Dear radio friends,
One of the most precious promises of God in all of Scripture is found in Romans 8:28. I trust that it is well known to you. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” That must be one of the best-loved promises of God in all of the Scriptures. It is a promise that belongs to you, child of God. It was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, and it is sealed in your heart by the mighty work of the Holy Spirit.
You may say, “I know that all things work together for my good.” You must always say that. You must never stop saying that, as a child of God. When all seems utterly hopeless, painful, and you are hurt, say, “This, too, will turn out for my good.” What is a Christian? A Christian is this: he is one who believes that, through Jesus Christ and by the power of God, everything is working for his good.
When the text says, “All things work together for good to them that love God,” it does not mean that they work that way on their own, that there is some resident power or fate at work in things. But it means that God works all things together for good to them that love Him. When the text says, “All things work together for good,” it does not mean that all things are good. Paul is not saying that everything that happens is necessarily good. He is saying that God turns all things for good to them that love Him. And what is good? Good is God’s highest glory and our greatest joy in Jesus Christ. All things, good and evil, are used by God to bring His highest glory in the life of a child of God and to bring our greatest joy in Jesus Christ.
There are two things that I would pray that God will work in us as we hear the exposition of this beautiful promise today in Romans 8:28. The first is confidence, the assurance of this promise. This must be the foundation of our life. This marvelous promise must be present in our souls every moment, in every event, and every day. We must understand that there are no accidents but that God, in His own wise way through Jesus Christ and out of an eternal love, is working our good.
You will need this promise. You will need it desperately, for many evil things shall come your way in this present world. With this promise you will stand. Without it, you can only sink.
My second prayer is that, on the basis of this promise, we might have an incentive, that we would go aggressively into our Christian life. The promise does not mean passivity. It does not mean, “Well, since God is working all things together for good, I can sit back, do nothing, and risk nothing in His service. Just enjoy life.” But the promise is a battle cry. It means, Be active in God’s work. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of the cost, the consequences, of a God-centered, Christ-honoring life. It means, consider being active always in His service; consider marriage; consider having children; consider, church of Jesus Christ, being active in missions. Do not sit back. Do not say, “Let others do it.” Those who believe this promise that all things work together for good to them that love Him will be active. They will go.
We ask the question: For whom does God work all things together for good? The answer is plain: To them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose. That is not two categories of people, but that is one. Those who love God are the ones who have been called according to His purpose. And those two things must be true of you if this promise is to be yours.
So the first thing we need to see is that all things do not work together for good for everyone. Paul says in effect, if you do not love God and if you have not been called according to God’s eternal purpose, all things are not working for your good. All things are not going to turn out all right. For the person who does not love God and is not called according to His purpose, optimism in this life is foolishness. There is no bright future. Pessimism is exactly the right state of mind for those who do not love God.
Our country wants assurance, assurance of the future. Investors want assurance of a good future. Hope for the future sells big-time. But the Word of God, the Word of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is that, for all those who do not love God, who do not repent and bow their knee before the Savior Jesus Christ, all things are not working good.
Romans 2:5 describes the experience of those, and the future of those, who do not love God. There we read, “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” In other words, the experiences of such a person as he walks through each day in its trials do not turn out for good. They turn out for wrath. If one does not love God, then the pleasant things that he experiences, for which he does not thank God, and because of which he does not turn to God to worship Him—those pleasant things are one day going to condemn him. If you do not see God above you, if you do not see God in all things, and if you do not thank Him, you are storing up wrath.
Also the painful things. When day by day you walk through painful experiences but you do not trust in God, you do not turn to God, you do not trust in Jesus Christ, then that pain is not working good. It is working a foretaste of hell.
A man’s way, apart from Jesus Christ, may be very prosperous. Or it may be poor. But if one does not love God, and if he is not called according to His purposes, then those experiences of life are not leading to good but to misery—eternal misery.
For whom do all things work together for good? For them that love God; for them who are the called according to His purpose. Now, what does that mean: love God? We assume that today if you say the word “love,” everybody will know what you mean. But I am convinced that nobody today, apart from God’s grace of course, knows what that means.
