Romans 8: God’s ‘for-us-ness’

Reflections

“For Paul, God’s raising Jesus from the dead was not confined to raising Jesus from the dead. It is inherently an act of ‘for-us-ness’ with a definite future,” says The Rev’d Canon Dr Ivan Head as St Paul’s Feast Day is marked on 29 June

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Romans chapter 8 affirms that God is unequivocally for us – from our beginning to our end. It shows God’s ‘for-us-ness’. Tyndale, the primary translator of the Bible into 16th century English, coined the phrase ‘at-one-ment’ (‘atonement’) to get a better sense of what Paul said in Greek. ‘For-us-ness’ helps, too.

Romans 8 tells us that God’s for-us-ness is in God’s core. Paul exclaims that ‘It is God who justifies’ (8.33b). God puts right, and God is for us (8:3b), acting fully on our behalf. Christ emerges from deep within God’s time, from where God has anticipated and foreseen all that is needed and now met in Christ (8.29-30).

Foresight and for-us-ness lies not only in the death of Jesus as “God’s Son in the likeness of sinful man” (8.3b) but more-so in the goal of unbreakable relationship, thus established between the believer and the Spirit of Christ, which Spirit indwells at the centre of the human person (8.11).

The Spirit of Christ dwelling within us may be intra-personal rather than inter-personal. Twice in verse 11 Paul refers to ‘indwelling’, doubly stressing the claim.  Indwelling of the Spirit follows the raising of Jesus from the dead by the same Spirit of God. That resurrection is a pre-condition for the new relationship and new mind-set in the believer. Thus, the divine agent of that resurrection dwells within each human person awakened to faith.

Firstly (8.1-2), Paul tells us that God has provided for us in Christ. We read that God has removed us from negativity and penalty: ‘There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set us free from the law of sin and death.’ At the end of the chapter (8.38-39), Paul exclaims: ‘I am convinced that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This inseparability is remarkable. It is the for-us-ness of God.

Noting this indwelling, Paul writes this profundity (8.16): ‘The Spirit himself co-witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God’. In the 18th century, John Wesley said that this testimony of the Spirit was immediate and direct. That is, it is not an abstraction. The 20th century philosopher Alvin Plantinga said that ‘we are right to take belief in God as basic.’ Belief in God can be the unshakeable prior given of the human mind – not a prejudice nor a refusal to think, not an after-thought.

Romans 8 is saturated with the word ‘Spirit’. The Spirit is the agent of Christ’s resurrection and the matrix of Christ’s unbreakable relationship with the human person. Paul uses the word ‘Spirit’ more than twenty times here. A specific renewal of the human person is outlined, where one mindset is exchanged for another (8.5-9). One mindset is intransigently human-only and closed-in on its own resources. It can be hostile to the idea that there is a God. The new mindset is in-formed by the Spirit of Christ and co-formed by him (8.29). The person in Christ is said to be conformed or co-formed to the image of God’s Son. Paul uses the word ‘symmorphy’ which, like ‘synergy’, could pass untranslated into English.

Paul says that in this Christ, we share a new destination, achieved by God’s seamless intervention. The destination is not an achievement in the modern sense of human endeavour. It involves an end to death itself. He makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 15.26 where death is ‘the last enemy to be destroyed.’ This challenges our imagination. For Paul, God’s raising Jesus from the dead was not confined to raising Jesus from the dead. It is inherently an act of ‘for-us-ness’ with a definite future.

Death sits on our life-horizon. It is not something we have mastered or can master with our best thoughts. We ponder it from this side of that portal, and daily move closer to it. The better destination Paul hopes for and trusts in is not yet seen (8.25): a renewed human existence in a glorified creation where death is no more. Paul makes this claim in Romans 8.17 which I translate: ‘And if children of God, we are also heirs, heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ if indeed we co-suffer that we may be co-glorified.’

I use ‘co’ to stress the closeness of the Spirit who indwells within the human person (8.11). We cannot self-isolate here and are not alone. God as the Spirit minutely effects our salvation from within us. However transcendent and mysterious, the closeness of the Spirit is real and in some way is as much internal to the human person as above and beyond.

Paul wrote elsewhere (Galatians 2.20): ‘I have been crucified with Christ, so it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.’ The Greek verb has the same ‘co’ prefix which could be translated ‘co-crucified’ as much as ‘crucified with’. Using ‘co’ focuses on the closeness that Paul says holds between Jesus Christ, the Spirit, and the believer. The inclusion is real. Paul stresses that closeness in the challenging passage at Colossians 1.24: ‘Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, which is the church.’

Romans 8 points to the moment when ’the children of God will enter a resurrection glory already seen in Jesus’. The resurrection of all the dead is as important to Paul as the one-off resurrection of Jesus. This can be difficult for the modern Christian to realise. Paul says at 1 Corinthians 15.16: ‘For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.’ As if criticising those who think that crucifixion-alone means salvation, Paul says at 1 Corinthians 15.17: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain [empty, futile], and you are still in your sins.’

One translation (NIV) uses a phrase from the Septuagint Greek Bible to say that God’s own Son dies in the flesh as ‘a sin offering’ (8.3). Does God offer God a sin offering? Does God grant humanity a sin offering when Jesus stands amongst us as one of us ‘in the likeness of sinful humanity? And, who then offered it? Is Jesus in his humanity the effective sin offering humanity is enabled to offer, the prior gift God has provided? I think Paul says this and it has profound implications for all the ministry of God’s priestly people.

The Spirit makes us children of God and siblings of Jesus. Each person in Christ becomes ‘more than victorious’ (8.37) or ‘Hyper-Nike’. At 8.32 he asks: ‘will he not give us all things with him?’ This statement is focussed entirely on that Christ-focused, unbreakable relationship with God that holds throughout all the circumstances of our lives across all extremes. From the moment of resurrection and our receipt of the resurrecting Spirit, God establishes this unbreakable relationship.

Thus the last two verses of chapter 8: ‘For I am sure that not death, not life, not angels, not principalities, not things present, not things to come, not powers, not height, not depth, not anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

This may be the main point of Romans 8. In all these ‘nots’, those things that cannot break the relational bond of God’s love in Christ present in the Spirit, we hear God’s unequivocal ‘yes’. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1.20: ‘All the promises of God are Yes in Him’.

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