God is for Us

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

ROMANS 8:31-39 GOD IS FOR US

 

  1. What are you afraid of?

What’s your biggest fear in life? Is it public speaking? Is it spiders? Is it your footy team choking in the grand final?

For me, I have a fear of birds! Anytime I hear a bird flying around me I start to panic and wave my arms around. It doesn’t matter if it’s a massive eagle or a tiny sparrow on Victoria Avenue – I just have this intense fear of birds. But why is that? Am I just being irrational? Let me explain why and you’ll understand that my fear has justification.

When I was 5 years old, my family moved to the country. On my first day at my new school, all the kids were out playing on the school oval, when suddenly everyone started screaming and ran away from me. Had I offended them? Was it time for our next lesson? I had no idea why they were all running away until *thunk*– I felt the sharp beak of a magpie connect with my head and take a chunk of flesh out of my scalp. As a 5 year old I was terrified – and based on my pastexperience I now continue to live with this intense fear of birds.

But even though you now understand the backstory (the historical reasons as to why I’m fearful) It’s still an irrationalfear isn’t it? Sparrows in Chatswood are not going to attack me. But so often our fears in life are based on past experiences and it’s really hard to shake them – even if those fears are now unfounded.

All of us have fears in life. For some, our experience of being rejectedby others or abandonedmeans that we live constantly worrying what other people think about us and whether they too will leave us. We live insecurely – worrying and fearful inside.

For some, we fear irrelevance.We want our lives to meansomething (i.e. to be significant) We want to leave an impacton this world and we fear waking up one day and just being ‘ordinary’. It’s why so many men in particular have a mid-life crisis in their 40s; because they realise that they’re actually not going to change the world and they feel irrelevant. For some, we fear uncertainty.We fear losing our job or not knowing if we’ll get married. Whether we’ll get sick or even the uncertainty of Death itself (and what happens after).

‘Fear’ is an awful emotion. Some things we fear are trivial (like bird attacks) and some things we fear are serious (like sickness, rejection and death).

So often, people who claim to know God also live in fear. Within religious circles it’s so easy for people to feel like a ‘fraud’ – like everyone else has got it all together and they don’t. They fear that one day they’ll be found out and be exposed or excluded from the community. So we hide it – we cover up who we really are. We put on a false pretence of everything being ‘perfect’ so that no one will know the ugliness of our real life (and hopefully no one will reject us or judge us).

But some of the biggest fears we have are about our relationship with God. All of us have fears about who God is and whether we can trust Him.

Today we’re going to look at a passage from the middle of the book of Romans in the Bible. This centre-point is more like the summitof a mountain. At the summit of this book, God is offering you freedomfrom the crippling effects of your fears about Him. When you see the magnitude of God’s love in all its vastness and richness. it has a life-changing impact on your fears. As it says in 1 John 4:18: “perfect love casts out fear…”

 

  1. Is God For Us?

Today’s passage begins with one of the most profound questions in verse 31:

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

It’s a rhetoricalquestion (which is basically a ‘statement’) This verse is stating: ‘God is for us!’ and therefore no personor thing can be against us. Now you might think that that’s a pretty obvious statement for people who believe in God to think. “Of course people who believe in God would think that God is for them”

God being for usis answering a much more important question than “Which footy team will God cheer for?” It’s answering a personalquestion that goes all the way back to the opening pages of human history.

Back in the Garden of Eden, in the opening pages of the Bible, God makes everything in the world out of nothing. As he looks back at what he’s created, God declares it to be good. And just in case you didn’t get the point, he repeats it 9 times that everything God has made is good! The worldGod has made is good because the Godwho made it is good. The oceans, the stars and moon, the trees and variety of animals, the food we enjoy, the relationships we enjoy with other people all reflect God’s goodness. God isgood to us!

Yet despite all the evidence they had seen, Adam and Eve doubt God’s goodness. God gives them everything to enjoy except for one tree. He says “You can eat any food exceptfor the fruit from this one tree” But Adam and Eve decide that God’s ‘holding back’ on them:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”                   (Genesis 3:4-6)

Eve looks at the goodness of the tree and sees that God has withheld it from her. This makes her doubt whether God actually is good: “Why would a goodGod hold back this goodthing from my life?”

The lie our ancestors believed (and the same lie we keep believing)is that God is not good. That God is not forus – he is ‘against’ us. God is a ‘tyrant’ or a ‘bully’-  holding back good things from us because he must not have our best interests at heart. That ancient lie takes root in each one of our hearts whenever life doesn’t go as we’d planned. Whenever we see something good that we don’t have, we keep listening to this lie that God doesn’t care –  working against us to make us miss out on what is good in life. That lie is a deadlylie – it brought death to the world back then and it continues to bring death to us today.

