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More than Conquerors

Series: Romans

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 12, 2001

Romans 8:35-39

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More Than Conquerers
Romans 8:35-39

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Romans, chapter 8. Today we come to our final study in this great chapter. We’ll be looking at verses 35 to 39. But before your eyes fall on those verses, let me invite you back to verse 1. Let me outline where we have been so far. There will be lots of legitimate ways to outline this material, but perhaps this will help you feel something of Paul's argument.

In verses 1 through 11 Paul gives us the indicative. In verses 12 through 17 he gives us the imperative. In verses 18 through 30, he gives us words of comfort and then finally in verses 31 to 39, he gives us a summary. That's the four-point outline of Romans 8. It's a legitimate way of looking at this passage.

If you look at verses 1 through 11, he tells you what Christians have been made and are through the grace of God and the work of Jesus Christ. He tells us there is no condemnation for us, and that we do not go on living after the flesh because not only of what God has done for us in Christ, but what He is doing in us through the work of the Holy Spirit. We are a new creation. And so He spends the first section, 1 through 11, telling us a reality about us - that we have contributed nothing. This is the work of God, and by His grace, this is what we are.

Then, having told us what we are in Christ, he goes on in verses 12 through 17 to give an imperative. That is to give an exhortation. He says, okay, now in light of this, in light of this truth about you, don't live after the flesh. You’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you’re a new creation. Don't live after the flesh. And so he gives us practical exhortation to Christian obedience and duty.

And then in verses 18 through 30, he gives us words of comfort. The old Puritan called this section paranetics, not paramedics, but paranetics. By that word they meant biblical application of doctrinal truth from the Scripture in order to help Christians who are suffering under trials and tribulations. You see why they use just one word for that. This is something which Paul is very often desirous of doing. Taking a biblical truth and applying for Christians especially who are dealing with some sort of obstacle, or suffering or trial or tribulation in their life. And that's precisely what Paul does. He talks about the glory which is to come as something that enables us to go through trials. He talks about the Holy Spirit interceding with us, with groans too deep for words, in order to encourage us in trials. He talks about God's Fatherly kindness and compassion in His providence over all things. He piles up reasons for us to keep on going and keep on trusting in the worst times of life.

And then when you get to verse 31, he throws out four questions for the purpose of encouraging us to remember the truth that He has taught us, not just in the eighth chapter, but in the whole book of Romans. You will remember in Romans 8:31 the very first question is who can be against us? And in that question, Paul is referring us back to Romans, chapter 1:18 and following, where Paul makes it very clear that apart from Christ, the one who is against us is God. He's the one against us in our sin when we are apart from Jesus Christ.

And so Paul, having told us about this glorious work of redemption done at the behest of God, at the initiative of God, now says if God is now for us, okay, well then who out there is there left to be against us? It's the big concern that we had in our reality is that God is against us in our sin apart from Christ. And if that has been remedied, through God's work in sending His Son Jesus Christ, and in His work of the Holy Spirit uniting us to Jesus Christ, well then, who can be against us?

Then in verses 33 and 34, He asks two more questions. The second question is who can accuse the chosen ones of God? And the third question is who is the one who condemns? If God was our accuser when we were in our sin apart from Christ, and if God has come to our rescue in Christ, and is now no longer our accuser, but our justifier, Paul is saying, okay, exactly who is it out there who is going to take up this old accusation?

And then He says, furthermore, who is going to condemn us? If God has condemned Christ in our place for all those who believer in Him, who is it exactly who is going to raise the condemnation against us when Christ has been condemned in our place, and God's justice has been satisfied? And so by all these means Paul is summarizing the main teachings of his book, and he's attempting to buttress our assurance because he knows that Christians struggle with assurance. We struggle with the security of our salvation, we've struggled with confidence with God's unchanging love, because we know the fickleness of our own heart. We know that we are prone to wander, Lord, we feel it, prone to leave the God we love. So how do you encourage Christians who are realistic about themselves? And they know that they are prone to wander. You point them to the great objective truths of God's word to which we contribute absolutely nothing. And that is what Paul is doing right here again today. So let's give attention to Romans 8, verses 35 through 39. And look at the fourth question that Paul poses and answers in order to bolster your assurance. This is God's word.

