Romans 8:28 – A Misunderstood Passage

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (NASV)

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (KJV)


A. The old adage says "into every life some rain must fall." Every person who has ever lived has, from time to time, encountered some difficulties – some hard times.

Some of these difficulties are harder than others, but they come nevertheless.

B. Certainly these trials are not welcome guests. We would just as soon go through life without these hardships. Many would do almost anything to avoid these trials.

C. Most ministers of the Gospel have, at some time or another encountered sincere, God-fearing people who continue to ask a very perplexing question. It has to do with tragedy and suffering, and how Christians are to view these. This is certainly not a new question. Job asked it. Asaph asked it (Psalm 73). Habakkuk was puzzled by it.

D. I had a close relative who suffered a very tragic loss. Their only son died in a drowning accident. It was a senseless accident that might happen to any boy who is playing around water. In trying to comfort the parents, many well meaning Christian people would quote Romans 8:28. But does this verse apply to a situation like this?

E. For centuries Romans 8:28 has been a favorite text. And, when all is going well, most do not have a problem with it. But when a senseless tragedy occurs, suddenly this passage hangs over our head like a black cloud, and our view of God and the Bible is thrown into confusion.

F. By living day to day we have come to realize one fact: All things do not work together for good. Many stories have ended on a very bleak, black note. Are we to understand that God is the source of every tragic event? Is part of His plan to purposely cause these things to happen?

G. Because of the importance of these questions, and how Romans 8:28 has often been misapplied to these situations, it is vital that we note several points concerning this passage.

1. We must realize that the doctrine of predestination has often colored our understanding of this verse.

A. The false doctrine of predestination has long argued that God has an established, set blue-print for people. Their destiny is merely to follow the script that God has written for their lives. Men and women have no choice but to follow this God written road map. And, they argue, that road map may be filled with many pitfalls.

B. This doctrine makes God guilty of everything that happens in this earth – including all of the evil. There were even some Jewish Rabbis that argued for what they called the "Yetzer Hara" – "the evil inclination." This belief was that God designed us to have an inclination toward evil, therefore it is His plan that we do evil.

Or at least He must accept it when we commit evil because of this evil inclination that He placed within us. James clearly refutes this false position in James 1:12-16.

Paul, in the Roman letter, also discredits the modern doctrine of predestination:

1) In 8:13 Paul makes an appeal that they not live according to the flesh. They have a choice in this matter. If they will put to death the deeds of the body they will live.

2) In 6:12-13 Paul makes an appeal to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies that we should obey its lusts. We "present" our bodies to sin or to God. We choose whether to be a slave to obedience or a slave of sin (v. 16). If men were predetermined in their actions, then this section would be meaningless.

3) In 2:6-11 Paul points out that God's judgment is based upon the deeds men have done. Those who have chosen to do good will be rewarded. Those who have chosen to do evil will receive condemnation. It is God's plan that man make a choice – obedience or disobedience. His judgment will be impartial (v. 11). How could there be no partiality with God when he predetermined some to be saved and others to be lost (separate from their own free choice)?

4) In 10:11 Paul says "whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed." This shows us that salvation is for all and that man determines his destiny.

C. This is just a sampling of the points in the Roman epistle. It is clear that Paul does cnot support this modern view of predestination. Many though are still confused about the section immediately following 8:28. This section is worthy of a study all its own. But for now it is necessary to point out that these verses are telling us what God has predestined: Salvation to those who are conformed to the image of His Son. This is our source of comfort. God, who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), has promised to save those who choose to pattern their lives after Christ.

D. The Bible does not teach that God is the source of everything that has happened to you. He is not the cause of those tragedies that strike at every family at one time or another. When one credits every kind of suffering and evil to God then their view of God has gone to a non-Biblical perspective.

2. We must understand that this verse does not teach that the Christian will be spared pain and suffering in this life.

A. For centuries this text, and others like it (i.e. Ps. 91:7, 10; 121:7; Prov. 1:33; 12:21;

1 Pet. 3:13) have been misapplied to say that the Christian will be spared any pain – even the slightest discomfort!

B. This is often what has happened to our thinking:

"The Bible says 'all things work together for good… ' but they have not worked for my good even though I love the Lord. So what does this tell me? I must not love God enough, because He is trying to get me."

C. I once knew a denominational preacher who claimed that everything that happened to you was from God. This included everything from a cold to losing a job to car accidents. He concluded that if people were in a good relationship with God then nothing bad would happen to them – ever.

D. The context of Romans 8 clearly shows that the Christian will suffer:

8:18 – "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

8:35 – "What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

8:36 – "For thy sake we are being put to death all day long."

8:38 – "For I am convinced that neither death … shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

E. Other passages show that God's children may suffer in this life: 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet.

1:6-7; 2:20; 4:12-16; 5:9-10.

F. This should assure us that just because things do not work out the way we think they should that God's love is in question.

3. We need to understand what Romans 8:28 is really saying: God's love is with the faithful, even in tragedy.

A. The coming of tragedy does not mean that God is angry with us or that He is trying to get us for something we have done. There are things that happen that are a part of living in this world and being subject to the decisions and choices of men. By allowing men free choice, sometimes the exercise of that free-choice involves hurting innocent others (i.e. Rev. 6:10).

B. This passage does teach us that work is being done for us in Heaven. The Holy Spirit is working (vs. 26ff), and God is working, in whatever happens, for our ultimate good. He is constantly prepared to help and strengthen those who turn to Him in the midst of trials. He is also ready and prepared to welcome those who have remained faithful with the reward of eternal life. If we have a terrible tragedy come into our lives, we must know that our God is there ready to assist, love and strengthen us. These trials, even to the point of their killing us, do not have the power to separate us from the love of God (8:31-39).

C. Therefore it is our obligation to meet trials the same way the Son of God did. Jesus did not sin even though He was having to endure gross mistreatment. He did what we should do: He "kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet.

2:23). This was Jesus' response (even though He cried for relief and did not get it. Cf. Paul – 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

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