44. God is for us (3)

Meditations in Romans : 44:  God is For Us – 3

Rom 8:35   Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

In what turns into a tidal wave of assurance Paul started by declaring that God was for us and had proved it by sending Jesus, had then gone on to deal with two negatives – no charges and no condemnation – and now peaks with this final thought that nothing can separate from God’s love, and the rest of the chapter is given over to this.

When he said that God is for us, it is because God IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16) and love is always FOR the other person. Because everything God thinks, says or does is an expression of love, He always wants the best for us and is always working to bring that to us. In fact our lives are surrounded by His love, energised by His love, motivated by His love, blessed by His love – His love does everything. But then there come times in life when we go through difficulties and in those times we FEEL alone and we feel nothing is going well for us, but at those times we need to remember the FACTS and we need to remember Paul’s words in this passage. So he brings us this assurance.

When he asks this opening question, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” it is simply so that he can set off against it a whole range of things that we might think would do so – but don’t! Thus he continues, “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”   These are a summary list of things that could go wrong for the Christian, especially in his time. These are the things that we might think would separate us from experiencing God’s love. Indeed he goes on to quote from Psa 44:2, “As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered,” (v.36) as if to confirm that this is a common experience for God’s people.

But immediately he refutes the idea that these sorts of experience will keep us from God’s love: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  (v.37) A conqueror is one who has fought a battle and overcome and has won territory. We have been GIVEN the territory! We didn’t have to fight for it, we didn’t have to struggle to be good people, religious people, godly people, we just received it. We are more that conquerors, we are inheritors! And it was all done by God because He loved us and goes on loving us and will always love us. His love is not dependent on anything WE do; it is constant and unchanging and so it doesn’t matter what the experience of life, that love will always be there. We may not, at times, feel it, but it will still be there, regardless of what comes.

And then his pinnacle declaration that caps off all and any thoughts and doubts and worries that we might have: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.” (v.38,39)  Look, says Paul, it doesn’t matter whether we are dead or alive, it doesn’t whatever spiritual forces come against us, it doesn’t matter how far you go in any direction, it doesn’t matter what you can show me in the whole of existence, none of these things will be able to separate us from the love of God that has been revealed to us through our Lord Jesus.

Now let’s consider some basic definition stuff. When you separate something from something, you are taking it away from what already exists, you take the one thing from another thing. Our life, our experience is one that is embedded in God’s love. Everything about it pertains to God’s love, we are in it and it is in us. The idea that Satan sometimes sows is that we can be taken out of this love or it can be taken out of us and we can be left without it. Not true!  There is only one force in all of creation that is capable of getting us away from this position we now experience – us! We do have the capability of turning our backs on God and when we do that, of course we are no longer living in the wonder of God’s love – but it is still there.

Thus the challenge is all about experiencing this love. It is there and nothing but nothing can stop it reaching us – except us. My heart and pride and unbelief can mean that I don’t appreciate and appropriate it – but it is still there. I have this feeling that a big part of sanctification is about appreciating and appropriating the love of God. It has always been there in my life and will always be there, but have I always appreciated it and have I always appropriated it? I am sure that when I have done both these things it has been in limited measure and I hope and pray that as I live out how ever many years He gives me, I will more and more appreciate and more and more appropriate His love, not merely that I will be more blessed but also that He will be more pleased.

This is the wonderful point that the apostle Paul brings us to at the end of this chapter, so we will leave it there for the moment. Read back through this chapter for it is indeed an amazing exposition. Rejoice in it and worship Him through it. Amen.

43. God is for us (2)

Meditations in Romans : 43:  God is For Us – 2

Rom 8:33,34   Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 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.

All that is going to follow in this chapter is Paul’s response to his own question: “What, then, shall we say in response to this?”  (v.31a) Yes, that is what we said as we started the previous meditation but what now follows in the immediate verses is also his response to his own question: If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v.31b) In the following verse we saw how he laid down that overriding principle that if God gave His Son He will also give us everything that flows from the work of Jesus on the Cross. Paul is about to lay down a definitive rebuttal of all the negatives that might comes from the enemy against us Christians. Thus in each of the things that follow we might preface them with, “If God be for us then…..” and we’re going to find a series of these things.

The first one thus becomes, “If God be for us then…Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” To every one of these he is going to bring an answer that shows how God does the positive to counter the negative, but we might do well to consider the negative first. Paul imagines the enemy coming against God’s children and accusing them but, he adds, the enemy may accuse but God won’t. Why? Because “it is God who justifies.”  The work of the Cross is all about justifying those who would turn to God. We saw the divine process previously, God foreknew … predestined … called… justified… glorified.  That was the objective of God’s work to justify those who came to Him and then glorify them. God’s in the business of justifying not bringing charges against us! Jesus has come to deal with our failures not point fingers at us.

