Knowing God, chapter 22: The adequacy of God

This is the final chapter in the book, which was probably my favourite. Due to its length, part two will appear tomorrow.

In this chapter, Packer deals with the book of Romans, and in particular, chapter 8.

The letter to the Romans is a high point of the Bible, says Packer. In it we find doctrine—truth about God on various themes, taught by God. It is a book of life, giving an analysis on the life of sin (chapters 1-3, 5-7, 9), the life of grace (3-15) and the life of faith (4, 10, 14). It is also the book of the church, explaining the church’s identity (the true seed of Abraham, Jew or not, chosen by God) and how the church should live. It is also God’s personal letter to His children, exposing their sin and evoking joy, assurance, boldness, and liberty which God gives to those who love Him.

You can only appreciate the magnificence of Romans “[T]he more you have dug into the rest of the Bible, the more you are exercised with the intellectual and moral problems of being a Christian, and the more you have felt the burden of weakness and the strain of faithfulness in your Christian life.”

The same concept applies to Romans 8. You cannot fully appreciate it on its own, without having studied Romans 1-7.

“Only if you have come to know yourself as a lost and  helpless sinner (chapters 1-3), and with Abraham to trust the divine promise that seems too good to be true—in your case, the promise of acceptance because Jesus, your covenant Head, died and rose (chapters 4-5); only if, as a new man in Christ, you have committed yourself to total holiness and then found in yourself that the flesh is at war with the spirit, so that you live in contradiction, never fully achieving the good your purposed nor avoiding all the evil you renounced (chapters 6-7); only if, on top of this, ‘losses and crosses’ are upon  you (illness, strain, accident, shock, disappointment, unfair treatment—see chapter 8:18-23, 35-39); only then will Romans 8 yield up its full riches and make its great power known.”

Romans 8 can be divided into 2 parts of unequal length. The first 30 verses set up the adequacy of the grace of God to deal with a whole series of predicaments. Paul drives his point home by pointing out 4 gifts that are given to all who are ‘in Christ Jesus’:

  • Righteousness: no condemnation (v1)
  • The Holy Spirit (vv 4-27)
  • Sonship: adoption into the family, with Jesus as the firstborn (vv 14-17, 29)
  • Security: both now and forever (vv 28-30)

In vv 31-39, Paul has his readers react to what he has said thus far (v 31). He goes on to detail what reaction a child of God should have, and his theme becomes the adequacy of the God of grace.  He shifts our focus from the gift to the Giver . It is this reaction that Packer now explores.

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“What then, shall we say in response to this?” ‘We’ here refers to all believers. Paul knew neither the original recipients of his letter, nor all those who’d subsequently read it. However, he knew of 2 traits of Christians everywhere:

  • A commitment to all-round righteousness coupled with a desire to do God’s will
  • An exposure to all-round pressures. ‘We’, not just Paul, face trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword (Rom 8:35)

“What then, shall we say in response to this?” Paul wants us to think and to react to the thoughts in the first 30 verses.  His answer is a series of 4 questions: “If God is for us, who can be against us? … [H]ow will he not also, along with him [Christ], graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

* * *

A. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In other words, no opposition can finally crush us. Paul points to the adequacy of God as our sovereign protector who has a covenant commitment to us.

Who is this God who is for us? He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. He is the God who declared: “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” This is the God whose wrath “is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” and yet He “demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 1:18 and 5:8).

What does it mean that God is for us? In Genesis 17, God made a covenant with Abraham, in which He bound Himself to Abraham. In Galatians 3 & 4, we learnt that this covenant is extended to all who put their faith in Christ. This is a lasting covenant, as God Himself keeps it in being. The statement ‘God is for us’ is a declaration of the covenant relationship.

For what reason did Paul ask this question? To counter fear. There is always a person or people whose ridicule and hostility the Christian feels unable to face. Paul calls us to consider our adversary and to compare them to God who is for us.  God is committed in the covenant of grace to be our sovereign protector; He frees us from fear and strengthens us for the fight.