Do All Things Work Together for Good?
I have used Romans 8:28 almost exclusively alongside my name in the last sixty-five years whenever I sign a letter or a book. I lean on it all the time. If you knew how often I have messed up over the years -- and still do more often than I wish -- you would understand why I love this verse.
What a promise! It means what it says, that everything that has happened in the past will work for good. It does not say that good things work together for good. Good things don't need to work together for good. They are already good! The promise means that things less than good work together for good.
A Larger Principle
This verse mirrors a larger principle. There are two polar opposite world views when it comes to the issue here: existentialism versus theodicy. Existentialism is a hopeless philosophy that says there is no rhyme nor reason for our existence. There is no purpose in what happens. As for evil and wickedness, they just happen; you will never know why.
Wrong! There is also theodicy -- the view that there is a purpose and meaning to life. Our Creator God is a God of purpose. God will one day clear His name and magnify the honor of His Son. "So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow ... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11, ESV).
Paul does not say that everything that happens is good. There is nothing good about a plane falling from the sky. There is nothing good about a hurricane or tornado. There is nothing good about an accident that leaves one injured or crippled. There is nothing good about losing your sight or hearing. There is nothing good about losing your job.
There is nothing good about COVID-19. There is nothing good about a wicked policeman putting his knee on a helpless Black man's neck until he dies. There is nothing good about violent protesting that results in damaging stores and taking away one's job. There is nothing good about being hated or rejected because of the color of your skin.
A Wonderful, Comforting Verse
You may ask, "What about my sins? Does Romans 8:28 cover my sins as well?" I answer: if Romans 8:28 does not cover my sins, it has little meaning for me at all. My most painful regret is sins I have committed and the guilt that followed them. So does Romans 8:28 cover my sins? YES. "All things" work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose. What a wonderful, comforting verse!
God knows where we have been. He sympathizes with our foolishness, the offhanded comment, the friendship turned sour, the hasty decision that turned out to be so bad, our hurts and all that is in our shameful past.
Our Free Pass
I consider Romans 8:28 the family secret. Why? For two reasons. First, not all believe this! Not all are expected to believe this. Only those in the family of God believe this. You may say, "I don't believe for one moment that all things work together for good." Paul answers: "I never thought you would. It was not meant for you; it is for those in the family. That is why he says, “We know.” As in, "You may not, but we do."
Second, the promise is true only for those who love God, "for those who have been called according to His purpose." Things certainly don't work together for good for everybody. Certainly not. Those outside the family experience the opposite: chaos, unrest, trouble, confusion, hopelessness. Things don't work together for good for the unsaved.
Caution: the fact that something works together for good in the end does not mean that it was right at the time. The husband may say to his wife, "See there, it shows I was right." It may not show that at all. God made it work together for good, but this does not justify your wrongdoing!
For Those Who Love God Now
Another caution: it is for those who "love" God -- present tense. This promise does not apply to those who once loved God but no longer demonstrate love for Him. As long as people live in a state of apathy, they need not expect to have everything working together for good.
But for those who repent of their waywardness and love God, it puts God to work for them! After all, it is He who makes this happen. Things don't automatically work together for good. Things work together for good because God makes all things to work together for good.
Every Christian can testify to the truth of this verse. The "good" may not be discovered in a day, but in time, we see that God causes the past -- whatever is in it -- to turn out for good. Romans 8:28, then, is a verse that refers to the past. God knows where we have been. It is not a verse that gives someone carte blanche to live irresponsibly. It refers to the past, not the future. Romans 8:28 is God's way of saying, "I don't want you to feel guilty." It is God's way of saying, "As for the past, leave it with me; watch what I do."
Not Up to Us
God doesn't want you to help Him. Don't say, "I must make sure that what I did works for good, therefore I must do this." If you try to make something work together for good, it will get worse -- every time. God does not want your help; He wants to get all the glory.
We are all on the brink of a new chapter in our lives. What is ahead presents a more significant challenge than we have known. God knows this. He sympathizes and shows the way forward. The same God who has guided us in the past will not forsake us.
And as for the past, God knows exactly where each of us has been. The family secret is our free pass to a guilt-free past. That said, we can know that the same God who ensures that all things work together for good is the God who promises to stay close by us as we go where we've never been.
He will not desert us.
Dr. R. T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, England, for twenty-five years. Born in Ashland, Kentucky, he was educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv) and Oxford University (DPhil). Dr. Kendall is the author of a number of books, including Total Forgiveness, Holy Fire, Word and Spirit, and his new book, We've Never Been This Way Before.
Originally published October 12, 2020