Theme: Romans 8.2 The Love of God (Sunday 9 August 2020)
Series: Romans 8 (2020)
Bible Reading: Romans 8:26-39
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
This is part 3 of looking at this amazing chapter of the Bible Romans 8 … and there is this image that I want to keep coming back to in today’s sermon that can beautifully sum up the first 7½ chapters in Romans so far … that of a court room.
So far in Romans, the Apostle Paul has been a bit like a masterful court lawyer, methodically setting out his arguments, clearly stating his understanding of the Gospel of Jesus. Paul in the first seven chapters of Romans lays out the basic points of the case:
- All have sinned and fallen short of God’s standards
- None of us can be made right with God through our own actions
- Yet God through the cross of Jesus offers us a free gift of forgiveness and grace
And then in Romans 8:1 … it is like Paul gives this dramatic gesture as he points at us – the accused – and declares that there is NO COMENDNATION for those in Christ Jesus! We are not condemned! And as the truth of that sinks in Paul encourages us that in response to all that God has done, we have an obligation to live Spirit-led lives – to live as one of God’s own adopted children!
But then it is like the prosecutor stands up to give their closing statements and points out the obvious – God might declare us as forgiven and perfect but the reality is that we are not perfect – We get distracted, we succumb to temptation, we make bad choices. And so there is this gap between what God has declared us to be – his own redeemed children … and what we actually are. Which to say is not what we were, but not all that we will be … we are caught in between the now and the not yet.
The prosecutor is right. Paul might have declared that there is no condemnation for those in Jesus … but we know, we know that we are not yet perfect and being stuck between the now and the not yet is is not a fun place to be. Last week we talked about how we (and all creation) “inwardly groan” as we long for the completion of our redemption.
And now we get to today’s reading … and in verse 26 we read
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness
This is where I finished last week. Just like the man in the parable finding the treasure in the field … we discover the extraordinary good news that in the midst of the gap between the now and the not yet … we are not alone. The Spirit is there praying for us, interceding for us in accordance to God’s will.
I just need to go off on a tangent for a moment to highlight one of the “treasures” that I discovered when reflecting on this text. Verse 26 says that when we pray – and run out of words to say – the Spirit intercedes on our behalf. Great promise. But verse 27 goes on to say… “And the one who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God”
Who is the one who searches our hearts? Look back at the text? Who are we talking about here?
- The Spirit? No … because the one who searches our hearts knows the mind of the spirit.
- God/Jesus … I think so.
But just sit with this for a moment. When we are praying and run out of words … God/Jesus searches our hearts.
Is this implying that when we pray God is searching our hearts for the deep concerns, the deep desires, the deep needs – the deep things that we can feel but can’t express? Is that what it means? If it does, wow. What an image. When you are on your knees and you feel so overwhelmed and you just don’t know what to think or feel … let alone pray … God searches the depth of your heart and listens to the intercession of the Spirit … and gets it. God know and hears your groans and gets it. Wow. Sit with that for a moment.
Ok … lets go back to the courtroom image. The prosecutor feels like they had landed the winning punch. The Spirit might help us in our weaknesses but that doesn’t change the undisputed fact that … as they swing around and point directly to us … that the accused has fallen short of God’s standards. That we are guilty and deserve condemnation. The prosecutor sits down and Paul steps up for his closing arguments.
I can almost imagine Paul honestly admitting that the prosecutor is right. Yes, things are not what God had envisioned … but that doesn’t mean that all is lost … we are still on the journey. We are still between the now and the not yet bur we are moving forward. And yes, it is a struggle and sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back … but we know – Paul declares – we know that in all things God words for the good of those who love him.
This verse – Romans 8:28 is one of those lighthouse verses in the bible … it shines out one of the most amazing promises held in all of Scripture but it is also one of the most misused or incorrectly used pieces of Scripture. What does this verse mean, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”
Let’s start by saying what this verse does NOT mean. This verse is not talking about “up scaling blessings”. If a person loses their job it is wrong to say, “That’s ok because Romans 8:28 says that you lost your job because God has an even better job in store for you”. Somehow implying that God makes bad stuff happens as if it is the only way to led to the things being even better. That is not what this verse is saying.
Nor does this verse mean that bad things will never happen to those who love Jesus. That God only brings good to those who love him. The topic of why bad things happen to people is a whole other topic of which Paul is not talking about in this verse. If you are looking for the answer of WHY bad things happen … you won’t find it here. Paul is rather addressing the question of when bad things happen, then WHAT?
