Misused Bible Verses: 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” Romans 8:28

God is good all the time, all the time God is good. If you have been involved in the church for any length of time you may have heard that saying. To say God is good says that within the heart of God he is morally excellent and kind. His heart is true, his love is pure, and his kindness is seen in the goodness and mercy that he gives in abundance. This is how King David puts it in Psalm 23:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” Psalm 23:6

How about in the difficult times though? Looking at this verse out of context can make it seem that God has lied, or failed his promise. When tragedy strikes where where is the good? Where is the goodness when we suffer? What does this promise mean? “When the doctor has called and the cancer has returned, is it true the all things work together for good? When you lose your job,  is it true the all things work together for good? When you lose your marriage,  is it true the all things work together for good? Where do you find the good when the doctor says there is nothing more I can do bur maker her comfortable?” To many people Romans 8:28 at times can seem like and unkept promise, or lie. This is why we have to be careful how we uses verses. Out of context can mislead and let down other people. Let’s examine this verse as Paul wrote it as inspired by God himself.

So what is this verse not saying that people may misuse it as? People can use it to say only good things will happen to us. Or we can misunderstand what good is, like this story:

When I was in high school, I had a friend that I really looked up to. Greg was bright, talented, and most importantly he deeply loved the Lord Jesus. Unlike some of our other Christian friends, Greg was going somewhere for God. If anyone had a promising life of ministry ahead of him, surely it was Greg.

Early one Friday evening in the spring of my junior year, the phone rang. Greg had just had a freak accident. He was in a great deal of pain, and the doctors were not sure if he would pull through. I remember like it was yesterday staying up all night, sitting on the hospital floor, praying, numbly, staring at the “intensive care” sign that stood between me and Greg. I prayed for healing, and I had strong faith that God would answer. It never occurred to me that His answer might be “no.” It was. A few days later Greg entered the presence of Jesus.

Greg’s father was not a Christian, and he was understandably a broken man. Many of us who were Christians had opportunity to share with him. I will never forget when one of my brothers in Christ said to Greg’s dad, “You know, the Bible says all things work together for good.” His reaction was both understandable and predictable. He was angry and bitter, not only at Greg’s death, but at the sheer audacity of someone apparently labeling his son’s tragic death as “good!”’

It is also not saying that every event is a good event. I have torn my ACL three different times, is that good? I tell you it was not fun. But God used events to make “All things” work together for good. There have been opportunities because of these surgeries to share with others, and teach me things and that is where the good is found. So what does the verse mean?

First, we need to understand who Paul is talking to in this scripture. Paul has just given the idea that believers in Christ are set to receive an inheritance from God and bound for glory, that will put suffering into perspective. Paul even says that the sufferings we experience in life are nothing compared to the future glory that awaits us as believers. The bible says we groan inwardly, all creation does, when we will be taken from the fallen flesh and Christ returns. Until then we rest in the Holy Spirit who is our Helper to get through the day to days, to intercede when we do not know how. We don’t know all the answers, and we don’t know why things happen. We do not know how to interpret our daily struggles, or how to pray about things due to human limitations and weakness, but this we do know:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28

See the difference? We do not know much but we do know is all things work together for good. So whom is this for? Is it for everyone? No, this is set aside for those who have placed their faith in Christ, and love God. Not everyone can claim this verse because we are not all believers. Christians, be so very careful when using this verse to a friend who is not a believer.  It may sound harsh, but this promise is not for them but those who love God, that is those who are called according to his purpose. Let us remember that.

Now what does it mean for all things to work together for good? We may be tempted today to use good the way we as Americans see it. Health, success,wealth, and an easy life; the American dream. If that is true then that seems like God has failed those who love him in many cases. Because as believers we do not all experience these things, Paul certainly did not as a believer. We experience tragedy, we lose people we love, people get cancer, we lose jobs, and children get hurt. If Christians never experienced this would everyone not be one anyways. Here is the key, what does verse 29 say?

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to image of the Son”

That is it! The ultimate goal, what that good is, is making us like Jesus. Throwaway what we us as good, in materialistic terms, and view it in how God intends it. Our definition of good in this should literally be understood as we are being made to look like Jesus.

In this way all the things that happen in our life have a purpose as christians, to be more like Jesus. To bring God glory, spreading the proclamation of His kingdom, filling us with his love and making us holy. God allows great things and tragedies to occur for his sovereign purpose, which includes changing us.

“The most dramatic example of this is found at the cross of Christ. Here is where Satan, the Evil One, though he had won, but God had purposely woven together the actions of sinful men into something that was for our great good (salvation).” Acts 4 shows us this very well. Peter and John are banned to preach or teach the name of Jesus and threatened not to do so. This is what they pray out loud after that meeting:

27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

This is the beautiful mystery we need to come to understand. Bad things happen, and they don’t happen to good people because there are no good people, but they do happen. However God works it for good. He had the plan for Jesus back at creation. That he would go to the cross, but with a purpose and it was in God’s sovereign purpose, to defeat the enemy and make a way for us to be united with God again. So that we the ones that would be  “called according to his purpose,” might receive the ultimate good. Salvation in Christ.

So let us remember, no matter what is happening in life it does not take God by surprise and he is working through it. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on into completion” (Philippians 1:6). When the worst things happen to Christians it is for the greater good of bringing glory to God and making him known. Read the Bible, read about martyrs. Bad things happened to these men and women, but it was for good and God is and will be glorified through them.

Jim Elliot is the prime example. He went to Ecuador to be a missionary to a hostile tribe of warriors. Jim lost his life, and some other men when attempting to share the love of God. Months of work ended quickly with a spear from the warriors into these men. Where is the good in that? Later after the tragedy Jim’s wife Elizabeth got to go to the tribe and minister. They heard, and responded to the truth of Christ. Yes, Jim died but his example of not killing the warriors with his gun led them to ask questions and opened the door for his wife. The tribe converted and God was glorified. I encourage to look up Jim’s story and read it.

To us dying young does not seem good, but it was good in this case for the ultimate purpose of making God known. God does work all things for our good, but maybe not the man-made form of what we see as good today.  He works for the good of advancing the kingdom, and the glorification of his name. We may not see it until we are in glory and His work in us is completed but we can trust that is what he is doing. Let us be careful how we use this verse and strive to understand its true beauty. As Christians he is working it all out for us, but in ways we may not yet see or understand. When we suffer, we suffer for his name and glory and that is good.

Do not misunderstand me, God does do good things for us and blesses us. When the storms come we must realize He has not left. When tragedy occurs we must not ask why he failed. If God is sovereign it means He is in complete control. Nothing can happen without his permission. I imagine God holding back 99.99% of all the bad than can happen to me, and He allows .01% to happen. Why? To teach, stretch, and grow me. To teach me to run to Him, and see more of who He is and rely on that. All of it is for my good. Just like it was for the disciples, and many martyrs. As christians our lives will be marked with suffering of sorts, rest in the fact that God in the end will work that for the good. And what ever we do suffer here is temporary and short, and the glory we will experience will be better than good.


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