What would it be like to have a powerful, wealthy, well-connected person always looking out for your wellbeing? No matter what happens in your life, this person would be on your side, offering support and assistance as needed.
Incredibly, the Bible says that every believer in Jesus has someone like this. They have someone always looking out for them, always working for their best interest, who has the ability to turn misfortunes to their benefit, regardless of the circumstances.
That person is God, their heavenly Father. And in Romans 8:28 God promises his children his active goodness in their lives. This verse says,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)
Let’s consider who God gives his promise to, what it means that God works for “good,” and how we can apply this promise to our lives.
It is always helpful when reading an isolated verse like Romans 8:28 to read the verses that come before and after it, so that you understand the bigger message the verse fits into. We call this the “context.”
Paul’s letter to the Romans is written to “those who belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6). In the immediate context of chapter 8, Romans 8:28 addresses those who are “in Christ” (v. 1), live according to the Holy Spirit (vv. 4-5), and have the Holy Spirit living in them (v. 11). As Paul says, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (v. 14 NIV). In verse 28 Paul says this promise of God to work good in our lives is for “those who love God” and are called according to God’s purposes.
Keeping that context in mind, we see that Romans 8:28 is not a general promise for everyone. God only gives it to those who have faith in his Son, Jesus. This means that people who do not have faith in Jesus cannot have the assurance that God is working for their good in all things.
The reason that only believers in Jesus can receive this promise has to do with what God is promising, or what he means by saying he will work for their good in all things.
What does it mean that God works all things together for the good of those who love him?
Paul mentions suffering both before (Romans 8:17) and after (Romans 8:35-36) our verse. He tells us that God uses suffering to bring about the “good” that he intends for each of his children. In chapter 5, Paul says this about suffering: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)
Paul doesn’t say, “Only good things will happen to you if you believe in Jesus.” Rather, he says that no matter what happens, even if it is bad, God will work it out for good—he will work perseverance, character, and hope in you.
In the next two verses in Romans 8, God gives us insight into the behind-the-scenes working of his will.
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30 NIV)
Do you see the “good” that God intends for every one of his children? The ultimate good that God does for us sinners is to transform us into the image and likeness of God’s Son Jesus. That is the “good” that Paul speaks of in Romans 8:28.
It’s hard to learn that our definition of “good” is not always God’s definition of good. This is why Paul later tells believers that we must “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” so that we may discern God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV). One way we become transformed in our thinking is by regularly studying the Bible. Through God’s Word we learn more about God’s character and what he calls good.
It is God’s plan to take sinners like me and like you and make us more like Jesus. Because of that goal, God promises to use everything we experience in this life, both good and bad, to further make us like Christ as God works in us.
Followers of Jesus will suffer in this world, just as Jesus promised (John 13:16; 15:20). When that happens, we rightly run to a promise like Romans 8:28, because we need the comfort of knowing that God works in the midst of our suffering.
That is why when Christians suffer trials and difficulties, we have hope. Paul speaks about an eternal hope that far outweighs any suffering we have in this life: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18 NIV). Suffering helps break us from loving the world, helping us not lose sight of our eternal destiny.
But even further, in this life we also have help. God gives the Holy Spirit to his children to help us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). We are not alone in our suffering.
The beauty of faith in the God of the Bible is not found in a promise that nothing bad will happen to us—a promise that is never given to Christians, or anyone else. Rather, it is found in our God who can take even the evil, despicable circumstances of this world and turn them into transformational experiences, while walking with us all the way.
What a glorious promise! If you have faith in Jesus, the all-powerful, loving Creator of the universe is on your side. This promise affirms that in everything God acts for your best interest. He never looks to harm you. He is always ready to assist you. Everything that God does benefits his children, by transforming them into the likeness of his perfect Son.
This means that our faith in God is never wasted. There is nothing good or bad that happens in our lives that God does not use to further his positive plans and purposes for his children.
Paul ends Romans 8 with another promise:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
Coming full circle, we recognize that such wonderful promises are only given to those who “belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6 NIV). Have you given your life to him? Do you have faith in what Jesus has done on your behalf, so that you can enjoy God’s watchful presence in your life?
If not, ask God to reveal himself to you. Open up Romans, read through chapters 1-8, and ask God to show you his Son and how God works in your suffering.