Before digging into our text today…
- We need to back up a bit.
Romans 8:16 and following have been a beautiful passage on:
- Our future hope of glory.
- The content of that glory.
- The assurance of that glory.
- A glory guaranteed by the indicatives of God’s work in Christ and the Spirit.
- Justification, Indwelling of the Spirit, etc.
We saw that Paul referred back to all this with a question.
- “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (vs. 31)
- The unstated answer – NOBODY.
Paul then restated why we can have assurance in “these things”.
- The Father didn’t spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us (vs. 32).
- The Father justifies us through the work of his Son (vs. 33).
- Jesus died, was raised and exalted to God’s right hand (vs. 34).
- And there He intercedes for us (vs. 34).
This brings us to today’s text.
- Romans 8:35–37 (ESV) — 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Love of Christ:
The first thing Paul does is make a transition.
- He reframes the discussion about our future hope and assurance with God’s love.
He does so by the use of yet another rhetorical question.
- “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (vs. 35a)
- The answer, again, is NOBODY.
Paul often describes the content of:
- The indicatives – the work of Father, Son and Spirit.
- The stuff that fills out and secures our future hope.
- In terms of God’s love for us.
The reason is simple.
- God’s love for us is his faithfulness towards those in Christ.
- And it is always a love, a faithfulness, expressed with action.
- Specifically, the sacrifice of Jesus.
Here are some examples.
- Galatians 2:20 (ESV) — 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- 2 Corinthians 5:14 (ESV) — 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
- Ephesians 5:2 (ESV) — 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Given the role of God’s love, it will help to paraphrase verse 35a.
- “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
- Can be read as…
- Who shall separate us from what has been accomplished by Christ giving Himself up for us?
This forces us see Paul’s emphasis.
- Everything we have is made possible because of God’s love for us in Christ.
- This love is the accomplishing power – not us.
- When we are in Christ, we are swept up in this accomplishing power.
Accomplishing Power of God’s Love:
In our text today, as he reframes everything with God’s love…
- Paul asks, “who can separate us from the love of Christ?”.
For the rest of Romans 8 Paul gives two categories of the “whos” that try to separate us from God’s love.
- Who as Impersonal Power
- Who as Personal Power
With these, Paul wants us to know just how extensive the accomplishing power of God’s love is:
- Today we deal with the first.
God’s Love vs. “Who” As Impersonal Power:
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (vs. 35b)
- Pretty extensive list.
- Are these the powers that will separate us from God’s love?
If anybody knows the answer to this question its Paul.
- He has had first hand experience with all of them.
In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians he says:
- 2 Corinthians 11:26–27 (ESV) — 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
- And of course, eventually the giving of his own life for the sake of the Gospel.
It is important for us to know Paul’s intimate acquaintance with these powers.
- It not only gives credence to his coming answer.
But it also shows he isn’t blowing smoke here.
- He knows what he’s telling us here is true.
“All these…Paul himself has experienced, and he has been able to prove for himself that they are quite incapable of disrupting his relationship with the love of Christ” – Doug Moo.
It goes without saying that this is some scary stuff.
- Stuff we generally try to avoid.
- But Paul is about to challenge this attitude!
Sheep to be Slaughtered:
After listing the powers at work against us, Paul makes a shocking statement in verse 37.
- “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
- A quote from Psalm 44:22.
- What are we to do with?
- Regarded as sheep to be slaughtered?
It will help us to see what is going on in Psalm 44.
- Unfortunately, Paul’s shocking words won’t be tempered.
- I think we’ll find they’re even more shocking.
Psalm 44 begins with God’s indicatives.
- The work he has done for Israel.
- “the deeds you performed in their [fathers] days” (vs. 1).
The Psalmist gives us a pretty good list.
- “drove out the nations” – vs. 2
- “afflicted” the nations – vs. 2
- “planted” and “set free” the fathers – vs. 2
- “save us from foes” – vs. 7
- “put to shame those who hate us” – vs. 7
And the Psalmist says all of this was:
- “through you” (vs. 5)
- “through your name” (vs. 5)
Then verse 9 brings a massive shift.
- “But [now] you have rejected us and disgraced us” (vs. 9)
- “have not gone out with our armies” (vs. 9)
- “made us turn back from the foe” (vs. 10)
- “made us like sheep for the slaughter” (vs. 11)
- “scattered us” (vs. 11)
- And the list goes on…shame, derision, laughing stock, scorn, disgrace, etc.
But it gets worse!
- The Psalmist says God has allowed all this to happen…even though:
- “we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant.” (vs. 17)
- “Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way” (vs. 18)
In spite of all this believing loyalty, the Psalmist says of God:
- “you have broken us”
- “covered us with the shadow of death”
And he drives all this home with verse 22.
- Psalm 44:22 (ESV) — 22 Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
This truth the Psalmist teaches, a truth that Paul taps into…
- Is one of the most troubling in the Bible.
- And yet can also be one of the most comforting.
The troubling truth taught here is brutal.
