Often times, people tend to look at a Scriptural text without having any interest in the context of the passage. Instead, the passage is used to reflect one’s own view or to teach something that is not the intended meaning for the text. I call these specific texts that are associated with improper exegesis “misread texts”, for most of the time they are indeed misread. This will be a recurring series on the blog as there are far too many verses to deal with in one post.
In the past I have dealt with many famed texts of our day, and sought to bring them into context. Such texts include Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4:13, Matthew 7:1, and Luke 1:37 (please click on the biblical passage to read about the proper context, as well as the intended message of the text). All of these verses have been misread, and misused for the purpose of fitting in with the most common message of Christianity today which states that we should be focused on our self-confidence, rather than our self-denial at the cross. Time and time again we can see social media pages with many Bible verses taken out of context, and made to fit in one’s own agenda.
Though I do believe that Jeremiah 29:11 is by far the most common verse that is taken out of context, as a Calvinist, I see that there is a growing ignorance of the context for one of the most popular passages of Scripture, which is Romans 8:28. Romans 8:28 in the ESV translations says the following, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” How does the culture read this verse, one might ask? Look no further than the way that it is paraphrased in Romans 8:28 (MSG)…(that’s right…I’m quoting The Message), “That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”
Can anyone see the major difference in the shift that has taken place in the wording, language, and focus of the text? To many, Romans 8:28 is viewed as a passage that justifies the belief that God works out good to those who He loves, in the sense that God gives to them what they believe to be good. We live in a very self-serving Christianity today that demands that we pray that God give us what we think is good. Mark Patterson wrote a book called The Circle Maker, and in it he encouraged believers to put God to the test, and to demand much from God. As a result, it would make sense why this Scripture is taken out of context. One could easily twist the words in Romans 8:28 to mean that if God loves us, then He will give us good things that we like…right? The real context of the passage is not at all the case.
Before examining Romans 8:28, we must examining the prior verses of Romans 8 to see what Paul is communicating to all believers, beginning from Romans 8:18-21 (ESV), “ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Right away, Paul speaks of a life that is of higher value than a life found on earth, and a time when the sons of God will be glorified. It says that creation is longing for the day when God reveals the sons of God, and the day when God would glorify them.
The passage continues in Romans 8:22-25 (ESV), “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” There is a groaning from the moment in which sin took hold of mankind that the sons of God would be changed into new bodies, and adopted as God’s sons. Now, remember that adoption is only brought up in the Bible when there is something concerning God’s foreknowledge and predestination. So, Paul, by mentioning adoption, has made a reference that the elect of God are waiting for a hope that is unseen, and for glorification to come to pass.
Up to this point, we can understand three things that Paul is communicating: 1) glorification of the sons of God, 2) glorification is only for the chosen ones, and the adopted ones of God, and 3) that it is a hidden hope that will come in the future. It all comes down to Romans 8:26-27 (ESV), which explains everything: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Paul unravels this mystery that has been made known: God is choosing people for heaven, and the Holy Spirit is helping us get there. Those who are loved by God are receiving help from the Holy Spirit, in oder that could be able to call to the Father.
Then comes in the great marvel of Romans 8:28 (ESV): “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” This passage is not about how rich someone can get, or how to better one’s self-esteem, or about winning the lottery. This passage, that has been often taken out of context, is really about God’s work predestination, sanctification, and glorification. God predestines His children to salvation, then He sanctifies them through the Spirit, and then He will glorify His chosen ones.
Good things are coming to those whom He loves and has called, and those good things are in store for a different time, not in this present day and age (which is something much better than any earthly riches that can be offered). Knowing that God will give us new, glorified bodies one day causes us to look at this world differently. Paul is not stating that we should expect things that we think are good to us at this moment, but rather to look at the salvation that God has given us. It will give us the strength to pray, and the Holy Spirit will intercede for us, so that we will pray according to God’s will. We are assured of this because the verse says that those who God loves are “called according to His purpose”…(predestination).
Just to prove the point, Romans 8:29-30 (ESV) reiterated everything Paul mentioned: “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. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” Paul makes it very clear that we can be rest assured about Heaven, comforted by the Doctrine of Grace, and faithful to our God. The Spirit intercedes for those who are His elect, so that they might see eternal life. In the end, all who God wanted to bring into the faith, will be brought to the faith. Thus, God’s divine work all comes together for good.
What makes Romans 8:28 so powerful is the message of God’s work to His children. This verse is not about how someone can benefit from the riches of God so they could attain their own good, but rather about how God’s will is going to always be done. If God elects someone to salvation, it will come to pass, and this is all while creation waits for the elect to be revealed. Until them, we are given assurance that God works everything together for good for those whom He has predestined, called, justified, and (one day) will glorify. May the unseen hope be with us, and may we run from the common, shallow view of this Scripture. Hopefully, all will see the beauty and comfort in God’s work of election, and sovereign will over all things.
Soli Deo Gloria.