In Romans 8, we are promised that all things work for good for those who love God. Nice to know, isn’t it, especially when things are hard. When life gets hard, it may be difficult to see just how God is keeping this promise, yet we trust God. But why would God make such a sweet promise in the first place?
Note: this is the first of several posts about God’s promises.
God makes promises for the same reason you make promises
Here’s why you make promises: you want to get somebody else to do something. Think about it. You go into a bank and you promise the banker you will pay back a loan. You do that because you want the banker to loan you some money. Or maybe you promise to get a little child some new stickers after Mass. You make the promise hoping the little angel will be quiet during church. Here’s another – you promise a person you will love her until you die. You promise it because you want her to marry you.
You make promises because you want the other person to do something like loan you money or be good in church. You might also have a longer-term goal in mind. If the banker sees you keep your promise on a small loan, you hope that will help your credit score, which in turn prompts other people to loan your money. But the base motive is still the same. You make promises to persuade somebody else to do something.
God makes promises to us because he wants us to do things, too. He says exactly this in II Peter chapter 1:
[God] has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. II Peter 1:4-8
The goal of God’s promises to you is that you partake in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world. That’s huge!! And what is the change in your behavior that God intends these promises to produce? He wants you to make your best effort to be faithful and virtuous and enduring and affectionate and loving. God does not play for small change, does he?
The promises that God makes to us do, of course, comfort us and they inform us. But those are secondary effects. The main reason God makes promises is to change us, to assist in the process of our partaking in his nature.
Now, back to the Romans 8 promise
So think about the promise that all things will work together for good if we love God. Here’s the whole passage:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose… What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:28, 31-39
First, be very clear about what this promise “that all things work for good” does not mean. It does not mean that we will escape all discomfort or suffering if we love God. Immediately after wording the promise in Romans 8, Paul speaks of anguish and famine and persecution, so it’s still possible that these things could happen to us. This is not a promise that we escape all unpleasantness. Think about it – Peter and Paul sure loved Jesus and they suffered amazing things, then they were martyred in Rome. So the promise cannot mean that you and I escape all pain as long as we love God.
The promise says that everything will work together for good if we love God. So even if suffering and persecution do happen to me, they will be part of this “working together for good”. God will look after what happens to me and he will do what it takes to make sure things turn out “good” for me. And since I love him, “good” means whatever brings me closer to God, whatever makes me love him even more, whatever makes me a better imitator of Jesus, all these things are “good” even if they are painful.
When you get right down to it, this promise confronts me, it almost dares me
This promise is a powerful word for obedience. There are some pretty stiff things that Jesus gives me as commands. Not suggestions – commands. He tells me to be generous with my money and time to other people, even people who are beggars and strangers (for instance, Luke 6:35 and 12:33). He tells me to incur risk in order to help someone who is in great danger (the Good Samaritan parable ends with the statement “go and do the same”). He tells me that when I encounter jerks who mistreat me and even abuse me, that non-violence is the only path I may take as his disciple (Matthew 5:38-48).
And this Romans 8 promise that things will work together in my life for good absolutely leaves me with no excuse for not obeying these difficult commands.
I can’t tell Jesus “I’m scared”. I can’t tell Jesus that turning the other cheek is just too risky. I can’t tell Jesus that if I do these hard things he commands it will get in the way of my bigger plans and mess them up (even if the plans are for him). And the reason I cannot say these things is that Jesus promised me things will work together for good if I love him and he also said if I love him I will keep his commands. To be sure, I may very well suffer because I obey Jesus, but I can be certain that everything will work together for good.
And this promise is a powerful word for conversion. If a person is far enough along the road to conversion to Jesus that she has concluded God can be trusted, then hesitancy to convert can be done away with in this promise. Convert to Jesus – begin the journey of loving Jesus with everything you have. And things will fit together for good.
It is a powerful word when there’s a big decision to make. Christians have to make big decisions, just like everybody else. What school to go to, whether to accept some job, who to marry, how to raise a child, whether to retire. We pray about these things and we consider the will of God carefully, but at the end of the day we have to make a decision. This promise of things working together for good keeps me from being paralyzed when I must make a big decision. Even if the decision I choose is unwise or uninformed and causes me trouble, nevertheless it will fit into a pattern for good if I keep on loving God.
This promise is a powerful word when plans get messed up. Sometimes it seems like things “come out of nowhere” and the best plans, the best decisions get messed up. Maybe I get sick. Maybe the bottom falls out of the economy. Maybe I’m doing research and I lose my funding or it turns out the person in charge of things disagrees with how I’m going and I lose a couple years of work. Stuff happens. But this promise means that even these unforeseen developments will somehow, eventually work together for good.
God promises me that things will work together for good if I love him.
The promise improves my ability to live like Jesus.
This promise enables me to trust God, to make plans and decisions, and to obey God without fear.