Dan Popp
Romans: The most important book ever written
By Dan Popp
March 21, 2011

See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.... Isaiah 49:16a, RSV

I believe in predestination. Well, of course I do; I'm a Christian, and it's in the Bible. I also believe in free will, and for the same reason. It's no good trying to tell me that I must explain how these can be reconciled. I can't explain what life is, nor why women like shoes so much, nor even why mice can't burp. Yet these and many other phenomena somehow manage to exist despite my ignorance.

A serious student of Scripture has to become comfortable with paradox. Jesus was always saying things like, "He who loses his life will find it," "The last shall be first," and, "Happy are the unhappy." This isn't even the first paradox we've encountered in Romans: The foundational fact of the Good News is that all of humanity stands condemned before God (3:19)!

As we've made our way to Chapter 8 we've talked a lot about the choices people make: Choosing themselves over God in Chapter 1; preferring religiosity to repentance in Chapter 2; accepting the gift of rightness in Chapter 3, and so on — right up to the current chapter encouraging believers to choose the path of the Spirit over the way of the flesh. All of those are human choices. Now it's time to talk about God's choice. Here's the beloved verse 28 again:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. [NASB]

For the next few chapters Paul will explore the ramifications of being called according to His plan.

For those whom He foreknew [RSV] ...fore-approved [Rhm] ...had marked out from the first [Gspd] ...on whom He set His heart beforehand [Wms]

he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [ESV] ...the eldest of a great brotherhood. [Mon]

The Lord had said to Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you." (Jer. 1:5a NASB) So this is not a new concept to most of Paul's primary audience. The apostle isn't giving a primer on how predestination works. His point is simply that you, as an individual believer, are part of the divine plan, and are not expendable. Those whom God has adopted were not picked on a whim, to be disowned when we disappoint Him. We have been marked off as His own, and God will not unchoose us.

And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. [NIV]

All of these steps — chosen, called, acquitted, made glorious — are revealed in the past tense. In the eyes of God, even our glorification is already completed. Because of Christ, no more do all...fall short of the glory of God (3:23).

What shall we say to these things?

Does anyone else see a little humor here? "What will we choose to say to the fact of our predestination?"

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? [NKJV]

Who could accuse us? Well, first of all, God Himself!

It is God who pronounces acquittal: then who can condemn? [NEB]

If not the Father, what about the Son?

Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. [NASB]

The One who has been appointed Judge of all the earth says, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." (John 5:22, 8:11)

Sometimes we get the idea that the Father is the mean one and Jesus is the nice one. If we tick Jesus off, we'll be toast. Very dark toast. But how could anyone turn Him against us — the One who prayed, "Father, forgive them" as we were hammering the spikes through His flesh? It was then that His love inscribed us on the palms of His hands.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." [ESV]

In dire circumstances, we may feel that the Lord has abandoned us. "Where are You, Lord?" But no tragedy, up to and including death (the sword), is evidence that God has changed His mind about you. If someone you love goes through dark times, your love doesn't decrease. If anything, it seems to increase; or maybe it's that the depth of your love is revealed by the trials. We have no reason to believe it's different for Jesus.

The second item in this list, distress (or hardship or calamity) is related to the word for groaning that we talked about last time. They carry with them the idea of pressure — being squeezed in a tight place. Creation groans and labors with birth pangs, we ourselves sigh, and the Spirit gives out groanings, too (8:22,23,26). Everything seems to be wrong and painful and too much to bear. We are defeated. We lose. We die. And yet, in one of the biggest paradoxes of all:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [ESV]

Even if we are killed for the Good News, we are overconquerors. And the past tense loved points us back to the greatest demonstration of this type of overwhelmingly victorious death; the Cross (5:8).

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [NKJV]

are spiritual authorities. And that's really about all the mention the devil gets in this section. Another translator renders verses 38 and 39 this way:

I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God's whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! [Phillips]

The Son of God says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:27-29, NASB)

These final verses of Romans 8 should be a powerful remedy for the Dualism that has crept into popular Christianity. The devil is not God's evil counterpart. He is a mere created being, like us, and no real threat to his Creator. He's ultimately unable to harm either God or any of God's family. Nor any power in the whole of creation can thwart the immutable will of the Almighty, who has chosen, called, justified and glorified His own.

That will be important to keep in mind as we talk about the Jews next time here at the Romans Book Club.

© Dan Popp


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