Earlier in chapter 8, Paul has already told us that God is working allthings (even our sufferings now) together for our good to make us more like Jesus. Thetruth is that God uses our sufferings to bring about good. But the liewe are tempted to believe when suffering comes our way is that God doesn’tcare. Paul has to show us and remind us of one of the most powerful truths of the gospel – that God is FOR YOU!When you go through pain and suffering, it is not a sign of God’s displeasure towards you or that somehow he is punishing you.

If you read the Bible for any length of time, you’ll quickly realise that the gospel is not primarilyabout us, but about Jesus. One of the distortions we can take away from that great truth is that maybe God doesn’t really care about me– maybe I’m just some pawn on the chessboard that God uses to glorify his Son. Maybe I’m just being ‘used’? But look at verse 30:

“30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

God is not just concerned with glorifying Jesus– he’s also concerned with glorifying you! God’s plan to glorify His Son Jesus is not at odds with your best interest. It’s not either God loves me or he glorifies Jesus – it’s both!!!Our bestinterestsare achieved asJesus is glorified!

So how do you know that God isfor us? How do we know Paul isn’t just telling us nice platitudes or making false promises? As I lookat my life, sometimes it feels like I’m winning and God is on my side. On a nice summer day, I enjoy being alive and the family and friends he’s given me. But then winter comes and I experience the darkness not just of the weather but of broken relationships. I experience hurt and bitterness, I might lose my job or battle with physical or mental illness. My family breaks apart or I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And it feels like God is noton my side anymore…

Our subjective experience of life is not a reliable indicator of God’s favour towards us.If you look to your circumstancesto work out whether God’s happy with you or not, you’ll bob up and down on the waves of life and sometimes you’ll feel like God’s for you… and sometimes you’ll feel like he’s against you.

We often see religious people on Instagram take a photo of a sunset or of their loved ones or of nature and post it with the hashtag “Blessed” (#blessed) but your temporary experiences are nota reliable indicator of God’s blessing and favour towards you. According to Paul, the way you knowthat God is for you is not by looking at your presentexperiences, but by looking at God’s pastactions:

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?

How do I know that God loves me and is forme? I know it because I can look backwardsat the objective historical evidence of God’s love for me when he gave up the most precious thing he had – his only Son! While the ancient lie says: “You can’t trust God. He’s not good. He’s holding back”, Romans 8 says: “God hasn’t held back! He didn’t hold back the most precious thing he had – His one and only Son!”

If God has alreadygiven you the most precious thing he had, why do you think he’s going to be stingy now? It’s like being shouted to an amazing 10 course banquet put on by a world-famous chef and at the end you’re still worried if the hosts will bring out after-dinner-mints.

If God sacrificed his only Son for you, he is notagainst you. He is totally committed to you and to your good. As John Calvin, the famous Reformer says:

“Faith [is] a firm a certain knowledge of God’s benevolence [i.e. his goodness] toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ”                                          (Institutes III.ii.7)

If you are a Christian, you know for certain (because of Jesus’ death on the cross) that your heavenly Father’s face is alwaysturned towards you in love. God smilesat you!

 

  1. Sin cannot separate us

But is this true? Is God reallysmiling towards me? Perhaps sometimeshe’s happy with me, but sometimes he’s not? “I know that I’m not perfect. Sometimes I feel close to God and sometimes when I’ve done the wrong thing I don’t feel as close to him.”

It’s so easy to project our experience of our earthly fathers onto God (whether good or bad or ugly). We know that sometimes our earthly fathers were pleased with us. But when we did wrong we knew they weren’t pleased with us and sometimes we were distant from them. But look at what verses 33-34 say:

33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who 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.

The first thing we learn in verse 33 is that Christians are God’s elect. When people become a follower of Jesus they often talk about making a decisionto become a Christian. But the realdecision has already been made – and it’s not by you! You don’t choose God, Godchooses youfirst! If you are a Christian, God choseyou, he knew your sins, he knew your faults and he chose you (warts and all) to wash you and make you clean. And God doesn’t change his mind. He doesn’t choose you and then realise he made a mistake and has second thoughts. He knows you and yet still chooses you.But not only does God choose people, God also justifiesthe one’s he chosen. Previously in chapter 8 it says:

30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

If God says you’re okay with him, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says. God has declared you to be okay with him because of Jesus death.

In Psalm 51, David says to God:

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.”              
(Psalm 51:4)

Although our sin does affect others, sin is primarily something we do against God. It’s when we rebel against his right to rule our life. His opinion is the one that counts. It doesn’t matter if people say it’s okay because if God says it’s wrong then it’s wrong. On the flip side, it doesn’t matter if people judge or condemn you, because if God’s said you’re okay with him, then you’re okay with him.

