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In the Love of God

What, then, shall we say in response to these things?

“These things” that Paul the Apostle refers to are the things we have been hearing in Romans 8 these past six weeks. Romans 8 is one of the best chapters in the entire Bible.

We began by hearing that we are not condemned. Second, that the Spirit of Christ lives in us leading and guiding us in our lives. Third, that though we suffer there is a glory God has prepared which we will someday inherit against which the sufferings of this present time do not compare. Fourth, that the Spirit prays for us in our weakness. And then last week, that God is working all things for his good purposes in our lives.

It all adds up to the fact that we aren’t defeated people living under the dark cloud of fate and circumstances. The God whose Spirit lives in us and who has predestined and chosen us for himself, is working all things for our good. And he loves us with a conquering love. We are victors in our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, Paul asks, what shall we say to all of this? It all adds up to the fact that God is for us. And if God is for us, who can be against us?

Just sit with that: God is for you. God is not our opponent. He is not our adversary. He is our advocate. He wants the best for us. He wants us to come to him, to seek him, to belong to him. He cheers us on. He is on our side.

Some religions hold that God is unknowable and distant. He is an abstract God who is out there but doesn’t interfere with us. But the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ is near us. He moves in our lives. He works for our good. He knows us and wants us to know him.

The main proof that God is for us is that he has given us his Son. When we were against God in sin and rebellion, God sent his Son and allowed him to be killed. He became the sacrifice for our rebellion. Jesus came for us. The Father is not going to waste that gift and sacrifice. After the death of Jesus he is not going to change his mind about us. Paul says that if the Father gave us the Son, then God will also graciously give us all things. I think by “all things” he means all things that matter. God will give us all things that work for our salvation and right relationship with him. He will give us peace with him. Life. Faith. Hope. Love.

Paul is trying to communicate the strength of God’s love for us. In Romans 8:31-39 Paul asks several rhetorical questions to the Christians in Rome.

For example, If God is for us, who can be against us? The rhetorical answer is “no one.”

Then he asks, who will bring any charge against us since we are God’s chosen people? The rhetorical answer is “no one” because it is God who justifies and he has justified us. He has made us right with himself. Who would dare point the finger at us or accuse us since God has declared us right with him?

Paul asks if there is any one to condemn us? Again, the answer? “no one!” Our first sermon in this series from Romans 8 came from the very first verse in this chapter, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In fact, Christ died for us, rose for us, and is sitting next to the Father speaking to him on our behalf.

It says, he is at the right hand of God. We affirm that when we say the Apostle’s Creed in our worship. “…the third day he rose again from the dead and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty…” That phrase about sitting at the right hand of God actually comes from Psalm 110 and is a quote most frequently applied to Christ than any other Old Testament passage.

What is our Lord doing next to the Father? It says he is “interceding” for us. To intercede is to intervene on someone else’s behalf. Intercessory prayer is to take up the needs and concerns of others and lift them to God. It is to pray for someone. Jesus prays for us. The Son, who is one and has total access to the Father, takes your life and my life, your concerns and my concerns, and brings them right to the Father.

Robert Murray McCheyne, a Scottish pastor in the 19th century said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me!”

Christ prays for us! When we are getting put through the wringer we need to remember, “He’s praying for me! He is speaking to the Father on my behalf!”

If you feel that God is our adversary, that he punishes us with hardship when we mess up, that he is someone we have to contend with – think again. He is for us.

Notice that the list Paul gives about the things we might think separate us from God are all hard things: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. He goes on to list death and life, angels and demons and then wraps it up with “anything else in all creation” which pretty much covers it all. He lists these things because those first Christians living in Rome faced all of those things.

It was tremendously hard being a Christian in the first century. It was not “one nation under God.” It was not freedom to worship. There were no church buildings. Those Christians met secretly in homes or in caves because disciples of Jesus were considered a threat to the government. They lost freedom. They were easily thrown in prison. They lost their jobs and livelihood. Some lost their lives. They lost loved ones. Thousands of Christians were killed for being followers of Jesus in the first century.

Our list in our times of things that we might think separate us from Christ might look a little different. The things that we face are failure, cancer, bankruptcy, depression, loneliness, pandemics. None of it can separate us from God’s love.

Paul doesn’t try to explain why so much suffering comes when God is supposed to be good. People have always questioned the goodness of God in the face of adversity. But Paul is speaking of suffering that arises because of faith. Sometimes the more we walk with God, the harder it can be.

The promise is not that suffering or hardship will never come our way. The promise is that it won’t separate us from the love of God.

Isn’t it the hard things that make us question God’s love for us? It’s the trials that cause us to doubt. “God, do you love me?” “Are you there?” ‘Have I done something to offend you?”We subtly think that we must be doing something to make God upset with us. His love must have ended. That is why we are getting hit so hard.

Paul says, “Not so.” Again, the One who gave up his Son for us is still with us, still loving us. Nothing is going to separate us from God’s love – not even death! In fact, for the believer, death unites us to God. It’s the stuff of this life that seems to threaten our relationship with God. In death we will be with him. Right now it can be a circus.

