· Our Bible reading is from Romans 8: 28-39
Sermon – More than conquerors - onward Christian Soldiers!
Brothers and sisters, it is true , we are looking forward to God’s glory!
But sometimes, just sometimes, isn’t it true that we find ourselves crying out:
How Long Lord???
How long is it then before you return? How long should we wait?
How long should we continue to suffer?
I think it is true to say, sometimes we get impatient with the Lord…!
And when we do…we get disheartened…discouraged!
Then again… we should not be surprised by it.
There is a legend that has it that the devil once advertised his tools for sale at public auction.
When the prospective buyers assembled, there was one oddly-shaped tool which was labeled “Not for sale.”
Asked to explain why this was, the devil answered,
“I can spare my other tools, but I cannot spare this one. It is the most useful implement that I have.
It is called Discouragement, and with it I can work my way into hearts otherwise inaccessible. Wringing his hands he said: When I get this tool into a man’s heart, the way is open to plant anything there I may desire.”
When we realise this – that it is the Devil who plants discouragement in our hearts – then we may refocus!
A few ways the devil works discouragement into our hearts – you who wants to be a minister, you are not good enough; you who goes to church every Sunday, look at the way you talk to your wife…you’re not really a Christian…
How can we prevent the Devil for getting this tool into our hearts?
Brothers and sisters, with another, far superior tool!
That tool is faith – faith in the gospel of Salvation…! And the gospel spells out God’s plan for His chosen ones, His people – you and I. And when we revisit it, we realise we can look forward to a future that is by far superior to any present day sufferings.
When Paul starts writing his letter to the Romans, he refers to it in verse 1 of chapter one: he writes:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son...
That’s the plan… the grand plan… And here in chapter 8, Paul now explains that plan to the chosen ones in more detail.
One may put a little picture in your mind…imagine Paul is an army commander in God’s armed forces.
And the Roman Christians … and you and I … are soldiers in that army…
The soldiers are a bit battle weary, and Paul wants to encourage them!
So he calls them to gather around him, and now Paul bends down and in the sand of some foreign landing beach, he draws them the plan he received from the Commander in Chief (God) that spells out the master plan for victory for the Christian soldiers.
And the broad outline is this…Paul states five convictions…
then he lists five affirmations…
then he asks five questions that drive the full impact of God’s plan home:
(You have a draft copy of that plan – your sermon outlines! The original is to be found in the Bible, in Romans!)
Paul starts of by saying: I know you are doing it tough! (Ch 8 verse 22) but
know this, too…
we have something to look forward too! (Ch 8:18-19).
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
How can we know that even now?
The Spirit informs us and works in us. And we know it is so!
Because the spirit leads us to pray to God.
Will we pray to someone in whom we do not believe? Look at Ch 8:16-17:
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
And now, please look at verse 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.”
Interestingly we also find “We know” also in verse 22…we know the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth…
So here we see two things that we do know: we know that we are presently still suffering….and – as certain and knowable – we know that we are in God’s care – this much Paul says, we know!
As if to drive home that we may know that this is true, Paul, in verse 28, now lists five truths about God’s providence, five things that we certainly know …
1.We know that God works, or is at work, in our lives...
Have you felt God work in your lives? God works in our lives in so many ways, so many times…
How many stories can we here tell of how God keeps us safe
(these past week’s we had a very practical illustration in the correspondence from Kevin and Machi Rietveld, who testified how God kept them safe amidst the attacks that are currently prevalent in the Solomon Islands…
No doubt you can add countless tails to this list, some of them - even an apparent negative answer sometimes - that God may at times give to our prayers, but which in the long run, we realise, works to our spiritual benefit and salvation.
Which leads to something else we know…
2. We know that God is at Work for the good of His people…
God is wholly good and though we may not see it or understand it at the time,
God’s purpose is for us to share in His kingdom.
As such, all things work towards us reaching that purpose and therefore we may know that God works for our good! See verses 29 and 30:
We are glorified in Christ – that is a very important part of God’s plan!
