All Things For Good
The Basis of the Promise

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 40c of 83

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

[We began our study of this famous promise of God two issues back. We saw first of all that the promise is that all things, regardless of whether great or small, are working together for the good of those for whom it is appointed. Then we saw, in the second instalment, that those to whom the promise is appointed is none other than the elect of God.

In this third instalment, we must consider what is the basis of the promise? —JJL]

3. The Basis of
the Promise

How can this promise that all things are working together for the good of God’s children be true? On what basis does God make this promise?

Let me put it this way: If you are watching an old fashioned movie, you can be quite sure that everything will end up well. Though there are many plots and counter-plots in which the hero will very nearly be killed, yet everything will end up well for the hero in the end. You can be quite sure that everything will turn out well because all the events in the drama were scripted and the play was directed by someone. But Paul is speaking about our lives in the world when he says: “All things will work together for good” for us. How can he be so sure? How can he be so sure that even random events in the world will work together for our good? What is the basis for His claim?

b.   In the first place, we must realize all things do not work in and of themselves. There are really no random events in the world.

The universe does not run in automatic mode. Rather, God is acting everywhere and in everything in the universe. In fact, the entire universe has been placed in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been appointed the governor of all things. The apostle to the Hebrews reminds us that He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, upholding the entire universe by the Word of His power. And Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:17 that “He is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

This doctrine is stamped in the very word that indicate who the beneficiaries of the promise are. The beneficiaries of the promise are those “who are the called according to his purpose”. The word rendered “purpose” literally means “a setting forth.” It speaks of a plan that has been put forward.

What is this plan that Paul has in mind? It is God’s eternal plan for the salvation of His elect! Paul will speak about this plan in the verse following. We shall be looking at it after our study of verse 28.

But we must note for now that when Paul speaks of those who are the called according to God’s purpose, he is implying that God has from eternity chosen us as objects of His love and blessing, and that He has and is, according to His plan, blessing us with His grace.

Writing to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we have been “predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph 1:11).

This, then, is the basis of the promise that all things work together for good to them that love God. God can promise His children that all things will work together for their good because He works all things after the counsel of His will. That is to say He has predestined everything that comes to past in our lives.

This doctrine is stated most clearly in the words of God through the prophet Isaiah:

 “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa 46:9–10).

All things that happen in the universe happen because God is sovereignly bringing them to past according to His eternal plan.

This plan, we must remember, comprehends and determines all things and events of every kind that come to pass —whether great or small, whether good or evil, whether expected or unexpected. This doctrine is taught throughout the Bible.

Let’s consider just a few verses.

·     Genesis 50:20 (here we see that even wicked deeds are in God’s control)—“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

See how Joseph assures his brothers that their wicked deed in selling him into slavery was part of God’s plan to preserve the church? God is sovereign.

·     Proverbs 16:33 (here we see that even things that appear to happen by chance has been decreed and are brought about by the counsel of the Lord):—“The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”

Casting the lot into the lap is almost like throwing a dice. The result is mathematically random. Yet it is in God’s hand!

·     Proverbs 19:21 (Here we see that even the decisions and choices of man are comprehended in God’s plan)—“There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.”

Man may plan and choose and carry out their decisions, but ultimately all that they do is in accordance to God’s secret counsel.

Now, all these are in the Old Testament. What about the New Testament? Well if the doctrine holds true in the Old Testament, it must hold true in the New. For Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. So let’s look at a couple of verses in the New Testament. Consider first the words of our Lord:

·     Matthew 10:29-30 —“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

Our Lord is a master teacher. He wants us to know to what detail God is in control in our lives. Even the death of an insignificant sparrow does not fall outside God’s plan. Yeah, even the hairs on your head are numbered. None of your hair drops to the ground except that God had from eternity ordained that it would drop at that time, and He by His power brings it to pass at that moment.

·     But what about our Lord’s death? He is the Son of God. Surely the fact that He was betrayed and killed indicated that God had lost control. But no, not at all! Even His death and the manner of His death is foreordained and brought about by His power. Look at Acts 2:23 —“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”

Although Judas betrayed the Lord, and the Jews clamoured for His death; nothing fell outside God’s determinate counsel. They all happened as part of God’s plan.

I believe it is clear. The doctrine that God is in sovereign control over the universe is indisputable.

What is Paul’s basis for the promise that all thing work together for good to them that love God? The basis is that God is sovereign. All things that happen in the world, happens according to God’s plan.

And since God’s plan for His children is that good may be shown them, then all things will work together for their good. When you look at an old fashion movie, you know that the show will end well because the movie is scripted and directed to lead to that end.

Well, something like that is true in our lives.

Nevertheless, there are many important differences. Note three of them:

First, God is the director. No part of what happens in our lives is outside His control. Human directors make mistakes, but God makes no mistake.

Secondly, in the case of a movie, the actors are following the instructions of the directors closely. In the drama of our life and redemption, we are responsible to make choices. This is why God can hold us accountable for our actions. In a mysterious way all our actions that result from our choices are in accordance to God’s plan. But they are our choices, and therefore we are responsible for them. So if we do something contrary to God’s word, we sin against God.

Thirdly, although our lives are in the hand of God, it is not rigid as in the case of the acts of the movie actors. We can petition our great Director. Yes, even our prayers are ordained by God. But God has determined that He would answer our prayer. So we must never say that everything is fated. So we must never, so to speak, resign to fate. No, we must pray. But God answers our prayer in such a way that all things work together for the good of all who love Him and are called according to his purpose.

Dear reader, do you believe these things that God has revealed about Himself? If you don’t, you have no basis to believe that all things are working together for your good at all.

But if you do, you can exclaim with the apostle Paul:

We know!” Not: “we feel”; not “we wish”; not “we hope.” But “We know that all things work together for good to them who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose.”

Thank God for this great privilege and assurance that He has given us as His children.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim