Life in the Spirit: God Is for Us

Sermon by David Strain on August 9

Romans 8:31-34

And then turn in your copies of God’s Word to the New Testament and to Romans chapter 8, as we’ve come in our ongoing study of this great eighth chapter of Romans to verses 31 through 35. And you will immediately notice that they are marked off from the rest of the chapter by the question that Paul asks in the beginning of verse 31, “What then shall we say to these things?” We imagine Paul sitting back at his desk as he writes his letter to the Romans and he comes to the end of this eighth chapter and he puts down his pen and sits back in his chair and surveys the landscape of Gospel truth he’s been writing about. And seeing all of the glories of good news summarized thus far in these eighth chapters, he asks himself, “Well then, what shall we say to these things? What’s the take away? What is the difference all this ought to make in our lives? What shall we say to these things?” It’s actually a question he asks five times throughout this letter. In chapter 6 verse 1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? By no means!” Chapter 7 verse 7, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? By no means!” It’s there again in 9:14, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” Again in 9:30, “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles that did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness by faith.”

So over and over again Paul stops to ask this question. It is clearly a burden to him that the conclusions that arise from his teaching be clearly seen and embraced. He keeps stopping to say, “Do you see what this means? Are you getting the point? Is this landing with you?” And that, after all, is what all faithful preaching and teaching should aim to do. It’s not enough, is it, to simply explain the facts, to outline the doctrine, to expose to view the truths contained in the Scriptures. We must do that. We need to also ask, however, the “So what?” question, don’t we? And we all need to ask it, not just the Bible teacher but the Bible hearer as well. It’s not only my task to apply the truth; it’s your task to apply the truth. When you come to church, how do you come – to be a passive consumer, or do you come rolling up your sleeves ready to get to work applying the message of the Scriptures to your own circumstances because no one but God knows them so well as you, in the deep conviction that in the preaching of the Word of God, God Himself is speaking to you? “What then shall we say to these things?” That’s all our question and it’s Paul’s question.

And if you look at the text you’ll notice how he answers it in what are essentially four more questions. You see them in verses 31 through 35? First he asks, “Who can be against us?” Then, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” Then thirdly, “Who is to condemn?” And finally, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” All we’re going to do this morning is look at each of those questions in turn. Before we do, as always, let’s pause and pray and then we’ll read the Scriptures and consider their message together. Let us pray.

O Lord, we need You. We need the Holy Spirit’s ministry now to bring light into our dark places, to show us ourselves in light of who You are, to show us Christ in His perfect adequacy, sufficiency, for the deepest needs of our hearts. We come to You, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, pleading our Savior’s promise that those who so hunger and thirst shall be filled. Fill us, and do it by Your Word today, for Jesus’ sake, amen.

Romans chapter 8 at verse 31. This is the Word of God:

“What then 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? 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. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

Then verse 37:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Amen.

During the Second World War, a major breakthrough in the Allied response to Nazi plans came when the Enigma code machines used by the Germans to encode their messages were finally decrypted. A man called Alan Turing, a Cambridge mathematician working at Bletchley Park provided the initial thinking that led to the breakthrough. And soon the Allies were able to intercept and read enemy messages and develop their strategy accordingly. In fact, the breaking of the Enigma code was such a closely guarded secret that it was only finally revealed to the general public in the 1970s.

Now there’s a sense in which the four application questions that Paul asks here in 31 through 35 are like the cracking of the Enigma code because they let us in on the enemy’s strategy, which is enormously helpful as we seek to prosecute successfully the warfare of the Christian life. You may have noticed that Paul asks, “Who? Who can be against us? Who can bring any charge? Who is there to condemn? Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” Not, “What?” but “Who?” And that tips us off, I think, to the dynamics at play in this whole question of Christian assurance, which you will remember is Paul’s great burden in this great chapter – to feel and know the reality of our security before God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And the apostle understands that at least a significant part of our struggle with assurance and spiritual confidence has to do with personal, supernatural opposition. I don’t want to overstate the point. We can sometimes get a little hysterical when it comes to subjects like spiritual warfare, but I do think we need to face that fact that behind our battles with assurance, spiritual confidence in the love of God for us, and behind so much else that we struggle with in our Christian lives, there is a “who” at work in constant opposition to the design of God for us.

We have an adversary, the devil, “who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He is our accuser who seeks to assail us and bring us into condemnation and destruction. And take another look at the text. Did you see the escalating scale in these four questions? I think that really unmasks for us Satan’s strategy. First, notice there’s opposition – “Who can be against us?” Then, there’s accusation – “Who can bring any charge against God’s elect?” Then there’s condemnation – “Who is there to condemn?” And then finally, once the sentence of condemnation is passed the devil knows the result can only be separation, separation from God – “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” And that is the devil’s consistent plan – opposition, accusation, condemnation, separation.

