An Inductive Study of Romans 8:28-39

Romans 8:28–39

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I. OBSERVATION: WHAT DOES IT SAY?

  • Setting Questions
    • Who is the author or speaker?
      • Paul, the Apostle. Evangelist and church planter extraordinary (1:1)
    • Why was this book written? What was the occasion of the book?
      • The purpose of this letter to the saints in Rome seems to be manifold. Paul was finished with his eastern missionary efforts, and he intended on moving westward, where Christ was not yet known (15:17-23). Paul wanted the Roman Christians to materially support his efforts (15:24), but to do that they would need to know him and know that the message he preached was indeed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This seems to be the reason for Paul’s phrase “my Gospel” (2:16 and 15:25) and the reason for such a masterfully theological communication (1:16).
      • Additional emphasis was given to the union of Jew and Gentile believers, and this seems to have been necessary for at least a couple of reasons. Gentiles appear to have been the more numerous group in the Roman church (hence the admonition against pride in 11:13-24) and the Jewish believers were disillusioned by the widespread rejection of the Gospel by their Jewish compatriots (11:1-10). Paul, therefore, placed great stress upon union in Christ and belonging to one another (15:1-13).
    • What historic events surround this book? What was happening in the world at the time this was written?
      • It is hard to overstate the political and military influence or Rome during that time in the world. The church in Rome did not enjoy the same worldly influence, but it did have a great influence upon the spread and growth of the Gospel.  Jews (including Jewish believers) were expelled from Rome by Claudius in 49 AD, who unwitting caused a missional surge in other lands. However, the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome had an already well established reputation for fidelity to Christ (1:8), and the predominately Gentile church left in Rome during the time of this letter seems to have continued the trajectory.
      • In short, the Gospel was spreading, congregations were budding, and the Christians in Rome were well-placed for further missionary efforts and support.
    • Where was it written? Who were the original recipients? What do we know about them?
      • Paul was on his missionary journey, and it seems he was a resident of Corinth at the time of writing this letter. Paul mentions a few names of known Corinthian believers (Phoebe in 16:1-2; and Gaius and Erastus in 16:23), and this indicates Paul’s likely location.
      • The original recipients of the letter were the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome. As mentioned above, the Jews were exiled from Rome about 4-8 years before this letter was written, so the remaining congregation was mostly Gentile. The centuries-old division between Jew and Gentile was broken down by Christ, but the residue of disunion was still apparent. And yet, the Roman church does not seem to have the same level of segmentation and factions as other congregations (1 Cor. 11:18).
      • The saints in Rome appear to be quite healthy (1:8), even to the degree that Paul would anticipate mutual encouragement during his upcoming visit with them (1:12).
  • Context Questions
    • What literary form is being employed in this passage?
      • Romans is a letter from the Apostle Paul to the saints in Rome (1:1, 7). The epistolary form was common in the first-century Greco-Roman world, and the New Testament provides a number of examples of this same form (even many from the same author).
    • What is the overall message of this book, and how does this passage fit into that message?
      • The message is emphatically and highly technically the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This Gospel is simple and profound, and here Paul dives to the depths of its profundity. There are many results of believing the Gospel, but one major effect is hope. The passage I have selected (8:28-39) is an extensive basis for and call to hope in the life of the Christian.
    • What precedes this passage? What follows? How does this passage fit the immediate context?
      • The preceding context is an enumeration of some of the promises included in the Gospel, namely adoption into God’s family (8:14-17), union with Christ (8:17), God’s immanent presence by His Spirit and His aid to the believer (8:26-27), resurrection and renewal of all things (8:19-23), and the final hope of glory (8:18, 24-25, 29-30).
      • The following context is a defense of assurance despite the apparent failure of some to enjoy the benefits of the Gospel promises. Many Jews rejected the Gospel and became excluded from the promises (9:1-3), but God’s promises are still steadfast and trustworthy (9:6-7). God is free to do what He will with His creation, and He has adopted a people according to His purposes and not according to ethnicity or pedigree (9:8, 18, 22-24).
  • Structural Questions
    • Are there any repeated words? Repeated phrases?
      • Words:
        • God (28, 31, 33, 34, 39)
        • Son/Christ (29, 32, 34, 35, 39)
        • Love (28, 35, 37, 39)
        • Separate (35, 39)
        • Predestined (29, 30)
        • Justify (30, 33)
      • Phrases:
        • Love of God/Christ (35, 37, 39)
        • He/God with decisive action
          • God works according to His purpose (28)
          • God predestined conformation of some to Christ (29)
          • God predestined, called, justified, and glorified (30)
          • God gave His Son (32)
          • God justifies (33)
          • God loved “us” (37)
        • He/Christ with purposeful action
          • Christ died (34)
          • Christ intercedes (34)
