Romans 8:28-39: Bad into Good

The verses before today’s Epistle reading speak of a collaboration between God and His Spirit.  The Spirit intercedes for us, something we should find comforting.  Now, since God understands the Spirit’s mind, what does this tell us?  In all matters, God strives for what is best for those who love Him, as He purposes.  In other words, in this time of suffering, the Holy Spirit helps us by interceding for us. 

How?  A few options present themselves; perhaps, “God causes everything, to work together for good.”  Though possible, the wording doesn’t fit, like a pair of pants, pinching in some places, baggy elsewhere.  Here, God isn’t so much causing things.  No, we are to recognize that the actions of a fallen creation uncover its inner condition.

Ah, but another translation does click, with its grammar working like a precise machine.  “In all things, God works for the good.”  So, evil and immorality still skulk in their ambitions, but God will turn their disasters into something wondrous. 

Didn’t God do this for us in His Son?  The Father above didn’t cause the Jewish authorities to collude and conspire against Jesus.  The devil planted the betraying seed inside Judas, not our Lord.  Neither did God push Pilate to place pragmatism before justice.  No, the Roman magistrate did what he thought, deciding in his best interest.

So, this describes nothing other than the reality of our world in which we live.  Corrupted humanity will still do whatever such sinful creatures want and choose.  Nevertheless, God can still work through another’s wicked machinations for our eternal well-being.  To accomplish something virtuous from something evil is much harder than tilting events to ensure the outcome. 

A sin-ruined creation can’t become heaven on earth.  To do so will require God to destroy sin, which also means us.  So, in mercy, He works through the wickedness surrounding us to save us for the new heaven and earth.

Contemplate how much of “all” is in “all things.”  Well, what’s God working through to benefit His believers?  From what Romans 8 earlier said, this includes our suffering and weakness (8:18, 26).  Of course, God also accomplishes what He desires through the beautiful and happy events around us. 

For now, we’ll hold off exploring the “good” God achieves.  Let’s first investigate who the benefactors are.  “Those who love Him [God].”  Such an uncommon phrase for the Apostle Paul, who most often refers to Christians as people loved by God (Romans 1:7; 5:5, 8), not the other way around. 

Still, this expression to “love God” enriches the many pages of Scripture’s older Testament.  To realize this is to perceive the point Paul is making.  Ponder how the Israelites became God’s people.  Did they choose God?  No, He selected them. 

The only decision on Israel’s part existed after God made them His own.  The famous phrase of Joshua, “As for me and my household—we will serve the Lord,” he spoke to those belonging to God’s house (Joshua 24:15).  So, Joshua met them head-on, “Will you remain as your Lord’s particular people or choose to be something else?”

How did Israel become God’s chosen?  First, He called them, whether Abraham or Moses.  The Father above always took the first act.  Now, in our arrogance, we might strut about, “Well, God invited, but I accepted.”  Ancient Israel didn’t receive a divine invitation, which they welcomed or rejected, any more than we did.  No, we are the objects of God’s summoning to be the receivers of His grace.

Now, we may not catch what’s going on with “called.”  Don’t miss this—“called” is a noun.  So, a calling here isn’t some event to which you respond but rather a change of identity.  Each Christian becomes a “called one.”  A person is “someone called,” not because of his response, but because of the one doing the calling.

Though this may sound crazy, not so, for we think in our language and culture, a strange beast to the thinking of Jesus’ time.  So, God changes someone’s identity, “according to His purpose,” meaning a specific goal is in mind.  The book of Romans, however, still leaves us hanging, not saying what this is.  So, we wait in patience.

The Old-Testament picture, which Paul mentioned earlier, now becomes essential, of Israel being God’s holy people.  Remember, God first chose them, not the other way around.  The Epistle continues, “Those God foreknew, he also,” and again, we stop. 

“Foreknew” is two words—“fore,” a form of before, and “knew,” to know in the past.  In English, all is well, except Paul wrote in Greek with Israel serving as a backdrop.  Now, this becomes twice as complicated since they communicated using Hebrew.

Go back to the Exodus.  First, God chose Moses.  Next, He rescued His enslaved people.  The opening of the 10 Commandments can’t be any more forthright, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, from a house of slaves” (Exodus 20:2).

