Text: Romans 8:28-39
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 12A
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Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There were two towering figures during the Reformation. One was, of course, Martin Luther. The other was Philip Melanchthon. These two were best friends. Luther was always singing Melanchthon’s praises. While Luther was often like bull in the china shop, Melanchthon was timid, and approached things with the calm and precision of a scholar. When Luther died, Melanchthon was the one who preached at the funeral. What gave Melanchthon his strength? What made this gentle, timid, scholarly fellow boldly stand with Luther against the world? The answer is verse 31 of our Epistle reading: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In his lectures, Melanchthon quotes that verse more than any other. In his personal crest, it is the motto. When Melanchthon knew he was on his death bed, the pastor with him read Romans 8:31. Melanchthon exclaimed, “Read those words again!” The pastor read them, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Melanchthon clung to those words as he lay there dying. He murmured, “That’s it! That’s it!” That text was the greatest comfort to him. Even in the darkest hours of his life, as he lay in death’s cold grip, he boldly clung to those words, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
This section of Romans 8 has brought similar comfort to many Christians throughout the centuries. And that was exactly its purpose. St. Paul the Apostle wrote these words so that we may come away from this text with assurance and confidence in God’s love for us in Christ. As we examine what Paul wrote in these verses, we’ll see why this passage continues to bring comfort and hope to millions of Christians.
There is Consolation in God’s Plan
Paul wants us to know first, that there is consolation in God’s plan. “All things work together for good,” says Paul (v. 28). We need to be reminded of this because of the harsh realities of life. Life isn’t always a walk in the park. We groan and suffer in this world. We suffer from sickness, disease, and the frailties of age. We are under pressure from various sources, be they economic pressures, or family and social pressures. What’s more, as Christians we suffer rejection and sometimes outright persecution from the world. So, sometimes, terrible, painful, unspeakable things can happen to us, and we can wonder why.
“All things work together for good” is a much-loved promise for many who have learned by it to trust God in the many varied and often troubling circumstances of our lives. The world is still suffering, and we with it; but God is with us in our suffering, and will bring it out for good. But, this does not mean that everything will always turn out okay in this life. It is not our definition of what good looks like that matters—rather, God’s purpose determines what’s good. It means that everything will ultimately work out for your eternal good. Even evil things will work for our eternal benefit. Our gracious God takes everything in the world, every event in history, every circumstance in life, no mater how hard or evil, and makes them “work together” perfectly to serve the best interests of his children. Nothing comes into our lives that God does not allow and use to further his own beneficent purpose.
This is the foundation for our confidence. Paul does not say that all things work together for the good for everyone; he has a specific group of people in mind. Who are these people? It is those who love God; those called by God’s eternal plan. These people are called to faith by the Gospel. These same people are justified by faith. And they certainly will be glorified in a new creation. Paul says that the reason why you have faith and are saved, is not because of your own merit or worthiness, but because God has planned and predestined it. God’s plan for us began in eternity, with his decision to know us, that is, to enter into relationship with us. This led, in turn, to his decision to predestine us. You did not choose God, but he chose you before ever you were. Further, God has supplied all you need for salvation. God does all the work. He predestines. He calls. He justifies. He glorifies. God intends for you to be like his Son and to join the family of heaven. All of this is because it was predestined according to God’s eternal plan.
When we face the insurmountable evil or horrific circumstances in this life, we have consolation. We can be comforted by the fact that in Christ, we are part of God’s long-range plan. That plan is what makes all things to work together for our good. It doesn’t mean current suffering will end. We may not always understand how the things we experience will work for our good, and we certainly will not always enjoy them. Instead, we need to rest in the consolation and assurance of God’s ultimate plan for us and for all His creation.
There is Confidence in God’s Pardon
Secondly, Paul wants us to see that we can have confidence in God’s pardon. Lurking behind this is our fear. We fear and sometimes have great despair while we go through sufferings and afflictions because our own sin scares us. We go through hard times and we think that God must be angry with us. We’re afraid that God won’t forgive that that secret sin we keep hidden from the world. We can catch a glimpse of our own wretchedness and fear that on Judgment Day God will consign us into a Devil’s Hell and throw away the key!
Despite our fear and anxiety, we need to have confidence in what we know. God is not against us, God is for us. God is on our side. He knew us before we even came into existence. He predestined and called us. He has justified us. That’s what Paul is zeroing in on. God has already given you the biggest gift of all: His Son Jesus Christ! The Father was willing to hand His own Son over to be tortured and die for you. If he has already given us Jesus, why would he suddenly become stingy? If God has given Jesus for us, he will certainly providing anything else we might need!
The confidence we have finds its reason in the cross. All the charges against you were laid on Jesus. Christ’s death upon the cross has discharged our debt to God. Jesus; perfect life of obedience has been credited to our account. God, the supreme judge and the creator of the universe, has declared that the charges brought against you have been dropped. Case dismissed. You’re forgiven. Who can bring charges against you if God is the one who justifies you? Is the devil going to condemn you? He will have nothing to say. The world? What does the world have to say before face of Almighty God? Ourselves? Only if we think we’re greater than God. Who can condemn us? The debt has been paid; sin and death have been conquered through Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Nothing can undo His sacrifice or reinstate the death sentence we once faced. The risen Jesus appears before the Father bearing the scars of His sacrifice, pleading for us like a public defender. He never lets the Father forget that he has sealed our pardon with his blood.
There are Consequence for God’s Love
Thirdly, Paul concludes by telling us that there are consequences for God’s love. Affliction, distress, persecution, hunger and need, danger: All of these are natural consequences of life in this fallen world, but they have no bearing whatsoever on God’s favour and love for us. No matter the circumstances, despite how we might feel, we must steadfastly rest in the truth that God is with us and for us. There are consequence of God’s love for you is that not a single thing can separate you from His love.
Can you think of one thing which will separate us from God’s love in Christ? Think of anything you want. A bad childhood, a broken marriage, sickness, mental illness, anything. Death, devil, angels, powers, the past, the present, the future. High things, low things, anything. In fact, rather than the trials and opposition overcoming us or separating us from the love of Christ, the opposite is true. Paul tells us that we win—that we are more than conquerors (v. 38). Not in ourselves, but in Christ, who loved us to death on a cross. He gives us His victory and in Him we more than conquer. That is the consequence of God’s love for you!
How can this be? It’s not because trials and suffering go away in this life; they don’t and won’t. All things work together for good—not because we get out of the hard times—but because God is guiding all things according to His plan for you. Not one single thing can separate us from the love of God. Absolutely no one can make an accusation stick against one of God’s elect. Sure, we may suffer, be imprisoned, even be killed. But God was faithful enough to us to hand over His only Son, and he remains on our side – committed to finishing the job. What’s our part? Our part is to faithfully cling to Him and what He has promised—that because of Christ, he is working all things together for our eternal good, according to His larger plan. So instead of being overwhelmed by our present hardships and sufferings, or fearing of judgment day, instead of throwing in the towel, remember the bigger picture. Remember Philip Melanchthon who died in 1560 with these words on his lips, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.