Monday, January 15th: Romans 8:28
The TOMS shoe company build a brand as “The One for Once Company.” Its model was and is to give away a shoe to children in developing countries for each shoe sold in the marketplace. Buyers flocked to the shoes not only because of their trendy design, but also because it allowed the buyer to feel a sense of good. They were “doing good” by providing shoes for those who had none.
However this model soon began to take some heat and forced TOMS to at least reconsider how and why it was doing what it was doing. It was built (at least it was marketed as so) on the principle of doing good, but further research showed it might not be hitting that mark. On a social level one author wrote: “At worst, it promotes a view of the world's poor as helpless, ineffective people passively waiting for trinkets from shoe-buying Americans.” On a personal level one researcher concluded: “The bad news is that there is no evidence that the shoes exhibit any kind of life-changing impact.” And on an economic level the same survey reported “a small negative impact on local markets.” Local shoe makers were being put out of business and this was harming the fabric of the local economy and access to monetary assistance.
TOMS is has put a significant amount of research of their own into these claims and has even expanded the reach of their charity. The reality highlighted in this story though is that “good” is often relative. Even in issues of charity, “what is good,” is not universally agreed upon. This confusion readily leaks into the well of Romans 8:28 which must be one of the most quoted portions of Romans (or even the Bible!). Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
One phrase in this text which is easy to overlook is Paul’s qualification of “and we know…” How do we know this? Where has he in this book already laid the foundation of what he is about to tell us? We know in hope. The hope which Paul talks about in verses 23-25 are a hope in a future which makes sense. A future where everything is made right. A hope which finds its head in the cross of Jesus itself.
What do we know? That for those who love God all things work together for good. This is a bold prediction and if it is true, its impact is staggering. So let us break down what it is promising and to whom it is promising. Paul applies this truth, “to those who love God.” In this phrase Calvin says that Paul, “includes the whole of true religion in the love of God.” Remember it was only a few paragraphs ago in Romans 8:6-8 Paul taught the inability of a fleshly heart to have any sort of affection for God outside of hostility and rejection. So Paul’s group of those who love God is not for those who have casual and good feelings for God. Paul is referring to those who have been saved and made to love God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In fact Paul helps us understand this exclusive love when he clarifies in his following phrase: for those who are called. Those who love God are those who are also called by God to love him. We do not serendipitously fall in love with God like the protagonist of a romantic comedy. We fall in love with God only when the deadening effects of our sin are put to death on the cross of Jesus and we receive a Spirit of adoption through faith. Charles Hodge says, “This call is not according to the merits of men, but according to divine purpose.”
This text is not a “name it and claim it” promise to anyone who wants to find the silver lining of life’s trial. It is a blood bought privilege of God’s children. And that promise is that: “all things work together for good.” This is where discrepancies on “what is good” can lead to problems in this text. When Paul says “all things” he is most likely referring to the trials, sufferings and afflictions believers face while waiting their future resurrection. Because “all things” and “good” coexist in this sentence we cannot assume that God’s good is in the elimination of our sufferings. Yet this is so often test by which we decide of God is good or not. “How can God be good when bad things happen?” “How can God love me when he allows me to suffer like this?”
But in this text, the God of the universe is telling us what is good: “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Verses 26-27 remind us that the will of God in prayer is good. It holds out God’s intentional involvement as our greatest hope in prayer. Here Paul elevates that goodness into all other areas. He is in essence saying, “We pray according to the will of God because we live for the purposes of God.”
Our greatest good is in the purpose of God. God’s purpose is to save us, to redeem us, to influence us, to adopt us, to cause us to pray, to make us to hope in saving faith, to set us apart from the world, to make us no longer trust in what is seen, to put to death the mind of flesh, to cause us to consider the glory which is yet to be revealed. If our afflictions cause us to think these thoughts then it is our afflictions which, though momentarily delight the Devil, are purposed by God to shame the Devil and further cause the saints to worship.
This passage does not mean, as R.C. Sproul reminds us, “that everything which happens to us is good in and of itself. Suffering is a tragic, physical evil.” Evil and suffering is still evil and will have no place in the New Heavens and New Earth. But what is good in “all things” is that God’s purposes are greater than evil. In fact in a way which we will not fully understand, physical suffering and evil are tools for God’s purpose. Hodge says, “As they are comparatively insignificant, as they call forth the exercises of hope, and give occasion for the kind interposition of the Holy Spirit, far from being inconsistent with our salvation, they contribute to our good.”
