Good morning to you, and before our last look at Romans 8 in this series, let me lead us in prayer:
Father, you know all our circumstances, needs, hopes and fears. Please speak into them through your words so that we may live in them through you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Browsing online, I came across various Mothers’ Day card quotes which you may identify with. For example, ‘Being a Mum isn’t easy. If it was, Dads would do it’ or ‘Silence is golden unless you have young children – in which case it’s suspicious’. Or moving up the age-range, ‘When you have teenagers, get a dog as well – so that someone in the house is glad to see you’. And finally, two definitions of a mother: ‘A mother is someone who, seeing there are only three pieces of cake for four people, says she never liked cake anyway’ and for those who’ve left home, ‘A mother is the person you can always call to ask how long chicken lasts in the fridge’.
There’s a lot of joy and goodness to take stock of on Mothers Day. But it’s bitter-sweet, as well, because I realise I’m speaking to people who’d love to have been Mums – but haven’t been, or can’t be. And to people who’ve had children, at least in the womb, and then lost them. And to Mums for whom motherhood has been painful. And to children who’ve now lost their Mums.
And that’s only one area of our lives. Add in things like health problems, job worries, unwanted singleness, marriage difficulties, bereavement, and so on with a global pandemic on top and it’s easy to feel that things are against us. And from there it’s easy to wonder whether God might actually be against us. At its mildest, to wonder whether he really cares about us. And at its worst, to wonder whether he really has it in for us. So at the end of Romans 8, the apostle Paul answers the question, Is God really for us? And in Romans 8.31 he says:
What then shall we say to these things? [Which means the things we’ve seen in Romans 8]. If God is for us, who can be against us?
And when Paul says, If God is for us He means, ‘If – as is actually the case...’ In other words, ‘Since God is for us…’, ‘Because God is for us…’ And that’s his four word summary of Romans 8: If we’re trusting in Jesus, God is for us. But because we’re often tempted to doubt that, Romans 8 ends by assuring us that it’s true. And the first assurance here to those trusting in Jesus is this:
1. God is for us – so nothing can really be against us
So in Romans 8, Paul has talked about the two things that most tempt us to think God is against us. And they are: our suffering and our sin, because our suffering tempts us to think that God must be against us, and our sin tempts us to think that God ought to be against us. So before we see how Paul speaks into that, let me ask you two questions so that we have real things in mind as we look at this.
So question 1, how are circumstances against you right now? How are things or people going against you? Have a moment to answer that to yourself. And then question 2, how are you against you right now? By which I mean: what sins are you holding against yourself, condemning yourself for, refusing to forgive yourself for, right now? Have a moment to answer that to yourself, too. So now listen to Romans 8.31 again:
What then shall we say to these things? If [ie, ‘since’] God is for us, who can be against us?
And Paul wasn’t being naïve, as if he thought there’s nothing and no-one against us in the Christian life. So he knew that circumstances can be against us – he’s going to mention some hard circustances in a few verses’ time. He knew that people can be against us – from hostile non-Christian family members to secular campaigners and law-makers. He knew that our consciences can be against us in self-condemnation. And he knew that Satan is against us, rubbing our noses in our failures and making us feel even more condemned and guilty and despairing of whether we can be forgiven. So what he means in verse 31 is: ‘Since God is for us, who or what can really be against us in any way that does us ultimate harm?’ And that’s a question expecting the answer, ‘No-one and nothing.’ Paul’s not denying that people and circumstances and Satan can hurt us and make things hard for us. But he’s saying: ‘Since God is for us, they can’t do us any ultimate harm.’ So, Romans 8.31-32 again:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [And then he reminds us of the ultimate proof that God is for us:] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
So Romans 8.32 is the verse to preach to yourself when circumstances are against you and you’re tempted to think God is, too. Like when I lose my job; or apply for one and don’t get it. Doesn’t he know what I need? Or when I long for and pray for marriage and nothing happens. Doesn’t he understand me? And so on.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
In other words, isn’t it unthinkable that having been for us in meeting our greatest need at the cross, he could now be against us, and fail to meet our lesser needs? If he was for me at the cross giving me the greatest thing, won’t he also be for me in giving me all the lesser things – not all the things I might want, but all the things he knows I really need? And not necessarily when I think is best for me, but when he knows is best for me.
And that’s not an answer to all the ‘why’ questions – like, ‘Why did I have to wait so long for marriage?’ or ‘Why does it seem that marriage isn’t his plan for me?’, or ‘Why did we have to wait so long for children?’ or, ‘Why does it seem that children of our own are not his plan for us?’ That’s not an ‘answer’ to all the ‘why’ questions. It’s an attitude of faith, rooted in the cross, with which you can live with the unanswered ‘why’ questions. So Romans 8.32 is the verse for when circumstances are against you. And then Romans 8.33-34 are the verses to preach to yourself when you are against you – and you’re tempted to think God ought to be, too. Because what about when you are against you, holding sin against yourself, condemning yourself, refusing to forgive yourself? And projecting all that onto God – convincing yourself that God ought to be against you because of what’s on your conscience.
