The word “providence” is used only twice in the King James Version; in Acts 24:2 and “provision” in Romans 13:14. In neither case does it refer to God, but to human foresight and provision. We, however, speak of the providence of God or divine providence (Job 38:41). God’s providence is the preservation, care, and government which God exercises over everything that he has created in order that they might accomplish the purposes for which they were created. Is the Holy Spirit in any way involved in God’s providence? If so, how?
There is no single New Testament passage that comes up more often in a discussion of divine providence than Romans 8:28, which reads, “and we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” We often use this verse in the sense of making it teach a general, outward optimism that something good will come out of anything that might happen to us. This approach was advanced by Moses Lard in his Commentary on Paul’s Letter to Romans (Lexington, KY: Transylvania Printing and Publishing Company, 1875), 279-281. Some will read this as God overruling every human circumstance compelling it to contribute to our eternal redemption. See Burton Coffman’s, Commentary on Romans (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1977), 313.
It is true that “all things” are known to God and that he is able to bring good out of evil (Gen. 50:20; Phil. 1:12-18). This point, however, is not taught in Romans 8:28. To use a passage out of its context is to misuse it. Guy N. Woods put it bluntly when he wrote “Passages must be allowed to have their original significance, and that alone; and any other usage is a deceitful handling of God’s word” (How to Use the New Testament Effectively; Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company, 1992), 75-76.
This verse is couched in a chapter that sets forth what God did through Christ for human redemption. It does not teach that God will work out every human tragedy and crime for our personal well-being. Admittedly my conclusion runs counter to the common interpretation of Romans 8:28, but I believe it prevents the misguided view that the Holy Spirit works providentially by arranging all of our human problems into glorious results. That is not to say, however, that the second person of the Godhead has not been involved in the providential working out of God’s redemptive plan. He has, but his work in God’s providence also involved the miraculous in the revealing and confirming of God’s word among the apostles and churches of Christ where spiritual gifts were in evidence (1 Cor. 12-14; Heb. 2:3-4). Some would disagree with my approach affirming that “the passage (Romans 8:28, DG) shows that God continues to work in the world in providence. This is different from either his work through the word of God or His work through miracles.” See Jimmy Jividen’s book, Alive In The Spirit! A Study Of The Nature And Work Of The Holy Spirit (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co., 1990), 142. I take no issue with the idea that God continues to work in the world providentially. It is just that Romans 8:28 does not teach it.
The late brother Franklin Camp wrote, “my study of the scriptures establishes the fact that it was the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal the mind of God to man, through selected men, and confirm the revelation as a genuine revelation from the Old” (The Work Of The Holy Spirit In Redemption (Birmingham, AL: Roberts & Son, 1974), 249. This is the teaching of Romans 8:28. If divine providence is present in Romans 8:28 it is to show that God has worked all things together for the “good,” of those who “love God and are called according to his purpose” in the gospel. Paul lists four truths about God’s redemptive work that “we know”:
First, God’s work involves “all things.” The “all things” of Romans 8:28 and 32 pertain to the gospel of Christ in God’s plan to redeem man. The reader will note Paul’s use of “all things” in this same connection in 2 Corinthians 5:18, Ephesians 1:10, and Hebrews 1:2. The expression “all things” means all the plans that God has worked out to enable us to have the redemption that can come only in Christ, through the gospel. God’s redemptive plan has involved his working together “all things” in the Old Testament types and the antitypes; the Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillment as well as the facts, commands, and promises of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-3). “All things” does not include trials, accidents, calamities, tragedies, illnesses, and death as is so often assumed by Christians, and misapplied by preachers at funerals.
Second, God’s work has been for the “good” of his people – what good, and for whom? The “good” of God’s providential dealings with us is for the ultimate good of our salvation through Christ. As the “seed” of Abraham, Jesus would bless all nations of the earth (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16, 29). Had God not “left us a seed” we would have been destroyed (Rom. 9:29), but as it is, the Gentiles “attained to…the righteousness which is by faith” (Rom. 9:30).
Third, God’s work in all good things was and is for those who love him (Jn. 14:15; 1 Cor. 2:9; 8:3; Eph. 6:24). Those who love God obey Him by keeping His commandments (1 Jn. 5:2-3). If God’s providential objective has been our salvation in heaven, then the beneficiaries are his people who love him and want to do his will (Jn. 14:21).
Fourth, those who love God are also “those who are called according to his purpose.” This describes those who answer the call of the gospel to be saved in Christ, thus constituting those whom God calls by the gospel (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; 1 Cor. 1:23-25). We are “called” to be saints by the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Thes. 2:14). Therefore, whatever God worked out has been for the benefit of those who are in Christ. This “purpose” of God is identified in other passages such as Ephesians 1:10-11; 3:10-11; 2 Timothy 1:8-11. In sum, God’s purpose has been to save people through his Son.
God saw his plan completed in Jesus Christ so as to accomplish redemption for both Jew and Gentile (Rom. 8:29-30). The plan of redemption that was formulated in the mind of God from the beginning (1 Pet. 1:18-25), and then revealed by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of all who love and will obey the God of heaven (1 Cor. 2:7-13). There is nothing that can alter, thwart or frustrate that divine plan (Rom. 8:31-39).
by Dennis Gulledge