Select Wisdom Brand
(Romans 8:28)  What it is NOT!

(Romans 8:28) What it is NOT!

Ref: Romans 8:28

No verse in Scripture is taken out of context more than Romans 8:28. Paul says that all things work together for good to them that love God, and people take that to mean a lot of things it doesn't mean. So in this message Stephen reminds us of the real meaning and power behind this promise from God.


What It Is Not!

Romans 8:28

We arrive this morning at perhaps the most familiar verses in the entire New Testament.

Romans 8:28 is a verse we tend to carry around in our hip pocket and pull out whenever we need a sense of meaning, or purpose . . . or even an answer from God.

“For we know that God causes all things to work together for good, to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.”  What an incredible verse.  It’s a verse that can color the perspective of our entire lives.

Unfortunately many believers use it to color outside the lines of what God intended to communicate.

We hear story after story of bad things with good endings and we say, that’s what Romans 8:28 is all about!

We hear of some difficulty in the life of a believer and we quickly quote – “all things work together for good!”

I can remember being in a funeral parlor, standing next to a grieving widow and listening as people walked by – one well intentioned woman patted the widow on her shoulder and said, “Remember Romans 8:28.”

We use that verse in hospital rooms, funeral homes and emergency rooms.  We use it because we misunderstand it.

I have been slowly making my way through a 1200 page biography of George Whitefield, a man used by God to bring about the Great Awakening, both in America and in England, during the mid 1700’s.  One event, recorded in another man’s journal,  sounded like a great Romans 8:28 story.

Whitefield learned of a widow with a large family, whose landlord had recently taken all her furniture away because she couldn’t make rent.  Whitefield immediately went and gave her five guineas.  (sounds like little furry animals to me . . . )   Five guineas made rent and got her furniture back.  The friend who was traveling with him hinted that the sum was more than he could reasonably afford; to which he replied, “When God brings a case of need before us, it is that we may relieve it.”

The two travelers proceeded on their journey and before long, a robber confronted them, demanding their money, which they gave.  After he left, Whitefield turned the tables on his friend, and reminded him how much better it was for the poor widow to have his money, than the thief, who had taken all his friends.  They had not long resumed their travel, before the robber returned, and demanded Whitefield’s coat.  This request was granted, only after Whitefield asked for the robber’s tattered old coat in exchange, since it was very cold.  The robber agreed and after trading coats, the robber rode away.  After some time, they saw the robber galloping towards them as fast as he could and now, fearing that their lives were threatened, they also spurred on their horses, and fortunately arrived a some cottages before the robber reached  them.  The thief was stopped and, no doubt, intensely mortified; for when Whitefield took off the man’s tattered coat, he found in one of the pockets, his five guineas, and nearly 100 more!

Adapted from George Whitefield, Volume 2  Arnold A. Dallimore (Cornerstone Books, 1980), p. 94

Now that’s my kind of story!

That’s Romans 8:28 at work, right?!

Without a doubt, yes.

But, what if Whitfield hadn’t asked for the coat – and instead of a happy ending, he lost his money, his coat and his horse too?!

Would we still quote Romans 8:28.  Isn’t God great?!

Or what if the robber had killed Whitefield’s friend . . . or both of them . . . would you dare quote Romans 8:28 then?

What about the times Whitefield preached while people hurled stones through the church windows; what about the times when Whitefield was slandered – when he faced insurmountable debts for his orphan house . . . does Romans 8:28 fit in there?

What about that young Asian believer, active in her church, serving Christ while she attended graduate school – planning for the mission field.  Working part time in a jewelry story to pay her school and living bills – when two young thugs came into the store, stole some jewelry and then shot and killed her.

Does Romans 8:28 work for that?

What about terminal illness . . . what about divorce . . . what verse do you use for bankruptcy.

What do you tell a woman who’s persistently propositioned by her boss who happens to be a leader in the church; what do you say to an elderly couple who’ve been defrauded out of their life’s saving; can you use this verse for the victim of sexual abuse or rape?