Remember, the way to deal with personal failure is to confess it: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)  When we do that we find something else happening: “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2)  What does he say to the Father? On the basis of Scripture we assume, “Father, I died for that sin. Forgive and cleanse them afresh.” But of course when we do fail (sin), Satan turns up and points a finger at us and charges us with failure and of being a poor example of a Christian. Our answer is: “You are right, but I have confessed my sin to Him, and He has forgiven and cleansed me of it because Jesus died on the Cross to deal with that sin, so it’s dealt with. Now, go away!”

The second of these things is a direct follow on that we might now put, “If God be for us then….who is he that condemns?” This is an extension of the first one because when Satan comes to lay a charge against us of sin, he is out to condemn us. That means he wants to write us off: “Sinner! Failure! You’re not a Christian! You’re not a child of God! Stop trying to pretend. Give up all this silly religious nonsense” and in this way he seeks to cast us in a bad position from which there is no hope, but of course that is not how it is.

Paul’s positive answer is, “Christ Jesus …. is also interceding for us.” i.e. Jesus is speaking up for us, just as we saw in 1 Jn 2:1.  At which point the belligerent crusading atheist snaps back at us, so what, what does it matter what an itinerant preacher prays? Ah, but we missed out the middle part of that verse to emphasize his activity, and that centre part says three vital things about Jesus: “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.”

First thing about Jesus: he died. It was a fact of history; he actually died there on the Cross at the hands of experienced Roman executioners. But behind those two simple words, ‘he died’, there is a whole wealth of Biblical testimony that says his death was part of the plan of God from before the foundation of the world to deal with our sin and satisfy justice to show that each and every sin has been paid for by the eternal Son of God. He died – fact – to deal with our sins.

Second thing about Jesus:  he was raised to life. He didn’t stay dead. Within three days of his death he rose again and showed himself to his disciples – over 500 hundred of them! His rising confirms who he said he was, God’s unique Son, and affirms the work he had come to do, die for our sins. The Father raising him from the dead showed this was His way of confirming or accrediting all His Son was and did. Jesus has the Father’s approval.

Third thing about Jesus: he is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. This is attested to many times in the New Testament. Check out Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22.  This says Jesus has been placed in the place of authority in heaven and so when he intercedes for us – the Father listens! So does God condemn us and write us off? No way! Jesus speaks up for us and his intent is that we are restored.

There is more to come but we’ll leave that for the next meditation. But be quite clear about this in your mind: God is for us! He proved it by sending His Son for us and He proves it today by continuing to justify us and stand up for us and restore us. Be quiet clear on these things and stand firm in who you are in Christ.

42. God is for us

Meditations in Romans : 42:  God is For Us

Rom 8:31,32   What, then, shall we say in response to this? 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, along with him, graciously give us all things?

All that is going to follow in this chapter is Paul’s response to his own question: “What, then, shall we say in response to this?”  What is the ‘this’? It is the wonder of what God has done for us, as we ended the previous meditation: “God foreknew … predestined … called… justified… glorified.”  If God did all that, what more can we say about our salvation?

His answer is, as we just said, spread through the remaining verses of the chapter, but initially he makes a very simple but profound response in the form of yet another question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In other words, all of this points to the incredible fact that God is FOR us and so – in the light of that verse 28 where He works ALL things for our good – who can be against us because whoever or whatever appears against us, God will be working to bring their activity to good for us, so in one sense even they are not against us. Now isn’t that amazing, and I wonder how many of us have actually ever seen that?

But there is another aspect to that part of the verse. When Paul asks “If God is for us…” it is almost a rhetorical question for, as we’ve already implied and concluded, what he is really say is that “God is for us and so who can be against us?” So let’s take that little phrase: “God is for us” Take it word by word.

“God” – the almighty creator of all things, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise One is on our side and is for us.

“Is” – not might be! This takes on incredible significance in the face of the doubts that the enemy would sow in so many hearts and minds. When things aren’t going well, to say the least, and you are feeling under severe pressure, do you find yourself with the question, “Does God really love me? Is He really here for me?” That’s the whisper of the enemy. There is no question about it, this God IS love and IS for YOU.

“For” – not against!  Here it comes again. I am ‘for’ my children. That means in all things I want to be there for them, helping, encouraging and blessing them. If God is ‘for’ me, then that adds strength to verse 28 – He is there working FOR me to bring good in all things.

“Us” – this is all about us Christians, sons of God, children of God, as Paul described us earlier on. This is not about other people; we are the most blessed on the earth, the people of God who have responded to the good news of Jesus Christ. God is for us and working all things for our good.

