17 February 2014

Romans 8:31-39

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (v. 35)


These verses draw to its close one of the major sections of Paul's Letter to the Romans. He began the letter by explaining that both Gentiles (non Jews) and Jews turn away from God, in different ways - "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). He continues by exploring the relationship between sin and righteousness, playing with complex Greek words - 'pistis' which means both 'faith' and 'belief', and 'dikaiosune'which means both 'justice' and 'righteousness' - in a dazzling display of verbal skill underpinned by passionate theological conviction. He appeals to his hearers as an advocate might do in court: "what shall we say?" (Romans 4:1; 6:1; 7:7).

Now, Paul has reached his summing up, and the words tumble from the page, lyrically expressing his absolute conviction that there is nothing greater than the love of God, made ours in Christ. He begins by referring back to a string of verbs in verse 30: God has predestined, called, justified, glorified. God, for Paul, is characterised by dynamic power. On this basis, then, comes the final set of proofs. There is no doubt that God is on our side, since God did not withhold even Jesus, the only son. The words used here echo those used to tell the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19), seen in Jewish tradition as the perfect sacrifice and a source of God's blessing. God's self-offering in Christ surpasses even this, giving Godself for us. The more closely we understand the bond within God, Father and Son, through the Spirit, the better we can make sense of the Son's death as God's complete self-abandonment for us.

If God has done all this for us through Christ, we can be confident that God will not go on to abandon us. And in comparison with this, the hostile powers of this world become insignificant. Paul had experienced his own share of troubles for the gospel (the good news of Jesus) (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), and it is likely that the Roman church too had faced problems (Acts 18:2). Paul reassures them that this is part of what they should expect (verse 36), quoting Psalm 44:22, a psalm of lament which asks God the question: 'why do you hide your face?'. God has now risen up and come to the help of the people in their troubles (Psalm 44:26). In a world where people believed that hostile powers were many and dangerous, Paul assures his readers with passionate conviction that nothing at all can separate them from God's love in Christ - the one and only Lord.

To Ponder

  • What difference does it/might it make for you to be 'made right' with God in your own life?
  • In a society where food banks and payday loan companies are becoming ever more significant, how can we share the good news that no deprivation can separate people from God's love in Christ?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.