What do you say to them, “Remember, Romans 8:28!”

If God is working all things together for good . . . where’s the good in that?!

Was God at work in Isaac’s life as he carried wood up a hillside?

Was God at work during David’s years of running for his life after being anointed King?

Was God at work through the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife?

Was God at work in the prison sentence of Joseph?

What good was it when John the Baptist was suddenly beheaded?

Would any of them have understood Romans 8:28 the way most Christians understand it today?

Listen . . . a correct interpretation of any verse of scripture means it is correct for any condition, with any Christian, in any culture and under any circumstance.

If it doesn’t work when the sun’s out and when the clouds come up, then we’ve missed it’s true meaning.

Which leads me to say, Romans 8:28 may be one of the most quoted yet most misused verses in all the New Testament.

The danger is this: if we misunderstand what God is saying and we misuse it and misapply it – it can distort our perspective and lead us down paths that please, not our heavenly Father, but the enemy of our soul – who prowls about seeking some believer to devour – literally to discredit – to destroy. 

To destroy, not just by means of external activity, but by means of internal attitude.

So before we proceed with what this verse means, I want to tell you what it does not mean.

First of all, Romans 8:28 is not a precise explanation for suffering.

Paul doesn’t provide a quick answer for the grieving.

This verse is not a band-aide for you to try and stick on some suffering believer. 


In fact, this verse doesn’t pretend to solve the riddles of life.

Furthermore, it doesn’t even attempt to answer the questions that begin with the word – “Why?”

Does it bother you to read verses like these;

Solomon wrote, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)

Isaiah wrote, “Truly you are a God who hides himself.” (Isa. 45:15)

Moses said, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Ecclesiastes 11:5 declares, “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

God spoke through His prophet Isaiah on another occasion and announced, “For my thoughts are not your thought, neither are your ways, my ways’ declares the Lord, ‘for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”   (Isaiah 55:8-9)

In other word, we want answers but lack the capacity to grasp God’s infinite mind or the way He intervenes and manages and moves and controls the events of our lives.

No wonder Paul wrote in Romans 11:33, “God’s judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out.”

To the Corinthians he wrote, “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” (I Corinthians 2:16)

In other words, the mark of growing up in our faith is getting to the point where we less and less demand from God an explanation!

We all need to practice saying things like, “I don’t know why!”

Say that with me, “I don’t know why!”

“I don’t have an explanation . . . this is beyond me!”

These are not my favorite expressions, just ask my family.  Besides, I’m in a profession and calling that’s supposed to have the answers, isn’t that right?  Christians

Imagine calling me up with your particular challenge and I respond with, “I haven’t got a clue . . . I can’t imagine what God’s doing in your life . . . I am totally stumped!”

You’d probably look for another church.

The older I get the more often I say to think, “I do not know why, but I do know Who.”

When Job demanded an explanation, God responded, you remember, not with an answer, but with His attributes.

Trouble is, we most often would rather have an explanation!

Romans 8:28 is not an explanation for suffering and it is, secondly, not a prohibition against sorrow

Have you ever heard a Christian say to another believer, “Now don’t cry . . . remember, Romans 8:28!” 

The motto of many in the church is, “Deep Christians don’t cry!”

Well, if that’s the case, then Jesus Christ failed miserably outside Lazarus’ tomb where He wept openly.  And the crowd said in John 11:36, “See how much he loved him!”

This is no Biblical prohibition to grieving . . .

But have you ever shared some challenge and the person handed back to you, like a prescription from the doctor, “Romans 8:28”and said, “Take one of these in the morning with a glass of water and you’ll feel better.”

How many believers are afraid to show how they feel – especially if they feel sorrow or frustration or loss or confusion or doubt.

Church can become a masquerade, and a misapplied Romans 8:28 can be the leading cause of it.

