While I was planning our family vacation to Montana, the once peaceful day I had quickly turned into a terribly horrible, very bad day. I had to make an adjustment for a family rental car pickup by changing the day of pick up to the following day. No sooner than I had cancelled our rental car, there was no longer a single car available in western Montana!
As I was seeking help from customer service, I could not talk to a real person for up to 4 hours, and the Montana vacation was ruined. This was definitely not a good day – or was it?
As a Biblical Counselor, I tried to counsel myself that “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him” (Rom 8:28). Even though I believe this, I still struggled to see the blow up of our vacation plans as good; That is, until I took a step and thought, “who am I to define good?”
When Paul used the word “good” in Romans 8, he referred to an abstract notion of that which is useful, beneficial and profitable. However, that definition alone did not resolve my struggle.
Keeping my smooth and efficient travel plans would have been useful, beneficial and profitable for my family. But now, the counsel I previously gave to myself seemed stale. I certainly hope that this is not how one of my counselees would feel when pointed to this same truth. I needed to look deeper at how God sees good.
The first place I knew to look would be to turn to the book of Genesis where it says that everything God had created was “very good.” As the creator of the universe, our heavenly Father holds the only authority to define what is good whether that be the quality of his creation or the abstract nature of the events of our lives.
Yet daily, we choose to redefine good in our own image. Consider a husband arriving home to a question, such as “how was your day?”, only to reply, “Good.” The drive to work was uneventful and he knocked out a significant task on his to-do list and even caught the end of the ball game on the radio in the car. It was a good day. Why? Because the day went according to my plans and desires. That sounds like a good day – but is it? Would this be a day where God says “behold, it was very good?”
God showed us His good work before sin corrupted creation, and He also shows us His good work in the redeeming of his creation. Paul greeted the Philippians in thanksgiving and prayer saying that he is “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). Understanding the good work, begins by understanding who Paul was writing to.
He greeted “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” (Phil 1:1) and thanked them for their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil 1:5). The good work began with the redemption of God’s image bearer and our salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. I think we can all agree that we would define our salvation as good.
Having said that, God is still not done. Paul continued to say that God will “complete it by the day of Christ Jesus.” We will not see God’s good work completed until the day Christ returns.
Paul’s continued prayer to the Philippians certainly describes what our continued good looks like as he prays that our “love would overflow still more and more, with real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil 1:9). I find great encouragement in this truth, especially on days when everything seems to be falling apart, I still need more in the face of trials.
For instance, when I want to respond to “how was your day” with something more like horrible than good, this is where I need to come back to Romans 8:28 and finish the thought by continuing onto verse 29. Are you thankful that many times the answers to your questions about God’s Word can be found by simply continuing to read? “God causes all thing to work together for the good of those who love him…”
What is the good which Paul points to? First, we can be encouraged by how God describes us. We are called according to His purpose, so that we do not need to find or create our own purpose. There is freedom in not having to create my own purpose. God also foreknew us, and He also predestined us – meaning, that the completion of the good work is not ultimately in our hands. God is the primary actor and we know God’s promise will come true. His good work will be completed and our purpose will be fulfilled.
Still wondering how God defines good? His purpose for you and I in verse 29 is to “to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the first born of many brothers and sisters.” God’s definition of good for us centers around our sanctification, our transformation toward the image of His son.
When my vacation fell apart, I could either view this event as a terribly horrible, very bad day, or I could lift up praise and give thanks for the opportunity to reflect on what Christ did for me and is doing in my life. Should I ever speak to a customer service agent, I can learn to demonstrate God’s patience and love when I would want to grumble and complain.
To complete the story and show God’s goodness to our family, He enabled us to change our plans and travel to Colorado instead of Montana at no added cost, and rental cars were in abundance! But even this was not God’s greater good in our vacation. After stepping back to look at that day with a better understanding of God’s definition of good, I now refer to that afternoon as a good day, just one of many sanctification Sundays.