Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Can God Be Trusted?

Part 1 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 9:1-13




But it is not as though the word of God has failed (v. 6a). 


ROMANS 9-11 ISN’T EASY READING! 

We’ve now come to the most difficult section of Romans: chapters 9-11. Full disclosure: In these chapters, there are truths about God and his ways that I don’t completely understand.

At the end of chapter 11, the apostle Paul concludes this section with a doxology, which, in part, says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable [i.e., incomprehensible] his ways!” (v. 33). The KJV says that God’s ways are “past finding out.”

But, of course, the inability to understand something doesn’t make it untrue. For example, if a two-year-old child doesn’t understand how computers work, that doesn’t mean computers aren’t real.


ISRAEL’S UNBELIEF 

Paul writes, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (v. 2). Why? Because most Jews had rejected the gospel. And he says, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (v. 3). In other words, Paul is willing to go to hell instead of his fellow Jews who had rejected the gospel.

Paul lists several privileges that God had given to Israel (vv. 4-5). [1] And notice the last privilege he mentions: “from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ” (v. 5). “The Christ” (i.e., the Messiah)—Jesus—was born a Jew. And what does Paul say about Jesus? He says he is “God over all” (v. 5).

When God—God the Son—took on humanity, he was born a Jew. But he was rejected by most Jews. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).


DID GOD BREAK HIS PROMISES? 

“Romans 9-11 is not about Israel—it is about God.” [2] Israel’s unbelief leads to a question about God. God had made many promises to the people of Israel. For example, God promised, “I will be their [i.e., Israel’s] God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). Who are the people of God today? The church, which is mostly made up of Gentiles.

Did God break his promises to Israel? And if God broke his promises to Israel, will he do the same to us? What about the promises in Romans 8? Can God be trusted? Here’s Paul’s answer: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed” (v. 6).

Paul writes, “For not all who are descended [physically] from Israel belong to [spiritual] Israel, and not all are [spiritual] children of Abraham because they are his [physical] offspring” (vv. 6-7). There are two Israels. There is a physical Israel, and there is a spiritual Israel (sometimes called a “remnant,” v. 27).

Did God break his promises to Israel? No. God never promised to save every physical descendant of Abraham.


DIVINE ELECTION 

Paul goes on to say that people are saved because of God’s choice (i.e., election). This choice is not based on any foreseen good of person chosen to be saved. Paul gives two examples of divine election from Israel’s history: (1) Isaac was chosen instead of Ishmael; (2) Jacob was chosen instead of Esau. [3]

Some Christians believe in unconditional election (i.e., an election not based on anything about us—our goodness, faith, etc.); others believe in in an election that is based on God’s knowledge of who would believe. (But if God’s election is based on foreseeing our decision to believe, is God really making a choice?) [4]

Divine election shows us that God deserves all the glory for our salvation. John Stott writes, “If we were responsible for our own salvation, either in whole or even in part, we would be justified in singing our own praises and blowing our own trumpet in heaven. [5] But such a thing is inconceivable.” Salvation is by God’s grace alone.

What about our faith—our decision to believe? Douglas Moo (a Calvinist—someone who believes in unconditional election) writes,
…faith cannot be omitted from the salvation equation. However much we may want to claim that salvation is based on God’s choice, we must also insist that the human decision is based on God’s choice, we must also insist that human decision to believe is also both real and critical. We are not puppets in God’s hands, passively moving as he directs. We are responsible human beings, called by God to exercise faith in his Son. The evidence of Scripture compels us to maintain a fine balance at this point. The Bible teaches in passages such as 9:6-13 that God is the one who ultimately determines, by his own free decision, who is to be saved. But it teaches that every human being is called upon to respond to God’s offer of salvation in faith. [6]
Stott says, “Many mysteries surround the doctrine of election, and theologians are unwise to systematize it in such a way that no puzzles, enigmas or loose ends are left.” [7]


DIVINE LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS 

Lest we get the impression that God is a cold Deity, that he just randomly chooses who will be saved (“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe….”), let’s consider how Jesus (God in human flesh) felt about Israel’s rejection of the Christ.
  • “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on the day the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:41-42a). 
  • “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37). (The fact that Jesus says, “You were not willing” implies that they could have been saved.) 