Paul is saying that bad things do happen … because we are caught in between the now and not yet … because the process of redeeming people and all of creation is not yet made complete … bad things happen BUT when they do, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Paul is saying that God does not make the bad stuff happen … but when it does, God works within a bad situation to bring the most good from it. As one commentary that I read simply said, “God works for good”. Indeed … that is the nature of God … God works for good.
It is a bit like the different rescue support teams and charities and counsellors who have all rushed over the Lebanon this week after that horrific blast. These teams are doing all that they can to make things better. God is like that. God does not make the bad things happen but “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.
Is that sitting ok with people? As I said before, this verse is one of the most amazing promises in the bible. When you find yourself in a dark place, when the harshness of the world crashes down on you … God does not abandon you but rather works in a bad situation for good.
I can prove this promise is true! Is there anyone here who has been through a difficult situation, a crisis or tragedy or just had an experience of the harshness of this world? Raise your hand.
Now keep your hand up if you now looking back at that time can see the hand of God working? Who can see that out of a bad situation you have become a better person, a better carer, other doors of opportunity have opened up or an unexpected blessing has come along. Now, nobody would ever wish for a bad thing to happen to someone so these good things come from it … but there is no doubt that when bad things happen God steps in and works with his love, compassion, guidance and grace to bring some good from it.
So Paul’s closing statements start with these wonderful affirmation that when things are tough, God understands and God works for good.
Then in verses 29-30 he jumps into what sometimes is referred to the “predestination argument”. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
I don’t have time to pull this apart – maybe if you want I can do a whole sermon on these two verses. Put simply … God foreknew … God is beyond time; God can see all of human history from beginning to the end in one glimpse so God foreknew who would respond to his love and Grace … that is the big picture and if we zoom into this moment in time we see that God is working within those who love him so that they will become like Jesus. God knows that you love him, God calls you to love him, God justifies you, make you right so that he can be with you and also glorifies you.
It is interesting that in the Greek these verbs are written in the past tense but Paul writes them in a way that they point forward. God has both justified you but we look forward to a point where you will be justified. God has given you glory but in the future you will be glorified. Just another link to the now and the not yet.
So up to this point in the closing arguments … the master lawyer Paul has been stepping through his notes in a structured and methodical way … but it is like at this point of the closing arguments – for this last part of Romans 8 – Paul tosses away the notes and speaks from the heart. He takes a rhetorical approach … asking a series of questions of which he doesn’t even pause before answering.
Verse 31, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?“
We would want to reply … the world, inhumane people, greedy businesses, corrupt politicians, my enemies that are surround me but Paul doesn’t let us answer … he goes on without even taking a breath… “If God is for us, who can be against us? Not God who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all!
Yes – the sacrifice of Jesus shows that God is indeed for us. And if God is for you then everything else fades away in comparison.
Paul hammers on —“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” Once again … it is not God who bring the charges because God has justified you. God is the one who says that because of Jesus you are forgiven and made right with him!
Verse 34 “Who then is the one who condemns?”
Not God who justifies, Not Jesus how died and rose again and who intercedes for us … who then is the one condemning us.
Like the woman caught in adultery we have an epiphany moment … who condemns us? No one. No one.
It’s like we’ve done the full circle back to verse 1 … The reality of the declaration that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus has suddenly dawned on us …
Who condemns you? No-one.
Then … Paul booms out across the courtroom … If God is for you, if no charges have been brought and if no-one condemns … then is there any barrier which is stopping you being in a loving relationship with your heavenly father.
Verse 35 , “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? “ Paul could have listened so many other things … can bad luck or tragic circumstance or hurtful experiences or unjust accusation or inhumane things separate us from the love of Christ?
Can these things separate us from the Love of Christ? The question hangs in the courtroom then Paul bellows out in his loud booming voice, “No … No they can’t. The love of Jesus is much, much more than these things. The love of Jesus allows us to survive, to even rise above or conquer these things.”
Paul’s point is as profound as it is simple … Can trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword separate us from the love of Christ? No … the love of Jesus is stronger … the love of Jesus conquers all.
Are you getting this? Let me just check…
Is God for you or against you? For you!
Because of the cross of Jesus …
Does God bring charges against you? No
Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus …
Who condemns you? No-one
Who condemns you? No-one
Then who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Can trouble or hardship? No
Can inhumane actions or tragedies? No
Can the harshness and darkness of this world? No
Can hate overcome the love of God? No
Verse 38 & 39 … Paul is convinced,
“I am convinced 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.”