The Good Life and the Good Work of God: Part I
Romans 8:28-30 (Part I)
The word of God is full of paradoxes. Merriam Webster defines a paradox as "a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well-founded or truth." An example of this in the New Testament is when believers are told they must die to self to live for Christ (Gal. 2:20). In Rom. 8:28-30, there are at least two paradoxes to be addressed. We will cover these in at least two blog posts in the next week. The first is that God is sovereign, and mankind is free to choose. The second is that God is good and all-powerful, and yet, evil and suffering are also sober realities for the people of God. The Apostle Paul did not shy away from the tension of these paradoxes. Instead, he presses into them with some explanation while allowing room for some mystery that must be saturated with unwavering faith in a good, benevolent sovereign God.
In Rom. 8:1-27, Paul addresses the tension of living in a world that makes us groan in our weaknesses and under the pressure of suffering. We face this suffering with the long-view of blessing in mind. For we know, we have been saved from condemnation to life through Christ (Rom.8:1). Still, we need assurance and constant reminders of God's current and future care for us. In Romans 8:26-27, Paul reminds us that we have a helper, comforter, and divine intercessor who aids us in our prayers to God for help. He writes, "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." In Romans 8:28-30, additional comfort is given to the people of God as they consider that the good life is good because God is relentless in his redemptive and restorative work for his covenant people. In these two verses, we can unearth two reasons why God's good work is beneficial and transformative for God's people.
One of the first reasons for our assurance is that God's good work is good, even in the midst of fiery tension, because he works all things together for our good and HIS glory (Rom. 8:28). While this verse reminds us that God's good work is most beneficial for those who love him, we must not forget that his work is not wholly dependent upon our love for him. The crux is on God's love for us and not our love for him. The NASB standard version captures this well. It says, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…" So, God's love for us is the reason we love him. I Jn. 4:19 echoes this when it says, "We love because he first loved us. It is God's love that works all things out for God for those who love him and those called according to his purpose. The question arises, What things are being referred to here? These are bad things and even temporary good things. In the end, God can work all things (even the worst of matters) out for our good and HIS glory. The late Jonathon Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) sums up this truth well. He writes, "Our bad things will turn out for good. Our good things can never really be lost. And the best things are yet to come." Wow! What a great way of looking at life? We must be patient as God works subtly and subversively, visibly and tangibly, and over the course of our lives. It is in the end, in the end, in the end, that he works all things out for good! Another question arises from this verse, Who is God working all things out for in the end? The last part of verse 28 clarifies this curiosity. It is "for those called according to his purpose." These are those that are walking by God's will and purpose as revealed in the Word of God. Conversely, it does not work out well for those who refuse the way of God and walk according to the world apart from Jesus.
In the Old Testament, Joseph is an excellent example of all things working together for good. And yet, the hardships he encountered did not seem to be good things at the time. It was only at the end of this life he was able to see how the bad worked for good. Over a decade and a half, he was sold into slavery as a boy by his brothers, taken far from his family, and wrongfully incarcerated several times. At the end of this life, as his brothers came back to him for help, he was able to be restored to them and to see God's greater purpose for his life. Gen. 50:18-21 says, "His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." 19 But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them." Joseph's family and the nation were saved because of the bad things he had to endure.
As a pastor and human being, I realize that there are those reading this blog post who are deeply hurting. You face bad things: the death of loved ones, disease, sickness, divorce, economic hardship, employment issues, or family trouble. However, the Scriptures remind us that if we continue to press into God's good purposes, He will work all things together for good for those who love him. It may take some time for this to be accomplished. So, be patient and stay faithful, and you can join the Psalmist in saying, "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:13-14)