Now to prove his point Paul refers to what God has done with Jesus: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.” How horrific it must have been for the Father and Son (who had already always existed in heaven with the Father) to be separated when the Son left heaven to dwell on earth for thirty three earth years with limited communication?  But then how even more terrible it must have been when sin covered the Son on the Cross and for moments the Son could not even sense the Father’s presence as he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That was the cry of the human element of the wonderful God-man that was Jesus Christ. The godhead did this for you and me, knowing it was the only way that justice could be satisfied and all sins dealt with, as the unique Son of God carried our punishment. The eternal one carried every sin of every person of all time, but for it to happen the Father had to allow the Son to go through it and carry and take our sins and punishment, knowing that for the all-perfect Son who had existed with Him in eternity there would be the awfulness of having the sins of the world dumped on him on the Cross. How awful.

But Paul’s argument doesn’t stop there. In what he has said so far he sought to support the declaration that God is for us by showing what God has done for us already, but it didn’t finish with our rebirth; that was simply the beginning for us and so Paul adds, “will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Note key words in the midst of that, “along with him”. When Christ ascended we find, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body.” (Eph 1:22,23)  Christ was put in a position of rule next to his Father, yet elsewhere we are told he is ruling in the midst of his enemies and will continue that process until he hands the kingdom back to his Father finally. So Jesus has everything he needs to rule: he is God and so has His capabilities now in heaven, and he has been given the Father’s authority. But then we are part of his body and so we find, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:6,7) Thus God expresses His grace in us and grace in this context means both His favour and His abilities to be Christ-like and do the works of Christ as He leads us. These are the “all things”.

Today, as a member of the body of Christ, God has provided all we will ever need “in him”. So when Paul says God is ‘for us’ the foundation is the work of Christ on the earth when he came the first time, and the practical outworking is through the Holy Spirit, who will work in and through us until the day we are presented before God in heaven. Our past, present and future have been assured all because God is for us!

41. The Divine Process

Meditations in Romans : 41:  The Divine Process

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

This is THE most compact description of God’s work of salvation found anywhere in the Bible. To put it in context, Paul has been bringing reassurance to the Christians in Rome and having just said that God works for the good in our lives, he now steps back and takes a panoramic view of  God’s work.

It starts with the word, ‘foreknew’. Before God created anything He KNEW what would happen if He did this or that. God KNEW what would happen if He gave us free will. God KNEW what would happen with sin entering the world. God KNEW how He could then work to draw men and women back to Him. God KNEW who would respond to Him.   On the Day of Pentecost Peter preached, This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge,” (Acts 2:23) speaking of God’s preplanned purposes, and then a little later he preached, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer,” (Acts 3:18) reminding us that God had spoken of this plan many times through the Old Testament prophets. Later in prayer they prayed about the religious leaders, “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:28). Again and again they realised that all that had taken place, happened with God’s foreknowledge; He had planned it before the foundation of the world. (Check out Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2)

But having known what would happen – the Fall – God planned or “predestined” the way for sin to be dealt with. The key would be the death and resurrection of Jesus, His Son, how people responded to him. As we already said, He saw into the future and knew who would respond to His Son. This wasn’t a case of Him making us respond but of simply knowing who would respond. Knowing who would respond and writing their names in the Lamb’s book of Life (Rev 17:8) is what the Bible means by predestination. You were predestined to become a child of God in that God looked into the future, knew everything that would happen and saw you responding. It was fixed only in as far as God saw what would happen and thus because it did happen we can say retrospectively that you were predestined.

But there is more because it says, predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,” indicating the purpose of what God was going to do in you. Jesus was the blueprint of a perfect man and God’s work throughout our time on earth is to conform us gradually to that blueprint. Jesus would be revealed through his death and resurrection as God’s Son, and in this he would be, if you like, the firstborn of God’s big family that would be created throughout the period of church history, until Jesus comes back again. It will never be perfectly done, this process of change, until we meet Him face to face, but big steps will be taken.

That was the plan but it had to be brought into being in time-space history and so “those he predestined, he also called.” To bring about redemption required the work of the Holy Spirit to call us and convict us.   In the same way that God used a burning bush to attract and call Moses (Ex 3), so the Holy Spirit used circumstances to attract us. Almost invariably it was some form of crisis and somehow, either directly or using another person, we were presented with the Gospel, we repented and came to Christ.

At that point we were justified. At the point of our conversion, at the point of being born again, God justified us: “those he called, he also justified.” The old Sunday School adage of “just as if I’d” never sinned, holds true. He wiped away our guilt and sin and forgave us and adopted us as children of God. At that moment we were declared free of guilt and shame, our old sin and our old lives. At that moment we were declared clean, forgiven and sons of God.

