Romans 8:28 is a favorite of many Christians and a proper understanding is essential for a proper Christian faith structure.
First, it is important to know who this applies to. We don’t need to guess at this because the verse mentions “To those who are called according to his purpose.” It does not apply to non-believers- those who “walk according to the course of this world.” They are styled “children of disobedience” and “children of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:2, 3) God’s providence is not over them.
In the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15) Jesus describes different responses to his message. The best response is “the good ground…which is an honest and good heart
This class wants to know God’s plan and will above all else. It’s a high standard as Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking godly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Have we sold all we have? Not literally, but have we committed ourselves to God completely? His will being done in our life and a knowledge of his plan is the most priceless procession in our life. Then Romans 8:28 applies to us.
This class is “called according to God’s purpose.” What is God’s purpose? God is now calling out a class for his name. As stated in Acts 15:14 “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. “ Now is NOT the time for the conversion of the world. After this class is selected then God will use the nation of Israel to deal with the residue of men. The verses following vs 14 show there are two classes of saved. Act 15:16,17 “After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. “ So there are two salvations, one now for “A people for his name” and after that class is complete “the residue of men.”
The people for his name is also called “sons of God.” As sons they would get special attention receiving blessings, instruction and discipline. Non-sons would not receive this attention. Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:5-11(Weymouth) “ and you have quite forgotten the encouraging words which are addressed to you as sons, and which say, ‘my son, do not think lightly of the lord's discipline, and do not faint when he corrects you; for those whom the lord loves he disciplines: and he scourges every son whom he acknowledges.’ The sufferings that you are enduring are for your discipline. God is dealing with you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? And if you are left without discipline, of which every true son has had a share, that shows that you are bastards, and not true sons. Besides this, our earthly fathers used to discipline us and we treated them with respect, and shall we not be still more submissive to the Father of our spirits, and live? It is true that they disciplined us for a few years according as they thought fit; but He does it for our certain good, in order that we may become sharers in His own holy character. Now, at the time, discipline seems to be a matter not for joy, but for grief; yet it afterwards yields to those who have passed through its training a result full of peace–namely, righteousness. “
Note he says “at the time, discipline seems to a matter not of joy, but of grief yet it AFTERWARDS…” This is a key to how “all things work together for good” as Romans 8:28 mentions. Afterwards. God has the perspective of eternity. He wants to develop in us a fixed character that at heart desires his will and knows it’s the best. The good is primarily for our spiritual interest not primarily for our earthly interest.
The focus on the spiritual interest fits with the reality of what we know of Christians in the Bible and our own lives. Take the Apostle Paul for example. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-22 Paul list some of his difficulties. In prison, beaten, stones, shipwrecked, weariness, pain, hunger, thirst. Yet all these things were an example of what he was willing to endure for the sake of Christ. Jesus told his at his conversion what “great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16)
Suffering and all things working together for good? They seem like contradictions. We live in a world opposed to Christian principles. By our suffering we show God our loyalty and faith and how we won’t compromise. That is the good Romans 8:28 is talking about. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him, if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12) The good is eventually reigning with him. He that is faithful unto death will receive a crown of life. (Revelation 2:10) The good may be in this life and sometimes is, but ultimately the good is our reward in the next life.
What about our mistakes? Do all things work together for good as if we have no will in the matter? When God says they work out for good he’s taking the long term view. When, not if, we make mistakes God desires us to learn from our mistakes. We ask for forgiveness, learn the lesson and go on. “A just man falls seven times and rises up again.” (Proverbs 24:16). God will overrule that we get the lesson if we are seeking His will. God is the best teacher and Father. Experience is the tool he uses along with the scriptures.
Not only does God have the perspective of eternity but He also has the interest of the entire Church. When the Apostle Paul was in prison he wrote letters to the churches he established. These became incorporated into our Bible and have instructed the Church for almost 2,000 years. Paul’s person experiences were difficult but the blessings extended beyond his lifetime. A much greater good than if he was free and visited the churches.
When God says “all things work together for good.” It takes faith to see the good. We want to see if we need to correct ourselves and learn some lessons. We need to have patience. We need to think of others. It may take years before we can look back and see the good. We may not see the good until we’re with the Lord.