Paul says, “I would give up everything if Israel could be saved.” But that’s what Jesus actually did! A God who loves us this much will keep his promises. Our God can be trusted.

____________________

[1] Tim Keller points out that these privileges “should have prepared and pointed them to Christ” (Romans 8-16 for You, p. 49).
[2] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 291.
[3] “Loved” and hated” in verse 13 refer to actions, not emotions. God chose Jacob and rejected Esau.
[4] It’s argued that Paul is not talking about individual salvation here, but isn’t he answering the question of why most Jews (individuals) rejected the gospel?
[5] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 268.
[6] Moo, Romans, p. 307.
[7] Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 268.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

If God Is for Us, We Will Never Be Abandoned

Part 3 of God Is For Us

Text: Romans 8:35-39




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 (vv. 38-39). 


TOGETHER FOREVER 

During a wedding ceremony, the couple is warned that bad circumstances might come, such as sickness and poverty. They might not “live happily ever after.” And they are asked to promise that they will stay together as husband and wife “until death do us part.”

I believe that 99.9% of brides and grooms are sincere when they make that promise. They truly believe that they can’t live without each other, that they’ll be together forever. But, sadly, less than 99.9% of marriages don’t last a lifetime.

Marriages end for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes a marriage ends simply because the couple falls out of love. They just don’t love each other the way they once did.

Will God ever stop loving us? Would God ever say, “I’m tired of [insert your name]. He/she is constantly falling short of my expectations. He/she will no longer be my child.” 


GOD’S LOVE IS REAL LOVE 

Love that is only an emotion is not real love. Real love causes a person to act. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). God’s love is more than an emotion. God’s love causes God to act.

  • “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). 
  • “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). 
  • “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). 
  • God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).
If you want to know what real love is, consider what God has done for us. To love is to give, to give help to those in need.


NOBODY AND NOTHING! 

Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” What’s the answer? Nobody! We can’t be separated from God’s love.

Nothing can undo what God has planned for every person who has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ.   God has given to us an unchangeable verdict: “There is…now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1; cf. vv. 33-34). God has given to us an unbreakable promise: Every person whom God justifies will be glorified (Rom. 8:30). Romans 8 begins with “no condemnation” and ends with “no separation.”

But what about when we experience “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (v. 35)? Does God use these things to show us that he doesn’t love us anymore? No. Most of these things Paul had already experienced in his own life. [Read 2 Corinthians 11:26-27; 12:10.] And his life would end by the “sword” (i.e., execution by beheading). Paul also quotes Psalm 44:22 (v. 36) to show that God’s people shouldn’t be surprised by suffering. Bad circumstances don’t tell us that God doesn’t love us anymore.

Paul says, “No, in all these things [i.e., all these bad things] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 27). We are “more than conquerors” because God can use the bad things in our lives to do something good for us.


CAN WE SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM GOD’S LOVE? 

But can we choose to separate ourselves from God’s love? What if “tribulation,” etc. causes us to renounce our faith?

Notice the phrase “anything else in all creation” (v. 39). “Paul is not only saying that Christ still loves believers when persecution arrives, although that is doubtless true. He is also saying that the love of Christ is so powerful that believers will not forsake him despite the sword, persecution, famine, and so on” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 466).

The process of Romans 8:29-30 is an unbreakable process.


WE ALSO OUGHT TO LOVE 

What kind of effect should God’s love have on us?

  • “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). 
  • “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). 
  • “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). 
  • “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ love the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). 
Love is more than an emotion. To love is to act. To love is to help. To love is to give. To love is to be faithful. To love is to be like God.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

If God Is for Us, We Will Never Be Condemned

Part 2 of God Is For Us

Text: Romans 8:33-34




Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus 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 (vv. 33-34).


GOD IS FOR US! 

The apostle Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” There isn’t any uncertainty as to whether or not God is for us. “If” means “since”—“since God is for us, who can be against us?”

What does it mean for God to be “for” us? It means that God is on our side—we are his people, his children. “God is for us.” We can write our names in the verse: “God is for….”

Since God is on our side, it doesn’t matter who are enemies are. None of God’s plans for us will fail—especially his plan stated in verses 29-30!


JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH 

Paul has a lot to say about justification. To be “justified” means to be declared righteous (i.e., innocent). How can we be justified since “all have sinned” (3:23)? We are sinners by nature and by choice. [Read 3:23-25a.]

Our justification is by grace. It’s a gift received by faith in Christ. It’s undeserved. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).

It’s not “Look at me! Look at how good I am!” It’s “Look at God! Look at how gracious he is!”


NOBODY! 

Paul asks two questions in verses 33 and 34: (1) “Who shall [successfully] bring any charge against God’s elect?” (2) “Who is to condemn?” These are rhetorical questions. Paul isn’t seeking information; he’s making a point. The answer is nobody! 

Look at how Paul describes us in verse 33: “God’s elect.” This takes us back to verses 29 and 30. Every person whom God “foreknew” and “predestined” and “called” and “justified” will in the end be “glorified.”


IT IS GOD WHO JUSTIFIES; IT IS CHRIST JESUS WHO DIED

If God is for us, we will never be condemned. 

Paul says, “It is God who justifies.” He doesn’t focus on justification. Instead, he focuses on the God who justifies. There is no higher judge. There is no appeal that can overturn God’s verdict.

Then Paul writes, “Christ Jesus 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” (v. 34). It’s like Paul is piling on the reasons why we will never be condemned (“more than that”). Back in Romans 4:25, Paul said that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The very presence of Jesus in heaven assures us that all of our sin has been taken care of and we will never be condemned.


THE GOSPEL IS FOR EVERYONE 

The gospel—the message of justification by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ—is not just for those who have not yet believed. The gospel is for everyone. Believers need to hear the gospel.

Back in Romans 1:15, Paul writes, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Who is Paul writing to? A few verses earlier, he tells his readers, “Your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (v. 8). Paul is writing to people in Rome who are believers—people who have already heard and believed the gospel.

Why do believers need to hear the gospel? Because the gospel “is not just a call to initial saving faith but also a call to continue in a daily walk of faith” (ESV Study Bible).

Paul mentions suffering earlier in Romans 8: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v. 18). In times of suffering we need the gospel.

We need to remember that God loves us—he’s “for us” (v. 31), he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (v. 32). We need to remember that we will never be condemned because God—the one who loves us—is the one who justifies. We need to remember that God will never stop loving us. “[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).

This is what the gospel tells us—those of us who have already believed. The gospel gives us peace and strength during times of suffering. The gospel is for everyone.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Son of Man

Part 3 of A Thrill of Hope

Text: Psalm 8; Hebrews 2:9



When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Ps. 8:3-4).


Star Gazing

I have preached on Psalm 8 in the past—but never at Christmastime. The author of Hebrews makes a connection between Psalm 8 and the coming of the Christ into the world. Of course, we who are Christians believe that the Christ (i.e., the Messiah) is Jesus—Jesus Christ.

Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise written by David. In the psalm, David mentions looking up at the stars. In his younger days, David was a shepherd. And I’m sure there were many nights when David would lie on his back and gaze at the stars.

Today we know much more about the stars than David ever did. How many stars do you think there are? There are many more stars that the naked eye can see. In our galaxy alone, there are about 400 billion stars. And according to one recent estimate, there are at least 2 trillion galaxies.

We live in an immense universe. It’s not surprising that David begins and end Psalm 8 the same way: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vv. 1a, 9).


God's Awesomeness and Our Insignificance

Verse 1 goes on to say, “You have set your glory above the heavens” (v. 1b). Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The apostle Paul writes, “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). The heavens are glorious, but God is more glorious.

Listen to Isaiah 40:25-26: “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and see: who created these [the stars]? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.”

David writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (vv. 3-4). God is big; we are little. We are nothing in comparison to God.

Psalm 8 was written to encourage God’s people to praise God. Why should we praise God? Here’s one reason: We are so little, but God has done big things for us! The God who made the stars is the same God who cares about us! But how much does God care about us?


We See Jesus

Psalm 8:5 says, “You have made him [the son of man] a little lower than the heavenly beings [i.e., the angels].” In Hebrews 2, the author quotes Psalm 8. He sees “the son of man” as the Son of Man: “We see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus” (v. 9). In the Gospels, Jesus often refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” What does this title mean?

