What do I think Romans 8:28 means for us?
I think that the verse means that every follower of Christ has a role to play in the redemption of the world—of people and of creation itself. When Jesus lived incarnationally—pouring himself out for the world that he loved, thinking of others and not himself, and loving and serving those who he encountered in his life—he met opposition. We meet most of our opposition in the faith because we are trying to push our agendas on people who don’t want them—especially in the world in which we now live. We face opposition because we want to put nativity scenes in front of city hall like we once did. We face opposition because we fight Planned Parenthood and gay marriage. We do not face opposition because we love those in need, serve other sacrificially, fight for the cause of the oppressed in society, or even witness to our neighbors about the love of Jesus. (This is not a political statement or a statement about my opinions on these issues.) If Jesus faced opposition, we will, too. In fact, in John 17, Jesus said that we would.
I think that this verse tells us that when we face opposition to our faith, when the struggles of this life slap in the face, or when we fall to the ground and can step no further, our lives in Christ and our service for Jesus and world are not in vain. They serve to move this world a step closer to God’s ultimate goal—the redemption of souls and the renewal of all creation (which we see at the end of the Bible). We have a role to play, and nothing can stop God’s purposes, no matter what appears in front of us. We will overcome, even if I do not! Did you hear me? I said, “We will overcome, even if I do not!” This may sound silly, but let me make a conclusion on this thought.
We have in our culture a “cult of self.” Everything is about the individual. While human tendency has always been to care about the self first, this cult of self is not always the driving force. For example, reading about those living in Israel in 1948, you can see a sense of purpose that transcended the individual. Everyone had a role to play, even if they could not see it. And even if people died, their role did not end, and “the good” for them would come when victory was won at the end of the war. We have missed that sense of community today, because we read this verse as speaking about me. We think it means that if I love God enough and follow his plan for my life, then I am guaranteed of God giving me “the good” (which we typically translate into happiness and prosperity—we can hardly do anything else in our culture!), even if it may take a while to get here. This is sometimes true. But this vision is much too small! We are part of a huge story—a story that began in a garden in Genesis, ran through Abraham and Moses and David, and then culminated with the work and teachings of Jesus, then moved on through Paul, James, and Peter, through Clement, Jerome, Aquinas, Wyclif, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. What a grand mission we have, in God’s kingdom. Can you see it? Our work is important, if only you and I can move beyond the pettiness of self! The pettiness of self keeps our vision far too small, when God wants us to be a part of this amazing, enormous, grand narrative of history! We must be counter-cultural to the cult of self and serve God's kingdom!
Can we today pray with Jesus that his Kingdom would come and that we could live that kingdom? Yes, we can, if we will open our eyes to the work that God is already doing and the work that we have been called to do. Will you make that your prayer today—to be a part of God’s huge vision for his Kingdom?