Romans 8:31: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”
I wrote a devotional for my church called “The Big If.” It’s short, so here it is:
“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Scripture is replete with such passages. God promises us many things, but there’s often a caveat introduced with one little word: If. It is one of the largest words in the Bible, I think. Not the most powerful, but one with deep meaning. A word so small, it could easily be overlooked.
If (see what I did there?) we remove the “ifs” from scripture, we could too easily infer that God requires nothing of us in order to reap the benefits he offers us. That means I can move mountains with a thought and be saved with no other action on my part.
For more times than I can count, I have expected God to do all the work while all I did was show up to receive his blessings. Instead, however, I found myself accepting darker consequences, feeling lost and abandoned, and not at all blessed.
All because I neglected to notice that tiny, yet ever-important little word.
That’s not loving or being faithful to God. It’s taking him for granted, and treating him like Santa Claus instead of the Creator of the universe who makes the rules.
Still, God wastes nothing, not even our mistakes. When I ignored that little “if,” and faced the consequences accordingly, I learned just how important looking for that little “if” is.
I often hear the second part of Romans 8:31 above from other Christians, typically when they’re seeking some kind of social change. While they can be laudable goals, I always cringe at the declaration. The reason is two-fold.
One, it smacks of presumption. Is God really on their side? Or are they being a bit prideful, openly stating that God will not allow their failure. It also implies that those who might disagree with them are God’s enemy. And what happens if they do fail (for whatever reason)? How do they view God, and their relationship with him after that?
Having made that presumption many times myself, I have learned to avoid thinking, or stating that God is on my side. Instead I ask (less often than I should) whether or not I am on his.
Secondly, claiming that verse for the things we do, or intend to do, misses the point of the passage. Paul does not refer to the success of our deeds, but something else entirely:
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 38-39)
Does that mean God will not “take our side,” and help us succeed in the tasks he gives us? Of course not. I just think we need to be careful how we proclaim his help, be sure to give him glory above ourselves, and always make sure we don’t miss any more “ifs.”