Does God really work all things for good?

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*In light of 9/11 I decided to repost this article I wrote a few years back

The Bible says many astonishing things, it makes many audacious claims, and leaves us with many incredible promises. Not the least of these is found in Romans 8:28, a passage dearly beloved by many Christians:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

These are words of comfort and hope to thousands of people around the world daily. I’m sure you like me have turned to this promise in times of trouble, difficulty to find refuge and peace. There is nothing else like knowing that God is there in the midst of your storm and working it out for your good!

However, I do have some quibbles with how we use this text. It seems to me that for many unfortunately this is nothing more than a Christian version of the “abra-kadabra,” something you say and anticipate that it will make the situation dissolve, get easier, reverse, or remove the consequences. People are not sure how this will happen, but just hold on to the promise and wait for a miracle from heaven. These words are repeated like a mantra in times of distress to calm oneself down. Many know what the text says, but in reality have no idea exactly what it means or how it’s specifically relevant to their life.

While many people quote this verse when something hard is going on in their life, and it is the right verse to quote, sadly when asked how the situation is working for their good most just say that God is in control and He knows. That’s undoubtedly true and comforting, but it comes short in delivering what this text means or how it’s supposed to be a blessing to our life. It’s hard to understand how something can really work for good, especially in time of difficulty, if it’s unknown what that good is. It may work for the small and petty disappointments that are faced daily, but won’t handle much weight if a real crisis came. God meant for this verse to be a true beacon of light during the storms of life.

Here are a few observations. First, this is an all-inclusive promise for all circumstances in life, from small daily difficulties to major crisis and sufferings, “all things work together for good.” This promise says that whatever is faced, anything and everything, is meant to result in good.

Secondly, this good is not just for the future, but actually has a present focus. The text strongly testifies to this, it doesn’t say “will work,” but rather “works,” present tense, not future! This is very important, this good, whatever it is, is not the promise of future, but the experience of the present.

Lastly, most importantly is the context. Verse 29 begins with “for,” meaning it’s going to explain the previous verse. Rom 8:29-30 is key to understanding Rom 8:28. Here is what is says,

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. (ESV)

We don’t have the space to look at all the facets of this text, so I’ll focus on what’s most pertinent to our topic. The good work that God is accomplishing in all our circumstances is the conformity of people to the image of His Son. This is absolutely crucial to understand, because if the expectations differ from those that God is pursuing, there will be disappointment. God’s primary focus is to make us more like His Son. This is how God defines good.

The title of my article is a question, “does God really work all things for good?” The answer is an obvious YES! However, God is working out the good the way He sees it and not the way we often do or want it to be. This puts us face to face with an extremely important question, “how do I see what is the ultimate best for my life?” Romans 8:28 is true when we embrace the reality that conformity to Christlikeness is the best “good” of our life.

When God thinks about each of believers, when He charts out the plan for their life, He is passionate about their good. As any parent, so is God most concerned that His children experience that which is good for them. Romans 8:28-30 is a testimony to that reality. It’s a reminder that the best part of life is not good circumstances but conformity to Jesus Christ. It’s also promise that God is sure to make this come to pass in the life of His beloved.

It’s not enough to quote Romans 8:28 in light of affliction, but one must see how the situation can lead to conformity to the character of Christ. This needs to be the functional philosophy of life, the dominant theme in the worldview.

This leads to a few important applications. First, realize that there is nothing as important as becoming more like Christ. Unfortunately this has become somewhat of a cliché statement, but that doesn’t annihilate its truthfulness. The more Christ like someone is the more useful to God he is and the more fulfilled live becomes. This pursuit should be at the center of life.

Second, resolve to use each circumstance to progress in reflecting Jesus with some aspect of your life. This is the practical outworking of Rom 8:28 – that every instance in life has the potential to make this happen. These opportunities are either lost or used.

Thirdly, don’t wait till later to conform to the image of Jesus. This is extremely difficult, especially in the heat of the battle when you just want to get out. God’s intention is not for the good to happen tomorrow, but rather in the midst of the battle. Make it a priority to focus on how the situation you’re in can make you more like Christ at that time, not later.

Fourthly, trust God to carry you through whatever your going through and to form the image of Christ in you. This is not something that happens by pulling yourself by your bootstraps, but rather that which God Himself is very interested in making happen in our lives. Do cry out and trust God to provide the help. Obviously, this won’t happen if you let go and let God, but it won’t happen if God is not accomplishing this.

We belong to an awesome God who’s Word is sure and promises are true. Romans 8:28 is to be embraced and cherished, and also to be applied and lived out. I hope this text will not just be a Christian mantra for you, but rather a spring of life to form the life of Christ in you.

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