Have you ever struggled to live victoriously when your life didn’t feel victorious?
Midway through my 8th grade wrestling season, that’s where I found myself. I had managed to accomplish what few of my middle school peers were able to achieve: an undefeated record. I wish it could be attributed to my grappling prowess and physical intimidation on the mat, but it can’t. Those qualities were not in my possession.
You see, my Filipino frame was very small and very short. At 88 pounds soaking wet, I looked like a string bean in a wrestling singlet. Like a Hobbit rattling around in oversized headgear. Yet my diminutive size did have one advantage: up until that point in the season, there were no wrestlers in my weight class. As a result, I racked up a few uncontested wins. When my name was announced, I walked to center circle and the referee would raise my arm in victory, simply for showing up. Midseason I was undefeated on paper but personally, I felt far from victorious.
There are seasons as a spouse, a parent, and especially as a Christ follower when I have peered into the promises of the Scriptures and experienced the same tension—undefeated on paper but personally feeling far from victorious. Maybe you have too. In the face of hardships at home, anxiety in your heart, or soul-searching doubt, perhaps the best thing we can do is grapple again with some undefeatable Bible promises, like those found in Romans 8: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31)
Wrestle with the Promise
The apostle Paul’s letter to the disciples in Rome brims with promises in the eighth chapter. It leads with the potent pledge that “there is no condemnation” for those in Christ. It wraps up with the unassailable assurance that “we are more than conquerors” through Christ. Many scholars hail it as Paul’s finest work. Some go a step further, holding it up as one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. Jesus might humbly disagree but German theologian Philipp Jakob Spener wrote, “If holy Scripture was a ring, and the Epistle to the Romans its precious stone, chapter 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel” (F. Godet, Commentary on Romans).
With all of its theological splendor, Paul penned this chapter for rock-bottom believers who were beginning to wonder, “Is God for us?” Have you ever asked that question? One moment you and God are on the same page and the next, you’re thumbing through pages of past due bills. Your doctor says it’s cancer. Your workplace is making cutbacks. Your marriage is drifting. Your children are wandering. Your faith is wavering and you are left wondering, “Is God for me?” Paul’s line of questions beginning in verse 31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” are meant to counter those secret doubts that creep into the corners of our heart. British theologian and author John Stott wrote that the apostle Paul “hurls these questions out into space, as it were, defiantly, triumphantly challenging any creature in heaven or earth or hell to answer them or deny the truth that is contained in them” (J. Stott, The Message of Romans).
Paul beckons us to remember that God is not railing against you. That he is not ambivalent toward you. In spite of what you think or feel, God is on your side. This is more than a shallow paper promise. The Sovereign God who works all things together for his glory and our good, is for us. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered’” (Romans 8:35, 36).
Ask the Bigger Question
It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but these words are worth a thousand pictures: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, killing, and slaughter. They paint a vivid portrait of human conflict, conjuring up moments of humanity at our worst and reviving painful memories we’d prefer to bury in the past. None of these hardships gives us a sense that God is for us. Frankly, the contents of Paul’s list have been the catalyst for many crises of faith—especially when Paul’s question is interpreted as “What can separate us from loving Christ?” The answer might be “all of the above.”
Yet, the mere mention of these words reveals a beautiful truth about our God. He doesn’t pretend the affliction we face isn’t real. He doesn’t ignore the heartache life brings. He’s well aware of the tragedy left in the wake of racial tension, mass shootings, natural disasters, and faith persecution. God is not ignorant of our pain or distant in our sorrow. He’s painfully aware and faithfully present. This list is meant to drive our inquiry toward a bigger question and greater reality: “Can any of these tragic events and circumstances ever separate us from the love of Christ?”
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
Become a Conquered Conqueror
Paul concluded this crown jewel with the forceful promise that we are hupernikao. Huper is a Greek prefix meaning “overly, excessively, and more than.” Today we might say super or uber. Nikao means “to be victorious, to overcome, or to conquer.” It’s the stuff that shoe brands are built upon. Paired together, it declares we are “more than conquerors.” This concept readily resonates with us. From arguments to athletics, our culture has conditioned us to win. Vince Lombardi suggested, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
God would disagree. Winning in this life doesn’t guarantee ultimate victory and losing doesn’t translate into eternal defeat. Jesus breathed and bled this reality. Just when it looked like the cross and the grave had won the day, Christ rose as more than a conqueror. The penalty of sin was shattered and the sting of death defused. Paul’s second list underscores this—how God can leverage personal losses in life or death, Heaven or earth, the present or the future, to bring about ultimate victory “through him who loved us.”
Those last five words make this more than a paper promise. Jesus won the battle we could never win. When we are defeated by the undefeatable One and conquered by the unconquerable Christ, there God uses our daily defeat to make us not just conquerors, but “more than conquerors.”
Someday, when this season of life is over, we will hear our names called; we will stand front and center and our arms will be raised in victory, simply because Jesus showed up.
Karl and his wife Carie are blessed to serve Gateway Christian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Their family makes their home in the beautiful community of Ferguson, Missouri.