MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 14, 1999 FROM ROMANS 8:31-34
This week we begin the last section of the eighth chapter of Romans. This text concludes, not only chapter eight, but it wraps up a major section of the letter which begins back in chapter five. Paul is reflecting on the great hope the believer has because of the gracious work of God he has just outlined in these four previous chapters. He says, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
This is one the best known and best loved texts in all of Paul’s letters. It is probably as encouraging as anything else he has written. This morning, we will only have a chance to introduce these verses. But before we do that, let’s spend some time reviewing what Paul is talking about. What is in the last four chapters that Paul is about to reflect on as he concludes this section of the letter? In this section, much of the material deals with the Christian life and what it is supposed to look like by God’s provision.
Here are three truths Paul has given in chapter 5-8:30 about what it is to be a Christian. The reason this is important for us to know is simply, if we are going to be claiming these glorious promises Paul gives, we need to make sure that we are Christians in the same sense that Paul thinks of a Christian. First, a Christian is one who, by their faith is justified before God. We see this at the beginning of this section in 5:1.
Paul says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” A good part of chapter five explores the blessings associated with being justified by faith. Even though the theme of justification is dealt with in chapters three and four, its influence also shapes the argument in chapter five. We have read that part of what Paul reflects on as he concludes this section of the book is justification, so it bears repeating. A Christian is a person who has been justified. That is, they have had their sins legally pardoned by the Judge of Judges, God.
This pardon clears them of all legal charges the Judge of the universe holds against them because of their sin. Not only is their criminal record torn up in God’s court, they are given a new spiritual resume. The treasonous crimes which once filled this rap sheet are gone and are replaced by all the righteousness Christ lived out when He walked the earth. Christ gives them, in place of their foul, defiled record, His spotless record so that when the Judge reviews their life, He sees the life of Christ with its righteousness. This miraculous transaction occurs because Christ, who lived a spotless, innocent life voluntarily allowed Himself to be loaded down with our sin on the cross and was executed as a substitute for us for our crimes against God.
The Christian is given this spotless, righteous record of Christ when he exercises genuine faith in Christ to save Him from the penalty of his sin. This kind of faith is the kind which produces obedience to God. In 1:5., Paul says he was commissioned in ministry to bring the Gentiles to “the obedience that comes from faith.” This faith is a particular kind that produces a new level of obedience to God.
A second truth about what it is to be a Christians is: A Christian is one who has been liberated from the controlling power of sin because they have been spiritually united with Christ in his death on the cross. In 6:5, Paul says, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.” Notice that Paul pins our hope of being resurrected with Christ to whether we have been united with him in His death. What does it mean to be united with Christ in His death? Romans six is all about how the believer can live in the power of God’s grace over the controlling power of sin.
The work God has done to enable believers to resist the pull of sin was accomplished at the cross in the death of Christ. We must remember, when Jesus died on the cross he not only took on the penalty of sin, He also defeated the power of sin to ruthlessly control us. He paid the penalty of sin and he also broke the power of sin. Tragically, this second blessed truth does not play a significant role in some many believer’s lives. They rightly treasure the penalty Christ paid for them, but they seldom claim the other blessing of Calvary, the power of sin has been broken in their lives.
On the cross, not only was the full weight of sin’s penalty laid on Him, the full power of sin to coerce Him to rebel against His Father and His plan for the redemption of sinner was also strenuously working against Him. Yet, He finished His work on the cross without succumbing to the tremendous pull of sin. In doing that, He once and for all broke sin’s power to control the people of God.
We know this is the case because in 6:1 it says, “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” For Paul, it is utterly inconsistent for a person who has been united with Christ in his conquering death over sin’s power to go on living under the power of sin. Christ died to sin’s power and sent that power of sin crashing at the feet of Christians in a burning heap. Because true Christians are united with Christ, they are now positioned with Christ in the heavenlies above the power of sin and hell.
Since all true Christians were united with Him in His death over sin’s power, we share in the victory over sin’s capacity to make us do what it wants us to do. Chapter 6:4 says, “…just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may LIVE a new life.” The true Christian is a person who, because they are united with Christ and his victory over the power of sin should be living a new kind of life. A life which increasingly, persistently, powerfully resembles the One who they have been united with, not the life they lived before they knew Christ.
