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Romans 8:28
Publication: Banner of Love - May 2015 -
Author: Stephen R. Aquino
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“And we know all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Rom 8:28

 

Observations and Notes as appeared in the Banner of Love, May, 2015.

by Stephen Aquino, Baltimore, Maryland.

The General View of Romans 8:28

Among Christians there is a popular interpretation of the meaning of this text. In particular there is an all encompassing universal application to the phrase ‘all things’. The Bible translation you read may determine what you understand this verse to say and consequently mean. In the popular New International Version (NIV) the phrase reads “in all things”. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) reads “in everything God works for good” and the American Standard Version (ASV) reads “God causes all things to work”. If the words here are true we would have to conclude with what the Living Bible says, “all that happens to us is working for our good”, as an accurate summation. The Westcott and Hort Greek text and the Nestle Aland Greek (1) text have helped influence today’s opinions on Romans 8:28. These texts do something the Authorized Version (KJV) does not, it inserts added emphasis of the human condition into Romans 8:28. Instead of God’s divine path to our eternal glorification of being like Christ, the ultimate end of predestination, Romans 8:28 now includes a human path. The occurrences of our everyday life, good or bad are components of your salvation. This is all too familiar in today’s Christianity. But this idea of universalism is nothing new in reality. Old time reformers who have had a major comeback of late have leaned left on Romans 8:28. John Calvin for instance would say that such adversities in our lives “assist” our eternal salvation.(2) “Even the sins of believers work for their good.”(3) Others like the beloved John Gill defines all things to include “all evil things, sin the evil of evils.” (4) For these reasons the text is often used by others as a theological crutch to help satisfy the perplexity of life’s problems and unanswered questions concerning the misery of the human experience.(5) So, as men do, they insert the plague of sin’s choices into the divine scheme of redemption. But there is a refreshing alternative.

Let’s take another look and calm the feel good reactions people have to their personal dilemma with “all your sins work together for good.” (6) Scriptural Comparisons of the Phrase “all things.”

How does the great Apostle Paul speak in relation to “all things” in his other writings? Lets take several examples to compare.

First, in Phil. 3:21 Paul says Jesus Christ will one day subdue “all things unto Himself.” Because of His victory at the cross Jesus is able to finally defeat all things associated with our vile sinful body when He comes again to raise us up from the grave.

Also, the Holy Spirit searches all things, or as Paul define this as, “The deep things of God” in contrast with the things of man. (1 Cor 2:10)

And in 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul argues that all things are lawful. Here Paul refers to the many things pertaining to the body itself that maybe within the liberty or right of our own body. However, these things are brought under law of Christ so as not to abuse that power and sin against what now belongs to the Lord. Other words, all things related to your body are under subjection less you forfeit your freedom and become a slave to sin.

Another interesting text in 1 Cor 3:21 which pits the trumped up glory of men, a severe limitation of those who think themselves wise and consequently stoop to lower forms of self conceit, in contrast with the profound blessings we have as joint heirs with Christ and the necessary entitlement of owning all things.(7)

And my last comparison is to a text that best suits my aim in relation to Romans 8:28. Paul in Ephesians tells us that God predestinated His people according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will. (Eph 1:11). Everything mentioned in that great 1st chapter reflect the divine needs to accomplish eternal redemption; the election and love of the Father, the redemption through Jesus’ blood and the application through revelation by the Spirit – these are the all things God works to accomplish His purpose.

Therefore, these references teach the all things include everything under consideration, nothing more and nothing less.

Lets look at one more comparison text. In Col. 1:16 Paul speaks to Christ having created all things, the idea remains, whatever natural creation includes makes up all things. In creation God was satisfied and nothing was included that should not of been created and nothing left out. What God created pleased Him and said “it was very good” (Gen 1:31). There is no implication that sin or moral wickedness was included in the all things.(8) We can easily conclude using Paul’s own logic that the phrase all things is subject to the contextual rules of whatever the complete items under consideration are. It is therefore limited to what Paul is speaking within the immediate context. As my former Pastor, James Compton would say, the all things in Romans 8:28 relates to the “good things of God.”(9)

We Know Not –vs- And We Know

But before we look at this detail please consider with me the following.  I want to take you back to this idea of the dysfunctionality of the human experience that leads up to verse 28. First, notice the words “And we know,” suggesting not only something in addition but also something greater than to what was previously mentioned. There is going to be a major shift from the human sphere of operations compared to the divine perfection of God’s accomplishments in Christ which Paul will introduce in detail. Verse 28 definitely is a transition. I view this phrase as if Paul is shouting, or at least highlighting to show something extraordinarily wonderful than previously thought. Paul had mentioned the groaning of creation and of the children of God. We groan, cry and agonize as a direct result of the miserable condition of the human race having plunged into sin. Even Paul personifies creation to demonstrate the awfulness of the curse.(10) Now notice what Paul says, “We know not what we should pray for…” (V26). Did you see that? Because of our situation we cannot rightly speak heaven’s language. The Holy Spirit Himself groans as He helps us in our infirmities due to our sin nature. Thankfully we have this hope as we await the glorious liberty of the children of God. This bondage is the weakness of the flesh which contributes toward our utter inability to fully understand. For this reason the Holy Spirit Himself must make intercession on our behalf. Paul now moves into a completely different position when he says, “And we know…” Simply said, Paul is not absolutely sure for reasons mentioned about things within the human sphere but expresses absolute confidence in terms of God’s eternal purposes.(11) That is the difference and that my brethren is a major transition on God’s scale!

