The Letter to the Romans
COLLEEN MOORE TINKER
28. Nothing Can Separate Us
In this section of Romans 8 Paul moves from expounded on the reality of our hope in Jesus including the fact that the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for us. He concludes the chapter by declaring that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
In verse 28 Paul states that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him." Obviously, however, devastating things happen to God's people. The question arises: what is the "good" which God promises us through the events of our lives? Paul actually defines this "good" in the next verse. He says, " For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son." From God's vantage point, our good does not always correspond with our desires. Ultimately, the good God works in us is our transformation into the likeness of Jesus.
Sometimes the good God has in mind when we suffer is not just our own good. Near the end of his life, Joseph said to his brothers about their deception and their selling him into slavery, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, for the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20) God glorified Himself and also saved the seed of Israel from death by allowing Joseph to be sold to slave traders and purchased into the home of an Egyptian nobleman. Ultimately, after slander and imprisonment, Joseph became a ruler in Egypt, and because of God's visions to him about a coming famine, Joseph was able to store enough food to supply not only Egypt but also neighboring peoples including his own family. The good God brought about because of his brothers' treachery saved the lives of thousands of people. In addition, God honored Joseph with power and wisdom and the respect of the Pharaoh because Joseph honored God.
Isaiah praised God, saying that it was for his own benefit that he suffered anguish. At the same time, he thanked God for keeping him "from the pit of destruction" and for putting his sins behind His back. (Isaiah 38:17) Jeremiah is more specific as he speaks for God. He identifies God's blessing of goodness in Jeremiah 29:11 where God says He knows the plans He has for His people. They are plans to prosper, not to harm them, and they are plans to give them hope and a future.
God reveals Himself to us as we endure the suffering of our lives as long as we submit our suffering to Him. Because we are deeply flawed, we will endure devastating experiences, sometimes as the results of our own choices, and sometimes as the results of circumstances over which we have no control. God, however, uses our suffering as venues for His redemption, both our own and the redemption of others. God doesn't reward us for our suffering; rather, He reveals Himself to us as we walk through it. Seeing and learning to know Jesus more and more intimately is a far greater experience than any mere reward we could ever imagine for ourselves.
Called and Foreknown
Besides assuring us that God will redeem all the events in a Christ-follower's life so they result in good, verse 28 also adds an interesting phrase to describe those in whose lives God intervenes this way. The phrase is "called according to his purpose."
In both the Old and the New Testaments, the Hebrew and Greek words rendered as some form of the word "call" consistently mean summoned, given a name, or called to serve God in some capacity. In the New Testament, the usages of "call" involve God's summons in Christ for a person to serve Him in some capacity. Paul sees God's call as effective; he equates the call with the response. Jesus, in Matthew 22:14, distinguished between those who are called (those who "hear") and those who respond (the "chosen"). In the epistles, however, Paul demonstrates the theological meaning of Christ's call. (The New Bible Dictionary, inter-Varsity Press, p. 159)
In verse 30 of Romans 8 Paul expands on the implications of being called by God. He says God both predestined and justified those He called. Farther into the letter, Paul comments on the status of the Jews in God's eyes. Now, he says, they are enemies "on our account" because of the gospel, but because of the patriarchs, they are loved. Then Paul makes the definitive statement: God's gifts and His call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28-29) His cannot "uncall" one He has called. This divine calling, furthermore, is a summons to fellowship with Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9), and it comes to us by the grace of Christ. It precedes our consciousness of it; Paul said God set him apart from birth and called him by His grace. (1 Corinthians 1:15-17)
In Ephesians 4:1 Paul exhorts his readers to live a life that is worthy of their calling. In verse 4-6 he clarifies that they were called to one body, one Spirit, and one hope. In 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, he also states that Christ-followers are called into God's kingdom and His glory. He admonishes Timothy, his protégé to whom he passed the torch of evangelism and shepherding, not to be ashamed to speak for the Lord but to join Paul in suffering for the gospel. He clarifies that this embracing of suffering is possibly only by the power of God who saved us and who calls us to holy lives. (2 Timothy 1:8-9)
The author of Hebrews reminds us that Chris mediates a new covenant for us so we who are called may receive our eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15)
Peter also commented on our calling as Christians. We are chosen, he said, that we may praise God who called us out of darkness into light. (1 Peter 2:9) He continues by saying we are to make our "calling and election sure" by continuing to grow in Jesus. A rich welcome awaits us after we have surrendered to growing in Him.