If you love God, if you are called by God, then you can know good with clarity and you can find good in uncertainty. Our “good” is that God works even our “present sufferings” and “inward groans” for his purposes. His purposes to share with us his glory and to cause us to worship him in greater love and joy. In our waiting nothing can derail us from this good, and as we continue in Romans 8, the good of this text will only get better. And nothing can take it from us.
Tuesday, January 16th: Romans 8:29
As you read today and tomorrow’s text you may feel a sense of apprehension or exhaustion as you wrestle with some big ideas and words which Paul uses. Up until this point, and starting again in verse 31, Paul uses pretty simple and common language. That’s part of the reason why this passage is so shocking. The words Paul uses in Romans 8:29-30 are deeply theological and often difficult to understand. But what we are seeing is not a footnote to Paul’s simple and heartfelt worship, it is the fuel of it. For Paul it is right thoughts about how God saved us which lead to right thoughts about hope, fear and love.
Like a skilled physician, Paul is going to provide for us an anatomical analysis of our hope and faith by describing the intricacies of our salvation. Some people see this type of language and love it, others were like myself when I was younger. I saw these words and the theological clarity needed to understand them as hindrances in my walk with God. “They complicate things which should be simple,” I would say to myself. But it is exactly passages like this which showed me how wrong my thoughts were.
These ideas moved Paul’s affection to soar new levels. They were accelerants not anchors. So I pray as we do the hard work of mining the depths of these texts that our souls would join with Paul’s and be stunned at the beauty of God in our salvation.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
Again we need to ask ourselves who “he” is, and if we look back to verse 28 it is clear to see that “he” is once again God and “his Son” would then be Jesus. Verse 28 tied our hope for good to the purposes of God and now Paul is beginning to show us the depth of God’s purpose.
By God’s grace I have only dated one woman in my life. When it comes to relationships, I’m batting a thousand. When I saw Sarah, I knew I wanted to see if she would be someone I could marry. But, I had no idea how to make that happen. I had never dated, I wasn’t necessarily smooth with the ladies, and most of my time in college was spent living with six other guys. My exposure to not just dating, but godly dating was pretty weak. Even though I knew I wanted to seek out marriage with Sarah, I was at a loss as to how to proceed. The result was a series of disastrous encounters which almost ended the relationship before it began (Sarah and I jokingly call this “the age we do not speak of”).
But when Paul says, “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” he is showing how much more powerful God is at pursuit than I am. God not only knew who he would save, but he also predestined the way in which they would be saved. Going back to my circumstance, imagine if I not only knew Sarah was the one I would marry, but I also was able to clearly and effectively, without any doubt woo her heart to me. This is what God has done for those who love him. Ephesians 1 tells us that God planned to save us “before the foundations of the world.” This is an example of God’s foreknowledge, he knew who he would save, all of them, every last one.
But in God’s predestination he also planned and secured the way in which they would be saved. God’s salvation is not accidental, it is intentional. So intentional it involved the death of his son. In Ephesians 1 we see Paul connecting foreknowledge and predestination in a similar way: “even as he chose us in [Jesus] before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before [God]” (Ephesians 1:4). Before the foundations of the world God chose us in Jesus. To choose us without Jesus is to leave us as known, but without salvation. But to know us and predestine us in Jesus we are given salvation through faith. Ephesians also brings up an important part of this salvation which echoes Paul in Romans 8:29. Listen to the similarities: Ephesians 1:4, “that we should be holy and blameless before God,” Romans 8:29, “he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Both passages on our salvation refer to believers being given and conformed to specific attributes of Jesus.
Part of the way in which God’s foreknowledge and predestination saves us is that it assures a way and an ability to be changed more and more to be like Jesus. Without Jesus we have nothing, certainly no assurance of salvation. But God’s plan of salvation not only gives us Jesus, but makes us more and more like Jesus. His predestined salvation means that not only is there a potential that we can grow, but there is a certainty that despite our sufferings, trials, afflictions and shortcomings, God has purchased us to be more like Christ.
Paul goes on to say in Romans 8:29, “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” “He” in this sentence is actually “the Son” from the previous sentence. God has given us a plan and a power to be transformed more and more into Jesus by our salvation in order that Jesus might be the pattern of who we will one day be like ourselves. Do you see the wonder of this! God’s whole will, his effective saving power has caused our hearts to believe in him through faith, and it has paved a way for us to be like Christ!
