Thoughts from Passage

This is one of those passages that Paul begins with a rhetorical question that we do not want to miss and the meaning of which is that all things are possible with God. The only tough part as we read this is that God will do incredible things, but they will not always be the things that we hope and desire for. God’s love for us, comes to us in impossible ways and situations, but that love does not keep us from suffering. The reality is that in our suffering we find God’s love made complete. If this section is read in light of all this letter it is probably more valuable than if read in isolation.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.

Paul’s writing in this section is as much poetic as it is anything else. It seemed that he ended the last section with a flurry of words, but that section is really only the beginning of what completes a poetic, powerful stretch of words. The culmination of such is seen in the central idea that if God is for us, and he is, then there is nothing that can keep us from the Love of God. This section is one of the most powerful sections of all Scripture.

Paul brings back other topics that he has hit on throughout this letter and it is setting up where he is going next, but it is also a quick look back. In this short section of verses Paul addresses justification, suffering, God’s love, Christ’s death, salvation from wrath, Christ’s resurrection, and rejoicing in God. He doesn’t unpack all of this because for the most part he already has. We could also look at how William Greathouse and George Lyons summarize this passage:

“Romans 8:31-39 functions like the peroration to a speech, drawing together previously discussed motifs and building to a crescendo. Paul sweeps his readers along, combining theology and emotional appeal. His rhetorical questions contribute to the overall effect, as their implicit answers draw the readers into this remarkable celebration of confidence, whatever befalls them. The paragraph begins with ten increasingly longer rhetorical questions, all in the future tense (v. 31-36). The remainder consists of Paul’s confident assertions.”[1]

In all of Paul’s writings he includes references to Old Testament he does so here by quoting Genesis 22 and God’s words to Abraham in regards to his willingness to sacrifice his son. It is as William Barclay says, “Think of the greatest human example in the world of a man’s loyalty to God; God’s loyalty to you is like that.”[2]

Verse 33 mentions God’s chosen, and this paragraph shed some light onto a good understanding of that. “The expression God’s elect, used in the OT to refer to Israel, is here applied to all Christians, both jews and Gentiles. In Romans 5:16 and 18 the noun ‘judgement’ or ‘condemnation,’ describes the consequences of Adam’s transgression. In 8:1 Paul insists that because of Christ, Christians are not subject to condemnation; on the contrary, Christ condemned sin. Paul explicitly challenges his Roman audience to stop condemning one another.”[3] In other words, Jesus has done the work and he alone is judge, and all who choose Him are his elect.

Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in King Jesus…That is the formal structure of the paragraph, and as its content suggests it is full of a sustained excitement, like a symphony entering its final moments getting faster and faster towards the end, with phrases taken from earlier parts of the music being whirled around in triumph. The paragraph is, in fact, a summary of the whole theme of chapters 5-8, presented now not as a step-by-step argument, as it has been up to this point, but as a thrilling rhetorical statement. Look what God has done. Look what the Messiah has done, and is still doing as we speak. Look around and see the many things that threaten to separate you from the powerful love which reaches out through the cross and resurrection, and learn that they are all beaten foes. Learn to dance and sing and celebrate the victory of God. The end of Romans 8 deserves to be written in letters of fire on the living tablets of our hearts.”[4]

There is nothing and no one that can separate us from God…except us. We can choose to say no, but it is not God’s fault. The invitation to come and be a part of the life-changing, world redeeming, relationship with Jesus is for us all and God has removed all the obstacles. He has made a way for us to be His holy people and he has made that way through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus is the one that the early Creeds and the Scriptures point to as the one who will judge the living and the dead. It is also interesting here that Paul speaks of Jesus as the one interceding for all. Jesus’ desire is never condemnation! His desire is always our redemption. No one, save Jesus, is in a position to judge. Now in this idea of judgment we want to be careful to not miss that this is not saying we may not work to transform hearts and lives and may even address when people are producing bad fruit, but it is saying in terms of eternal judgment only Christ judges, period! Jesus is not only the eternal judge, but is the judge that advocates for the defendant, even when he knows of their guilt.

One of the things that is so difficult for many of us who follow Jesus is that we assume that in following Christ and finding freedom from sin we should find our love markedly “better” in every way. The problem for us arises in a false understanding of what God promises. God promises us a transformed heart, a renewed self, a redemption of who we are, but he does not promise that we will be healthy, wealthy, and wise, like much prosperity gospel of our day. This is helpful as we read verse 36 in which he quotes from Isaiah 44:22. The gist is this, “that God will save his people, not despite their sufferings but through and even because of them.”[5] This is where the love of God finds us, in the places of suffering and he does not promise rescue, but presence. In His presence, we find peace and hope and real freedom.

Paul lists several dangers that cannot keep fellow believers from Christ. His point is that nothing can keep anyone from Christ, but even though many might say, “well, that’s easy for him to say!” When in fact, Paul himself had experienced all these things except for the sword. And if Christian tradition is accurate it was Paul who met the end of this life by the sword. Paul was saying nothing can keep us from the Love of Christ because sin and evil had tried and yet still Paul found joy in knowing Jesus as Lord.

“There is no reason we might not add to his list such contemporary threats as cancer, Alzheimer’s, terrorism, etc. Even so, the relative comfort of Christians in the affluent West should not let us forget that Paul has in mind the corporate suffering of the Christian community around the world. Because we are part of the whole church, we must see a threat to one as a problem of all.”[6]

Verses 37-39 paint a picture that in the midst of suffering we still conquer because Christ conquers and we are in Him and his Spirit is in us! We are glorified with Christ because we too suffer with him. We don’t seek out moments of suffering, but we know that in the midst of them we have an advocate giving us strength to make it through.

“The decisive battle has already been won, in the death and resurrection of our Lord. None of the lingering insurgent forces resistant to the new regime, despite their disruptive power, can separate us from God’s love or hinder us from ultimately sharing in the lordship of the universe he won on our behalf. “In Christ” we are grasped within by the passionate love of God and drawn totally into the fulfillment of the Creator’s design for us already revealed in the risen Lord.”[7]

[1] Greathouse 281.

[2] Barclay, 121.

[3] Greathouse, 283.

[4] Wright, 159.

[5] Wright, 161.

[6] Greathouse, 285.

[7] Greathouse, 287.

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