Twisted Scripture: God Works Together All Things For Good


Because the Bible is God’s word, it is an incredibly powerful thing. God has communicated His very heart to us in written form; He has given us wisdom and a glimpse into the mysteries of His very being and has revealed His work in human history to us. If the Bible says something, it is incredibly significant - it is something that we should hold on to with our lives! If the Bible gives a promise, that is a promise we can be certain will come true. These promises can give us the most comfort we will ever receive. However, what happens if we get one of these promises wrong? If we misinterpret the Bible and make it say things that it does not, we can give ourselves and others false hope and, in so doing, bring much hurt.

This blog is intended to look at a passage that is often quoted to give us hope. However, I would like to take a look at the promises contained within these verses and suggest that maybe we get them wrong. However, I am not just writing this to tell you what a passage does not mean. I believe that what this passage does mean is much more beautiful - and life-changing - than what it is commonly confused as saying.

“And we know that God works together all things for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to purpose.” – Romans 8:28

The way that many Christians today interpret this passage reveals a subtle misplacing of priorities: we love what God gives more than God himself. I must admit, I often fall into this trap myself. When something goes wrong in my life, I reassure myself that God is always working in the background to fulfill my longings – I just have to trust that somehow, those desires going unfulfilled now are the key to being happier in the future. However, this mindset is backwards. God is most certainly concerned with what will satisfy my desires. But the question is, what can fulfill the human soul? Is it earthly good, or being conformed to the image of Jesus – even through suffering?

God works together all things for good pWhat is God’s “good” for us?

Now, it is true that God is a providential God who blesses His people. He provides in wonderful, strange, and oftentimes ironic ways. For example, when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because they hated him, they were unaware that God would keep them alive during a famine in spite of their decision. In this story, God used evil to bring about good. He does this so well that the end result is often better than what it would have been without the evil.

But despite all of these things, this is not what Romans 8:28 is about. The common, almost assumed, interpretation of the “good” that God is working is that it refers to prosperous life circumstances. However, this is not what the context of the verse indicates. Let’s take a look at the whole of verses 28 and 29 and see what Paul’s true purpose in writing verse 28 is.

The first thing to notice is the last phrase of verse 28. Paul writes that God works all things for the good of those “who are called according to purpose.” We must ask ourselves what our purpose is. The following verse gives an answer: “Because those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). Predestination is all about purpose. What God has predestined us for is the purpose He has given us. In this context, our purpose is “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” This purpose defines what “good” is in verse 28. When God works all things together, He works all things together for our “good;” that is, that we would become more like Jesus.

Jesus the Firstborn

Now, that is wildly different than what most Christians assume when they read these verses. When we read Romans 8:28, we must no longer read that God is working our life story together so that we could have the life that we want. Rather, we must read that God is working our life story together so that we are transformed to be more like Christ. Now, I think I should provide some clarification. I am not saying here that our desires for good things in life are bad; these desires are given to us by God! I am also not saying that God does not often fulfill these desires. After all, He made us in His image with unique callings, passions, and interests. His life plan for you will most likely include you finding a niche where you can do things that you enjoy for the benefit of His kingdom. God also made us as relational beings, and whether you are looking for solid friendships or something deeper (e.g. marriage), it is very possible that God will give you those things. Personal fulfillment in these areas is certainly not outside of God’s will! However, I want to be clear that this passage teaches us God’s main priority for our lives: Christ-likeness.

But Paul does not stop with saying that God is working for our Christ-likeness. After saying that our purpose is to be conformed to the image of Jesus, he claims that this purpose has its own purpose. He writes that all of this is “so that He would be firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29)

This last phrase is strange but full of wonderful implications. To fully understand it, we must briefly return to the beginning of history. Well, not quite the beginning; before the beginning. Before God made the angels, the universe, or us, what exactly was He doing? Was He sitting around in a big cosmic living room, feet up on the couch watching Netflix? Then one day, out of boredom, did He decide to go outside and create a universe out of nothing? Of course not! God was actually very active before creation. In John 17:24, Jesus says the following:

“Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they
may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

Did you catch that? Jesus said that the Father was loving the Son before the foundation of the world. That is to say, before anything was created, the Triune God was loving Himself eternally, Father and Son by the bond of the Spirit.

Our God is Trinity. This strange bit of language simply means that He is One God, but with three persons. So, Jesus can walk around and claim that He is God, while also saying that His Father in heaven is God. This is also why we say we have God living in us when we refer to the Holy Spirit, who Paul says lives in every Christian (Ephesians 1:13). Because God is One in three persons, He is a relational God, something that no non-Triune God could ever claim. This vastly changes the way we should think about creation.