Love for God is an abiding condition of the heart created by God’s grace. Love for God is an abiding work, because He has worked it within you. So, first of all, love for God is something that God must work in us by His grace. We read in I John 4:19 that we love God because He first loved us.
But what is love for God? Do you love God? Love for God, in its essence, is not, first of all, a love for His gifts. Love for God, in its essence, is not, first of all, that you love God because of all that He gives to you. But love for God is a love for God. You treasure God. Love for God, in its essence, is not seen first in the deeds that love prompts us to do. If I were to ask the question, What does it mean to love God? perhaps you would say, “Well, um, it means to go to church and to keep His commandments.” Yes, that is the fruit of loving God. But that is not the essence of loving God. People can do those outward works. They can go to church. They can outwardly keep His commandments. But that does not mean that they love God. Love for God is love for God. It is a high esteem for God Himself. It is admiration for God as God. Listen to this expression of love for God ( Ps. 63): “O God, thou art my God. Early will I seek thee. My heart and my soul thirsteth for thee. My flesh longeth for thee as in a dry and thirsty land.” Love for God is admiration and esteem and worship of God for who He is—the ever adorable, sovereign, thrice-blessed God.
We must be careful that in Christianity we do not produce hypocrites. We can do that when we equate the outward with the essence of the thing. Then we say that if a person goes through the outward motions of being a Christian, he must be a Christian. If he has the outward expressions of love for God, he must love God. That is not true. The outward acts of Christianity can be imitated. Our concern must not be to produce squeaky-clean, shining, do-do-do-do Christians. But the concern of the church of Jesus Christ is this: Do you love Him in your heart? Love for God is a heart-awe of Him as He shows Himself to you in Jesus Christ the Savior. It is not, first of all, a love for His gifts. It is not, first of all, your actions. But love for God is, first of all, in the heart an esteem for God Himself. It is knowing God as the God of gracious salvation, your Savior in Jesus Christ.
Love for God is desiring God. Let me use the words from the Scriptures. I will not refer to the text—because of the shortness of our time. But let me use these words. Loving God is, according to the Scriptures, desiring God, treasuring God, delighting in God, being satisfied with God, cherishing God, savoring God, valuing God, prizing God, reverencing God, admiring God. Do you love God? Love for God means that you stand in awe of God who created and redeemed you. You are awed by Him and the mystery of His grace and love and faithfulness unto you His child. It means that you will be a person who repents of his sins. It will mean that you will be a person at heart who wants God to be pleased with how you think, how you feel, and what you do and say.
All things work together for good to them that love God. The promise is that, for those who love God, every event, every moment, every circumstance, both good and bad, pleasant or difficult, joyful or a burden, is sent by God for good, to bring His highest glory and our eternal joy. All things! Not just good things. Not just when we see God’s blessing and we can praise Him. But the point is that bad things, evil things, hard things, impossible things, things that reduce us to tears, things that break us down, work for good.
That is the context here in Romans 8. It is painful. That is why the verse is here. We need this Word of God. This is not fluff. Romans 8 makes plain that the prospects for the Christian’s life on earth are bleak. In verse 17 we read that we shall be glorified with Christ if we suffer with Him. Verse 18: “The sufferings of this present time.” Verse 20: “The creation is made subject to vanity,” that is, futility. Verse 21: We are under the bondage of decay. We need the redemption of the body. Verse 35 speaks of tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, and all the rest. Especially the point is this in Romans 8:28, that it is not just that we as Christians are living on the earth under the curse of sin, but that when the child of God by grace carries the banner of the Lord into life, he will experience much opposition and evil. Because you are a son of the Father, a daughter of the King, the heavenly Father will chasten you and prepare you. So, as a Christian, evil things are coming into your life.
But the promise is that all things (evil things, every last thing that comes into my life) will be worked by God to accomplish my good, His glory in me, and my joy in Him. The promise is not simply that we will have good in the end, that now on the earth we will be knocked around a bit and we will have to suffer a lot but in the end we will go to heaven and we will have it good then. Too bad it cannot be otherwise now, but just look ahead. That is not the promise. The promise is this, that God will work through all things to bring out our good, that God’s purpose will be accomplished.
