We've finally hit the parts of Romans 8 that are more familiar to most of us. In this study, we'll take a look at what it means that God is for us. Perhaps it's different from what most of us assume it is, and is actually so much more!
(A) Three unanswered questions: Paul wants us to think hard about the truth
In this section, Paul uses 3 rhetorical questions to draw our attention to the truth, to help us see with greater clarity what we probably already know.
First question: "What then shall we say to these things?" (Rom 8:31a)
The "these things" in his question refers refers to the things that appeared before verse 31. In Rom 8:28-30, he presented a golden chain of events that focused on God's purpose and will. He helps us to see that God intends for all things to work together for good, so that we will be conformed to the image of His Son. Our ultimate good is that we become more and more like Jesus, and less and less like ourselves. This plan was conceived before time, shown to us at some point in our lives, and will bring us to the future. Thus, our entire lives are wrapped up in the safe and secure will of God.
In this first question then, Paul is asking for a response to the obvious truth of our complete and utter security. The previous verses spoke of the past, and the future, but these verses refer to the now, when it's really the hardest to believe. How would you respond?
Second question: "If God is for us, who can be against us? " (Rom 8:31b)
Paul uses the word "for" and "against" in this question, and this choice of words bring to our minds competitions, courtrooms, sports and debates. What does it mean that God is "for us"? To continue the mental picture conjured up by these words, if this was a sports team, it'd mean that God is on our team. If this was a courtroom, God would be our lawyer. If this was a debate, God would be speaking on our team. And many times, we think that this verse means that we grab God and bring Him to endorse our plans, our way of doing things and our teams. However, our close reading of Romans 8 help us to see that this is not true. Coupled with the preceding 30 verses in Romans 8, we realise that we are not doing the grabbing. Rather, God grabbed us, continues to grab and hold on to us to keep us on His side every single day of our lives. Are you on God's side? Do you know how this can be done? There is only one way to get to God's side. Jesus says that He is the way, the truth and the life. Have you professed faith by recognising that He is the only way, confessed to Him that all our sins have been borne by Him, and believe that all He has is yours?
Third question: "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:32)
Paul’s third question can be confusing because of the two ‘hims’ in it, referring to God the Father and Christ. But if we read it slowly, we can paraphrase it as: God, who did not spare God's own Son, but gave his Son up for us all, how will God not also with the Son graciously give us all things?
Paul is arguing that the Son is infinitely valuable and worth all things, therefore, if God has given us the Son, He will give us all things (including the Son). How will God keep everything from you, if He has already given you everything? When confronted with such logic, we too will see that clearly, it is not logical for God to withhold good, if He has given us the ultimate good. But that's not what we really believe all the time, isn't it? Sometimes we feel that God is a really weird Father, who loves to take us on a grand tour of life and dangles the good and lovely things, yet tells us that we can't have any of it. This happened to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. God gave them all things and permission to eat from all the trees in the Garden, but He kept just one tree and they believed the lie that God was not on their side and so, they decided to take matters in their own hands. In a similar way for us today, we have all things in Jesus. Why, then do we doubt the Father, as if He's a bad Father? How often we go to God and say, "God if I could have ____________, it would be great." This is what Paul's asking the Romans, and you and me today! What kind of a Father is God? What kind of treasures are in Christ? What kind of longings do I still have that make me doubt if God is for me? What am I asking God for, to prove His love for me?
Paul asked the Romans these questions, and the Bible confronts us with the same questions. How would you answer these questions today?
(B) Two answered questions: God has shown how He is for us
Verses 33 and 34 present for us 2 more questions, with their corresponding answers
"Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?
It is God who justifies." (Rom 8:33)
At first glance, Paul's answer doesn't seem to address the question posed. He is asking about charges against the saints, God has chosen, and replies with the truth that God is the one who justifies. God is the main subject of the answer. God alone declares us righteous and innocent before the law, which is the meaning of the word "justifies". What does this mean? The implication therefore is that no one else can bring a charge against God's elect. Why is this so important? Even psychology has identified that our guilt and shame are our greatest struggles and problems. No matter what kind of a front we put on for people, deep down inside, we constantly battle accusations. Rev 12:10 tells us that Satan constantly and daily brings accusations to the elect. We know this only too well -- feelings of doubt, feelings of shame and guilt at these doubts, insecurities, guilt and shame at these insecurities etc. But, Satan is only half right. Yes, we are not righteous and are sinful, but Christ has borne our sins and our guilt and shame. Why do you respond to the charge with so much fear? Dear Christian, Romans 8:1 and 8:33 reassure and remind us that only God has justified us, and therefore, no one can bring a charge against God's elect.
"Who is to condemn?
Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us." (Rom 8:34)
In this second question, Paul asks about condemnation. Once more, he answers with something that doesn't appear relevant at first glance. Paul replies with the work of Christ Jesus. He draws their attention to Jesus, who died, was raised, is at the right hand of God and indeed is interceding for us. There are 4 actions, and these actions undergo a change of tense for past to present to present continuous. What does this mean? Simply, we can now quiet the accusatory voice of Satan not only because God has justified, but also because of what God has done in Christ. And in the now, Christ continues to intercede and stand for us before God. Do you see the security and certainty in these verses? Isn't this what our hearts actually long and look for, and now actually have in Christ?
We don't always believe these truths. We will try to find many other ways to make God for us. Perhaps some of us will resolve to work hard, or be better people, or even subscribe to other ideologies. These verses show us how God has brought us in, and is now for us, not because of what we did, but because of what He has done in Christ.
God has shown how He is for us. This is not going to change! We need to learn to use this on our hearts when we're afraid. Isn't this what we often sing too?
Though Satan should buffet,
though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
(C) One example: seeing what is already true and there transforms everything
Let us close with one example, to help us see how this truth can be applied and transform everything. We'll take a look at 2 Kings 6:8-23. Israel is under siege and threat by the King of Syria, and Elisha is the prophet.
The King of Syria was troubled (2 Kings 6:11) because Israel was able to escape his plans "more than once or twice" (2 Kings:10). He asks his servants, "Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?”, and is told of the prophet Elisha who appears to know the words the king utters even in his bedroom, and informs the King of Israel (2 Kings:11-12). The King of Syria sends his huge army to surround the city.
In verse 15, we are introduced to the servant of Elisha, who wakes up to the Syrian army and responds in panic (2 Kings 6:15). He asks Elisha for a plan, but Elisha responds calmly, saying “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16). Why? Elisha prayed for the servants eyes to be opened to the realities, and when the LORD does so, the servant realises that "behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17). Elisha then prays that the Syrian army would be struck with blindness, and God did so. Elisha then brought the blind army into the midst of Samaria, and prayed for their eyes to be opened. However, instead of striking them down, he asks for a feast to be prepared and they be sent back (2 Kings 6:18-23).
What does this narrative teach us? The King of Syria and the servant were troubled while Elisha was calm. What made the difference? This narrative uses the picture of blindness, and poses the question of who is truly on whose side. Elisha saw the things that were true. In the face of seemingly overwhelming circumstances, Elisha had great clarity and saw how God was truly with His people. Like Elisha who prayed for his servant, we too need to pray for God's help to see the things that are already true of us with greater clarity. We need to pray that our eyes will be opened to see what is already true and already there.
Romans 8, thus far, has laid our 34 verses of wonderful truths. What do you see? Do you see the overwhelming circumstances and feel like we're surrounded by an army and under siege, or do you see that God is for us?