Paul calls this new kind of life in 7:6. “the new way of the Spirit.” He says, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” The motivating and enabling power for the Christian to live this new kind of supernatural, holy, Christ like life is found internally in the Person of the Holy Spirit, not the external force of a law. The law is holy in its character, but it does nothing to supply us with the supernatural power we need to be like Christ.
Though we do not live under the control of the law, the holy law is lived out through us by the power of the Spirit. Romans 8:3 speaks of this life through the Spirit and, speaking of Christ’s death on Calvary says, “…And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” The law has been transformed from tablets of stone to that which has been written in our hearts. It’s a law that now, through the Spirit we can fulfill.
As Paul moves his argument forward, he tells us how this victory over sin’s power is lived out at a practical level. What the believer is obligated to do because of what is true about them and their new life by the Spirit is found in verses 12-13 in chapter eight. “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
The true Christian is one who lives according to the Spirit. Those who live under the control of the flesh will die. That means that those who live according to this unredeemed, unredeemable part of us, what Paul calls “the flesh” or “sinful nature” that is anchored to this world and is vulnerable to the temptations of the darkness, will go to hell, proving that they are not Christians.
The true Christian will not indulge the sins which dwell in their flesh, they will instead, by the power of the Holy Spirit, kill them. They will eradicate them from their lives by bringing the truth to bear against the lies which energize every sin. We saw that this kind of life, the life of the Spirit, is a militant life—a sin killing life. It is a life where the person is regularly exposing themselves to the truth through the word of God, through prayer and through relationships within the body. They mercilessly apply that truth to kill off the lie-centered sins of the flesh.
A third truth about the true Christian is one Paul brings out in the second section of chapter eight. This third truth could be stated like this: A Christian is one, who irrespective of their circumstances lives in the glorious hope of God’s good plan and purpose for them. Paul recognizes that being a child of God means that we not only have all these wonderful blessings over sin’s power. Because we are united with Christ, will also share in His sufferings. Chapter 8:17 says, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory.” Because this suffering comes as a result of being a child of God, it is not optional. It is merely part of what happens to all who follow Christ. The Christian, in the midst of this suffering can look forward with true hope to the future glory that awaits them in heaven when they will be made to look like Christ. More than that, for the Christian, the afflictions of this life are not wasted, but are actually used by God as His hammer and chisel to shape us into the likeness of Christ.
We have certain hope that all of those who are Christians will, without exception be brought to that point of perfect Christ likeness in heaven. The reason for this is because Paul indicates this entire process of redemption from beginning to end was planned in eternity past by an omnipotent God whose decrees cannot be violated. Last week we read in verse 29, “For those whom God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
This entire salvation process is not something which is started on our initiative and its final completion is not ultimately dependent upon our performance, but flows out of God’s sovereign, redemptive plan for us. Before eternity, he set his affection on us and in his mind savingly related to us. That’s what Paul means by “he foreknew” us. He predestined us or predetermined us to be part of His elect family. Then, He called us to himself through the gospel in a way that we could never refuse Him. He then justified us and finally, even though its in the future, it is so certain that Paul can say in the past tense, “He glorified” us. He will complete this salvation process in heaven when we die by making us look like Christ. Since this salvation is rooted in God’s plan and His character, it is utterly assured.
The reason we can be so reassured by these verses is because God is superintending it. We have, by God’s grace a role to play, but our part is not the determinative one, God’s is. All those whom He foreknows in eternity past will be those who we will see in eternity future as God reveals His glorified children. We don’t need to wonder whether it will be completed. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” This gives tremendous hope for the believer.
So a Christian, from Romans 5-8 is a person who has been justified by faith. They have no fear of legal penalty from God because of the work of Christ. A Christian is a person who, through their union with Christ has been liberated from the controlling power of sin in their life. They can live according to the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
And finally, a Christian is one who lives their life with a glorious hope in spite of the sometimes tremendous difficulties of the Christian life. That is a skeletal form of Paul’s treatment of chapters five through eight. Its in response to that, that he says in verse 31, “What, then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Paul here takes chapters five through eight, four of the most precisely argued, nuanced theological chapters in the Bible and reduces them into four words. He takes all the glorious truths in chapters five through eight and packs them down to this one, “God is for us.” As Christians, we must never forget this.
