December 19, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Romans 8:31-32 (NRSV)
So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?
God is on your side, not only in that God has saved you through Christ, but also in that God has called you to be on God’s own side, so to speak. The God who is at work mending and restoring the entire universe has chosen to use you in this effort. Your life, therefore, has extraordinary, indeed, eternal meaning. Moreover, God has also chosen to dwell within you through the Holy Spirit so that you might be reassured that you are God’s beloved child and so that you might be empowered to participate in God’s redeeming work. This is indeed wonderful news—news that we know to be true, in part, because of the reality of Christmas.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Advent for the Children of God.
Though we are still in the season of Advent, today’s devotion looks forward to one thrilling implication of Christmas. Are you ready? God is on your side!
In Romans 8:31 the Apostle Paul begins with a question: “What then are we to say about these things?” These things include all that we’ve seen in Romans 8, such as:
God’s not condemning us (8:1);
the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in us (8:9);
the fact that we are children of God (8:14);
our being joint heirs with Christ (8:17);
our being glorified with Christ even as we suffer with him (8:17);
the promise of creation being set free (8:21);
our hope of full redemption (8:23);
the Spirit helping us, groaning with us, and interceding for us (8:26);
God working in all things for good (8:28);
God working in, through, and with us (8:28).
So, after presenting an extraordinary collection of all that God is doing for our benefit and, through us, for the benefit of the world, Paul wonders how he might summarize and conclude this chapter: “What then are we to say about these things?”
His initial answer is truly stunning and truly heartening: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (8:31). Or, as it says in The Message, “With God on our side like this, how can we lose?” This makes perfect sense if you think about it. If the God who created all things is on your side, then you’re guaranteed not to lose at whatever you are doing.
Now it’s important that we recognize the context here. Paul is not referring to the kinds of competitions and conflicts we get into as human beings. He is not saying, for example, that God is on the side of your favorite college football team as they do battle against their holiday bowl opponent. Nor is Paul saying that God always supports your side of arguments and squabbles you get into at work, home, or church. God is not necessarily on your political side either. That’s not what Romans 8 is talking about. Rather, when you consider the big picture of the whole creation and all of history, God is on your side. For some of us, it may be helpful to reverse the phrasing. Yes, God is on your side. But, in order to experience this reality, it’s essential that you be on God’s side. If you are, then you can be confident that God is on your side.
Nevertheless, we might still wonder: “How can we know that God is really on our side?” Let’s be honest. Sometimes it’s hard to feel as if God is on our side. When things in our lives are going poorly, when we experience setbacks and suffering, we can feel as if God has forgotten us or is even opposing us. How can we be sure that, in the end, God is for us?
In Romans 8 Paul’s answer to this question has everything to do with Christmas . . . and also Good Friday. He writes, “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (8:32). The chief focus of this verse is on God “giving up” Jesus for us in death. This is the truth of Good Friday. But this would never have happened apart from God’s first giving of Jesus to us in life. This is the truth of Christmas. In the language of the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). That act of giving, culminating in the cross, began in the manger as “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). Had there been no giving of Jesus in birth, there would have been no giving of Jesus in death.
For us, Christmas is a time to celebrate the astounding truth that God is on our side. But, as much as Christmas matters, it is also just the beginning, not the end of the story. God gives the Son to us in life as the first step of God’s giving up the Son for us in his death. The one born in a stable will one day be nailed to the cross. The one laid in a manger will one day be laid in a tomb.
Of course, even that isn’t the end of the story, but just another part of the beginning. The end of the story, or at least the start of the end is something we reflect upon in Advent. It involves God making all things new through Christ (8:19-21; Rev 21:5). In Romans 8, we are not only observers of this renewal but also participants in it as beings who share in God’s glory/authority. When God restores and renews creation, then God will “give us everything else” (8:32). God will once again entrust fully to us the whole universe so that we might wisely oversee it for God’s good purposes.
As I have done previously in this devotional series, I find it helpful to quote from Into the Heart of Romans by N.T. Wright. In reference to the claim of verse 32 that God will “give us everything else,” Wright observes,
A traditional western reading might have expected Paul to say that God, having not spared his own son but having given him up for us all, would then save us from our sins and bring us to heaven. But Paul instead speaks of God giving us all things with him (that is, with his son). As he said in verse 17, we are fellow heirs with the Messiah; and the focal point is then on the inheritance, which is the entire world, rescued and renewed (p. 188).
God is on your side, not only in that God has saved you through Christ, but also in that God has called you to be on God’s own side. The God who is at work mending and restoring the entire universe has chosen to use you in this effort. Your life, therefore, has extraordinary, indeed, eternal meaning. Moreover, God has also chosen to dwell within you through the Holy Spirit, so that you might be reassured that you are God’s beloved child and so that you might be empowered to participate in God’s redeeming work. This is indeed wonderful news, news that we know to be true, in part, because of the reality of Christmas.
Do you tend to think of God as being for you or on your side? If so, why? If not, why not?
Can you think of a time in your life when you were certain that God was on your side? If so, what happened? How did it feel?
To what extent do you think of your life and work as being on God’s side, so to speak?
Take some time to reflect on God’s being on your side. Talk with God about where you are in particular need of experiencing this reality today.
Gracious God, thank you for such good news! Thank you for the fact that you are for us, that you are on our side.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for giving us your Son in birth. Thank you for giving up your Son in death so that we might experience true life.
In the seasons of Advent and Christmas, may we be struck once again by the wonder of your love and grace. May we respond by giving you all that we are as we share in your work and your glory. Amen.
Banner image by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God Is on Your Side.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.