In Daniel 7, the prophet Daniel describes a vision in which he sees “one like a son of man” (v. 13). In other words, he sees a person who looks like a man. But the “one like a son of man” is obviously more than just a man. In Daniel’s vision, the “one like a son of man” comes “with the clouds of heaven.” In the OT, God is the one who rides on the clouds. “[The LORD] makes the clouds his chariot” (Ps. 104:3). “Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud” (Isa. 19:1). “The clouds are the dust of [the LORD’s] feet” (Nah. 1:3).

When Jesus questioned by Caiaphas the high priest regarding his true identity, Jesus declares, “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). Jesus was saying, “I am the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision!” What was the high priest’s reaction? He accuses Jesus of blasphemy (v. 65). By calling himself the Son of Man, Jesus was claiming to be both man (“one like a son of man”) and God (“with the clouds of heaven”).

“We see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Ponder what this means! Think about who that baby lying in a manger really was! Think about God's humility and love! And then ponder our own lack of humility and love.

The God-man died for us! That’s how much God cares about us!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Hope's Peace

Part of A Thrill of Hope

Text: Micah 5:1-5a; 7:18-20




But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days…. And he shall be their peace. (Micah 5:2, 5a). 


What We Really Need

It’s not uncommon to receive a Christmas gift that we don’t really need—or that we don’t even want. 

There’s something that we all need this Christmas. We all need hope. What happens if we have no hope? If we have no hope, we are filled with despair. We have no reason to live. We need to have good things to look forward to. If we are going through a difficult time, we need the expectation that things are going to get better.


Israel's Great Hope

The people of Judah need hope because they’re about to be attacked by the Assyrian army. So God, through the prophet Micah, gives them a message of hope: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel” (5:2).

The interpretation of both Christianity and Judaism is that Micah 5:2 is about the Messiah (i.e., the Christ). When Herod asks the chief priest and scribes “where the Christ was to be born,” they answer, “In Bethlehem of Judea,” and then they quote Micah 5:2: “ (cf. John 7:42).

The great hope of Israel was the coming of the Messiah. And God says it’s going to happen, and he’ll be born in Bethlehem.


God Keeps His Promises

The prophecy of Micah 5:2 was given in 701 B.C. Centuries pass, and the Messiah still hasn’t arrived. Is the Messiah ever going to come?

When waiting, if you wait long enough, you begin to wonder if what you’re waiting for will ever happen.

Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem until 700 years after the prophecy of Micah 5:2 was given—but he was born! “The hopes and dreams of all the years are met in thee [Bethlehem] tonight.” God keeps his promises. And believing God’s promises produces hope.

Micah 5:2 says that the Messiah’s “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” “From ancient times” probably points back to the ancient line of David. (Micah 5:2 and 4 certainly make us think of David: he was from Bethlehem—“the city of David,” Luke 2:4—and he was a shepherd.)

God kept the promise he made to David: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13; cf. Luke 1:32-33).

Micah 7:20 says, “You have shown faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”

We too are waiting for the coming of the Christ. We’re waiting for his second advent. It’s been 2,700 years, and we’re waiting for the day when “he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (5:3). Is Jesus ever going to return?

God always keeps his promises, but the when and how of their fulfillment often don’t meet our expectations (e.g., small and insignificant Bethlehem).


Hope and Peace

Micah 5:5 says, “And he [the Messiah] shall be their peace.” There’s a connection between hope and peace. If we have hope that things will get better, we can have peace—even during extremely difficult times. Hope gives us peace. 

We all need hope. What is your hope in?

There are little hopes—good things we look forward to. But is life nothing more than looking forward to a few good things before we die? There are little hopes, and there is ultimate hope.

The people of Judah were waiting for a Messiah to trample their enemies underfoot. But what does Micah 7:19 say? “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.” God’s plan was to trample their sins underfoot. How would he accomplish this? By allowing his Son to be trampled underfoot, to be crucified. “He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).

