When things don't appear to be working together for good, how can we believe that they are? In the face of trials and tribulation, we all know that it's difficult to stand strong. Faith can falter and fear can overtake us. As Christians, when our world seems to be falling apart we sometimes crumble too. Romans 8:28 is often used as a "go-to" verse to encourage a brother or sister in Christ, but sadly it is not always received as comforting by those who hear it. To better understand this verse, especially when things don't seem to be working together for good, it is helpful to consider the context of the preceding chapters. The book of Romans is the definitive statement of Christian doctrine. The book unpacks who we are without Christ and diagnoses our sin problem. It tells us about how Christ delivers us from sin and then declares who we are in Christ and reminds us of our dependence on Him for everyday living. The depths and riches of this book never cease to amaze me.
To better understand Romans 8:28, it's also helpful to consider the life of Paul who wrote this letter. Prior to his conversion, Paul worked diligently to put an end to the growing movement that followed the way of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 9:2). He inflicted pain and suffering, even death, upon those who followed Jesus. Paul's plan was not God's will, nor was it God's plan for his life. When Jesus saved Paul, he was put on a very different path -- one that would lead to great personal trials and tribulation, and would even endanger his life.
Paul wrote the letter to the Romans around 57-58 AD and he wrote for many reasons. He wrote from his knowledge, his understanding and his experiences:
- To give them a clear doctrinal understanding of the gospel, their sin and their need for a Saviour
- To remind them of who Jesus is and what He has done for them
- To teach them of the truths of God
- To reveal to them all that they had been given in their salvation
- To encourage them to remember the One who is ultimately in control of all things
- To assure them of who they are in Christ
- To tell them how they should live their new life in Christ
- To instruct them on their reasonable service to Christ
Paul began his letter to the Romans by reminding them about who and what they were prior to their salvation (chapters 1-3). They were sinners in need of saving. Then in chapters four and five Paul spoke about our ancestors in the faith, Adam and Abraham, and of God's great forgiveness. He reminded the Romans that no one can out-sin God’s great mercy and grace — no one is beyond God's reach.