We are all familiar with the passage in Romans 8:28. If you are not, here is the verse:
“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 (ESV)
The first six words of Romans 8:28 are strikingly important. They set the tone for who this passage is intended for. However in our consumer driven church most pew sitters will only recognize the middle six words. The context of the verse is missed, the verse’s interpretation is mishandled and Christ is amended for the purpose of marketability. Popular Scriptures today are sold in numerous bookstores, gift shops, even on pro basketball shoes because only half of the verse is used. The reason only half the verse is used is because only that part of the verse is marketable, likable, and positive. The christian marketing industry, and the typical american pastor are starting to have a lot in common when it comes to drawing people in with their own strategies and man-centered methods. This is what invoked me to write this little piece on Romans 8:28. May this help you get back to the purpose of Paul’s original meaning for this text that the Americanized Consumeristic Peoples Version Bible discards.
For many out there this analysis or interpretation of this Scripture might make me out to be a hyper-calvinist, or give the idea that I don’t believe in evangelism or I am a condescending pharisee that only wants to show people that they are doing it all wrong. This is not the case and my gentle desire is to have you consider the possibility that what you initially were taught about this text might have been wrong.
Consider this: maybe this verse is a promise for a select group of people, and that this verse doesn’t promise everything in the believers life to be good. Let’s dive in.
For Those who:
- love God
- are called according to His purpose
Now, I want to look at this text for the purpose of looking at the text. No makeup is covering it, and there is no glaze covering the surface. Just you, me, and the Scripture. You and I know this passage very well. Not only is Romans 8 a popular chapter, but there are a lot of verses that are memorized by Christians in this chapter. Verse 28 is probably the most memorized passage, but it may be memorized without a correct understanding of what the text actually means. I am not the scripture memorization police, but I do listen. I want you to know that I don’t have all the answers, but Christ has given us the Spirit to look at His Scriptures to help us interpret them so we can obey them correctly. Studying the scripture’s original purpose is important. Otherwise we will be misleading people and giving people a hope that is only designated for a group of people that the Spirit sets apart in this text. Let’s take a closer look at who this passage is for, and what Paul is saying.
“For those” occurs twice in this passage. (Let me restate that I’ve done little research on this verse.) “For those” makes this verse exclusive to a certain group of people. Before that there is another key word “we”. My first question is who is Paul talking about when he says “we”. What is the connection between “we” and “for those”? When Paul says “we” he is referring to the whole Body of Christ. Now if we go up to verse 26-27 I think we will see that Paul uses the same pronoun “we” and “us”. He is talking about believers. Indeed, if you will go all the way back up to verse 1 of chapter 8 you will see who this chapter is for as well. This chapter is “for those” who have the Spirit who are in Christ. Christ has given us His Spirit when He left to ascend into Heaven. The details of the need for the Spirit are laid out in the verses prior to verse 28. “For those” are the people who have the Spirit and are working with the Spirit. These people are adopted by God, children, heirs, receivers of the Spirit of adoption, brothers, debtors, who live according to the Spirit, and led by the Spirit. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. These are the people who Paul addresses or even sets apart in verse 28. This verse does not include all, but only those who are called according to His purpose. These people who are called according to His purpose first of all love him. “And we know that for those who love God” How can God be for those who do not love Him? If He is not for them then He must be against them. There is common grace as Jesus teaches about in Matthew 5:44-46. In a sense, “good” does happen to those who do not submit to Jesus as Lord. Bt this is only out of Gods common grace which he has for all. It is only Gods saving grace that sustains a believer until the very end. Make note that the text says “all things.” Sometimes we look over this important bit of scripture and head straight to the good stuff. “All things” is not clarified as being good or bad. But “all things” is used by God in the process of making sure the best outcome for the believers sanctification is possible. Whatever God does He brings us through it for “our good.” But there is a condition. They must love God. The only way they can love God is that God must love them first and bring them into His love. That is the only way a Christian can look at this passage with hope. R.C Sproul exclaims that
“The promise of God that all things work together for good to those who love God is something that has to get not only into our minds, but it has to get into our bloodstreams, so that it is a rock-solid principle by which life can be lived.” R.C Sproul
In order for you to look in this text and locate yourself in the “for those” category; you must be a child of His. But isn’t everyone a child of God? No. And I won’t leave you hanging there. I will point you to 1 John 3:10, and comfort you with this. In the beginning man was created. God created man in His on image, and He gave dominion to man over the Garden. Man rebelled and mankind inherited this sin nature. God, man’s creator sinned against God. Therefore sin denies man access to a Holy God. Because of Adam’s sin God designs temporary ways that man can come to God that points to the coming of the Savior, the New Adam, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ fulfilled the law, lived a perfect life, became a sacrifice for His people on the Cross, and rose on the third day fulfilling the OT prophecy. Those who do not repent and believe in what Christ has done are not His children. For how can God call someone a child of His unless He brings them to this belief?
Here is a sermon link to expound more on this topic:
If you are not a child of God then He is not working all things for your good. If you do not love Him, then why would He bring good to an evil person unless it was the message of the Gospel “the good news”. This is where I would say that God does work all things for the good of His elect. Since all people are born into sin as David writes in Psalm 51:5, they are unable to come to God. Ernest Reisinger writes in Today’s Evangelism that “all men are spiritually blind, spiritually deaf, and spiritually dead.” I believe that only God can totally save a man and make him alive. (Ephesians 2:5) He uses the Spirit to regenerate unbelieving, perishing, evil hearts and turns them to Himself. (Titus 3:5) Therefore, regeneration is the start of your sanctification that is being made holy by God. As a new creation you have new affections. Old passions for the flesh are wained by the power of Christ. And though you are not perfected yet repentance is always on your lips. If you love God; He will always be working for your good.
Lastly, if you are not called then all things will not be good for you. Some things maybe, but only under the umbrella of common grace. You must be called, and this is not just for the preacher. This is for everyone who is in Christ. If you are in Christ you are called to be in Christ. This calling is not brought on by yourself for verses 12-17 touch on that God adopts, God gives the Spirit, God enables us to call him “Abba!”, and only those who suffer with Him are His. This calling is a calling to go and die with Him if need be to follow Him faithfully. Only those who are called by God can be prepared for such a daring, and daunting task.
The promise in Romans 8:28 is exclusive to the believer, thus excluding the non-believer. But towards the end of Romans 8:28, “are called” means that there are those who will be called who are the elect. This is our reason to evangelize! All these things surround an ultimate end: to fulfill Gods purposes here on earth. These two words, “for those” is important to remember when reading this text, meditating upon this text, and applying it. Will the people around you be able to “love God” as you are now able to, and are you sharing the gospel with others so that they too through the Spirit receive adoption. The “for those” theme continues in verse 29 and 30. Throughout these verses we can see God in the author, finisher, and director of our salvation, sanctification, and glorification for the sake of Christ and His glory.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:29-30