As some of you know, I had a broken engagement in my twenties – which was my fault; I broke it off; and it’s always felt like the worst thing I’ve done to someone else. And it plunged me into doubt as to whether it could really be forgiven. After all, doesn’t there come a point when you’ve sinned one too big, or the same one too often, to be forgiven? And Romans 8.33-34 are what you need to preach to yourself in that case:
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. [In other words, it’s God who says in the gospel that I’m forgiven back into the right with him through Jesus dying for me – so I need to stop projecting onto him my inability to forgive myself. And then verse 34:] Who is to condemn? [In other words, who is the Judge who can condemn people? Paul says it’s:] Christ Jesus [and let me remind you, he] is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
So if you’re trusting in Jesus, you know that your Judge has died to take your condemnation on himself. And now he’s risen and back in heaven, his very presence there is a constant reminder to his Father to forgive you every sin because he paid for every sin on the cross. So that’s the first assurance here to those trusting in Jesus: God is for us – so nothing can really be against us. And then the other assurance is this:
2. God’s love has us – and nothing can make him lose hold of us
We holiday every summer on the west coast of Ireland. And I remember when our daughter Ellie was a toddler, wave-jumping with her at the edge of the sea. And compared to her, they were quite big waves. But I said to her, ‘It’s OK. I’ve got you. I’m holding on to you.’ And suddenly a really big one came at us, and I lost my grip, and she was tumbling in the water with me trying to find her again. Which reminds me of another Mothers Day card quote I saw:
Nothing is truly lost until a mother can’t find it.
Well, thankfully I did find Ellie again looking reproachful in the surf. But the question is, whether God is like me in that moment. Is it possible that circumstances that come at us, or other people or spiritual powers, could pull us out of God’s hands? Or as Paul puts it in Romans 8.35-36:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?...
Who or what could do that? And he lists some possible candidates:
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.”
And Paul was writing this in AD57. And the previous Roman emperor, Claudius, had expelled all Jews from Rome – and with them most of the Christians, who were Jewish. So they knew what it was to be suddenly in trouble, homeless, poor, hated, attacked. And within seven years of Paul writing this, the emperor Nero was having Christians put to death wholesale. So don’t you have to say at that point that God has lost hold of his people? That they’re no longer in his hands but, frighteningly, have fallen into the hands of others? That they’ve become separated from his love? Well, Romans 8.37, Paul says:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors [winners plus plus plus] through him who loved us.
So take what we’d probably think was the ‘worst case scenario’ – the martyr’s death of Romans 8.36. What if you’re a Christian in Nigeria carried off to your death by Boko Haram? How in that are you ‘more than a conqueror’, a winner plus plus plus? Well, because your next conscious experience, as Paul puts it in Philippians, is to (Philippians 1.23):
be with Christ…[which] is better by far.
Because you’re out of this horrible, fallen world – and as we saw last week, you’re finally conformed to the image of his Son, and glorified (Romans 8.30). You’re finally what you’ve really wanted to be all your Christian life, and where you’ve really been homesick for all your Christian life. And the truth is, you were not for a moment out of God’s hands.The BBC may have said you ‘Fell into the hands of Islamists.’ But the truth is, you were always still in God’s hands, which, as we saw last week, were working those circumstances to bring you to be like Christ and with him in glory. And what’s true of that worst scenario is true of all others we find ourselves in. So for example, if we have cancer, God has not lost hold of us. We’ve not fallen out of his hands into the hands of the disease or of the doctors. We’re always still in God’s hands – which are working our circumstances to bring us to be more like Christ here, on our way to being fully like him and with him in glory. And we can say the same, whatever circumstances we’re in. So, Romans 8.37-39 to the end:
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, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So what makes you a Christian is that Jesus has loved you by dying for your forgiveness, and then risen again, and then taken hold of you by his Spirit creating faith in you. So our faith is like the toddler’s hand, and his Spirit is like the powerful arm on which our security really depends. And if being a Christian is then like wave-jumping in the face of everything he allows to come at us, then Romans 8.38-39 say nothing can make him lose hold of us. So death won’t – that apparent worst scenario, which is actually the way he brings us through to the best scenario of finally being with him and like him in glory. And life won’t – no circumstances we face right now. And angels nor rulers nor powers won’t – which includes spiritual powers of evil – Satan and company. So that’s an assurance that God will keep us in the face of the worst besetting temptations that we fear could pull us away. And things present won’t nor things to come.
And maybe things to come (the future) is what’s hardest to trust him for. So, for example, will my faith stand up to all the unknowns of this GCSE or A-level or uni year? Will my faith stand up to facing a difficult marriage or caring for an especially needy child? Will my faith stand up to staying single for longer, or even for good? Will my faith stand up to persecution back in my home country, or to what persecution could be like in this country down the tracks? And Paul’s answer is yes. Your faith will stand because it’s the result of God taking hold of you, and he will never lose his hold on you. So if we’re trusting in Jesus, then God is for us – so nothing can really be against us. And God’s love has us – and nothing can make him lose hold of us which means we can say with assurance those words of John Newton in his hymn Amazing Grace:
Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come
‘Twas grace has brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home