God's call, then, is eternal and precedes our ability to answer. We receive God's call through the grace of Christ, and it summons us to live holy lives. It calls us to embrace unity in the Spirit and to be loyal to the body of Christ. It gives us one transcendent hope: Jesus, and eternity with Him. Our call brings us out of our natural darkness and places us in the light of truth. It empowers us to grow in trust and surrender, and it promises eternal glory with Christ. Moreover, our calling becomes real in our lives because of Jesus' mediation and His blood of the covenant. Our calling is divine, and it sets salvation in motion in our own lives.
Closely related to God's call of us is His foreknowledge of us. David describes God's knowing us by explaining that He formed us in the womb and saw our still-unformed bodies when we were "made in secret". He further says that all the days "ordained" for us were written in his book "before one of them came to be." (Psalm 139:15-16)
Not only does God form us and know us before we are born, but he does not "reject his people, whom he foreknew." As an example he cites Elijah complaining to God that Israel had forsaken Him, but God replying that he had "reserved" for Himself 7,000 people who had not worshiped Baal. He said further that God still had a remnant of Israel "chosen by grace". (Romans 11:2-6)
To the Ephesians Paul wrote that God has blessed us "in the heavenly realm", He gave us every spiritual blessing in Christ, and he chose us in Him before the creation of the world. (Ephesians 1:1-2)
Paul wrote to Timothy that Christ's grace was given to us before the beginning of time, but it has only been revealed through the appearing of Jesus. Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light. God's foreknowledge of us always included our salvation by His grace. It always included our eternity with Him, but for us inside time, these things were hidden until Jesus became a man and lived inside time with us.
Peter also wrote to "God's elect". He addressed his letter to the scattered believers, and he said they had been "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood"(1 Peter 1:1-2)
These texts suggest that God knows us and plans us in advance. He chooses us solely by sovereign grace-we cannot know why God has chosen whom He chooses. His choice and foreknowledge, though, is the work of the Father who ordains our sanctification through the indwelling Holy Spirit so we can obey Jesus Christ and be cleansed by His blood. His choice and foreknowledge also bestow on us blessings "in the heavenly realm" right now, before our glorification at Christ's coming. We become part of God's family and are hidden in Him. From eternity God knew us, before we existed physically in time, and He continues to know us for eternity. We cannot be snatched from his hand or his heart. Our salvation cannot be stolen from us.
Predestined, Justified, and Glorified
Not only does God call us and foreknow us, but, Paul says in verses 29-30, He predestined us, justified, and also glorified us. Being predestined is related to being chosen and foreknown, but it has nuances of meaning that are different. Predestination strongly suggests God's sovereignty over all creation including us.
In Ephesians 1:4-6 Paul examines the steps, or parts, of God's call on our lives. He has blessed in the heavenly realm, he says, with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He chose us in Jesus before creation to be holy and blameless, and he predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus. All this, Paul asserts, was according to God's pleasure and will. Further, he explains, he predestined us according to His plan which "works out everything in conformity to the purpose of his will." (Ephesians 1:11-12)
In other words, God planned before creation that we individually would be adopted as his sons, and our lives-including all our sins-would be redeemed so God's purposes would be accomplished in and through us. Our lives will be continual praise of Him.
Jesus also said that our inheritance, our predestined certainty, is the kingdom prepared for us "since the creation of the world." (Matthew 25:34) Further, Revelation 17:8 clearly talks about those whose names are not written in the book of life from the creation of the world. By deduction we infer that there are, therefore, those who names are written in that book from creation.
Being predestined in the likeness of the Son means that God has already given us His kingdom, His righteousness, and every spiritual gift in Christ. We are chosen in Him before our birth to be redeemed and conformed to be like Jesus as a result of our surrender and trust in Him. All Christ has is ours as well when we are in him; being predestined assures us that before we were born, God was already in the future drawing us to himself and transforming us by Christ's blood shed for us.