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present nor thing to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Amen.

This is God's Word. May He add His blessing to it. Let's pray.

Our Lord, some truths of Your word are so marvelous that we want to believe them more than anything else. But we have to confess that because of the weakness, the smallness of our faith, they are hard to believe because of the experiences and circumstances of our life. We somehow don't seem to be able to get our hearts around them. By the grace of Your Holy Spirit this day, bring home this truth to Your people and to those who are not Your people, who have not trusted in Jesus Christ. By Your Spirit, set forth these truths before them in such a way that they will be impelled to embrace the one who loves with an everlasting love. We ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Have you found yourself in circumstances and conditions of life which have made you doubt God's love? Have you found yourself, having done certain things, which make it hard for you to believe that God loves you, still loves you, will love you to the end. Has your assurance been undercut by situations that you have gone through in life which have been so painful and so inexplicitable that you have not been able to make sense of them. But the first glance impression that you have gotten from those experiences is that they indicate surely God is against you. Or worse. There is no god out there and there's no sense in this world. Well the apostle Paul had been through kinds of experiences himself as a believer, and yet trusted in God and knew a fullness of assurance. And he knew that these Roman Christians were about to go through those same kinds of circumstances. You see they would face the persecution of Nero. They would face the focus of attention on that small group of believers in the very heart of the empire that would lead many of them to lose their lives, many of them to be exiled to the salt mines and never to return to their loved ones to experience the worst kind of tribulation in life. And so the apostle Paul, before they ever got that point, wanted them to know, and to be confident of and have firm conviction of the certainty of God's love, and the goodness of His plan. And so He has heaped these questions in order to assure them of those very things.

You will remember back in verses 33 and 34 that the second and third questions that He had given to them pertain to justice. In other words, He was attempting to show them that though it is true that God's salvation of them was gracious and free and merciful, that is, not due to anything that they had done and not earned by anything that they had done. Yet at the same time, it was just. In other words, God's righteousness had not been swept under the carpet. God's righteousness had not been ignored. God's justice had not been impeached by the way that He had saved them. No, he had dealt with His justice strictly in Jesus Christ, so that though their salvation was gracious and merciful and free, it was also just.

Why does he brother to tell them this? Because He knows that if you think that somehow your salvation does measure up to the strict demands of God's justice, that if your forgiveness has not been warranted to a strict fulfillment of God's punitive justice, you will question whether you have really been forgiven, whether your sins have really finally been dealt with. You will be tempted to think, well, I need to add something else to this now. And so he puts these two questions out, he speaks in judicial categories for the purpose of assuring you of God's unchanging love.

When he comes to the fourth question here in verse 35, he shifts to relational terminology. And he begins to say to, "Not only are you judicially certain of God's unchanging love, but you are relationally certain of God's unchanging love. The fourth question is who shall separate us. Is there anything there that can divide us from the saving love of God? Is there anything that can divide us from His gracious and merciful forgiveness of sins. Is there any thing that can separate us from Him in this life.

And of course this too answers to a point that Paul has made. What does sin do? This too answers to a point that Paul has made. What does sin do? Sin separates from God. And so Paul has been at labors and pains in the book of Romans to show us how God has dealt with sin through Jesus Christ, and therefore if sin has been dealt with in Jesus Christ, and we've trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, then sin itself can no longer separate us. And if sin cannot separate us from God what is there left out there to separate us? This is the line of Paul's argument. This is, of course, supremely seen in Jesus’ cry of separation from the cross. In Matthew, chapter 27, verse 46 those words are recorded. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And Paul is reminding us here that since Jesus has cried the cry of separation, since He has experienced separation on our behalf, we will never experience that separation from God as we trust in Him for salvation. We will never experience that separation because his cry of separation secured for us salvation.

And so the apostle Paul wants to expand on this in verses 35 through 39 in order to bring it home. And he says two or three very important things for us to attend to. I'd like to look first at verse 35, then together at verses 37 and 37, and then at verses 38 and 39. And look at three things that Paul has to teach us about this insufferable love of God. First look at verse 35.