Our salvation is a slow and steady redemption of all of us in all things. The context of Romans 8 is the trial of learning to put sin to death and the tension of waiting for a hope which is still to come. This verse meets us in our weakness and says, “But I have purchased you for this. I have not only saved you, but I have planned a comprehensive plan for you. You can grow because I have made it to be so.”
There are aspects of us being conformed to his Son which will not happen until we are resurrected. But this verse builds off the promise of Romans 8:28 by promising that in all things God works for our good in that we can be conformed more and more to Christ. Our greatest good is that we would be more like Christ, and God in his sovereignty has made a way for us to achieve that wonderful transformation in “all things” because he has willed for it to be so.
So if you feel disappointed in your spiritual growth and feel the odds to be insurmountable, take heart. The same God who planned your salvation is the same God who has planned a way forward for you. We just need to respond in trust and ask God for his help (see Romans 8:26-27).
Wednesday, January 17th: Romans 8:30
Ideas like “mindfulness” and “self-realization” were ideas once isolated to free new-age thinkers. But hardline businesses and medical treatment providers are beginning to see a unique connection with these ideas and the role they play in the overall health and ability of individuals.
One Georgetown University Professor of Computer Sciences says, “Our brains…construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to.” He goes on to share the studies of one science writer who says, “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.” The past few days we have seen the biblical proof of these claims. We are controlled and defined by the will: God’s will. Paul is writing to stress our response to God’s active working in our life.
The claims of these professors and researchers are quite accurate, but they are not new. Paul in Romans 8 is calling us to enhance our hope by focusing our mind on who God is and what he has done for us. The science behind mindfulness is based on a true implications of the fall. But the gospel and the Spirit free our minds from vain self-focus and instead calls us to think heavenly, God-centric thoughts (see Romans 8:6 and 1 Corinthians 2:16). Our ability to focus on what God has done for us is central to our ability to endure hardship and find deep joy in all of life’s circumstances. This isn’t “mindfulness,” it is the plan of God. R.C. Sproul says, “The foundation for the comfort and certainty of future joy is God’s plan of redemption…”
Yesterday, Paul tied God’s planned salvation to our hope for change. Because God has planned and secured our eternal salvation, he has also planned and made it possible for us to be conformed more and more into Christlikeness. John Calvin notes that other places in Paul’s letters the idea of predestination is specific to salvation, but in this passage Paul’s idea is carried over from verse 29: we are predestined to be conformed to the image of his son. Not only is our salvation planned, but God’s plan is that our salvation would change us.
Therefore Paul opens verse 30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” As you studied this text you probably found the chain of glory in Paul’s structure: predestined, called, justified, glorified. While all of these ideas are past tense, we know that the glory which awaits us is not yet here. It is still future, and Paul himself has said so in the paragraphs leading up to this. So why is Paul writing in the past tense? I would suggest it is to communicate an overwhelming certainty in the midst of uncertainty. Often we don’t know why, when or where affliction will meet us, but we do know without a shadow of a doubt that for the believer, we will end up in glory.
As our study of Romans 8 has shown, God cares about our ability to be holy, to be set apart, able to resist and kill sin. This, as Paul just said, is God’s predestined plan for the believer. Yet often our own sin or the presence of external affliction makes us weak to act in such or way, or even think to such an end. But here Paul calls us to think deeply on the wonderful work of God. God’s plan has predestined us for Christlikeness. Our hope is in what God has done to assure us of that.
He has called us. His foreknowledge rang forth in an effective call for you to believe. You believe and have faith because God has called you to himself. Upon such a specific and effective calling, our faith has justified us. Paul has discussed justification much in the book of Romans, but this is the first mention of it in Romans 8. Justification is a legal term which means that God takes guilty sinners and declares them to be just. When Christ died for our sins, he took the guilt and the punishment, and we received the innocent verdict which only Christ was due.
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Because Jesus has dealt with our greatest need by dying for our sins, our justification bears an immediate change in our heart. Matthey Henry says, “The book is crossed, the bond cancelled, the judgment vacated, the attainder reversed; and they are no longer dealt with as criminals, but owned and loved as friends and favorites.” Calvin adds, “For what is more desirable than to be reconciled to God.” God has done this work for us! What is harder? To teach a man to walk, or to raise a man from the dead? If in Jesus God has raised us from the dead (justification) then how much more should God be able to teach us to walk (conform us to Christ)!