We can have ultimate hope because of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Do you have hope—ultimate hope, hope that extends beyond this life? Is your hope in Jesus? Do you have the peace of hope?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Offspring of the Woman

Part 1 of A Thrill of Hope

Text: Genesis 3:15



“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).


What Do We Really Need?

We’re counting down the days until Christmas.

We call Christmas “the most wonderful time of the year,” but Christmas always leaves us wanting more. We look forward to the gifts, the music, the food—all the Christmas traditions—but they’re never enough.

We long for something more because we were made for something more.

What do we really need? We need hope—not a finger crossing type of hope, but a confident expectation of good things to come.


Protoevangelium

Genesis 3:15 is often called the protoevangelium, which means “first gospel.” This verse contains the first hint about the gospel.

God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity [i.e., hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” This prophecy could merely be foretelling the natural hostility between humans and snakes.

But God is saying much more that that. “Offspring” is a collective noun (cf. Gal. 3:16). It can refer to one person or many people (i.e., one descendant or many descendants). I believe that the “offspring” of the woman points forward to one particular descendant of Eve: Jesus, who is described as “born of woman” (Gal. 4:4), “offspring of the Virgin’s womb” (Hark! the Herald Angels Sing).

Mary’s baby boy was born to put a thrill of hope in our hearts. 


More Than Just a Baby Boy

Mary’s baby boy—the baby lying in a manger—was more than just a baby boy.

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). 
  • “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). 
  • “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). 
  • “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; / Hail th’incarnate Deity” (Hark! the Herald Angels Sing).

The Serpent's Defeat

The serpent’s true identity is revealed in the NT. In Revelation 12, the apostle John is given a vision of “a great red dragon” (v. 3). And the dragon is identified as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (v. 9).

Satan would like to extinguish humanity’s hope. In John’s vision, the dragon is seen waiting for the child to be born so that “he might devour it” (v. 4). Satan made many attempts to kill Jesus (e.g., Herod, religious leaders of the Jews, etc.).

Finally, Satan succeeds. Jesus is crucified. But what he didn’t realize is that he would be defeated by the blood of Jesus. The serpent had bruised the heel of Jesus, but Jesus had crushed the head of the serpent. Satan is an accuser. He accuses God of not being good (e.g., his temptation of Eve). He accuses us of sin (cf. Rom. 8:33). But “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20).


Hope

Think about the excitement and magic of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

But it doesn’t last long. Soon we’re thinking, “What’s next?”

People sometimes say, “I wish every day could be just like Christmas.” I’m convinced that eternity for the child of God will be like one continuous Christmas day—but even better!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

If God Is For Us, We Should Never Be Afraid

Part 1 of God Is For Us

Text: Romans 8:31-32




What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against 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? (vv. 31-32).


New Series

We are starting a new series of sermons based on Romans 8:31-39. The series is called “God Is For Us.”

  1. If God is for us, we should never be afraid (vv. 31-32) 
  2. If God is for us, we will never be condemned (vv. 33-34) 
  3. If God is for us, we will never be abandoned (vv. 35-39) 

The apostle Paul asks, “What then shall we say to these things?” (v. 31). “These things” probably refers to all that he’s written in chapters 5-8. Paul answers his question with five rhetorical questions. Let’s read what says about “these things.”


God Is on Our Side

When my high school basketball team would go to a tournament, the first thing we’d do was look at the tournament schedule. Who would our first opponent be? Imagine if we could insert into our starting lineup a player like Lebron James. We wouldn’t care who we were playing against. It wouldn’t matter. That’s what Paul means when he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31).

“If” means “since.” For God to be “for us” means that he’s on our side. Since God is on our side, it doesn’t matter who our enemies are. We can say with the psalmist, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6). Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Paul isn’t saying that God’s children won’t experience any opposition. He’s not saying we won’t ever go through times of trouble. [Talk about things that could make us afraid.] What he’s saying is that nothing can cause us ultimate harm—undo all that God has done, is doing, and will do for us. “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined…. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified” we are sure that he will glorify.

[Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.] In the end, all of the opposition and trouble we face in this life, will produce “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”


God Gave Up His Son for Us

God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (v. 32). This is the clearest demonstration of God being “for us.” Octavius Winslow said, “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy;—but the Father, for love!”