But it doesn’t finish there: “those he justified, he also glorified.” We have already said that at that moment He adopted us and He did it in a very practical way: He put His own Holy Spirit within us. At that moment we were glorified in that suddenly the world was able to see that a new child of God existed, another container of the Spirit of God, and from that moment on we would be glorified as children of God as we lived out the Christ life and were transformed into his image and character, and as the Holy Spirit led us into the works of Christ. One day when we pass into God’s presence, we will be changed in a split second into the glorious image of a redeemed heavenly child of God.

God foreknew … predestined … called… justified… glorified.  Note it is all the work of God. This is what He does as He seeks to draw men and women back to Himself. Our part is simply to respond and then we find we are part of the story that was established even before the Lord Himself said, “Let there be light,” and there was light! Wow! Amazing! Incredible! Wonderful!

40. Greatest Assurance

Meditations in Romans : 40:  Greatest Assurance

Rom 8:28   And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I always believe that this verse has got to be one of THE most assuring verses of the New Testament. First of all, let’s note that it flows on in Paul’s mind from all that he has been saying and hence it starts with a link word, “And”.  The flow of Paul’s argument goes right back to when he was speaking about us being sons of God (v.14) and therefore heirs (v.17) as long as we take the sufferings as well as the glory (v.17). Having mentioned suffering he contrasted it with the wonder of what is coming (v.18), noting that the world is groaning and waiting for us to be revealed as God’s sons (v.19-22). We too groan inwardly as we wait for the time when we will be changed in heaven (v.23). In the same as we groan inwardly so the Spirit does when we don’t know how to pray. The picture is of a world and a life that is waiting incomplete, a world that is often uncertain that leaves us wondering what God’s will is. THIS is the context for our present verse.

Against the uncertainty of this Fallen World, Paul now balances it with a wonderful assurance for believers, that whatever is going on (which we may not understand!), God will be working for our good. Let’s note this verse bit by bit because it is so amazing. We note first it is about God working and we note that He is working “in all things”. There is nothing in your life or mine where God is not active. God is never passive. Jesus said, My Father is always at his work.” (Jn 5:17). We may not discern His activities and we may not catch His voice but He is always moving and acting on our behalf.

And it is always for our good! There may be various elements working in our lives. Things happen because of what we say or do. Things happen because Satan or someone that he uses intervenes. Things happen because God intervenes. Our motives may be selfish, Satan’s intentions may be harmful, but God’s intentions are always for our good: “God works for the good.”  God always works to bring good, not bad – because He IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16). The Bible shows that God weaves His actions into the actions of humanity, sometimes even using Satan, to bring good.  Sometimes, as we’ve just noted, as we’ve noted WHO may be involved in our lives, things start out badly as self, sin or Satan are at work, but despite that, God in His wisdom will be working into the situation to somehow bring good to us, His children.

Yes, the target of God’s loving goodness, in this context at least, are “those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Now don’t sink into some subjective wonderings about, “Do I really love Him?”  Love isn’t just a nice warm, fuzzy feeling, it’s commitment. When you came to Christ you committed yourself to Him and, perhaps, initially you had feelings of gratefulness but you might not have identified that as love. But the fact that you are a Christian means you love God. The other side of the coin is that you are what you are because God called you with a purpose. You eventually surrendered and were born again because the Holy Spirit was working to convict you, but He was calling you to God, to come to a place when you knelt before God and surrendered your life to Him. His purpose? It was to save you, redeem you, change you, forgive you, cleanse you, and then take you on in a lifetime adventure of change as a son of God!

Now there is about to follow a most amazing overview of the process of God and we mustn’t rush it and therefore we will leave it to the next meditation. In the meantime if you are someone who sometimes worries about what is going on in your life, remember that your loving heavenly Father is working there in the background of your circumstances to bring good to you, either through the circumstances or despite the circumstances. And God never fails!  Let that truth sink in. Amen? Amen!

39. Groaning Spirit

Meditations in Romans : 39:  Groaning Spirit

Rom 8:26,27   In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

There is a sense, I feel, that as we work our way through these verses it is like entering more and more deeper into a dark wood of revelation. When we came to verse 19 we spoke of it as a tantalizing verse, but then had to repeat that with verses 20 and 21. When we speak of a ‘dark wood’ we don’t mean dark spiritually but dark in as far as it is difficult to see what Paul is saying. We are moving in areas that most Christians rarely think about. Our danger in these two verses is that we go along with what we have heard others say about them and not with what they actually say. Now I say this because often people interpret what is here as meaning that we groan with the Spirit’s help, but that is not what these verses say. We may not fully understand it at first sight, but these verses explicitly speak of the Holy Spirit groaning. Let’s examine what they say.

