More Than Conquerors
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' 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. -Romans 8:28-39 Read the whole chapter.
So we've been working our way through Romans and really starting in chapter 5, Paul began laying out his reason for why he has hope and why he believes that we too should have hope. Every bit of it points back to Jesus Christ who was crucified, died, and rose again. That is the foundational part of our hope. He's been fleshing this out throughout these chapters. We've come now to chapter 8, which is our third week in chapter 8. As we've looked at it he continues to lay out this plan as he sees it. So chapter 8 began with those words "There is therefore now no condemnation", reminding us that because of Jesus, any penalty that we have coming our way has been taken care of. In the section we're looking at, he begins with this statement of assurance of confidence where he says, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God." Now I know a lot of people right now particularly when you look at this world that we're living in and the things that are going on would think, wait a minute how can we say that what's going on right now is good by any stretch of the imagination? How can we say that God is working good through all of these events that are happening one after another that just seems like oh my word, can it get any worse? And yet, we need to realize that God isn't planning or direction all of these things. Yet in the midst of them, God's goodness is being revealed. God's good is being worked out in spite of the experiences that we're living through.
There's a Chinese proverb called the parable of the Chinese farmer. There's a name that's often attached to this farmer. My understanding is that often Chinese people will use this is a reference when life seems uncertain and they're not sure what to make of things. They'll tell one another remember, and I'm not even going to attempt the gentleman's name that's in this parable. But the parable goes something like this. It says that there was once a poor farmer that worked his farm with his son and their horse. One day the horse ran away. All of the neighbors in the village came around and said oh how unfortunate for you. The farmer rather stoically nodded his head and said maybe yes maybe no. Well, a few days later his horse returned and with it a half dozen wild horse that had followed it home. The neighbors gathered around once again and said oh what fortune lucky for you. The farmer said maybe yes maybe no. Well in the coming week he and his son were attempting to break some of these wild horses so they could use them. The Son was riding on one and was thrown off and broke his leg. Again, the neighbors gathered around and said oh what bad luck you've had. The farmer said maybe yes maybe no. A short time after that the officials of the government came by conscripting young men into the army to send off to battle. But because of this young man's broken leg, he was exempted from the conscription. The neighbors once again gathered and said how fortunate for you. The farmer said maybe yes maybe no.
So it is with life that we like to think that the world we live in is very black and white, very binary. It's either yes or no, good or bad. We want to be able to attribute that to those things. We go through that all the time, oh well we had this happen and that was good. But this happened and that was bad. Yet we don't always have the foresight to know all of the possibilities, all of the outcomes, all of the ends of those things that are going on. Even though we might think it's bad, there are times where God is able to work in and through those circumstances to bring about good. So Paul begins by saying we know that God is at work in this world to bring about his good. It goes on and says for those who love him. The people who love God are the ones who are looking for the ways in which God is at work and moving in this world. How often does something happen that just goes past people? Yet for people of faith who are confident that God is working for good can look at that and say no, that was a little God nudge or God wink or God moment where God broke in and made God's presence known in those circumstances of life. Sometimes it happens in the midst of glorious and wonderful things. But other times it can even be in the midst of those difficult and challenging things. So Paul is saying God is at work to bring about his good for all people and we're confident of this.
It gets into some of the language that Paul is using where he says that it was God who foreknew and predestined. We get into that kind of language of predestined and trying to say well wait what does this mean? Does this mean that we're just puppets that God is directing every action, every step we take? That we have no autonomy, no independence, no freedom to make decisions or choices for ourselves? I don't think that this is the kind of predestination that Paul had in mind as far as his understanding of God. Rather Paul is pointing to the fact that this God who sent his son, who is working for good in the world has in mind the end goal of the big picture, the ultimate thing of importance, which is the salvation of all people. So what God has predestined, what God has in mind as an end result is salvation for all. Now how we get from here to there may vary from person to person but God's goal is predestination. What God foreknew is that for the salvation to work we, you and I and all of God's people, needed to be conformed to the image of Christ. That transformation, that change, that new creation that is being born within each of us needs to look like Christ for that salvation to take place. So God has in mind what we need to look like for lack of a better term, that image of Christ so that through Christ we can share in all those blessings. In fact, also share in the glorification that God has poured into his Son.