In verse 29 Paul says God predestined us to be "conformed to the likeness of his Son" so he could be "the firstborn among many brothers". This "so that" statement suggests that our conformity to the likeness of Christ brings us into a family relationship with Him. Because of our conformity to Him, we become his brothers-but not equal to him. He is the "firstborn" over us. Indeed, he is the firstborn over all creation, Paul says in Colossians 1:15. Being the firstborn, in ancient societies and still in some areas of the world, implies authority, special blessings, and leadership over the rest of one's siblings. Jesus has this firstborn authority over the church and over all of creation.
Psalm 89 foreshadowed this authority of Jesus as head of a line of chosen people. In verse 19, 26-29 the psalmist says that a young Israelite man will come who will call God "Father", Rock, And Savior. He will be appointed as firstborn and will be the most exalted among the kings of the earth. God will maintain love for him forever, and He will keep His covenant with him at all times and will not fail. Further, God will "establish his line forever." John 3:16 further identifies Jesus not only as firstborn but as God's "one and only son".
By becoming a human, Jesus established a new "line" of people in the world: the sons of God. He was the firstborn for many reason: he was God's only begotten son; He was the first man since Adam to have a living spirit with no original sin; He was the only person ever to be born with His spirit made alive and sinless by the Holy Spirit from the moment of conception; He was the first to rise from death with a glorified, resurrection body. He is the firstborn also by reason of God's appointment of him as head over everything. He is head over the church-the new creations brought to life by faith in Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He is head over all creation. As both the Creator and a human, the product of humanity, He has sole authority to die for us, to break the power of death for us, to intercede for us as our high priest, and to come back for us to make us joint heirs and rulers with Him.
The amazing reality of our being predestined to be conformed to His likeness is that because of God's eternal choice of us, we will become as He is: spiritually alive, (adopted) sons of God, and alive for eternity with glorified bodies like His. He became like us to show us what He is making of us. He is the firstborn, and He has taken responsibility for us, fulfilling God's eternal promise of a Redeemer.
In verse 30 Paul connects being predestined and called to being justified and glorified. Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would justify us and bear our sins. Isaiah 53:11 states that after the "suffering of his soul," the Messiah would see "the light of life". He would "justify many" and bear our iniquities. Romans 3:22-24 explains that this justification is freely given to all who believe in the Lord Jesus, and it comes to us through His sacrifice and atonement. Being justified, or having our guilt removed, is possible only because of Jesus' bearing our sin and dying our death. The result of our being justified is enormous: we have peace with God. (Romans 5;1) In addition, we are literally saved from God's wrath by our justification in Christ. (Romans 5:9) Jesus' sacrifice to save us from God's wrath was not merely a fail-safe plan to be activated in case of emergency. It was carefully planned from before creation, and Jesus did not fulfill it until several millennia of sinning had occurred. Jesus made a powerful statement about God's commitment to us by dying for us when we were hopeless sinners, not before sin happened. He died and became the sin of all humanity. (Romans 5:16)
Our justification is vital for our eternal future, because sinners will not inherit the kingdom. When we trust Christ, however, we are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus and by the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) This passage reveals that our justification is not a unilateral act by Jesus alone. His death was the act that guaranteed our justification, but the Holy Spirit mediates it and the changes of heart that it brings in us. Further, Romans 8:32 reveals that the Father is equally involved in our justification. He "did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all." Finally, our justification is not merely for our own good; it is for the purpose of equipping us to live for Jesus and not for ourselves. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) Justification changes us so we will be for the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:12)
Our justification means that Jesus took onto Himself our hopeless sin. He died and paid the price for us, so we can become the adopted sons and daughters of God. Christ's justification of us saves us from the destruction of God's wrath and brings us into peace with God. It transforms us through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit into people whose lives bring praise to God and who no longer live to please themselves.
Those who are predestined are not only justified, Paul says, they are also glorified. The interesting thing about Paul's statement of this in verse 30 is that he puts glorification in the past tense, not the future tense or even the present tense. Earlier, in verse 22-24, Paul wrote about our waiting with groaning for the redemption of our bodies. Glorification seems still to be a future reality. Why, then, does Paul refer to it as something God already has accomplished?
