As Paul begins the crescendo that will culminate in the triumphal declaration that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38), he reaches back to the beginning of this section of the letter, Romans 5:1-11.
In the mystery of God’s plan, love, hope, and glory are borne in the soil of suffering — which is just another way of saying that resurrection comes only after the death of the cross.
Children — like Christ
Paul maps the narrative of all those who are in Christ, and of the cosmos itself, onto the narrative of the crucified and risen Christ. The glory to be revealed to us, which is also the “revealing of the children of God” (Romans 8:18, 19), is the resurrection glory that awaits God’s people.
Jesus’s own sonship was definitively disclosed and sealed through his resurrection, by the Spirit (Romans 1:4). His resurrection begins the re-creation of the family of God. This is the key to the much mooted discussion of “predestination” in Romans 8:29-30.
What God does for Jesus in the resurrection, “appointing” him to sonship (the verb is horizo, Romans 1:4), is what God does for believers, in election, from all eternity, “preappointing” us to bear the likeness of Jesus’s own resurrection-sonship (the verb is proorizo, Romans 8:30, which attaches the prefix meaning “before” to the verb horizo).
The destiny of God’s people is to bear a new image. The language intentionally echoes Genesis 1:26-28. In Christ, God remakes humanity. God appoints us to this new humanity, makes us part of it by the Spirit and baptism, and consummates it when we are raised from the dead like Christ, the firstborn of the new humanity.
New humanity for a new creation
Once we tune our ears to hear echoes of Genesis 1 in the destiny to which God has appointed us, we can perceive the harmony entailed in Paul’s hopes for the created order itself.
Recall that in the biblical story the whole created order is entailed in the consequences of humanity’s fidelity or faithlessness. In Genesis 3, the disobedience of the primal parents calls forth a curse on the land, so that it will bear only thorns and thistles. Israel is promised that obedience will lead to abundant harvest (Deuteronomy 7:12-14), while disobedience will lead to scant returns and destroyed crops (Deuteronomy 28, esp. vv. 3-6, 11, 38-42).
Resurrection shows us that the need for restoration goes beyond the restoration of a person’s relationship with God. As the bringer of a new humanity, Jesus is the firstborn creature of an entirely renewed creation. Creation goes the way of humanity, and humanity’s destiny is now defined as righteous, glorious, and embodied, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
When we bear the fullness of our resurrection from the dead then the whole created order will be renewed as well. As Christ’s freedom and glory are our freedom and glory, so will our freedom and glory be creation’s freedom and glory.
Adoption — our present and future hope
Adoption is one aspect of our participation in the already/not-yet reality of our union with Christ in his resurrection. We saw last week, in Romans 6, that in the present day we share with Christ in his resurrection life, so that it is now possible for us to live lives of righteousness that are pleasing to God.
This is why Paul can say that the Spirit of adoption testifies that we are, now, God’s adopted children (Romans 8:15-16).
And yet, anyone who lives upon the earth knows all too well that our bodies are not yet the transformed, immortal stuff of eternal life. We get sick. We experience pain. We die.
This is why Paul also says that adoption is a destiny we have not yet attained: We “groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23, NRSV).
The Spirit of our adoption is the Spirit through whom the love of God has been poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5). This love is God’s parental love. It is the love that God has for God’s own beloved son, into whose image we are being formed. This is why nothing can separate us from the love of God. God loves us in Christ.
God is for us
The culmination of Romans 8 proclaims the good news that God is for us (8:31).
God “did not withhold his own Son” (Romans 8:32). This echoes God’s commendation of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son at God’s command. God’s sacrifice, like Abraham’s, demonstrates God’s faithfulness (see Romans 3:3-8).
The final paragraph of Romans 8 evokes the final judgment. The fact that God has already justified us (cf. Romans 5:1) means that we need not fear an opposite verdict on judgment day. The Son whose story brought us into God’s family is the same who ensures that God recognizes his own image in us through his intercession on our behalf (Romans 8:34).
Before reaching its final, triumphant declaration, the paragraph surveys powers that might arise and attempt to block our full sharing in the eternal love and glory of Christ (Romans 8:35-39). Harkening back to chapters 5-7, these verses remind us that salvation is not merely a matter of deliverance from unpleasant circumstances. It is rescue from cosmic enemies.
The powers at work in the world, powers of sin that are greater than the sum of individual acts, stand arrayed against God’s plan for human life and flourishing upon the earth.
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s great “I don’t think so” to the efforts of such forces to bring God’s purposes for creation to naught.
The one who began a good work in the world will see to the world’s complete renewal, through the abiding power and love of the resurrected Christ. That final end lies along the path of tribulation and distress, suffering and death — enemies finally conquered when we, too, rise from the dead.