But here we are now, and we can see the enemy code has been cracked; we know his strategy, we know what he’s up to. This is his plan of attack – opposition, accusation, condemnation, and separation. And like a great general marshalling his forces in light of the intelligence he has received, Paul has a response ready for each line of the devil’s attack.

Who Can Be Against Us?

Look at the first question he asks in verse 31. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Who can be against us? Who is there to mount a successful campaign against the purposes of God for our eternal good? What enemy, what possible enemy can be found to outflank the will of God for His people in the Gospel? That’s the question. And notice Paul’s answer. Part of his answer, actually, is woven into the way he frames the question. Do you see it? Look how Paul frames the question. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God is for us. And if that is the case, what enemy need we ever fear? That’s his argument. Yes, there is an enemy seeking to destroy and undermine and deceive, but God is for us. So even his deadliest schemes can hold no fear for those who know God is for them.

But then of course the question arises, “How do you know God is for you?” Some of us, I rather suspect, really struggle to believe that sometimes. Most, I guess, confess it as an article of faith. “Yes, God is for me. God loves me. Amen. I believe that.” But down underneath all of it at a more visceral level, we have this residual angst, this deep rooted suspicion that, “Perhaps in my case, if in no other case, God isn’t really sold out for me. He’s not all in on David Strain. Maybe He sort of tolerates me. He’s okay-ish with me, but He’s not really for me, He’s not completely for me. Is He?” The gnawing, niggling doubt that God can’t like us very much is, I think, one of Satan’s favorite tools to rob us of peace.

So how do you deal with that? What is the antidote? Look at verse 32. “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.” Let’s be clear now, if you look for proof that God is for you in your beautiful house and your loving spouse and your handsome children and your condo at the beach and your boat on the lake and your promotion at the firm and your prudent investments in the markets, if you look to your successes in life, if you look at your wealth and your health and your material privileges and your possessions and you say to yourself, “Because of them, see here now, everything’s going so well! I am winning in the game of life! Of course God is for me!” If that’s how you reason, what happens to your assurance when the accuser comes into the heavenly court, into the throneroom and says, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” What happens when the market tanks and the tornado strikes your beautiful home and the diagnosis is grim and your children rebel and your marriage falls apart? Must you then conclude, “God has turned His back on me!” Has His love failed? Cut off, you know, like the electricity in your home because you forgot to pay the bills?

Listen, if you draw your confidence in the love of God for you from the well of your personal successes in life, when the well dries up your assurance will die! But there is a Fountain that will never run out, an inexhaustible supply of assurance proving that God is for you, believer in Jesus, beyond all question, no matter your circumstances. It’s here in verse 32 isn’t it? “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.” Here is the artesian spring, you know, that bubbles up even in a drought with cool, refreshing drafts of hope and assurance and consolation that God is for you, always for His children. He did not spare even His Son, but gave Him up to make you His child. “Here is love, vast as the ocean, lovingkindness as the flood, when the Prince of Life our ransom, shed for us, His precious blood.” The cross, remember, is the pulpit of the Father’s love. He is preaching. Calvary preaches His commitment to you. He is for you.

How do you know He’s for you, really for you? You look at the cross. There, He demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Now if the Father did not shrink from giving up His Son to the cross for you, Paul asks, “Don’t you think that He will, along with His most precious Son, graciously give you whatever else you might possibly need in order to live for Him?” There can be no opposition because God is for you. It was John Knox, actually, who first said, “One man plus God equals a majority.” One man with God equals a majority. And that’s the teaching of the text. God is for you, and so do what he may, the opposition of the evil one cannot stand.

Who Shall Bring Any Charge Against God’s Elect?

Then look at the second question in verse 33. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” It is, once again – we have been here before in Romans 8 – it is, once again, a courtroom metaphor. Isn’t it? Can the evil one, or anyone else for that matter, make a charge against us and make it stick? “If this question stood on its own,” writes John Stott, “many voices would be raised in accusation. Our conscience accuses us, the devil never ceases to press charges against us, for his title ‘diabolos’ means ‘slanderer’ or caluminator. He is called, ‘the accuser of the brothers.’ In addition, we doubtless have human enemies who delight to point an accusing finger at us. But none of their allegations can be sustained.” Why not?

Well, look at the text. Those against whom the accusations come are the elect of God. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” And the chosen people of God – foreloved, predestined before the foundation of the world, as verses 29 and 30 taught us – they are also called “and justified.” Aren’t they? “It is God who justifies,” Paul says. So yes, look, you’re guilty; me too. And it’s right for us to grieve over our sin. And God helping us, as Christians clinging to Christ, we must and we can overthrow and overcome sin in our lives more and more. And yet the reality of sin will always remain until we go to be with Jesus. And Satan and conscience and neighbors and colleagues, they sometimes point their fingers in accusation at us, pressing the lawsuit against us. And honestly in ourselves, we really have no defense when it comes to the facts of the case. Do we? There are no mitigating circumstances. We can’t plead victimhood; we can’t shift the blame. We’re guilty before God. But having given up His Son for us, the God who is for us has declared us righteous in His sight. We’re justified. That’s what it means. Not because we are righteous, we’re not, but because Jesus, His Son, the righteous One, has paid the penalty for our guilt in full, and because of Him we go free.

