All things work for the good… Romans 8:28-30

Romans 8:28-30

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Romans 8:28 provides insight into the way God governs the universe so we can be ready to handle whatever comes to us. In context, the ‘all things’ refers to the suffering Christians undergo. Paul is making the point that suffering has a key role to plan in the Christian life. Because this idea is not popular, Paul takes pains to justify his statements about suffering. In Romans 8:28-30, he shows that all suffering produces good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. It is for them alone.

Verse 29 tells us the reason all suffering works to the good of those who love God. Those who love God, who are called according to His purpose, are the objects of God’s foreknowledge. When ‘know’ appears with a personal object, it normally has a relational meaning. There is a difference between knowing someone you have met once or twice, and knowing your parents, with whom you have a relationship. To know about  a person is not the same thing as knowing him. God knew the people beforehand. He had a relationship with them. Everywhere in the Bible, when the verb “know” appears with a personal direct object, it refers to relationship, not to ‘facts in the brain.’

There are three passages that discuss the meaning of ‘know.’ Genesis 4:1 reads, “And Adam knew his wife, and she conceived and bore a son.” This is the most intimate kind of knowledge. Amos 3:2 reads, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” God can not be ignorant of the rest of the world’s families, so the point must be that Israel is the only human family with whom He has formed a relationship as a family. In Acts 26:5, Paul is quoted by Luke when he spoke to King Agrippa concerning the Jews, “They have known me for a long time….” In all these cases, the words reflect a relational sense, not a cognitive sense. Therefore, “foreknew” means to have a prior existing relationship with someone. The same sense appears in Romans 11:2 where Paul uses it to describe the relationship God has with Israel.

God predestined those He foreknew. He decided beforehand. God’s affection, from His relationship with us, causes Him to set a goal for us. That goal is what Paul discusses in the rest of the verse. “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”

It is not possible for God to establish a purpose and fail to complete it. A plan can only fail for a few reasons. It might fail because the person who made it did not know enough about what he is planning to make a good plan. But God, being perfect in knowledge (Job 36:4), cannot fail for lack of knowledge. A plan might fail for lack of wisdom. That is, the planner might not be able to plan well enough to make his purpose succeed. But God is profoundly wise (Job 9:4) and cannot fail for lack of wisdom. A plan might fail for lack of strength, for the planner may be incapable of carrying out his plan. But God is almighty (Rev. 1:8). He will never fail to carry out His plans because of lack of strength. A plan might fail for lack of goodness or faithfulness. The planner may promise  that he will do something, but because he is not good, he may lie. If he is not faithful, he may refuse to carry out the plan. But God is the definition of goodness and faithfulness (Ps. 136). A plan may fail because the planner may not have the authority to carry it out. But God has no authority to which He is accountable, no will to which He must bend His (Daniel 4:34-35; Isaiah 46:10-11). No, God’s plan cannot fail.

Thus if He has planned to make us like Christ, then He will do it. The way He will do it is through our sufferings. This then, is the ‘good’ for which all things work together. It will only be when God finally and fully establishes His rule over creation, but it will come.


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