The result of such a calling and justification is glorification. The day with we will “obtain the freedom of the glory of God” (Romans 8:21). The tension of Romans 8 is the tension between what will be in glory, and what right now is in life. The bridge of certainty which we stand on is steel cables of God’s planned, secured, and life changing salvation. If our salvation were built upon our own ability to find God and live sinless lives, we would be doomed from the start. But because our hope is built on God’s concrete and eternal plan, we can not only believe rightly, but also act rightly. We can set our hope, our mind, and our actions on the things of heaven because the whole work of God has been poured out on us to this end!
If we do not understand the purpose and plan of God’s salvation we will have little to focus on and draw from in times of sinful temptation or painful affliction. But to see all our lives wrapped up in God’s story of redemption is to see endless hope and motivation. Let us fix our minds on this and strive to live all the more for the glory of God!
Today, pray that God would reveal to you the wonder of this work. Ask the Spirit to fix your mind on such things so that you would not deny yourself such hope. Matthew Henry summarizes the glory of this text so beautifully: “Created wills are so very fickle, and created powers so very feeble, that, if any of these did depend upon the creature, the whole would shake. But God himself hath undertaken the doing of it from first to last, that we might abide in a constant dependence upon him and subjection to him, and ascribe all the praise to him-that every crown may be cast before the throne. This is a mighty encouragement to our faith and hope…”
Thursday, January 18th: Romans 8:31-32
In 1996 the cinematic landscape of America was changed: Space Jam was released. Michael Jordan and the Toon-squad heroically, and against insurmountable odds, defeated the Monstars preventing the forced slavery of all Looney Tunes (looking back now, this seems more morbid than my young brain imagined). The Monstars squad consisted of once small alien minions who stole NBA powers from some of the leagues greatest talents. The result was not only an increased ability on the basketball court, but a dramatic increase in size and strength. They were transformed from spineless runts to muscular basketball beasts.
After they lose to the MJ and the Toon-squad, the aliens are being chastised by their boss and sent back to their galactic theme park. Bugs Bunny sees the verbal abuse they are receiving and asks them one simple question: “Why do you guys let him talk to you like that.” One of the Monstars turns his hulking muscular body to the rabbit and begins to say, “Because he’s bigger….” then it hit him, “than we used to be.” The aliens were being bossed around by a man who at one point loomed over them, but now was nothing compared to themselves. This renewed outlook allowed all the Monstar squad to send their former slave master off into outer space. Romans 8:31 is the “He’s bigger than we used to be,” moment for us in Paul’s book.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Context is important to understanding this verse because we must understand what Paul means when he says, “these things.” These things are the promises of God just outlined in the previous few paragraphs: There is a great glory yet to await us, creation is anxiously awaiting the revelation of our future redemption, we are saved because of this hope even in the midst of hardship, the Spirit of God gives us peace through prayer in all things, God himself is calling us to seek him in moments of hardship, God has ordained all things to work together for the good of those who trust him, our greatest hope is that we would be transformed into Christ, and God himself has saved us, called us, and assured us that we are able to be changed as such! And at the end of all things we will receive the promise of glory in the presence of God for all eternity…if this God is for us, who then can be against us?
Charles Hodge says, “If God be for us, if he has delivered us from the law of sin and death, if he has renewed us by his Spirit which dwells within us, if he recognizes us as his children and his heirs, and has predestinated us to holiness and glory, who can be against us?”
What can situations bring which the promises of God cannot foresee? What can man do to us which the salvation of God has not already overcome in our redemption? R.C. Sproul reminds us, “What could be more comforting to the Christian than to know that the outcome of his life is not in the hands of fortuitous circumstances, but is in the hands of a benevolent God?”
Paul’s rhetorical questions here reveal the expectations of our response: we should be stunned and empowered when we begin to understand what God has given us in our salvation. We are invincible not because of our own might, but because of his great love for us. We are freed from ever being the victim of life because nothing can stand against the promises of God in our life. With God even moments of affliction and sorrow are tools for greater joy and glory.
Perhaps this sounds too good to be true? How can we believe such pie in the sky claims? Paul continues: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things!”
How do we know that God will not abandon us in mid-process? Because God gave his son for us. Speaking as a father, I cannot imagine a greater act of commitment than the free offering of one’s son. In doing this, Calvin says, “Paul draws an argument from the greater to the less, that as he had nothing dearer, or more precious, or more excellent than his Son, he will neglect nothing of what he foresees will be profitable to us.”
The cross is not only the means of our salvation, it is the pledge that God will not abandon us. He will not allow you to not grow in holiness. He will make no room for you to cave to the desires of the flesh. Failures and set backs are reflections of our own weakness, not God’s weakness.
