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God’s Best Good for You

May 21, 2023 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Romans

Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 8:28-30



I am a boring person who likes routine. For example, I have very specific routines I follow every morning regarding when I work out, when I read Bible, when I shower, and even the order in which I shave, put in my contacts, and brush my teeth. I even have a routine for how I wear my clothes. After I wear something, I always hang it up on the left end of my closet. And the next day, I wear whatever is on the right end.

I know that’s weird, but some of you stress out every morning about what to wear. I never have that problem. Routine is awesome. Maybe you disagree. You don’t care about those weird details. You want more variety, more adventure. Maybe you love a vacation where there’s no schedule, no expectations; instead, you just see how the adventure unfolds. 

Yes, some unplanned adventures are fun. But no one wants certain parts of life to be an adventure. You want to know how you will pay the bills and where you will live. You want to have a plan for raising your children, for staying healthy, and for enjoying a relaxing, secure retirement.

But no matter how well we plan, life oftentimes takes surprising twists and turns. Some of them are great, but many are not. Some surprises are devastating. So, it is unsettling to wonder what surprises may be ahead. And when one of those devastating surprises comes, you wonder, “How will I ever make it through this, and how can this possibly turn out for anything good?”

God understands, and he offers a wonderful, comforting answer in today’s text, Romans 8:28–30. This is another famous and beloved passage in Romans. It is full of comfort and hope. And this hope is not merely wishful thinking. It is anchored in a sovereign and wise God who is near to all our sorrows. This incredible God offers us hope, first, by making an incredible promise (v. 28).

I.  The Promise (v. 28)

Paul states this promise in the most certain terms. “We know” this to be true. It is common knowledge among Christians. Even today, we quote Romans 8:28 as much as any other verse in the Bible. But unfortunately, we often misunderstand it. As a result, I’d like to begin our study with 3 clarifications.

Paul’s concern is suffering and glory. As always, we must understand Scripture in context. So, remember that Romans 8 is about assurance of salvation. The chapter begins by promising us, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

And notice the assurance in 16–17. We have a great inheritance awaiting us in glory. But v. 17 also notes that on our way to glory, we must follow Christ on the road of suffering. That doesn’t seem right. How do suffering and glory fit together?

Verses 18–30 answer this question. First, vv. 18–25 say that all our suffering will be worth it because future glory outshines any amount of present suffering. But we are still left to wonder how do I navigate present suffering, and how can I be sure that I will make it?

First, vv. 26–27 answer that the Holy Spirit is near, and he helps us through every weakness. And now, vv. 28–30 add the ultimate confidence boost. The sovereign will of Almighty God guarantees our perseverance through suffering and our future glory. A 2nd important clarification is…

This promise is for Christians. If you happen to find Romans 8:28 in a Hallmark card, I can almost guarantee that the quotation will stop with the word, “good.” As a result, many people assume that this verse promises some happy, good purpose for all people in every difficulty.

But that’s not what God says. Rather, this promise is only “to those…” It’s a fascinating qualifier that describes our faith from both a human and a divine perspective.

First, on the human side, Christians are those who “love God.” Isn’t it interesting that of all the ways Paul could describe Christians, he describes us as those who truly love God. God is not just a mean to a more fulfilled life or a judge whom we fear. No, Christians truly love God.

But we only love God because he first loved us. Paul adds he “called us according to his purpose.” The Bible occasionally speaks of God’s general call, his invitation to all people to come to him for salvation.

But v. 28 refers to God’s sovereign and effective call on the elect. We know this because v. 30 say that only those who will be truly saved receive this call. So, the point is that God in his sovereign purpose has called us to himself.

That’s huge because what the promise of v. 28 depended on my ability to continue loving God? Or what if the promise came and went depending on how much I love God today? We would all be in trouble some days.

But thankfully, it’s not ultimately dependent on me. My salvation is anchored in God’s sovereign purpose. Therefore, this promise belongs to all Christians. “All things” work together for good, always, for everyone in Christ. Christian, this promise is always for you. The 3rd clarification is…

The “good” is sanctification. This is the most important clarification because this is where many people abuse v. 28. Specifically, they understand “good” to be whatever I think is good, whatever promotes my comfort, my happiness, and my agenda.

For example, you flunk out of college, but, “All things work together for good.” So, God must have a better career path for me. Or you are struggling through an overwhelming project at work, but you believe, “All things work together for good.” So, “It will all work out in the end, and I’ll be better for it.”

God certainly cares about every detail of our lives, and he is gracious and generous. But God is promising a very specific good. Verse 29 tells us that the good is that we would be “conformed to the image of His Son.” So, the “good” is not just anything; it’s spiritual growth, Christlikeness, and our full glorification in heaven someday.