    • Does the author make any comparisons? Draw any conclusions?
      • There is a comparison (more a contrast) between the sufferings of this present life and the glory of the life to come.
      • This life is full of tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and swords. Furthermore, there is opposition from angels, rulers, powers, and creation generally.
      • The life to come is glorious, brotherly union with Christ, full of all blessings from God, victory over all those sufferings of this life, and loving relationship with God through Christ.
      • The distinct conclusion is certainty that nothing will be able to separate those God loves from His love.
    • Does the author raise any questions? Provide any answers?
      • Questions:
        1. What shall we say?
        2. Will God not give all that He has promised?
        3. Who shall charge the elect of God?
        4. Who will condemn the elect of God?
        5. Who shall separate the elect of God from the love of God/Christ?
      • Answers:
        1. We should rejoice that God is for us!
        2. Of course, God will deliver fully! He has already given His Son!
        3. No one can charge the elect of God; God justifies them!
        4. No one can condemn the elect of God; Christ died in their place and intercedes for them at the right hand of God even now!
        5. Nothing… nothing at all can separate the elect of God from His love in/through Christ Jesus.
    • Does the author point out any cause and effect relationships?
      • The causes and effects are presented in the answers above.
        • God gave His Son; therefore, we may know that God will give all He has promised.
        • God justifies His elect; therefore, no one can charge them with guilt.
        • The implication of all of this is incredibly certain hope.
    • Is there any progression to the passage? In time? Actions? Geography?
      • This passage is didactic, rather than narrative, so it does not progress in time, action, or geography. However, it does progress in logical thought.
        1. God works good, defined as conformation to the image of Christ and ultimate glorification, in the lives of all those He has eternally loved.
        2. God brings this about in the lives of sinners by calling and justifying them in real time.
        3. If a sinner understands himself/herself to be justified by God, through the work of Christ, then he/she can expect all of God’s promises in the Gospel to appear in due time.
        4. Since God has decisively loved all those He has justified, and since all those who are justified enjoy the eternal mediatorial work of Christ, then there is every reason for a sure hope.
    • Does the passage have a climax?
      • In my view, the climax is found in verse 37, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
      • An expanded way of saying this could be, “No, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, which makes us share in His glory. Even in the height of earthly misery, facing mortal demise, we are enjoying complete victory through our Savior who eternally and purposefully loves us!”
    • Does the author use any figures of speech?
      • “Separate us from God’s/Christ’s love”
        • This figure of speech metaphorically speaks of love in geographical or tangible terms. Obviously, love is transcendent, but the metaphor helps to convey the idea that God’s/Christ’s love is both given and received. The question the passage seeks to answer is, “If God’s/Christ’s love is ever given, can it ever be withdrawn?” Of course, the answer is an emphatic “NO!”
    • Is there a pivotal statement or word?
      • The passage begins with the declarative concept of God’s work in the life of the Christian to bring about the desired end. The remaining portion is given to arguing for certainty regarding God’s promised destination. In the explanatory portion, the decisive turning point is found in verse 37. One might even place the full weight of the pivot on the single word, “No…”
    • What linking words are used? What ideas do they link?
      • The linking words in this passage are “and” and “for.”
        • “And” links the ‘what’ in verses 28-29 to the ‘how’ in verse 30.
          • What: God works in all things to bring about the ultimate good for all those He eternally loves, namely to shape them into the image of Christ.
          • How: God predestines those He eternally loves, He effectively calls them into new life, He once-and-for-all justifies them before His bar of justice, and He brings them full circle into sharing in Christ’s glory.
        • “For” links the climax statement and pivotal word in verse 37 with the emphatic comfort and hope statement in verses 38-39
          • Climax and pivot: No, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Even in the height of earthly misery, facing mortal demise, we are enjoying complete victory through our Savior who eternally and purposefully loves us!
          • Comfort and hope: Not death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things future, or anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
    • What verbs are used to describe action in the passage? What is significant about these verbs?
      • These verbs are significant because they focus on what God/Christ does and did in the full work of salvation. This salvation is from the Lord!
        • God acts with decisive action
          • God works according to His purpose (28)
          • God predestined conformation of some to Christ (29)
          • God predestined, called, justified, and glorified (30)
          • God gave His Son (32)
          • God justifies (33)
          • God loved “us” (37)
        • Christ acts with purposeful action
          • Christ died (34)
          • Christ intercedes (34)
  • Structural Model