It is the last phrase of verse 32 which I find to be the most stunning, “how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.” We know because of the previous sentence that “him” is Jesus, God’s son. What Paul is saying is that when God gave his son for us all, he gave us in his son all things. In giving us Jesus, God gave us all things. What lack would we have! If Jesus is able to save us and satisfy the demands of God is he not also so beautiful to fully satisfy the ones he saved! Jesus is not a ticket to the theme park, he is the theme park. He is the fullness of joy and the satisfaction of all thing!
As you come to your next review portion notice the way in which Paul uses the phrase “all things.” Romans 3:32 the is the masterful climax of this theme. In Christ we endure all things, are bettered by all things, and have all things. Hodge affirms, “If God has done the greater, he will not leave the less undone. The gift of Christ includes all other gifts.”
Let this truth work to the extent Paul wishes it to: let it chase away the fears of life and the comfort of false saviors. Rejoice in Christ.
Friday, January 19th: Romans 8:33-34
In 2011 I had just purchased a slick black Jetta from a private party in a neighboring state. At the time of the purchase the seller couldn’t give me the title because she had a parking ticket which needed to be paid before the state let her sign it over to me. She was going to pay the fee and send me the title when it was released.
During this waiting period some friends and I drove to Idaho for my bachelor party. On the highway, I was pulled over for speeding by the Highway Patrol. After the officer took my ID and insurance paperwork, he came back to the car and asked me to exit the vehicle and put my hands on the roof of the car. He then informed me that because I was driving a car not licensed to me he was slightly suspicious, and when he ran my name he came to see that there was a warrant out for my arrest. Somehow inside the police database, a charge for transporting and selling narcotics was ascribed to my name and social security number! This was quite the start to a bachelor party weekend!
I helplessly explained to the office that there was no way this was true, I even pulled the, “I’m a pastor” card. All I could do was helplessly wait for my name to be cleared. I had no one to vouch for me, no paperwork to show the car was mine, and no real way to put the narcotics charges to rest outside of my own testimony. In Romans 8:33-34, Paul is wanting to provide for us legal confidence for issues far greater than wrongful narcotics charges.
Paul continues his string of rhetorical questions, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” In the verses prior to this one, Paul reminded us that the circumstances of our world really have no power against us because of what God has done for us. In verses 33-34 Paul shows us one of the ways in which we might feel the world against us: charges against our confidence and salvation.
The Bible calls the Devil a “deceiver.” Part of that deception is an attempt to convince us (either in our own heart or by the accusation of others) that our salvation is not real. In fact you can probably trace the majority of our sins back to a simple doubting of God’s salvation. “I am going to choose to sin in this way because I doubt that God is really able to satisfy me.” “I’m going to invest my life into my finances because I’m not fully convinced that my greatest salvation is in God.” Or even more aggressive, “You can’t possibly think you’re a Christian because I’ve seen you sin. Who are you to tell me that I must believe when you are still a sinner?”
Paul wants to provide you a resource which I wish I had on the side of the road that night. “It is God who justifies,” says Paul. This doesn’t mean that no one will bring charges against you (in fact Jesus himself says, “Blessed are you when people falsely say things against you because of me” in Matthew 5:11), but it does mean that if we are God’s elect (anyone who is saved), we do not need to fear these condemnations.
If God is the one who is the judge, and the judge has already pardoned us, then we do not need to fear condemnation. Regarding this Calvin says, “There is indeed but one God, at whose tribunal we must stand; then there is no room for accusation when he justifies us.” This is why we must be certain of our salvation. We will all feel the weight of condemnation at various times, but only when we have a clear understanding of God’s justification of us in Christ are we able to not be crushed by the weight of it. Matthew Henry explains, “Men may justify themselves, as the Pharisees did, and yet the accusations may be in full force against them; but, if God justifies, this answers all.”
Charges meant to cause us to doubt our faith are not the same as conviction of sin. We should be wise to know the difference between the two. R.C. Sproul helps us see the distinction more clearly: “The Holy Spirit’s work is to convict us of sin and righteousness, in order to lead us to repentance. The result is that we go to God to confess our sin and ask for his forgiveness. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is positive, it is redeeming. The aim of Satan, on the other hand, as he points out exactly the same sins of which the Spirit has convicted us, is to oppress us, to paralyze us, to destroy us with guilt.”
Paul then moves on to his next question: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who is interceding for us.”
