A few days ago, Emmanuel Baptist Church lost one of its most cherished and admired members. Lorna Steele was very petite physically, but she was a pillar of the church in her faithfulness to God and in her deep love for Christ that was evident to all who knew her. She was a sterling example of what Christian womanhood should be. Her joy was infectious and she loved to be with God’s people. One of my fondest anecdotes concerning Lorna was the day she asked, “Where would you like to be when Jesus comes again”? I knew from the twinkle in her eye that whatever I said, she had something much better. She said, “I would like to be standing by my late husband’s grave, and to hear the trumpet sound, and to see him rise from the dead, and to be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Wonderful indeed! But in God’s wise providence, she didn’t have to wait for Christ to come. She is now in the presence of her Saviour, reunited with her husband and other loved ones who have died in Christ, in that place where there is no more parting, sorrow, pain, tears, or death and all is well.
The verse she wanted emphasized and considered by us who have been left behind in this vale of tears was Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”. This is a great promise, a great promise about a great God. If God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, what kind of God must He be? This promise thunders out that God is absolutely sovereign, that He rules and reigns over all things according to His good pleasure (see Isaiah 46:9-11; Daniel 4:34,35). He is not a deist God who like the proverbial watchmaker, wound the universe up and then sat back disinterested and disengaged, never interfering in the course of history again. He is not an open theist God who is unable to see the future and is taken by surprise, as we are, by the unexpected twists and turns of life. No, our God reigns, He reigns over the biggest galaxies and the smallest atoms, over good people and bad people, over good things and bad things, over the past, present, and future, over life and death, heaven and hell, time and eternity, over every event, encounter, and circumstance. Things don’t just happen as if by blind fate, but it is God who ordains, initiates, orchestrates, governs, and consummates His plan. Lorna wanted us to know that the God she knew and served is a great God.
This is also a great promise with a great guarantee – ALL things work together for good to those who love Him. This is an iron-clad promise from the God who cannot lie that all things, good and bad are being harmonized and relentlessly directed toward our good. Not one thing is working out badly, not just some of the time, but all of the time. The context makes it clear that what Paul primarily had in mind when he said all things was human suffering (Rom. 8:14-18, 23, 35-39). Where is God when people suffer? God never moves. He is occupying His eternal throne and for those who love Him, He is never absent in our suffering. He is taking all the suffering and the trials and the heartaches to which we are not immune, and He is working it all out for our good. The greatest demonstration of this was the cross of Jesus Christ when wicked and envious men murdered the Son of God but what they intended for evil, God worked it out for good, for the salvation of sinners. Lorna was persuaded of this great guarantee and enjoyed the wonderful serenity of life that issues from it.
This is a great promise unto a great goal, namely the good of those who love Him. And we are not left to guess what this good is. Physical good? Material good? It is greater than temporal things. The next verse identifies this good as the conformity of the believer to the image of Christ that He (Christ) might be the firstborn among many brethren. This great good is worked out progressively in our sanctification, but ultimately achieved in heaven when every brother and sister whom He died to save is made perfectly and permanently like Him. That is our eternal destiny and Christ’s eternal glory and reward. Every time a saint passes from earth to heaven, it is the crowning proof that God has accomplished exactly what He set out to do, to work all things together for good to those who love Him. Lorna would have us know as she stands perfected in the glories of heaven that God is true to His promises.
The question is then, do you love God? Do you dismiss Him or desire Him? Ignore Him or embrace Him? Give Him no thought or bow your knee to Him as Saviour and Lord? Have you obeyed that effectual call of the Spirit to come to Christ and be saved? Lorna loved her Saviour and so must we if this God, this guarantee, and this goal is to be ours.