In Romans 9:23 Paul states that God prepared us, the called, for glory in advance. From eternity God has prepared us for our ultimate outcome. In other passages we find that the Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing the completion of our physical redemption. (Ephesians 1:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 1:21-22) Further, through the Holy Spirit's connecting us to Jesus and the Father, God has already blessed us "in the heavenly realms with every spiritual gift" (Ephesians 1:3) and has raised us up with Christ and has seated us with Him in heavenly places. (Ephesians 2:6-7)
Further, because of our new birth by the Holy Spirit, we stand firm, no longer subject to or victimized by sin and evil. We cannot be destroyed by the forces of wickedness. His "great power" like the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us now. We have God's literal strength in us protecting and empowering us so we can experience victory over the assaults and wounds of our lives. (2 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:19b-20)
Paul called us already glorified because we already have new hearts. We already have the Holy Spirit living in us. We already have His power for victory over sin and temptation. We already have "every spiritual blessing" in Christ. We already experience spiritual glory that the unsaved do not have. We are still waiting for the redemption of our bodies, but in eternity that last step is already a reality. While we wait inside time, we are experiencing spiritual glory and intimacy with Jesus in growing measure. Like the kingdom of God which is now in us and will be on earth around us, our glorification has already begun and will be completed. It's not merely a promise, it is already at work in us. Its physical completion is our hope which is sure, not tentative.
Salvation Is Secure
From verses 31 to the end of the chapter Paul elaborates on the outcomes of the fact that God chose, foreknew, and predestined us in Christ. God is for us, and since He is, no one can be against us. If he didn't spare His own son, then we can know that our Father will "graciously give us all things." (verse 32) No one, not even Satan the accuser, will be able to bring any charge against those God has chosen. Because of Jesus, our position is secure. God Himself justifies us, and no one can condemn us when we are God's. We have this assurance because Jesus Christ, who died for us and destroyed the power of death, sits at God's right hand interceding for us.
This passage is startling for those of us who learned that our atonement was not complete at the cross. Many of us learned that Jesus did not enter the "Most Holy Place" (the very presence of God) until 1844. Prior to that, he was in the "Holy Place" waiting to start judging the saints and to begin pleading His blood as the final step in the process of our life-long sanctification from sin. Those who had no unconfessed sins and whose lives showed a continual trend toward increasing obedience to the law would receive the benefit of Jesus' blood to make up for whatever perfection they had failed to attain. This process is known as the "investigative judgment".
Romans 8, however, clearly reveals the teaching of the investigative judgment to be heresy. Verse 34 gives three reasons why we can know we are safe from any possible insecurity about our salvation. No one can bring any charges against us because Jesus died for our sins. Even more, he was "raised to life and is also interceding for us." The investigative judgment is unbiblical. Jesus has been at the Father's right hand and has been interceding for us since he ascended back to heaven forty days after his resurrection.
The New Testament is full of references by different authors attesting to the fact of Jesus' position in heaven-and these references are all in the past or present tenses and were all written within a few years of Jesus' ascension, long before 1844. Mark, Luke, Paul, and the author of Hebrews bear witness to Jesus' finished work and intercession symbolized by His sitting down at the right hand of the Father. (see Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; Ephesians 1:18; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 7:25; 9:24, 12:2) John also affirms that we have One who speaks to God for us. This One is the atoning sacrifice for the whole word: the Lord Jesus. (1 John 2:1-2)
When we are in Christ, our salvation is utterly secure. Jesus has been interceding for humanity since His ascension. He went directly to the Father; He did not have to complete the application of his blood from the heavenly sanctuary. His blood flowed on the cross into eternity, and it has paid the price our sins ever since He died. That fact is the reason the temple curtain tore at the moment of Jesus' death. No more had to be done to atone for our sins, and we do not nave to prove ourselves worthy of receiving it. We only have to embrace Jesus, and his atonement covers us. From eternity He called us, and for eternity his shed blood redeems us and restores us to the Father.