All things work together for good to them who love God, who are the called according to His purpose. That means that God knows what He is doing. All things will be an instrument in His hand to mold, shape, prepare, and fit you as vessel for His praise and for His glory. All things are being sent by God into your life not to destroy you, but in order that you might shine yet more brilliantly in the knowledge of Him as your God and Savior.
In all things, God is working the good of them that love Him, who are the called according to His purpose. God is working all things for good for me.
But you say, “How can I be sure of that? How can I be absolutely sure that this promise is true for me? This promise is so massive, so unbelievable, so weighty.” The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, knows that he must put a very deep foundation under this promise to hold it up and help us believe it, especially since sometimes (very often in fact) everything in our lives seems the opposite, and we are tempted to say, “All things are against me. How can I know that this is true for me?” In a sense, you could say that all the rest of chapter 8 can be seen as Paul’s effort to put a foundation under this promise. He will go on to say, “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own son, shall he not give us all things freely with him? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? Who shall separate us from the love of God?”
But the massive foundation that is placed under the promise that all things work the good of those who love God is this: “Who are the called according to his purpose.” Now I said at the beginning that these are not two groups of people: one group who love God, the other who are called according to His purpose. This is one group. The promise is not for everyone. It is for those who love God, and those who love God are the ones who are called according to His purpose. Now Paul adds “who are the called according to his purpose” in order to give a reason for our assurance. If he had said only, “All things work together for good to them that love God,” then that would make it sound as if the promise rests upon flimsy ground—my love for God. My love? Yes, I know that God worked it in me, but my love for God? That is weak, variable, and fickle. To make the promise stand on my love for God, that all things work together for good because of my love for God, that would be like resting a mountain on a marshmallow, or a skyscraper on tinker-toys. Paul says that the promise does not rest upon your marshmallow heart. But it rests upon this, that you have been called according to His purpose. There we have God’s work. And that is the foundation: God’s call. And God’s call is something that is massive and solid and strong.
God works all things together for good to those who love Him because they are the ones He has called according to His purpose. Or put it this way: I know that God will work all things for my good because He, according to His purpose, has called me to Him. I am called by God. That is a wonderful doctrine of the Scriptures. The call of God is His bringing you into contact with the gospel of Jesus Christ and making your dead heart alive so that you see the gospel as inestimably beautiful and true. If you are a Christian, it is because God irresistibly called you. That is God’s mighty work—to bring us forth out of unbelief to faith, to bring us out of enmity to love, to bring us out of darkness to light. He awakened you. He called you. He called your name. He said, “You are mine.” He called you to Himself. The divine call comes to us through the preaching of the gospel, not the words of a man, but the preaching of the truth of the gospel in which the Holy Spirit addresses that word to the heart—the saving call of God.
How do I know that all things work together for good? Because God has called me to Himself irresistibly, according to His own purpose in Christ Jesus. We know (not we hope) that all things work together for good to them that love God. How? Because God has called us, God has predestinated us, God has purposed to justify and to glorify us. He did that. It is all of Him! He is obliged now to keep us. It rests in His own faithfulness and in His own power.
Oh, we may have seasons of doubt and struggle and trial. But underneath this promise is a massive foundation—the promise of the God who has said, “You are mine. I have called you to Myself.” This God will also work all things for my good, for He is faithful and He will do it.
Do you, by grace, believe that? Then what confidence you may have! You do not need to know the future—except that God has planned it. He has ordered it in such a way for a marvelous good.
But more. If you believe this, then you will have the incentive for your Christian life to go and to serve. You will not respond to the promise with passivity, with complacency, with a casual attitude so that now you say, “Well, since God is working everything for my good, I can just indulge in the American dream, the American materialism, and all of its unclean pleasures.” No, this verse will be a battle cry. I cannot be defeated in the cause of Jesus Christ. You will go and you will serve Him. You will not fear the cost. But you will spend your life in His service—no matter the cost. You will follow Jesus for whatever the cost, whatever comes into your life. It will work for your good. For all things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy precious Word. We pray that it may enter into our hearts today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.