All of us live our lives playing the game of life in front of a grandstand– trying to impress the spectators and hear their cheers. Some of us live to hear our parents’ approval. Others hear the pressure of our peers. Some long to hear that special someone approve them and validate them. For many, we live for our boss’s approval or even our own approval.

But the truth is no one else’s opinion of you matters (even your ownopinion of who you are doesn’t matter) because at the end of life you don’t get to judge yourself or give yourself a verdict. Only God your maker does that, and hisopinion is the only one that counts. He is the only person in the grandstand we should care about.

So who’s in your grandstand at the moment? Whose opinion shapes what you do and what you strive for? If God has justified you, then all other opinions are irrelevant. But more than that, no one can condemnus. Verse 34 picks up where this chapter started in verse 1 which said:

8Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

God no longer condemns those who are in Jesus – why is that? According to verse 34 it is because:

…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.

Jesus diedfor our sins(our rebellion against God deserved death and Jesus stood in your place so that you might live). But not only did he die, he was raisedto new lifeand is now at God’s right-hand interceding for us. Jesus died for our sins in the past, but right nowhe is sitting next to God interceding.

This is important because back in the Old Testament in the book of Zechariah, someone else is sitting at God’s right hand:

“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.”                                                (Zechariah 3:1)

Satan is standing at the right hand of God’s angel (who represents the Lord) and is accusing Joshua (one of God’s people). The Hebrew name ‘Satan’ literally means: “the accuser”.But in Romans chapter 8, who is sitting at the right hand of God? It’s not Satan accusing us anymore – but Jesus who intercedesfor us. Our accuser is defeated. His accusations have no power anymore because by the blood of Jesus our guilt has been dealt with and the case against us has been thrown out of God’s courtroom. Jesus is now your defence attorney and he is on your side!

Earlier in chapter 8 it tells us that the Spiritintercedes for us:

27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

So we have the Holy Spiritinterceding in verse 27, Jesusinterceding in verse 34 and God the Father justifying us in verse 33. God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit are all active in making sure that sin cannotseparate you from God.

But if God has declared you right with him, then why do we continue to let others accuse us (and why do you condemn yourself?) Christians are so often fearful of what other people think of them and their own self-condemning thoughts. “How could God love me? I’m such a failure. How dare I rock up to church and pretend like I’m a Christian. I wonder if the pastor knows how bad I really am. I wonder if those people are just being friendly to me because they have pity on me”

These thoughts race around in our heads. Our ‘self-talk’ can be so damaging when we define who we are. Instead we need to let Goddefine who we are.Others don’t decide my status (even I don’t decide my identity). God defines who I am and the wonderful, liberating truth of this passage is that God says you are okay. You weren’t okay with him but now you are because of Jesus!

As a community of God’s people, we need to speak these truths to each other because we constantly need spiritual ‘recalibration’. A couple of weeks ago I took my car to get serviced and because I hadn’t been for a while the tyres needed re-alignment. Over time, car wheels get wobbly and they need to be re-aligned regularly. It’s the same with our Christian life – you need to have your thinking about who you are re-aligned with God’s Wordand you can’t do that on your own. We need sisters and brothers who will speak God’s truth to us when our self-talk has become muddled and wobbly. In those times when we’ve forgotten what God has declared to us – that we are justified and that no one can condemn us because our sin has been completely dealt with in the completed work of Jesus on the cross and his ongoing work at the right hand of God as he intercedes for us and pleads our case.

If you are a follower of Jesus, sin can no longer separate you from God.

  1. Suffering cannot separate us

But it’s not just sin that appears to separate us from God. Sometimes even when we know that God approves of us, we go through difficulties and troubles in life (i.e. pain and suffering) Suffering seems to imply that God is absentor he lacks the powerto do anything or that he isn’t a goodGod.

Those 3 ideas: ‘God is absent’‘God is powerless’‘God isn’t good’make us feel like suffering separates you from the love that God seems to promise. So is this true? Does the experience of suffering in our life contradict the idea that God loves us?

Let’s look at the first idea: is God absent in our suffering?
No! Earlier in chapter 8 verse 9 it says that the Spirit of Goddwells in us. In verse 10 we learn that Christ is in us. God is not absent in our suffering – he is right here with us!

Secondly, is God powerless in the face of suffering? Is he impotent?
No!:

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.

That phrase “will be able” is literally “will have the power to separate us”.Death,the things of this life,angelic powersor the spiritual dimension, the pain of the present, the uncertainty of the future– nothing in all of the created worldwill ever have the power to separate you from God!

Thirdly, what about the idea that God isn’t good?We’ve seen earlier that God is forus. We have certainty of that (even in the face of suffering). We don’t look at our present sufferings and circumstances, we look backwards to the Cross where God’s commitment to us is displayed. When you suffer, God is notabsent, God is notpowerless and God is notevil or against you.