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,

for those who are called according to his purpose.

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,

in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

30 And those whom he predestined he also called,

and those whom he called he also justified,

and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all,

how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?

It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn?

Christ Jesus is the one who died—

more than that, who was raised—

who is at the right hand of God,

who indeed is interceding for us.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

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

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

II. INTERPRETATION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

  • Continuity of the Message – The Law of Non-Contradiction
    • In general, what does the Bible as a whole teach on the subject addressed in this passage?
      • This passage explicitly teaches us that salvation is entirely a work of God. This is in perfect harmony with the rest of Scripture, but some people might see a possible contradiction in this clear teaching and the reality that the Bible elsewhere calls for sinners to do something. If sinners (one might say) must respond to the Gospel call, then it is the response to the Gospel call that distinguishes the saved from the unsaved.
      • However, this passage doesn’t mention a response to the Gospel at all. One could possibly stretch “those who love God” (v28) to fit this description, but the entirety of the message here is that God does everything.
      • It has been said that this passage is a view of salvation from above. While there is an “on the ground” view of salvation (which we might understand as the universal call to hear, believe, and repent), this view from above is quite different. From this view, we can see God sovereignly at work to bring about the ends which He has purposed from the beginning. This, of course, is the grand narrative of Scripture.
    • Is this passage clear on this subject? Is there another passage that more directly addresses this subject? Are there other passages by this author that address this subject? What do they teach?
      • I believe this passage is quite clear on the subject of God’s predestining purposes, His sovereign work in human history, and the great confidence the sinner may enjoy because of God’s intentional love. However, there are many other passages one might cite in order to further demonstrate this idea.
      • One passage is Ephesians 2:1-10. In this passage, we are given a picture of the hopelessness of all mankind and the necessity of divine intervention (v1-3). We are also able to see God as the divine initiator and the sufficient Savior of all those He grants the gift of faith (v4-9). Lastly, we may understand that God has done all this to show His glory (v7) and to bring saved sinners into a life of holiness and union with Christ (v10).
    • Is this passage intended to teach a truth or simply record an event?
      • This passage intends to teach truth. It is a lofty truth with immediately practical applications. The urgent call to the reader is to humility, hope, and gratitude.
  • Context of the Material
    • As you review your observations of the context of the passage, how do those observations help interpret this passage? What conclusions can you draw about the passage that are informed by the context?
      • My observations help me to see that this passage is talking about the salvation of sinners, particularly how God brings about salvation in the life of each sinner. While western, American, evangelical Christians view salvation as a personal and individualistic experience, this passage (and many others like it) remind us that sinners are brought into God’s story and not the other way around.
      • We may conclude that God is an intentional creator and savior.
      • We may also conclude that God’s love is a decisive and steadfast love.
      • We may also conclude that God’s actions in human history, especially in the person and work of Christ, are part of His over-arching plan for the renewal of all things in eternal glory.
      • We may also, therefore, conclude that our participation in this great salvation is not haphazard or precarious. Furthermore, our experiences in this life, as difficult as they may be, are moving us closer to our final end of glory and victory with the One who has eternally loved us.
  • Customary Meaning
    • In a paragraph or two summarize the teaching of the passage giving the passage it most natural, normal meaning.
      • God works good, defined as conformation to the image of Christ and ultimate glorification, in the lives of all those He has eternally loved. God brings this about in the lives of sinners by calling and justifying them in real time, through the person and work of Christ.
      • If a sinner understands himself/herself to be justified by God, through the work of Christ, then he/she can expect all of God’s promises in the Gospel to appear in due time. Since God has decisively loved all those He has justified, and since all those who are justified enjoy the eternal mediatorial work of Christ, then there is every reason for a sure hope.
    • What issues, questions, terms, or teachings in this passage are difficult to understand? Read commentaries to help with these and then summarize your findings.
      • I was quite familiar with this passage before I began this assignment, and the difficulties in this passage are not difficult because of their lack of clarity. What people find difficult about this passage is its bitter flavor in the mouth of a prideful sinner. I know, because that’s how it tasted to me when I first began to chew on its rich flavor. By God’s grace, over time I have come to cherish this passage and the truth it conveys.

