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
Romans 8:28 isn’t easy for us to believe. What happens in our minds is we move back and forth along a continuum between confidence and fear. At one end is “All things work together for good,” at the other end is “Nothing works together for good,” and in between is “Some things work together for good.” And our thoughts and feelings move back and forth on that continuum moment by moment, often hovering somewhere around the middle. We’re not terrified, but neither are we fearless. God wants to change that today. He wants to take us all the way into confidence.
It’s not that hard to shy away from “Nothing works together for good.” It’s nihilism. Nihilism says our lives are pointless. In The Man of La Mancha Aldonza sums it up: “The world’s a dung heap, and we are maggots that crawl on it!” Or remember “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols?
God save the queen The fascist regime It made you a moron Potential H bomb God save the queen She ain’t no human being There is no future In England’s dreaming Don’t be told what you want Don’t be told what you need There’s no future No future No future for you
Without Christ, the Sex Pistols are right. But few people can face that. They don’t have any hope worth believing in, but they can’t face that. So, they cover over the nothingness with amusing minutiae, especially if it involves technology. Technology – like my iPhone – makes us feel smart and advanced and clever. But what we doing with our technology? We have the most advanced communications in the history of the human race. But tweets about what? What is the hope in our lives that’s worth talking about? Seinfeld has been called “a show about nothing.” Nothingness can be brilliantly packaged in cuteness. Don’t be fooled.
Three alternative beliefs are competing for our hearts – at one extreme, nothing works together for good, at the other extreme, all things work together for good, and floating around in the mushy middle, some things work together for good. The least believable is that middle position. If we believe in God at all, we can’t believe that. What kind of wimpy God would arrange reality so that some things work together for good, and we have to drive down to church on Sunday to be told that some things work together for good, and he expects us to find hope in the message that some things work together for good – what kind of pathetic gospel is that? If there is any hope for us at all, it’s an extreme hope that covers everything, including the worst that life does to us. Either nothing works together for good, nothing in our lives has value, we suffer for nothing, there is no future, or all things work together for good and we are significant and everything about us matters and our sufferings are accelerating us into a glorious future. It’s one or the other. But the one thing let’s not do is dabble in the shallows. Let’s either reject the gospel wholeheartedly, or let’s accept the gospel wholeheartedly. But let’s not dabble. The gospel won’t allow it.
Here’s why we can believe with passionate abandon that our lives are entirely meaningful and completely valuable and wonderfully redeemed out of the nothingness we fear. The reason is Jesus. 2000 years ago God came down into this loser world. He humbled himself. He became an egoless nobody named Jesus. He loved us. He taught us. He healed us. And we hated him for it. His glory shamed us. Our pride couldn’t stand it. So we crucified him. That Friday afternoon in April around 30 AD was the darkest day in human history. When everything was on the line, we chose wrongly. But God was there that day. God was working our malice for good. When the apostle Peter preached about it seven weeks later, here’s what he said:
People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus by doing powerful miracles through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. You nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life. —Acts 2:22-24, NLT
And when the early Christians were being persecuted and were praying for strength, they looked back to Jesus and said this:
Everything [the enemies of Jesus] did was determined beforehand according to your will, O God. —Acts 4:28, NLT
Here is what God wants you to know – not that some things work together for good but that all things work together for good for you. If you have given yourself to Jesus, then he is right now retelling your story as a reprise of his story. God has wrapped his arms so widely around all things, including all evil, all your sufferings, all your sins, all your tears, everything that’s against you – God’s arms wrap around everything, and he’s holding you. He is doing this for you. Maybe the most wonderful word in this verse is the little word “for”: “All things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” You don’t have to do this for yourself. You don’t have to make sure you always win. You don’t have to control how people perceive you and what they say about you. You don’t have to orchestrate the happy ending you long for. If you are in Christ, the resurrection of Jesus is your future, and nothing can take it from you because God has determined to do this for you. Everything that happens to you is helping you get there. The God who loves you is so smart he knows how to bend everything around toward his loving purpose for you.
Let’s take this verse phrase by phrase, and let’s enjoy it.
And we know…
The verse starts out, “And we know . . . .” Because back in verse 25 he said, “We do not see.” In verse 26 he said, “We do not know.” There is so much about our lives we don’t see and don’t know. But now the contrast in verse 28: “We do know that all things work together for good.” How do we know that? Is Paul quoting something written earlier in the Bible, as he often does? No. He doesn’t tell us how we know this. We just do. Everyone who loves God feels this way about their lives. We struggle. We doubt. But if you’ve put your trust in Jesus, your heart knows that he is your ally in everything. There’s a place deep in your heart where fear used to live. Now that God has come to you, hope is there. Enjoy it to the hilt. Give yourself permission to be happy and laugh and not fret so much.
