One of the many verses in the Bible that is often misquoted or said at the most inopportune times is Romans 8:28. I have heard well-meaning Believers quote or paraphrase this verse more so to remove their own feelings of inadequacy and not knowing what to say than any real words of empathy for the person that is going through a difficult life event. Paul tells us “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.” So people jump to this verse thinking it will surely soothe the pain or misery someone is experiencing at that very moment.
So how can we say cancer or a terminal illness works for good; how can we tell a young mother that has just lost her unborn child “in all things God works for the good; how do we tell someone that has just lost a loved one that was not saved and did not know the Lord as their personal Savior that will work for good; how do we tell those around the world that are persecuted and some even killed for their belief that Jesus Christ is the one true Savior works for good? The list could go on and on because there are many things that happen in our world that cannot and should not be described as good. Yet God’s Word says plainly “And we know that in all things God works for good.” So how do we take these disasters, persecutions, and tragedies and apply them to this verse? I am going to do my very best, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to break down the key components of Romans 8:28.
In the opening of verse 28 there is a promise, “And we know that in all things God works for the good.” It doesn’t say maybe, we guess, or sorta kinda, it says “WE KNOW”. We can be confident in knowing that God works for the good. This raises the first dilemma. So many of today’s men view the world and what happens in it from a temporal point of view. A temporal point of view is looking at situations in the here and now and is based on immediate time and circumstances not eternity. To fully embrace the meaning of this verse and the promise it makes we must have an eternal point of view which means we may not be able to see God’s plan with our physical eyes but we know nonetheless that He is working His master plan all of the time even when it seems He is not.
John Piper says it this way “When it comes to the architecture of promises, there are not any bigger buildings than Romans 8:28. This structure is absolutely staggering in its size. It is massive. The infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God pledges to make everything beneficial to his people! Not just nice things, but horrible things, like tribulation and distress and peril and slaughter. What brick would you lay on the top of this skyscraper promise to make it taller? “All things” means all things.
If you live inside this massive promise, your life is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Nothing can blow you over inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28 all is confusion, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, straw houses of deadening drugs, tin roofs of retirement plans, cardboard fortifications of anti-ballistic missiles and a thousand other substitutes for Romans 8:28.
Once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure of Romans 8:28 everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply cannot be blown over. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an absolutely incomparable refuge, security, hope and power in your life. No promise in all the world surpasses the height and breadth and weight of Romans 8:28.”
So to whom is this promise? It is actually defined in two ways. The first is “those who love Him.” Those that do not love the Lord cannot claim this promise. It is a promise made to those who love Him. This aligns itself with what is described in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus was asked the greatest commandment. He replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But Jesus did not stop there, He went on to say “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” If we do not love the Lord with everything we have … heart, mind, soul and strength … then we will not understand, or benefit for that matter, from the promise made in Romans 8:28. And if we do not accomplish the first we will most certainly not achieve the second. In order for us to experience the promise of “that in all things God works for the good,” we must totally and completely love the Lord with everything we have. This holds true regardless of whether we are in the best of times or the worst of times we must love the Lord our God always.
Paul goes on to add one additional component to Romans 8:28 when he says “who have been called according to His purpose.” Being “called” is not a frequent topic in today’s church and therefore it is often misunderstood. Paul gives a powerful word picture when he says “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” While many may hear the Gospel, not all will accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. While many may be exposed to the Word of God not all will receive it by faith and stand firmly upon it. We are called to salvation by the Holy Spirit, we are justified by faith and we are glorified by our relationship with our Heavenly Father. If we were to break it down to the very root of being called to God’s purpose, it is to be more like Jesus every day. When we accept the challenge of living our lives like Jesus it is then that we begin to see how God can take all of the good, the bad, and the ugly and use it for good. You see it’s not about us but it is all about Jesus. It is when we put all three pieces of Romans 8:28 together that we can see what an incredibly awesome God we serve and He is more than capable of achieving the passage that 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. All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
 John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
 This quote is taken from a message John delivered October 13, 1985 entitled “Called According to His Purpose”
 Mark 12:30
 Mark 12:31
 Romans 8:30