Paul starts these verses with this simple phrase: In the same way”. He’s just been speaking about how hope helps us in our sufferings. Now he moves on to speak of how “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” In what way are we weak? Oh, that is simple, he implies, “We do not know what we ought to pray for.” This goes to the fundamental root of prayer. What is prayer if it is not us Christians speaking to our Father in heaven and often that speaking involves asking, and when we ask we are requesting Him to intervene on earth and bring about things which we believe are His will. But there is the problem; although we may have ideas of what to pray for generally, sometimes we come to a place where we don’t know what to pray in detail.

Now normally when I would be teaching about corporate prayer I would be suggesting that we need to ask the Lord and then listen to the Lord for the sense of the direction He wants us to pray and in a corporate setting that is right and proper, but Paul is speaking more generally about prayer here. Now I am also aware of what I think about ‘speaking in tongues’. I believe this is another of those joint man-plus-Spirit activities and when I have pondered why God has given it to us, my conclusion is that He has given us a tool to overcome our frustration. Sometimes when you are filled with the Spirit you have such a sense of praise and thanks giving that you just want to go on and on and on. The trouble is that you have this yearning to do so because the presence of God is so wonderful but you start running out of words. At this point you switch into tongues and still have the sense of wonderful praise and thanksgiving but it bypasses the mind and enables you to just carry on without having to struggle for words.

But now Paul focuses on the “the Spirit himself”. Note that clear emphasis; this is the work of the Spirit, this is what He is doing, not what we do. So he continues, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” It is the Holy Spirit who speaks up for us. Now the apostle John said something similar: “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1) When we get it wrong, the Son turns to the Father and speaks up for us, on the basis of what he has done on the Cross. Now, in the present context Paul continues later in verse 27, “the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” The Holy Spirit who dwells within us, and who feels and knows every thought and therefore everything about us, translates His knowledge and, linking it with what He knows is the will of God for us, communicates it to the Godhead in what Paul describes as “groans that words cannot express.” He avoids the frustration He might otherwise feel in trying to communicate with words which are limited.  His groans are perfectly understood by the Father and the Son.

Let’s try and communicate this another way. Sometimes when we want to share what we feel with another, we know that words are inadequate. We want to tell our partner we love them and words seem inadequate, so we smile and they see in our eyes the wonder of our love. We hug them and they feel in the strength of our hug the wonder of our love for them. We do something for them which is clearly sacrificial and they understand and catch the depth of our love for them – all without words.

God “searches our hearts” and wanting to understand as fully as possible what we feel, He catches what the Spirit (His Spirit) within us is feeling. Being inside us, knitted with our spirit He feels and understands perfectly all that is going on inside us – more than we ourselves realise. We sense something in our spirit, aided by His Spirit, but we aren’t sure of what it is, although He knows and so rather than leave it hanging in the air, so to speak, the Holy Spirit within communicates it to the Godhead by these wordless groanings, communicating back to heaven the perfect understanding of God on earth, because (and this is the marvel of this) the Holy Spirit IS God.

In these verses we are really treading on holy ground, all to do with communication within the Godhead. Sometimes in prayer it is just us speaking to the Father. Sometimes, especially in corporate prayer but it can also be in individual prayer, the Father reveals the things on His heart He wants us to pray out. (It seems almost as if there is something about the will of God being spoken out that adds to its value). At other times, in praise and thanksgiving, the Spirit enables us to speak in tongues so we carry on praying without intellectual knowledge of the meaning. At other times Jesus speaks to the Father on our behalf. On other occasions the Spirit communicates the will of the Father through our Spirit to heaven but through HIS groanings. What a variety of communication means to heaven!

38. Living in Hope

Meditations in Romans : 38:  Living in Hope

Rom 8:24,25   For in this hope we wee saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Hope is all about the future and hope is one of those concepts that is so often misunderstood. We use the word in everyday life in respect of thing we would like to happen, for example, I hope the sun will shine today. Now certainly today the sophisticated weather forecasting can give us a good idea of what is likely to happen, but it still uncertain and is still just something we would really like to happen. Some thing we can contribute to as far as outcome is concerned. For example a student might say, “I am hoping to take my exams in the summer,” but that is dependent on them working hard and being allowed to take those exams.

When it comes to Biblical hope it means something of which we are assured, and the reason we are far more certain about it, is that God has said it will be so, and if He said it, we can be sure of it. These verses start, in this hope”. What hope? That refers to the previous verses (not just the previous one). What future things has Paul been speaking about?  He spoke of i) sharing Christ’s glory (v.17,18), of us ii) being revealed in the full wonder of God’s sons (v.19) and now iii) the redemption of our bodies, a glorious future existence (v.23). This is all future promise.

