READ : Romans 8:18-39
What wonderful certainties can flood our hearts with joy?
Welcome, friends to this final study in our series on the heart of the gospel, studies in Romans Chapter 1-8. Today we deal with the triumphant hope of believers in Jesus and their joy-filled certainty about the future. This is one of the distinguishing marks of New Testament Christianity. As Peter writes elsewhere, we have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ to a living hope, to a wonderful assurance that can never die.
I was reflecting lately on how few are the things in our present world that we can be absolutely sure about:
- Not that our favorite sports teams will win. My favorite teams seem to lose with regularity. What a season of “upsets” each year brings!
- Not that our favorite candidates for office will be elected. Politics is full of surprises.
- Not that our work and economy will continue to do well. Who can predict that?
- Or even about our health – how long will we live? It’s a well-known saying that only two things are certain – death and taxes. Neither certainty is ever encouraging!
Present Sufferings Aren’t Worth Comparing with the Coming Glory
But this eighth chapter of Romans rings and sings with joyful confidence. Listen to the first jubilant (happy) conviction that the Apostle Paul expresses. Here’s how he puts it:
I am convinced [or I consider] that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. (v. 18)
Now when you hear Paul say that, remember that he’s not a man who had lived a life sheltered from trouble. I was reading today about the fact that five times he was flogged, with a whip 39 times. Three times he was beaten with rods. He was stoned and left for dead. He was in all kinds of dangers, imprisonments, and persecutions. But he says “these present sufferings are not even worth comparing with the glory that is ahead for me.”
He talks about a groaning creation. The creation itself seems useless, not able to fulfill its purpose. It is longing for God to save the children of God. The world is waiting for the time when God’s people will appear in their resurrection splendor.
Even as the creation is groaning, our hearts groan too. We have received the first fruits, the “down payment” of the Spirit. We still struggle with remaining roots of sin. We are not yet what we know we shall be, and so our hearts groan. Even the Holy Spirit groans within us with sighs too deep for words and lifts up prayers to God on our behalf.
We’re all headed toward what Paul calls “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” None of our troubles and sorrows can compare with that!
God Is Working in Everything for the Good of Those Who Love Him
The second great certainty is expressed in verse 28: “We know that God is working in everything for the good of those who love him.” Isn’t that a marvelous thing? God is working in everything for the wellbeing of his children.
That is not saying, friends, that everything is good. A lot that happens in this world is tragic, evil, and heartbreaking. But God, in his mysterious power, wisdom and grace, is somehow weaving everything together in a way that contributes finally to our good. It’s as though a master weaver of cloth is working on a pattern above us. When we look from beneath, all we see are tangled threads. But if we could come up to his view as he’s working there, we would see a beautiful pattern taking shape.
Paul continues, “for those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (v. 29). This is the great good toward which everything in our lives is leading us. God is working in all things finally to make us like Christ. That is God’s purpose – making us perfect in love. Now this is for those who love him, those who trust in him through Christ, those who seek to honor and obey him.
Nothing finally works for good to those who have no place for God in their lives. But for those who love him, who trust him, this conformity to Christ is the development of God’s purpose – a plan that never ends.
Questions With Sure Answers
Next the apostle raises some great questions with wonderfully sure answers. He says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31). God is on our side. God has shown himself in Jesus Christ to be forever for us, forever wanting the best for us. And so if he is for us, who can ever win against us?
And then he goes on to ask: “If he didn’t spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (v. 32). If God gave us his beloved, sending his own dear Son, to give his life on our behalf, to bear our condemnation, to die our death, to conquer all our foes, to give us the best of all gifts, if he did all that, won’t he freely give us everything else? Will he withhold anything from us after he’s given us absolutely heaven’s best? Never!
And then again, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s chosen ones?” (v. 33). Who can? It is God who justifies. God has seen all the evidence. God has declared us innocent and righteous not because we are that way in ourselves, but because he sees us in Christ. Because we trust in Christ, because we rely upon his finished work, because we rest all our hopes in what he’s done for us, God sees us in Christ as totally forgiven, just as if we had never sinned.
And if God doesn’t judge us, who can bring any charge against us? Again, who will ever condemn us? The only one who could possibly condemn us would be Jesus – because he’s the one who bore the weight of our sin, the judgment we deserve. But not only does he not condemn us, he actually died for us. He rose again. He is at the right hand of God. He even makes intercession for us. Instead of pleading for our condemnation, he pleads his perfect work on our behalf for our acceptance. And so we have wonderful, triumphant answers to these questions.
The Final Certainty: No separation
Now we come to the huge final question: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (v. 35a). Paul lists several kinds of suffering that might seem able to do that: “Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?” (v. 35b). How many of those things had Paul himself known along the way in his life? He says about them, “No! They cannot do it.”
What about distress? That word means “pressure.” Paul had known all sorts of cramped, difficult situations. He was in what we call a “tight spot” – many times – hemmed in on every side. No, distress can’t separate.
What about persecution? Paul endured that almost every day of his ministry.
What about famine? He went hungry many times.
What about nakedness? He was often without clothes. He was adrift in the sea. He was stripped and beaten.
What about peril? He lived in danger all the time (2 Corinthians 11: 26ff).
What about the sword? He faced death many times. He “died daily,” he said. He faced that awful possibility every day that he lived. But he said, “My life is not of any value to myself. If only I may finish my course with joy and the ministry I’ve received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24).
So he lists all those threats and he says, “No, we are more than conquerors through the one who loved us” (v. 37). We are super-conquerors. We more than prevail. We win an absolute victory through the one who loved us. There you have it: the love of our crucified and risen Savior brings us through the very worst with flying colors – more than conquerors. Now comes the final expression of wonderful confidence, of joy-filled certainty:
I am convinced. I am certain that nothing will ever separate us from God’s love in Christ. (v. 38)
In fact, nothing can separate us. Once again, he mentions all that he can think of that might try to tear us away from God’s love – not just the hard things, the sufferings. Even death can’t do it. Nothing in life can do it. Things present, things to come, height or depth, nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s what we celebrate in perhaps the most encouraging section in all Christian catechisms – the first question and answer in the Heidelberg:
“What is your only comfort in life and in death?” “That I, body in soul, in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins and delivered me from all the power of the devil. He so preserves me that, without the will of my Father in heaven, not a hair can fall from my head, but all things must work together for my good and my salvation.”
I remember an experience in the chapel at Hope College when some of us were reciting the letter to the Romans. As we came to the end of this triumphant chapter, where Paul says, “I’m convinced that none of these things will ever be able to separate us from the love of Christ,” those college students rose to their feet. They clapped, they cheered! It was the power of this wonderful word from God that brought them out of their seats and filled them with great joy.
And that can happen, friends, for you. I pray that you will know these joy-filled truths. Present sufferings can’t compare with the glory that will be revealed in us. God is working in everything for the good of those who love and trust him. Nothing will ever be able to separate us from God’s love. All that radiant assurance can be yours – through our Lord Jesus Christ!