I. No earthly circumstance, exigency, contingency can divide us from God's saving love.

Here Paul makes it clear that the Christian need never fear separation from our loving redeemer. Again, he's speaking in relational terminology, and that relational terminology doesn't contradict the judicial or the forensic or the legal terminology used in verses 33 and 34. It complements it. It's another way of looking at the same truth. It's another result of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And Paul's purpose for piling up this list of challenges to Christians security at the end of verse 35 is to make it clear that no earthly contingency, no earthly circumstance, no earthly exigency can divide us from God's saving love. His list perhaps is not comprehensive, but it is meant to stand comprehensibly for everything out there in earthly experience which might unsettle our sense of God's love for us.

And now I want you to know two or three things about this little verse. First, the emphasis here is on Christ's love for us. And of course, ultimately on God's love for us, as we see in verse 39, not on our love for God. If our assurance, if our security depended ultimately on the consistency and the quality of our love to Christ, none of use would ever be assured. Paul is not saying, if you love Christ, if you love Him rightly, if you love Him enough, if you love Him with perseverance, then you will have assurance. He is saying I want you to stop, Christian, and I want you to contemplate His love for you. Not in the first instance, your love to Him in response, but His love for you. It is that, Paul says, which secures our sense of salvation, our assurance, our servitude, that God will redeem us in the end.

And then having pointed us there because our security resides in something that flows from the heart of God and nothing circumstantial, he is able to say, because our security resides in God's love, there's no circumstance that can interrupt it. There's no circumstance that can defeat it. There's no situation in life that can overthrow it. And he begins to pile up instances, and you see this in the end of verse 35. Seven words he uses. These terms that Paul piles up are graphic specifications of the comprehensiveness of our security. He says tribulation can't separate us from the love of Christ. Distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, none of these things can separate us from the love of Christ. Let's look at the words specifically.

Paul says tribulation or trouble cannot separate us from the love of Christ. He's speaking of those strong external pressures that sometimes come upon us in the difficulties of life. Distress, he says, secondly, or hardship cannot separate us. These are perhaps the inward pressures that accompany those external pressures on us. When things are going badly on the outside, when we're facing unbelievable grief or suffering or trial on the outside, they tend to produce inner turmoil. So it's not simply what you’re facing out there, it's what you are facing in here which becomes a source of disconsolation. And the apostle says that can't separate you from the love of Christ.

From time to time, I will receive letters from those who listen to us on the radio or who watch television ministry. After the message on Romans 8:28 through 30, a dear lady who is member of another congregation here in Jackson, wrote a brief note that was very meaningful, and I want to share just a few words that she said that indicate the kind of tribulation and the stress that a Christian goes through, but also which indicate the faith with which a Christian bears those tribulations. She says this. "My life has been a mystery. My mother died when I was four. My husband of twelve years died when he was thirty-four. My younger daughter died at age thirty-two. My second husband, who was a minister died in 1989. God has allowed these things to happen. I am the richer for having had these experiences, but I do not understand them. This I can say, I can't wait for my ultimate glorification to His glory. Those experiences have not separated her from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. And she can see, even in this life, despite the things the things that she does not understand, the good purposes of her loving heavenly Father.

Paul doesn't end there, however, he goes on to speak of persecution, something about which he understood on both sides. He speaks of nakedness and hunger. He speaks of peril. Again, something that he knows about. You’ll remember that he uses this very same word in 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, nine times to speak about his own experience. Peril, danger. We’ll come back to that passage in a moment. He even speaks of the sword, he's, of course, speaking of execution, and He's indicating that sometimes state leaders will simply because a person has committed a crime of being loyal to Jesus Christ, take your life. And all of these things, Paul says, none of these things can separate us from the love of God. Why? Because the ultimate ground of our assurance is not found in our circumstances, nor in our love for God, but in His purposes for and His love for us. And if that's the case, there is nothing in this life that can get at that love. There's nothing that can displace it. There's nothing that can undercut it. There's nothing in our experience which can reduce it or remove it. John Murray says, "The more accentuated is the kind of adversity denoted by Paul here, the more decisive is the assurance given of the unchangeableness of Christ's love." In other words, the worse it is for you, the more decisive is Paul's assurance that God's love is unchanging. That's the first thing that Paul wants us to see. No earthly circumstance can separate us from the love of Christ because the certainty of that love doesn't depend on circumstances, and it doesn't depend on our love ultimately. It depends upon the unchangeableness of God's saving love.