And so now you can answer the accusation of the enemy boldly and say, “Yes, I am a sinner. I don’t deny it and it breaks my heart to face it. I’ve learned to hate my sin that so grieves my Lord. But there is, therefore, now no condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus. Satan, take your demands, Accuser, take your demands to Calvary because there my penalty was paid in full, justice was done for all my sin in the sufferings of my Savior, and there can be no condemnation now for me.” And now don’t you begin to see Satan’s strategy crumbling? Each pillar toppled like dominoes one after the other. In the first place, none can oppose for God is for us, and in the second, no accusation can stand because we are not condemned but rather justified.

Who Is To Condemn?

And so Paul’s third question, “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.” The cross and the empty tomb, the reign and intercession of Christ, are invincible. That’s his point. He died under my condemnation, He rose for my vindication, He reigns for my salvation, He intercedes for my daily preservation, He is a complete, sufficient Savior.

One preacher tells the story of receiving a great gift one Christmas. As a little boy as He tore off the wrapping paper and opened his present he said he suddenly read the most disappointing words in the world for a little boy on Christmas – “Batteries not included.” Jesus is not like that toy. There’s nothing missing in the Gospel. You will never read on the box those disappointing words, “Batteries not included.” He is a comprehensive Savior. Everything you need is in Him. He died and rose and reigns and prays for you right now. If you’re a Christian, condemnation is not a possibility in your case. It is not a possibility.

Who Shall Separate Us From The Love Of Christ?

“Who can be against us?” – opposition. “Who can bring any charge?” – accusation. “Who is there to condemn?” – condemnation. And now finally, verse 35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” – separation. Such a powerful question,“Who can separate us from Christ’s love?” because of our experience in human relationships and our personal acquaintance with how fragile they can be, isn’t it? How many of us have endured the heartache of someone driving a wedge between us and a friend or a loved one? They’ve come between you. It’s been devastating. Maybe it’s shattered your marriage or maybe it’s caused an estrangement amongst siblings. Or maybe an old friend won’t return your calls anymore and so now we worry, don’t we, having been well-schooled by past pain to protect ourselves from ever being hurt, now we worry that maybe the love of Christ comes with some strings attached. Maybe the love of Christ can be yanked like a rug out from under us one day. Maybe someone or something can come between us and the love of Christ. And so perhaps you’re afraid to really, fully entrust yourself to the love of Christ.

Now we’re going to have to come back to this because Paul camps out in his answer to this question through the end of the chapter, so we’ll come back to it and consider it further next week. But let me simply sum up Paul’s reply here in one word. “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” Nothing. Hallelujah! Nothing. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. When James Montgomery Boice, the late pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia was dying from cancer in the year 2000, he wrote a hymn based on these verses at the end of Romans 8. And it ends with that as its great refrain. “What can separate my soul from the God who made me whole, wrote my name in heaven’s scroll? Nothing! Hallelujah! Victors we are ordained to be, by the God who set us free, what can therefore conquer me? Nothing! Hallelujah! We face death” – this is a man dying of cancer – “We face death for God each day, what can pluck us from His way? Let God’s people ever say, ‘Nothing! Hallelujah!’”

You can answer your fearful heart and your guilty conscience, you can answer the mocking accusations of your enemies and all the charges of the devil with these words, “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing can drive a wedge between my heart and the heart of Jesus Christ.” Nothing can break the grip of His love. Nothing can make Him give up on you or on me. Nothing in us, nothing we do, nothing that is said about us, nothing that is done to us. He will never walk away from you. Believer in Jesus Christ, He will never give up on you. He will never quit.

And as we turn now to the Lord’s Table, for the first time in so many months, we get to hold in our hands and taste on our tongues visible, tangible, edible promises of that love from Him to us. Here at His table, the Lord Jesus comes to preach His love to you again. You remember, of course, that communion is not first of all your act of commitment to Him. It is, first of all, His Word of commitment to you. He comes to you here, in the Supper, by the Holy Spirit, to put His hand on your shoulder as it were and to say, “I am yours. You are Mine. And nothing will ever change that. Nothing.” Hallelujah.

Let’s pray together.

Lord our God, we come to You praising You for Your omnipotent love, proven beyond all doubt in the wounds of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Grant as we come to the Table that we may come expectant to meet Him anew, by faith to feast upon Him, to receive and rest on Him and to drink in His love. For we ask all of it in His holy name, amen.

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