Romans 8:28

Rom. 8:28 "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. 29 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. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? 32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"

For centuries there has been a controversy as to the meaning of "all things" in Roman 8:28. The debate is to whether the "all things" is a universal "all things" or a contextual "all things." Those who believe in a "universal" "all things" generally believe in the absolute predestination of all things or else they believe that God is manipulating or controlling all things to make them bring about good to the elect family of God.
In contrast, those who believe in a contextual "all things" believe that the "all things are limited by the context to the five things listed in verses 29 and 30, i.e., foreknew, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified.

We will examine by the scriptures and by the things taught in the above passage to determine if the "all things" is universal or contextual.

First, we read the statement of Paul, "And we know…" This indicates that there is a general acceptance by the church of what Paul was about to say. If Paul was intending that there was a general acceptance by the church that the "all things" was universal, then Paul contradicted himself when he said in Romans 3:7, 8: "For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just." Paul said that it was a slanderous report that he had said, "let us do evil, that good may come…" Since, evil is a thing, then how would it have been a slanderous report if the "all things" in Rom. 8:28 is a universal all. After all, then doing evil would work together for good to them that love God… Yet, Paul said that people were slandering him when that purported that he had said or taught "let us do evil, that good may come…" He said that those who made such slanders that "their damnation was just."

"All things…" If the all things are a universal all things then it would include every thing in the universe. This would include all evil occurrence as well as good occurrence. It would include all things that have happened in the past, that are happening in the present, and that will happen in the future. It would include all objects including all inanimate objects as well as animate objects. It would include such things as dirt, and rocks, and air. It would include such evil occurrence as murder, and rape, and incense. It would include torture and fraud and adulteries, etc. Under the guise of all things it would be said that the mass murderer was working together for good to them that love God!

"All things 'work.' " The word, "work," indicates that some "work" is actually being done by the "all things." It does not mean that they are being worked upon by some outside force. The outside force would be doing work, but the object being moved would not necessarily be doing any work. When I take a pencil and write my name, I am doing some work, but the pencil is not doing any work. I am using some force to write my name, but the pencil is exerting no force, thus, not doing any work. Now the word, "work," is problematic for those who hold to the universal all things. There are things in the universe that do no work. Dirt, and rock, and most water, and most inanimate objects do no work. How then, can such things that do no work be said to work for good? Those who take the position that "all things" in Rom. 8:28 is a universal all things should tell us how that those inanimate things that do no work are working!

"All things work 'together'…" It is readily agreed that there are a lot of things that work. Yet it is altogether a different matter for things to work together. The word, "together," indicates a harmony of purpose and effort by the objects that are working together. The players on two football teams playing a football game are both working. They are both trying to win a football game. However, they are not working together. They are working in opposition instead. Two nations fighting a war are not working together, but working in opposition. Yet, the proponents of a universal all things in Rom. 8:28 would have Satan and all his evil deeds working in perfect harmony and effort with Christ and his perfect good deeds to bring about our eternal salvation. In such a scenario, it could be said of Satan that he is at least partially responsible for our eternal salvation if "all things" is a universal "all things" in Rom. 8:28.

If Christ and Satan are working together then they would be in fellowship with one another, yet we read in 2 Cor. 6:14-17 "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you…" It should be readily apparent that Christ is not in fellowship with Belial, nor righteousness in fellowship with unrighteousness, or the believer in fellowship with the infidel. Moreover, the temple of the living God does not have fellowship with the temple of idols. Each of the above pairs is in opposition to one another. They are not working together. They are working in opposition.

"All things work together 'for good'…" Under the universal theory every thing in the universe would be working for good. This simply is not so:
1. Rom. 3:12 "They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." Paul had previously proven that all Jews and all Gentiles were in the same depraved condition prior to being born of the Spirit. He concluded that none, before being born of the Spirit, did any good.
2. 2 Pet. 2:14 "Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:" Peter affirmed that those who were unregenerate were not capable of even ceasing from sin. Thus, it was impossible for them to do any good.

The context in the subject passage tells us what the "all things" is referring to. Rom. 8:32 "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Obviously, God does not give us sin and evil and wicked works. Thus, the "all things in verse 28 and the all things in verse 32 must be restricted to the contextual all things. The contextual "all things" God freely gives us. These are the five things: foreknow, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified.

That these things work together for good to them that love God, etc. can be easily seen. These five things are the five parts of God's covenant of redemption. God is the doer of all five things. It is God that does the foreknowing, predestinating, calling, justifying and glorifying. The ones God foreknew are the exact same ones that he predestinated, called, justified and glorified. There is an equality of numbers in those five actions. These five actions of God bring about the eternal salvation and glorification of all the elect family of God. These five things work in perfect harmony, because God is working them. The five things are actually: God foreknew; God predestinated; God called; God justified; and God glorified. Each of the five things is a work of God. Each of the five things works together in perfect harmony. Each of the five things works for good.

What many people mean when they quote Rom. 8:28 and say that all things work together for good is that God is moving on all things to bring about good, even if the things under consideration are evil. However, the above shows that Rom. 8:28 will not support that concept. Certainly, we know that God is able to take some evil occurrence and bring good out of it. This is known as the overruling providence of God. However, simply because God has occasionally done this in the past, does not prove that God always does this. The burden of proof is on those who state such theories to show that the scriptures teach such a thing. One or two or even a handful of examples of God bringing some good out of some evil does not prove the principle that God universally does this. I am not aware of any verse that proves that God always causes good to come out of evil. Since there are very few provable examples in the scriptures of God taking evil and bringing forth some good thing out of it, then I am going to conclude that this is the exception and not the rule. Rom. 8:28 will not support the theory that God works all things to bring about good.

Elder Vernon Johnson