Today’s New Testament reading was one of the foundational scriptures for Christians in their efforts to maintain their hope and trust in God. It covered the last verses of Romans 8 where Paul asks a very important, somewhat rhetorical question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The answer of course is no one because there is no opposing the desire, will, and most importantly love of God. He then concludes the chapter in soaring majesty saying, “nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are completely safe within the love of God our Father because we are firmly in His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is the keystone of our faith, both the armor we wear and safe ground on which we stand…the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So, you may ask, what is the love of God Paul depends on in this argument? That is an important question, because the meaning of love today is radically different than the Greek word (ἀγάπη) used to describe what we hold so dearly and describes what Paul closes this chapter depending upon.
The modern concept of love is emotionally driven, centered in how you feel about something or someone. Agape (ἀγάπη) is radically different. The common definition is “selfless love of one person for another without sexual implications.” That barely touches the spiritual nature of the word. Let me explain. Over the course of human history there has been love centered in what the other possesses, either because of their appearance, actions, or status. They are beautiful or their personality and actions are so appealing or they are our mother, father, sister, brother, or some other relative who we love because of who they are. Our love is centered in the intrinsic worth possessed by the object of our love.
But agape is different. It is self-sacrificial in that it imparts to object of love the worth needed to be loved. It gives worth to the worthless, love to the loveless. That is illustrated so clearly by Paul’s statement in Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Its root is self-sacrifice that imparts the worth that generates the love. God chooses to give us that which makes us lovable, for we are not. We are sinners, not worthy of God’s intentions.
Too many people believe we earn God’s love, that he sees something in us that makes us worthy of His love. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing in us except what God himself has given us. That creates a conundrum. Why me? If there is an unanswerable question, that is it. One thing we do know, it is not because of something inherent in us. We are sinners, not saints, when he imparts to us his unmerited love. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 , “For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God.” Amplified Version.
So, that ground on which we stand so eloquently described by Paul in Romans 8 is not of our own making. It is the gift of God, freely given to us whereby God self-sacrificially imparts to us eternal worth, making us his children, adopting us into the his family. It is His choice. All we can do is say, “Thank you” and be forever grateful.
Never forget that and you will maintain your balance through any hardship. As J. I. Packer so clearly says, “There is tremendous relief in knowing that his [God’s] love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.” J.I. Packer, Knowing God, page 42.