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4 Favorites Part 3
Bruce A. Hess
If you would please now, take out the word of God. You may have a printed copy or an electronic copy. Turn in it to Romans, chapter 8. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair in front of you and you could take that Bible and turn in the back part to page 124 and you would find yourself at Romans 8.
For several weeks I have been doing a series entitled, “4 Favorites,’ and as part of that, at the beginning, I’ve been sharing with you some of my favorite things to eat and consume and today I want to share with you my favorite ice cream cone flavor from the era of life when I was around 8, 9, 10 years old. My favorite ice cream cone was something that we enjoyed when we went to T & W Dairy Store in New Jersey. T & W stands for Terwilliger and Wakefield. It was on Ridgewood Avenue in Ridgewood, New Jersey. One thing about T & W, they were known for serving up very large premium ice cream cones. What I really liked about that so much is, you would get your ice cream cone and then you would go out and right near them, next to them, was what they called the Wild Duck Pond. So, you could go out there on a nice day, you would have your cone in your hand, you could see the water, a slight breeze, it was amazing!
I provided an opportunity for many of you to try to guess what my favorite flavor of ice cream cone was when I was 8 or 9 years old and a number of you on Facebook or on The City made guesses. Brent Greene [Wildwood member] told me he just put one up and he said, chocolate fudge ripple. That is one of the things that I noticed in the guessing, there were a lot of chocolate themes in all of that. I do like chocolate, but that was not my favorite ice cream flavor when I was 8 and 9 years old. The answer to the mysterious question is…orange sherbet…was actually my favorite ice cream cone. I tell you, that little picture you see is an example, at least in an 8-year old’s mind, of what that thing looked like. It was this very large serving of orange sherbet ice cream and I can still remember just licking that and it was just oh, so delicious.
I’ve pretty much given up ice cream cones at this point of my life, but if we were to go to Braum’s [ice cream store] together, you might very well find me ordering an orange sherbet freeze, because it all goes back to those days at T & W Dairy Store, when we would get those ice cream cones.
If you have been with us in this series, you know this is not a series about my favorite treats. It is really a series about some of my favorite Bible passages. The theme we have been using all along is a theme that comes from Jeremiah in the Old Testament, chapter 15, verse 16, where Jeremiah says, regarding God’s word, he says, “Your words were found and I ate them, Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.”
There are many passages in God’s word that delight me, but today I want to look at one of those and that would be Romans 8:31-39. As we have done almost every time, I want to take you back in time a little bit. Remember, we first talked about John 3:16 and I talked about the idea of taking your name and putting it in to that verse which is what I did. For God so loved Bruce that He gave His unique Son that if Bruce were to believe in Him, he would not perish, but have eternal life.
That is what I did at that young age. When you start a relationship with God, one of the questions that begins to come along is, how secure is my relationship with God? I mean, what if I really mess up? What if I really mess up badly? How secure is my relationship with Jesus?
I’ve got to share this with you. In those days I trusted Christ and I continued to go to our church and I can remember there was one particular day when I was in a Sunday School class with a group of boys and I so clearly remember the Sunday School teacher talking to us boys. This is what he said to us one day, ‘Boys, you need to know that if you mess up or you do wrong, God may take your mother from you.’ Wow! I have to tell you that haunted me for years. I even began to think about myself, I said, ‘If I step out of line, is He going to reject me? Not just take my mother away, but reject me?’ This raises all kinds of questions. How secure is my salvation? How certain is it as I just live my life out, that He is going to continue to love me? In those times when adversity avalanches down on top of us does God still love me then? It doesn’t feel like it maybe, but does He? If I should stumble and make some poor choices will God withhold His love from me?
If you’ve ever wrestled with any of those kinds of questions, Romans, chapter 8, verses 31-39 is for you. It is a delicious portion of God’s word. I would like to read verses 31-39 and would invite you to follow along in your Bible as I read them. Paul writes,
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your 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 things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now, our plan today is to basically just do two things. First of all, we want to look at four key questions that surface in verses 31-37. Then, secondly, we are going to look at Paul’s ultimate conviction in verses 38-39.
