Thanksgiving sermon preached on Romans 8:31-39 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/09/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“God is For Us”
What then shall we say to these things? That’s the question at the start of our passage. The question reminds us of the immediate context. We’ve been talking about human struggles and afflictions. We struggle with our own sinful nature. We receive persecution from the world. We endure various sufferings. And we have many weaknesses. We even talked about the vanity of life in this created world. What then shall we say to these things? But remember, this passage also told us that our future glory would solve all these problems. But that too, doesn’t say enough. Because the recent context also told us the promise of verse 28. The promise of “all things.” That God is working all things out for our good. Not just when we get to glory. Even now. So, what then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? That’s the answer. God is on our side.
And yet this opening question surely brings to mind not just the immediate context of how God is at work amidst the struggles and sufferings of this life. This question also reaches back to the beginning of the book as well. Remember how Romans started off? It gave us that glorious treatment of justification. Now in Romans 8 that idea is brought back into focus. This passage connects how our justification is related to all of this. How our justification has something to say about our struggles and sufferings in this life. Or let me put it this way. The first part of the book dealt with our justification. Then it had started to deal with our sanctification. And so here we see how justification has a bearing on the struggles we face in our sanctification. And so our passage for today does a good job of really tying together the whole book of Romans up to this point.
And so here’s how we’ll tackle this passage today. First, we’ll think about how it is that God is for us. Second, we’ll consider why that is important in light of all life’s troubles. Third, we’ll think about how this means that we are more than conquerors.
So then, let’s begin with the first point. How is it that God is for us. That’s the point we see in verse 31. Paul puts it as a hypothetical, but it’s really just a rhetorical question. That’s the clear assertion Paul is making. That God is for us. He’s on our side. We are on his side. In other words, God’s enemies are our enemies. And our enemies are God’s enemies. In this book, we’ve seen multiple enemies. We have our own sinful flesh that stands against us and our new life, chapter 7, for example. Similarly, we have our many weaknesses that we discussed before in verse 26. We have all the persecutions and temptations of those in the world and even the demonic powers. We see some of that in our passage today even. God is for us, and not for the enemies of the flesh, world, and Satan.
Paul tells how well we should know this. Verse 32. God gave us his own Son. The language is emphatic. His very own. This makes you think of the fact that the Son is the only-begotten Son. In other words, he’s this unique Son that’s God’s Son in the way any adopted human child of God is not. God gave of this one. And why did God the Father give up his son? Verse 32 says for us all. In other words, for God’s chosen people, his elect, per verse 33. The one’s he’s been talking about whom have been foreknown, predestined, called, etc. Us. God gave up his one and only Son, for us. This is of course about the cross. Verse 34, Christ died for us. He rose again. He sits now at the right hand of God. He intercedes for us. The significance of this is profound, but a starting place is our justification. That’s the point of verses 33 and 34. God justifies us, and does not condemn us. Why, because of what Christ did. Since we have been made righteous before God through the atoning work of Jesus, we are justified. There is no condemnation. Thus, God is for us as those who have been put into a right standing. And this was God’s doing for us, by the giving up of his Son.
But the point here is beyond just that even. Beyond even the fact of our justification through the gift of Christ. The point of verse 32 is that if God did not hold back even his own son, then surely he will give us all things. All of this is grace by the way. The verse even says that God will graciously give us all things. But if God is willing to give us his very own Son, why would we think he would hold back anything else! After God has made this large personal investment already into us, do you think he will let some trouble of this world be our downfall? If you invest a million dollars into starting a company, and then afterwards the company needs just a measly $500 more to complete some deal that will secure the company’s ongoing success, surely that would be a no brainer decision. That’s kind of like the idea here. God has given us of his Son. What could be greater than that? He will certainly not hold back anything else we need to make sure we make it to glory in a good way.
And so God is on our side. He is working for our good. His purpose is clear from last passage — to bring his chosen ones to faith, to justify and sanctify us, and ultimately bring us to glory. He is on our side to this perfect, wonderful, end. He will make sure it happens. Through giving us Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and all that we need.
So, then, let’s turn now to our second point. Why is this important in light of all of life’s troubles. Well, just asking the question probably seems to us by now to have an obvious answer. But we should ask this, because this passage asks this. And this passage delves into some detail about this. Note first then verse 33. It asks about who could bring a charge against God’s elect. And so this is one category of trouble we can have in life. The world, the devil, and even arguably our sinful selves, can bring charges against us. Charges that we are not right with God. Charges that we are not justified before him. But they would be false charges at this point. Because it is God who justifies. How can anyone else condemn the one God has justified? That’s the point here.
