Commentary on Romans 8:26-39
Paul brings the first eight chapters of Romans to a resounding conclusion in these verses before going on in 9:1-11:36 to that which weighs so heavily on his heart, rejection of Christ by his own people, the Jews.
We will focus on three texts (9:1-5; 10:5-15; 11:1-2a, 29-36) from this section in the following three Sundays, but for now we focus on the breadth and depth of the conclusion of Romans 8.
When I was a senior in high school I attended a youth convention in San Francisco around the invitation, “You Have a Date with Romans 8 at the Golden Gate.” Little did I realize at eighteen years old that the theme of this convention, “More Than Conquerors in Christ,” would stay with me in such a significant way the rest of my life.
Paul begins Romans 8 with the keynote of the chapter: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (8:1-2). The mark of our identity that God has established is expressed in our child-like intimate address of God–“Abba”: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (8:15-16).
As with all creation, we too “groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). Hoping for that which we do not as yet see, “we wait for it with patience” (8:25). In the middle of these words of identity, the working of the Spirit, and waiting in hope, we enter into the words assigned as our reading for this Sunday. The assurance in all of this is that we have not been left on our own. The Spirit intercedes in our weakness “with sighs too deep for words” (8:26). And in this intercession we know that “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (8:27).
In this assurance, Paul proclaims that in a world of ambiguity about the existence or even presence of God in human affairs, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (8:28). God is present in the matters of this life. This is true as God is the God of all creation and has brought all things under the lordship of his Son.
In the foreknowledge of God we have been “conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he (Jesus Christ) might be the firstborn within a large family” (Greek text: “among many brothers”) (8:29). God has created us sisters and brothers of his Son; we are the chosen children of God in Christ. From the very beginning of all time, God has seen the consummation of salvation in Christ, and has determined, called, justified, and glorified this large family made up of the children of God (8:30).
In light of these words, Paul now raises a series of rhetorical questions: “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (8:31). In light of God’s sovereignty in all creation, who is to question what God has seen from the beginning as the consummation of all things? The God of creation has claimed his own from the beginning; how can any power or force in creation stand against God?
Paul goes on to proclaim and question: “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (8:32). The answer is present in Paul’s proclamation that God did not withhold his Son but gave him up for us. Since this is true it is also true that God will give us everything else.
In light of this assurance the next rhetorical questions follow: “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?” (8:33a). We heard earlier in this text how God has determined, called, justified and glorified his elect children (8:33b). What power can stand against such a God?
Another question follows “Who is to condemn?” with the response: “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (8:34). Condemned to death for us, God has vindicated his Son by raising him to the place of highest honor at God’s right hand.
Finally Paul brings forth the final two questions in rapid succession: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (8:35). These questions have moved in crescendo fashion to the witness of the Psalmist: “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered” (Ps 44:22). The lament of the Psalmist expresses the reality of the faithful with the assurance that there is no separation from God’s love.
To this end, Paul draws this section of the letter into a resounding doxology of praise to the sovereignty of God in Christ. We are more than conquerors through the God who has loved us with an eternal love. In this Paul is convinced and assures the first recipients in Rome and us today 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” (8:38-39).
This all comes down to the question, how do we proclaim the richness of such a text? Placed as the climactic words within the first eight chapters of Romans, these verses assure and announce one of the finest and most profound expressions of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are magnificent words in their assurance and proclamation of the sovereignty of God who has made known salvation for all in Jesus Christ. Through these verses the work of the Holy Spirit speaks these words through our words: “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (8:37).