In his letter to believers in Rome, Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He goes on to explain that God, who gave up His own son for us, will freely give us everything we need. And because God is all powerful and the One who has final say in judgement, nothing can separate us from His love even if the trials we face kill us (Rom. 8:31-39, all quotes from WEB translation).
What? I thought Paul just said nothing could stand against us, so why is he talking about us being killed? But Paul’s focus here is not on the people of God avoiding physical trials and suffering. Victory is found in Christ alone. Physical protection and healing can (and often do!) happen, but that is not our main concern.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, “For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35-27)
Paul quotes from a psalm that laments the deaths of God’s covenant people and asks God not to reject them forever (Ps. 44:17-26). It seems that Paul would tell the Psalmist, and us, that suffering does not mean God has forsaken us. In fact, we are more than conquerors even in the midst of all that.
Bold, Rational Confidence
I don’t want to deal with grievous distress (G2347, thlipsis), intense affliction (G4730, stenochoria), persecution (G1375, diogmos), famine and destitution (G3042, limos), total lack of clothing (G1132, gumnotes), extreme danger (G2744, kindunos), or slaughter by sword (G3162, machaira). I dare say none of us do. But Paul makes it sound like that wouldn’t be a big deal. And he should know, considering all he went through (2 Cor. 11:23-28). When Paul talks about suffering as a Christian, he speaks from experience.
For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)
Paul’s confidence isn’t just based on hear-say. It is based in faith as well as first-hand experience. To quote Adam Clarke’s commentary, “The confidence expressed by the apostle at the end of this chapter is as rational as it is bold.” This section of Romans is a brilliant piece of writing and a glorious affirmation that those who trust God have nothing to worry about. We’ve already more than won the battle through the victory of Him who loves us.
Faithful To The Covenant
That kind of makes it sound like there’s nothing left for us to do, though, and that is not the overall message of Romans. Going back to the Psalm Paul quotes from, we find a line that reads, “All this has come on us, yet we haven’t forgotten you. We haven’t been false to your covenant” (Ps. 44:17). Paul’s background was that of a Jewish rabbi, and in their writings they often quote part of an Old Testament passage and assume their readers will connect the present argument to that passage’s larger context.
With that in mind, I think the parallel Clarke draws is a sound one. He writes, “We abide faithful in the new covenant of our God; and He is faithful who has promised to support and make us more than conquerors; i.e. to give us a complete triumph over sin, and death, and hell, not leaving one enemy unsubdued” (commentary on Rom. 8:37). It reminds me of something else Paul wrote in another letter.
This saying is trustworthy: “For if we died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful; for he can’t deny himself.” (2 Tim. 2:11-13)
There’s a reciprocal aspect to our relationship with God. It’s actually connected to grace, though that’s too big a topic to dive into now (here’s a link to a great booklet on the subject). His faithfulness is a constant, but we can’t reap the benefits of it without being in covenant with Him and remaining faithful ourselves.
Remember to Ask For Help
God is eager to help His people, but we have to be willing to let Him. It seems strange that we’d ever reject God’s help, but a story from one of Judah’s kings shows that it does happen. Asa was one of the good kings who “did that which was good and right in Yahweh his God’s eyes” (2 Chr. 14:2-4). He demonstrated a reliance on God when his enemies attacked, praying for and receiving deliverance (2 Chr. 14:9-15). After this, God sent a prophet to tell him, “Yahweh is with you, while you are with him; and if you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will forsake you” (2 Chr. 15:2). This isn’t anything so crude as a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” bargain. There’s something deeper, as we’ll see shortly.
The writer of Chronicles tells us “the heart of Asa was perfect all his days” (2 Chr. 15:17). We also know that he and the people of Judah “entered into the covenant to seek Yahweh, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul” (2 Chr. 15:12). But even so, something happened. In the 36th year of Asa’s reign, he turned to the king of Syria to handle a problem with the king of Israel instead of turning to God. After this happened, God sent a seer to remind Asa where his trust should have been and explain why things didn’t work out so well (2 Chr. 16:1-7).
“Weren’t the Ethiopians and the Lubim a huge army, with chariots and exceedingly many horsemen? Yet, because you relied on Yahweh, he delivered them into your hand. For Yahweh’s eyes run back and forth throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars.” (2 Chr. 16:8-9)
Asa’s heart was perfect, and so God was eagerly looking out for opportunities to act on his behalf. He had already spotted this situation, but Asa decided not to ask for help and instead trust himself, a pattern which continued (2 Chr. 16:10-13). Asa lost the help available from God because he did not ask for the benefits of being in covenant with God.
God is Eager To Hear From You
I wonder how often we miss out on God’s eagerness to show Himself strong on our behalf simply because we don’t think to ask. Maybe the main thing we need to do in order to have Paul’s perspective on life’s extreme challenges is to turn to God and ask Him for help. He has a different perspective on things than we do, and sometimes He sees the things that seem most overwhelming and challenging to us in a completely different way (this is a major lesson of Job).
You don’t have, because you don’t ask. You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)
Just before the “If God is for us, who can be against us?” passage, Paul says that even if we don’t know what to pray the Spirit will fill in the gaps so long as we turn to God. He also assures us, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose,” and points us to focus on our future glory as children of God (Rom. 8:28-30).
Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love. Nothing can vanquish us because He has already won the pivotal battle of the war we’re fighting. We need to stick close to Him (i.e. love him with a perfect heart and stay faithful to the covenant) because it’s in Him that “we are more than conquerors.” Beyond that, all we need to do to have Paul’s confidence is to remember to always turn to God and ask Him to share His help, strength, and perspective with us. Confidence and peace, knowing that God will not abandon you, is one of the chief benefits to living in covenant with God.
Featured image credit: Aaron Kitzo via Lightstock