Romans 8 and Assurance of God's Love in Hard Times
Life in the city of Rome was a daily battle for survival, the poor sanitation, fragile food security, prevalence of diseases, periodic plagues, little to no medicine, violent crime, shoddy housing, the tenuous nature of employment, high rates of women dying in childbirth, high infant mortality, low life expectancy, scorching summers, and bitter winters.
As Valerie Hope notes: “[I]n Rome, and probably much of its empire, life was often short. Death was a present danger … Death, of others, and ultimately of the self, was something that people had to live with, cope with and to some extent accept. Death, by its frequent presence, could be a matter-of-fact part of life.” This was a world where, when you woke up in the morning, you could not be sure if you would still be alive at the end of the day.
Paul writes in Rom 8:18-30 to show that the travails of Roman urban life are part of the slavery of creation to the forces of chaos and death; a slavery that will be ended with the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of creation. Until then, Paul urges Christ-believers to patiently persevere in hope, knowing that the Spirit leads them in their prayers, God works all things for the good of those who love him, and they are destined to be conformed to the image of the divine Son. In which case, the final goal is what Ben Blackwell calls Christification or Christosis, which means, “Being glorified, or experiencing the resurrection life of Christ through the agency of the Spirit, is the pinnacle of being conformed to Christ’s image.”
Nonetheless, they could rest in the hope for the redemption of their bodies, the revelation of their sonship of a cosmic stage, and the eschatological consummation with Christ Jesus. In the meantime, however, Christ-believers need to exhibit “patient fortitude” and rely on the Spirit’s intercession to assist them in their struggles. They are to persevere knowing that the golden chain of salvation, from God’s eternal decision to eschatological deliverance, is immutable and it will bring them into the Christ-shaped family of God.
Paul’s exhortation in Rom 8:31-39 constitutes a dramatic crescendo as he weaves together the motifs of divine favor, atonement, resurrection, grace, justification, the exaltation of Christ, the priesthood of Christ, suffering, triumph, and divine love. Paul waxes eloquently about the majestic span of God’s favor for believers in Christ Jesus despite the precarious nature of life, pejorative taunts from rivals, and the danger of incurring the wrath of heavenly powers. Indeed, Paul is hymn-like in his reflection of how God’s love in Christ Jesus wins a victory for believers over all things that might conceivably oppose them.
Paul consoles his audience that amidst hardship, despair, persecution, hunger, shame, daily threats, and injustice, that God is for them.
Paul tells them not to fear the condemnation of the magistrate or their own conscience, for the only one who condemn is Christ, and he stands as their advocate and intercessor.
Paul wants them to know that while Seneca said, “Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardships of life; they are unwilling to live, and yet do not know how to die” yet they can know that even death cannot separate them from the love of God.
Paul’s thought is elegantly captured by N.T. Wright: “Those who follow their Messiah into the valley of the shadow of death will find that they need fear no evil. Though they sometimes seem sheep for the slaughter, yet they may trust the Shepherd, whose love will follow them all the days of their life.” Or else, in the words of David Garland:
From a human vantage point, life seems so fragile. All will be touched by the pain of losing loved ones and must face the reality of their own deaths and the anguish of suffering. Paul responds to this reality from God’s vantage point. God’s love and power over-come death and will glorify believers with Christ whom he raised from death. Therefore, he assures Christ-followers that they have a sure hope even in the thick of suffering when others might think all is hopeless. Paul does not dismiss suffering as a mere trifle compared with the glory to come. The afflictions are not trifling. Paul argues instead that God has not promised believers immunity from suffering in this age, and when they suffer for their faith in Christ they should not let the shadows of world-weariness darken their hope in God.
In sum, the Roman believers can be assured of divine favor, because of divine faithfulness, which meets them in Christ, and is experienced by them in the Spirit’s guidance.
 Valerie M. Hope, Roman Death: The Dying and the Dead in Ancient Rome (London: Continuum, 2009), 43.
 Ben Blackwell, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria (WUNT 2.134; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2011), 167.
 Moo, Romans, 510.
 Seneca, Letters 4.6.
 N.T. Wright, “Romans,” in New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. L.E. Keck (NIB; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 10:615.
 David E. Garland, Romans (TNTC; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2021), 295.