What Does Romans 8:28 Mean?
Romans 8:28 is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible. But what does Romans 8:28 mean? What hope can this verse give someone who’s suffering?
What does Romans 8:28 say?
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
Being human entails varying degrees of suffering—and no one is immune from it. For that reason, it’s normal to ask, “Why am I suffering?” and, “What is God’s relationship to my suffering?”
First, we must understand this truth: God is not the cause of our suffering, nor does He consider suffering to be inherently good. However, God confirms through the apostle Paul that He is capable of making our suffering work for our ultimate good.
This blog post will look more closely at the promise and meaning of Romans 8:28 and to whom it applies. To grasp its full meaning, we will break the scripture down phrase by phrase.
“And we know that all things work together for good”
There is a sense of security in knowing.
Imagine a loved one who leaves the house early in the morning for work but forgets to take his or her cell phone. Then, unbeknownst to you, your loved one is asked to stay on the job for an extra hour or two. You are worried sick about your loved one! But when the person finally arrives home and walks through that door, the concern vanishes, and you breathe a sigh of relief. You know he or she is safe.
Knowing brings comfort and peace, but not knowing—living in the unknown—makes it all too easy for doubt, fear and worry to creep in.
For that reason, it is worth noting that Paul did not say “we think” or “we hope.”
On the contrary, we can “know”—be certain, sure—that all things work together for good.
But what “things” was Paul referring to?
He explained a few verses earlier, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18, emphasis added throughout).
Primarily, Paul was talking about the “sufferings”—the trials, problems—that we deal with in life.
Without a doubt, our world is brimful of all kinds of problems. There are relationship problems, marriage problems, financial problems, health problems, mental problems, self-esteem problems, work problems and school problems. The list could go on and on.
Paul himself had more than his fair share of problems and sufferings. A shortened, bulleted history of the apostle’s personal hardships, taken from 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, would look like the following:
- “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.”
- “Three times I was beaten with rods.”
- “Once I was stoned.”
- “Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep.”
- “In weariness and toil.”
- “In sleeplessness often.”
- “In hunger and thirst, in fastings often.”
- “In cold and nakedness.”
The point is that Paul understood suffering as well as anyone. If there was any person who had reason to wonder whether or not “all things work together for good,” it was Paul.
But, in keeping with his strong faith in God, he left the readers of his day—and us by extension—with the powerful assurance that all things will eventually work for good.
If you are struggling with problems in your life, the apostle Paul is someone you can look to for encouragement. He didn’t write about dealing with suffering as theory—he personally lived and experienced it.
Joseph and Romans 8:28
In this context, consider the example of the patriarch Joseph. In a jealous fit, Joseph’s brothers stripped him of his prized coat, threw him into a pit, and then sold him into slavery.
Then, when things finally began to look up for Joseph and he became overseer of Potiphar’s house, he was falsely accused of assaulting Potiphar’s wife and became incarcerated for more than two years.
Even the difficulties we experience in life—some of which can seem unbearable—are used by God to accomplish His purpose in our own lives and others’ lives.Talk about suffering an undeserved wrong!
Eventually, though, Joseph was redeemed and made second-in-command, right under Pharoah himself, and went on to save the people of Egypt and his own family.
The Bible is mostly silent on Joseph’s thoughts during these accounts, so we can only guess what he had to say about his sufferings.
But notice what he said to his brothers about the path his life took despite his trials: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
Even the difficulties we experience in life—some of which can seem unbearable—are used by God to accomplish His purpose in our own lives and others’ lives.
Joseph’s story is a case of Romans 8:28 fulfilled.
To learn more about Joseph, read "Lessons From the Life of Joseph".
“To those who love God”
It’s a travesty when commentators and preachers reference Romans 8:28 and only focus on the first part of the verse—“all things work together for good”—and never explain what “to those who love God” really means.
Simply put, Romans 8:28 does not give someone a blank check to do whatever he or she wants and then claim that God is obligated to make it work for good.
The verse is clear: God will make your sufferings work for good if you love Him.
The question then becomes, “How can I love God?” This is something that is rarely asked because many people want God to love them but are less interested in how to love Him.
To truly love God, we must have an ongoing, active relationship with Him based on faith and obedience.The apostle John provides the answer: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
Sadly, those who occupy religious circles often decry that very thing—saying that God’s laws are burdensome or impossible to follow, and that Christ did away with those “harsh laws” as an “act of love.”
Few realize that it was Christ—the One who was the Word—whose voice thundered from Mount Sinai, saying, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). He was the One who gave the 10 Commandments.
And that same God came to earth as a human being named Jesus of Nazareth and said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments . . . He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:15, 21).
Repeatedly, the Bible emphasizes the absolute necessity of commandment-keeping. To truly love God, we must have an ongoing, active relationship with Him based on faith and obedience.
To learn more about Jesus’ teaching on the 10 Commandments, read “Did Jesus’ Commandments Replace the 10 Commandments?” and “Are the 10 Commandments Upheld in the New Testament?”
“To those who are the called according to His purpose”
The promise does not apply to “those who love God” or “those who are the called according to His purpose,” as if these were two distinct groups of people. This section of the verse simply completes the description of who is eligible for the promise.
Those who love God are “the called according to His purpose,” and those who are “the called according to His purpose” love God. They are mutually reinforcing.
The Church is the group of the called, the ones who love God and obey Him and can expect that “all things work together for good.”But who are the called? How did they become part of the called? What is the calling?
According to John 6:44, Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” That is, God the Father must first draw, or call, someone to Himself. In other words, He must invite them. God takes the initiative to open a person’s mind so that he or she can understand the truth of the Bible, including what is required for personal salvation.
To learn more about God’s calling, read “Many Are Called, but Few Are Chosen.”
When a person accepts that calling—through repentance, baptism and the laying on of hands by a minister of Jesus Christ—he or she becomes a member of the Church of God.
Interestingly, the Greek word for “church” is ekklesia, which means “called-out ones.” The Church then—the Body of Christ—is the group of the called, the ones who love God and obey Him and can expect that “all things work together for good.”
While the promise of Romans 8:28 is only offered to those He is calling now, it will eventually be open to everyone as God calls the rest of mankind to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
Check out our interesting infographic “7 Steps of the Christian Calling.”
The meaning and purpose of Romans 8:28
God is not blind to the suffering that people experience, and neither was the apostle Paul when he wrote this verse. The purpose of Romans 8:28 is to exhort Christians to reorient themselves—to change their perspectives.
Getting “down in the dumps” is a natural response to the sometimes asphyxiating nature of our sufferings, making it difficult to look beyond the immediate to the future.
But looking to the future is exactly what God wants us to do. He wants us to rely on His strength, to hang on and to trust Him despite our trials and suffering.
In Romans 5:3-4 Paul writes that “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Hope is ultimately what Romans 8:28 is all about.
God is always thinking about the end result—the big picture. The character developed as a result of our sufferings will prepare us for the Kingdom of God, which is the ultimate fulfillment of Romans 8:28.
The message is to not fret, but to know—and be confident—that all things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose.
That is the encouragement and rich meaning of Romans 8:28.