Romans 8:28-30
God's Eternal Purpose

Truth Contenders Sunday School Class
Two Rivers Baptist Church
Nashville, TN, USA

For Sunday, 13 July 2003

Handout: God's Eternal Purpose


Blue: word from text to be discussed or defined

Green: on handout

Ink: to be filled in on handout


All things - What things in particular is Paul speaking of here? Sufferings.

" they call forth the exercises of hope, and give occasion for the kind interposition of the Holy Spirit, far from being inconsistent with our salvation, they contribute to our good… afflictions are real blessings."1 - Charles Hodge

work together for good - What good? (cf. vv.17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27)
Good = God's purpose. Not always what we think is good. God's values are higher than ares, informed by infinite knowledge and wisdom.
God's purpose = redemption of Creation, including us and our bodies. (See vv 18-23)

Note that Paul's subject here is in the plural - "them, those, they." This text is not necessarily declaring that everything that happens to you, the individual, works together specifically for your good. On the other hand, I'm not saying that it's not necessarily true that it does. But this text is saying that everything that happens in the world ultimately contributes toward the goal of the redemption of the fallen Creation, and that is said with a view particularly toward the suffering of the faithful. To those of us who love God and are called according to His purpose, that's good news. But it would be going beyond this text to look for everything that happens to you to result in tangible goodness that you experience in this life. As we're taught throughout scripture, suffering purifies us and testing strengthens us. Suffering and testing are not good experiences but they produce good results in those who are trusting Christ.

God has a plan to accomplish this purpose. When did He form that plan? Eternity past. Eph 1:3-6, 9-11.
What are the chances that He will see His plan to successful fulfillment? (This ought to be a rhetorical question. But, alas, in these latter days it is not always as obvious as it should be.) Throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, God is not portrayed as busily running around behind us cleaning up our messes so that everything works out. Rather, He reveals Himself as working out a mighty master plan from the beginning of Creation to its consummation in Christ, and mankind with all his free acts is caught up in that plan, swept along toward its certain, successful conclusion.

Those who love God, those who are called according to His purpose.

"Why all things work together for good -- -the action of God involved in their call is the guarantee that such will be the result."2 - John Murray

Cf. Genesis 1: Creation spoken into existence and order. The same voice that called the cosmos into being for His glory, the same voice that called Lazarus from the dead for His glory, calls us out of darkness into His glorious light for His glory. Soli Deo Gloria!

Are "those who love God" and "those who are called" two different groups of people, or the same one? Here are the logical possibilities:

1. Two separate groups, 2. Two overlapping groups, 3. One group is a subgroup of the other , 4. Only one group.

Let's consider the viability of these four possibilities:

  1. If these are two entirely separate groups, then the red people love God but are not called according to His purpose, and the blue people are called but do not love Him. This option is obviously ludicrous and can be dismissed out of hand.
  2. If these are two overlapping groups, then we have the same situation as in scenario 1, except that there are also some people who both love God and are called. But you still have some of each who are only one or the other. Obviously not a real option.
  3. If one group is a subgroup of the other, then we have either:
    • A bunch of people who love God, some of whom are called, but not all - another self-refuting position to anyone who is not a Pelagian heretic,
    • Or a bunch of people who are called, some of whom love God and some of whom don't. Now this is an option that cannot be summarily dismissed. There are, in fact, some people who, during part of their lives, are among God's elect (in His eternal view) but who do not yet love Him. The question, then, is whether this fact is relevant to what Paul is talking about in this passage. I believe that his intent is to show us God's eternal purpose for the Church, and that his flow of thought would be unduly interrupted and disrupted if this phrase were suddenly to be pointed toward specific individual human experience rather than at the redemption of the bride of Christ.
  4. If these two phrases describe the same group of people, then we have one set of people -- the Church universal -- who are called by God according to His purpose (which agrees well with the rest of scripture), and who love God. While there are many people among those who gather in the Lord's house on earth who do not appear to show any love for God, this is a temporary situation. All whom God saves will love Him, and all whom He is saving love Him in some way, to some degree. It is not possible for us to judge this properly looking only on the outside.

