Romans 8:28-30 has been a source of theological controversy for nearly five centuries. Many volumes have been written and much preaching and debate has arisen as men seek to impress their views of the text. I would not be so foolish to think I could solve the matter in this five-hundred-word forum. So, I will focus on a single phrase that has unnecessarily caused great distress among professed believers who have no interest in Reformed theology.
Romans 8:28 has been misconstrued by many to teach that every single thing that happens is for the good of the believer. This includes all tragedy, all evil, all persecution, all temptation… everything. By defining the terms so narrowly, one would of necessity have to affirm that even sin works good for the child of God.
This is not what the text teaches. That life’s difficulties are included in Paul’s mind is evident from the immediate context in verses 12-27, but his point is this: God is able to work good in the life of His children, even in those difficult and trying times. But we must allow it to be so! God will not force good on His children through the imposition of tragedy.
There is also another explanation for this text, and that is that everything God has done and continues to do is for the benefit of those who love Him and live according to His purpose. From the Creation and fall of man, God had been working and walking toward Calvary. The cross was the culmination of God’s remedy for sin and the suffering brought into the world through sin.
Both of these explanations of the text fit with the opening words of verse 28, “And we know…” The word here rendered “know” is not the usual word we might find where this rendering is found, namely gnosko. The word here rendered “know” is eido and has to do with knowledge gained by observation and experience. Paul is encouraging the Roman brethren to look at God’s track record and the record of history. If God had brought His faithful ones through trials before Calvary, how much more will He bring through those who are partakers in the offering of Christ Jesus?
This promise is further evidenced by Paul’s affirmations in verses 31-39. God is able if we are willing!