Monday, April 28, 2008

More Than Conquerors

A Hermeneutical Exercise of Romans 8:28-39

“28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He 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? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? 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. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither 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.” Romans 8:28-39 (NIV)

As you can see, my passage of Romans is Chapter 8, verses 28-39. In my NIV Student Bible, this section is titled “More Than Conquerors”. Why is this passage so important to our Christian living and how can it relate to us now just as it did thousands of years ago?

To understand these questions, we must first understand the book of Romans as well. Romans was a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Roman church. Romans 1:1-16 proves this by being Paul’s opening comments, declaring who he is and what he is here for. The Roman church, made of mostly Gentiles, had not been visited by Paul yet and he was hoping that he would be able to see them on his way to Spain. Paul did not want to impose himself on the Romans, for he did not start this church, but he did want to bless them and strengthen them as well as himself.

Romans has at times been called a summarization of the Christian faith. While this view is a strong one, Romans really speaks about righteousness more than anything. Whether it’s Christ’s righteousness, our righteousness in Christ or living a righteous life, Romans helps us understand the outcome of faith in a better way.

Now, for the text in question, what does this passage mean? It starts with verse 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.” This verse tells us that God works all things for good. But what does that mean?

By God working all things for good, He is taking everything that happens for what He knows is good. This verse does not read, “God will only let good things happen”, but rather that He will use all things, including bad things, for good. The verse then says He works together all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.

“…Those who love Him…” could only mean believers. Now, a non-believer’s life may seem amazing, full of riches and pleasure, but in the long run he is just a pile of dead bones. Meanwhile, a Christian may be struggling through a life of poverty and suffering and be rejoicing in the fact that God is working in him. When Paul writes “…who have been called according to His purpose” we can see the coming discussion of election.

We have been called by God to believe in Him. Normally, we would be blind to His word and His love, but because God has shown such mercy on us, He has opened our eyes and allowed us to accept His gift of eternal life. But the next part of that line, “…according to His purpose” shows us that He has chosen us based off of his will, plan, and desire and not off of anything we have done.

Romans 29 and 30 then read,

For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified"

Ah, the wonderful proof of election and mercy.

“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” We have been called to become like Christ. God cannot look at sin. When Christ was on the cross, even though He lived a blameless life, God turned away from His son for Jesus had taken up our sins on Himself. If God cannot tolerate sin so much that He could not look at His most cherished son, how could He look at us? Now that Christ has died and taken the punishment for our sins, we stand in His righteousness. But, we do not act like we have Christ’s righteousness. We still sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) But throughout life, God is working in us to make us more like Christ. This process is known as the Ordo Salutis, which is Latin for “the Order of Salvation.”

According to Romans 8:30; the Lord first foreknew us, predestined us, called us, justified us, and finally glorified us. By saying He foreknew us; we must understand that foreknew means to fore love. In Amos 3:2 God says to the people of Israel, "You only have I known among all the families of the earth." And Jesus says in Matthew 7:23, "I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness."

God loved Israel first and foremost over all other nations on earth and Jesus never loved the Pharisees He spoke to. So God loved us, then He predestined us.

What did God predestine us for? Does this mean all our choices and paths are chosen before we even know what to choose ourselves? Is life us just going through motions already drawn out by an animator? No. God predestined us to Him. God made it so we would come to Him and that we would be saved, but He has given us the ability to choose our actions. But, naturally, our actions would be sinful and focused on ourselves. By predestining us, God has opened our eyes and allowed us to see the error of our ways and the glory of coming to our Lord. Genesis 1:26 reads,

“Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

God made us in His image. What does this mean? In part, it means that God made us with the free will and the ability to choose. He also made us in charge of everything He created. Does this sound like someone making all our decisions for us? I don’t believe so.

After God predestined us, He called us. We, like everyone else, have received what is known as the outward call. This call would be the preaching of the gospel and the natural revelation of the creation itself. But, unlike everyone else, we have also received the inward call. This call would be the special revelation that is given by the Holy Spirit and allows us to hear God’s word for what it is; truth. Because of this, we are able to accept the gift of eternal life and be adopted into God’s family.

Once we are called, we are then justified. What does this mean, to be justified? In this context, it would be a legal term. What it would mean, is that we are not righteous, but by the transference of Christ’s righteousness to us, we are now looked on as righteous. Christ’s death justified our salvation. Because this is by God’s doing and the work of Christ, we can also see where Catholicism misses the point. We are not saved by any works we do, because God sees all the work Christ did. We do works out of gratitude as fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). Justification comes by faith, not by works.

Finally, after God justified us, He has also glorified us. What is interesting here is that glorified is in the past tense for a future occurrence. Why would Paul write this? I believe that it is because God’s work in us is so complete and final that nothing will break us from this salvation. Paul might as well speak in past tense because, in his mind, the work is done. We, still bound by time, must wait for our final glorification when we become like Christ, but to God we are already there.

