Romans 8:28-30 is a favorite passage for many Christians. Sometimes this can be for sentimental reasons which are not bad in and of themselves. It’s important to distinguish what the passage means to us from what the passage actually says, and to get its meaning right. As humans, we need to hear truth repeatedly.

We will glean truth from this passage using a series of 4 questions.

How many things does God work together for good?

Some people think the word “all” in verse 28 is limited in its scope, based on the context of verse 18. Grammatically, there is nothing that falls outside of “all things.” It is not hyperbole.

Not every translation contain the words “God causes” in verse 28, but it’s important to recognize God’s sovereignty in this passage. God is the cause of every situation and circumstance; nothing happens by chance.

Do you really believe this? There is much at risk if anything is allowed to be outside the “all things” that God causes. This is an important place to start, because we are confronted with unbelief in our own hearts. Many things in life seem to confront this truth. However, we must answer these questions the way the Bible does. Romans 8:35-36 lists many examples of negative circumstances that do not “separate us from the love of Christ.”

If God works all things together for good, does that mean that all things are good?

No, not all things are good by themselves. Paul recognizes the reality of sufferings in verse 18 and 35-39 of this same chapter. God wants us to be realists. Creation and mankind groan under the weight of the curse of sin. This will be done away with in the New Heaven and Earth.

Joseph also recognized the evil of what was done to him by his brothers and his unjust imprisonment (Gen 50:20). We are not obligated to see evil as good in disguise. This verse does not mean that all things are good. This world is not as it should be because of the effects of sin. Don’t feel guilty about recognizing that.

We should be careful to appreciate others’ pain when coming alongside a suffering believer and not try to get them to a happy point of view too quickly. Hymn lyrics like “Rejoice in the Lord; He makes no mistake” can seem like a cruel joke. Yet the truth still is that God is so powerful and loving that He can take any situation, even the worst, and bring about good.

Is this promise for all people?

In Greek manuscripts, the phrase “to those who love God” comes at the beginning of the sentence in verse 28. Similarly, “we” refers to those who are in Christ. Only those who have acknowledged their sin and confessed Jesus as Lord can claim this verse (Rom 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9-10). The word “all” is not repeated here. Not just any reader of this verse may insert themselves into its context.

A Christian can be assured that all things will be used by God to bring about good. This is a promise. If you are saved, God loves you so much that He pours all of His sovereignty and love and character to work good for a specific purpose.

How does the Bible define “good”?

The definition of “good” is crucial to what this verse means, how we apply it, and how we should use it with others. If we define it for ourselves instead of God, we will misunderstand this cherished passage. God defines good (Genesis 1:31, James 1:17).

Romans 8:29 defines the good purpose that God works all things toward: becoming like Jesus Christ. Sin deforms; we need to be conformed to Christ’s image. In Him, we are made part of a family (verse 29) and justified (verse 30). Even our glorification is as good as done, though it’s still future from our temporal perspective.

We may know and agree with God’s definition of good, but sometimes it’s hard in the time in between. The word “good” means something to one’s advantage or benefit. We benefit not just in heaven but now. Do you believe that becoming like Jesus is worth the suffering you may be experiencing now? We need ongoing calibration of what we consider good, whether we like our circumstances or not. The outcome is good because it will make us like Christ.

This is why the answer to the third question is so important. Apart from Christ, our definition of good is comfort and prosperity, not becoming like Jesus. Unbelievers do not have the hope of all difficult circumstances working out for good. At the end of their lives, they face an eternity without Christ. This is a dire situation. What is the point? The purpose of their difficulty can become that of a believer’s, if they repent and place their trust in Christ. Thomas Watson commented that an unbeliever’s trouble is meant to bring them to the end of themselves so they are forced to turn to God. We must urge our friends without Christ to do so!

Good is fundamentally spiritual, not happiness, pleasure, fulfilment, or success. The primary issue is not of the intellect but the heart and will. Will I submit my definition of good to God’s? What I experience, whether mundane and grievous, may not be pleasant, but if it makes me like Christ, this is good.

Application Points

  • You may not struggle to agree with this passage now, but there probably was a time in the past or will be in the future that you struggle to believe that God works all things together for good. There are probably others around you who do because their situations seem contradictory. How can you consider their pain as you come alongside them if you decide to share this passage?
  • Don’t feel guilty if you look around the world and see that things are not as they should be. We do not say every situation is good or that bad is good in disguise.
  • How do you react when you don’t get your way? The primary issue is not of the intellect but the heart and will. Will I submit my definition of good to God’s?