II. We Christians are hyper-conquerors not in spite of but actually in all these things.

Secondly, if you look at verses 36 and 37, Paul says that that's not all that I want to say. See, for many Christians we will either say something like this, "You know God has helped me to endure some of the most difficult trials of life." And Paul wants to say, "Um, I'm saying a little bit more than that." On the other hand, sometimes we’ll say, "You know, those trials made us stronger, going through that hard thing made us stronger," and there's nothing inherently wrong with that statement. Unless we are thinking for a moment that the trial itself is what produced the grace. And Paul again says, "I want to say a little something more than that." And the little more is really not a little something more, it's a big something more. And the big something is this: That you are more than conquerors in all these things. Now that is absolutely phenomenal.

Verse 36, you see is a quotation from Psalm 44, verse 22. And that psalm and that quotation reminds us that it has always been the lot of God's people to suffer. God's people are no strangers to suffering. Just because you love the one true God doesn't mean you don't experience suffering. Furthermore, it doesn't mean that you don't experience suffering which is explicitly for Him. Notice the words, "for His sake we are being put to death all day long. Like sheep we are being led to the slaughter." And we must pause today and contemplate the real possibility of soon, of near persecution, even in the western world. But we also must pause as we think of persecution as something that is part of a misty path. It's part of Romans feeding Christians to lions, and things in the days of the Reformation, and remember that during the twentieth century, more Christians died for their faith than in all the nineteenth centuries prior put together. So persecution is not a thing in the misty path for most Christians in the two-thirds world. It may be for us, but I doubt it will be for long. And so the apostle is saying that we, too, like the saints of old must be ready to stand and fall as believers.

And he's reminding us as well that persecution is a sign of believers bearing the reproach of Christ. You see, when believers are persecuted, it signifies again that we are joining in the fellowship of His sufferings. It's a sign of our union with Christ, and Paul understood this intensely and experientially. He had been involved in the persecution of Stephen. Jesus had met him on the road to Damascus, who said, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Stephen? No. Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" Paul understood that the persecution of believers was ultimately a persecution of Christ. Because believers share in and are united with Christ, not only in their belief, but in His sufferings. Not only in His benefits, but in His persecution. And so suffering persecution is a function with union with Christ. Paul understood that. But even in persecution Paul wants to get this through. Even in persecution we are conquerors.

You see here's the surprising thing that Paul wants to tell us. That we are more than conquerors in all these things. Go back to the list in verse 35. He says pile it up, all those things. You are more than conquerors in all these things. It's not that you just sort of barely get by, by the skin of your teeth. You’re a hyper conqueror he says. And it's not just in the good things. It's in all these things. It's in all those bad things, all those adversities, all the adversities you can list right now. In those things, God has made you to be more than conquerors. And He hasn't done it through those things Himself. He's done it through the love of Jesus Christ. Through Christ's love as exercised and exhibited in the cross, you are more than conquerors. Notice what he is saying. He is saying that in those experiences that we are made more than conquerors not in spite of those experiences, but in them. You know that happened, and you were still a conqueror anyway. No it's precisely because that happened. Precisely because that was the decree of God. God made you to conquer in an extraordinary way. And furthermore, notice it wasn't the trial itself that produced the character in you. It was the grace of God working in the trial. It was through Him who loved us. That is what made you to be more than conquerors.

You know sometimes in sports, we’ll say, it takes the hard times to make the good times. As if simply going through hard times makes good times. But you know that's not true. You've had all sorts of friends who have gone through horrendous experiences, and it hasn't made them beautiful, glowing, faithful people. It has made them shriveled up, bitter, angry, cynical people. You see, trials can produce two totally opposite results in people. And Paul is not saying that trials inherently, through some general natural principle, make us better people. They don't always. But he is saying this. That for those who trust in Christ, every single trial is an instrument of God's grace in which you are displayed as more than a conqueror.