Imagine how this might look. Take the example of Job. Job faced accusations from Satan. And when God allowed Job to be tested through trials, he faced accusations from his three friends too. His friends pointed to the troubles and hardships that he faced and said, “Look, you must be sinning.” “You must be not right with God, that is why all these troubles are coming into your life.” Of course, the book of Job shows that those three friends had spoken wrongly. Troubles in your life, even very bad and difficult ones, does not necessarily mean that you are not right with God.
This is brought out more clearly in the verses that follow. We have this wonderful listing in verses 35-39 of various things that cannot separate us from God’s love in Christ. These various things reflect various troubles that might come our way. The list is exhaustive by way of summary. What I mean is that it does not state every possible thing that could try to cause you troubles, but the items that it does list effectively cover everything. Not tribulation or distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword; not death nor life; not angels nor principalities nor any powers — likely a reference to demons; Not things present nor things to come; not height nor depth; nothing else in all creation. Nothing.
What should cause us pause is that we can imagine how these things could seem to have victory over us. We can imagine some intense trial that might drive someone to the greatest despair. We could imagine how trying intense poverty and hunger would be. We could imagine all kinds of difficulties arising from this list. But just take this long list back to verse 28. Remember, verse 28 said that “all things” work together for our good. The “all things” would include this long list. That’s the challenge for our faith to believe and trust. But it is the truth of Scripture.
It’s here where our justification helps again to explain this. You see, none of these things can remove you from a state of justification. And if you aren’t removed from a state of justification, then you can’t be separated from God’s love. And you can’t suffer for eternity in hell. You will taste of glory. God will finish his work in you, to fully conform you to the image of Christ. This is the key. Jesus said something related to this. He said not to fear those who can kill only the body. Fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. The implication of Jesus’ words then tell the Christian that we don’t need to fear any natural power that at its worst can only destroy our body. Rather rejoice and trust in the fact that God has justified you. This means that God will bring both your body and soul into eternal glory. A redeemed body and soul, even.
And so in this life, we may endure some serious sufferings. But, we are secure in Christ. God is on our side. But that means we should not be surprised when the suffering comes. We get an interesting further explanation of this in verse 36. Paul quotes the Old Testament. He quotes Psalm 44. It’s a rather interesting psalm. We don’t know the historical context of Psalm 44. But the psalm is a lament and appeal to God. The psalm acknowledges some recent defeat of the people of God. Some kind of suffering that evoked the words quoted in verse 36. The psalmist is troubled by this. He claims that they have been following God and is essentially asking why would God let this happen! The psalmist seems to accuse God at the end saying, “Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. Why do You hide Your face, And forget our affliction and our oppression?” It ends with a prayer for redemption and mercy.
Well, at the time of Psalm 44, the psalmist may not have known why things like this happen. We can relate to Psalm 44. But we do have more light. More revelation. The very reference in that psalm to us being sheep as to be slaughtered reminds of us Jesus. And that reminds us of what we have already seen here. God gave up his Son. To die. Like a lamb led to the slaughter. For us. He was wounded for our transgressions. By his stripes we are healed. But as verse 34 Christ not only died, yes he was raised also. And brought to a place of glory. That too is our hope as a Christian. Life now may involve suffering. In that, we share in Christ’s suffering. We experience a bit of what he experienced. But if we share in his sufferings, we will also share in his resurrection. In his conquering death and vanquishing his enemies.
Saints, God loves you. Nothing will get in the way of that love. If he loved you so much to send Jesus to die for you, then he will love you enough to get you to heaven with him. God’s love is the constant in your life. Times will change. Troubles will come and go. God’s love in Christ will remain. Nothing can separate you from it. Nothing.
And so this allows Paul to confidently proclaim that Christians now are more than conquerors, verse 37. This means we are to have a different perspective. The concern raised in Psalm 44 is where is the victory. Paul assures us that even amidst the suffering, there is victory. Even with all our troubles, we are winning a most glorious victory. When it says that we are “more” than conquerors, that’s the English trying to express the amazing language here in the Greek. The idea is a superlative. The highest, best, most, victory we can have. That’s what we are having amidst it all. Interesting that this is put in the present tense. Paul doesn’t think back to the past accomplishments now. He doesn’t think only of some distant future victory. Currently, we are winning the victory in Christ. For in all our trials, we confront them not on our own, but with Christ the victor who is with us. In them all, our justification remains secure, and God is advancing our sanctification. He’s promoting and advancing the full victory of our salvation.