So, let’s just begin at the beginning and look at these four key questions that are in verses 31-37. Look at verse 31. Paul says, “What then shall WE say.” So, the first thing we ask is, who are the ‘we?’ Well, he is writing to people who have embraced Jesus as their Rescuer from sin and judgment. Pastor Mark took us through Romans, chapter 5 and verses 8 and 9. Notice what Paul writes here, he says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us,” key pronoun, “in that while WE were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, WE shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
“What shall WE say” is referring to those who know Christ personally, who have trusted in Him.
Back to verse 31, “What then shall we say to THESE THINGS?” What is included in ‘these things?’ Someone might be able to say, ‘Well, all of the book of Romans to this point would be included in ‘these things.’ Certainly, we would know that Romans, chapter 8 and verse 1 would be included in ‘these things,’ where it says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
‘These things’ would certainly include verse 26 of chapter 8, speaking of the Holy Spirit, who helps us. It says that the Spirit, Himself, personally, intercedes for us. It certainly would include that.
‘These things’ would also include verses 28-30, where Paul indicates that our salvation process is guaranteed by God. Remember it says, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Our salvation process is guaranteed by God.
Certainly, that would be included in ‘these things.’ That is another reason why Paul writes to the Philippians in chapter 1, verse 6, and he said, “He who began a good work in you,” what does is say next? “Will complete it,” yes, will complete it.
“What shall WE say to THESE THINGS?” Then, in the second part of verse 31, we have key question number one. Key question number one is, “If God is for us who is against us.” Let me just give you a paraphrase of this, ‘If God is for us, who can make us forfeit our no condemnation status?’ If God is for us, by the way, ‘if’ clauses, in the original language, at times can be translated, ‘since,’ and this is one of those examples. So, we could say, ‘Since God is for us, who is against us.’
You know, there are forces, if you are a normal human being, that you have to face, week to week, and month to month, and year to year. There are forces that we must face as we are living out our Christian life. For example, one of the forces we have to face is the world’s system and the world’s system is trying to squeeze us into its mold. We also have to face the forces of difficulties and trials that come our way. As we live out our Christian life, we have to face the force of indwelling sin, our flesh that is always trying to drag us back into sinful behavior. We have to face the force of aging and death. I am beginning to feel that more and more, the older I get.
As we live out our Christian life we have to face the force of Satan and his minions. But, notice what it says, “Since God is for us, who is against us?” By the way, don’t go right past that little phrase, “God…is…for…us.” We need to relish that! We need to revel in that! God is on our side. Because God is on our side, who can oppose God? The answer we would give would be, nobody. No one can do that.
David, in Psalm 27:1, wrote these words, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” The answer is, no one. No one.
Look at verse 32. “He (God) who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” I mean, the question is, how much is God for us? Well, think about it. He already has sacrificed His Son for us. The greatest gift that we could ever receive has already been given to us, and that is the gift of Jesus. He wouldn’t do that and then toss us out of His family. Once you are in the family of God, you have been adopted in to the family of God, you are a forever member. There is no substitute for God’s substitute.
Look at verse 33, the second key question, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” That little phrase, ‘who will bring a charge?’ is legal terminology. It refers to being called in with a legal summons. Who is going to call in, with a legal summons, God’s elect? I like the way the New Living Translation puts it, “Who is going to bring a charge against those whom God has chosen for His own?” Well, it’s not going to be God. It’s not going to be God.
Look at verse 33. “God is the one who justifies.” More legal terminology. This verb ‘justify’ is a legal term that means ‘to declare righteous.’ Here is the idea, this is an incredible thought, since God has rendered His verdict, if you know Christ, if He has declared you righteous, we are virtually, men and women, unimpeachable. We are secure in Him. Who will bring a charge against those that God has chosen for His own?
