We’re continuing in our series in Romans 8…
Whenever a couple in my church is getting married, we do a marriage preparation course with them called Prepare. Part of that is a questionnaire that they both fill in separately, where they are asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements. One of the statements they have to agree or disagree with is this:
‘Nothing could cause me to question my love for my partner’
When the couple later compares responses, it usually provokes some interesting discussion.
As you know, most of the time, opposites attract. And it’s almost guaranteed that one person will agree and one will disagree. This is how it usually goes. The idealistic romantic – let’s face it, usually the female – wholeheartedly agrees that ‘nothing could cause me to question my love for my partner.’
The other partner – mostly the male – disagrees, as they approach the question in a different way: ‘Is there nothing that could cause me to question my love for my partner? Well, hypothetically, if I came home to find you in bed with someone else; or if I discovered you trying to slip poison into my coffee…’
The girl then looks at her husband-to-be in puzzled horror: ‘why on earth would I do that?’
He replies: ‘I’m not saying you would, but hypothetically there are some things that could cause me to… question… my…er…’.
And he never quite manages to dig himself out of that one. I love to watch. It’s a great marriage prep question, as it teaches the guy a valuable lesson: the cold, hard, logical answer to an abstract question isn’t necessarily the right one to give.
In the last dozen verses of Romans 8, Paul is addressing this same issue in relation to God and us. Is there anything that could cause him to re-evaluate his love for us? He wants to know if there’s anything that could ever come between us and God.
Is that a question you’ve ever asked?
My guess is you probably have. We all have. Am I really secure in God’s love? Is there something someone could do that would jeopardise that? Is there anything I could do? We want to be sure, don’t we!
Romans 8 contains good news for us. Because according to Paul, God turns out to be both the idealistic romantic and the practical realist in our relationship. Like a young bride-to-be, God thinks that nothing can come between him and us. But not just because he’s a hopeless romantic. It’s also because he’s thought it through.
God’s already come up with every possible cause, every hypothetical case, every relationship-threatening obstacle – yet still he affirms that it’s not enough to break his relationship with us. Paul concludes that nothing ‘can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (v39).
But before we look at his answer in detail, we need to recap what he’s said in Romans 8 so far, so we can understand why Paul is addressing this question here. In the verses beforehand, Paul had looked at the issue of suffering. If we’ve been set free from sin and death; if we’re living according to the Spirit, why is it that we still suffer? The danger was that Christians undergoing hardship may begin to question whether God is indeed on their side.
Paul reminds them that suffering is still part of our present existence – all of creation is groaning, waiting in eager expectation for God to make all things new. He ends with the famous verse that we looked at yesterday: assuring them that God is working ‘all’ for their good; everything in the universe, everything in the created order, everything in history – it’s all being worked together for the ultimate good of God’s people. We have a great hope to look forward to!
But that then raises the question: how do you know this, Paul? Can you back this up with a bit of evidence? I’m not talking here about evidence that Jesus was who he claimed to be. (The resurrection’s kind of cleared that one up.) I’m talking about evidence that God will come through on his promises. That he won’t change his mind about this future he’s planned for us.
In other words, how can we be confident that God is working for our good (v28)? How can this hope (v21) be a certain hope? Can anything come between us and God? And to that question, Paul gives a sustained, resounding and utterly majestic ‘no!’
He begins with what’s technically known as a ‘thesis statement’ – the assertion he’s trying to prove – which we ended with yesterday:
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
And in the next two verses, he goes on to give his first proof – the major reason his thesis is true. We can be confident that all things are working for our good, because God is the one managing the entire process from beginning to end.
Argument 1: God is in charge, from beginning to end (29-30)
Romans 8:29-30 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Now these verses are a little controversial, because Paul uses the ‘P-word’: predestined. Always guaranteed to spark a bit of debate; a systematic theology duel at 100 paces. But if you look at the context, Paul isn’t focusing on that debate at all. He does elsewhere – make no mistake – but not here.
In verse 28 he simply affirms, in passing, one of the great mysteries of salvation. The paradox that those of us who have freely responded to God in faith and love were in fact chosen by God before we were even born. ‘Those who love him’ are also those ‘who have been called’ according to his purpose; his choice. Like Jesus was at once both fully divine and fully human; like the Bible was written at once by both divine and human authors; so our response of faith to God’s offer of salvation is at once utterly God’s doing, and our responsibility. (And if you ever think you can fully explain how that works, you’re ready to have a crack at explaining the Trinity.)
And then in verses 29-30 Paul reminds those of us who love him that because we are his chosen people, the future glory he spoke of back in verses 18, 21, and 23 is guaranteed. His aim is not to write a theology textbook on how salvation works. His aim is to persuade us of the truth of his thesis: that all things are working for our good. And he does that by asking us to reflect on five actions of God relating to our salvation. Let’s have a look at how that works.
The work of God
Firstly, we see that each of these five actions is the work of God. Grammatically speaking, he’s the subject of it all. God is the one who foreknew us – most likely this means that he chose to be in relationship with us from long ago. He first loved us, before we loved him. God is the one who predestined us – in context, he has already determined that we will reach our goal of becoming Christ-like. God is the one who called us, to be a part of his people. God is the one who justified us – as we see elsewhere in Romans, this means he gave us right-standing with God as a gift. And God is the one who glorifies us – the one who brings the whole process to completion.
In other words, throughout all of this, God is the one making it all happen. He is the one working in us to make our future sure. After all, our salvation is not up to us – it never has been. It’s been God’s work in us from start to finish. He chose us before the beginning of time to be his people, and God will finish what he started.
In fact, it’s described by Paul as an unbreakable chain… but we’ll get to that tomorrow.