Verse 31 is one of my favorite verses. Paul asks the question of what could be against us if God is for us. If God’s plan is so complete and perfect, then what do we have to fear? If God gave His only son for us, would He truly let something defeat us?

We should take pride that, when we face persecution, we face it in the name of Christ. We should understand that those who attack us are really attacking our Lord Christ and are fighting His light in anger and hate. (1 Peter 4:14)

Paul gives us a list of things we would worry about; trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. We could add homelessness, disease, poverty, war, and all other things and Paul’s message would have been the same. None of these things can defeat us. In fact, we are more than conquerors because we don’t just defeat these things on a physical level or mental level, but we defeat them on a spiritual level. We are able to defeat them because of Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, and the fact that He still intercedes for us.

Paul then states his assurance in Christ’s work and God’s plan by listing off all the things that can’t separate us from God; death, life, angels, demons, present, future, powers, height, depth, and everything else in creation. That’s a thorough list.

The state of death cannot separate us. In fact, once we die, we can be rest assured that our next conscience moment will be us by Christ. No matter if you believe in soul sleep or not, this must be agreed upon. And if that is the fact of the matter, than even death fails at separating us from the Lord. Life, with all of its troubles, also fails. All the hardships of life can only strengthen our resolve and trust in the Lord.

Angels could not separate us, even as powerful as they are. They serve the Lord and act as our protectors. Demons will not be able to defeat us because none can withstand the power of Christ. With but a word of His name, demons shudder and retreat. The Bible states our bodies our a temple for Christ and that He lives in us through the Holy Spirit, and if that is so, than how can a demon hope to destroy us?

We must also remember that things of the present cannot defeat us. No matter what is going on this very day; whether it be financial issues, sickness, war, or suffering, nothing that is happening today will steal us from Christ. We must also remember that nothing coming will defeat us. We can stop fearing the future because whatever happens, we will still stand firm in Christ. Are we afraid of future attacks on American soil? Why? It will not remove us from Christ. Are we afraid that we may develop a disease that our father before us had? Why? It will not remove us from Chris either.

Nothing of power can defeat us in Christ. What power does man have that is not given by the Lord, who is for us? Living in a country of relative freedom, we forget this sometimes. I believe that those living in countries where they risk their very lives to read God’s word and worship Him understand this better than we can. They do not fear their communist rulers and malicious dictators because these threats will not remove them from God’s plan.

Height, depths, or anything else in creation will defeat us. God has made it all. Everything that is and ever will be exists by the very nature of God’s will. If Christ is in us, as the ruler of everything, than how can anything defeat us? Back in verse 28, we read that God works everything for the good of those who love Him. He works everything: meaning all of creation. Did Paul not state something you fear might remove your from the Lord? Stop fearing because nothing will remove you. God’s love is so complete and infinite we are safe.

None of this means we are going to be free from troubles. Christ says that we will have trials (John 16:33). But, throughout all of our suffering we can remember that Christ has already won the day and we have won it through Him.

I also believe it is by no coincidence that Romans 9-12 follows these verses. To go from this to the question of Israel’s salvation must be a planned thought by Paul. I believe that Paul is trying to remind Israel that you cannot fall from grace, nor does God forget you. Israel was chosen before all other nations, predestined, and is now going through their sanctification/perseverance stage. Soon, they too will accept Christ and be saved, glorified. But their hearts are hard and their willingness to come to Lord dull. But we should trust that the Lord is still working with them.

While reading sermons on this passage I have come to a better understand of our security of the Lord. But not just that, I have learned of the need for us to trust in the Lord in all things. In fact, the best example I found was a blog online. It is written by a woman named Emily Hunter McGowin, and posted on her blog site named, "Think. Laugh. Weep. Worship". She writes about her mother-in-law slowly dying from cancer. But, through all of it, both women stand strong in their resolve and know that even through such a time of despairing and pain, Christ is with them and God is working the whole thing for their good. The trial may not be good itself, but in the end, they will be stronger from it.

But this isn’t a case of “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. No, this is much more powerful and worthwhile. In light of this fact, we should stand taller in the face of adversity. I myself have problems sharing Christ with others, in fear of them rejecting not only the gospel, but myself. Yet, how much can their rejection really do to me? God is for me. I am guarded, protected, watched over, loved by, cared for, and strengthened by the very creator of the universe. I am allied with the one whose breath keeps creation in existence.

Romans 8:28-39 raises a real challenge for all those whom would see us fall. We should read these verses and say to our opposition, “Come and get me.” Let them come and try to remove us and destroy us. We are God’s children; foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. Ephesians 2:8 says, “…And this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”

God, the maker of everything, chose us. He will not give us up.