Providence and human uncertainty

Now lets take a glance at Paul’s comments regarding certain passages he speaks on within the realm of providence and human uncertainty. For instance, In the book of Philemon Paul intercedes for the run- away slave, Onesimus, by suggesting to Philemon that perhaps such a short departure may lead to a more positive reuniting due to the slave’s conversion (V15). Though Paul may hope he did not know absolutely what the outcome would be. There is an obvious uncertainty concerning the things surrounding the acceptance of Onesimus. And in 1 Cor 13:12 Paul says, “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face…”, the point being that our spiritual vision is blurred and obscure at best. How can we know with any certainty the reasons why events and circumstances befall us now? (12) This is not the attitude Paul writes with when speaking to the all things working together for good in Romans 8:28. And why not? Because Paul is not speaking to ordinary events surrounding the lives of God’s children, but the events of God’s working in our eternal redemption. Popular teaching is that our text speaks within the framework of providential deliverances. I do not deny that God works in and through our lives, and can bring good from bad situations.(13) Or that good may be derived from great difficulty.(14) But that is not what Paul speaks to in this passage. As a matter of fact, the text is often used in a conciliatory manor in binding up some ones misfortunes due to effects of sin or unexplainable events which leaves us clueless. David for instance never intimated that the great sins he confessed were part of a larger network of divine order bringing about good. (15) David, on his death bed, looked backward over his own life and family troubles and concluded “my house be not so with God.” That is a result of sin, not God working in concert. However David was not left without hope and assurance because God provided something far greater, he was made a recipient of God’s “everlasting covenant ordered in all things, and sure…” to which David said, “this is all my salvation.” (2 Sam 23:5)

Philosophical or Theological?

If the all things do mean morally good and bad events, faults, failures, sickness, death and everything under the sun, then Romans 8:28 takes on a more philosophical footing and not theological one. Such a conclusion would lead us to the following possible outcomes: First, a fatalistic philosophy where we feel helpless in a changing world and circumstances unable to stop predetermined set of events; Or secondly, it may lead us to deny accountability for our own actions. (16) I mean, if this text speaks to our problems in the scheme of God’s design we would find reason to blame God for our ills; Finally, such a philosophical understanding would only increase our bewilderment in understanding how all things do work together. How does pain, suffering, sin, death, etc., have any coherency and unity? In what manner do they work together? Is there unity in chaos? Is there peaceful coexistence in sin and its effects? (17) Does such an interpretation act as a spiritual headache medicine? Are we trying to convince ourselves or others that the problems we genuinely have are for good? Such a conclusion may leave us a conscientious objector to God’s care in our lives as He governs all our troubles. I do not sense this entanglement in the Apostle’s words.

Divine Production!

Notice also in our text the verb, “work.” Does this suggest anything but a divine production? It underscores divine momentum and force, an ongoing operation. And then this verb is combined with the adverb “together” suggesting in concert with, a formation so perfect that all the parts build a masterpiece of divine perfection. Paul is emphasizing something God has achieved. We detract from this divine perfection by inserting the idea that life’s experiences, good or bad are here referred. Some have suggested that the lower part of chapter 8, verses 35 – 39, are things included that work together for our good. Again, Paul is not talking about things that work together for good at all. Tribulation, distress, persecution, the sword etc., are things against us and cannot work together for any good because they are contrary to God’s kindness, and cannot overcome God’s love. We have to come to grips that evil and good do not work together at all.

The Love of Christ & all things!

It is the Love of Christ that is a major part of the working of God’s perfect purposes of divine salvation. What Shall We Say To These Things? This is the way I read Romans 8:28, within the framework of God’s masterpiece of eternal salvation in Christ. And to whom does He give these things that work together? His answer sets forth both manifestation of the effect and the cause; to those who love God and also who are the called according to His purpose.(18) Is not that wonderful? We are living out the effect of God’s purposes now. The Spirit of God is so tender as He speaks to the objects of salvation by mentioning something about them; they love God. Jesus did not ask Peter, “Do you understand me?” But he asked, “Lovest thou me?” Many of God’s children have the greatest difficulty in knowing whether they are called. This lack of assurance of faith may be hinged on several things, however, a simple way to know is to ask yourself this question, “Do you love the God of the Bible, do you love the Jesus of the Bible?” Regardless of how imperfect you may be, people who suffer under the greatest of difficulties can find peace in knowing God loves them (cause) because they love God (effect).

