Sermon preached August 28, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama. James Jackson, Pastor
[I am grateful to the teaching of Skip Heitzig at Calvary Church Albuquerque. His sermon, “The Steady Hand of a Caring God” provides the outline and structure of this sermon.]
I promise I didn’t plan this. We’ve been in Romans for over eight months now, taking it almost verse by verse. We’ve taken a couple of breaks here and there, times I’ve been out of town, or days we had a special emphasis that took us out of Romans. I say all that to tell you I don’t think I could have planned this.
But here it is. Today is August 28. 8-28. And today, we are going to spend nearly the entire sermon on Romans 8:28. And Romans 8:28 tells us that God causes all things to work together for His purposes.
You can’t make this stuff up! And in a way, this “coincidence”—if you even want to call it that—is a perfect illustration of what Romans 8:28 is all about.
Romans Chapter 8:28 is one of the most well-known verses in the entire Bible. Many of you know it by heart. When Biblegateway.com published a list of their most read verses, it was #3, behind John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11.
There is a good chance you have a pillow or coffee mug or T-shirt with Romans 8:28 on it.
But while many of you know every word of Romans 8:28 by heart, there’s also a pretty good chance that you haven’t really taken every word of Romans 8:28 to heart. And even if you have, there are a lot of people who claim Romans 8:28 out of context. They love 8:28, but they don’t know 8:29 and 30. And the truth is, Romans 8:28 really doesn’t make any sense without Romans 8:29-30. Let’s look at these three verses together. Normally, I read from the ESV, but I’m going to switch to the New American Standard version this morning, mainly because that’s what I first memorized 8:28 from. I’ll have it up on the screen too, because I know that’s not a translation a lot of people use. Let’s stand, if you are physically able, for the reading of God’s Word:
“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. 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.
Romans 8:28-30 NASB1995
We’ve talked before about how, if the entire Bible was a necklace, then Romans would be the pendant on that necklace. Romans 8 would be the cluster of diamonds in the middle of the pendant. And verse 28 would be the brightest diamond in the cluster.
When a jeweler grades the quality of a diamond, he looks at five C’s: cut, color, clarity, carats, and certification. Recently, they’ve added a sixth C— conscience, which is whether or not the diamond is ethically sourced. So this morning, So we’re going to look at Romans 8:28 phrase by phrase, and I want to point out the six C’s of the diamond that is Romans 8:28.
The First C stands for Certainty. “We know” is how verse 28 starts.
Paul’s not scratching his head saying, “We think,” or “We hope,” Or, maybe God causes all things to work together for good. He says, “We KNOW.” The verb is in the perfect tense, which means it is a completed, once and for all, never to be repeated action. And it is in the indicative mood, which means it is a simple statement of fact. So we could translate “we know” as, “this is settled. We know it with absolute knowledge and complete certainty. As sure as the sun rises, We know this.”
Several times in the book of Romans, Paul talks about things that we can know with this kind of certainty.
- We know that God is just (Romans 2:2)
- We know that suffering produces endurance (Romans 5:3)
- We know that our old self was crucified (Romans 6:6)
- We know that Christ will never die again (Romans 6:9)
These are all things we can know with certainty. So add to that the certainty that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God.
The Bible is honest about the fact that there are things in life we don’t know. Both Habakuk and Job wondered why God would allow bad things to happen. Isaac said that he didn’t know the hour of his death. And neither do we. We don’t know the day Jesus will come back. And according to Mark 13:32, neither does Jesus Himself.
But there are certain things we do know or we should know. And one of them– and it should never be a question in your mind– is that God loves you. Sometimes our assurance the God loves us takes a hit when things are happening to us that don’t make sense. When we doubt the basis of Romans 8:28, that God is causing all these things to work for your good, it’s usually because you are doubting either God’s love or his power. These bad things are happening, you reason, either because God isn’t able to do anything about them, or because God doesn’t care enough about you to prevent them.
Dear friend, you never have to question where you stand with someone who was willing to die for you. God’s love for you is absolutely, once and for all, settled, as is His absolute, sovereign power. Psalm 62:11-12 says, “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.
Beloved, never abandon what you do know because of what you don’t know. Romans 8:28 begins with certainty: We know.
Well, what do we know? That brings us to the Second C: Control— “God causes”
You can misquote Romans 8:28 just a tiny bit and come off sounding more like a Buddhist or a Hindu, or even an atheist. All you have to do is leave out “God causes.” Then you have “All things work together for good.” And you get karma. Or you get some kind of vague moralistic deism that suggests that if you keep doing good things things will turn out well for you. But that isn’t what Romans 8:28 says. The idea is not that all things just happen to work out for good on their own. So it’s not a statement of fate. It’s a statement of faith, that God is providentially bringing events together according to his plan.
