Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 8:28—God’s sovereign direction of all things for his people’s good.

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose.

Christian hope rests on the pillars of God’s sovereign power, his Fatherly love, and his promise. All three divine characteristics come into view in this verse. By his power he controls “all things.” By his Fatherly love he controls them for our good. And by his purpose for controlling all things he will complete our promised adoption by conforming us to the image of his Son.

If I am not convinced of God’s good intention when misfortune comes my way, I will not question God’s power but rather his goodness. The devil’s accusation goes like this: “If your God really cared about you, he would not allow this to happen to you.” Satan wants me to conclude that God does not like me.

Paul counters that God so cares for me that he is molding me into the likeness of his Son. This is a lesson I learned many years ago, and I hope you have learned it too.

God reweaves our future
Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob’s old age, certainly had to overcome doubts about God’s goodness following his brothers’ treachery. Years later Joseph confronted his fearful brothers with this realization: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

Writing about Joseph’s ordeal, Max Lucado says, “In God’s hands intended evil becomes eventual good.” Lucado explains that Joseph used a Hebrew verb (“meant”) that traces to the idea of “weave”:
“You wove evil,” he was saying, “but God rewove it together for good.”

God, the Master Weaver. He stretches the yarn and intertwines the colors, the ragged twine with the velvet strings, the pains with the pleasures. Nothing escapes His reach. Every king, despot, weather pattern, and molecule are at His command. He passes the shuttle back and forth across the generations, and as He does, a design emerges. Satan weaves; God reweaves.

Now let’s explore God’s sovereign control over the circumstances of our lives. First, we note that Paul places two qualifications on the people for whom this truth applies.

Those who love God
ESV follows the literal order of the verse by placing this qualification first. Love of God is a characteristic of all people of genuine faith in Christ—it is a product of our regeneration—and this general sense is likely what Paul has in mind. Thus the promise applies to all Christians, not just a few who excel in their love for God. Nor does our love for God earn God’s providence. It is not “meritorious but simply a response to the divine love and grace” (Everett Harrison).

Whereas haters of God will incur his wrath (see 1:30), lovers of God enjoy his sovereign protection and wise benevolence.

All things work together
For the meaning of “all things,” the prior context points specifically to our sufferings and weakness in this age, but there is no reason to restrict its scope. As Paul says in the last verse of this chapter, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God. His sovereign hand is presumed to be the force guiding all the circumstances of our lives for good.

There is no time limit on this promise. It is not restricted to the future, as if we would only see God’s outworking of all things when we get to heaven. God’s meticulous providence is evident in our lives today, as many of us can testify to the ever-present hand of God in our families, ministries, and careers.

But what about believers’ lives cut short by a car accident or an assassin’s knife? This verse assures us of God’s sovereign direction and care, but we won’t know until the consummation how the “good” is realized in every case. Paul calls us to faith in God’s sovereignty regardless, because no evil, not even our own sin, can keep us from the destiny God has chosen for us.

Charles Cranfield favors translating the Greek compound verb for “work together” rather as “help” or “profit,” the idea being that “all things profit for good.” He says, “Paul’s meaning is that all things, even those which seem most adverse and hurtful, such as persecution or death itself, are profitable to those who truly love God.” Profitable for exactly what, we now ask.

What is the “good”?
Once again the context points to the answer, given in the next verse: conformity to the image of God’s Son. This is the predestined purpose to which God has called us. “Christlikeness, not prosperity, fame or health, is God’s unalterable plan for every believer” (Robert Utley). Our full maturity in Christ’s image will delight both our Father and us. In fact, one measure of our maturity is how closely our definition of “good” converges with God’s.

God paid for us with his Son’s blood, so we are his to do with as he pleases. He determines both the goal and the process, which at times is painful. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). For insight on God’s use of suffering and discipline to conform us to Christ, my book has an encouraging chapter, “Surrender to His Ways.”

Those called according to his purpose
This is the second qualifying characteristic of those who benefit from God’s sovereignty over evil. Although Paul expresses this qualifier second, it is what makes the first possible. We cannot love God until he first loved us by choosing us (see 1 John 4:19).

Also to be noted is that the divine call is not a mere invitation to respond to the gospel, but is an effectual call with a guaranteed result. By God’s grace his call leads inevitably to the believer’s glorification in the likeness of Christ, as we will see in the next two verses.

If you have not yet responded to God’s call of you—you will know it by the Holy Spirit’s conviction—you can do so now by calling on the name of the Lord (10:13).