The context of Romans 8:28 is the suffering that believers encounter and endure for the sake of their faith in Christ so that they will be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:17ff). In the simplest of terms this means that God is causing our suffering to work for us and not against us. Believers will be more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37) and their faith will be continually strengthened through their suffering and they will never apostatize (Romans 8:30).
So the “all things” that God’s Word is speaking of in Romans 8:28 are the negative things; the sufferings and afflictions that God is causing to work for us and not against us. And if God is for us and working all things together for us, who or what can be against us (Romans 8:31)?
We have already noted that God isn’t doing this for everyone but only for those who love God. And we know that no man in his natural state loves God but is in fact and enemy of God, hostile toward God, and hates the God of the Bible. He may be in love with a God of his own imagination but the holy, strict, and always just God of the Bible he hates with a passion and would even dare charge Him with evil, immorality, and a monstrous character – all because He will not bend to their lower standards of justice and morality which is in fact injustice and immorality. Those who are brave enough will even declare that they could never love a God who would send men to hell and who would punish them eternally for their crimes against Him. Others hate God because He saves some but not all. They would love a God who saves all but not a God who saves some and not others.
But we know that we love God not of our own accord but because He first loved us. So apart from men coming to know and believe the love which God has for them as demonstrated through the Gospel, they will continue to hate the God of the Bible. And here is the kicker – no man can will himself or make himself love God (John 1:12-13). God must choose him and cause him to see the love of God for him in the Gospel so that he responds to the Gospel in faith and love. Only men who receive the love of God in Christ Jesus can become lovers of God.
And that brings us to our text where we will study “those who are called.” The Bible distinguishes between the external call where the Gospel goes out to call all men to believe on Christ and the effectual call where the Gospel actually becomes the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. In other words the external call only becomes the effectual call to those who are chosen.
Jesus categorically declared that many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14). He was saying that the Gospel invitation goes out to many but it is rejected by most because compared to those who are rejecting it only a few are chosen. This means that no man can respond properly to the Gospel in and of himself. This is why Jesus said, “No one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65).
So salvation is a result of the work and will of God that excludes the work and will of man (John 1:12-13). Believers have never been called or chosen on the basis of their works or superior worth to other men but solely by the grace and mercy of God (2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 2:9; Titus 3:3-7). God didn’t choose you because He saw that you would choose Him; you chose Him because He first chose you and there’s no getting around that.
You may be wondering then, how did God choose? We are told in God’s Word, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before the Lord. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
God chooses according to the kind intention of His will (Ephesians 1:4-6), or as our text puts it, “According to His purpose.” This means that God’s choosing and calling us is totally a work of God and totally by grace and totally for His glory.
So the biblical conclusion is that the called are the effectually called and these are the chosen. Those that have not been chosen by God cannot and will not respond properly to Christ through the Gospel. This means that the Gospel then is to one group an aroma of death unto death and to the other group an aroma of life unto life. So we know for sure that for those who are perishing the Gospel is foolishness.
How do you know if you are called or not? The answer: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….But to those who are the called, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 24).