There’s some wise advice to preachers: ‘running late? Romans 8!’.
It never fails because this chapter from Paul contains so many core insights into Christian faith and there’s always something fresh to be discovered and preached. On this Sunday we are invited to re-visit the closing paragraph of that chapter, summed up in Paul’s great phrase ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8, v31)
This chapter only works if you have a truly ‘big’ view of God. It’s all here: God as creator and interpreter of time and history, God as loving and forgiving Father (Abba), God as enabling and empowering Spirit, God as historical Jesus dying and rising, God as ultimately ‘for us’.
Of course there have been lots of believers (including Christians) who have made the claim that God was on their side as if it justified all manner of most ungodlike things, spoken and done. Did Jesus not say “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven”? (Matthew 7, v23)
But set that aside for a moment. The point made in Matthew and Romans is that those who believe and who seek to build God’s kingdom (to follow Jesus) can believe that God – yes, God – is on their side. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of the Creator in Christ Jesus our Lord.(v39) Amazing grace indeed.
This is the foundation of Christianity, not the other (however important) things, not our love for God, not our good life, not our active church membership, not the words we use to express our faith, but the core truth of God’s love for us. Unlike many other religions (especially those which speak about searching for God) Christians believe that God has sought us out and inspired our faith and hope and love.
If this gospel affirmation was not at the heart of Christianity, we would struggle with at least one of the other things which Paul says in this chapter: ‘We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’ (v28) This is far from evident, if we are honest, and a statement which might raise at least an eyebrow if not a fierce expostulation! ‘All things’, says Paul, who, as we should remember, suffered more than most in his personal missionary journeys, ending up as almost certainly one victim of the persecution of Christians by the emperor Nero in the 60’s. I think that he means us to look not at the things that can and do go wrong, but at the bigger picture, the longer-term view: despite setbacks and worse, God’s love will prevail and we shall be saved. Christian witnesses (martyrs) ever since Stephen have cried out ‘Jesus is Lord’. The context of such testimony is not just looking beyond the grave, but in the here and now when faith is stronger after a challenge.
So as all the outward aspects of the Christian life are inevitably evolving with the years – and right now in a more radical way – let’s hang onto the central truth which Paul articulates so well in this chapter. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? God who did not withhold His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not with Him freely give us all things?’. (v32)
I’ll reprint the whole paragraph below, then you can see how the climax builds; you would be well advised to go and read the whole chapter again.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, 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, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And two powerful verses from a hymn (586 in Rejoice & Sing)
which you can read through as a prayer (or sing!) [ROBERT BRIDGES (1844-1930)]
All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
calls my heart to be his own.
Still from earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done,
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son.
Christ doth call
one and all;
ye who follow shall not fall.
Revd Peter Brain