All you can do is enjoy it. You can’t analyze it. Your hope in God isn’t the result of your research or poll-taking or calculations. What does human research establish anyway? If you establish a fact by research and analysis, you can never be confident that more research won’t overturn your fact. Our confidence that all things in our lives work together for good – it’s a God-given intuition called “faith.” The gospel is all about a big God taking care of everything for us. If anything is true about God, it’s this. He is good, and he is in control. It’s who God is. When we say that God is good and that God is in control, we’re only saying God is God. We know this. So let’s enjoy it. Let’s not diminish it. Let’s get rid of a “some things” mentality. God is saying to us moment by moment, “Trust me, don’t bolt and run, I’m in this, and I’m for you.” That’s what we know now.
And we know that for those who love God, . . . for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 doesn’t belong to everybody. Everyone outside Christ goes to hell. If you haven’t given yourself to Jesus, if you haven’t hurled yourself at him so that you’re his problem now, all I can say to you is Good Luck. But if you love God, if you’ve given yourself over to him, Romans 8:28 belongs to you no matter what else might be true of your life.
It’s all about love – God loving you in Christ, you loving God in return. This is why Romans 8:28 can’t be mechanistic: “I want my life to go well, but I don’t want heavy involvement with God.” How could Christianity work like that? The gospel is that God loves you. All he’s asking is that you love him back. You don’t have to be perfect. Just love him. And when we turn from our self-love and love him, what do we find? We find that we have been called according to his purpose. We didn’t call to him. He called us. He came and found us. We had little use for him, but he still had a purpose for us. It’s just the way he is.
Now let’s put the whole verse together:
And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Here’s what God wants you to know about your life. Whatever you’ve suffered, whatever you’ve lost, whatever has been taken from you – the one thing no one can take from you is your significance, because God is the one who decides that. You haven’t destroyed your life beyond God’s ability to re-create your life, because God is your life. Your life is not a disaster; your life is a strategy for the display of God’s grace. The Bible is saying here that all things in your story – not some things, not just the nice things, but all things in your story are interlocking with all other things here in God’s world to fulfill his great purpose of redemption. It is not the purpose of God to settle the score with you over your sins; it is the purpose of God not to settle the score with you over your sins but to display his grace toward you through the finished work of Christ on the cross. No one can take this from you, because all things serve God’s purpose, because he is God. No one outflanks God. When they try, they only serve God more. Samuel Rutherford was a Scottish Christian about 350 years ago. He wrote this in a letter to a friend:
Sinners can do nothing but make wounds that Christ may heal them, and make debts that he may pay them, and make falls that he may raise them, and make deaths that he may resurrect them, and dig hells for themselves that he may ransom them.
Here’s one of the most practical doctrines of the Bible. It’s the doctrine of providence. The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 asks, What do you understand by the providence of God? The answer is,
Providence is the almighty and ever-present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.
What does this mean? It means you’re not a mistake. It means your life is not a train wreck. It means you are the right person in the right place at the right time to fulfill the purpose of God for you and others here in this world. It means only you, with your life, can accomplish it. It means you are not even living an ordinary life. It means all things are moving you toward magnificence. That’s what the word “good” here is worth. God has a magnificent purpose for you, because God is a magnificent person and he does nothing in a second-rate way, including your life. You will be with Christ, like Christ, forever, and all things are getting you there. We can’t see how all this works. But of course we can’t see it. The most important things going on only God can see. That’s why we live not by appearances but by his promises. God has said,
“I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you” (Genesis 28:15).
“I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’” (Isaiah 41:13).
“The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
“I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).
“God is not man, that he should lie or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19).
God has a plan for you. It’s a good plan, better than yours. And God is steadily working his plan to crown you with glory and honor forever. It’s why Frederick William Faber wrote in the nineteenth century:
Then learn to scorn the praise of men, and learn to lose with God,
For Jesus won the world through shame and beckons thee his road.
For right is right, since God is God, and right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty, to falter would be sin.
It’s okay to lose. Jesus lost. And God worked it all together for his good and our good forever. And now he’s telling that same story through you. Your life is a privilege. And here’s a very encouraging sign. When you find yourself thinking, “Okay, Lord, I don’t like this, but I believe you’re going to use this horrible thing in a wonderful way. I submit. I trust you. I love you” – when your heart responds to disappointment and loss with trust in God, you know he’s working a miracle in you. He’s giving himself to you. Could he give you anything greater? You will thank and bless him forever.
If you’ve never become definite about Jesus and you’re not sure you have a part in God’s plan, here’s how you step inside. Turn away from your sins that disqualify you. Turn away from your goodness that you think qualifies you. And open up the empty hands of faith, to receive God’s grace in Christ. Close the deal. Make up your mind. Receive Christ as all your hope. Will you?