Paul could be thinking of the story of Abraham and Isaac found in Genesis 22. God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him…as a burnt offering” (v. 2). In the end, Isaac was spared. But Jesus was not spared. What Abraham was told to do, God did. He “gave [his own Son] for us all.”

There could be no greater gift than the gift of God’s Son to die for us. Since God has already given us the greatest gift, he will certainly give us everything else we need. If someone has already graciously purchased a new car for you, will they mind giving you a piece of gum? [Read Philippians 4:19, then verses 11-13.] Remember: sometimes we don't actually need what we think we need.


Fear Not

What causes you to fear? If God is for us—and he is!—we should never be afraid. God—who if he were a basketball player would make Lebron James look like me—is on our side!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Glorified!

Part 5 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:29-30




For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (vv. 29-30). 


God Is Not Indifferent to Our Suffering

In this life we groan. It’s normal to ask, “Why, God?” But one question we should never ask is “Do you care, God?”

In John 11, Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus informing him that their brother Lazarus is dying. Jesus doesn’t leave until two days later, and by the time he arrives at their house, Lazarus has died. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21). I think what she really wants to say was, “Why didn’t you come sooner?” Did Jesus not care?

When Jesus sees Mary weeping, he becomes “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (v. 33). The KJV says that Jesus groans. [1]  And then when he arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus cries. [2]

God is not indifferent to our suffering. When we groan, God groans. When we cry, God cries.


The Coming Day of Glory

There is no greater proof that God cares about us than the cross. On that cross, Jesus groaned so that one day our groaning would cease. On that cross, Jesus suffered so that one day our suffering would end.

There is coming a day so glorious that the suffering of this life will seem like nothing in comparison. [3] That’s not making light of our suffering. That’s making much of the glory of that day!

How can we be sure that we will experience this day of glory? 


An Unbreakable Chain

The “purpose” of God (v. 28) is outlined in verses 29 and 30. There is an unbreakable chain of five links (i.e., five acts of God) that guarantee the completion of a believer’s salvation: “those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined…. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

“Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (v. 29). There’s been a lot of debate about what “foreknew” means.

There are two interpretations:

  • “Foreknew” means that God knew ahead of time who would put their faith in Christ. 
  • “Foreknew” means that God foreloved the elect (i.e., those whom he chose to be saved). “In Scripture God’s knowing often refers to his entering into relationship with someone.” [4] For example, in Amos 3:2 God says, “You [Israel] only have I known [5] of all the families of the earth.”

I agree with the second interpretation—though I also believe that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

“Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Our destiny is to be like Jesus in his glorified state. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21).

“Those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified.” “Calling” is not a general gospel invitation. It is God’s effective summoning of us into relationship with himself through Christ.” [6]

“Those whom [God] justified he also glorified.” Our glorification hasn’t happened yet. Why does Paul talk about it in the past tense? Because it’s as good as done from God’s perspective.


Grace Alone

How can we be sure that we will experience the day of glory? We can be sure because of God’s grace and God’s grace alone. It’s not up to us. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). “Every justified believer will be saved in the end.” [7]

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[1] “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled” (John 11:33, KJV).
[2] “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
[3] “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
[4] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 270.
[5] The NIV says, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.”
[6] Moo, Romans, p. 270.
[7] Ibid., p. 279.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

God Works All Things for Our Good

Part 4 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:28




And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (v. 28). 


An Amazing Promise

The promise of Romans 8:28 is one of the greatest promises in the Bible: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Nothing will come into our lives that God doesn’t allow and use for our good. What this promise tells us is that “God is for us” (v. 31).

But maybe you don’t feel like God is for you. Maybe your life—or the life of someone you know—seems to contradict Romans 8:28. Let’s make sure we understand what the apostle Paul is really saying in Romans 8:28.


A Promise for Every Believer

This promise isn’t for everyone. This promise is “for those who love God.” This promise is “for those who are called according to his purpose.” Paul isn’t talking about two kinds of people; he’s talking about one kind of person. He’s talking about believers.

You might be thinking, “But what if I don’t love God enough?” Paul isn’t saying that this promise applies only to believers who love God to a certain degree. This promise is for every believer. “Those who love God” is a description of all believers.


