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All For Good

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Date June 1, 2001

One of the most staggering verses in the Bible is surely Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose.” What is so breath-taking is the scope of Paul’s conviction, “in all things,” and the unbounded assurance of his conviction, “we know.” There is nothing tentative about his conviction; he declares it as an unassailable, incontrovertible Christian given. But how can Paul be so sure? Does he really mean “in all things?” Can he really mean “in all things?” Is it really true that God is able to work my darkest experiences, my sorest struggles and my sins, for my good and his glory? Yes, by the immediate and infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit, asserts the apostle.

In no sense is Paul engaging in mere wishful thinking; nor is he exercising the power of positive thinking. Paul is writing personally and experimentally. He has proven in his own experience that this is so. But more foundationally, Paul is writing theologically. “We know that in all things… For…” In the following verses, Paul explains how he is so sure that “in all things God is at work for the good of those who love him.” The panorama of his argument is quite breath-taking: he tells us that God has an invincible purpose, a purpose that begins with him lovingly predestinating a people to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, and ends with him glorifying every single one of those people. Here is pristine pastoralia! In an age of pseudo-spiritual psychotherapy, we need more than ever to recover God’s principal means for breathing hope and encouragement into the hard-pressed and at times demoralised lives of his children, the application of doctrine to life!

It is one of the most significant growth points in our Christian lives when it dawns upon us that God’s truth is not simply for believing and confessing, but also for living! God’s principal means for establishing and reassuring his children is to ground us in his truth, to infect our minds and hearts with doctrines, precepts and promises that rescue us from the debilitating grip of circumstances and help us to see our lives “theologically.” This is practical Christianity.

Of course, what Paul asserts in this verse has been used as an excuse for some professing Christians to go on sinning, assuming that God will always be there to pick up the pieces and put everything right. To think like that, however, would be to betray yourself as a yet Godless wretch in need of the saving, life-transforming grace of God. That said, these are sweet words to God’s children. You know the struggles and trials you have gone through, and are perhaps presently going through. You know those failures that can daily condemn us and haunt us. You know the dark providences that our Father mysteriously brings into our lives: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” He does this sovereignly, mysteriously, universally, purposefully and ultimately gloriously. Far from being an encouragement for a Christian to live as he pleases, this glorious truth always causes the true Christian to worship and glory in such a gracious and good God.

John Flavel said, “Some providences are like the Hebrew alphabet, they are best read backwards.” It will not be until we arrive in Immanuel’s Land, that we will see the perfection of our God’s graciously sovereign dealings with us. Until then we have his immutable promise, “that in all things” he is working “for the good of those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose.” Pastoral ministry may not end here, but it always begins here. That is simply to say, that God in Christ is our greatest comfort.

Ian Hamilton

Thomas Watson has a magnificent book on this theme entitled “All Things for Good” (Banner of Truth, 128pp., pb. )

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