There is nothing that could ever separate us from God’s love. God is with us and for us, always.
Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that God is always in the midst of human activity, working to transform the evil people do into something that will serve God’s ultimate purpose for creation.
Understand that we are called to participate with God’s redemptive work in the world.
Understand that God is at work even as we suffer.
Understand that all who have been united with Christ have been called to be conformed to the image of Christ. Understand that there is nothing that could ever separate us from God’s love.
Catching up on the Story...
Having highlighted the tension between the age to come, the Kingdom of God, and the current age, polluted as it is by sin, Paul calls to wait with patience for the completion of our salvation. All the suffering we might encounter because we have committed ourselves as slaves to righteousness will pale in comparison to the future that awaits us.
We can hope in this future because we have been adopted as children of God. If we are children of God, then we are God’s heirs. Indeed, we are co-heirs with Christ. One day, we will share with Christ in his resurrection and his glorification, just like we have shared in his suffering. But hope is not the only thing we have going for us.
Paul begins the next section of his letter with a “likewise.” Not only are we sustained by hope in the future of our full redemption, but we also have the Spirit who is with us here and now. God has promised to be with us and for us for all time. God has not left us to merely hope for a future in the Kingdom of God but has given us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and clean us from sin.
In Our Weakness - Romans 8:26-27
The Spirit’s role in our lives isn’t just convicting and cleansing. The Spirit intercedes for us. The Spirit communicates to the Father and the Son all of the things that we find impossible to express through words. As far as Paul is concerned, we don’t even know how to pray!
I think Paul’s right. At least, most of the time, I don’t really know how to pray. When I do pray, it always seems as if my prayers are fully focused on myself. Now, most of those selfish prayers are good, prayers for guidance, wisdom, and things like that. Perhaps what Paul is saying is that most of the time, we don’t really know what we need. We don’t know the things that will spur us on toward greater faithfulness or will help us in our struggles. Maybe that’s why the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer is so important, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom comes, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Either way, Paul firmly believes that the Spirit communicates to God what we need so that we might begin and continue to walk in ever greater faithfulness, even in the midst of suffering.
God is for Us - Romans 8:28-38
Verse 28 begins with a “for” that isn’t translated in most English versions. So, the verse would go like this, “For, we know that all things work together for good…” Nothing is ever unintentional with Paul. Paul is expressing that connection between our grafting into his trunk, our suffering because of faithfulness to Christ, and the Spirit’s work in interceding for us with what comes next. Because of those things, we can know that God is always in the midst of all human activity, working with what we measly folks have done to bring about something good and beautiful.
I won’t bore you with the translation issues that crop up with this verse, but one thing is important as we consider this verse in context with the rest of what Paul has already said. The “all things work together for good” is less one-sided than it may seem. In other words, in this work that God is doing, we have a part in it. In the last few weeks, we have stressed the fact that we participate with the Spirit in our own sanctification, in our growth and maturation as the people of God. Paul carries that idea over into God’s active work in the world. We may experience suffering. We may experience the fallout from our own choices and the choices of others, but God is always there, taking the garbage we dish out and reworking it into something that will ultimately aid in accomplishing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. And we are called to participate in that reworking.
At the same time, however, it’s also a promise and words of comfort. Evil exists. Pain and sorrow exist. We all know this. There, in the midst of all that is wrong with the world, is God, working to redeem it, to bring it all back into his plan for creation.
It would be easy to read this verse to say that God’s only inviting us to participate with him in the work he’s doing to bring about restoration and redemption because we love him. Or to believe that the work that God is doing for good will only benefit those who love God. To read verse 28 this way would be to miss the point. Paul uses the word “agape” in this verse, and for Paul, this word is almost always an expression of God’s unconditional love for creation.
What Paul is really doing here is expressing his unreserved belief that nothing can truly harm those who are followers of God. Certainly, they may experience suffering and possibly even death, but ultimately nothing can snatch them from God’s protective hand that will carry them into eternal communion with him. Paul will elaborate on this in a little bit.
Foreknowledge and Predestination
The discussion about foreknowledge and predestination that follows in verses 29 and 30 will be picked up more fully in chapter 9. At this point, it will suffice to say that God’s foreknowledge is about God’s ultimate plan for creation. His predestination is about God’s ultimate plan for creation, about where it should go and what his children should ultimately look like - God’s Son, Jesus.
