I had the opportunity to preach at Trinity Church in Lansing this past Sunday on Romans 8:31-39. Romans 8:31 and Romans 8:37 are home run verses that we love (and I love), but if we’re not careful they can become verses we take out of context and use to formulate a theology that bad things will never happen to us if we are Christians.
How often has something really bad happened to someone and they have one of the following responses: “God, you could have prevented this from happening and you didn’t, thus you don’t love me,” “God I must be a failure in your eyes / not a good enough Christian, or else this bad thing wouldn’t have happened,” and “God you weren’t able to stop this bad thing from happening, thus you are a weak God, or even worse, you are an evil God.” With the final statement of all three of these being therefore I am leaving you.
The truth is we can’t understand the triumphant verses of Romans 8:31 and Romans 8:37 without also understanding what the “these things” are that the verses are referring to. They are referring to the suffering described in Romans 8:17-18 and Romans 8:35-39!
Ever heard of Christians being fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum? Check again who Romans 8 was written to…you’ve got it, they are one and the same people! The Roman Christians were lion food. In Romans 8:35, Paul is so specific with the people about the type of suffering they will undergo as Christians. And he never tells them the suffering will stop. What he tells them is that Jesus’ authority is greater than the authority of our suffering. Jesus doesn’t offer a life without problems, he offers a life with One who is greater than your problems.
Jesus wins. Our problem is we get the scenes of the movie mixed up. We are living in the middle of the movie, with the authority of Jesus’ victory covering us, though we wait patiently for the final scene of the movie, when there truly will be no more suffering on earth, to take place. When we get things out of order, our entire theology gets out of order and it’s no wonder we get blind-sided when trouble comes our way.
Knowing the end of the story not only brings incredible peace and joy (let alone give us the ability to not ditch our faith when suffering comes), it also unleashes us to a life of freedom and sacrificial obedience. Having the authority of Jesus over everything the world can throw your way is like having a royal flush in poker: you know your hand will beat any other possible hand at the table. What do you do when you have a royal flush? You go all in! You certainly don’t fold your hand. Many Christians are afraid to take any risks in their faith, anything that might bring any sort of persecution or risk or jeopardize our comfort zones or sense of security. We have the royal flush but never use it. We never push the chips in to the center of the table, applying the truth that Jesus fills us up and nothing can separate him from filling us up. Is there really any risk when you are holding a royal flush?
Praying Hebrews 12:27-28 has been life-changing for me and I hope it is for you as well. Pray and ask God: God please show me your unshakable kingdom in the midst of the shakable kingdom all around, and then let me invest fully in your unshakable kingdom. Pray this prayer and then keep your eyes open; it will change everything about how you use your money, how you use your time, how you share your faith, and the things you worry about and get anxious over.
I am so thankful for the authority of Jesus, as it is the authority to free me from slavery, from myself, and from death itself.