When I was younger, I had no idea what that verse meant. I imagine there are many new Christians or less spiritually mature, or those who do not have the chance to read the Bible on their own who are in the same boat I was in. What does it mean? Out of context, the verse gave me a picture of a genie, using the ill-fortune of one man for the benefit of another. I did not find comfort in that. So today, as I begin a series attempting to answer the tough questions, I’ll try to answer this one, “What is the good in Romans 8:28.”
First then, let’s put the verse back into context. Romans 8:24-30 reads,
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 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.
What is the hope for which we were saved? It is our future glory, our redemption with Christ becoming fully His when it is revealed that we are the sons of God (Romans 8:18-23). To put it more plainly, one day, Jesus will return to gather the saved to Himself. All the dead Christians will resurrect and those still living will join them as they are raised up in the air to meet Jesus. In an instant, every one of us will be transformed, we will be made perfect and as the old earth is destroyed a new earth will replace it. That new earth will have a city called New Jerusalem and there, we will live as one with Jesus and one another (1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 21,) Revelation 21:3-4 reads,
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
That hope is not only for the future, it sustains us now and it begins now here on this earth. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ and that is the good that all things work toward. The more we are like Jesus, the more God is glorified. Let me interrupt myself a moment to explain what glorifying God is. It is a special sort of praise and honor to God, one in which the world can see a glimpse of the God we know and love, the God who knows and loves all of us. It means we reflect God, we look and act like Jesus because the Holy Spirit indwells us and is day by day transforming us to be more and more like Jesus. 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 in the Message explains glory this way,
7-8 The Government of Death, its constitution chiseled on stone tablets, had a dazzling inaugural. Moses’ face as he delivered the tablets was so bright that day (even though it would fade soon enough) that the people of Israel could no more look right at him than stare into the sun. How much more dazzling, then, the Government of Living Spirit?
9-11 If the Government of Condemnation was impressive, how about this Government of Affirmation? Bright as that old government was, it would look downright dull alongside this new one. If that makeshift arrangement impressed us, how much more this brightly shining government installed for eternity?
12-15 With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us. He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn’t notice that the glory was fading away—and they didn’t notice. They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.
16-18 Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
He does not save you and then leave you as you were, He saves you and changes you. He works hard in you and we cooperate with Him in that work. Philippians 2:9-13 describes it like this,
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
If all things work together for our good, then how can the very worst circumstances possibly be for our good? Consider this, when is it that a person is more likely to turn to God in desperate need? Is it when she has a full belly, big bank account, perfect health, and plenty of friends? Or is it when she is suffering? Our suffering can work for our good, if we allow it to do so. James wrote,
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:2-8).
Paul wrote to the Romans something very similar,
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
As we mature, it is not only the bad situations that should bring glory to God through our transformation but all conditions. In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul puts it this way,
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Whatever this broken world brings our way, be it good or bad, The Holy Spirit can use it for our good, our transformation and His glory. Let me leave you with this reminder from 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, this time in the English Standard Version
But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.