Romans 8:28 is not a precise explanation for suffering; it is not a prohibition against sorrow;

Thirdly, this verse is not a pretext for avoiding the challenges of life.

A believer is misguided who tells another, “Settle down – don’t get so excited about your passion for God and zeal for the Lord;   He’s gonna do whatever He wants to do anyway, so why bother getting so fired up about accomplishing something for God?!

He gonna work everything out!

Ladies and Gentlemen, this verse is not an excuse from home to get out of the great commissions. 

This verse is not a hall pass from the discipline of study.


Paul does not give the believer justification for apathy and complacency.

The Thessalonians had that problem.  They were saying, “Jesus is coming back – so why get all worked up . . . why build a building . . . why plant a field . . . why develop an enterprise . . . why try to reach the world with the gospel . . . in fact,  why work at all!”

So they were quitting their jobs and sitting on their hands, waiting for the rapture.

And Paul responds to their error by simply saying, “The one who refuses to work, doesn’t even get to eat.”

Romans 8:28 will never justify complacency in your walk with Christ.

We are to run the race, bear the cross, fight the good fight – glorifying God with whatever He has allowed our hands to handle.

We face the challenges of life head-on – and at the same time – on our knees.

Fourth, this verse is not a permanent ticket to comfortable living

Paul has already reminded the believer in Romans 8:25 that we wait and actively hope with anticipation.

Somebody say, “Well, I’ve been asking God for His will for my life and I just don’t understand why He isn’t coming through.”

While we may not know what the will of God is for our future, He has given us more than we are prepared to tackle, right now.

Let me give you a few of them:

  • obey your parents (Ephesians 6:1)
  • if you’re single, develop a romantic relationship with a believer only (I Corinthians 6:15)
  • if you’re married, husbands, actively love and lead your wives and wives, actively love and respect your husbands (Ephesians 5:22-25)
  • raise your children with an understanding of Biblical and spiritual truth (Ephesians 6:4)
  • provide for the physical needs of your family (I Timothy 5:8)
  • work hard in your occupation (1 Thess. 4:11-12)
  • give to the Lord, His church and His cause (2 Corinthians 8-9)
  • pray consistently and regularly (1 Thess. 5:17)
  • develop an attitude of gratitude and joy (1 Thess. 5:16)
  • serve the church body where God has led you (1 Corinthians 12)
  • exercise your spiritual gifts (I Peter 4:10)
  • consistently worship with gathered believers (Hebrews 10:25)
  • develop and act out biblical convictions (Colossians 3:2)
  • study the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15)
  • memorize the word of God (Psalm 119:11)
  • meditate on the word of God (Psalm 1:2)

List adapted from Charles Swindoll, The Mystery of God’s Will (Word Publishing, 1999), p. 30

Start with that!

You see, the problem is not what we don’t know of God’s will and cannot do –

The problem is what we do know of God’s will and will not do.

And Romans 8:28 is not an excuse to let it all slide.

There’s another problem with the misuse of this verse – let me wrap it into this fourth point.

There are many who believe God has obligated Himself to providing pain free, trouble free living, by mentally inserting the little word, “now” into this verse.

Look at verse 28 again and let me read you their version: For we know that God causes all things to work together for good now!


Or perhaps, “in the very near future . . . I’ll get my answer . . . life will smooth out . . . everything will be fine.”

You cannot support that view with the reality of scripture.

Listen to the Apostle Paul as he speaks to he fellow-passengers on a ship that’s about to be broken up and all of them shipwrecked – Acts 27:14ff

14.  But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; 15.  and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along.  16.  Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control.  17.  After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along.  18.  The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; 19.  and on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.  20.  Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.  21.  When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said . . . 22.  . . . I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.  23.  For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24.  saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’  25.  Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.  26.  But we must run aground on a certain island.”

Isn’t that great?  An angel came and delivered the good news.

“But we must first run aground!”

Wait a minute, if God can go through the trouble to send an angel – why not have the angel pick Paul up and deposit him on land?