Before you get to “all things,” you have to deal with “God causes all things.”
At the root of everything that happens is the First Cause. The unmoved Mover. And since we looked at the verb tense for “we know,” let’s do the same thing with “causes.” This verb is present active. “Causes” is a present active verb, which means it is an ongoing activity that is orchestrated by God.
So if we were going to be more accurate, our translation so far would read, “We know with absolute certainty that God, on an ongoing basis, is causing.” This is one of the keys to understanding what you are observing in your life right now. It’s a work in progress. It isn’t finished yet.
The Third C is Comprehensive. “We know that God is causing all things”
Not “some things.” It might actually be easier to believe in God if that’s what the verse said. If you believed that, then you could at least have a God that was a little more understandable. You could give God credit for good things, and let Him off the hook for things like earthquakes and natural disasters and the Holocaust and mosquitoes.
But it doesn’t say God causes some things or most things or 99% of things to work together for good. It says “all things.”
It doesn’t say all good things work together for good. Nor does it say all prayed about things work together for good.
It says all things. The Greek word translated “all things” is panta. And guess what it means? It means all things. There are no qualifications. There are no limitations. There are no caveats.
That’s hard. Christianity isn’t for sissies. It takes faith to look at our world and say that God is causing all things to work together for good. It’s one thing to praise God that you got the job you applied for, and say, “See, God causes all things to work together for good.” But do you have the faith to say that when you didn’t get the job? Or when the pregnancy test is negative? Or the cancer screening is positive?
All things means all things. In his commentary on Romans, William R Newell sad that this includes “dark things, bright things, happy things, sad things, sweet things, bitter things, times of prosperity, times of adversity, all things.”
The Fourth C: Cooperation— “work together”
“Work together,” two words, one word in Greek language, sunergeo. You might be able to guess the word we get from this Greek word sunergeo. It’s synergy. Synergy is the interaction and cooperation of two or more things. It is the working together of various elements to produce a result greater than the sum.
So it’s not that you just have all these random things that happen. It’s that God superintends the mixture of all things.
So it’s the right combination. Here’s an example. Yesterday, we made brownies for a Sunday school party.
There are certain things in life in and of themselves are evil, horrible, bad, terrible. They’re not good. But in God’s kitchen, God is mixing all the ingredients together in the right amount.
And then, God subjects the ingredients to the two most important components—heat and time—the result is something good.
One of the best examples of this from Scripture is the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. You know the story. Joseph was one of twelve sons of a man named Jacob, and he was his father’s favorite son. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, so they kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. Then they led their father to believe Joseph was dead.
Then there was a famine in the land. His other sons go to buy grain in Egypt, where Joseph is now in charge. Put a pin there, because we will come back to that in a minute.
Joseph puts one of the brothers in prison and tells the others to return home and bring back the youngest brother Benjamin. When they tell this to Jacob, Jacob throws up his hands and says,
“You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.” (Genesis 42:36)
So that’s one perspective. One worldview. “All these things are against me.”
But let’s compare Jacob’s worldview to his son’s worldview. Joseph was indeed sold into slavery. He became the chief servant in the house of a rich man named Potiphar. He was falsely accused by his boss’s wife and then thrown into prison. He spent years there. Then, through a series of circumstances that only God could orchestrate, he rises to a position in the government second only to Pharaoh. And so, when his brothers come to him for food, he is able to preserve his family by providing for them. Otherwise, they would have starved. Years later, after Joseph has moved the entire family to Egypt, Jacob dies, and Jospeh’s brothers are afraid that Joseph will now get revenge on his brothers. But in Genesis 50:20, Joseph says,
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20 ESV
Think about it: Jacob and Joseph are living the exact same story with the exact same ingredients over the exact same amount of time. What is the difference between “all these things are against me” and “all these things are working together?” The difference is between looking at all the individual ingredients—the raw eggs, the flour, the salt, and saying, this is terrible—and looking at the result when everything is put together and subjected to heat and time, and saying, this is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. Heat, time, and the right ingredients mixed by a master chef.
The Fifth C: Culmination
We know that God causes all things to work together for good
I cannot think of another statement that brings more assurance, more joy, more confidence to the Christian than this. Now, be careful.
He does not say we know that all things are good in and of themselves. Because that would be an absurd statement in view of natural disasters that happen, human tragedies that occur.
It’s not just absurd, it’s offensive. The death of a child– that’s not good. Cancer is not good. Suicide is not good. War is not good. Terrorism is not good. Rape is not good. Sex trafficking– all of those things are not good.
Do you want to stand over the casket of someone who died of a drug overdose and say “all things are good?” Of course not.