Look at v. 37: “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” I titled these sermons Living in the Victory of Christ because of this verse. “More than conquerors” is really a military expression. It comes from battle and battles are through what is hard, messy, and threatening. It means that God works through harsh realities. Our victory comes not by escaping troubles. Our victory doesn’t come in courage in the face of suffering. We may not be particularly courageous. Our victory comes in God’s love in the midst of all that life throws at us. “It is not our hold on Christ which sees us through, but his hold on us.” His love will not let us go in life or in death.[1]

Isn’t this what we hear in Psalm 23 and why we love this psalm so much? “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

When the night is holding on to me, God is holding on.[2]

If it feels like all hell is breaking loose sometimes, it’s because it is. The universe is full of hostile and savage rebellion. But all the powers of hell, ferocious as they are, cannot overwhelm God’s love. His love was not shown in some rose garden. His love was shown in the hammer blows of Calvary.[3]

Our confidence is not in our love for God which is weak and can change according to circumstances. Our confidence is in God’s love for us which is unchanging, faithful, and persevering.[4]

How strong is God’s love? Do we ever wonder what God thinks of us “Oh, that Phil, he’s a good guy but he can exasperate me. Boy, last Thursday I thought I was going to lose it. He just never learns! I don’t know how American Fork does it.”

I confess I sometimes think that God will love me more if I accomplish more. One thing we need to remember: we don’t have to earn the love of God.

Several weeks ago we lost Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, one of the most significant Christian leaders in our world over the past 50 years. In a talk he gave some years ago Desmond Tutu said God’s love doesn’t come to us only when we achieve it. We don’t work for God’s love. In the cross God says, “I love you…and when you go wrong, I still love you.”

God didn’t wait until we deserved his Son. He came and died while we were still sinners. “The good news is that God created us because he loved us. We don’t need to work ourselves into a frazzle to impress God. God does not love us because we are lovable. We are lovable precisely and only because God loves us freely…”

Greater achievement, more success, higher accomplishment, even more obedience or prayer is not going to make God love you more than he does right now. And yet we spend so much energy trying to earn God’s love.

John writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are.”[5]

We are loved beyond what we know. And how might our lives change if we really got this? How might we live if we truly lived as if nothing could separate us from the love of God in Christ?

Maybe our anxiety level would go down. We would trust that our life is totally in God’s hands. That he is always holding us.

Maybe we would not feel so inadequate. While others, even those in our own family, devalue us or put us down, we would know God doesn’t see us that way.

Maybe we would be more unhurried. We might be busy with many responsibilities, but we would have an inner peace and calm that comes from resting in God’s love. His love would triumph all our merits and resume.

Maybe we would not give in to guilt. We would live in the assurance that God loves us despite our sin.

Maybe when someone comes at us we will respond not with hostility but with grace, knowing that we have nothing to prove or defend.

If we could really know that nothing can separate us from God’s love, maybe we would trust God enough to risk obeying him. We would step out in faith to give, to serve, to do something we never imagined doing, because he loves us.

Maybe we would reach out to someone who is not an easy person for us. We would touch them knowing the love with which we are loved by God.[6]

There is a story of a confirmation class where each student stood before the congregation and recited this passage in Romans 8. Confirmation is for young people to confirm their faith and own their faith for themselves.

Each student had gone through weeks of preparation, and had to memorize this passage in Romans 8. They all had to stand in front of the congregation on a Sunday morning and recite it. There were seven or eight students.

The pastor started with Katie and asked her, “what shall separate you from the love of God?” And Katie replied by saying, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come (and so on) or anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And then the pastor asked the same of the second student. That young man answered the same.

Parents were very proud of their child, and the congregation loved this. But as they moved down the line the congregation became a little anxious because the girl at the end was Paula. Paula was a lovely girl who had Down’s Syndrome. There was no way she was going to have this long passage memorized.

Finally, it was her turn. The pastor asked, “What can separate you from the love of God?” Paula flashed her big smile and proud and firmly said, “Nothing!” And that said it all.[7]

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. You may face deep sadness or sickness, but that will not separate you from God’s love.

You may lose someone very dear to you, maybe to death or maybe to conflict, but that experience won’t separate you from the love of God.

You may move to an unfamiliar place, you may have some miserable failure in your life, you may get COVID and have to quarantine, but none of that will separate you from God’s love.

You may miss a flight, get a parking ticket, or accidentally have your car towed away. It won’t separate you from the love of God.

You may lose your keys when you are already late for a meeting, you may burn the roast, you may leave your car running when you come in for church. It won’t separate you from the love of God.

You may hit every light when you are trying to get to the show, or go shopping and forget the one thing you went to the store for in the first place, or you forgot to charge your phone and it dies at the worst time. It won’t separate you from the love of God.

You might have a surprise visit from that part of the family you really don’t care for, you might get pulled over and find out you forgot to renew your driver’s license, you might forget to shut the freezer door before you go to bed that night. You will not be separated from the love of God.

You might fall in your Olympic event, your film might not be nominated for an Oscar, your gas prices might go up and your stocks might go down. It won’t separate you from the love of God.

Someone might lie and say malicious things about you. You may be shunned. You may be ridiculed. It won’t separate you from the love of God.

You may go through a period of intense stress in your marriage, your family, or at work, but that will not separate you from the love of God.

You may suffer some physical pain, some dark emotional pain, or hurtful mental pain. It won’t separate you from the love of God.

Tom Wright said that Romans 8:31-39 “deserves to be written in letters of fire on the living tablets of our hearts.”

What then shall we say about all these things? I’ll tell you what we say: God is for us. Jesus has come, has died, is risen and is praying for us. And we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.

[1] Jim Edwards, Romans, pp.225-226 [2] Words from King of My Heart, sung earlier in the service. [3] Credit to Edwards, p.223 [4] John Stott, p.259 [5] 1 John 3:1 [6] See Love Beyond Reason, John Ortberg, pp. 170-71, 180 [7] This story is adapted from Tom Long, and probably isn’t exactly like he witnessed it and preached it.

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