Romans 8 — Week 4

This week we continue to explore the great themes of Romans 8.

 

Monday, January 28

Read: Romans 8:28

Consider: We enter our fourth and final week in Romans 8 to find some of the most inspiring thoughts in all of Paul’s writings. We find great optimism and hope in these verses, and yet, we see a realistic approach to life. This is not an escapist mentality. This is not “let’s pretend everything is wonderful” stuff. As we saw last week, Paul recognized the suffering that causes us to groan, and the birth pains that the creation is enduring (8:18-23). Yet, there is good news. That’s what the New Testament word “gospel” (euangelion) means—good news.

But, as is always the case with scripture, we must listen with both our minds and our hearts. And Romans 8:28 only makes sense when we do both.

Most children of my generation who grew up going to Sunday School memorized Romans 8:28 from the King James Version of the Bible. While I still cherish the beautiful language to which it was translated and am thankful for the gift that the KJV is to the world, like all translations it has some weaknesses. In their effort to give a literal translation of that verse, it feels as though the translators got the subject of Paul’s sentence wrong. We grew up hearing…

“…all things work together for good to them that love God…” (KJV)

It may seem like a small matter, but if we say that “things” work, we can embrace some confusing theology. It almost sounds as though we’re talking about our fate rather than God’s proactive work in our lives. You often hear people say things like, “Everything happens for a reason.” Well, that may bring comfort to some people, but it’s devastating to others. It can even lead to the dead-end question of God’s activity — “Why did God do this to me?” If you’re walking through the dark night of the soul, that question won’t help you.

But in some of the more recent English versions of the Bible (which also have flaws), the translators tried to help us understand that Paul’s intent was that we would understand God as the subject of that sentence.

“…in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” (NIV)

This is no small matter in my ability to navigate the highs and lows of life. I don’t believe that the hand of fate guarantees that everything happens for a reason. And I don’t believe that God arbitrarily strikes me with suffering. What I do believe is that I will suffer. I will know pain. But in my pain God is at work on my behalf. I can’t always see it, so I must ask God to give me faith where there is no sight. I must learn to trust when I have no understanding. And when I can’t know the reasons, I can know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

Pray: “Lord, trust comes easy in some seasons, but at other times it seems impossible for me to attain. I can’t manufacture faith or trust. They are gifts from you. So, I humbly come to you, asking you to help me see and trust the One who loves me more than I can possibly comprehend. Help me to grasp, in my spirit, the depths of your love.”

 

Tuesday, January 29

Read: Romans 8:28

Consider: Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase which means doing something in return for something else. We often hear it used in legal discussions, but too often it enters our thinking about God and distorts our perspective on life.

Perhaps it’s just me, but for so long I was so entrapped in a quid pro quo Christianity that Romans 8:28 was a double-edged sword. It was the second part that bothered me, the part that said things would work out for “those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Maybe it was my struggle with scrupulosity (spiritual OCD), but I always wondered if I loved God enough and if I was adequately fulfilling my calling. I wanted God to work in my life, but I was trying to earn his blessing. Of course, that was not a conscious belief. I would never have described God’s interaction with humans in that manner. It was subtle. And yet, as I progressed in my understanding of the good news, I realized how toxic and destructive my God-concept was.

As I grew, I began to understand at a deeper level that the Christian life is not a matter of performing in the right ways so that we will be blessed. It is more concerned with allowing the Spirit to open our senses—our awareness—to the fact that God is already working and blessing us. Perhaps our biggest challenge in life is to see and know God’s presence.

I remember being in church services as a kid and hearing the preacher pray that God would meet with us. In my childish understanding, I thought that we had to talk God into being with us. Of course, what the pastor was praying was that we would be aware of God’s presence with us. That is vital to true worship. That is vital for life!

Are you following God perfectly? Do you love him exactly as you should? If your answer is yes, you’re struggling from delusion with a strong dose of arrogance. None of us are perfect in our discipleship. We are all on a journey that includes a few detours and a whole lot of stumbling. And yet, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

That includes you and that includes me.

Pray: “Lord, you don’t call me to a quid pro quo relationship with you. You are not withholding your love until I get it right. Just the opposite. You have already given me ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:3), and every moment your Spirit breathes in me and through me. Thank you that you are working in my life. Open my spiritual eyes and ears so that I may see and know your presence.”

 

Wednesday, January 30

Read: Romans 8:28-30

Consider: I began my formal studies in biblical literature and theology more than forty year ago and have tenaciously pursued that passion to this day. I’ve seen a lot. Over the years I’ve watched the theological battles (I would rather say “discussions,” but sometimes they were battles) in the American church. It’s fascinating to see which issues came to the forefront and then faded into obscurity. It’s also interesting to remember how passionate I was about issues that now seem rather minor, while being unconcerned with things that motivate me greatly today.

I recall my college and seminary days when we spent a great deal of time and energy trying to understand what Paul meant when he said that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (8:29).

I recall long discussions about the relationship of “foreknowledge” to “predestination.” And though we wanted to be absolutely certain we were right, if we had been honest, we would have said that many of the passages of scripture surrounding these ideas seem contradictory. Certainty was more difficult to come by than we were willing to admit. When we Arminians got into discussions with our Calvinist brothers and sisters, both sides acted much more convinced that we should have.

We all suffered from a form of biblical interpretation that could make us miss the forest for the trees. We had a mechanical approach to theology and, many times, lost the wonder. We lost the mystery of God’s passion for us while we tried to parse the words that could prove our view of God.

But this simple verse in Romans 8 speaks about God’s passion. This isn’t about who was chosen and who was left out of God’s plan. It tells us that we are all chosen. God “foreknew” all of us, and all of us were “predestined”—called—to follow him. All of us were loved. All of us are loved.