- Whether one had believing loyalty in YHWH…
- Or one is united to Christ by faith…
- “we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered”.
The truth that that we will not be separated from Christ’s love…
- Does not deny the troubling truth that we are not exempt from the force of these powers.
- We are to be a living or dying sacrifice to our God!
Paul teaches this repeatedly:
- Romans 8:17 (ESV) — 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
- 2 Corinthians 1:5 (ESV) — 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
- Philippians 1:29 (ESV) — 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
- Philippians 3:10 (ESV) — 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
- 2 Timothy 2:3 (ESV) — 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Michael Bird observes about this troubling truth:
- “Paul does not think of the Christian walk as ‘Your best life now!’ but as being granted to share in the sufferings of Christ” – Michael Bird.
Given this, is it any wonder the Psalmist calls on God for deliverance.
- Psalm 44:23–25 (ESV) — 23 Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! 24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? 25 For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground.
This is profound stuff here!
- The Psalmist recognized this troubling truth.
- And he said the righteous were living with:
- “soul bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground”. (vs. 24)
This is a symbolic reference to the life of the cursed “nacash” from Genesis 3:14.
- “…cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.”
The righteous, like the “nacash”, seem to live on belly and dust.
- Living in humiliation, defeat and death.
- Not something one would expect.
What is the answer to the Psalmist’s cry for God to awake?
- What is the solution to the suffering of the righteous?
- A life that resembles that of the cursed “nacash”.
The answer the Psalmist gives is in verse 26.
- Psalm 44:26 (ESV) — 26 Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
He cries out for the end of this troubling truth.
- If the suffering is “for your sake” (vs. 22).
- Why not deliver ‘us for the sake of your steadfast love!’? (vs. 26.)
- Makes perfectly good sense.
And it leads us back to Paul’s solution to this troubling truth.
- It leads us to Paul’s comforting truth.
Paul says, in answer to the Psalmist’s question and presumably the church at Rome’s similar question:
- “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (vs. 37).
When Paul says “more than conquerors” he is making a bold claim – hpernikao
- He is saying that we prevail or vanquish completely “these things” – BDAG.
- How do we have victory “in” our sufferings?
- How is this a comforting truth?
I kind of prefer the Psalmist’s answer.
- “Rise up” God, deliver the Christian from suffering – now!
But Paul doesn’t go this route.
- His answer is quite the opposite.
The Christians’ victory over “these things” doesn’t appear to be the absence of “these things”.
- Though God certainly can and has done so.
Rabbit Trail – this is a huge tension.
- We, like the Psalmist, want to plant our flag in the now.
- “God, do it now, defeat our enemies and suffering now”.
Yet Paul is comfortable interpreting the present with the future glorification we have in Christ.
- All of which is grounded in Christ’s love and faithfulness to us.
- From which nothing can separate us!
Back to Paul…
- I have a ton of questions here!
How can this be?
- How can it be that the Christian being tortured for their faith…
- Or the Christian suffering from cancer…
- Is vanquishing their suffering completely?
It sure doesn’t look or feel like a complete vanquishing.
- And since I don’t feel it and it doesn’t look like a complete vanquishing…
- How is it a comforting truth?
N.T. Wright tries to help us here.
“…the sufferings of God’s people are taken up into God’s purposes, not in order to add to the unique achievement of the Messiah (verse 34) but in order to live it out [God’s purposes] in the world so that his love might extend yet further” – N.T. Wright.
Paul explains in Colossians 1:24.
- Colossians 1:24 (ESV) — 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
So let’s flesh out Paul’s answer based on these insights.
We are never separated from the accomplishing power of Christ’s love.
- This is the foundation for Paul’s logic.
- And in itself should be a comforting truth.
But this fact leads to two more realities for the Christian taught by Wright and Paul.
- (1) It assures us that we will ultimately have victory over “these things” – suffering, etc.
- (2) It actually does deliver us a victory now.
How does it deliver a victory now?
- Because, in the now, we know that our suffering unfolds within God’s purposes.
For Paul, God’s purposes are bigger than our comfort!
- And in spite of our “present sufferings”, we know God’s purposes are being accomplished.
- Accomplished within the context of the body of Christ – the Church.
- “for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24)
- As part of “the church”, we and our sufferings, are part of a God’s bigger story.
So these are the hard to swallow comforting truths that Paul is proclaiming.
- (1) A future victory.
- (2) A “now” victory in accomplishing God’s purposes in spite of our suffering.
- All owed to the love Christ has for us!
Sometimes I think Paul has lost his mind here.
- That he’s hatched some crazy justification for why those in Christ are still subject to the death of a fallen world on a daily basis.
- If Christ has inaugurated a new Kingdom – where is it?
Fortunately, Michael Bird tries to answer this question.
“Paul is not engaging is some kind of cognitive dissonance, reconfiguring his beliefs to manufacture a metaphorical triumph in the ashes of misery. Far from it! He believes instead in the Easter message that God, on the cross of Christ, has dealt a decisive blow to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and one day the old foes will be made no more” – Michael Bird.