With the fall of Adam and Eve the entire human race was separated from God, plunged into depravity, and set on the path to destruction. But the purposes of God were not hindered by disaster at the dawn of human history any more than they are hindered by disaster today. From eternity past, God had a plan for the universe. In Romans 8 the Apostle Paul explains the relationship between the eternal plan of God and the everyday life of man.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (ROM 8:28)
"We know" is from the Greek oida, which refers to certain knowledge, absolute understanding. In the perfect tense it refers to knowledge held in the present because it was learned in the past. This could be translated, "We have come to know with certainty." Paul is not talking about everyone; he is talking about those who have been taught and who therefore know absolutely that there is a reason they exist and what that reason is.
When Paul writes that "God causes all things to work together for good,"he is not saying that God lets only good things happen, but that He weaves both things that are good and things that are bad and makes them together produce something that is good.
"Good" here is agathos; it means "absolute good, ultimate good." Ultimate good is not always immediate good. God, who is eternal, takes the long view. He is concerned not so much with where we are at this moment, but with the character we are developing over time and with our eternal destiny. Any person who has no concern for eternity, who is focused on time and on what he can get in time, has set himself against the machinery of the universe. Such a person cannot expect this promise to apply in his life.
To whom does God make this promise? The phrase "to those who love God" points to those who are focused on God through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said unequivocally in JOH 14:6 that no one could reach God except through Him: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." Anyone who talks about God but despises Jesus Christ has a God who is a figment of his imagination. He cannot expect that anything will work for ultimate good in his life.
"Love" here is agapao. In the present, active participle, it refers to a constant, habitual action. This promise is to those who have a lifestyle of loving God. But what does that mean? In JOH 13:17 Jesus told His disciples, "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." In JOH 14:15 He said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." "Keep" is from the Greek tereo, which means "to guard" or "to treasure." Reverence for the Word is an expression of love. No one obeys perfectly all the time; everyone fails. But the person who stands up and tries again and again after he fails, who consistently pursues God—this person has such a lifestyle.
The person who hates God or ignores God should not expect anything to work together for good in his life. To hate the Creator of the universe, to despise the Power behind life, to turn away from the Planner behind history and expect everything to go well in life is to be a fool.
"Those who love God" is amplified by the phrase "those who are called according to His purpose."Kletos, literally "the called," is in the dative case, in what is known as the dative of advantage. Paul is saying that these people have an advantage because they responded to a call. What was the call? An invitation to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. To whom has the call gone out? To the whole world.
"The called" are all who answer the call by faith in Jesus Christ. "According to His purpose" in Greek is kata prothesis. Kata means "according to a norm and a standard." Prothesis is from pro, "beforehand," and tichemi, "to set in place." God has set standards. His standards are absolute and eternal. They will never change, just as He will never change. Before time began, God set the order for the physical functions of the universe and for the spiritual functions of man. He did not wind up the universe like a toy and turn it loose with no idea of what would happen to it. He had a plan before creation, and He has revealed His plan in increasingly greater detail throughout Scripture.
ROM 8:28 sets two conditions on God's promise to work all things together for good in our lives. We must love God and we must be called according to His purpose. That means we must be living according to His purpose, willing to follow His plan. If I buy an automobile and want it to run as it was designed to run, I follow the manufacturer's maintenance instructions. If I build a house and want it to stand, I follow the architect's blueprint. If I am an athlete with my heart set on winning Olympic gold, I follow my coach's training schedule. If I want everything to work for good in my life, I follow the plan of God.
Does following the plan mean that we will always only experience good things? Not at all. We will face adversity and suffering, as well as blessing and prosperity. We will face the same things everyone in life faces. But there will be a difference in our lives. We will know that all things—the good things and the bad things—have a purpose. We will know that everything is working toward an ultimate goal: infinite, final, lasting good. What is the ultimate good that God wants to work out in our lives? He wants us to be conformed to His Son.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (ROM 8:29-30)
"Conformed" is summorphoo, from sun, "together," and morphoo, "form, appearance, essence." God wants to take all of His children in form, appearance, and essence and bring them together in the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. The best possible destiny is not to be rich, famous, or successful. The best is to be like His Son. The highest goal that God could have for our lives is to make us like the greatest man who ever lived.
Paul names five actions undertaken by God in eternity past on behalf of those who would become His children in time.
1. He foreknew. Before human history began, God saw the ultimate end of everything in time. From the foreknowledge of God comes the idea of divine providence. The word providence comes from the Latin pro videre. Videre—from which we get video-means "to see." Pro means "beforehand." The word "provide" comes from the same roots. Because God saw, He was able to provide.
God, looking down from eternity past, saw everything that would ever happen in time. He saw each of us. He knew when we would exist. He knew every thought we would ever think. Because He knew every sin we would ever commit, He was able to pour out those sins on Jesus Christ at the cross. He knew whether we would accept or reject the invitation to believe in Christ. And He knew that if we rejected the invitation, we would never be one of the "called according to His purpose."
2. He predestined. The idea of predestination scares people. in Greek it is proorizo. Pro, "beforehand;" horizo, "to set boundaries." The word also means "to establish a destiny." God established a destiny for every person who would respond to Jesus Christ. On this earth, that destiny is to enter into union with Him and accomplish a particular work designed by Him (EPH 2:10). In eternity, that destiny is to have eternal life and an eternal inheritance (1PE 1:4-5).
God set the boundaries in each of our lives. He knew before He created us exactly what it would take in our lives to conform us to Christ. He knew how much adversity and how much prosperity we could handle, and He set limitations on both.
3. He called. "Call" is from kaleo. God simply gave the invitation, and the invitation was accepted. When we believe in Jesus Christ, we enter into that salvation prepared beforehand.
4. He justified. "Justify," dikaioo, is from a Roman law term that meant "to declare someone to be legally righteous." God declares us righteous—not on the basis of anything we do—but on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, received by faith. God made His Son to become sin for us so that He could make us the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ (2CO 5:21). Righteousness is a gift.
5. He glorified. "Glorify," from doxazo, means "to make glorious." In his writings, the Apostle Paul uses "glory" as a comprehensive term for all that is of God. "Glory" speaks of any work or act which reveals God's essence. Whenever God's character is reflected, this is also glory. We were created for this very purpose: to reflect the glory of God (ISA 43:7; ROM 9:23; EPH 1:6, EPH 1:12, EPH 1:14).
Every one of these verbs is an aorist, active, indicative. Aorist tense means the action took place at a point of time; active voice means that God produced the action. He is the One who foreknew, who predestined, who called, who justified, who glorified. He did it all. The indicative mood is a dogmatic statement of reality.
God did it all, at one point, at a point of time before time, a point we call "in the beginning." He knew how each of us would respond to Jesus Christ, and in that knowledge He set our eternal destiny.
Before there was ever a problem in human history, God had a solution. Every problem we face in time, God saw beforehand. Because He saw and because He cares, He came up with a plan. In the plan, He provided every solution and wrapped them all in a package called the Son of God, the Lord of Glory, the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ. And He sent Him to this world to do what? To take our problems away? No, to give us something within that enables us to face our problems. We can lay hold of the solutions—if we take hold of the Savior.