Risk! Romans 8.35-39

“Lindsey Sky Dive” CC by Steve Conger-NC-ND 2.0

When is the last time you took a risk?

I don’t mean a thrill-seeking risk. Or a risk, like a lottery ticket, to play the odds to get rich, to profit yourself, or to self-promote.

I mean a godly risk … A godly risk, as I mean it, is an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury and that is for the cause of Christ, after God’s own heart and under the direction of the Spirit for the purpose of making Jesus big in the hearts and minds of others.

If that resonates, Romans 8.35-39 is your passage. Its purpose is to show that growth in holiness—toward conformity to the likeness of Jesus—is built on the finished work of Christ and our assurance of our salvation in Christ. We’re secure in present suffering (verses 18-27). Secure as we move toward glory (verses 28-30). Secure until we arrive at the goal of our holiness—conformity to the image of Christ (verse 29). In total, God is for us!

Romans 8.35-39 is about what might happen when we take godly risks for the cause of Christ and why we have the courage to do it anyway.

Risk (for us) is Real (:35-36). There’s paradox here—”truth standing on its head” (G.K. Chesterton). Like in Luke 21.18-19 where Jesus says ” … not a hair of your head will perish” but ” … by your endurance you will gain your life” (ESV). In other words, in some ultimate sense, trouble won’t touch your head, but you could lose the whole thing chopped right off.

Paul is being autobiographical here. His “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (verse 35) is really just a paraphrase of his own litany of personal sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11.25-29. Plus, he throws in a snatch of Psalm 44. We’re considered as sheep to be slaughtered. It’s always been this way with God’s people.

We take risks as well. The mission trip to the big city. The child who risks ridicule by befriending the lesser-thought-of child. The family who opts out of Sunday morning youth baseball to worship in church. The parents who introduce another gene pool to their family through the wonder of adoption.

These risks are real in this life! Even so, while we risk for the cause of Christ, we remember that God doesn’t take risks. He knows the end from the beginning. Jesus secured the redemption of the cosmos (8.20-23). In fact, if you are in Christ, God foreknew you (a relational word!) before the foundation of the universe (verse 29). Nobody is lost between God’s foreknowledge in the past and God’s glorifying work in the future (verse 30). We can take risks because God doesn’t. Our risk-taking is done under the watchful care of a God who doesn’t risk anything.

This makes risk right! In all these things we are more than conquers through him who loved us (verse 37). It’s “in all these things” (all the apparently adverse effects of risk) that we become “more than conquers”. This indicates that the results of risk are actually turned to the good by God. As the commentator Tom Shreiner has put it, “Instead of believers being separated from Christ’s love through affliction the afflictions become the means by which believers ‘more than conquer’.”

We’re helped here by the overall picture of Romans 8. It’s a courtroom. God is the judge, and Jesus is the prosecuting attorney. But, Jesus is also the hangman. And, when we’re found decidedly guilty, Jesus points to us and says, “He’s with me! Guilty, yes! But, paid for by me all the more.” And, with each risk undertaken for Christ’s cause, there’s Jesus’ ongoing intercession for us to the Father. “That one … he’s with me!”

All this helps us remember that risk is in relationship (:38-39). I am sure, says Paul, that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is Paul’s reflection on the backside of his own experience. Death nor life … That’s state of existence. Angels nor rulers, nor powers … That’s supernatural beings. Things present nor things to come … That’s time. Height nor depth … That’s space. Anything else in all creation … That’s everything else in all creation. Nothing can separate us from relationship to God in Christ.

If we understand this passage, we’re going to know that whatever we undertake for the cause of Christ we undertake in relationship to Jesus, and we’re secure.

We can take risks for the cause of Christ, because God in Christ loves us!

So, what’s your risk? Start small and ordinary, maybe.

Is there a need in your gathering of God’s people that will certainly take you outside your perceived gifting. That could be it—risking comfort, but trusting God to make up what you lack.

Or, maybe you ought to risk taking a break from technology to relate face-to-face with somebody. Your media “family” might miss you for awhile, but it could be where God is taking you.

Or, take somebody from outside your family on vacation. Or, join a small group where you’ll have to be vulnerable. Or, …

We can take risks for the cause of Christ, because God in Christ loves us!

Find a friend or talk to your small group about these questions:

How does Romans 8.35-39 change the way you think about risk? 

How does knowing that “risk is real” help you take the whole idea of godly risk seriously? 

How does knowing that God transforms the adverse effects of risk (and actually uses the results of risk to accomplish His ultimate purpose for us) help you take seriously the idea that “risk is right”? 

How does knowing that “risk is in relationship” give you courage to step out in faith?

What godly risk do you discern God is leading you to undertake? 

Then, consider picking up a copy of John Piper’s Risk is Right (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013). It’s the source of some of these ideas and a book that sits permanently on my desk at Woodland. It’s actually a revised chapter from Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), another book I like to give away, especially to young people, but older folks need it too!


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