But this isn’t just Paul. For instance Jesus prayed, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:” (Jn 17:22) i.e. i) sharing in Christ’s glory. Just before that he had prayed, “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:21) i.e. ii) may they be revealed as your sons so that the world will see.  Although he did not speak specifically about our bodies, Jesus did tell his disciples, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (Jn 14:3) i.e.  iii) a future existence with Jesus.

Paul speaks of the resurrected body elsewhere, for example, “the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Phil 3:21) The apostle John also wrote, “we know that when he appears, we shall be like him.” (1 Jn 3:2). That is the amazing idea that is conveyed, that one day, when we leave this earth at the end of our lives on it, we are going to be changed and given a new body, that is part of the Gospel message or as Paul says it here, “For in this hope we were saved.”

But Paul is very down to earth and so he reminds us that this teaching is about the future and so it is something to be received by faith, and because it is still in the future it is therefore ‘hope’ but, he goes on, “hope that is seen is no hope at all”. It is not something we can see, something that is visible, something clearly visible on the horizon. No, what we are talking about is something in the mists beyond this life and we only know about it because we have been told about it in the New Testament.

So what point is he making? Why is this important? What practical relevance does this have for us?  This is an area where modern Christians tend to be weak. We are very much ‘in the present’ people, people living for now and the future will just happen, it’s not very significant is it!  But that is not the New Testament thrust. The New Testament again and again brings hope of something better in the future to help sustain us in the present. It may be that life then was not so certain, not so secure and therefore there were greater causes to worry, but when we start looking at the uncertainties of living today, although we are so much more prosperous and have so much technology and modern medicines to rely upon, many people are still worrying about how they will get by tomorrow. Worry about tomorrow is still a very real feature of living in this Fallen World.

The thing about uncertainty and insecurity is that it can produce unstable thinking, unstable beliefs and such a person becomes very vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. The temptation is to give up holding to Christian ethics and become just like the rest with their dubious and questionable ethics and ways of living. That has always been the temptation and it is still the same today.

The New Testament answer to this is to remind us a) of the God to whom we are related, and b) what He has done for us, and c) what He has made us (hence all the talk about sons of God)  AND d) the future aspects of our life that we are yet to receive, which we have not yet received, hence, “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”  This is Paul’s gentle way of saying, in the face of all the pressures of the world, and all the difficulties you face, and the temptations put before you by the enemy – be patient!  When he says, ‘be patient’ he is saying, remain steady in your beliefs and in who you are because this is only part of it, there is more to come and it comes to those who remain faithful and true – so hang on in there!

This is why there is all this talk about hope and the future because it is to be one of the elements that God has provided to hold us secure. Thus we are to be people who are secure in the faith and in the Spirit today and who also have an eye to the future for those elements of our salvation that are yet to come. This takes us back to what he said a little earlier: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom 8:18)  Whatever struggles we have today, don’t let them pull us down because the best is yet to come! Hallelujah!

37.Groaning Saints

Meditations in Romans : 37:  Groaning Saints

Rom 8:22   Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

We have seen Paul describing this world as being in a groaning state, in anticipation of something better to come and now he turns to us Christians and says the same is true of us, this is also true of “we ourselves”. When we became a Christian we may have thought that we had ‘arrived’ but actually we just arrived at the starting post. The rest of our life was in front of us and it is a life of continual change, which is partial while we remain on this earth and then complete when we see Him face to face.

He describes us Christians as having “the first fruits of the Spirit”. By definition, first implies others to follow. Thus he is saying that we now enter into a life of experience with the Spirit but whatever we experience here on this earth, is only the first part of a much bigger experience of Him which we will enter into when we go to Him.  So, he goes on, in the same way as the world senses that it waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (v.20) so the same thing happens with us. We “groan inwardly as we wait.” Note that it is an inward groaning not an outward groaning. If I may put it like this, it is like a rumbling stomach, except it is in the spirit. Deep inside me something tells me that I have not ‘arrived’, that there is something more than this.

Often we may say of church life, “there must be something more than this.” (Well those of us alert to God at least, do). We look at our own lives with dissatisfaction when we are being honest, yearning for something more than we have at the moment. It is a strange thing but two opposites exist within us at any one time. On one side we are called to be contented and on the other side there is this holy dissatisfaction. We are to be contented with the life God has led us into and the material provision we have (which doesn’t stop us working for more) but in the realm of the Spirit we will always be wanting something more, because this is only a partial experience of Him, this side of glory.

We catch a sense of this same idea with Abram: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:9,10) Abram had received a promise of family, a land, and a blessing to bless the world (Gen 12:1-3). So, says the writer to the Hebrews, in his travels he was following God’s leading and looking for whatever it was that God had on His heart for him, a city, he sensed, that God would build – and so he looked for something that never came while he was on the earth. That writer explains it: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:13-16).  These ‘people of faith’ in the ‘faith gallery’ of Hebrews 11 all sensed there was something better than they had at the moment – and that helped them live out their time on earth.

