All Things Work Together for Good
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, in order 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.
This passage adds further assurance to Romans 8:26–27: God works all things for good for his people (Rom. 8:28). “Those who love God” does not refer to a subset of believers but to all “who are called according to his purpose” (8:28). The “good” does not refer to health and wealth now. Instead, God uses “all things”—everything in this life, including suffering (Rom. 8:17–18, 23–25)—to accomplish his purpose for us in his grand plan to conform us to his Son and to preserve us until he finally glorifies us.
Paul supports his comforting words with four proofs:
- God predestined those whom he foreknew (Rom. 8:29).
- God called those whom he predestined (Rom. 8:30a).
- God justified those whom he called (Rom. 8:30b).
- God glorified those whom he justified (Rom. 8:30c).
Here is what those five terms mean:1
Foreknowledge: God intimately knew or set his covenant affection on certain individuals beforehand (Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:1–2). That is, God personally committed to individuals before they even existed.2 The basis of foreknowledge is not that God foresaw what an individual would autonomously choose or do (cf. Rom. 9:11, 16); God foreknew specific people—Romans 8:29 says “those whom he foreknew,” not “what he foreknew.”
Predestination: God predetermined the destiny of some individuals for salvation; that is, God sovereignly and graciously chose to save individual sinners as part of his preordained plan. In Romans 8:29, the purpose of predestination is to conform us to the image of God’s Son, and the purpose of conforming us to the image of God’s Son is that the Son will be the firstborn—that is, preeminent (the first and most honored) among his resurrected children (Rom. 8:29).
Calling: God sovereignly and graciously summons and effectually persuades the elect to voluntarily believe the gospel (Acts 2:39; Rom. 8:30; 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:23–26; Eph. 4:1, 4; 2 Thess. 2:14). This effectual or internal call is distinct from the general or external call, which is the universal offer of the gospel to invite all humans to turn to Christ (Matt. 9:13; 11:28; 22:1–14; Luke 14:16–24; John 7:37).
Justification: God judicially declares or regards believing sinners to be righteous (Rom. 3:21–28). God is righteous when he righteouses the unrighteous because of the imputed righteousness of Christ based on Christ’s obedience (Rom. 5:15–19; 2 Cor. 5:21). Justification is the opposite of condemnation (Rom. 5:18; 8:1, 33–34). It is not based on human works (Rom. 3:20, 28; 4:5; Gal. 3:11; e.g., Abraham in Rom. 4).
Glorification: God will share his glory with his people (without blurring the distinction between the Creator and his creatures). God will transform the believer’s entire person (heart and body!) to perfectly conform to the image of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:51– 57; Phil. 1:6; 3:21; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 3:13; 1 John 3:2; Jude 24).
This is salvation planned, accomplished, and applied.3
- God planned to save his people—he foreknew and predestined us.
- God accomplished his plan through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
- God applied his plan—he effectually called and justified us. And God will finish what he started—he will glorify us.4
God sovereignly works all things—even our suffering (Rom. 8:17–18, 23–25)—for our good. He does not lose one of his children. This five-link golden chain of God’s actions is unbreakable:
- foreknew →
- predestined →
- called →
- justified →
Without exception, everyone is the object of either all or none of those actions. So, for example, it is impossible to be justified without finally being glorified.
- Cf. Michael P. V. Barrett, Complete in Him: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Gospel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2017); Matthew Barrett, 40 Questions about Salvation, 40 Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2018); Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism.
- See S. M. Baugh, “The Meaning of Foreknowledge,” in Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), 183–200.
- Cf. John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955).
- Naselli, “The Righteous God Righteously Righteouses the Unrighteous,” 234–35.
This article is adapted from Romans: A Concise Guide to the Greatest Letter Ever Written by Andrew David Naselli.
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