What 8:28 says is that God causes all things to work together for good. Let’s consider those two words, “for good.” There is a difference between “for good” and “for comfort.” Not all good experiences are comfortable experiences. Any of you that have been through boot camp can tell us that. Certain experiences are very uncomfortable. All things do not work together for our ease, or our prosperity, or our physical health.
Know this, though, God is always working toward a supreme good as God defines good– as God defines good.
Many of you know the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. When she was 18 years old, she was paralyzed in a diving accident in the Chesapeake Bay. She’s 72 years old now, and has been confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic for nearly all her life.
Joni is often asked why she thinks God allows suffering. Listen to her short but profound answer. She said, and I quote, “God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” That’s profound. “God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”
The true Christian is not naive about suffering, and pain, and heartache, and tragedy. We know we’re not automatically healed as Christian believers.
Jerry Bridges writes, “God never allows pain without purpose in the lives of His children.”
And it’s not always easy to think about the fact that God allows pain at all. But get this: God allows pain, but He never wastes pain. He always causes to work together for our ultimate good, the good of conforming us more to the likeness of His son. Did you hear that last part? God has a goal, conforming us into the likeness of His son.
I want you to read it for yourself. Verse 29, “for whom He foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son.”
The good for which God causes all things to work together is making us, His beloved, more like Jesus. God desires our lives to be sweeter, and richer, and better, and deeper. That’s the good. In every trial, God has two things in mind: your highest good and His greatest glory.
There will always be parts of it we won’t understand. And I go, what’s up with that thing? Why that part of it? I don’t get it all. I don’t get it all.
But I’m OK with that. You know what the apostle James said? He said, we should even get to this point, “count it all joy, brothers, when you fall into various trials.”
Why would you be excited about that? Because God has got something up His sleeve. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing that the trial of your faith produces patience. Let patience have its perfect work, that you might be complete and entire, lacking nothing. God has something going on. The trials of your faith produce steadfastness, and that steadfastness is making us more like Jesus.
Now, let’s look at the last C of Romans 8:28. We’ve seen certainty, cause, comprehensiveness, cohesiveness, and the culmination. But there’s one more. And that is the condition. You see, the promise of Romans 8:28 isn’t for everyone. It is “to those who love God and are allied according to His purpose.
You see, we can’t take Verse 28 and just quote the part of the verse we like, “we know that all things work together for good.” Because that’s not what it says. It’s given to someone.
It is given to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. That’s the definition of a Christian. One who loves God and is called according to God’s purpose. Most of us only think about half of that definition. A Christian is someone who loves God. That’s the human definition. But God’s definition of a Christian is someone who called according to His purpose.
And what is that purpose? See, this is why you can’t quote Romans 8:28 without quoting Romans 8:29. Look at verse 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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Romans 8:29-30 ESV
Now we get the big picture. We go from eternity past to eternity future, from predestination and election all the way to glorification.
He foreknew. He predestined. He called. He justified.
He will glorify. The first four have already happened. You were known from very beginning of eternity. You were predestined to be God’s kid. God called you to Himself when you became a Christian. God justified you when you surrendered your life to the Lordship of Jesus.
And everything that happened to you leading up to your decision to follow Christ was God calling you. Everything that ever happened to you was so you would respond to God’s call, and so He could justify you.
So what about now? Everything that has happened to you since has been for the purpose of making you more like Jesus. God’s purpose is to form Christ in you. But look at the last one. Whom He justified, these He also what? Glorified. Well, guess what? That hasn’t happened yet.
This is not a glorified body!
So why does God write about it in the past tense. Because that’s how sure He is that it’s going to happen. Your glorification is as certain to God as Him choosing you before the foundation of the world, and electing you, and calling you, and justifying you. The next step, glorification is a done deal to Him.
This is why we can say with certainty that all things work together for the good of those who love God—because God is already writing about the end result as if it has already happened.
One of mine and Josh’s favorite things to do together is jigsaw puzzles. We’ll take a new puzzle and dump all the pieces out on the table. Then, we throw away the box, because we don’t need it anymore. The next step is to turn all the pieces over so that the picture side is facing up. After that, we’ll try to find the four corner pieces, and then all the edge pieces. And once we get the boundaries in place, we will start trying to complete the puzzle.
Now, one of the things I just said to you is not true. One of the steps I walked you through is not the way any sane person puts a jigsaw puzzle together. Did you hear what it was?
That’s right. You don’t throw the box away. Because it’s only by looking at the picture on the box that all of the little details make sense. Right now, you might be holding a pretty dark piece of your puzzle. Where does this go? Why would God allow this to happen? He sees the whole picture. Can you rest in that today?