When we are in the midst of tribulation and the circumstances of life stand arrayed against us, seemingly conspiring to make us miserable, behind the circumstances, behind the frowning providence, God hides a smiling face. God is for us in the midst of affliction and pain. When other people, maybe even other Christians are used to be the delivery system for Satan’s fiery darts, when we are laid low by the cruelty of others, the One Person, the ONLY Person whose opinion ultimately matters is FOR US if we are in Christ.
Finally, when our enemy is not the tragic circumstance or the knife in our back delivered by another person, but when we find that our deepest and nastiest wounds have been self-inflicted by our own sin and we are filled with the shame and guilt that our own sin brings, we must never forget that even in those moments, GOD is FOR US!! He hates our sin more vehemently than we can imagine, but our sin will not dissuade Him from continuing the redemptive work He began in our life before eternity. He is for us, not because of anything we have done or could ever do to Him, but because in His sovereign purpose HE CHOSE to be for us before the world began. And that truth, rather than lull us into apathy, should rouse us to repent in response to the kindness of God.
In verse 32, he gives the ultimate expression of God’s advocacy for us which, more than any other thing He has ever done for us, shows the degree to which he is for us. If there is any question as to the depth of God’s commitment to His church, Paul vaporizes it when he says, “He, who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things.” The structure of Paul’s argument here is a movement from the greater to the lesser. In other words, Paul shows that if God has given the greatest expression of love and sacrifice to His children, then anything else they truly need will certainly be offered up.
If you are hooked on heroine and you want a fix so badly that you would give up your child, then its is a safe bet that you would give anything else you could possibly produce. If you are a parent and you give your sick child a lobe of your liver for a transplant, putting you at great mortal risk, then it’s a safe bet you would give your car or your house or anything else. What Paul is saying here is, “If you want to know the degree to which God is for you, he gave His only Son for you.” He plumbed the depths of His Person—that which He loved the most He gave.
Think about this. Jesus Christ is the Father’s most prized and honored treasure. When we are buffeted on all sides with the afflictions of life and we are tempted to cry out to God, “God do you care about me?” the cross should shut our mouths. To extend Paul’s argument, when we are getting hammered by life and are in a tailspin headed for a fiery crash, we can say with utter confidence that God is at any moment willing give us whatever He knows we need. What are a few pennies worth of protection or comfort or nurture when He has already given us the bank?
We don’t need to twist God’s arm to give us what is ultimately best for us. The question has already been answered—He has already given us –at HIS initiative, NOT OURS, a gift which infinitely surpasses anything we think we might need in the midst of the darkest storm. Likewise, when we move through periods of our life when we just can’t seem to get it together spiritually. Maybe its a stronghold of sin we don’t seem to be able to overcome. We go out on the battle field of spiritual warfare and address the sin head-on but every time we seem to find ourselves on our backs seemingly under the crushing weight of a 90 pound gorilla. When we have failed to claim Christ’s victory over sin’s power and failed to militantly bring His victory to bear in our life.
In those times of gut wrenching confession and blubbering with God, when you are filled with shame and walk with your head down, red faced into His presence not knowing what on earth to say to this God whom you have grieved with a thousand falls. In those times, when you are most painfully aware of your colossal failures and you feel the strongest need imaginable for God to just come down from heaven, sit down next to you, put his arm around you and say, “You know, I will never stop loving you.” When you feel that need so deeply it seems to crush your heart, take comfort. Because God has already communicated His unfailing love for you far more powerfully than anything He could verbally utter to you in prayer. The cross is the ultimate expression of God’s enduring love for us.
When you are feeling dry and lonely in your walk with God. When it seems like you are plodding through the desert and God seems a million miles away. When your voice is hoarse from calling out to Him and your eyes are swollen and puffy from crying out for a touch from Him, for some indication that He is still there and He still likes being with you, look at the cross. That is the ultimate statement that, though you may feel that God has deserted you, He has already shown He is willing NOT ONLY to walk with you through the desert, but deliver up his only Son to death for you. It’s a miniscule thing for Him to come to you in dryness if that is really what you need. And only God knows what we truly need at any good moment. “God demonstrates his love for us in this, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
Next week, we will look at the specific ways in which God is for us and how His magnificent love and plan for us is unassailable. But this week we need to get a broad sense of the spirit of encouragement the apostle felt and wants to implant in our souls through the word… May God grant us the grace to allow the water of His word to trickle into our hearts and give us the strength we need to live for Christ.
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