A Truth Too Precious to Forfeit
Prepared by Dr. John Marshall
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). With beauty and ease, Paul expressed one of the most powerful and astonishing statements in Scripture. If we meditate on this verse, and believe it fully, we cannot be depressed at the same time. It encourages us in troubles, which explains why Romans 8:28 is a favorite verse for many, including for my deaf sister, Esther. R.A. Torrey called it “a soft pillow for a tired heart.”
Romans 8:28a (Holman) We know that. . .
Paul stated his case as fact. The truth presented in our text is not guess or conjecture, but certainty. We may never fully understand the promise given here, but are expected to accept it. It is a truth too precious to forfeit.
Many things in life we don’t know; for instance: what causes us to age and die, what will happen tomorrow, when Jesus will return, what we should pray for (RM 8:26). The Bible does assure us about things we need to know, including, “We know we are of God” (1 J 5:19); “We know the Son of God has come” (1 J 5:20); “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so you may know you have eternal life” (1 J 5:13).
There are other precious truths in the Bible. It contains many doctrines we can accept without doubts or misgivings. One of the most blessed of these certain doctrines is the one contained in this verse.
Romans 8:28b . . .all things. . .
However perplexing our present circumstances may be, do not be shaken from the confidence that God is working in “all things”. Do not let the devil rob us of this assurance.
Paul may be referring to all that happens to believers, but the context suggests he is primarily talking about afflictions we Christians face. God, to achieve His purposes, is working in the difficulties we face in life.
A Shepherd sometimes has to injure the leg of a lamb that habitually runs away. During its recovery, the Shepherd holds the crippled lamb in his arms. Once the leg is healed, the lamb has learned to stay near the Shepherd.
Thus it is with the Good Shepherd. He often allows affliction in our lives to draw us closer to Him. Anything that draws us to God is good for us.
It may not feel good, but is good. This is illustrated in the way severe body pains can be a blessing. They force us to find a doctor, who can stave off worse pain. Even so our afflictions cause us to flee to the Savior for refuge. The pain sends us to Him who can spare us from even worse pain.
We easily become cocky. We often think we can live the Christian life by ourselves, in our strength. Afflictions force us to examine ourselves more closely. Troubles jerk us out of complacency and drive us to prayer.
Afflictions are not necessarily a direct result of sins we have committed, but they do make us reflect on our past conduct, and humble our pride. Dark days can make us realize anew how dependent we are on God.
Afflictions can wean us from love for things of this world. We often become too preoccupied with things of this life, and let them monopolize us.
Troubles help detach us from earthly things. Losing wealth may help us concentrate more on spiritual things; better poor and godly, than rich and evil. Losing loved ones can help us long more for Heaven and less for Earth.
It is easy to love the world less when health is gone. A sickbed has often taught more than a sermon could teach. Martin Luther said there were certain Psalms he could have never rightly understood till he was afflicted.
Many times we are at our best when we think we are at our weakest. When God scours us, we lose nothing but rust, though the process is painful.
God can use pains to extract from us the beauty of holiness. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (PS 119:67).
God sometimes has to put His jewels on friction-wheels to polish them. Abrasion is necessary when polishing a diamond. God has to smooth down our rough edges, and clean away our polluted dust.
God never deals capriciously with us. His acts are never cruel. He is always working toward our good. When Naomi lost her husband and sons, she felt bitter, “ I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. . . .The Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me” (Ruth 1:21). Despite her feeling of gloom, God turned her calamity into a blessing through the later events of Boaz and Ruth.
Romans 8:28c . . .work. . .
This word “work” is present tense. God performs His kindnesses for us in our troubles all the time. The promise in this verse applies not only to what happened in the past, but also to what is occurring right now.
It is sometimes easy to look to the past and see all the things have worked together for good. The test of faith is in the present tense. Do we trust God to work together for good what is happening in our life right now?
Romans 8:28d . . .together. . .
This word assures us our lives are designed, not aimless; orderly, not chaotic. Interworking all things for our good is a result of Divine chemistry.
God does not always give us everything we want, but He never leaves us on our own. Our lives are not left to chance. God loves us too much to let that happen. Even as several compounds in a medicine are brought together to bring about a desired result, even so God uses His own bosom as a crucible in which He works all things together for our good.
God’s intermingling of events in our lives is not purposeless, but directed by Him to attain a very specific end. The happenings of our lives are fitted well together to achieve a desired result. Our existence is not disjointed, consisting of unconnected events. They form a pattern.
Romans 8:28e . . .for the good. . .
Before we proceed farther in our study of verse 28, we need to look at verse 29 in order to understand Paul’s definition of “good”. His description of good in verse 29 is a crucial key that unlocks the meaning of verse 28.
Verse 29 teaches us; “good” means being conformed to the image of God’s Son. It refers to whatever it takes to make us like Jesus.
God uses sufferings of this present time to help make us more like Jesus. Adversity does not thwart God’s plan for our lives, but fulfills it.
God uses our afflictions to help us be conformed to Christ’s image. Trouble is God’s pencil to etch the image of Jesus more distinctly on us.
Not all things work together for our physical or material benefit, but God does work in all things to make us like Jesus. We err if we equate God’s goodness to us with material gain or the lack of pain. Not all things are good or feel good, but they do work together for good, to make us more like Jesus.
If we do not understand and embrace Paul’s definition for “good”, it will finally become easy to disbelieve this verse and turn bitter. Resentment and disillusionment will tend to set in whenever setbacks or tragedies come.
“Good” does not mean everything will work out the way we want it to. Our desires are not of supreme importance. Being like Jesus is what matters. Whatever the cost, we should desire that God would never cease conforming us to the image of His dear Son. Holiness matters most.