Saints (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 184.
 Moo, Romans, 551–552.
 John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 314.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2015), 44.
 Thomas, How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home, 96-97.