Believers in Christ are more than conquerors. I love the sound of that statement; however, what does the apostle Paul mean by it? Here is the text in question:
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, ESV & NIV).
Before jumping to any conclusions about this verse, or using it to emphasize our victory in Christ, I must stress the importance of knowing the surrounding context to it. When Paul declares that believers are more than conquerors, this statement follows on the heels of adjectives describing persecution, pain, and suffering. These are the present realities in the lives of the Roman Christians. Ancient historical records attest to countless incidents of the early Christians being fed to the lions before the cheers of thousands inside the Roman Coliseum.
During the reign of Nero, the apostle Paul experienced martyrdom by beheading and the apostle Peter by crucifixion. Their deaths failed to prevent the gospel from spreading and the church from growing. According to church tradition, the apostle John survived being placed into a vat of boiling oil only to experience exile onto the island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 1:9, ESV). All of this known history confirms the intense persecution faced by Christians in the first century. It forms the backdrop to Paul’s letter to the Romans and by extension the eighth chapter.
Based on the historical and lexical contexts of Romans, the apostle Paul preached and taught God’s truth with his feet on the ground. Another way to say this is that Paul avoids either softening the force of his message or navigating around its difficult implications. Instead, his words show an honest acknowledgement that both victory and pain and suffering occur within the believer’s life. The apostle Paul ends the eighth chapter by referencing things future as being incapable of separating the believer from his/her love relationship with God in Christ (Rom. 8:38-39, ESV).
If I am honest about Paul’s more than conquerors declaration, it means more than living a life above pain and suffering. It appears that the expectation is for believers to walk through pain and suffering. This does not mean that Christians are masochists. The call upon Christians in Paul’s day and today may require them to be faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10; 12:11, ESV). This is definitely true for Christians in the Middle East, India, and Asia. Besides, this falls right in line with Jesus’ words to his apostles on the night of his impending suffering and death: “…In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b, ESV).
On a more personal level, what I need to realize is that I do not walk through pain and suffering alone. I journey through these in Christ and with Christ. It is this last point that must shape and anchor my heart and mind. For example, the writer of Hebrews exhorts his Christian audience to follow their Lord and Savior’s pattern of suffering in their own lives (Hebrews 13:12-13, ESV). The apostle Peter admonishes first century Christians against being surprised by fiery trials in their lives as it illustrates how they share in Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-13, ESV). Lastly, Jesus declares to his disciples and all believers that he will be with them always to the end of the age, which includes pain and suffering (Matthew 28:20b, ESV).
I realize that some may object to this post due to its implication that Christians are to expect suffering, or that it comes with the territory. My aim is to unfold the whole counsel of Scripture as best I can. When I am off or way off, feel free to let me know. I exhort and encourage my readers and followers to search the Scriptures on this subject of pain and suffering. It is my personal conviction that some portions of the Christian church in the United States succumb to a Pollyanna complex with respect to the Bible’s teaching about pain and suffering. There are two factors here: 1.) some advocate an overly-realized eschatology that believes sin and suffering will give way to a period of peace and righteousness upon the earth before Christ returns; and 2.) some lack a mature biblical theology regarding suffering.
Both of those factors erode the spiritual vitality of the church and her ability to maintain a long obedience in the same direction. From my perspective, God and his word offer a consistent witness across both testaments with respect to pain and suffering. If there is any inconsistency within the church on this topic, it stems from the inconsistent teaching and witness of its shepherds and members. The call upon the church, her leaders, and her members is a faithful witness to the nations even in the midst of great persecution; however, their reward is eternal communion with their Lord and Savior (Rev. 7:13-14; Rev. 19:7-8, ESV).