For the believer, Romans 8:28 is so comforting. It is one of the most popular verses in Scripture, but also perhaps one of the most misunderstood.
I like to think of the promise of Romans 8:28 as “all things ultimately work together for good for believers”. I believe that we may not know all of the reasons why some things happen to us in this lifetime, but we can rest in knowing God is using them for our good and His glory.
In his book Future Grace, John Piper writes “Once you walk through the door of love into the massive unshakeable structure of Romans 8:28 everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply can’t be blown over anymore. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life”.
In theological terms, Romans 8:28 speaks to what is referred to as the doctrine of providence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions”. John MacArthur writes “In His providence, God orchestrates every event in life – even suffering, temptation, and sin – to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.”
One of my favorite books of the past few years was Derek Thomas’ book on the 8th chapter of Romans How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home. Thomas, a pastor in South Carolina and newly named Ligonier Ministries Teaching Fellow, writes that the statement “for good” in Romans 8:28 means conformity to the image of Jesus in Romans 8:29 (“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”). Thus, Thomas writes “Providence is working to make us holy”. He goes on to write “If we are to become Jesus-like, there is a great deal of work for the Holy Spirit to do”.
As I look back in the rearview mirror at certain key events in my life and my wife Tammy’s life, I see how the Holy Spirit has used terrible, difficult and painful experiences for good toward our journey in being conformed to His image. Here are three of them:
- My wife’s illness. When I met my future wife Tammy at Illinois State University she was focused on her career aspirations. She was an Accounting major with clear career goals. First, she wanted to secure a position in a public Accounting firm and get her Certified Public Accountant (CPA). She also wanted a sports car and she liked nice clothes. She obtained the position she wanted, achieved her CPA and also got the sports car. Then she got sick. In November, 1983 she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She had it removed but it would return and she would have to have it removed again in 1988 along with radiation treatments after the surgery. She never returned to the accounting firm. The Lord used her illness to change her from a life of pursuing her career goals to a life of service and justice. She has served as a volunteer at a Catholic worker house and the associated soup kitchen, as a Hospice volunteer, handling our church’s finances for eighteen-plus years, to now serving as a CASA volunteer and handling the finances at a pregnancy resource center. The Lord used her illness to change her – from desiring success and approval, what the world values – to the point where now her wealth and worth are in Jesus.
- A difficult time. About ten years ago I went through a very difficult time at work. Through that experience, the Lord showed me that I had made an idol of my job and the organization where I worked. About the same time, I read John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life for the first time (I have read it almost every year since that time). The Lord used the difficulties at work and Piper’s book to lead me back to Covenant Seminary. I had stopped, after accumulating ten hours, when my Mom died unexpectedly in 1996. He showed me that rather than pursuing business related education certifications, He wanted to equip me at Covenant, so that I could be used by Him and for His glory.
- My Mom’s death. I had been very close to my Mom. Losing her suddenly rocked my world. Prior to Mom’s death I was quite change adverse. As I always say, if you had looked up “change” in the dictionary you would not have seen my picture there. After going through her loss, facing change did not seem to be such a big deal any longer. For example, after being in one department for nineteen years, I decided to make a career change, a move I never would have made without going through the experience of losing Mom. The Lord has blessed my time in the new department beyond measure. I’ve met and worked with so many wonderful people (team members, mentees, leaders I’ve reported to, those I’ve been in book clubs with, etc.). It’s a large department, and it’s given me the opportunity to have a much larger impact for the Kingdom than I would have had if I had not made the move.
What about you? If you are a believer, can you look back at some difficult times in your life and see how God has been using them for good? Please share with us.