Now that's mind boggling, but Paul knew that from experience. You remember in 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, when he was talking with the Corinthians, at that point, sort of despised Paul. They thought he was weak. They taught they were strong. He kind of took advantage of that, and beginning in verse 23, he says, "Are they servants of Christ? I speak as if insane. I more so, and far more labors and far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I receive from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys and dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren. I have been in labor and hardship through many sleepless nights in hunger and thirst often without food, in cold and exposure and apart from such external things there is a daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches who is weak with out my being weak, who is lead into sin without my intense concern, if I have to boast, I’ll boast of that which pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and so escaped his hands." Here is Paul, the great apostle, and he says here's the picture I want you to think of me. When you think of me, you think of this tiny little man being let out of a window in a basket to escape in the middle of the night for his life. That's what you think of me. But I'm more than a conqueror, because God's power is manifested in my weakness. When you think of Paul, you think of that weak little man. And then you think of what God in His might and power has done in and through him and by Him. And you’ll see that God's power is perfected in weakness. We Christians, Paul is saying in verse 36 and 37, are hyperconquerors, not in spite of, but actually in every kind of adversity. And then finally there is this.

III. No spiritual, supernatural, supertemporal, created reality of the invisible world can disjoin us from God's love.

In verses 38 and 39, Paul tells us that he has a firm conviction that no created thing whether it's time or heavenly hours or space or distance can divorce us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ. No spiritual, supernatural, supertemporal created reality of the invisible world can divorce us, can divide us from the love of God.

When Paul says he is persuaded, he is expressing the fullness of his confidence about this reality. He has already told you in verse 35 that no earthly thing can separate you from God's love. Now he's saying there is nothing in the invisible world of spiritual reality that can separate you from God's love. Paul knows that every Christian knows that there's more to life than meets the eye. There's a bigger battle going on. Job tells us that, the book of Job tells us that. Daniel emphasizes that, that in the midst of the story of Daniel and the captivity there's a bigger picture, there's a bigger conflict.

There's a famous story from Francis Schaeffer when he sat down in the Bible Presbyterian Church in St. Louis with a gentlemen to witness to him about the gospel. And he wanted to see if the man had any spiritual realities, and he asked the man, as they were sitting on pew in a empty sanctuary, "Start naming for me what you see in this room." "Well, I see hymnals and pews and I see a communion table, and I see a pulpit." "Okay, what else do you see?" "Well, I see an organ, I see windows, I see a balcony." "Okay, what else to you see?" He did this about eleven times until the man had named everything that he saw. And Schaeffer said, "Is that all you see?" And the man sort of said uh, "Yes," knowing that was not supposed to be the answer. And Schaeffer said, "I’ll tell you what I see. I see powers and principalities and forces in high places. Worry over issues of eternal consequence and over your soul in this place." He wasn't claiming to have some sort of a physical vision or a miraculous manifestation. He was simply saying there is a reality more real than the pew you’re sitting on, man, and it is going on around you all the time. Well Paul knows that, and he says to Christians, I want you to understand that even those things can't separate us from the love of God which is in Christ. Nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ because of Christ victory over those principalities and powers. The believer is secure even against them.

You see, Paul's point is for believers to have this kind of confidence as they face trials in the world. Paul is not just telling us this because he had some sort of a secret miraculous manifestation that enabled him to be confident and assured, he's telling you this because he wants believers to be characterized by confidence in the certain of God's love in the gospel. Because we're not, we're crippled. So he's telling you this in order to say to you, okay, now you need to go out have some sort of a miraculous experience so that you can feel the assurance of God's love. He's telling you this so you’ll be driven back to God's Word, back to God's promise to believe in the certainty of His love. And that's a message that makes life worth living. Let's pray.

Lord and our God, by the grace of Your Holy Spirit, teach us that Jesus lives and so shall we. We ask it in His Name, Amen.

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