3. We may know that God works for our good in all things…
And that includes the suffering we may endure …and when we realise this, we are encouraged by it for again, we see something of God’s plan in it
– that everything, even our suffering, is designed to lead us ever closer to God God knows in advance even about our suffering and when it happens, it happens under His governance and control.
It is something that he has control over – we need not fear our suffering!
4. Fourthly, we may know that God’s plan is for those who love Him…
To see the full implication of this we have to read it in the light of the previous knowing, that God works for our good in all things.
All things that happen does not work to the good of all, but to the good of those who love God, with other words, those who fear God, those who believe in God!
And it should not surprise us…did not God Himself command…love God with all your heart and soul and very being!
That is God’s great command! So now we may know, for those who do love God- for them God will work all things for their good.
Not everyone, but those who love Him – and that includes us…so we are in God’s plan!
5.and so fifthly, we may know that those who love God, are also those who God has called – we may know that!
Their love for Him – our love for Him – is a sign of His love for us!
If he did not love us first, we would not love Him – so we may know that we are in His plan from before time;
right from the moment God created everything He knew that he would love us – and that because he loved us and cared for us, he would not let anything stop us from loving Him from tearing us out of God’s plan – we may know that.
So there we have the five convictions!
And then Paul draws the next part of God’s plan in the sand where His troops are anxiously looking on… he lists five undeniable affirmations
We find these in verses 29-30.
1. Paul wants his troops to feel encouraged by the fact that God foreknew them …or us!
Paul is using the word, foreknew, here, not in the sense of predestination, but in the sense of the way the word is used in the Old Testament, namely – that those God knows, he watches over.
And so we know that God, who had chosen Israel to be His people, with other words’ foreknowing them – that is why he chose them – he watched over them in the desert.
See how Hosea 13;5 puts it ….I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat...” which is picked up by Paul in Romans 11:2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
That’s the first affirmation- Just think back, soldiers.
Think how God cared for His people, those he foreknew from the time of Abraham and even before – see the affirmation/ especially for us today, thousands of years later – God still cares for us – how’s that for an affirmation!
2. Also, secondly in our set of affirmations, see the affirmation of God predestining those he loved to be conformed (verse 29).
He predestined them to be conformed to the likeness of His Son – how indescribable is that as an affirmation – we will be like Jesus!
It has been predestined to be like this.
The affirmation of course lies in this…that God had decided before time and no time that he would liken us to His Son, so that we might join Him in glorifying God the Father.
This is not dependent on something we might do or might not be able to do…those who he foreknew, he also predestined to be likened to the Son.
It has always been this way and we may find immeasurable encouragement in that!
What it boils down to is this:
Those who God loves and who loves God, too, by His grace and mercy, can not do anything more or anything less to be in God’s plan – God has decided that from before time – that’s the affirmation!
3. We may find an affirmation, thirdly in the words of verse 30; those he predestined, he also called.
Brothers and sisters, have you heard God call your name/?
Have you heard Him say…I want you to be my child?
Or to put it differently…have you heard the gospel preached and did you find yourself responding to the Gospel in faith and obedience? Then you know you have been called.
And if you know you are called, you know you have been predestined; and if you have been predestined, you know God foreknew you – do you see how it all falls into place?
4. So fourthly, those he called, he also justified…
When God calls us and we respond in faith, presenting our lives as an offering to God and transforming our minds to seek His will, we know that we have faith!
And if we have faith, we know we are justified – there’s the affirmation again!
5. And fifthly, those He justified, he also glorified.
Paul is often accused of being incoherent, but here he is at his best.
See how he presents this affirmation within the bigger frame work of his argument; remember, Paul has acknowledged that the creation ….and we ourselves, are indeed suffering.
But is it not also true that he promised that those who suffer with in Jesus, like Jesus did, that they will also share in His glory?
It is true!
And has Paul not already explained how God’s glory will be like –
us, transformed into the likeness of Christ, sinless, safe from suffering and death and decay (and even the World will be renewed so that it will glorify God!) …
And now he is saying. Well, here is another affirmation… those justified, will also be those glorified. That’s what we can look forward too.
That then, the five affirmations…and as we move on, please do not miss the logical progression…God works from foreknowledge and predestination before time, through a call fixed in time and space towards a final glorification in all eternity for His people.