Now consider the consequences of the two viable alternative interpretations. If these are two groups, one a subgroup of the other, does that mean all things work together for good for those who do not love God? Or that they work together for good for those who are not called according to His purpose? I think that connecting Paul's flow of thought makes it obvious that he is describing one group of people. I think it fits far better with all the rest of the teaching of scripture to interpret it that way, too. In fact, it seems so obvious that I have not yet had anyone offer any real opposition to that point. So, why have I bothered to belabor it? Because of what it implies. If Paul is using both phrases to describe one group of people, What does that imply about God's call? It is effectual. Why? Because it shows that love for God is connected to His salvific call. You don't love God unless and until He calls you out from the world to be one of His own people; and if He calls you, He plants that love in your heart. If it were not so, Paul could not have written this passage in the way he did.

What else do the two phrases in question tell us about the nature of this one group?

  • The first phrase describes their character, what it is that chiefly distinguishes them from the world, from those who are not called.
  • The second phrase is the one fact about them which is of chief importance to the main point: Who are the primary objects of His plan? His plan features us as its primary objects. This is why all things work together for good for us: God is accomplishing His plan, and we are the objects of it!

We found early in the study of Romans that we are not at the center of the gospel, Christ is. It's important to distinguish between Christ as the focus of the gospel message, and us as the objects of His redemptive plan. Since we are baptized into Christ, and share in his inheritance, there is no remote possibility of contradiction or even tension in that distinction.

All whom He foreknew, he predestined for conformity to Christ's image; He called all of those; He justified everyone He called; he glorified all those He justified. Is there anyone who loves God who has not been justified (besides Jesus Christ)? Who is the subject in each case? God. Who is the object? Us.

"God alone is active in those events which are here mentioned and no activity on the part of men supplies any ingredient of their definition or contributes to their efficacy."3 - John Murray

How can it be true that our sufferings work to our benefit if we love God and are called according to His purpose? In that God's plan is connected in all its parts. The end follows unfailingly from the beginning.

The great sweeping panorama of God's plan:

  • Past:
    • Foreknew - He foreknew us. Does God not know about those who are not the special objects of His plan? Matt 7:21-23 The idea is of peculiar affection. Deut 10:14-17; Is. 43:1-7; Hos. 11:1-2, 8-9; Mal. 1:2-5; Deut 4:37; 7:7; Rom 1:7; Eph 2:4-5; Tit 3:4-5; Heb 12:6
      "It is not the foresight of difference but the foreknowledge that makes difference to exist, not a foresight that recognizes existence but the foreknowledge that determines existence."4 - John Murray
    • Predestined - He predestined us to be. To predestine is to determine ahead of time what is to be done with something or someone, "a determination which existed in the divine mind long prior to the occurrence of the event."5 To be what? conformed to the image of His Son. Man corrupted the original image of God in which we were created. Now we have to be brought back into conformity through suffering and death. Why did God ordain that it happen this way? So that God the Son might be the first born among many siblings.
      "God's love is not passive emotion; it is active volition and it moves determinatively to nothing less than the highest goal conceivable for his adopted children, conformity to the image of the only-begotten Son."6 - John Murray
      God is making us like Christ in:7
      1. Moral character
      2. Present suffering
      3. Future glory
  • Present:
    • Called - according to His purpose.
    • Justified - declared righteous
  • Future:
    • Glorified - made incorruptible (I Cor 15: 35-54)

So, what do we do now in light of God's will? "Love God and do as you please." Augustine could say that because he knew that someone who truly loves God will want to do what pleases God.


