It is little wonder why a verse like Romans 8:28 is a rally cry to many Christians. We consider Paul’s words, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” and apply them through various instances of life to find encouragement. Yet the richness of this verse goes well beyond merely the fact that God does indeed work all things to good for those who love God. The specific framework Paul works within in the context of chapter 8 is set in light of the glories that await us beyond this earth.
In Romans 8:18-25, Paul speaks of the reality of human suffering in a broken and fallen world that is eagerly awaiting the redemption of all things through Christ. While presently, this life is fraught with many trials and tribulations, the sufferings we experience are to be counted as incomparable with the glories to come. We groan, we wail, we suffer—yet with much hope as we persevere to the end, waiting for the redemption of all creation, and even our bodies. Yet in this, the tension that all mankind faces comes to the forefront, and the reason for this is simple: we must wait. This anticipation for glory builds more and more anticipation the longer we must endure this life. This anticipation for glory sustains us, and brings forth one major reason why we persevere: we hope in the age to come rather than in this broken and fallen age.
In Romans 8:26-27 then, Paul tells us that in the same way this hope for glorification sustains us, the Spirit sustains us, for He knows precisely how to intercede on our behalf before the Father. Where words and utterances fail us in our prayers, the Spirit transforms them into prayers that match the will of God. The very purpose of the Spirit’s intercession is not so we can feel good about His work in doing so, though we should have much joy in this fact. Rather, the Spirit’s work in transforming our failed prayers likewise culminates in us reaching the finish line, where we are ushered into the presence of our Triune Lord for all eternity. In other words, the Spirit’s work of intercession on our behalf is part and parcel to our endurance; we endure not only for the hope of the age to come, but specifically because part of the Spirit’s work is to bring about endurance in us.
Here then is where we find our particular reference that God works all things for good for those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose. And what is that purpose? According to verses 29-30, the “good” that God is working all things together for, is explicit. “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Human suffering has a purpose that culminates in glory. To make that ever clearer: the purpose of our trials and sufferings is to bring us to final redemption, where we see God face to face, free from the pain, devastation, and destruction caused by the curse of sin, our adversary Satan, and death itself.
What this then means is that our typical band-aid approach of this verse falls drastically short of it’s intended teaching. Rather than being a panacea that speaks to the trial itself somehow becoming something qualitatively good, it is what the trial produces that is good, namely, the salvation of our souls and redemption of our fallen state. Every moment of our life, from start to finish, is designed to sustain us to the very end of the age. God sees to it, from eternity past to eternity future, that those who love God, that is, those who are in Christ, will one day be glorified and ushered into a world free from the Fall and its effects. All of our groaning, all of our longing, all of our deferred hope for what is to come, shall be satisfied in the fullness and richness of God’s saving love through Christ.
Our inheritance is so secure that Paul then says in vv. 31-35 that we not only have a God who is for us, we not only have a God who freely gives us all things, we not only have a God who justifies, we not only have Christ and the Spirit who intercede on our behalf—we have a God who guarantees that no amount of evil can separate us from the love of Christ. This is a profound hope that nothing can squash or remove from us, and this is particularly why we can say with Paul that the glories of the life to come far outweigh our present sufferings.
It is not the hope of our current circumstances are turned to favorable outcomes and the trials lift. It is the hope that our current circumstances will inevitably give way to glory, and in fact are even the vehicle through which God is pleased to bring us to glory. In a condensed statement: our sufferings are the sovereign act of God, used for His purpose, which is to bring us into His heavenly Kingdom, free from the stain of sin. The Golden Chain of Redemption, as vv. 29-30 are commonly called, are not removed from suffering, but in fact, speak to the fact that every aspect of our life is secure in Christ, for nothing can undo what God has so gloriously accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
When we consider the implications of this, this truth we hope in has profound significance that even the apostle Paul speaks to in the following verse, where he quotes Psalm 44, “…For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” The point of Paul (and of the psalmist) is that we are confident martyrs, sent for the slaughter, for His sake and out of His good pleasure, but ultimately, for our good, or rather, our ultimate redemption. Suffering is seen as an integral part of this process, which then means suffering is merely the fiery chariot that our Lord uses to transport us to glory. In all of it, the design is that we take much comfort in God as the Sovereign One, even in the midst of a seemingly endless barrage of trials or self-inflicted hardships. Consider then your life.
Perhaps it is one where much pain and agony is brought on by foolish and sinful choices. It is the Lord who ultimately is bringing such things for your good. That which you intended for evil is the very same thing He intended for good. For those who love God, such afflictions and chastisements are the means by which He will produce repentance, loyalty, and a further love for God and His commands. Your sin, heinous as it may be, was paid in full through the shed blood of Christ, and He will see to it that your heart no longer yearns to serve the flesh, another master, or falsely look for another hope in life and death. Endure the consequences to your sin, yet embrace your Father, who disciplines those whom He loves. Consider His instructive purpose in discipline, not only for the sake of learning how you might honor the Lord in days to come, but that His discipline will have its intended result.
Perhaps your life is one where much strife, humiliation, and defeat is your never-ending companion. It is the Lord who ultimately brings such things your way for your good. That which others intended for evil is the very same He has intended for good. For those who love God, such innocent sufferings and attacks are the means by which He will produce continued hope in the age to come, a continued love of the mercy and grace of your Lord, and even a contentment that surpasses all human understanding. Endure through the trials of this life, that you may inherit the crown of the martyr even, if need be, for not even death itself can stay His hand or remove you from the love of Christ.
Whatever station you may find yourself in, let the Lord’s perfect work realize its intended purpose. You and I may never come to find ourselves in more pleasant circumstances in this life. We may not see the unintended consequences of our sin improve. In fact, they may become worse and all the harder. Likewise, we may never even come to understand the specific reasons why we suffer in the ways we do. We might even sense that the Lord has forgotten us in our troubles. Yet what we can know is that the intended purpose behind God working all things for good in our sufferings, is that one great day, we will depart from this life marred by sin and inherit all the glories promised to us through Christ.
Weep, groan, and yearn for what could have been. After you have done so, dry your tears and remember: the faithful, covenant love of our Lord will never depart from you if you trust in Christ. You are safe in the grasp of the Almighty, not only through all eternity, but even now. He is actively working all things for good for those who love Him—and that “good,” which is your glorification, cannot be robbed of you no matter what may come.