By Andrew E. Courtis
Suffering can unsettle and upset the believer. After raising the issue of the reality of suffering, Paul concludes his argument in 8:28-30. This passage provides insight into God’s sovereign dealings with His people. In this short passage we will consider two headings: the purpose of God (8:28) and the plan of God (8:29-30).
1. THE PURPOSE OF GOD (8:28)
As a verse, Romans 8:28 is a comfort and a classic. It is known or memorized by many. It is found as a text on numerous sympathy cards, plaques and pictures. When it comes to suffering and the sovereignty of God, this would be one of the most commonly quoted texts. Without question this is a magnificent verse. However, before I consider its magnificence, I think it is also important to point out how it is also misunderstood. When somebody is suffering and going through a difficult trial, many will be quick to point out that the situation is good. With little sympathy and sensitivity, the flashcard of Romans 8:28 comes out as somewhat of an instant solution. Though there have been many misunderstandings and misapplications, this does not take away from its meaning and magnificence. With full conviction and certainty, Paul begins with the words “And we know”. When it comes to God’s sovereign purpose, there is so much we do not know. But what is revealed in this verse is for us to know and be comforted by (cf. Deut. 29:29). He then goes on to describe the promise of God’s purpose, “all things work together for good”. The “all things” includes the sufferings that Paul had been writing about throughout this chapter (8:18). This includes everything that occurs in our life. All things that take place will result in a final good when we are glorified in Heaven (cf. Rom. 8:30). However, this promise is not for all, for the people of God’s purpose are “those who love God… for those who are called according to his purpose”. Love for God is a mark of genuine salvation. Their calling by God (see next heading for definition) is the basis of their love for God. The point of this text is to show that all things that occur in the life of a believer will result in an ultimate good. Though things now don’t always make sense and as we experience real struggles, we can know that God is in control and nothing will thwart His sovereign plan of bring us to glory.
2. THE PLAN OF GOD (8:29-30)
In verses 29-30 Paul summarises the Divine plan of salvation with five key words: foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. Each of this words contain rich and deep theological meaning, and they are all worthy of an individual study. Before I consider the individual words, there are a few important observations that are important to consider. Firstly, notice that it is God who carries them out and not us. Secondly, they provide a sequence that reveal the span of salvation from eternity past to our eternal future.
The word “foreknow” simply means, “to know before hand”. It is not to only be understood as an intellectual term, but it is also an intimate term (e.g. Amos 3:2; Matt. 7:22-23 and John 10:14).
To “predestine” means, “to determine beforehand”. God determined before the foundation of the world that those who are foreknown would become like Christ. This determination is according to the sovereign purpose of God’s will (Eph. 1:9, 11).
In the Bible there are two types of calls when it relates to salvation. There is a general call and then there is the effectual call. The general call refers to the open invitation that calls all humanity to repent and believe. Whereas the effectual call is a summons from God in which the individuals comes. Every occurrence of the “call” in the NT epistles is always referring to the effectual call.
“Justification” takes place after God calls a sinner to believe. To be justified refers to the legal act in which God declares a guilty sinner just. This is done by God imputing righteousness to their account by means of faith in Christ. This has been the doctrine Paul has emphasized the most throughout this letter.
To be “glorified” refers to the future event in which every believer will be made like Christ. Though this is a future event, you will notice that it is in the past tense. This is a devise called prolepsis in which a future event is anticipated. This reveals that this action is a part of a secure sequence that will be carried out to its full intention.
- Discuss some of the misunderstandings of Romans 8:28 and then highlight the magnificence of this verse.
- When you consider the five words used to describe God’s plan of salvation for us, how special does this make our salvation?
- According to Rom. 8:29-30, what is the final outcome of our salvation?
- What does this passage teach you about God and His purpose and plan?
- How does a passage like Romans 8:28-30 help us in regards to suffering?