Supporting notes for handling questions and objections


Some people "supply something to make the sense complete. Who he foreknew would repent and believe, or who would not resist his divine influence, or some such idea. There are two objections to this manner of explaining the passage. 1. The addition of this clause is entirely gratuitous; and, if unnecessary, it is, of course, improper. There is no such thing said, and, therefore, it should not be assumed, without necessity, to be implied. 2. It is in direct contradiction to the apostle's doctrine. It makes the ground of our calling and election to be something in us, our works; whereas Paul says that such is not the ground of our being chosen… To say that faith as distinguished from works is what is foreseen, and constitutes the ground of election, does not help the matter. For faith is a work or act..." - Charles Hodge Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans p. 284

"It is certainly true that God foresees faith; he foresees all that comes to pass. The question would then simply be: whence proceeds this faith which God foresees? And the only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees is the faith he himself creates (cf. John 3:3-8; 6:44, 45, 65; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; II Pet 1:2) Hence his eternal foresight of faith is preconditioned by his decree to generate this faith in those whom he foresees as believing… It should be observed that the text says 'whom he foreknew'; whom is the object of the verb and there is no qualifying addition. This, of itself, shows that, unless there is some other compelling reason, the expression 'whom he foreknew' contains within itself the differentiation which is presupposed. If the apostle had in mind some 'qualifying adjunct,' it would have been simple to supply it." - John Murray The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans p. 316-7


"In all the cases in which this predestination is spoken of, the idea is distinctly recognized, that the ground of the choice which it implies is not in us. We are chosen in Christ, or according to the free purpose of God." - Hodge p. 285


II Tim 1:9: "...who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal."

Lingual Concerns

The numbers are verse numbers. The definitions were taken mostly from Strong's Concordance, if I remember correctly, and some from The Complete Word Study New Testament, which is an excellent reference work, most helpful to those of us who don't read Greek ourselves.

  • 28
    • Subject of main clause: God, not things.
    • All things is only the word all used as an adjectival noun.
    • Main verb: Work*together - Present Indicative Active: occurring while speaker is making statement.
    • Those*that*love (Def article) Present Active Participle: continuous or repeated action, relative to the main verb.
    • Those*who*are = existing as - Anarthrous (no def article), Pres Act Part [present participle of eimi, 1st person singular present indicative to exist, only used emphatically].
    • (The) called:
      • The - separate word, a definite article.
      • Called - adjectival noun - Gk. kletos, from kaleo, the [ones] called.
    • According*to: "Metaphorically, used of the object toward or upon which anything tends or aims" [The Complete Word Study NT]; as the focus or object of; within the scope of. The scope of God's redemptive purpose is limited to a particular set of objects: those whose love for Him manifests that they are the ones He called.
    • Purpose: Gk. prothesis, a setting forth, exposition. Involves purpose, resolve, and design. When used of God, refers exclusively to His redemptive purpose.
  • 29
    • For = because. The Golden Chain explains why v. 28 must be true.
    • All of the verbs in v. 28-30 are active. All in v. 28 are present active tense, describing what currently exists and is happening. All in vv. 29-30 are aorist indicative active (a form of past tense), describing what God did at a point in time past to bring it about. That's why even glorified is in the past tense. He has already done what is necessary to cause our future glorification; thus, its actualization is certain.
    • Foreknew: Gk. proginosko. Not merely to know about in advance, but to approve in advance, to ordain beforehand, to choose [something or someone] in advance to be set apart for a particular purpose. I Pet 1:19-20 - Christ the spotless lamb was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but is now manifest; his future existence was certain. The objects in this case are persons.
    • Predestinate: aina - Gk. pro-orizo, to determine in advance. The object in this case is a destination state: conformity to the image of Christ. However, in Eph. 1, the objects are persons.
    • Image: Gk. eikon, an image created by reflection; a statue or portrait of a figure; anything intentionally bearing striking resemblance.
    • Brothers: Gk. adelphos, close family relationship; camaraderie based on common origin; community of love due to family relationship.
  • 30
    • Called: Gk. kaleo, to invite, to name, to give a job to, or to call [someone] over to a place.
    • Justified: Gk. dikaioo, declared righteous.
    • Glorified: Gk. doxazo, to reveal or make manifest the goodness in someone or something.

This lesson relied most heavily on The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans by John Murray. I highly recommend it.

David J. Finnamore
Orlando, FL