Followers of Jesus are not immune from suffering (and in fact they may face even more suffering than the general population). There’s a distorted version of Christianity that tries to tell people: “If you follow Jesus, your life nowwill become more prosperous comfortable!” But look at what it says earlier in chapter 8:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

The Christian life is suffering now, glory later. But that glory is magnitudes (incomparably) better and bigger than the suffering we will face now. But it doesn’t change the fact that during this lifetime Christians will face pain and suffering.

Part of that suffering is the suffering we all share(whether Christian or not) as part of being human. Suffering that comes as part of living in a world that is broken by the effects of sin (both specific sins but also the more universal curse of sin that affects all of us as we go about life because of Adam’s original sin)

 

Paul talks about that type of suffering in verse 35 when he refers to famine or nakedness (not having money to buy clothes):

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

But he also talks about suffering that Christians alone face for being followers of Jesus when he refers to “persecution” and “danger”.

Then he quotes from Psalm 44:

36As it is written:
“For your sakewe face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

God’s people will face pain and suffering in this life for his sake. They are continually being killed and treated like sheep at the abattoir. How’s that for an encouragement to become a Christian?“Sign up today. Come down the front and give your life to Jesus –  and ‘get killed all the day long’”

But that’s exactly what you did sign up for if you’re a follower of Jesus here today! If you are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection, then you are also united with him in his sufferings:

17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Jesus promised that if the world hated him, then it will also hate his followers. So how does a Christian deal with suffering? Whether it’s the general suffering we all face or the specific additional suffering that comes from following Jesus? Well it’s notthrough our own strength or self-sufficiency. Our world tells us notto show any signs of weakness, even if you’re going through tough times. We’re told to grin and bear it. We often admire those who go through suffering and seem to have a strong internal resolve to persevere. But God’s people don’t sail through suffering in their own self-sufficiency:

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

We are more thanconquerors – not because of our own internal resolve or amazing strength of character, but through him who loved us.

It’s not about being stoic or pretending everything is okay when it’s not. It’s about knowing that despite the painful messiness and awfulness of your suffering, you willconquer! In fact you will morethan conquer throughChrist!

Your sufferings noware not a temporary setback or distraction from a ‘future victory’. It is through your sufferings that you come to the future glory God has in store for you as he makes you more like Jesus.

No suffering, trial, pain or even death itself will everhave the power or ability to drive a wedge between you and God’s love. His love is good. It is never-ending, and it is unstoppable!Forever you are bound together with Christ.

 

  1. The view from the summit

Have you ever got to the top of a mountain lookout and had your breath taken away by the view? Today we’ve come to what is probably one of the best sections of the best chapters of the best books in the Bible. Mere words cannot do justice to the magnificence of the truth of this passage. But hopefully you’ve seen just a glimpse of the view from the top – and that you can see just how beautiful this really us!

If you are a Christian here today and these verses are true, then this is good news!If God is for you and working for your good, then nothing will separate you from his love: not sin, not suffering – nothing! You can have complete assurance that you are secure with Christ and your place in God’s family isneverin jeopardy!

If you’re someone here today who wouldn’t yet call yourself a follow of Jesus hopefully you can see how this is good newsfor you too! God has proven through the death of Jesus on the Cross that he is not some mean, capricious or indifferent deity – sitting up in the sky wanting to hurl lightning bolts at you. God cares so much that he put his money where his mouth was. He didsomething about our problem with him by sending Jesus to die in your place. But notice what God is offering to you here. If you turn to him and trust that Jesus died as a substitute for your sins (i.e. for your rebellion against God) then he is offering to be on yourside and to give you security (even in the midst of suffering). He promises you future glory with Jesus and he promises that nothing – not even death (the thing we allfear) will be able to tear you away from his love for you. If you haven’t yet experienced the love of God, today would be an excellent day to do that. Come and chat to someone afterwards or one of the pastoral staff here at church today. Don’t leave today without committing to finding out more and doing something about it!

If you truly know God’s love, it casts out all fears. Romans 8 shows us that we have nothing to fear if we are in Christ. We don’t have to fear that God has it against us, because he is for us!We don’t have to fear condemnation, because God has justified us, and Jesus intercedes for us. We don’t have to fear suffering, because God has promised that absolutely nothing will ever be able to rip you out of his loving arms.

If you know this truth and have nothing left to be afraid of, then that’s truly liberating isn’t it? When God has made you truly free, then you no longer need to live controlled by those fears anymore. You are now freed to love people without any thought of reward or benefit. You can now love the unlovable people. You can love your enemies even if they never reciprocate. You can now love people extravagantlyand sacrificiallyeven in the midst of suffering because you have been completely loved by God at the Cross.Your need for love and your fears about the future have been completely and wonderfully dealt with in Christ.