One of the most misused verses in the Bible remains my favorite verse. God revealed it to me in the early days after He saved me. I can remember my delight, mostly because I was misusing it also. It says:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
The misuse happens because wishful thinking assumes it means all things will turn out okay in the end, and when trouble comes I don’t need to worry because God has a purpose and eventually that problem will be seen as a blessing. Of course, I was thinking mostly of my own comfort to define the ‘good’ that would come. I did not realize that in the mind of God, good can mean far more than my comfort.
Finally, a Bible teacher alerted me to examine the context of this verse before interpreting it. This is important. When people take a verse, or even what other people say, out of the framework in which it is written or said, it can be taken to mean things not intended.
For example, once I told a funny story and made a joking remark about “people think I am crazy.” A friend equally joking said, “That’s because you are crazy.” I blurted out, “Oh, I love you too.” In context, this was playful banter. However, if taken out of context, all three of these comments could be misunderstood.
Romans 8:28 is misunderstood for the same reason. People use it to comfort others who have experienced a deep loss, or terrible trials. Someone taps their shoulder and says, “It will turn out for good” without thinking that a suffering person needs more than a pat on the back or a pat answer.
The key to this verse is the context. Notice that verse 28 begins with a conjunction which connects it to the verses that come before it. They say:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26–27)
This is comfort in that those who are suffering are blessed to know that when their stress is great and they cannot pray, the Holy Spirit is praying for them, even praying in the will of God. Therefore, God is at work to make this work for good — along with all other things in their lives.
This still does not answer the issue of good. That is in the verse immediately after verse 28. It says:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)
The best good thing that God can do for me is to transform me into the likeness of Jesus Christ. As a new Christian, I was thrilled to know Jesus and had no idea this was His purpose for me. Once He revealed this, I became more excited! To be like Jesus? How amazing and wonderful is that! Of course, I didn’t realize what it would take to produce that transformation.
Some of it happens with confessing sin. 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” However, the process requires more than being cleansed. My sinful ways also need to be replaced. Christ lives in me, and His righteousness is ready to appear, but that requires my cooperation. Over the years, I’ve realized the damage sin has caused in my volition; it made me into an “I don’t want to” kind of person. This is where Romans 8:28 comes in!
God uses the circumstances and events of life, both pleasant and traumatic, to shape me into a ready and willing person, ready to say YES and willing to do His will rather than insist or even desire my own way. This is why I say this verse is misused as a comfort.
ll things means all things. God uses the good that happens, the bad, even the mistakes I make to form in me a yielded heart, but also bring out in me the life of His Son. Many of those shaping events are no fun at all, nor can I say they are good in any other sense than God used them to bring from me a Christlike response.
Jesus, I love this verse because it is true, practical, and gives me direction for how to respond to everything that happens. I still fall short, but You have not given up; You continue to use all things for this amazing purpose. The last of them, the final all thing, will be death. Then I will see You face-to-face — and finally be just like You.