· It begins with no condemnation
· It peaks with no defeat
· It ends with no separation
Paul’s declaration of the Gospel in this epistle seems to reach a crescendo in this chapter and I thought to explore it somewhat as this lesson moved me, possibly because of my own struggles over the last 27 years.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 8:1
Paul’s own struggle between the old and new natures within him as related in Chapter 7 of Romans is incredibly reassuring to me. For those who are in Christ, two natures war against each other and it is often difficult to determine which of these will emerge the victor. Paul’s segue from the desperate struggle and his plaintive plea at the end of Chapter 7 seems bereft of hope:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” 7:25
But the following verses in Chapter 7 points our hearts to Jesus as the satisfaction of justice and sets the stage for the glorious declaration with which Chapter 8 opens. To one who has been condemned by the courts and who, in many eyes, remains so forever, this is a song of hope that fills me with wonder at the ineffable grace by which God views me in His Son.
Several men that I met while incarcerated were subsequently released and exonerated by the same court system that had earlier condemned them; walking away from prison, no longer garbed in the clothes that marked them as convicted felons, they wore clothes that marked the transformation that a judge’s ruling had caused. No condemnation for them any longer; they are free to walk away and not look back or ever be condemned again for that crime.
For those in Christ we too are no longer condemned by the one Judge who is over all. He sees us as righteous as His Son! Think of that; that is an astounding thing that in God’s eyes I am as worthy as Jesus of Heaven! Me, one who was condemned by society and cast away for almost 24 years, because of the completed work of Christ and my embracing that work in utter despair forever transforms me into a child of the King. No condemnation for me or for any who have surrendered their piety to that of the Messiah; as certain of heaven as if I was already standing on those streets of gold.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” vs. 28
Over the years I have heard many teach on this particular verse and sadly many claim that what God is saying here is that everything that happens to us is good and nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing good about a body maimed by war, disease, accident or cancer and that is not what Paul is saying here! What God is saying here He weaves of our lives a beautiful tapestry of praise; as Stephen pointed out, the phrase “…work together…” comes from the Greek word that gives birth to the word “synergy.” An example of synergy in medicine that Stephen used was how two medications if taken separately do no good, but if taken together can. God can take our disasters, our diseases and illnesses and weave of them an example of grace and good that will astound the world.
He gave several examples from Scripture:
· Joseph, the favorite of his father Israel, preening before his brothers with his special clothing and sharing his dreams about how he would one day rule over his brothers (keep in mind he was younger than all but one) and their response to strip him of his robe and sell him to Midianite traders who then sold him into slavery in Egypt. In the end, Joseph is elevated over all but pharaoh and Joseph is instrumental in saving the world from a devastating famine, including his family. What his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good and caused that good to come out of their despicable act.
· Stephen also spoke of the example of Job who though losing all he had did, at the end, have all he’d lost restored to him as well as the prophet Habakkuk who sought from God an explanation as to why Israel was suffering; in the end Habakkuk and the nation Israel are taken into captivity, but in this Habakkuk is still praising God (3:17-19) and often in life when faced with the incomprehensible, we can look heavenward and choose praise over despair.
· The best example of this, however, is that provided by Jesus. The ultimate example of someone wrongly accused and convicted by a mock court; beaten and tortured by Jewish and Roman authorities, then executed in the most shameful and degrading manner ever conceived. What good could possibly come out of this? His resurrection three days later was the Father’s “Amen” on Jesus’ “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The good that came of this horrific act was that almost two thousand years later a man condemned and sentenced to life in prison would find hope and a new start.
No, everything that happens is good and God does not expect us to praise Him for the evil that is so evident in and around us. We as His children through faith in His Son however can trust that whatever may befall us (or we bring upon ourselves), He is able to bring about good from it. We may not live long enough to see that good, but the good will come.
Once joined with Christ, Paul is declaring here that nothing will ever separate us from Him:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure 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.” (vss. 35-39)
While there are ample examples on this planet of families who shun their relatives who have done some wrong (real or imagined), God will never turn His back on one who belongs to Him in Christ and, to prevent anyone from going down his list and finding something they think would be able to separate us from His love, Paul adds the phrase “…nor anything else in all creation…” So, nothing means nothing and that is something!
No condemnation, no defeat, no separation; those three phrases breathe of hope to weary souls and wounded hearts.