The Things that DO work together for our good!

Finally, Paul actually mentions the all things that work together for our good. Like no other place in the Bible is the work of eternal salvation so clear and enumerated for the reader. They are listed in such fashion as to show them actually working together for one ultimate goal. What are the things under consideration? They are; Foreknowledge, Predestination, Calling, Justification and Glorification. (29-30) These are the great works of God that together give us the ultimate good, to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. He then directly asks the question, “What shall we then say to these things?” (31) Can you imagine the exuberance in his voice as he confidently exclaims, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” With all the disappointments, discouragements and heart aches that befall everyone of us, is it not wonderful to know God loved us enough to provide for all things necessary for our glorious liberty and eternal glory. The truth of this text gives me so much more to live for as we are given the visual to look behind God’s masterful divine curtain, if you will, of His working all things together for our good!

In Gospel Bonds, Brother Steve Aquino

 

Notes Included:

1-The Nestle Aland Greek published in 1898 is the underling text used for the popular NIV, RSV, ASV. Noted liberal Christian scholars Wescott & Hort highly influenced Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland in their work. And for the readers of the NKJB beware of the editor’s deception in notes which reflect this liberal text that calls in question many established truths of the Received text. Wescott and Hort, first published their Greek version in 1891.

2-Calvin’s NT Commentaries on Romans 8:28

3-Robert Haldane – An Exposition of Romans on Romans 8:28

4-The Baptist John Gill has a very extensive list describing what might “all things” include. Vol. VIII Commentaries

5-Portions of Ecclesiastes, an OT book, deals with the endless dilemma’s of life’s futile conclusions as in “ all things are full of labor; man cannot utter it…” Ecc.1:8

6-I realize there are different interpretations concerning this text. Expository study of this text, to me, can only come to one conclusion. We need to be honest in our conscience with this Scripture and resist the easy definition.

7-Paul is speaking to the minister who must not have an arrogant disposition in terms of his natural talents and worldly wisdom. Paul does not include such vanity in the “all things are yours” which we have in union with Christ.

8-Paul addresses the cause of sin in the world in Chapter 5 of Romans. To say Christ created sin would make the Godhead guilty of sin’s authorship which would be a moral contradiction of God’s holiness.

9-When I first heard J.L. Compton preach I was amazed at his very simple yet profound understanding of the Bible. I never had heard these things before and it was a complete turnaround from my inception with Calvinism.

10- “cursed is the ground for thy sake…”, Gen 3:17 Because of sin even the earth is destructive toward humanity and therefore is said to groan as it awaits final redemption.

11-Please note that “know” [oida] meaning, a perfect tense, present meaning, signifying, primarily, to have seen or perceived-suggest a fullness of knowledge verses getting to know something or someone, as in [ginosko]. Ex. John 8:55, “yet ye have not known him[ginosko]; but I know[oida] Him…” See W.E. Vine’s Dictionary of NT Words.

12-Other writers point out the idea of our doubt and lack of knowledge within the framework of providence, see James 4:14 and Esther 4:14. I am not saying we cannot know with confidence the workings of God as we view events having already taken place or for that matter within the scope of the full assurance of faith.

13-In Gen 50:20 Joseph recognizes God making good from his brother’s evil intentions.

14-David was afflicted and learned good, Ps 119:71. Some are said to be chosen in the “furnace of affliction”, Isa. 48:10. Trials, testing, reproof, corrections , repentance – are considered good and profitable.

15-If any good David enjoyed it was from the keeping of God’s law, which was a great reward. David was accountable to his own sins and prayed God to give him strength from sins dominion, Psalms 19:11,13.

16-Interesting that most pagan religions are fatalists in their views of God and everyday occurrences.

17-The Woman taken in adultery was told by Jesus to go and sin no more, John 8:11. Jesus has a reputation of stopping sin, not working with sin. Note the seriousness of stopping sin by the metaphor of cutting off limbs, Matt. 5:30.

18-The KJB translators appropriately installed the pronoun ‘his’ because they demonstrated without doubt that God’s purposes are here referred. Notice also that the effect is mentioned prior to the cause. There is a biblical law of sorts that many seem to be confounded in but works in almost the same manner of everyday life. What we typically see or notice first are the symptoms of some other causative action. Cf. John 1:12,13; 1 John 5:1.



larry heldman  

Elder James Compton (1905 - 2007)
Elder James Compton was the original founder of the 'Gospel of Grace Tape Supply.' His collection of tapes began as he traveled to Church meetings and Associations recording sermons on Reel to Reel. He has maintained this library of sermons faithfully over the years and are now the foundation of PB Sermons. org. This web site is dedicated to Elder James Compton (1905 - 2007)