Job, struggling with his terrible infirmities, came to this awareness: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25,27) At that stage it was simply that One would come and even though he died he would see Him. There was this hope!

We find this same sense of ‘looking forward’ in the apostle Paul himself: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14) He expresses this sense of incompleteness in himself – not yet perfect – yet Jesus took hold of him for a purpose and an end goal and so he will press on for both. He presses on to become the man and ministry Jesus called him to be, and he presses on so that he will do nothing to hinder Jesus bringing him to glory, the ultimate goal in God’s purposes for him.

The writer to the Hebrews conveys the same idea about Jesus: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus knew the ultimate goal, the joy of being seated next to his Father in heaven, reigning in the midst of his enemies, and it was this that sustained him when he faced the Cross. Jesus looked beyond the immediate present and looked to the ultimate goal – and so do we.

Yet there is more: “we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” This is interesting and it reminds us that they are various ways of fulfillment, because we have been adopted as sons when we came to Christ, yet there is a fuller expression of it yet to come. Now, as we’ve said before, part of that is in our time here on earth. As every year passes so we learn and experience more and more of what it means to be an adopted son of God. Yet, the fullness of being a son does not come until we see Him face to face and at that time our entire beings are redeemed and made perfect. For now we struggle with ageing and decaying bodies, but when we pass on from this existence we will receive new bodies that will never suffer sickness, or weariness or illness. As we age, that is the hope we have – new bodies! Hallelujah!

36. A Groaning World

Meditations in Romans : 36:  A Groaning World

Rom 8:20,21   For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

If we suggested in the previous meditation that verse 19 was tantalizing, then these verses are equally so.  We, in fact, laid down the foundation for this meditation in the previous one as we considered the Fall and the results that flowed from it. Yet these verses above seem to say more than we have covered so far.

The picture Paul paints is of a world (the earth and everything on it – except human beings) that is in waiting. Verse 19 started, The creation waits” suggesting an anticipation of something yet to come. But it also spoke of it waiting “in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”  This suggests that the world senses that there is something better yet to come. We may have settled in to life as it is but, Paul says, the whole of the rest of the world has a sense of something better to come.

But then Paul explains why this is: “For the creation was subjected to frustration.” (v.20a)  i.e. it sensed that there was something better but it couldn’t do anything about it itself and so felt frustrated. You get frustrated when you are stopped in some course you really want to pursue. The world senses that there is something better to come but can’t get to it on its own.

But then he explains in general terms how this came about. It was left in this frustrated position, “not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope.” (v.20b) An alternative outcome to the Fall in the Garden of Eden could have been that God destroyed Adam, Eve and the serpent and let the world continue on unaffected. It would have thus continued in its perfect state as He had made it and sin would have been eradicated immediately.  No frustration but a blossoming world full of creatures living in peace and harmony in God’s presence. So why didn’t He do that?

The answer had to be that for human beings to truly live up to their potential, they had to be free to exercise their wills as they wished, for good or bad, to love or to hate, to create or destroy. This is the wonder of the human race we have such incredible potential to be creative, caring and even heroic. We create great works of art or music or literature, we invent and design, we think, we reason and we conclude. And in all this we have the capacity to be incredibly generous or caring. We can be sacrificial, even giving our lives for one another. These are the possibilities. But then there is the other side: we are capable of sinning and doing the most terrible of things. And then beyond that, there is the capability of turning from all that to God and being redeemed and being born again and being made into new creatures who love the Creator by choice.

So God imposed the curse on the earth (the absence of His blessing of life) but note the last two words: “in hope”. It isn’t always going to be like this. There is the hope – the firm assurance – that one day it will be different. Now we tread on the difficult ground: “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” At the present the world suffers decay. Disease etc. causes death of creatures and death of plant life. Animals kills animals, bacteria kill off living creatures, and life is ended. But one day – not yet it seems – it will be set free from this cycle of death and new life, set free from decay and destruction and will be alive with the same freedom to live eternally that the children of God now have. There are little glimmers around the Bible that hint at this new day: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11:6-9) What an amazing picture of peace, tranquility and harmony. And of course there is, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (Rev 21:1) Somehow – and the Bible doesn’t try to explain it – there will be a replacement earth with one land mass, nothing to hinder communication between peoples. That is for the future.

In the meantime, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (v.22). Another of Paul’s pictures about expectation and anticipation! This ‘groaning’ isn’t the groaning that precedes a painful death; this groaning is that of a woman in childbirth. Childbirth means something new is about to be born. The message from Paul is that this world as we know it at the present isn’t all that there is in God’s plan. He plans for something new to come forth, something that exhibits the same new life as the sons of God do now. What takes place in us now, this dramatic but gradual transformation, portrays what will yet happen to the world eventually.