It might be reasonable for someone to bring a charge of sin against us. We have sinned. So how is it that God is able to justify the sinner? Isn’t that a cheating of justice? This is where the work of Christ is important. Who can condemn us for sin if Jesus has already been condemned for our sin? Our sin, your sin, the sins specific to the very secrets of your hearts secrets have already been punished if we are saved by Jesus. So even if the judge were to hear a charge, he would simply point to Jesus as the proof that the charges have already been punished. When Paul says that “Christ Jesus is the one who died” he is saying that Jesus took the punishment we deserved on the cross. To not understand what Jesus has done for us before God is to rob yourself of great comfort.
Calvin so beautifully applies this point, “This so great an assurance, which dares to triumph over the devil, death, sin, and the gates of hell, ought to lodge deep in the hearts of all the godly; for our faith is nothing, except we feel assured that Christ is ours.”
Paul goes onto say, that not only did Jesus die for us, but he was raised up for us. In dying Jesus removed the burden of our sin, but in rising Jesus put himself to the task of speaking in our defense. He is not silent before God, and he should not be silent in our hearts. That night on the highway I wished I had a credible intercessor to speak to the officer on my behalf. How much more do our sins necessitate a greater ally before God’s court of righteousness?
Paul’s case for confidence is air tight: the only one we have sinned against has justified us, the only one who has never sinned has died for your sins, and the only one who has risen from the dead now speaks in our defense. There is nothing more certain in our world than the salvation which belongs to God’s elect objects of salvation. This is great news to provide a world yearning for hope and certainty.
Saturday, January 20th: Romans 8:35-36
On November 26th, 2011, I stood before my church and promised to love Sarah Nichole Bestwick “until death do us part.” That phrase is synonymous with romance and marriage because of the commitment it brings to the table. It communicates the fight for marriage as something which will only be given up when the heart of one of the spouses finally stops beating.
Even our secular society relishes couples who stay together for 50…60…80 years of marriage before their death. It is romantic, compelling, humbling and beautiful. But as Paul says in Ephesians 5, these marriages are only a shadow of the true marriage: Christ and his church. It is this marriage which Paul is talking about in the conclusion of Romans 8.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul is relentless in his desire to press his theology of redemption into the practical corners of our life. His endless questions to close this chapter are his way of showing the comprehensiveness of our salvation in Jesus Christ. It changes everything. One question which we must ask before we continue is: Do we fear this possibility? Do we really live our lives in such a way that to be separated from the love of Christ would strike deep trembling in us? Take Paul’s words here as a cause to pray for such affection for Jesus. It is unfathomable that a holy and pure God would love us even momentarily. But the mercy and grace of Jesus is that despite our sin, his redemption has made a covenant to love us eternally.
The interesting thing is that Paul says “who shall separate” but then goes on to give a list of impersonal forces: “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?” It’s almost as if Paul is so excited at this point where he already assumes that there is no mere man who can separate us from God. Our redemption cannot be foiled by logic, nor by charges, no by condemnation. Therefore the last enemy which stands in the way of our eternal love affair with Jesus is death. In your study of the text it would benefit you to list out all the implications of each word Paul uses here. Why is he using all these words instead of simply one?
I remember in seminary reading a church history book describing the early genocide the church was facing in the world. The author went on to say, “It has been said, ‘the blood of the martyr is the seed of the church,’ but apparently this is not the case.” I was shocked at his conclusion. But Paul in this text says that skeptics will view the church in the same way: “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’” Paul in this text is quoting a Psalm which portrayed how Christians were seen at this time: nothing more than sheep to be slaughtered.
The comfort and privilege Christianity has experienced in the west the past hundred years is something rather unprecedented in the scope of Christian history. It is more of aberration than the norm. The history of the church is one of persecution and bloodshed on behalf of Jesus. Even today programs of religious genocide are being attempted on Coptic Christians in Northern Africa. They are being hunted down and terminated like an infestation.
But will this separate us? Is this all that we are? Even if we are to drift away peacefully in our comfortable American beds and a ripe old age, are we left outside of the love of Christ? Is the promise of daily suffering, even unto death, great enough cause to fall away? Paul’s implicit answer is “No!” Calvin says, “But the [importance] of the words is,—That whatever happens, we ought to stand firm in this faith,—that God, who once in his love embraced us, never ceases to care for us.”
Where the world’s greatest love is one which endures unto death, the great love of Jesus is one which endures into death. Nothing, not even the final attempt of sin to take us, will separate us from Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is Lord over death. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:16, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Also in verse 54-55, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass what is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting.’”
Do you understand this? Death doesn’t stand a chance. If all the minions of death are no threat to our marriage to Christ, then we face no threat in the ongoing trials of life.