28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
As one of the top five online “most searched” verses , Romans 8:28 is often taken out of context. There are several things it doesn’t mean.
First, this doesn’t say that all things are “good.” The Bible never implies that war, disease, divorce, abuse, injustice, tragedy, immorality, and on and on are good things. Second, it doesn’t say our definition of “good” matches God’s definition of “good.” Our preference would be not to go through any difficulty in life, and we define “good” as what is most pleasant at the time. Third, this is not a universal truth. Good is not ultimately experienced by all, but only those who love God (i.e, Christians). Fourth, this promise does not say that we will always see or understand the good that God is doing. Whether it is the death of a child, a divorce, or a tornado destroying your home, we may never understand the “why” this side of eternity. But, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean these things are not being used for God’s purposes.
The surrounding verses are key (as in all scripture interpretation) to understanding its meaning. In the context of Chapter 8, Paul earlier says, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18, NIV). Then, as a consequence of the Fall of mankind into sin, he speaks of the resulting groans of creation, believers and even the Holy Spirit as we look forward – through the sufferings – to the glory to come in Christ’s return. Our present wait is much like the labor of childbirth, though painful and difficult at the time, it results in the blessed arrival of a child. When Christ in glory returns, all suffering will be over for the children of God and creation. (Revelation 21:1-4)
We may never fully realize the “good” God is working this side of glory. However, if we know that God is working in all our circumstances, including our present sufferings, to conform us to the likeness of Christ, we can approach the joys and sorrows of life with a different attitude. We are better able to endure those difficulties when we know that God is preparing us for glory through the sanctifying process of conforming us to more completely resemble Christ.
Instead of having a “pity party” next time things don’t seem to go your way, pause to consider:
- What is my normal, natural, fleshly response in this circumstance?
- While a seemingly trite phrase, take seriously the question, “What would Jesus do?”
- What fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control) is lacking in you that God may be using this circumstance to conform you into the likeness of Christ?