The Holy Hijack
You can’t live for long in Christian circles without someone quoting Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” – and for good reason. It’s a great verse filled with a massive truth that contributes to the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and has provided encouragement to suffering Saints for nearly 2000 years. However…
That verse that is but one of 433 verses in the book of Romans and one of 31,100 verses in the Bible, and is also one part of a flow of thought that Paul has been building upon in his letter to the Roman church and comes on the heels of a section that describes what I’d like to refer to as “The Holy Hijack.” I realized for the first time today this divine requisition is related causally to the verses that follow.
Let’s go back just a few more verses though to really set the stage. Paul begins Romans chapter eight by wrapping up a long discussion on the sinfulness of man, contrasting living by the Law versus the Spirit, and then concluding that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” As if that’s not good enough news, he then goes on in chapter eight to describe how Christians are adopted into the family of God and can therefore cry out to God as “Abba, Father” – indicating a deeply intimate relationship between humans and the holy God made possible by the work of Christ on the cross. However, Paul, not wanting to encourage what we call today “easy believism” or to deny the cost of following Christ, he includes a qualification in verses 16 and 17, which says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (emphasis mine). Paul then continues, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time [which meant sufferings that ranged from being disowned by family to being tortured and executed] are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (v.18)
At this point, Paul describes how even the creation itself is suffering and groaning awaiting the day of redemption and how we and all creation together wait with patient hope for the promised glory to be revealed. Herein lies a key statement to our understanding of this passage: the creation was “subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him [this is God, who cursed the creation because of Adam’s sin] who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will be set free from it’s bondage and corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” [emphasis mine]. It is this hope of redemption that “helps” the creation wait patiently. Now, here comes the Holy Hijack.
In verse 26 we are told that the Holy Spirit “likewise” helps us in our weakness, and then states, rightly, that we don’t know how or what to pray, but that “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us … according to the will of God.” This is HUGE. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that we will receive whatever we pray in His name and according to His will; but, if you’re anything like me, I struggle in my weakness and futility to know what God’s will is. So, I pray anyway and, because I don’t know how or what to pray, the Holy Spirit – God Himself – hijacks my ignorant prayer and converts it into a prayer that is not only heard by the Father (v.27), but is now a prayer “according to God’s will” that will be answered. Now, enter the oft-quoted verse 28.
The fact that “all things work together for good” in verse 28 flows from the answered prayers that, after the Holy Hijack, are all done in accordance with God’s will. These prayers are answered by God, and because they align with God’s will, will result in the ultimate good for God’s adopted children and to the praise of God’s great glory!
“But, what about our free will? What about human autonomy? What about…?” If you want to dwell on those questions and attempt to hold on to some level of control over your life, then do so knowing what you will be giving up: namely, the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” and the joy and freedom that comes from knowing and resting in the fact that all we have, all we are, and all we hope to be are from, for and through Christ alone. Even our prayers are subject to the intervention of our good and gracious God who is working to conform us “to the image of His Son,” which is the most ultimate “good” we could ever hope for. It’s this truth that can help us to suffer well, whether that suffering is for the name of Christ or simply a result of living in this cursed and groaning creation. The remainder of Romans 8 is such a fitting conclusion. Be blessed now by these words from God:
“What shall we say then to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, no things present not things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Here are some resources related to this passage that offer some additional perspective: