28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Now, in my looking at Romans 8, we come to one of the verses that I have always disliked. Or maybe, the better term is “struggled to understand”. It’s one of the verses that I used in my argument, before becoming a believer, that God could not possibly exist. It’s verse 28, an oft quoted and much-loved verse by many people. But I didn’t love it, not at all. Because I couldn’t see how it could possibly be truth.
I would hear someone quote this and think “That’s messed up. I loved God, I tried to love God as a child, but things certainly did not work together for good. They worked together for intense bad. Either I didn’t love God hard enough, or God does not love me, or more logically, God does not exist.” Because, in my experience, I certainly did not KNOW that for those who love God all things work together for good.
And, honestly even after becoming a believer in my God, I have struggled and fought against this verse. Here I had decided that God was real, that He sent His son to die on the cross as a sacrifice for my sins, and on the third day was resurrected, and yet things were not working together for good. In fact, they further fell apart. My husband was imprisoned for unspeakable acts, my marriage lost, and I was left with four hurting children to try to guide through this time while being thrust myself into hopelessness and despair. How does one make sense of everything working together for good, for those called according to his purpose? I had been called–not just called but pursued-by God, yet my world had shattered.
It wasn’t until tonight, when I finally broke this passage down into the next section, that I finally understood. Verse 28 is not some magical promise from God that life here on earth, as a believer, is going to forever work out for good for those that love God. Nor does it even mean that all the bad things in life will work out for good for those who love God. Because, honestly, there are some evil things in life that are not good, and can not be redeemed for good. Now there is a caveat: I’m not saying that God can NOT use bad things for good. In my case, I see my greater reliance and dependance on God as my everything to be a good result of the bad that has entered my family’s life. But some things are just pure evil. Vile. I know this well.
But this verse must be looked at in context. It must be examined in conjunction with 29 and 30. Now hang on, because we are about to get deep in the weeds here.
Ok, here we go. For those whom he foreknew, that were called according to His purpose, he also predestined them to be conformed to the image of Jesus. How do we know he foreknew us? Psalm 139:15-16 are a classic example of this foreknowledge:
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
In his book were written the days of my life, even before there were any of them. He foreknew me. But what does “predestined” mean? It’s not a big scary term. It simply means “predetermined”. So, in other words, those that God foreknew, He predetermined they would be conformed to the image of Jesus, God’s son. This means, that God had to have a relationship already with His son before sending Him to earth to die for us. Thus the trinity (Father, Son, Spirit) has existed eternally.
Now I know a tough question that I still have, that I can’t answer here is whether God foreknows and calls all people or only an elect number of people. And if only an elect number, how does He choose which people to include in this doctrine of election? How does He know they will become believers, if there is such a thing as free will. I recently had a good, old fashioned argument about this subject while sitting at the soccer field. And I must say here, that I never, ever want to give the impression that I understand everything, because I don’t. I still have deep, even haunting questions. I’m still trying to figure out this life as a believer, as a Christ-follower. I just invite you along with me as I try to work these things out in my own mind and soul.
Back to the scripture. “in order that He might be the first born among brothers”. We see this in Hebrews 2:11:
It is a beautiful thing, a privilege to be called the brother (or sister) of Jesus. I don’t think I ever really thought about that until tonight.
Last verse, and this is where it all comes together and we see why Paul says that all things work together for good:
From here simple logic takes over. But it is logic coated in love. These that he foreknew and predestined He also called. That links back to verse 28 where it states “called according to His purpose”. These that are called are justified. They are made right before God, though their sin–my sin–deserves death. The sacrifice of Jesus covers my sin, and God has judge declares me just before Him. Amazing. But it gets better than that. Those he justified, he also glorified.
Glorified. Glorification. Sanctification. This is the process of us becoming more and more like Jesus, until the day that we get to go home to heaven, when our full sanctification will be complete. Not that we will become gods, but we will become more Christ-like as God continues to sanctify us, with the ultimate sanctification happening as we go Home.
Do you see? Do you see what this means? He means that God really does work all things together for the good for those called according to His purpose. Not in the finite, immediate satisfaction that we as sinful humans expect or desire, but for the eternal long view of everlasting life. We, who believe, will never be separated from God, eternally. The word “good” then becomes an understatement. A huge understatement.
So this verse, that has caused me so much trouble, really should be seen as causing me great joy. Tremendous joy. Because while life here is hard, very hard, I have the assurance that God is working good in my life to conform me to the image of His son, through justification, which I don’t deserve,, and glorification, which I also do not deserve, but eagerly await. It’s a verse to rejoice over, not be insolent or angry at. Tonight I am grateful, so grateful, to know that this verse is truth, and not the untruth I was so certain that it was, for much of my life.