Romans 8:28-30 are part of the unfathomable riches of the Word of God. They are overflowing with riches that we cannot get to the bottom of; that we cannot get to the corners of; and that we cannot get to the top of. The wonderful things that are revealed here are the source of greatest conviction, certainty, and comfort for the Christian. Another way of saying the same thing about these verses is that they are the source of greatest faith, hope, and love for the Christian. Here we see what God has done, is doing, and will do for us for the sake of His own Son.
I’ll give you a brief summary for now and later we will look deeper into these matters. God has elected us for salvation in eternity; He has predestined us to become conformed to the image of His Son; He has called us to salvation according to His purpose through the gospel of Jesus Christ; He has justified us through faith in Christ; He speaks of our glorification in the past tense because He cannot fail (don’t forget that God calls the things which do not exist as existing based on His unfailing ability to bring it about- Romans 4:17); and as a result God is causing all things to work together for good to those who love God.
All this means that nothing can cause us to lose salvation; nothing can cause us to fall away; and nothing can stop God from bringing us to glorification which will be our full and final rescue from our bondage to corruption caused by sin. This means that for the children of God, suffering works for us and not against us.
In the context of this passage the primary interpretation of “God causes all things to work together for good” is the negative things that would condemn us and cause us to fall away are used by God to work for us and not against us. It is the negative things that test our faith and would cause us to fall away not the positive things. Now we don’t deny that there are good things that work for our good – that’s why we would call them good things. Bible study, worship, prayer, fellowship with the saints, and a host of other good things will encourage us and equip us and help to bring us to the measure of the stature which belongs to Christ. But clearly the “all things” in Romans 8:28 is in the context of suffering with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17ff).
This means that God has a plan for suffering and that what others mean for evil, God intends for good. This means that for the child of God and the child of God alone – God says, “I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). So God is going to cause our suffering to work for us and not against us.
“We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God….” How do we know?
First, we know because of the testimony of Scripture. Over and over as we study through the Bible we see how God has always and without fail worked out the suffering of His people for their good. Take Joseph for an example. He was hated by his brothers; thrown into a pit; taken out and sold into slavery; carried down to Egypt and sold to Potiphar; lied about by Potiphar’s wife; thrown into Pharaoh’s prison; left in prison for years; and then exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh. And we read Joseph’s words to his brothers when they had to come to Egypt for food and Joseph revealed himself to them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).
Take Job for an example. Satan used every form of suffering in his power against Job to try to get Job to fall away and deny his faith. And yet we know the outcome – that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful (James 5:11).
Take the suffering and patience of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example. We know that those who endured were blessed and that their reward in heaven is great. Instead of their suffering working against them and causing them to stumble, God caused it to work for them and to be that which proved and strengthened their faith.
We could go on and on about the sufferings of the men and women of faith but time would fail us if we attempted to tell of them all and see how God caused all things to work together for their good and how their reward in heaven is great.
We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him because of the testimony of Scripture.
Second, we know because of the testimony of our own experience. Suffering for the sake of righteousness is inevitable for the child of God. It is God’s will that we suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Him. It is God’s will that our faith be tested so that He can prove Himself to be faithful. What have we discovered in and through our suffering? I would say that we have discovered two things in and through our suffering: God is faithful and our faith is real!
Let me illustrate how God causes our suffering to work for us and not against us: When we are falsely accused of all sorts of evil or persecuted and afflicted for the sake of righteousness, do we run away from God or draw near to God? Do we go deeper into His Word to be sure that what is happening to us is exactly what happened to the men and women of God who were before us or do we quit Bible study altogether? When we are suffering do we pray or do we pout? When suffering causes us to draw near to God, to go deeper into His Word, and to pray then we must conclude that God is causing it to work for us and not against us.
So God causes suffering to work for the child of God by causing it to work for our sanctification. Everything that the devil would use against us to harm us chips away more and more of our self-reliance and brings us into more and more reliance upon God so that we are being conformed to the image of Christ – which is God’s ultimate goal for all His children. Anything by the devil that is intended for evil against us, God causes to work for us! “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us” (Romans 8:31)?