So, God’s divine activity didn’t deal with recognizing something ahead of time.  To “know” in Hebrew is an intimate act, such as when a man knew a woman.  Need I say more?  So, this foreknowing is God choosing someone to be in communion with Him, something intimate, not scrutinizing future days to discover who will believe in Him.

In the original language of the New Testament, we find six occurrences of “foreknow.”  Of those, only two mean “know beforehand” (Acts 26:5, 2 Peter 3:17), and both of those speak about people, not God.  All the others refer to belonging or being in a close, intimate union (Romans 11:2; Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:2, 20).

A painting unfolds, picturing how God handles everything from start to finish.  Next, in its sequence, is “predestined,” as though “foreknow” didn’t somehow convey this.  Predestined, however, is a progression, moving from inside toward something external.  Thus, the Father’s foreknowing turns real before anything first happens. 

At last, we can answer why God seeks to bring about something good: For us “to be conformed to the image of his Son.”  Didn’t our Creator make us in His image?  Yes, but when we invited sin into our lives, we corrupted God’s image inside us.  All is as Romans 1:23 reveals, “[We] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.”

So, our God needed to turn things around so we can be His people and, one Day, share in His life.  Yes, God predestined this for those whom He foreknew.  So, we discover a chain of saving events, where the life-bringing Spirit conforms us into a sacred image—God’s Son.  In the Bible, “conform” is a rare word, not denoting a general likeness but participating in someone’s existence.  In other words, like Jesus, we too will rise from the dead, which is why He is “the firstborn among many brothers.” 

Again, Paul takes us into the Old Testament, Psalm 89.  The psalm describes Israel as God’s Firstborn, referring to the Messiah, the Descendant of David.  From the people He chose, God called David.  Why?  So, all God’s children may realize they, too, are His firstborn, as Christ first opens the virgin’s womb and the doorway to heaven.

Now, Paul repeats the sequence, but he also adds one—justified, ending with “glorified.”  The subject matter shifts from God’s predetermined purpose into the glorification of believers, the primary reason He conforms you into His Son’s image.  Almost always, Paul speaks of this glory as something Christians will enjoy at the time of salvation’s fulfillment—the body’s resurrection, which awaits us all. 

Here, something crazy happens, for Paul uses the past tense for a future event!  Nevertheless, this is deliberate—to depict our glorification as something sure.  Like a completed task, our coming glory is as real as David being Israel’s king, and Jesus being the Accomplisher of our salvation.  So, Paul violates the grammar to give us the full sweep of our Father’s plan.  Divine foreknowledge leads to God predestining you.  Now, this results in Him justifying you, which brings about your glorification.

In the future, Your Lord will grace you with His glory, something as unchanging as Christ’s death and resurrection.  To us, this confuses past, present, and future.  Not for God because these are heavenly certainties resounding in their dazzling glory.  So, let all pain and frailty fall away and let the enlivening Spirit strengthen you in this truth. 

Delight in who’s doing the verbs—God.  Don’t put what God does upon yourself.  Will this do anything?  Yes, make you uncertain and fill you with doubt.  Only when you honor the text and find God operating through everything, can you rest in His peace. 

Remember, Paul doesn’t say God is causing the evil in your life.  Though he does imply such depravity and vice is our fault, either as an individual or the result of Adam’s fall.  So, in this current age, life and renewal are present, but adversity and death remain until the final restoration.  In His all-powerfulness, God takes and turns every evil intrusion for His purposes.  Why?  So, He can conform you into Christ’s image.

In the Old Covenant, when a person received “glory” and “glorification,” power, authority, and rule came attached.  So, as sure as King David ruled, Jesus will return, and you will possess your Savior’s unsullied image.  No longer does Adam, who perverted human nature and caused us to lose our God-given glory, define you.  Like the only Son reflects His Father’s image, so also will you reflect Him.  After Jesus raises you to new life, you will reign with Him in all eternity (Revelation 22:5).  Amen.


  1. Jaye Drouin says

    Thanks for the posting. Had to re-read a couple times & some parts more but think it has sunk in. Will save to go over again. Seems more light bulbs go on with each reading. Any parts I don’t understand, I’ll save to ask after I’m glorified.