Paul then begins to make the final stages of this argument he's been building up. Imagine that courtroom drama where they're making their final speeches and summarizing everything. That's what Paul's doing here at the end of chapter 8. This is the best he's got. I imagine Paul pacing back and forth: animated and energetic as he's sharing these things. He says those that he predestined, those that he had in mind to be a part of this plan of salvation, he called. He extended the invitation and said, come on, this is for you! He justified. It means he set us right with him. He glorified us. That by sharing in that image of Christ, we too are lifted up with Christ and share with him in that inheritance.
So Paul then goes into this series of rhetorical questions. "So what then are we to say about these things?" Well, what should we say? We should say thanks be to God. But more importantly he begins by fleshing out each of these points of what it means to be predestined, called, justified, and glorified. He says if God is for us, who is against us? Friends we all have difficult things that we have had to live through. We've all had painful experiences, physically, emotionally. But if God is for us, who can possibly be against us? God loved us enough that he sent his Son to make this possible. And who can bring any charge against us? Now we struggle in our own right with our feelings of worthiness of deserving. How can I be forgiven for all those past things that I've done? I don't deserve God's love. I'm not good enough. I'm not smart enough. And yet who can bring any charge against God's elect. It is God who justifies. God is the one that said no you are worthy. You are righteous. I have decided it is so.
So that little voice in our head can't condemn us. The people around us who might stand in judgment for past mistakes and shortcomings can't judge us. No one can judge us. No one can condemn us because God has already declared that we are justified in his sight. Then he says it is Jesus who died. Yes, it was he who was raised. Who was at the right hand of God who intercedes for us. Jesus was the trailblazer. Jesus died and rose again, ascended into heaven and is seated at God's right hand. That is our destination as well, through our faith and trust in Jesus.
So what can separate us from this love of Christ? Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? Will cancer? Will covert? Will protest? Will political wranglings? Will anything in all of creation separate us from this love? Paul goes on and quotes from Psalm 22, for your sake we're being killed all day long. We're counted as sheep to be slaughtered. It would be easy for people to throw their hands up and say well see the Bible says it so we're all going to die. That's the end of the story. Paul's still being rhetorical here. He's not quoting this passage to say see here's how it's going to be. He's quoting to say you know what God has a different plan. At this point, God has reordered and reordained what he wants to happen in the lives of all of his people. So Paul with even great confidence for those of you that might be following along in your own Bibles. In verse 37 Paul says no. Now the text is always kind of low-key but it just says no. Again, I just imagine Paul in a fervor pacing back and forth and so excited about this love of God. So excited to tell people about it. So when it comes to verse 37, what it really should say, no absolutely not. That's not how it is. Nothing's going to separate us from God. This fatalism is not the way we should live. No. In your Bible, I encourage you to put a couple of exclamation points. After that no. Forget about the comma, emphatically no. This is not our destination because of Jesus Christ in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
More than conquerors is the one who comes out on top. If back when sports where on television, you watched them, you often would see basketball games, baseball games, football games that would go into overtime or extra innings because someone had to come out on top. In those close contests where the score would go back and forth and come down to the wire. One team would prevail by one point or a few points, they were the conquerors. Just barely, they had enough to put them just above and beyond. While my NRSV here says that we are more than conquerors in some of the other translations it says that we have this overwhelming victory because of Christ. Overwhelming because it far exceeds and surpasses anything. We're not just skating by. We're just not barely getting there. God has gone so far above and beyond in what he has made possible for us. So once again Paul just with all of his conviction and all of his confidence says I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor ruler nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Eugene Peterson in the message says that none of this phases us because of Jesus' love. He says I'm absolutely convinced that nothing, nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic today tomorrow high or low, thinkable or unthinkable, absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love. Because of the way that Jesus our master has embraced us he's all-encompassing here. Saying that look if you can imagine it, if you can think it, if you've experienced it, it's never going to be too much to separate you from the love that God has made possible and revealed through his Son Jesus.
Friends that's a love that goes so far beyond what most of us can probably imagine a love in which God has given of himself by offering his Son a love in which we are so caught up and so wrapped up in that love that nothing will ever be able to pull us away. I don't know about you but I find great comfort in that because I know that if my justification before God, if my redemption, if my salvation were completely up to me, I'd be in a lot of trouble. But thankfully, Paul points us in the right direction. He doesn't say because we're on God's side. Things are going to be all right. Paul's saying God is on our side. Because God is on our side, we are far more than just conquerors. We are blessed and we are God's children.