By Johnny Stringer
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Just how extensively is this principle to be applied? Are there no limitations to the “all things” that work together for our good? Many apply this statement without limitations, but to do so leads to some strange conclusions. If a dog over in Mongolia digs a hole, does that hole benefit you or me? It is a thing, but is it included among the “all things” which work together for our good? I do not believe so. I believe we would be just as well off if the dog had never dug the hole.
It seems clear that the term all is limited by the context in which it is found. For example, when Paul said, “All things are lawful,” we must understand that the “all things” did not include drunkenness, murder, and adultery. Some people who say “All things are lawful” may mean to include those things, but in the context of the Bible, the writer must not have meant to include them, for they are prohibited in the Bible. Similarly, I am convinced that the “all things” of Romans 8:28 are limited by the context. The dog’s hole in Mongolia is not the kind of thing under discussion in the context of Romans 8:28.
Paul proceeds in verse 29 to elaborate on verse 28. The connection between the two verses is seen in the word for at the beginning of verse 29. In verses 29-30 Paul summarizes the things God has done which culminate in our glorification. God is doing many things for us, and all these things are working together for our good. The “all things” working together for our good are the things God is doing toward our ultimate glorification. These are the things under consideration in the context. Paul speaks of our glorification in the past tense because it has occurred in God’s plan or purpose. Such usage of the past tense is also found in Genesis 17:5, Joshua 6:2, and Isaiah 53:4-8.
Paul’s purpose in this passage is to give assurance. The assurance is only for those who love God (v. 28), and loving God involves obedience to him (1 Jn. 5:3). Having stated that God is working things out for the ultimate good – the glorification – of those who love the Lord, Paul proceeds to assure that God will carry out his purpose.
We can find wonderful comfort in the assurance Paul gives in this passage. We can feel secure in the knowledge that no one has the power to defeat God’s purpose for those who love him (v. 31). Moreover, we should realize that if God was willing to give his Son to die for us, he surely will continue to work toward our glorification, giving us all the things that he purposed for us – if we continue to love him (v. 32). Then Paul points out that if God has justified us (acquitted us of our sins and declared us to be not guilty), no one can charge us with sin and bring about our condemnation. Jesus died for us and there is no force that can cause us to be lost if we avail ourselves of his intercession (vv. 33-34).
Finally, Paul assures us that God’s love toward us is constant and unfailing (vv. 35-39). We may go through many tribulations and hardships, but we can be comforted by the knowledge that God still loves us. Things may not be going well for the present, but we can be confident that he is still working toward our ultimate glorification. As we endure suffering and hardship, it may not seem that we are winning a glorious victory, but regardless of how things seem, we are “more than conquerors”; for after the suffering, the glory will come (vv. 35-37).
Verses 38-39 assure us in majestic language that no power or force whatever can cause God to quit loving those who love him. If we lose our souls, it will not be because any of the forces listed in these verses caused God to quit loving us and therefore withdraw our salvation. Rather, it will be because we renounced him and his blessings. This passage does not say anything about what we can do. We can renounce God and salvation if we choose; God does not force his blessings on anyone. But so long as we love him, he continues to work toward our ultimate glorification as promised in Romans 8:28-30.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 4, p. 111
February 20, 1992