All Things?

All things work together for good.” “All things” means all things—both the good things and the bad things. But this doesn’t mean that bad things are good things.

Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). The crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate example of God using a bad thing to bring about good. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). “In this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).

Was the crucifixion of Jesus a good thing? That’s a tricky question. The cross was both the worst thing that ever happened and the best thing that ever happened.


"Good" Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

“All things work together for good.” Romans 8:28 is not promising that life will always be easy for a believer. Consider Paul’s life. He certainly didn’t live a life of ease. [Read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.] 

We shouldn’t interpret “good” from the world’s perspective. For example, if a believer loses his or her job, we shouldn’t automatically say, "Don’t be upset. God must have an even better job for you because 'all things work together for good.'" Maybe that is the plan of God. But maybe it isn’t. [Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.] “Good” includes our conformity to Christ—which begins in this life—and our glorification. [Read verses 29-30.] 


The Benefit of Hindsight

Paul says, “We know that…all things work together for good.” “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 12:8). In the present, we “know” by faith. We trust God to cause everything to work together for our good. We trust God—an all-wise God, an all-powerful God, a faithful God, a good God. One day, we will “know” by sight.

We live this life not having all the answers, not understanding why things happen the way they do. We ask, “Why would God allow [something bad] to happen?”

Think again about the crucifixion of Jesus. As his mother and friends were standing there watching him suffer and die, what were they thinking? They were probably thinking, “This is the most horrible thing that could have ever happened.” They were probably asking, “Why did God allow this to happen?”

We now have the benefit of hindsight. We now see that the cross was both the worst thing that ever happened and the best thing that ever happened. In the end, we’ll have the benefit of hindsight. We’ll be able to look back at some awful times in our lives and see how God was working for our good. The promise of Romans 8:28 gives us hope when everything seems pointless and painful.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Holy Spirit's Groaning

Part 3 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:26-27




Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (v. 26). 


It's Not Easy to Pray

It’s not easy to pray. Anyone who says it’s easy to pray is either lying or isn’t normal. Why isn’t it easy to pray?

  • Prayer requires time. 
  • Prayer requires discipline. No one accidentally falls into the habit of daily prayer.
  • Prayer requires focus. 
  • We often don’t know what to pray for. The Bible tells us to pray “according to the will of God,” but what do we do when we’re not sure what God’s will is? Should we pray for deliverance from our troubles or for strength to endure them? 

Why should we bother to pray when we don’t know what to pray for?


The Spirit Helps Us

When we don’t know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit helps us. “The Spirit [who “dwells in” believers (v. 11)] helps us in our weakness” (v. 26). [1]

Notice that Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” He doesn’t say “you.” Paul is admitting that even he didn’t always know what to pray for. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells about a time when he asked for something that wasn’t the will of God. [Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.]

How does the Spirit help us? He “intercedes [i.e., prays] for us” (v. 26). And how does he intercede for us? He intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words” (v. 26). One way to understand these “groanings” is that they are our groanings. “They are inexpressible longings that arise in every believer’s heart to do and know the will of God.” [2] But our groanings also become the Spirit’s groanings. He takes them to the Father and “translates these groanings and conforms them to God’s will.” [3]


Your Will Be Done

The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is the model for our prayers. We naturally want the easier path (deliverance from the trouble rather than strength through the trouble). It’s not wrong to pray for deliverance. Jesus prayed—while being “greatly distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33)—that the “cup” (a metaphor for the wrath of God) would be removed from him. But in the end, he said, “Yet not I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

 Is that your desire? Do you desire to do the will of the God who endured the cross?


Hope in Prayer

Verse 26 begins with the word “Likewise.” As our hope helps us in times of trouble, the Spirit helps us when we don’t know what to pray for.

If we truly desire to do the will of God, we don’t have to fear that we might ask for the wrong thing. The Spirit intercedes for us.

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[1] The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. There is only one God, but each Person of the Trinity is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Should we not believe in the Trinity because we can’t understand it? No! We shouldn’t expect to understand with our finite minds everything about God. God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). Even the most brilliant human mind is finite.
[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 446.
[3] Ibid.