So, when God created, He was not creating out of boredom or because He needed someone to serve Him. Rather, He created us so that we could love Him and be loved by Him, which ultimately serves to glorify His name: the ultimate goal of everything in the universe! The Father, Son, and Spirit were so excited about the love that they shared that they wanted to create more beings to share it with. So, they made us. With this in mind, we have an idea of what it means for Jesus to be the firstborn among many brethren. God made children in the likeness of His Son so that we could relate to Him as Father, and when we return to Him through the Gospel and are daily transformed into the image of Jesus, we are living out that same relationship. One day, heaven will be populated by billions of children of God, all in the image of Jesus. This is what God created us for.

In this way, Jesus is going to be the firstborn. He was the first one to love the Father as a Son. But now, as many sons and daughters are rescued from sin and death, God is bringing more and more brothers and sisters of Jesus to Himself. Jesus – the eternal Son – will be the firstborn out of all of us.

Ultimately, this position as firstborn is a glorifying one. When we all stand before God’s throne as little representations of Jesus, we will point to Him as our perfect example and model, the human who lived out the image of God without fault or failure. In Romans 8:29, Paul is declaring that because of our transformation to the image of the Son, the Son will be glorified. This is our purpose.

God works together all things for good iLiving for God’s purpose, not ours

With Romans 8:29 in mind, Romans 8:28 takes on a whole new meaning. The “good” that God is working all things for in our lives is to be more like Christ. That is, any time something happens, we can be confident that God is using that life circumstance to change us – inside out – to be like His Son. When we go through this process of conforming to the image of Christ, we also glorify Jesus by declaring that He is the perfect human and our example. In the end, God receives all the glory. Is this a bad or disappointing thing? Certainly not; God is worthy of it.

When we step back and read Romans 8:28 through this new lens, we are forced to change two things: our priorities and our perspective. Our priority can no longer be this life. While it is good to enjoy good things and desire the end of suffering (as God also does), this life is not our home. We cannot think that God’s main priority is making us happy on earth, because it is simply not. He has better things for us. What would it take for us to believe that becoming like Jesus is actually better than God giving us prosperity and health? Paul seems to think that this should be our priority. God has designed us for Himself, not for us to soak up happiness alone, away from a relationship with Him. He is what truly fulfills us. To know and love God; this is our purpose.

Our perspective, then, must also change. We must live with our eyes fixed on God and eternity. Certainly, God blesses us. He saves us from suffering and brings us joy and peace. But at the same time, He wants our attention focused on our eternal destination and the reward of the race that we run: Jesus. When we encounter suffering, our instinct should not be to think, “how is God going to fix this situation and make me happy?” Rather, our instinct should be to think, “how is God going to make me more like Jesus, and how does that glorify Him?” If our encouragement to one another also took on this focus, our Christian communities would be vastly more centered around our loving savior, Jesus.

I know this message can be, ironically, discouraging. I still struggle to think that God is not always focused on my happiness in this life. Often, being transformed to the image of Christ seems like a weak prize. “God, couldn’t I just trade it away for a happy marriage? What about more money? Perfect mental health?” There is no easy answer to this discontentment. I am a fallen human, and I simply do not want God as much as I want other things. However, this is more the result of my sin nature than it is the sign of healthy human longings. To a sinful human like me, this message is convicting. But it should not only convict us. Remember, God wants to use this passage to encourage us!

So, how does it encourage? Take a moment and step back from reading this. How are you feeling? Are you convicted? Do you disagree? Do you find that your focus is not on God’s desires for you, but your desires for yourself? On the other hand, do you find that your focus in your life is Jesus and Jesus alone? (If so, please contact me and let me know what your secret is).

If you are feeling convicted about how selfish you are, then you and I are in the same boat. But it is from this conviction that you should be most encouraged. Think of this new view on Romans 8:28 not as a challenge, as I have been posing it, but a promise. If you feel inadequate in how much you are like Christ, then be encouraged, because God “works together all things for good for those who love Him.” God is not going to leave you where you are. Rather, He is calling you deeper and deeper into the relationship that you already have, where He will refine your heart and make you new.

This is part of the Gospel. Jesus has died for us and has come back from the dead, and His life, death, resurrection, and ascension are finishing the funeral of sin and death. But this action is not just a past or future one, but a present one. Jesus is not just going to cleanse your heart of sin at some abstract future time. Rather, He is doing it day in and day out, faithfully weaving every situation of your life into a beautiful tapestry where you become more like Him. This is the joyful message of Romans 8:28.

“And we know that God works together all things for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to purpose.” – Romans 8:28

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