There are a handful of Bible verses that are often quoted as platitudes. We hear these verses so frequently that they often lose their impact. We may hear them in passing, on the radio, or quoted by well-meaning family or friends. One such verse is Romans 8:28.
During my year-long Bible study on the book of Romans, we spent weeks discussing small sections of this complex and rich New Testament book. Considered one of the most profound books of the Bible, the apostle Paul writes the letter to the mixed crowd of Christians in Rome—some gentiles, some Jews—aiming at breaking down the barriers of each to better explain and detail the requirements (or lack of requirements) for this life as followers of Jesus Christ. It seems the Romans were confused, just like many of us today.
Studying the Bible and Romans 8:28 in Context
As with any verse in the Bible, context is everything. It’s wise not to read just one verse, but to read the verse in context by starting at the beginning of the chapter, or better yet, the beginning of the entire book. While we don’t always have time to do this, I’ve found that studying God’s Word holistically within the context of the greater work of the entire Bible is often essential for me to feel grounded by scripture and to unpack the deeper meaning of each verse.
Some Bible verses were repeatedly taken out of context in the Christian Science faith I was raised in. For this reason, I’m especially sensitive to verses that are applied to any given situation as “prescriptive.” You might have your own list of verses that trigger an unexplained emotional response. For me, hearing Romans 8:28 triggered a feeling of guilt that I should be happy about whatever circumstances I was going through because “all things work together for good.” Honestly, there were times when this verse made me angry. I felt angry that my struggles or pain were not acknowledged and instead, this verse would be quoted and applied like a bandage to fix all my wounds. How could all things (these terrible experiences, pain, and trauma) be used for my good? I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know.
New Appreciation for Romans 8:28 Through Bible Study
When I put my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in 2001, I felt a new freedom. Yet, Bible verses leveraged to uphold Christian Science theology were still problematic; I steered clear of these verses for quite some time.
This year in my Romans Bible study, I felt the Lord prompting me to let go of the pain associated with this frequently overused platitude. I knew I had to dig deeper and ask God to reveal his truth to me through his word.
Now, I recognize that “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)” I don’t have to pick and choose verses to upload a false theology, I can accept that all of scripture as a whole was and is for my good.
Bathed within the context of the entire book of Romans, I felt shored up by other powerful teachings from this weighty book.
Specifically, in chapter eight, this verse spoke to me:
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”Romans 8:14
If we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, the Holy Spirit resides in us (2 Timothy 1:14) and we can trust that God is leading us through the power of His spirit.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”Romans 8:22
It’s not just me who suffers, but all of God’s children suffer; we have a common unity in our suffering that unites us.
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”Romans 8:24-25
It’s not normal to have patience. It’s only through the hope we have in Jesus and the promise of eternity with Him that provides us with the ability to be patient in this frustrating, annoying human life (Romans 2:8).
“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.”Romans 8:26
It’s such a comfort to me that the Holy Spirit is “groaning” with us; He knows our pain, our struggles, our burdens and is interceding for us like a good mediator would as he conveys our burdens to our Father in heaven.
Romans 8:28 Becoming Clear
Something about the way that Paul builds his case throughout Romans and specifically in chapter eight began to illuminate my mind. I felt this sense of Paul connecting and unifying all believers, pulling and pushing us towards this incredible verse in Romans 8:28.
Instead of allowing the verse to remain implanted in my mind as a one-off platitude verse, I began to gain a deeper sense of vastness and care with the help of the Holy Spirit.
We are weak, yet we are strong in the faith that God gifts us with; in our humanness, we don’t know what to pray for, we don’t know how to approach God with our struggles, yet we can have confidence that Jesus is beside us in and through all things as “we wait with patience.”
“And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints (that’s us) according to the will of God.”Romans 8:27
We are not alone because God has sent his spirit, the Holy Spirit, to dwell within us as Christians. This spirit connects us to God almost like a lifeline allowing God through the Holy Spirit in us to know our hearts, our passions, our fears, our disappointments—it’s a powerful mystery.
And then we get to verse 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.”Romans 8:28
We are not left alone in our fears and challenges; God is using everything in our lives to be knit together in a beautiful tapestry: On the backside, hundreds of threads are woven together in what doesn’t seem like a pattern, but on the front side, the beauty of the artistic creation is evident. This is how God works all things for his good: it’s messy, elaborate, confusing at times, yet we can have confidence that there is meaning and hope to all the things we go through, experience, and wrestle with.
While God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to us, we live in a fallen world. Jesus reminded us that “in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33).” His good might include the ways God leverages tragedies we endure, the diseases we struggle with, and how we fail.
“For those who he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of this Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”Romans 8:29
There is beauty and grace in how God chose us to know and love him; we are his children who are special, unique, and set apart.
“And those who he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those who he justified he also glorified.”Romans 8:30
He chose us, he called us specifically—you and me—to be heirs to his throne, to eventually leave behind the trappings and troubles of this world in exchange for everlasting life for those who believe.
God is always working in and through us. We are receivers. We are conduits. We are always in his will because he has called us. It’s a miracle, really.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”Romans 8:31
This verse always feels like a rallying cry to me—to know that God is for me, on my side, on my team, supporting and holding me up. This knowledge just blows me away.
Enhanced Meaning of “all things together for our good”
Back in my 20s, just after I had made the life-altering decision to leave Christian Science and embrace biblical Christianity, I was diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma—a cyst on my pituitary gland that required brain surgery. Never having had surgery of any kind, facing a procedure this big would have been terrifying if it weren’t for my new faith. It felt like I had chosen to follow this Jesus who called out to me through what was a powerful, spiritual experience.
My faith was put to the test immediately. On the gurney before being wheeled in, I remember my prayer: “Lord, I’m so happy to finally know you. Whatever happens during the surgery, I know you’re right by my side.” My husband held my hand until the last minute, and the rest is history. The cyst was benign, and my faith was stretched. It wasn’t easy but experiencing such an intense challenge as a new believer gave my faith legs to stand on.
These verses from Romans have built up a whole new meaning of what “together for good” looks like. There are many nuances to God’s selection and care for me through his son Jesus Christ and via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I am forever and always shored up, held, buoyed, connected, and poised to accept God’s gracious good—even if that appears to be challenges or sorrow.
All the events of our lives—the joy and disappointment, the heartache and the elation—are all known and permitted just for us, a loving God who is working all things good and bad, together for our good.