Paul was not using these precise-sounding words to shut anyone out of grace. He was marveling at the grace that included us. When we use our religious language to draw lines of exclusion, we are rejecting the wonder, mystery and majesty of God’s love. And if we miss that, we find ourselves living small lives that have no room for others and no capacity for real joy.

Pray: “Lord, you knew me before I was even conceived. ‘Your eyes saw my unformed body’ as ‘you knit me together in my mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139:13-16). And even then, I was accepted. You chose me. When I chose you, my eyes began to open, but they’re only partially opened as I experience this new birth. I’m excited to see you more clearly and to know you more intimately.”

 

Thursday, January 31

Read: Romans 8:31-34

Consider: Unlike the fishermen who were first called to be Jesus’ disciples, Paul was a man of great experience and education. He had mastered the Hebrew scriptures, was multilingual and was able to discuss religion with the Stoic philosophers of Athens (Acts 17). Paul was also a Roman citizen who was, no doubt, familiar with the Roman Senate and the legal maneuverings of the government (even though Caesar always seemed to get his way). So, many times when Paul was explaining spiritual realities, he would borrow from the legal world and use that language to illustrate his teaching.

That is what we find in today’s reading. Paul takes us to a courtroom where an officer of the government shouts, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen…who then is the one who condemns?” (8:33-34).

This is not the only time we find this imagery in the New Testament. In John’s first letter he teaches us about our “advocate”—that is, our lawyer, the One who speaks on our behalf…

“If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)

We do not go before the judge to plead “not guilty.” We know and admit that we are guilty as charged. And yet, our advocate, our attorney, speaks and declares that the judge should set us free in spite of our guilt. And because of what our advocate has done, we receive a full pardon and the record of our crimes is expunged.

There is simplicity and power in Paul’s courtroom metaphor, and it is summed up in one simple phrase — “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:31).

Sometimes people have taken this imagery a little too far, seeing God as the stern judge in this courtroom. But Paul said, “It is God who justifies” and “God is for us” (8:31,33). In our sinfulness and in our weakness, we are humbled because God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is on our side.

Pray: “Lord, sometimes when I’m comparing my spiritual assets with my liabilities, I miss the whole point. I seem to think that my worth and my significance are dependent upon me, what I do right and wrong, and what I accomplish. And yet, it’s not about me. It’s about you in me. Thank you that you are for me, so I never have to fear who or what is against me.”

 

Friday, February 1

Read: Romans 8:35-39

Consider: I love Paul’s passion. Sometimes, as he wrote about God’s grace and love, he would find that words were simply inadequate to express his heart. So, he’d just make up a word. Well, maybe he wouldn’t totally make it up. He would add the Greek prefix, upér (kind of like “hyper”), to it. I guess we’d say he would coin a phrase.

A good example of this is in Roman 5:20 where Paul said that “where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.” He took a word that meant “more than enough” and added upér to it. He said that grace super-duper abounded. It really, really outdid the sin in our lives.

Paul did it again in today’s passage. He didn’t simply say that we are conquerors. He said we are upér-conquerors! (My spell checker just went nuts.) That could literally be translated that we “over conquer.” So, our English translators did a fantastic job in rendering this phrase as saying that we are “more than conquerors” (8:37).

More than conquerors. What does that mean? Wouldn’t the outcome of a contest be binary—either you win, or you lose? Either you conquer, or you’re conquered? That’s the way we usually think. But Paul, who never lost the wonder of grace, saw much more. To him, grace was deeper, more spacious and much higher than win or lose.

Think about it. Jesus didn’t say conquer your enemy. He taught us to love our enemy with the possibility of making enemies into family. More than conquerors. He didn’t teach us to act right. He taught us to live and abide in his love. More than conquerors. He didn’t simply ask us to follow him in time. He invited us to live with him in time and eternity. More than conquerors.

Love conquers and does more. So, let’s just let Paul explain it. Let’s listen again to what he said about love…

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.” (8:35,37-39)

Pray: As you pray, take some time to meditate on what it means to conquer as a child of Christ. Then ask the Spirit to reveal to you what it means to “over-conquer.” Try to steer clear of our culture’s ideas of winning and losing. Allow God to show you something new.

 

Saturday, February 2

Read: Ephesians 3:14-21

Consider: Yesterday we considered what Paul meant when he didn’t simply say that we are conquerors, but that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). That “more than” only makes sense to me when I see it in the context of Paul’s confidence in Christ’s love for us. He went on to say…

“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.” (8:38-39)

That affirmation always brings to my mind the passage we read today from Ephesians. It also speaks about the vastness of Christ’s love. And what is so powerful in Paul’s Ephesian letter is his passion that we, too, may believe in that love—not simply on a cognitive level, but that we may really grasp it with our whole being.

We know that Paul is not appealing to our intellect because he speaks about being strengthened in our “inner being” so that we may have the power “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:16, 19).

That’s an interesting phrase. How can we know something that can’t be known? I can only come to one conclusion. Paul is praying that we would “know this love” in our spirits that surpasses the “knowledge” that we can acquire.

We can develop our minds. We can increase our knowledge. We can add to our memory banks. We can put more data into our brains. But we can’t make ourselves “know this love that surpasses knowledge.” That is a gift. We don’t acquire it. We ask for it. That’s why Paul said that he knelt before the Father (3:14) and interceded for the Ephesian believers in the hope that they could grasp that love.

So, Paul’s prayer teaches us to ask. We can’t develop true wisdom on our own. We can’t figure out what love is. We can’t live in the reality of that love unless God’s Spirit fills us with that love. And he will. He does. We only need to open ourselves to him. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 1:7).

Pray: Let’s pray for ourselves, and for one another, the prayer that Paul prayed for the believers at Ephesus…

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”