What Does Romans 8:28 Actually Mean?

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

My wife and I enjoy the show Master Chef.  It’s about home cooks competing to produce top restaurant quality meals. They’re judged by professional, celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey.

One of the common competitions on the show is the “Mystery Box Challenge.” Each contestant is given a box full of a mystery ingredient that they must then use to create a gourmet meal.  What makes it challenging is that the ingredients are often difficult to use, or just plain weird in the context of what they’re asking the cooks to do.

They might say, “Cook us a fancy dinner entrée featuring peanut butter.” Or, the home cooks might get a box full of disparate ingredients and they have to somehow use all of them and make them fit together.  It takes talent, skill, and creativity to do well.

If someone does a good job with all the ingredients, you might rightfully say that all those ingredients worked together for their good. However, you couldn’t say that they chose all the ingredients.

Romans 8:28 is about these concepts. People often look at this verse and think that God is somehow choosing all the circumstances, good and bad, that come into our lives and making something beautiful out of them.

The truth is, people make all kind of choices, good and bad. God does not control all these choices.  Beyond that, we live a world that is affected by sin and Satan and sometimes negative circumstances arise simply for those reasons.

To say that God must be behind every choice and outcome because He can turn it into something good is rather like saying all those home cooks are cheating. It’s saying that they rigged the game and controlled what ingredients they’d be given.  That idea devalues their skill. What makes them great is that they can make something tasty regardless of what they have to work with.

Similarly, no matter how many wrong or foolish choices we or those around us make, God is able to take that brokenness and build something beautiful out of it.

It’s worth noting in the verse that it’s not automatic.  Paul gives 2 qualifications.

All things work together for good if:

1)  You love God.

2)  You’re called according to His purpose.

#1 implies that if you don’t love God, and you haven’t invited Him into your life, He’s not currently working everything together for your good.

You might have a mess in your kitchen. Assuming that it will all work out without God’s help and without you actively pursuing God is a mistake. You’ve got to invite the chef over and give Him control of your kitchen. You’ve got to stop doing things your way and let Him take over.

#2 Says that for all things to work together for good in your life, you need to partner with God in His purpose. 1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose was the son of God manifest, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”

One of Jesus’s main missions was to foil the plans of the enemy. He went around healing, delivering, and forgiving people.  He didn’t sit passively assuming that everything that went on was His Father’s will.  Instead, He actively fought against the darkness He saw in the world.

If we want the problems in our lives to end up working in our favor, we need to take an active role combating darkness. We need to stand up to the devil, to evil, to fear, and overcome them with good (Rom 12:21).

God is the ultimate chef. He can make something beautiful and nourishing out of whatever comes our way (even when we do things that are foolish).  In order for that to work, however, we need to recognize that not everything comes from God.  We must yield to Him and resist the devil (James 4:7).  We must take responsibility for our own choices, forgive others for theirs, and trust God to deal with the things that are beyond our control.