An air of surprised relief pervades the closing section of Romans 8, which presents a gospel text with few equals in the New Testament. We look around to see who has condemned us because of our sin and selfishness and discover they have all gone. Thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ! There is now no condemnation for those found to be in Him. God has triumphed in His reconciling the world to Himself through Christ Jesus!
Four times the question is asked, and each time the implied answer is resounding. Who is against us? No one. God, after all, has given us His Son and will give us all things with Him. Who will bring a charge against us? No one. God, Himself has justified us. He has already declared us to be in the right and holy in His sight — blessed atonement (8:33)! Who will condemn us? No one. Jesus died, was raised and exalted, and intercedes for us even now (8:34). Who shall separate us from His love? No one. Many contenders might try. The unbelieving world, the Accuser, and even a guilt-plagued conscience will attempt this parting, but the note of victory sounds out loud and true. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in King Jesus (8:39). For God spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us (8:32), so the baptized faithful stand as, “…more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (8:37).
We have been released from the grips of sin and death. Some may politely nod at this, yawn, and check their watch. We have heard it all before. But the preacher must herald this for what it truly is: God’s declaration to the world and for the world of an irreversible, unalterable victory, the benefits of which are bestowed upon the baptized. There is no condemnation for those who are baptized into the saving life of Christ, those united to His death and resurrection.
Sometimes, we get the whole picture wrong. Death is not our release. It steals from us. It dehumanizes by tearing the soul apart and rending the spirit from the body. Death is not a “blessed release.” It is not a “passing away.” Rather, it tears away the inner self from the physical self. No, death is not a release, but a permanent form of bondage. It is humanity not as human, disembodied spirits torn from the world on which we were created to rule and reign. But praise be to God, Christ has the last word on death and the word is “Resurrection.” Death is not a permanent form of bondage. There is release, resurrection release from death. Not even death can separate us from the eternal love of God in Christ Jesus (8:38).
But praise be to God, Christ has the last word on death and the word is “Resurrection.”
The formal structure of this paragraph in Romans suggests it is full of sustained excitement. It is like a symphony entering its final moments and getting faster and faster towards the end, with phrases taken from earlier parts of the music being whirled around in triumph. The paragraph is, in fact, a summary of the whole theme of chapters 5-8, presented now not as a step-by-step argument as it has been up to this point, but as a thrilling rhetorical statement. Look what God has done! Look what the Messiah has done and is still doing even as we speak. Look around and see the many things threatening to separate you from the powerful love which reaches out through the cross and resurrection and learn that they are all beaten foes. Learn to dance and sing for joy, to celebrate the victory of God, because not even death wins.
The whole section from chapter 5 onwards has been an argument about the assurance of salvation. Hence, Romans 8:31.
“God is for us,” is what someone says when the reality is well settled in their mind that they belong to the Messiah and have learned to share in the sufferings and joys of Christ. This is what faith and faithfulness are all about: Bringing us to confidence in God’s words and actions in Christ Jesus. “He who spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things” (8:32)?
The weight of Romans 8 comes down heavily on the meaning of justification: God has declared all those who believe in the Gospel to be in the right, indeed, to be righteous and holy, and no one will be able to overturn God’s verdict – not even the great body-snatcher, death. Justification by faith is, after all, the ground of assurance, not of justification itself. We are not justified by faith by believing (that is) in Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord of life, even life after life after death. When we understand justification, we gain, not justification itself, but assurance. We understand, “God is for us.” The God who called us in the Gospel has declared we are members of His family and He will not let us go. We will not slip into the hands of death. Therefore, this passage looks on to the final day of judgment, completing the large circle of meaning begun in chapter 2 and declaring that on the final day God will reaffirm the verdict already issued based on faith: We are justified, vindicated, absolved, remitted of sin, because of the grace of God the Father shown through Jesus Christ the righteous.
One of the answers reveals a dimension to the work of the Messiah not mentioned anywhere else in his letters. The present works of Jesus, following His death, resurrection, and exaltation, consist of praying for His people and coming to them in Word and Sacrament. This thought is a great comfort, especially when the going is tough, as it often was for Paul, and as it often will be for those who follow and live by the Gospel.
The present works of Jesus, following His death, resurrection, and exaltation, consist of praying for His people and coming to them in Word and Sacrament.
Often, in his writings in general and in Romans in particular, Paul draws on the Bible as his basic resource. In verse 36 he quotes Psalm 44.22; a Psalm of complaint to God amid suffering. The suffering in the Psalm has not come about because of Israel’s infidelity. It has come about even though Israel has been faithful. Here, as in the “Servant” passages in Isaiah, we find a truth deeply embedded in Judaism and drawn on by several early Christians and, arguably, by Jesus Himself: God will save His people, not despite their sufferings but through and even because of them. Somehow, as in Colossians 1.24, the sufferings of God’s people are taken up into God’s purposes, not to add to the unique achievement of the Messiah (v. 34) but in order to live it out in the world so His love might extend even further. The sufferings of the saints proclaim the love of God to never leave us nor forsake us, even when we pass through the deep waters of death. Those who believe this can be sure, “…in all these things we are completely victorious through the One who loves us.”
It is that love, finally, which comes back again and again, not as an afterthought, but as the underlying theme of the entire section. We cast our minds back to 5.1-11 where the love of God was demonstrated in the death of Jesus, and we realize we have come full circle. The love of God rules victoriously over death and life alike, over the powers in Heaven and on earth. And since it is love’s nature to bind the beloved to itself, Paul is convinced, “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in King Jesus our Lord,” simply because, “God is for us in Christ Jesus.”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Romans 8:28-39.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 8:28-39.
God’s Greater Story-Check out this wonderful sermon series on Romans 6-14 by our own David Schmitt.