In the last five verses of chapter 8 Paul discusses the fact that no type of trouble or suffering can separate us from God. He quotes from Psalm 44:22: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." Because we are Christ's and because we are in this world, we will suffer. As the body of Christ, we will take the arrows of the enemy for Jesus. These assaults, however, do not remove us from God's presence or blessings. When we experience trouble, we can remember that Jesus said that we, His sheep, will never be snatched from His hand, and nothing can snatch of from the Father's hand, either. (John 10:27-30) We are held in the grip of both Jesus and the Father, and we are simultaneously indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Our Creator and God protects us both from the inside and from the outside. Nothing can touch us He does not allow.
Jesus also declared that He would lose none of the people His Father had given Him. It is our Father's will, He said, that everyone who looks to Jesus and believes will have eternal life. (John 6:39-40) Isaiah also records God's declaration of faithfulness to His people in chapter 27:2-3. God says he watches over and guards his fruitful vineyard continually.
Paul further shows that God not only does not let go of us, but He raised us with Christ and has seated us with Him in heavenly places. (Ephesians 2:6-7) When we trust Christ with true heart surrender, our spirits are reborn by the Holy Spirit, and we are from that moment connected with the Trinity eternally. We enter heavenly realms spiritually, and that connection is a guarantee that our physical bodies will also be redeemed. We will not be abandoned, and we cannot be stolen away from God.
Nothing we endure in our walk with Jesus can separate us from Him or His love. He will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The promise in Romans 8:38-39 assures us that nothing in all creation, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Jesus said that He is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Him, He said, would live "even though he dies." All who believe in Him, whether they live or die, would never die. (John 11:25-26)
Paul, who had been taken into the "third heaven" (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-6) about AD 40, more than eleven years before his first epistle, saw things in the heavenly realm that he was not permitted to tell. Following that experience he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5 and in Philippians 1 two of the most revealing passages about believers' presence with the Lord after their physical deaths. In 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 Paul says that as long as we are "at home" in this body, we are away from the Lord. He continues by saying he would prefer to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. In Philippians 1:21-24 he admits that he has an internal struggle with his desire to depart and be with the Lord, which, he says, is "very much better" (NASB). For the sake of those he was serving however, he concluded that it was more necessary for him to remain in his body.
Our core identity lives inside our bodies, but that identity does not disappear when we die. We go to be with our Savior, Jesus Christ, when we die. Not even death can snatch us out of God's hands. Jesus has broken the curse of death, and believers in Him are not separated from Him no matter what their circumstances.
Jesus called, predestined, and foreknew you. He planned you from the creation of the world, and you have always been in His plan and in His heart. He knew before you were born the circumstances of your life. He knew your struggles and suffering, and He has always been in your strength and protection, even when you felt unprotected.
This passage in Romans promises you that nothing that happens to or in or around you can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The struggles and endurance and suffering you experience are part of God's plan for conforming you into the likeness of His Son. He will waste nothing that has happened to you, and He will redeem everything you surrender to Him.
God is asking you to allow His Spirit to shine the light of truth into your heart. He wants you to know the things you need to surrender to Him. He wants you to acknowledge to Him your self-protection, your fear, your desire to avoid reality and its consequences. God is calling you to humble yourself before Him and to give up to Him everything you think you deserve, every situation you desire to control. He wants you to trust Him with the truth about yourself, and He desires to be strong in the place of your weakness.
Your acknowledgement of the truth about your life as He reveals it to you will certainly not shock God or change your standing with Him. He already knows they ways you struggle and the subtle ways you manipulate and bargain to justify your self-destructive or self-deceptive acts. He already knows the ways you create your own internal reality as a defense against embracing the truth and walking in the light.
Ask God to reveal to you the things He wants you to know and to show you the ways He wants you to change. Ask Him to keep you grounded in reality and to give you His strength to acknowledge and to surrender to Jesus the old familiar ways you protect yourself instead of growing.
Ask God to give you His courage to surrender the unresolved issues in your life to Him. Ask Him to enter your heart and mind, to give you His peace and discernment. Ask Him to give you the faith you need to let go of your need to control and to allow God to be in charge of the people and the issues in your life.
Praise Him that everything in your life is happening as part of the fulfillment of the purpose of His will for you. Praise Him for calling you and knowing you before you were born. Praise Him for removing the veil from your heart and revealing the power of His truth and the light of salvation. Praise Him that nothing in life or death-in all creation-can ever separate you from His love.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
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