When we think upon the declaration of Romans 8:28, namely that, “For those who love God, all things work together for good,” its implications are staggering. “All things work together for good, you say? Do you mean all things?”
Well, when we think upon the all things in Romans 8:28, we must understand it in its context. The apostle Paul is speaking there particularly of the suffering of the saints, manifesting itself in tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, danger, nakedness, and death (v. 35). These things seem to come to the saint from external sources, such as from those whom the apostle labels, “Life and death, angels and rulers, things present and things to come, powers, height and depth, and everything else in all of creation (vv. 38, 39). None of these things, the apostle says, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).
But what of our personal sinning and failure, are they included in the all things? We should note that when we find this declaration of the apostle, it is nestled in God’s sovereign plan to redeem a people for himself. He writes:
And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called, he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified (vv. 28-30).
After the apostle declares that all things are working to the good of the saint, he then defines what that good is, namely the being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Everything that we encounter as children of God works to our good, because, through these things, we are being made into Christ’s likeness. And this is our salvation, for the apostle writes earlier that we will be glorified with [Christ] provided that we suffer with him (v. 17).
So then, is this all things only relegated to the sufferings that we suffer from external sources? It is interesting to note that following the declaration of God’s glorious plan for the salvation of his people that begins in his foreknowledge (or fore-love) and ends in the glorification of his people, the apostle writes:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died, more than that, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (vv. 31, 32).
In other words, after the apostle says that all things work together for the good of his people (which we presume at least to include suffering), he speaks of charges being made against God’s elect and yet failing and condemnation being pronounced God’s chosen and yet thwarted. From where do these accusations come? They must come from sources outside of the saint that accuse him of either his past sins or his present sins. And yet these accusations utterly fail, because Christ died, Christ was raised, Christ is at the right hand of God, and Christ is pleading our case for us. Therefore our sins have no power to separate us from God’s love, because Christ has taken care of all of them through his Work.
From this, we can surmise that in the least that our sins were not far from the apostle’s mind when he penned the all things in v. 8:28. But if can be presumed that even the sins that we commit as Christians work to our good, how then do they work to our good?
1. Our sins work to our good, because they draw us back to the Gospel
In the life of the Christian there is the glorious and mind-blowing reality that we are presently counted righteous in the sight of God on the one hand and we are being made righteous on the other hand. In other words, because of what Christ has done in his righteous life and on the cross, we who are in him are looked upon by God as spotless and blameless. However, because we are not yet what we shall be, we are still sinners that are being made righteous by the work of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, we are progressively putting to death the fleshly deeds of our bodies, and we are progressively striving more and more onto holiness (v. 8:13). And so we are counted and considered righteous because of Christ, and we are not righteous but are becoming righteous because of the Spirit.
Therefore, since we are in such a state, we will still sin and will continue to sin until the day we die. The curse that remains upon our bodies is such that a war will always be waged, and, we, because of our inability to see Christ for who he truly is and because of our weaknesses, will continue to fall and to stumble. And every time we fall and stumble and sin against our Lord, it is a call to us to remember the Gospel that saved us in the beginning. For we are not saved from our pre-Christ sins and then left to fend off our post-Christ sins, but Christ has covered all of our transgressions with his blood, and he delights in making us righteous.
It is for this reason that the apostle John writes:
If we walk in the light, as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1Jn. 1:7-9)
In other words, if we, as children of God–who do not walk in darkness but walk in light–stumble along the path, Christ is there, as he ever was, ready to pick us up, to cleanse us, and to send us back onto the path of righteousness. We simply need to come to him as we first came to him, humble and destitute, recognizing that he alone is our righteousness.
2. Our sins work to our good, because they kill self-righteousness
Now, I must admit that I cannot think of a chapter and verse number for this one, but I can testify to it from countless experiences that I believe accord with the Gospel. There are short seasons in my life where it seems that the Spirit of God is more pleased to produce his fruits in me than in other seasons. And I can tell when these seasons are about to end, because I start thinking to myself, “I doing alright. I have been pretty merciful to the merciless, I have loved by wife like I ought (or as I think I ought), I have been praying regularly, I have been meditating on the Word incessantly, I have been pretty generous, etc.” And I start thinking upon these things and start feeling as though I have arrived or am close to it. “I am righteous, I am holy, and God sure is lucky to have me on his side.”
And as surely as I think these things, my good and gracious attitude drops like a rock, lusts creep in that were not there before, and I stumble and fall into the very things that I was boasting about not falling into just days or hours prior. My sin comes again before my eyes, and I am reminded of how helpless and hopeless I am in my own power. I am again brought down to my knees, pleading for my Savior’s righteousness and asking forgiveness for my self-righteousness.
And it is seasons like these that I praise God for my sins and my failings, not because I rejoice in unrighteousness, but because it brings me back to the Cross. I am reminded again that the Gospel is not something that is merely for the unsaved, but it is chiefly for those of us who are being saved, so that we might not boast in anyone save Christ. And in this way, my sin works for my good, because it drives me back to my Savior and makes me again as I ought to be– like a child in need of God’s absolute and loving care, so that I look up to him who is Perfect alone, so that I am conformed further to his image.
My hope is if you are reading this and you are in Christ that you will realize that even your sin is working to your good. For if you are in Christ, the Spirit who first saved you will remind you of the Gospel which first brought you to him, and it will cause you to rejoice again in the great Salvation that was accomplished for you by Christ alone. This glorious truth, however, should never be an excuse by which we “sin so that grace may abound,” but it is call to us to be constantly repenting from those things that do not please our Lord. For our Lord has been most kind and gracious to us, and how shall we continue to sin against such Kindness and Grace? Amen.