Many things in Scripture are not clearly laid out and this mystery makes us feel uncomfortable. Sadly, entire denominations are formed around a group of people who stand on one side or another based on their convictions over one or more of these controversial issues. But we have to be careful — certain things are intentionally left vague and I think we need to leave it that way instead of choosing sides.
Given this backdrop, the surrounding context makes more sense. If you recall last week, the context that precedes today’s text is about our groaning and our weakness and how the Spirit intercedes for us. Romans 8:26 says the Spirit himself intercedes for us through groans that words cannot express. And why do we need the Spirit’s intercession? Many times, we simply don’t know what to pray for. We are weak. We are limited in our wisdom and understanding. We suffer in this fallen world and all that comes out are groans. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know the mind of the Spirit, nor the will of God precisely in every circumstance. Therefore, we rely on the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us through groans that words cannot express. It’s because the Holy Spirit searches our hearts and knows the mind of the Spirit and is therefore qualified to pray for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Not only is the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf, but in Romans 8:34, it says that Christ Jesus is also interceding for us. He is our great High Priest who knows what we are going through. He was a man and is therefore able to sympathize with our weaknesses.
That’s a LOT of intercession. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us and so does Jesus himself.
Why all this intercession? Because we have free will and we don’t know how to make the right choices. We need all the help we can get. We are sinners. We are finite. We don’t know the mind of the Spirit. We lack wisdom. Often times, we can’t distinguish our will from the will of God. We are in serious need of divine assistance. That’s just the way things are. So two Persons in the Godhead are given the task of perpetually, incessantly, constantly praying on our behalf.
You don’t know what a great encouragement this is for me. When I try to lead my family in a way that pleases God, I don’t have to have all the answers because God has the answers. When I am trying to raise my kids, I may make mistakes but that’s okay. God will guide me and teach me through my mistakes. If I am serving at this church and trying to lead people here in this congregation, I don’t have to know exactly what God’s will is at every moment. Instead, we rely on the prayers and guidance of the Holy Spirit and of Jesus Christ and He takes us one step at a time.
God intercedes for us because we need all the help we can get. On our own and left to our own devices, we are thoroughly unequipped to navigate spiritual life without God’s constant guidance and intervention.
Now I think this discussion has given us a proper framework to discuss the famous Romans 8:28.
28 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. ~Romans 8:28
God is sovereign and we read this verse and we are greatly comforted. God is in control. See, in all things, God works for my good. This means, God has my back. I sin, I mess up my life, I may lack discernment when it comes to the will of God, but God will work it out. And everything will happen in life for my good because God knows the future and he has my best interest in mind.
But we must read the entire verse. And here is where the condition comes in: In all things, God works for the good OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM. The last half of that verse is significant. Those who love him.
God works for our good, but the condition we must satisfy before we can get the benefits of God working for our good is loving God. God is sovereign and he will work out all things on the condition that we love him. Loving God is our response. We responded in faith when we first believed in Jesus and made him our Savior and Lord. And our continued response to God is one of loving him. Then, and only then, can we claim this verse, God always works for my good.
This verse makes it sound like God’s love is conditional. Unconditional love means God should work for my good no matter what, right? But this verse seems to indicate that God will work for my good only if I love him. So what gives?
Love is a two-way street. Without loving God back, He can be trying with all His might to work for our good but we would not even perceive it.
We think God’s love being unconditional means I can do whatever I want because like a safety net, I fall but God’s unconditional love is always there to catch me. Let’s suppose I used that reasoning in my marriage. Suppose I somehow I knew that Jackie would love me unconditionally no matter what I did. Then if I were wicked, I might reason that it would be okay for me to have a fling, it’s no big deal, she might be angry for a few years, but she’d eventually take me back because her love for me is unconditional. You listen to that and clearly you would conclude that I don’t love Jackie. Because in a relationship, love is a two-way street.
Just like the sovereignty of God and human freedom are both held in tension, likewise, the unconditional love of God is held in tension with God waiting to see if we love him in return. And provided this condition is met, God can work for our good.
Let’s break it down a bit more. He accepts us as we are. This is God’s unconditional love. Just as I am without one plea, we approach the throne of God. This is the doctrine of grace, and it serves as the bedrock of our salvation. God does love us unconditionally.
But at the same time, we mustn’t put it all the pressure on God. Because love is a two-way street and God wants us to reciprocate his love. So he places this condition, I will work for your good, IF you satisfy this condition of loving me. Loving God is our responsibility. And if we love God, this means he can work for our good. This includes blessings, this includes failures, disappointments, trials, and all of these things he works for our good, he sanctifies us, he matures us, he works on our character. In all things, God will work for the good of those who love him.