So, I hate to break it to you, but v. 28 is not saying all your circumstances will ultimately work out for your comfort and temporal happiness. Paul is not saying that God will fix all your problems or heal all your diseases. Rather, he is saying that God is pursuing a much higher good, a good of eternal significance. He is forming Christ in us!

But this greatest good is not always my highest priority. The Lord drove this home for me when we were trying to buy our first house. Everything was frustrating, and the process drug on and on. Therefore, when our lease ended, we had to move in with one set of friends and then another. It was frustrating to move around and to have our stuff everywhere.

During all of this, Heidi got pretty beat up in a bad go-cart wreck. Finally, when the morning came when we were finally going to move, I woke up frustrated. This time I was having a hard time getting a moving truck and finding help. Looking back, none of this was that big of a deal, but I was tired of roadblocks, and I wanted something to be easy.

Then I read these verses, and I was deeply convicted about my priorities. God’s Word was saying, “You want your life to be easy, but I am doing something far more important. I am forming Christ in you.”

This is the greatest good, the most precious work God can do for you. Just consider all the hardships God allows Christians to endure so that he can form godliness in us. He lovingly takes our health, our relationships, and many other comforts, all because godliness is that precious.

Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed with a huge trial, or maybe it’s all the little things, and you just want to be comfortable. Believe that godliness is worth every sorrow, every trial (v. 18). Embrace God’s higher and better priority. You are becoming like Jesus, and you are on your way to glory. So, how is that God does this? Let’s talk about…

One Incredible Promise: The heart of the promise is that God works through “all things,” every circumstance of life to bring us to maturity. Considering the context, it is especially the hard things—sickness and pain, relational difficulties, or even persecution.

Life can be hard, and people can be brutal. But no challenge can stop God from creating the best good. God can take all of it, the good and the bad, and fit it together to bring about the ultimate good which is our spiritual growth.

What an incredible thought. Think about all the influences in your life—school, people, health, government, finances, and the list goes on. Some things are quite good such as the encouragement of a friend or the influence of Scripture.

Other are bad such as sickness, broken relationships, and the temptations of Satan. Some of these bad things will never be resolved in this life. But it’s okay because God in his incredible wisdom and power manipulates uses all these things to create a path toward godliness. And this path will end with us being perfectly conformed to the image of Christ.

Your life may seem chaotic. It may feel like a random pile of puzzle pieces. But it is not chaos to God. He is using every piece to build something beautiful, the character of his Son. So, trust him. Trust that he knows what he is doing. Trust that his plan is good. Trust him to the extent that you, “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3).

Then be encouraged about your future Christian experience. Oftentimes, pursuing godliness feels intimidating. We look at the character of Christ, and then we look at ourselves, and the gap between the two is overwhelming.

But praise God that he has a plan to bridge that gap. You don’t know the details of his plan, but you can rest assured that he does, and he is providentially working through the seeming chaos of our lives to form the character of Christ. Praise God! But why can we be sure that God will fulfill it? Verses 29–30 offer convincing proof that God will fulfill this promise.

II.  The Proof (vv. 29–30)

This proof comes in the form of 5 works of God. He foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies. These works are often called the “golden chain” because they are precious works of God, and each one necessarily leads to the next.

In fact, Paul links these works together, particularly in v. 30, using a grammatical construction that leaves no room for someone to only experience 4 of 5 or 1 of 5. No, God will certainly accomplish all 5 in his people. And he intends for us to draw strong assurance from this fact. First…

God chose us. The text says God “foreknew” us. Of the five works, this is the one that has engendered the most debate. Many Christians believe foreknowledge means that God saw in advance who would believe the gospel, as a result he chose them as his own.

This is how the Greek world normally used the term, and the NT uses is this way a couple times. However, most of the NT normally uses it describe a purposeful knowledge that must go beyond simply knowing something in advance. For example, Acts 2:23 states of Jesus, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross.” Foreknowledge clearly describes God’s purpose. And it would be silly for Peter to say God knew Jesus would die. Of course he did.

Similarly, “He (Jesus) was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Pet 1:20). Again, Peter is clearly describing God’s purpose because what would be the point of simply saying that God knew Jesus would come?

And Romans 11:2 uses foreknowledge with the same sense concerning God’s choice of Israel. It says, “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” In context, he clearly means that he chose Israel.

And the idea of purposeful choice fits this context best because God’s purpose dominates our text. The burden of proof is on anyone who wants to add human purpose to this.

Therefore, God’s foreknowledge is his choice to set his love on us. He chose to know us based solely on his purpose and he determined to save us and receive us to himself.

I know that’s hard to comprehend, but it’s a glorious truth. In eternity past, God set his love on me based solely on his sheer mercy and grace. And he determined to save me.