Just think about it. When the world attacks, or when Satan attacks, or when our sinful flesh attacks, it might look like at times these enemies our winning. But that’s not the perspective a Christian should have, says Paul. I can’t help but think of Paul knows this probably about as good as everyone. He saw this from the other side. From the side of the persecutor. Let me make my point here with the Dr. Seuss story about the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. That’s the story about the Grinch who was disgusted by Christmas and all the joy that the residents of the town of Whoville had. So the Grinch decided to try to steal Christmas. He took all the presents. He took all the food. He took all the decorations. He thought he had stole Christmas. But then on Christmas morning all the Whos in Whoville woke up and start singing just like they normally did. The Grinch realized he hadn’t stole Christmas. That is was something more than presents, and food, and decorations. Christmas didn’t come from a store; it meant a little bit more. In other words, the Grinch couldn’t steal Christmas. It wasn’t something that could be stolen.
Well, Paul learned a similar lesson to the Grinch. He thought he could conquer Christians and Christianity. He persecuted the church, when he was known by his former name, Saul. When persecutors of the church stoned Stephen, the first martyr of the New Testament church, Saul was there witnessing and consenting to his death. From there he continued to lead a movement to squash Christianity at all costs. He didn’t realize it at first, but he didn’t succeed in conquering Stephen. Yes, he put him to death. But Stephen was more than a conqueror. Not even death could separate Stephen from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. That’s why as Stephen was being stoned to death, Stephen saw Jesus sitting in heaven at the right hand of God. Saul witnessed Stephen’s testimony. I’m sure if left a mark. Later when Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and was sent to the disciple Ananias, he finally got it. Then he received spiritual sight. Then he realized something like what the Grinch realized in that Dr. Seuss story. You can’t defeat Christianity. You can’t persecute it to death. You can’t murder it to death. Yes, you can persecute Christians and you can murder them. But you can’t defeat them. Christians are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ.
This is because our Christian victory is not something that can be taken away by something. God upholds the elect’s faith by his grace, even amidst trial. Our deaths only hasten us to a place that is far better. Our earthly treasure can be stolen, but the reward of our victory lies in the heavenly treasure we are laying up. No thief can steal that. No destruction can come to it. Our victory involves our eternal life. It means that we have the best love which can’t be lost. And we have so many benefits here in this life too that express our victory. And so as our victory is advanced, we grow in many benefits in this life. These are fruits of this victory. We find a growing peace that transcends understanding. We have a growing hope that is real hope. We have fruit of the Spirit being developed: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. We are growing in putting on the full armor of God: being strong in the Lord and the strength of his might. And so this is all our complete victory in Christ that we have in Christ. Right now in this world full of troubles. All things work together for us who are victorious in Christ. Our justification and sanctification and glorification and more, are all a part of the victory that is coming in all things.
Well, in conclusion, let me offer some final applications today. Notice all the rhetorical questions that are here. Six some rhetorical questions about all this: Verse 31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Verse 32, “How shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Verse 33, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?” Verse 34 “Who is he who condemns?” Verse 35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Verse 35, “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” The rhetorical force of this means that you ask the question, but we all really know the answer. Of course, no one is against us, if God is for us. Of course God will give us freely all things since he gave us Christ. Of course no one can truly bring a real charge against God’s elect. Of course, no one could really condemn us. Of course nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not even the worst of trials and hardship! These questions are put in rhetorical fashion because the answer is so obvious. And yet in practice, the answers don’t always seem so obvious to us. I mean, when you are actually going through that horrible hardship, that’s when all sorts of questions come up. Why is God letting me go through this? Doesn’t he love me? What have I done to deserve this? Doesn’t he care? How can he let this happen? We can find ourselves in the cry of Psalm 44, uncertain about it all. So full of questions. And yet when Paul asks these rhetorical questions, we know the answers. We know God hasn’t abandoned us. We know Romans 8:28 is still in effect. We know God has a reason and it’s a good one. Let the same clear answers that we have to these rhetorical questions apply to your sufferings and trials as well.
Along these same lines, own today the first part of verse 38. Paul said, “For I am persuaded.” He’s fully persuaded at what he’s talked about here. He’s fully persuaded that we are victorious, even amidst the hardest, most extreme, trial in your life. Of course, if we wait until the suffering comes to learn a doctrine of suffering, then it will be that much harder to go through. Rather become persuaded today. Become persuaded like Paul that God still loves you and has a perfect plan, even in the hardest times of your life. Learn it now, before the real trials come. So that when they do, you can have this perspective on it. A perspective of being more than a conqueror.
Saints, God is on your side. When the troubles come he will still be on your side. That is not the time to act like he’s not. That’s the time to realize that he is. That’s the time to see how he carries you. That is the time to thank him and worship him. And lift up your needs to him. That is the time to rejoice even in your suffering, that your God will never leave you nor forsake you. That what you have in Christ can never be lost or taken. Then cling to him all the more. God is for us. If you are a Christian then God is for you. Praise be to him! Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.