The final post in our series on Romans 8.
You’ve probably noticed by now that there was a lot of theology packed into the dozen verses we’ve looked at over the past week. And as good students of the Bible, we’ve spent some time dissecting them in the lab so we can learn about how the passage was put together. But just like biologists, although we’ve learned a lot from the dissection process, at the end of it we’re still left with a dead animal splattered all over the workbench. In some ways, the life can be taken out of the text.
Because Paul’s writing is not a textbook or an instruction manual – it’s a speech that’s been written down. A persuasive speech; what the ancient Greeks called rhetoric. Paul is intent on persuading us of his point – that nothing can separate us from God – using the power of words. And so while we’ve examined the logic of his argument step-by-step, it’s easy to overlook the emotive effect of the whole. How he restates his point in various ways; how he uses rhetorical questions to draw us into the argument emotionally as well as intellectually; how he piles up similar words and phrases to illustrate the exhaustive nature of his argument. To put it simply, by focussing on the trees we can miss the forest.
So I want to finish our series with a kind of re-reading of our passage, in a paraphrase. Now that we’ve got the details under our belt, I want the full force of Paul’s argument to hit us fresh. Because this passage isn’t primarily concerned with what we do, but how we think and feel. And we won’t be persuaded to think differently or feel differently by dry, rational argument alone.
So as we read it, I’m going to paraphrase it, amplify it, explain it, and apply it a little. To help us hear that message with some of the same force that would have been felt by the original audience some 2000 years ago. (For best results, read it out loud to yourself.) We’ll begin from verse 28:
28 And we know that in all things – even the bad things of this world, even the sufferings both big and small – God works for the ultimate good of those of us who love him – the ones he called to be his own.
29 We can be confident of this because God will finish what he started. Those with whom he chose to begin a relationship even before they were born – those he also predestined to become like Jesus, so that he might belong to a big family of believers.
30 And those he predestined, he also sent the gospel message, and through the Holy Spirit granted them the ability to respond to that message; those he called in this way, he also declared them innocent on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice; and those whom he has so justified, he will also one day glorify. An unbreakable chain that is the work of God from first to last!
31 Is there anything, then, that can stop us from obtaining that glory? Look at the cross: it’s a clear demonstration that God is on our side. And if God is on our side, does it even matter who might be opposed to us?
32 And we can be sure that God won’t go back on his promises: he gave us that which was most precious to him, the life of his only Son. Isn’t that enough evidence that he will give us everything else he promised?
33 Can anyone accuse us of anything that will jeopardise our relationship with God? Only God can judge, and he has declared us innocent.
34 Can anyone condemn us? What does it matter, if we have the risen Jesus as our defence lawyer!
35 Can any experience we undergo put our future relationship with God at risk? Can trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Can cancer or mental illness or financial hardship or a difficult boss or an abusive spouse or rebellious children or caring for aging parents or loneliness or career frustration or struggles with self-esteem?
36 (For as the Bible tells us, for the sake of God we are called to faithful endurance in trials both big and small, day after day.)
37 Of course none of those experiences can separate us from God! In fact, in the midst of those circumstances we share in Jesus’ victory, knowing that God is working even through the bad stuff for our good!
38-39 For I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt – and I want you to be convinced too – that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, neither abusive governments nor greedy corporations, neither religious fanatics nor secular humanists, neither scientific advancement nor human ignorance, neither the fear produced by terrorism nor the complacency produced by peace, neither the wickedness of other humans nor the sinful desires that still wage war inside our own hearts – there is absolutely nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now, do you believe it?