But a further thought: every now and then there are stories of God blessing the land of His people in different places in the world and amazing fruitfulness ensues. Should we be surprised at this? Should we perhaps be expecting something amazingly more when the people of God are truly living as the faith-full and Spirit-filled people of God? Bear in mind God’s promises to Israel which we will finish with and ask, if that was true of them, what about us?  Observe: “The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out…… The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you. The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity–in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground–in the land he swore to your forefathers to give you. The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.” (Deut 28:4-6, 8, 10-12)  The condition? “The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in his ways.” (Deut 28:9)

35. Sons of God Revealed

Meditations in Romans : 35:  Sons of God Revealed

Rom 8:19   The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

This is a tantalizing verse! I suspect most of us arrive at it, glance at it with an air of puzzlement and pass on rapidly to easier verses. Now there are immediately two ways of thinking of what this verse means: 1. It means the world is watching for us Christians to be revealed as we grow in Christ on this earth, or 2. It means that when we go to glory we will be transformed into something even more glorious (which Scripture does suggest). Perhaps we should add a third possibility: 3. The world is watching to see our transformation as we grow in Christ which will happen in large measure as we allow the Spirit to lead and teach us, but the fullness of the transformation will only come when we pass from this earth into heaven. This third option is what we believe the following verses show us.

But we must remind ourselves that back in verse 17 we read, 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.” Now when we think of Christ’s life on earth it did comprise both suffering and glory. It was only partial glory and Jesus himself indicated it as such, but the fact was that some saw his glory as he ministered and worshipped him. The fullness of his glory is not yet complete because although he was glorified through his death and resurrection, there is a greater glory to be revealed a) when we see him in heaven and b) when he returns and every knee will bow before him.  This receiving glory is thus a partial and gradual thing but, as we said previously, as we enter into the ‘Father’s business’ and share with Jesus in it, we will experience both suffering and glory.

But what an amazing picture: the creation, the world, all of what we would otherwise call ‘nature’ waits expectantly for us to be changed and enter into a greater measure of our sonship.  Do you remember at the Creation, the Lord gave this mandate to man: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen 1:28) Man’s first act of ‘ruling’ or presiding over as God’s agents, was to name all the creatures: “So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.” (Gen 2:20).

However this was followed by the Fall and with that came upset. Man and woman became self-conscious (Gen 3:7), fearful of God (Gen 3:10) and self-justifying and blaming of others (Gen 3:12,13). Further consequences were enmity between mankind, Satan and God on the earth (Gen 3:15), increased difficulty in childbirth and a dominating husband role (Gen 3:16), and the earth running wild to make food producing more difficult (Gen 3:17-19). Previously all creatures had been vegetarian but from then on the ‘food-chain’ that we observe among creatures prevailed. Some suggest that spiritual forces were released that meant shifting of tectonic plates, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods as well as disease and sickness and plague. All of these things came about as a result of the Fall.

The primary reason for what is referred to as the ‘curse’ is that God stepped back and left the earth to mankind to rule. The withdrawal of His presence meant the withdrawal of His life and blessing and yet, the Bible tells us, God was aware of and took account of all these things even before making the world, because giving man free will was essential for him to be fully human, with all that that meant. From before the creation itself, the plan of redemption was there in God’s planning and that was necessary because of the Fall and its effects. So with the Fall we have disruption to the way the earth works and the way mankind work; both are not how they were originally designed to be.

But then comes Jesus and the possibility of salvation, of redemption, and suddenly the earth is starting to be populated by men inhabited by God. The process is dramatic (new birth) but also slow, steady and continuous throughout the human life (sanctification). Suddenly it is a new day with these new God-empowered, God-directed ‘sons of God’, men and women energised by the Holy Spirit, coming to bring something new to the earth. Where they shed light, darkness falls back.

But it is never without resistance for Satan and his minions and the powers and principalities of darkness, press in on those sinful men and men who have not heard of a new way, or who have heard and refuse it.   And so a battle ensues and change is slow, but down through church history these men and women inhabited by God have been slowly revealed for what they are – saints. Twisters, connivers, cheats, thieves, prostitutes, murderers, traitors, abusers, all hear the words of the Christ and are transformed and another ‘son’ is revealed, another light bearer walks on the earth. They struggle to understand who they are, they are slow to understand the wonder of being ‘a son’, and they cannot comprehend the wonder and the potential of who and what God has made them to be. But the world looks on and wonders at every new birth. How will this one develop? What will they contribute to this world to bring light that dispels darkness, what will they say and do that actually changes the world?

Yes we, you and me, are being revealed. Gradually bit by bit we are changing and the likeness of Christ is being seen through us: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) Hallelujah!