Assuming these verses in Romans 8 apply to the elect, is anything past, present, or future, in all of creation, circumstance, and world events excluded, or is it literally to be understood as an unlimited 'all'?

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. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (NIV Romans 8:28-30)

Note: I take it for granted that  'glorified' means entry into heaven. 

I mean this in an extreme sense, like if this was an unlimited 'all' then for example,  'if' it was to my highest good today to win 1 Million dollars, I would, because everything is working out to my highest good -- without exception. On the other hand, maybe their is some theoretical limitation that I can't think of?

Note: Under recommendation from a moderator, here are some facts surrounding the case to contend with as well as a theological framework to use:

-1- All things (πάντα - panta)  can literally means all things such as here, where it is used twice:

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. (NIV Ephesians 1:22)

Or it may be highly restricted by its context, again used twice here:

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

-2- Both unlimited and restricted views have been proposed by various theologians with some key related versus requiring synthesis being, among others, these:

Romans 8:31-39 1 Corinthians 3:21-22 Ephesians 1:11 Phillipians 4:13

-3- It is requested that a theological framework be used which acknowledges God if, not directly predestinating men individually (Calvinistic) at least knows in advance what they will decide (not necessarily Calvinistic) and that he knows all things and has all power, otherwise he would not be able to have a full view of everything and would not be able to proactively work much of anything out to anyone's good.  It must also be accepted that as he is omniscient, he must be able to plan all this working of good things from eternity.

The question still remains is this good work with all things, restricted or unbounded.

  • 2
    This sounds like a better fit for Biblical Hermeneutics to me since it starts with a text and is looking for the scope of a specific word. This kind of exegesis gets awkward around here with our focus on doctrine and matching traditions. If you'd like I can migrate it there for you...
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 13:54
  • Actually in this one I prefer not because it involves our concept of God and predestination. The Greek gives no hints as it just mean 'all things' and the same Greek is used in different location where sometimes it in restricted and sometimes not. I already know from a hermeneutic standpoint it can be either so it must be answered theologically. Also I have encountered commentaries that take it restricted and some that don't. Thanks anyway, I see your point. As usual if nobody answers I can post one myself.
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 14:57
  • @Caleb - oops forgot to direct my comment to you above.
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 15:08
  • Perhaps you could add the information you know about the Greek (this would be "what have you tried" on a more technical SE site). Also anything you can specify about what theological constructs you want this to be addressed from will mitigate the potential mess.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 15:26
  • @Caleb - ok I took your advice. I think I managed to restrict the possible answers, without narrowing it to much. Cheers.
    – Mike
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


Clearly this verse is saying, ‘we know ----‘ because ‘God foreknew, predestined, etc.’ Therefore, from a basic standpoint there is no controversy in this verse at all. It is simply saying that since an infinite powerful God has planned before time to bless us then nothing in this world, or in time, can properly harm us as we are destined to be rich in glory. Imagine an infinite God with bags of riches determined to hunt you down and give all of it to you. Would you not in some sense say then that those things in your life, good, or bad, are somehow working a final positive result in your eternal status? Of course you would unless grossly misunderstanding the Bible along many fronts.

All one has to do is look at some sample Bible Commentaries like these, and one will immediately find that most see this involving God’s power, good will, grace and sovereign control over the affairs of this world.

For example from this link, just looking at the first two already set the stage:

Barnes' Notes on the Bible

All things - All our afflictions and trials; all the persecutions and calamities to which we are exposed. Though they are numerous and long-continued yet they are among the means that are appointed for our welfare.

Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

God's providence is working, his Spirit is working, and they are working Together with him. And whatever troubles, or afflictions, or persecutions may arise, God presses them into their service; and they make a part of the general working, and are caused to contribute to the general good of the person who now loves God

Now the question is not that God is doing this, but that how far can we say he is doing it, are there any exclusions or limits to this positive view of our own life which faith in God provides.

For here we can simply let the scripture interpret itself. First there is the implicit argument derived from this that whatever dangers we face, they can’t break this love we are are 'clutched by' as nothing can harm us but what God permits and at the sime time protects from destroying us:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV Romans 8:38)

Second there is the positive aspect that if God is working everything out to our benefit then in a sense we have been made possessor of everything. What is the rich man but our servant? What is the great teacher but our servant? What is the government, the moon, the starts but things put into place to serve us in our entrance ito great riches and glory?

So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future —all are yours (NIV 1 Corinthians 3:21-22)

Third this wealth and comfort rest entirely in God as a Lord of the universe disposing all things in such a way as to execute a grand design, all planned before to the minutest detail before we were born.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (NIV Ephesians 1:11).

Whether Calvinist or Arminian there is no reason to reject the comfort of this truth, however we explain God’s election it is something in conformity with his will which as we are bound under his love by grace can mean nothing but our good. Technically an Arminian can still believe in eternal security from this standpoint as God could simply ensure all who would reject their own faith, die before that happens since God is working out the time of their death to their benefit.

Fouth without such a positive and hopeful view that faith in God alone can bring, how else would we ever begin to practice this verse?:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds (NIV 1 James 2:2)

So we see there are no doubts that all, means all without restriction. The only reason why the question seemed doubtful is that I added a speculation about how winning a million dollars plays into this formula. However, this can neither be answered in the affirmative, or the negative, because we can’t pretend to fathom God’s sovereign will to such formulistic details. We can only have faith allowing his infinite wisdom to contain the answers on how he rules the world for our benefit and rejoice in that, knowing he is unstoppable, unmovable, unchangeable in his relentless will to bring us into everlasting glory ultimately unharmed by all the malice of the world, devil and sin.

How great is our God! Who can fathom it?


It's easy to read this as God being the producer and director of everything that happens, proactively moving the universe towards some desired outcome, but I think it's really a message of perseverence, hope, and conforming to God's will. It's related to the observation that "bad things happen to good people", but speaks to what should be the Christian's perspective about those bad things. God does not cause evil, but God can take the outcome of any evil and mold it into something good. No matter what happens, if we persevere in our faith we will be glorified in the end.

James 1:12-13 (ESV)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

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