That is amazing grace! And it gives me great confidence because I don’t always finish my plans, but God does. Verse 31 asks, “If God is for us, who is against us?” No one can resist God’s will. He always accomplishes his purpose. So, in eternity past, God chose us. The 2nd link in the golden chain is…

God purposed to sanctify us (v. 29b). Notice the progression from the first link to the second. Foreknowledge emphasizes God’s purpose to love. But God’s love is not open-ended. God loved us with the intent of taking us somewhere. He decreed that everyone he foreknew would be “conformed to the image of His Son.”

This statement ultimately looks forward to our glorification. It teaches that going to heaven is so much more than going to the best resort imaginable for all eternity. When Jesus returns, he will make both our bodies and our hearts perfect so that we can be near to God for all eternity.

In fact, v. 29 says God made this decree this “so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Someday we will worship Christ as Lord, but we will also stand alongside him as his brothers and sisters who have been glorified through his death and resurrection. It’s an incredible hope.

Of course, he already began this transformation the moment you were born again. H is transforming your heart. He is forming Christ in you. He is doing this through the ministry of the Word, the work of the Spirit, and the fellowship of the church. But as well, v. 28 said that he is changing us through every circumstance of life. It’s a glorious thought to consider. 2 Peter 1:4 says that we are “become(ing) partakers of the divine nature.”

And the unique contribution of v. 29 to all this is that God purposed in eternity past to do make us into the image of Christ. Again, he didn’t merely decree your eternal home; he decreed that you would be transformed.

That’s an incredible thought to ponder. It tells us that discipleship is not simply a footnote to getting people saved. God saves to transform. It’s important to God, and it must be important to us.

And this statement also provides strong encouragement. Do you ever wonder if you will make it, spiritually? Does temptation ever seem too much? Do you doubt yourself and your resolve? I can’t think of a stronger assurance that every Christian will persevere and make it glory than God saying he has predestined us to be conformed to his Son. You don’t know what circumstances are ahead, but you know that the grace of God will sustain you through them all. So, the first two golden links took place in eternity past. Then, v. 30 adds 3 more in the present and the future. The 3rd link is…

God called us. Again the “these” of v. 30 must refer to everyone whom God in eternity past chose for salvation and sanctification. Now Paul adds that in time God is sovereignly calling them to himself.

So, this is not his general invitation to salvation; this is God’s effective call of the elect. It can’t be anything else because the grammar demands that the exact same group of people receive each link in the chain. Jesus described this effective call when he said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish” (John 10:27–28).

Christ does this through the illumination of the Spirit. He opens our eyes to his glory. He gives understanding of the gospel and faith. And when God removes the blinders and we see who he truly is, we respond gladly. We hear his voice, and we joyfully come. This leads to the 4th link…

God justified us. Justification refers to God’s legal declaration of “not guilty.” When be respond to God’s call and believe the gospel, God credits us with Christ’s work on the cross. We are no longer guilty before God, and we will never face the punishment we deserve for our sin. Wrath gives way to grace. It’s a precious gift.

If you have not received this gift, I hope you will today. The promises of this passage are only for those who are saved. Outside Christ, there is no guarantee of a greater good in your suffering, only the assurance of God’s judgment. But you can be saved if you receive Christ as your Lord and Savior. He will forgive your sins, and you can know that he is sovereignly leading you to glory. We’d love to talk with you today about how you can be saved.

At this point, Paul wants us to look back and see clear proof that God has accomplished his sovereign purpose so far. If you are a Christian, you know that in eternity past, God chose you, and he predestined you to glorification. He began to fulfill his purpose when he called you, and you responded. When you responded you were justified. So, God’s sovereign will is well underway. And because God has already done these things, we can be sure that the 5th link in the chain will also take place.

God will glorify us. Again, glorification refers to the day when God’s people will be perfectly conformed to the image of Christ, God will welcome us into his presence, and we will live forever with him in glory. It is our great hope.

But if this hope is still in the future, why does Paul use the past tense? The reason is that our glorification is just as certain as God’s past works. God never fails to accomplish his will. Just as certainly as he completed the first four links, he will complete the fifth link.

Christian, you will be glorified. No true believer can lose his salvation. We cannot fall short of glory. We will persevere through every hardship, and God will form Christ in us. Your present circumstances may stink, but God will cause all of them to work together for an infinite good. You can count on it.


Maybe you are carrying a heavy burden today, or maybe you are worn down by the small ones. Maybe you are nervous about the future. Look past your pain and see God’s ultimate good. Glory is worth every sorrow. And then be assured that you will get there. God will finish his work.

More in Romans

May 28, 2023

Almighty, Unfailing Love

May 7, 2023

The Spirit’s Help

April 30, 2023

Glory Is Worth the Wait