Romans 8:26-39 Common English Bible (CEB)
26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. 30 Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified.
31 So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?
33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. 34 Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us.
35 Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
We are treated like sheep for slaughter.
37 But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. 38 I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
The evidence is there every day that we live in a broken creation as a broken people. From natural disasters to rancorous human interactions, the broken pieces are easy to spot. It all started with Adam and Eve and the separation from God as a result of their all too human choices. Initially they lived in the garden of the Lord. It was a land that spontaneously produced food and covered all their needs. After the fall, we see the results in Genesis 3:17-18. “To the man he said, “Because you listened to your wife’s voice and you ate from the tree that I commanded, ‘Don’t eat from it,’ cursed is the fertile land because of you; in pain you will eat from it every day of your life. 18 Weeds and thistles will grow for you, even as you eat the field’s plants;…” All of creation felt the fall.
What does that brokenness look like in our world today? Auto accidents, industrial accidents. Sicknesses: cancer, alzheimers, diabetes. Viruses: the flu, COVID-19, shingles. Suffering in so many forms from physical suffering to mental suffering. In Romans 8:18-25 Paul points to the brokenness of creation and talks about the “whole of creation waits breathless with anticipation … groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.” Since Adam and Eve there has been a separation between human beings and God. Gen. 3:8-12 points to what used to be. It is when God comes to the garden in the cool of the evening and discovers Adam and Eve hiding from him. Even our communication with God was broken. It reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: “If God seems distant, guess who moved.” We yearn to be close to God. We seek to have conversation with God. We struggle just to sense him near. It is so much harder when we are suffering.
So, where is our hope in the face of suffering?
It is interesting that in Gen. 3:19 God gives us a hint when he says (as he is describing the new way of the world as a result of man’s sin), “until you return to the fertile land, since from it you were taken.” It is a word of hope, implying that there will be a returning to the way things were supposed to be. Paul uses “groaning” twice, once in the passage leading up to this morning’s reading, and once as our reading opened. In verse 22 he says, “We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.” This reflects Genesis 3:16 as God relays to Eve the pain of childbearing that will result from man’s sin. Then again in verse 26 where he speaks about the Spirit interceding from us in groans too deep for words. One is the groans of loss, and one the dawning reality in the midst of loss that God will restore all of creation – including human beings.
The Holy Spirit is the beginning of the restoration of relationship with God – both ours and all of creation. Our groans are beginning to hear the notes of a love song. Our suffering is being put into context. It is Jesus who “pleads for the saints” in the midst of their suffering. Does it mean suffering is gone? No. But there is hope. In prayer, the Spirit is a foretaste of what God wants to do with all creation – restore it. Communication is the first part of the restoration. But it takes God to re-establish that communication. Paul sheds light on our plight when he implies that we cannot even connect ourselves to God in the midst of suffering without the help of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:28 is one of the most beloved verse of hope. “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This is not some pie-in-the-sky, Pollyanna unwillingness to admit evil even when it slaps us in the face. NO! It is a confession that we are in the hands of a loving God, the kind of God who sent his own Son for us, even to die for us. With this awareness, God works all things together for good.
Before I go any further, I want to say something about predestined. Note that the Common English Translation removes the word all together. This is not just some move to make the scripture more palatable. Instead, it is placing the light where it should be. We usually think of predestination as it relates to judgement. We see it is as God deciding “you’re in, and you’re not.” In contrast, this is not predestined with relation to judgement but with relation to hope. God has destined the restoration of creation, us included. Since God has the restoration of the world and all that is in it from the very beginning – from the fall itself – God has destined the outcome. Predestination merely points to God’s intentions and power to accomplish those intentions.
The full love song is sung in verses 31-39. Through the use of several “rhetorical questions” Paul presses our confidence in the great, great love of God.
It begins with verse 31 which points to the entirety of chapter 8. “What shall we say to this …? The Holy Spirit is setting us free – free from worry, free from suffering defining our lives. He says, “If God is for us, who is against us?” The implication is, surely not suffering! Will God provide? Absolutely. It was God that even gave his Son! So, he will freely give us strength in our times of need.
33-34 are a couple of odd questions at first glance. “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. 34 Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us.” The answer in each case points to the fact that the only ones who could condemn us are really the ones who are our advocates - God and Jesus Christ. Our passage began with the Spirit interceding for us, and brings us to the reality that it is “Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us.” When we have that kind of power on our side there is nothing, not even suffering, that can defeat us. I’ll remind you of a passage I quoted last week. Romans 8:14-15 says, “All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. 15 You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.”” And, this week, I’ll add to it Romans 8:18. “I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” Paul is giving us a great gift of perspective. Will God remove all our suffering just because we ask? Not necessarily. Will God be in every moment of our suffering, carrying us when we are too weak to walk? Absolutely!
Verse 35, Paul starts with questions again. “Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” He wants us to take all we are suffering in this very day and place it in the context of God’s unfailing love. He expects us to answer his questions with an emphatic, “no one and nothing” can separate us from God.
“I am convinced” – with this the song hits its climax in verses 37-39. “But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.” Paul goes on with one of his famous lists. “… nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” Does he leave any room for senseless worry? Does he leave any doubt?
When we are faced with trials, we often hit a roadblock, one we cannot overcome ourselves. Our natural instinct is to let the circumstances define who we are. It takes God to overcome our natural instincts. The Spirit interceding with groans too deep for words is the beginning of our liberation from the debilitating effects of our trials. The absolute, immutable love of God is poured out on us in those very trials. Of that we can be sure!
Our hope is secure! Let us sing out a love song to God, even in the midst of trouble.
Pastor Paul Grossman