Gospel Doctrine lesson #36, “Beloved of God, Called to be Saints” is just around the corner. It’s the only lesson in the Sunday School manual dedicated to reading Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Today is the final day that my paraphrase of the letter, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan, will be on sale for just $.99. To round things out for this celebratory week, I’ve included below the whole of my rendition of Romans 8.
Through Jesus, God has done what the law, on its own, could never do. Because the law was given for the sake of grace, only God’s grace can fulfill the law. It’s delusional to think that keeping the law—even keeping the law perfectly—could ever fulfill the law. The whole law points to Jesus.
So, God gave his own Son. He offered him up as a sacrifice. Jesus walked among us as flesh and blood and, as flesh, exposed the truth about sin and its abuse of the law. Extending God’s grace, Jesus made it possible for the law to be fulfilled. He made it possible for Spirit to manifest in our own weak flesh. Grace isn’t God’s backup plan in case we can’t keep the law. Grace was, from the beginning, the whole point of the law and the only way to fulfill it.
Jesus brings this grace into focus. Those who pay attention to the flesh are mastered by flesh. But those who pay attention to the Spirit are mastered by Spirit. Focus on the flesh and you’ll die. Focus on the Spirit and you’ll live. In the first case, you’ll find frustration and hostility. You’ll be incited to rebellion. But in the second, you’ll cultivate stillness and silence. You’ll find peace.
The good news is that, having died to sin, you no longer trust in the flesh. You trust in the Spirit and, as a result, the Spirit of God lives in you. If you didn’t belong to this Spirit, then you wouldn’t belong to Jesus. If Jesus lives in you, then his Spirit will set you right and bring you back to life. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will just as surely raise you. And if you are, here and now, resurrected with Jesus and born of the Spirit, then you’ve become a son or daughter of God.
This resurrection is binding but it’s not a new kind of slavery. When you were a slave to sin, you were filled with fear. But returned to life, you received a spirit of adoption and you cried out in recognition, “Abba, Father!” With this cry, the Spirit spoke through you and bore witness that you’d been sealed to God as a member of the family. And if you’re God’s children, then you’re also God’s heirs. You are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus.
As long as you suffer with him, you’ll be glorified with him. As long as you don’t flinch from God’s grace, that grace will flow through you. No doubt our suffering is real. But this suffering doesn’t come close to tipping the scales in relation to God’s grace and the life that flows from it.
Know, too, that even in this suffering, we don’t suffer alone. The earth itself suffers. The earth has endured our greed and paid a steep price for our blindness. Even now it waits with keen anticipation for God to show his grace and save us all from sin. Agents of sin, we enslaved the earth and left death and decay in our wake. Infected with death’s plague, we spread it.
Now all of creation groans in unison. Pregnant with a new heaven and a new earth, it groans with labor pains. Even now you can hear it moan. We, too, join the throng and groan within ourselves, hoping for new life in Jesus, hoping for a spirit of adoption and the renewing of our bodies. We, with the earth, hope for reclamation.
Left blind by sin, we hope for grace. We hope for a rescue we can’t yet see. We pine for sight and pray for patience. We wait.
Unable to see and unsure what to say, the Spirit comes to our aid. It takes our hands and lifts us up. And because we don’t know how to pray, it prays on our behalf with groanings too deep for words. And then God, who searches all hearts, knows what we mean. God knows that when the Spirit pleads, it pleads for his children in line with his will.
God can transfigure all things for the good of those who love him. He’s been working on this for a long time. From the beginning, God wanted a big family. And so, even before you existed, he knew you and started shaping you into the image of his Son. From before you were born, he marked you and called out to you. And those God calls, he sets right. And those he sets right, he fills with glory.
What then, should we say? If God is for us, who can be against us!
God hasn’t held anything back. He sacrificed his own Son and gave him up to death. Why, then, wouldn’t God give us every grace? And who has the right to accuse us when God has claimed us? God himself has sealed us and set us right. Jesus, our rescuer—Jesus who died and yet now lives—sits on God’s right hand and prays on our behalf!
What could divide us from such love? Hard times, or heartbreak, or prejudice, or hunger, or old age, or sickness, or war? No! God’s love will conquer all these things. Nothing can resist his grace. I know in my bones that neither life nor death, nor angels, nor rulers, nor the present, nor the past, nor the future, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation can divorce us from the love God displayed in Jesus.