Since before recorded history began, human beings have been telling stories as a way of structuring our reality. Even today, the individual stories we tell about ourselves often determine how we view the world and the type of people we become. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul re-tells an ancient story about dangerous villains, a world in peril, and a selfless protagonist who saves the day. But Romans has an amazing twist: we are invited to accept the Hero’s victory as our own — and if we do, we will discover a purpose we could have never imagined.
In this series, we have been discussing the importance of context, mostly focusing on the immediate setting of a particular verse or passage. Today, we expanded the idea to include the overarching narrative — the “Big Story” — of the Bible as a whole. We were encouraged to ask, “How does this passage fit into the Big Story?” When seeking to understand a particular text, why is this a helpful question to ask? How would this practice change the way you read the Bible? How would you summarize the Big Story?
Read Romans 8:28. When you read this verse, what stands out to you? For most people the phrase “all things work together for good” sticks out as a source of encouragement and hope. Setting aside the precise meaning of the phrase “all things work together for good,” why does Paul say this happens? (Romans 8:28b)
How does Paul elaborate on God’s purpose in Romans 8:29-30? Paul lists several “also” statements before reaching the end of his thought. What seems to be the end goal of God’s purpose for us in Romans 8:30b? (See also the opening statement of this section in Romans 8:18.) “Glory” is one of those fuzzy words that can mean almost anything. What does it mean that we will be “glorified?” (Romans 8:18; 8:30b) This is a place where it is helpful to look at the Big Story. Take a look at Genesis 1:26-27 and Psalm 8:4-8. In these two passages, what idea(s) are tied to man being “crowned with glory and honor?”
Now let’s return to the phrase “all things work together for good” in Romans 8:28. We now know that all things work together because we are called according to God’s purpose. If we follow the thread through Romans 8:29-30, we find that the end of God’s purpose is our glorification (Romans 8:30b). From Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, we learn that our glory is tied to bearing God’s image and ruling with Him over creation. Romans 8:29 reminds us we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, who is the perfect image of God (see also John 14:8-11). With all of this in mind, what do you think Paul means by “good” in Romans 8:28? For an extra clue, take a look at the Big Story context in Genesis 1:28-31.
For Paul, he situates present suffering within the Big Story of Jesus’ victory over Sin and Death. Paul says that our current suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that’s coming (Romans 8:18). How is that statement a comfort to us in times of suffering or persecution? Paul writes about glorification in both a past sense (Romans 8:30b) and a future sense (Romans 8:16-18). Even though our full glorification and rule over creation will not come until the resurrection, we can be moving toward that reality now. In your own life, if every temporal thing falls apart, what would it look like for God to work all things together for good through you? What conscious decisions can you make this week to affirm the hope of the Big Story?