III. GENERALIZATION: WHAT IS THE BIG IDEA?

  • Subject: What is the author talking about?
    • Salvation, hope, and assurance.
  • Complement: What is the author saying about what he is talking about?
    • Salvation is from God, because of His decisive love, and this should provide profound assurance in the heart of the sinner.
  • Generalization: In a sentence, what is the exegetical idea (big idea)?
    • God sovereignly works in all things toward the good end of conforming all those He has eternally loved to the image of Christ.

IV. APPLICATION: WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? (2 TIM. 3:16-17)

  • Teaching: Is there a teaching to here to be learned or followed?
    • We are taught that God is loving; He is sovereign; He is active; and He is faithful.
    • We are also taught that saved sinners are objects of God’s loving intention, His formative discipline, His gracious redeeming, and His glorious renewal.
  • Rebuke: Does this passage communicate a rebuke to be heard and heeded?
    • We are rebuked for any pride or selfish conceit.
  • Correction: Is there a correction to be noted?
    • There are many, but here are some corrections:
    • Worldly comforts are not God’s aim for His beloved children.
    • Victory may not be enjoyed by Christians in this mortal life.
    • None of God’s blessings or affections are disjoined from Christ.
    • God’s love did not begin because of anything in the sinner.
    • God’s love does not continue because of anything in the sinner.
    • Nothing in all of life is outside of God’s sovereignty.
    • All the experiences of this life are purposeful to shape beloved sinners into glorious children of God.
  • Training: In what way does this passage train us to be righteous?
    • We know that righteousness is the goal towards which God is moving us, and we know that this is for our good, therefore, we are fools to resist or neglect this goal in our personal efforts.

V. IMPLEMENTATION: WHAT MUST I CHANGE?

  • I must change my view of God: He is bigger and grander than I ever imagined Him to be.
  • I must change my view of myself: I am unworthy, but beloved of God, justified by Christ, and on my way to eternal glory.
  • I must change my view of this mortal life: I exist to glorify God, and He is forming me into the image of Christ. All of life is meant to bring about this transformation, and it is my privilege to join my Savior in this effort.
  • I must change my view of hope: This world can never be the home to which I am bound. No political, social, economic, or physical solution will conform me to the image of Christ or renew this fallen world. My victory, and that of all who will be ultimately victorious, is through Christ alone. God loves me, and I love Him, and I shall be with Him in glory.

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