I love the irony of Paul’s speech . . . and the reality of Paul’s Christianity – he says, “I believe God (vs. 25) . . . but we must run aground.” (v. 26)

But those two verses don’t go together, do they?!

“God’s in control”, Paul would say, “and I have to go for a swim!  We’re gonna skin our knees and get beaten nearly to death by the wind and waves and get water in our noses and in our lungs and probably be scared out of our minds.”

He said in verse 22, “Keep up your courage . . . we’re going to lose the ship.”

Do you know what Paul was suggesting?  “God has ordained that he would survive, but God had also ordained that Paul’s

ship would sink!”

Paul would say with Cowper, the hymn writer,

God moves in mysterious ways

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps on the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

Not – “God gets rid of the storm,” but “He rides upon the storm.”

I have stood on the rocky hillside of the island called Malta, just above the cove where Paul supposedly swam to shore when he was shipwrecked yet another time!

God rides upon the storm.

Who would sign up for that kind of Christianity?

Surely God would give his friends great weather . . .

good health and

prosperity and

favorable reports from the doctor

and great news from the broker and smooth sailing on the ocean

– surely the boats of believer don’t sink!

Deep down, that’s what we really expect from God – and it shows in our response to God when the boat begins taking on water.

If you don’t mind me saying it, we really expect God to treat us better than that.

I remember a number of years ago traveling to South France on a short term missions trip to one of the Servicemen’s Centers that is part of Missions to Military.  I was traveling with Marsha, my missionary parents, who oversee the Military ministry, and others from our church.

On our way home, after a week of hard work, my wife and I came up to the ticket counter in Paris, I believe, where we were connecting to the States . . . and after some delay, they asked us to sit down in the seats near the counter . . . evidently there was some sort of mix-up.  It turned out that they had separated Marsha and I on the flight home by accident and, after talking it over in French with one another, they informed us that we were being moved up to first class.  All the way home.

Let me tell you, there is a world of difference between 1st class and coach.  I mean – a world of difference!  Now I know why they pull that curtain – they don’t want you to know how bad it is in back in the cattle cars. 

It was another world up there . . . we hadn’t even taken off and we were immediately offered something to drink – champagne even – I don’t think they understood why we wanted sweet tea. 

A full meal was served with linen and silverware – a dessert menu with rich coffee that stayed with me for three days.

Complimentary this and complimentary that – leather chairs that reclined!  We felt bad . . . but I got over it. 

Marsha, on the other hand was almost embarrassed.  She said to me, “Honey, we need to at least offer our seats to your parents.”  I thought, oh no!  Well, I got up, went back to coach, came back, sat down and said, “Well, they didn’t want to switch.”  ‘Course, they were asleep when I asked them!

All the way from Paris to Raleigh, first class!  Man, I could get used to this!  Surely this is God’s design for his children!  Surely He wants His close friends to experience first class travel through life!

Paul, how do you know God’s pleased with you and in sovereign control?  He’d respond, “I’m having to swim for my life!  But God promised I’ll at least make it to shore.”

Romans 8:28, does not offer precise explanations;

nor does it prohibit the believer from sorrow,

nor does it allow the believer to avoid the disciplines and challenges of life,

nor does Paul intend to provide some kind of guaranteed first class tickets throughout life.

That is not what Romans 8:28 is!

Well then . . . what is it?

I’ll answer that, next Lord’s day . . .

But for now, in one phrase, I will tell you . . .

Romans 8:28    -is a glimpse into the attribute of God’s


-it is a revelation that God is sovereign . . . and

 we are secure!

When we catch a glimpse of God’s sovereignty, we discover our security!  Not in the events of life, good or bad; we discover security in the everlasting purpose of God.

To Him be glory forever and ever, Amen.

Add a Comment

We hope this resource blessed you. Our ministry is EMPOWERED by your prayer and ENABLED by your financial support.
CLICK HERE to make a difference.