Last week Zandra spoke about the previous verses in Romans and about the ‘groaning of creation’. Everywhere we look there are problems with out world - environmental issues - Paul had spoken in v. 21 of its ‘bondage to decay’, conflict within and between nations, greed, corruption and wickedness - Romans started by looking honestly at human sinfulness. And on top of that there are countless stories of personal suffering. It is can be terribly easy to give in to despair. Indeed that is what happens for many. But , in fact, Romans is a letter which looks at the world and humanity with all its problems and yet comes out the other side with a robust assertion of hope, confidence and love. Already ‘hope’ was a key part of what Paul wrote about in last week’s verses, he wrote in v 21 of the ‘hope that creation itself will be liberated’ and in v. 24 he says ‘in this hope we were saved’. And as we now come to the climax of chapter 8 Paul becomes his most poetic in his confidence. After chapters of close and, at times, quite dense argument, he virtually bursts into song. But this singing and confidence actually flows from all that argument. You see Romans is essentially about God’s plan and response to the world - and not to the world as we would like it to be, but to the world as it is - with all its problems and human failings. And, as we shall see, the theme that emerges most strongly is that of assurance. Whatever happens we are on the winning side - or as Paul puts it in v. 37 “in all these things we are more than conquerors”.
I want to break our passage down into three sections, first of all to look at verse 28 and what we believe about God’s providential care. Then in verses 29 and 30 we see what that care is aimed at, and then finally in verses 31 - 39 we that no matter what life throws at us we be never be defeated.
1 - God’s providential care (v. 28)
Verse 28 says “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”. It is a verse that has brought comfort to millions. We do need to notice what it doesn’t say as well as what it does say. It doesn’t say that ‘all things are good’. This is no pretense that evil or suffering are actually good. One of the things about the Bible is that it does never pretends that bad things are good. What it does say is that bad things cannot stop God working his purpose out. Nothing can stop God - that is what this is saying. Secondly, it doesn’t say that ‘God works for the happiness of those who love him’ - He is concerned (as we shall see in a moment) about our how we grow and develop as people. Much that happens to us is not what makes happy - but it can be what makes us better people. What this verse does say categorically is that God can bring good out of ‘all things’ - even the very worst that human beings can do. This is, of course, a statement of faith. There will be many times when we cannot see the good that has come out of evil. But it is not blind faith, it is faith based on the cross and resurrection. The cross of Jesus showed the weakness, failings and wickedness of human beings in so many ways - and God brought about the redemption of the world through that. (Even in the Old Testament some saw the truth of this, Joseph, speaking to his brothers at the end of this story, says, that although they had intended to harm him, God had used that to bring Joseph to Egypt and enable the saving of many lives).
2 - God’s purpose - (vv.29-30)
Verse 28 ends with a reference to God’s purpose. And the next two verses spell out what that is. - “For those God foreknew he also be predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” - Now there are things here that we struggle to grasp hold of, ‘predestination’ is undoubtedly a difficult concept. But I think we miss the point if get hung up on it. In the Bible ‘predestination’ is meant to be re-assuring to us, assuring us of our place in God’s plan - and of the certainty of God’s plan. Our focus should be on that plan - and that is to make us like Jesus ‘conformed to the image of his Son’. Our characters are to be made Christ-like - a process that begins now and which will be completed at the end of the age. If we have the will to see it - so much that happens to us can be seen as an opportunity to become more Christ-like. For example, it is almost impossible to become more patient if we have nothing to be patient with! Notice also that this becoming more like Christ is also about becoming ‘glorified’ That is the chain we find in v. 29 - those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified (that is what so much of Romans has been about); and those he justified, he also glorified. Note it is so certain that the future is written about using the past tense!
3 - ‘More than Conquerors’ (vv.31-39)
And so we come to Paul at his most poetic. First there is the rhetorical flourish of a string of questions, let me just pick out a few - If God is for us, who can be against us? .... Who then can condemn us? .... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? And there is a delightful perversity in these questions. Who can be against us? - Well actually at times - the whole Roman Empire and much more besides - this is Paul writing who has been put in prison, stoned and one day would be executed. As modern Christians, we too, can at times feel overwhelmed by the opposition. And yet the way Paul phrases these questions invites the answer - if God is for us - who can be against us - they are of no effect, of no conseqence. In other words the world can do its worst to us - but it won’t stop God. His plan will be fulfilled, we will become like Christ, and the whole creation will reach its glorious destiny. These questions are about us getting our sense of perspective right - and it is an extraordinary sense of perspective. The world, the flesh and the devil may seek to overwhelm us, but they are like a gnat trying to stop a tank in its tracks - totally ineffectual! The problem is we seldom live fully with this perspective. Paul did - that is why we find him singing in prison. There is a wonderful incident in the life of Elisha in 2 Kings 6. Elisha and his servant go out one morning and find their city surrounded with a great army and chariots. And the servant says to Elisha ‘What shall we do?’ and Elisha replies. ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the your man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha”. (2 Kings 6:17) We need our spiritual eyes open to see that however bad things may appear, we are on the winning side - as Paul says in v.37 ‘we are more than conquerors’
Paul reaches his crescendo, first he points out how often it can appear to us, as he writes in v.36 ‘for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’ - and in all sorts of ways we, at times, will share in that experience. But these things are of no ultimate consequence - ‘for I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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’ - that is comprehensive and wonderful, and should being us light in our darkest moments. The Christian should face all things in this confidence and assurance. Now, this can sometimes be mocked as a kind of arrogance. How can you be sure you will to heaven, do you think you’re perfect. But that is to get everything the wrong way round. It would only be arrogance if our assurance was based on us, on our actions. But it is not. This is about God’s love, about being in God’s family. As Tom Wright puts it ‘The God who has called us in the gospel has declared that we are members of his family, and he will not let us go.’ - he will not let us go! Whatever hell we may go through - we will indeed be brought through - because of God’s love shown in us his Son - and that is what it all about! - look back at v. 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?”
I do not know what struggles you (or I) will have in the coming week, or in the coming months or years. I am not wanting to minimise the reality of those - and neither would Paul - and he faced more struggles than most people. But let us face those struggles in faith, hope and love - in faith that God is at work for good in all that goes on, in hope - a sure hope that it will come to a glorious conclusion at the end of the age, and above all - in love for that is ultimately what it is all about - the love of God that nothing can separate us from. Whatever happens, remember this - you are loved to the uttermost! and whenever you are tempted to doubt that, just spend some time at the foot of the cross.