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!

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!

34. Heirs of God

Meditations in Romans : 34:  Heirs of God

Rom 8:16,17   The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I largely find, as I look around and listen to what I hear in church, an absence of the awareness of being God’s children. Indeed I believe some Christians would almost feel it presumptuous to call themselves children of God, but that is the clear teaching of Scripture and, even more, in the verse we finished on in the previous meditation, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit Himself testifies or confirms with our own spirit that that is what we are, so if we deny it, we deny what the Spirit within is trying to tell us – You are God’s child! We covered that already when we noted the words, you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (8:15) Every time we feel inclined to turn to God in prayer, it is the Holy Spirit reminding us of the relationship we have with the Father.

Now this is important to follow through because of where Paul next takes us: “Now if we are children…”   He’s not saying ‘if’ in any derogatory, challenging way; he’s saying, “Now because we are children of God…” Accept it: you ARE a child of God if you are a Christian. The apostle John was strong on this: “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (Jn 1:12) and, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

So, OK, let’s move on, “Because we are children of God…. we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”  An heir is simply someone who has received an ‘estate’ (however extensive or small that may be). The ‘estate’ is simply whatever is being left by the deceased. We receive the property or rights or whatever, being left to us by the person who has died. It wasn’t ours beforehand, but it is now. It has been left to us and it now belongs to us. Now there is something significant in the words of this verse. Note: heirs OF God, co-heirs WITH Christ. God has left this to us and we share the ‘this’ with Christ.  This is where most of us come unstuck, because we’ve heard the teaching – you are an heir – but we are left wondering, “What is it I’ve been left?”

Well, let’s take a step back again: we are now children of God, “sons of God” (8:14) and we said previously that whenever in the New Testament there is this sort of wording, it harps back to the Old Testament concept of the eldest son who took over the father’s business and carried it on. What have we inherited? The Father’s business! What is the Father’s ‘business’? Is it not to love the world and draw it back to Himself? I am sure that God, being the Almighty Being that He is, does billions of things in the rest of Creation, but as far as this planet is concerned, the Bible reveals to us that God is always at work (Jn 5:17) and Jesus did what he saw his Father doing (Jn 5:19) and now draws us into doing the same things (Jn 14:12). How can we do that, we ask in panic, and the answer is, by the Spirit he has put within us – HE is the one who does it using us as the vessels through which to move.

But then Paul has a further thought and it is as if he then says, “Look, you’ve got to be whole hearted in all this. I mean when you came to Christ you totally surrendered yourself and gave up your will to God’s will, and that means to all of it. So when it comes to sharing in the Father’s ‘business’ it means taking all that that involves, the bad as well as the good or, if you like, the bad to ensure we get the good as well.” Hence he writes, “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” i.e. if we want to share in God’s business, sharing in Jesus’ ministry, we have got to realise that because we live in a fallen world and contend with an enemy, and have to cope with others who are not where we are, it is sometimes going to get rough!

This is not saying anything surprising. It’s a fact of spiritual life. Because we live in a sin-filled world and there is an enemy in the form of Satan, his demons and powers and principalities of darkness (Eph 6:12), there will be people who are against us just as there were people who were against Jesus and his disciples. This, unfortunately, (and we would prefer it was otherwise) is how it is living and ministering in a fallen world. Sometimes it gets difficult (to say the least!).

The apostle Paul was possibly the ultimate example of this. Listen to his testimony: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Cor 11:23-27)

Now of course most of us are not called to do what he did but we may still suffer opposition at work or college or school or from neighbours, but whatever it is, the apostle Paul could go on a declare, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (8:18)  As his argument goes on, it does, we suggest, indicate that this glory to “be revealed in us” is actually in this lifetime but we will have to wait for the next meditation to consider that.

In the meantime, hold on to the thrust of verses 16 and 17: we ARE children of God and so we have inherited God’s ‘business’ which we share with Jesus, bringing His love and goodness into this fallen world to draw back to Him whoever will hear and respond. The wonder of it all is that we don’t do it on our own but we do it by Jesus’ leading and by the empowering of his Holy Spirit who he has put within us. Hallelujah!