One commentator I read regarding this passage puts it like this:
“Paul understands predestination as God’s well-conceived plan to save the church—all those who become a part of the “large family” of adopted brothers and sisters of Christ. It is not about individuals; it is about just one individual—Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son. In him, God has provided the wherewithal for all to be saved, but he has chosen not to act coercively. He does not impose his will; he invites us to collaborate (work together). Only those who accept the invitation by faith and so align themselves with God’s plan will have a part in the achievement of his purpose.” (Greathouse and Lyons, 278-29)
In other words, Paul isn’t making a philosophical case for individual election but for the calling of all people toward conformity to the image of Christ (verse 29) through being called, and justified, sanctified (implied, given the context of the argument) and glorified (the ultimate end of our journey into eternity with God), (verses 30).
If God is for Us - Romans 8:31-39
The “if” of verse 31 is not a conditional statement. Instead, it is the beginning of a set of rhetorical questions that Paul believes is already settled. If God is not going to protect his son from the world's worst, if God has raised him to new life, if we are united with Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, if the Spirit is working in us for our sanctification even in the midst of our “not yet” weakness, if there is now no condemnation for us because of Jesus, if we are truly children of God through the power of the Spirit, heirs with Christ in all things, if the Spirit intercedes for us, if God’s plan from the beginning was that all might answer his call to be shaped into the image of his son, Jesus Christ, if that indeed was the plan all along for all of creation, then God is certainly with us and for us always.
There is no one, nothing, who can condemn us. There is no one, no thing, in heaven or on earth, no power of this world or of another world, that can keep God from being with us and for us - ever, full stop.
These final verses of chapter 8 are not only the concussion of the chapter but of the entire first eight chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. From the beginning, Paul has been trying to communicate to his friends in Rome, is that God is for us. Indeed, the only one who could ever be truly against us, truly do us any irreparable harm, is God. And Paul firmly believes that because God did not keep Jesus from suffering harm to ensure that we were adopted and grafted into the family of God, God will not now turn on us. No, we are children of God, loved in the same way that Jesus is loved by the Father.
Nothing will separate us from God, ever. Of course, a caveat is needed. Paul has already focused on the cooperative nature of our relationship with God. At any time, we may cease to cooperate with God in our salvation and in the redemption of the world, and so condemn ourselves. But this does not mean that God will cease to draw him to himself. Like the father in Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable, God will always be on the watch for our return.
Verses 37-39 are rather well-known and often taken out of context. “No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Some read this verse to mean that victory over all manner of things will be ours. In a sense, this may be true, but with the context taken into account, Paul is reinforcing his declaration that God is with us and for us always, even in the midst of our suffering. Though sometimes defeat may look certain, say in the face of cancer that ravages the body, the ultimate victory has already been won. Though we might suffer for being faithful in loving our neighbor as ourselves, all of our neighbors, facing shame and the like, the ultimate victory has been won. Though it might look like we are losing the battle for Christian values in our culture, the ultimate victory has been won.
Because there is nothing that ever was or ever will be that can separate us from God’s steadfast and faithful love through Jesus Christ, we can move around in our world, holding fast to our conviction. We need not fear anything. However, we may experience defeat at times here and now. Though we might experience what seems like a final defeat in death, we have not.
With hope for a victory that we have not yet seen with our own eyes, we stand firm and confident that we will be vindicated and that all of creation will be redeemed and restored.
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Why would the Spirit intercede for us with “sighs too deep for words” (Verse 26)
Why would we need to pray if the Spirit does so on our behalf?
When Paul says, “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” what does he mean?
Setting aside the idea that “predestination” is about individual salvation, what do you think Paul means by it?
What is God’s ultimate purpose for creation?
What does it mean to be “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son?”
In verses 31-32, why is Paul so sure that God is for us?
How have you heard the phrase “more than conquerors” used? How do we understand that phrase when things like violence and cancer seem so often to win?
Greathouse, William M., and George Lyons. Romans 1–8: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. New Beacon Bible Commentary. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2008.