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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Daily Living: The Real Meaning of Romans 8:28

By Ralph W. Harris
Oct. 13, 2013

Editor’s note: As we continue to look back on the 100 years of the
Pentecostal Evangel, with this article we revisit Pentecostal Evangel Books, an imprint of Gospel Publishing House from 1999-2004. This reprint is from the first of six PE Books titles, Strategies for Victorious Christian Living: Principles for Winning Life’s Greatest Battles.

Undoubtedly Romans 8:28 is one of the best-loved passages in the Bible: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”*

But what does it really mean?

That somehow, some way, everything will work out all right?

That if you lose a job — perhaps because you wouldn’t lie — you will get a better position at higher pay?

That if you incur some unexpected bills, you’ll get some money from a source you hadn’t planned on?

That if you have a disappointment of any kind, what follows will be even better for you than you had hoped?

All this might happen, but not necessarily.

The most important part of Romans 8:28 is 8:29.

Notice the first word — “for.” It immediately ties the two verses together. Verse 28 ends with the word “purpose,” and verse 29 explains what God’s purpose is: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

God’s Great Purpose

Why does God save us from sin? Just to keep us from going to hell? No; salvation is not merely a fire escape. Just so we can reach heaven? No; if that were so, He would have taken us to glory just as soon as we were saved.

What is God trying to accomplish? Look at verse 29 again: “Conformed to the image of his Son.” That’s God’s greatest desire.

The worst effect of the Fall for man was that sin marred the image and likeness of God that was in him.

But God had devised a plan in the councils of eternity that would enable Him to achieve His original purpose. He determined to make it possible for man to reacquire the image of God.

This is the great significance of the new birth. People, depraved because of their fallen nature, are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) when they are born again. It is the very life of God. Just as we receive human life from our parents in our first birth, so by being born again we receive divine life from our Heavenly Father.

Why does God want us to be “conformed to the image of his Son”? Because Jesus bore the image of the Father.

Mankind has always wanted to know what God is like. When Philip asked, “Show us the Father,” Jesus could truthfully reply, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:8,9). Not that Jesus is the Father, as some erroneously have surmised. Rather, He was exactly like God, so that seeing Him was the same as seeing the Father.

The image of God was restored to the human race in Jesus who became the Son of Man. In the new birth Christ takes up His residence in us through the Spirit; therefore we too have the potential for developing that image. In receiving Christ we receive the same nature; we can develop the same divine character. We can become godly.

Is seeing you the same as seeing Jesus?

How the Image Develops

Every event of our lives can contribute to God’s great purpose — molding us into the likeness of Christ.

Fathers want their children to look like them. When my older daughter, then a teen-ager, introduced me to a friend, the other girl said, “If you had his hat on, you’d look just like him.”

I was delighted. (I didn’t ask my daughter how she felt.)

Now God is a Father, and He wants His children to look like Him too — in their character. His Son Jesus looked just like Him; now He wants that Son to be “the firstborn among many brethren,” all of them looking like the One who looks exactly like the Father.

Notice that Romans 8:28 does not say, “All things are good.” We experience good and bad, victory and defeat, prosperity and loss, praise and criticism, success and failure, promotion and demotion, health and sickness.

Every event of life may be considered either good or bad. But for the believer who loves God, for the one in whom God is working out His great purpose, all things, bad or good, work together for good.

Think about how a delicious cake is prepared. Some ingredients in themselves have a good taste — milk or sugar, for example. Other ingredients do not taste good. No one enjoys eating baking powder or flour. But when a skilled cook combines all the elements, “good” and “bad,” in the proper proportions and places the cake in the oven at the correct temperature for the proper period of time, out comes a product that is a credit to the cook and a pleasure to those who eat it.

We could say about the cake, “All things are mixed together for good ... according to the cook’s purpose.”

You see the parallel, of course. God has a good and great purpose in mind for us. We can trust Him with our lives. Though we are not puppets of fate, if we love our Father and walk in His will, He allows or sends into our lives all that is necessary to fulfill His purpose — and in the proper proportions.

Sometimes we may feel He has placed us in an oven of affliction or trial. But think of the end result. Through it all He is developing in us the image of Christ.

Doing Our Part

Here emerge the differences between the Christian and the unbeliever. God does not exempt believers from troubles, trials, temptations, suffering — difficulties of all kinds. For the most part, the same problems come to us as to those who don’t know God as Father.

But oh, the differences! For the sinner, these troubles are just happenings, accidents. The best motto he can come up with is “Grin and bear it.”

In contrast, nothing “just happens” to Christians. Every event is a part of God’s plan. We can hold steady because we know what God is trying to accomplish.

It isn’t what happens to us that matters; it’s what happens in us. Our attitude is the important factor.

Not only do troubles test us. So do the good events. Our response determines whether or not the image of Christ emerges. How do you act when good things come? Do you become proud, conceited, self-sufficient?

Watch Jesus as He moves through life. Notice how He responds to circumstances. He is unaffected by what we would term “good” or “bad.” Victory or defeat, gain or loss, honor or shame, praise or criticism — none of these disturbs His calm. He never loses His poise — even during the trauma of His trial before Pilate.

A Lesson to Learn

The apostle Paul discovered the same secret. He declared: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8,9). In the next verse he gave the reason: “That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”

This is what it means to be “more than conquerors” — not only to be victorious but also to understand the meaning of the victory. This is why “all things work together for good.” God is achieving His ultimate purpose in our lives.

When we have learned this truth, we can move through life with the same poise and peace Jesus showed. We are not victims of circumstances; we are victors in them.

Knowing that God’s purpose in all that happens to us is to conform us to the image of His Son, we gladly bow to His will, not as groveling serfs but as partners with Him in His plan. We see in every circumstance, good or bad, an opportunity to advance toward our common objective, developing a character like that of our Lord.

That’s the great purpose of God. That’s the reason “all things work together for good to them that love God.” That’s the real meaning of Romans 8:28..

*All Scripture references are from the King James Version.

From Strategies for Victorious Christian Living: Principles for Winning Life’s Greatest Battles compiled and edited by Hal Donaldson, Ken Horn and Ann Floyd (Springfield, Mo.: Pentecostal Evangel Books and Gospel Publishing House, 1999).

RALPH W. HARRIS was editor in the Sunday School Curriculum and Literature Department of the Assemblies of God until he retired in 1976. He later served as editor for the Complete Biblical Library.


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