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A Righteousness by Faith #39: Everything happens to move you forward.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)

There are some verses that just seem to be begging us to take them out of context. Romans 8:28 is one of them. Someone you know is going through a hard time, so what do you say? Some version of, “Trust God because He is going to bring good out of this.” While this sentiment is certainly supportive, Paul is not offering us a platitude for times of trouble. He is speaking of our whole life.

This is really the conclusion Paul has been driving towards since “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” at the beginning of his letter. How does the gospel make our lives different? Especially when we see behaviors and attitudes in our lives that do not line up with the character of Jesus? Or when we realize that life is not easier just because we follow Jesus?

I recently chatted with someone who was troubled by this. She felt some despair over an apparent lack of support from God. And I took her to Romans 8:28 to make sense of her situation.

She needed to see that what was happening in her life was included in the ‘all things.’ Everything we experience in life—the good, the bad and the ugly—is part of the ‘all things.’ God, who has the right to reign over us, is aware of everything that is happening in our lives. But his goal is not to make us happy, or promise us that things will get better as we go along. Instead, all of our ‘all things’ are being used to move us towards the purpose God has for each of us—to conform us to the likeness of Jesus.

God uses everything that has happened to you to draw you to Himself. All things are meant by God to catch your attention so you will surrender to His transformational work. The triumphs and happy days that make up some of the ‘all things’ remind you that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17). And the bad days, the sorrow and hurt from living in a world affected by the Fall are the part of the ‘all things’ that should remind you that only God is your protector, healer and the one who makes all things new.

So why this is true? God’s salvation is more than a trip to heaven someday. It is the power to live out righteousness in this life. We need this power to be at work in us. The struggle that we face is being truly convinced that only God knows how to shift us from arrogant self-sufficiency to the humility of knowing we have no power of our own. This is like Paul’s thorn-in-the-flesh eye opener. After praying three times to be freed from it, God essentially said “No.” That had to be staggering to Paul after all he had sacrificed for the sake of the gospel. Yet God went on to say that His grace was sufficient for Paul—and then Paul realized he wanted that grace most.

If you were to ask anyone what they wanted to avoid most in life, most would say suffering and pain. Yet, if you asked the same people what had brought them to experience the greatest change in their lives, again they would say suffering and pain. Whether we like it or not, suffering is more likely to teach how much we need God to save us, define us, comfort us, and help us to keep our balance in a world where everyone is affected by the Fall.

So, yes, God is going to bring good out of this. But it does not mean He is going to restore your health or ease the pain of loss or bring vengeance at this moment on your behalf. Neither is He planning to rob you of the joy of a new baby or satisfaction of completing a difficult task. He is using ‘all things’ to confront us with our deepest need for intimacy with Him.

The ‘good’ is God’s powerful salvation at work in you and me, continually beckoning us to Himself and remaking the ‘broken us’ into something gloriously like Jesus.

-Steve Smith