In the last nine verses, Paul uses a formula he has used before to draw God’s plan for believers, so that they may no longer be discouraged…but live in eager anticipation of God’s future glory…(we find the formula in Ch 6:1 and 15 and ch 7:7)
What then shall we say of this…
And to answer this question, Paul asks five other questions which…significantly, does nor present one with apparent answers – his question’s can’t really be answered!
But, there is a reason… the answer (which words can not express) in each case is already contained in the question…and if it is not in the question, it is affixed to it by an “if” clause!
First question…If God is for us, who can be against us?
Paul does not simply ask …who is against us. If he had, no doubt, the answer would have been….. Man, have you got time?
The whole world is against us!
In fact, on a practical level, in verse 35, he already lists some of the more prominent foes that Christians might number as adversaries: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword. And we might add illness, death…
But Paul asks, “If God is for us…who can be against us?” and to this question there is no answer. We cannot think of anything or anyone who can be against us if God is for us!
Question two: 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?
Again, the question is not, will God give us all things. To such a question we might answer, probably not – He may give us some things… if we are thinking of our personal physical needs. And some others…not. But, when He gave us Jesus he did graciously give us all things.
The answer points to the Cross – there is all we need! You see you can not answer the question…how will God not give us all things (there is no answer) He gave us Jesus, so we can not say how He will not give us all things.
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.
If this question was raised only in part, the first part – who will bring a charge against us, again, we may expect a chorus of voices and personal deeds that will speak against us!
But in the justification we have in God, through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we are declared justified – righteous! Who can bring a charge which is more serious than the penalty that Christ has already paid on our behalf – it is not possible to fill in a name here, so the question will remain gloriously unanswered.
34 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.
Brothers and sisters, if we stopped at the end of the question in verse 34, we can easily envisage a barrage of condemnation – not only from those who have witnessed our sinfulness, but our own hearts.
We are condemned on every front, were it left to us to live lives that would be worthy of not being condemned.
But it is not left to us – and so the non-answer becomes foregrounded – we stand un-condemned - because Jesus has left us pure and glorified in Him!
When we reach question five, we can almost see Paul doing what he must have known his readers was doing…when he asks the question, he looks around, seeing if he might hear an answer, or perhaps extending an open invitation for someone to try and give an answer…in the light of the above, he says…
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
When no one answers, he presents a little cheat list ( seven possible adversities or adversaries) and at the end of considering them all the answer – which still does not need to be spoken, for it is already there – is clear – NOTHING! Nothing can keep us from the love of God.
If anything, by our being able to bear the hardships of this life – for which God himself gives us strength – we become more than conquerors.
Not only do we overcome the hardship of this world- we are exalted into God’s glory no less.
We become, with Jesus, sons and daughters in the courtyard of God almighty where we share in His glory and everlasting joy and peace and love!
And now Paul stands up from where he has stood bent forward, drawing that plan, drawing that plan, explaining it to the troops…and he waits for the troops’ response.
And then…after a moment of reflection…one can almost hear a cheer!
Let’s get to it!
To God be the Glory!
We are indestructible! Bring on the battle!
Death where is your sting?
Nothing, absolutely nothing can keep us from God’s love. In Him we are more than victors! Indeed we are already more than conquerors!
And perhaps then, we will not be impatient all too quickly either.
Why should we be?
I want to leave it there, brothers and sisters, but I would like to ask now that you sits, in a moment of reflection on God’s promises and assurances that you listen to a piece of music I came across. It is a wonderful piece of thelogy in itself and, I hope, a fitting end to the sermon.
But just before we listen to it, let’s pray:
Father God, forgive us for asking – How long Lord?
Let this life happen in Your time Lord! And let us be grateful that we may know we are safe in your heart – and in your plan, and nothing can separate us from you!
We deserve nothing Lord, and yet you have given us everything we need!
You are almighty God, Lord, who has written our names in the book of life from before time began – and we know will we be safe with you … after time.
Give us humble hearts to wait patiently for Your Son’s return,
when we will be with You in Your glory, For ever and ever
We pray this in Jesus name - Amen!
Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers (Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979).