The Glad Gospel of the Sovereign Savior: A Meditation on Romans 8:28

  • February 17, 2014

“For we know that God works all things together for the good, to them who love God and are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

storm cloudsAs a believer, pastor, and fellow sufferer, I promise you that meditating on Romans 8:28-39 is one of the sweetest gifts given for the Christian’s life. These verses are an anchor for every season. Even as they plunge us headlong into the deep things of God, these words are a balm for our wounds and a steel-rod for our faith. This passage is not given merely for theological debate or academic dialogue, but instead it is given to us for our delight in and our doxology to the God it so brilliantly reveals.

As someone who has struggled his entire life with the physical limitations of a birth defect (Spina Bifida) and the emotional and spiritual questions that go along with it, these verses have been a fountain of sweet water that has refreshed me a thousand times. When physical pain and weakness have been present, these words have been strength to the soul. When the future is uncertain, these promises are clear. When doubts have haunted my mind, these words spoken into the darkness have chased back the shadows by their light.

I want to invite you to meditate on and marinate in the depths of this great ocean. I want to encourage you to embrace and celebrate this robust and glorious vision of God whose gospel is the theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I want you to exult in this glad gospel of the Sovereign Savior. Spend time lingering, hovering over these words as we dive into this promise:

We know

This promise is not a theory for the Christian’s life. It is the bedrock certainty on which all of the believer’s life is lived. It is not a mere suggestion, or a dream of “pie in the sky.” It is the very experiential confidence that is born in the heart of the believer by the Spirit of God. There are many things we do not know, but this one thing is sure. We shout with Paul that we “know whom we have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12). We sing with the ancient Israelites who joyously raise their Ebenezer even as they proclaim that “the LORD has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12).

…that God works all things together for the good…

This assurance is not in our own strength, wisdom, ability, potential, or promise. This message is not of blind fate or an abstract idea of justice we sometimes call Karma. No, the hope of the Christian is all about the God who works. In the amazing miracles and the mindless messes of our lives God is not a hapless or a helpless bystander. Neither is he a stumped onlooker frantically trying to figure out how to make sense of the madness. No! He is Immanuel, God with us! The same creator who hurled galaxies from his mouth is working with that same power in the wide-angle view and the minute details of my life. When nothing I do seems to work, and when everything I attempt seems to explode in my face, I rest in the confidence that God himself is at work. All things are under the powerful operation, the overseeing and overarching overruling of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

…that God works all things together for the good…

This is a vision of God who possesses a strong and mighty sovereignty. His sovereignty, his control and rule over all of life, is both maximal and meticulous. Nothing is outside its reach. Nothing is excluded from its dominion. What a glorious truth! There is not a single atom, cancer cell, tsunami, or snowflake that exists or operates outside of the authority of the King of All Things. While our minds certainly and immediately turn to this truth as it relates to suffering and tragedies, these words are not limited to even the sadness of our lives. Every hurt, every suffering, every blessing, every gift, every ounce of goodness is being worked together by God for my good. Every infection and illness, every aspect of my disability, along with every cup of coffee, kind word, and beautiful sunset is being orchestrated by the creator-composer into a resounding melody of eternal good. Paul is not here speaking the madness that would imply that all things are good, but he is professing the truth that taken together everything that we are given for good and bad is being worked out by God himself.

…that God works all things together for the good

This is not an empty philosophy of life. This is no fortune cookie message. This is not some “keep your chin up and everything will pan out in the end” message. No, the confidence of this glad gospel is that God is working all things together for good, for what is truly good and what is eternally good. The end point that God is working our lives toward is not limited by our vision or by our temporal lives. God loves us too much to settle for giving us things that are temporary but fleeting pleasures. God’s commitment to his children is to give us real, deep, true, and unending eternal good. That means the good that God is working is not necessarily seen in this life. It does not imply that our lives will be free of suffering or ease. Instead, it is the confidence that God has far more than my next twenty years in view. He has my next twenty-trillion years in view. That’s what he is working things in my life toward! He settles for nothing less than the genuine, God-saturated, glory-infused, eternal-living good of his children.

…to them who love God and are called according to his purpose.

Paul’s words flow to the recipients of this stalwart promise. This is a particular promise. It is a confined confidence. It is an exclusive exuberance. It is limited to those who have cast themselves onto and into the person and work of Jesus Christ. His closing phrase in this verse refers to the children of God, those who have been given the Spirit of God, those who have believed the gospel of God. For those who reject this grace, who stubbornly refuse this mercy, their lives are not working toward their good. For those who will not consent to this sweet mercy, their eternal destinies are anything but good. But for those who are under the mercy, who have come to find life in the death-skull hill of Golgotha, this promise is for them. It is for those who love God, those whose affections have been enflamed and lit alive with a desire for God himself. It is for those who are the called of God, the bride of Christ, the people for his own possession. The word “called” here does not refer to those who are “called” to a ministry or a task or a vocation. No, this is not Paul’s meaning. He is not limiting this promise to a subset of believers. This promise is for all believers, those who have heard the gospel call and whose souls have been breathed alive by the powerful work of God!

O what sweet peace and comfort these words bring. If only we would hear and believe then all of life becomes infused with the trembling trust in our good and gracious Savior. All of life is lived through these lenses in the presence and plan and purpose of God himself. This promise means that every struggle I’ve faced, every difficulty that I have been confronted with, every weakness and limitation, every surgical knife and hospital stay, along with every blessing and mercy besides are under the sovereign mercy of my good and loving Father.

Charles Spurgeon, that great preacher, was anchored to this truth as he whispered, “I have come to kiss the wave that breaks me against the Rock of Ages.” Fanny Crosby, that blind hymnist, tasted of this fountain when she sang “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!” George Mueller, that great man of faith and prayer, anchored his life on this truth. When he knelt by the bedside of his dying wife in the winter of 1870, he prayed for her recovery but trusted in his Savior. He knew the promise and hope of Romans 8:28. Let George Mueller describe his confidence in God as he faced the coming death of his beloved wife:

“The last portion of scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: “The Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory, no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Now, if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have received grace, we are partakers of grace, and to all such he will give glory also. I said to myself, with regard to the latter part, “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly”—I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all this springs, as I have often said before, from taking God at his word, believing what he says.”

-George Mueller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealing with George Muller, Written by Himself, Jehovah Magnified. Addresses by George Muller Complete and Unabridged, 2 vols. (Muskegon, Mich.: Dust and Ashes, 2003)

Do not pass by the promise of Romans 8:28 too quickly. Linger here. Live here. Hold steadfast to this gospel anchor. Join with George Mueller and take God at his word, believing what he says. Join with the saints and sing the words of William Cowper, that troubled songwriter who wrote:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

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