Look at verse 34. Key question number three. “Who is the one who condemns?” Well, it’s not going to be God, we already saw that. Would it be Jesus? No! There are four realities there in verse 34. “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died.” That is reality number one, He died. This is the John 3:16 thing. He gave His life for me. It is the Romans 5:8 thing. Christ died for Bruce. For us. We have a theological term for that, it is the term called substitution. When Christ died, all those many centuries ago, all of my sins were future. So, all of my sins, past, present, and future, He died for. He was the substitute for. I had earned a penalty, you had earned a penalty, and He became the substitute and the penalty went off of me and on to Him. That is the doctrine of substitution.
There is also another theological terminology we like to use and that is the doctrine of propitiation. Propitiation means that the full legal penalty was fully satisfied. He was the propitiation for our sins and not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. He was the full legal penalty payment for everything that I owed.
Second reality, He was raised. The resurrection was evidence, by God, that He paid it in full.
Then in says that the third reality is, He is at the right hand of God. As it says in Philippians 2:9, He is highly exalted, He has a name that is above every name. How many names are left out of ‘every name?’ His name is above every name. He is ruling the whole universe.
The fourth reality is, He also intercedes for us. That is an astonishing thing. The Holy Spirit does that and the Son does that. He is our personal, legal representative. I don’t know if you think about that on a day to day basis or not. You know what the personal focus of Jesus is, every single day, for you? Every single day He is looking out for your welfare. He is interceding for you.
Let me just ask you the question: is Jesus effective at what He does? I mean, really? Does He do a sort of good job? Do we kind of hope He knows what He is doing? Is He effective? Of course He is effective. He is looking out for our welfare every hour.
The author of Hebrews writes this in Hebrews 7:25, speaking of Jesus he says, “Jesus is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, because He,” here come some key words, “always lives to make intercession for them.” That is why, when we are adopted into God’s family, we are forever members. It can’t work out any other way, because He always lives to make intercession for them.
Lidie Edmunds, in 1891, wrote these words, from a familiar classic hymn, I love these words, she wrote,
My faith has found a resting place
Not in device or creed
I trust the ever living One
His wounds for me shall plead
I need no other argument
I need no other plea
It is enough that Jesus died
And that He died for me
That is incredible stuff.
Verse 35 gives us key question number four. “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” If you look at the first word in verse 35, in the New American Standard it is the word ‘Who.’ The word in the original is the word, ‘tis.’ T-i-s. It is just an indefinite pronoun. You can translate it, ‘who.’ You can translate it, ‘what.’ My personal preference here, would be to translate it, ‘what’ because what follows are not people, or whos, but rather, things, whats. “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” The idea seems to be something we might often think of when we are experiencing some of these things is, if I am experiencing these things in my life right now, does God still love me? A lot of times it doesn’t feel like He does, but does He still love me?
By the way, when you look at these things listed in verse 35, what is really interesting is, all of us can say, ‘Yeah, I’ve experienced that one, or maybe that one, or may this one.’ But, Paul experienced them all. You can look at 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 23-28, where he delineates how all of these things he personally experienced. So, what will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation? A very picturesque word. It is a word that speaks of oppressive pressure and stress that is pressing in on us. Do you ever experience that in your life as a follower of Christ? Will that separate me from the love of Christ? No. Will He still love me even if I am experiencing tribulation? Yes.
How about distress. Another interesting term. It is a term that really comes from the idea of ‘narrow.’ It is the idea that I am being hemmed in, in a hard time. Have you been hemmed in, in a hard time recently? You know, the hard time that you are hemmed in by could be something like a divorce, it could be something like a medical diagnosis, it could be the loss of a job, it could be a financial crisis, it could be a relational crisis and you are just hemmed in by this hard time. It is exactly how I felt when recently, most of you know, I have battled cancer for the second time. It just feels like it is kind of hemming me in. Will distress separate me from the love of Christ? No. Will He still love me if I am experiencing distress in my life? Yes.
How about persecution? You know, hostility that may come my way because of my stand for Christ? Or how about famine, being deprived of food? Or how about nakedness, being destitute, being cold or homeless? If I am experiencing those things will they separate me from the love of Christ? No. Will He still love me, even I am experiencing those things as His follower? Yes.
How about peril, you know, danger from mistreatment? Or sword, threats of violence that may come our way. There are believers all around the world right now that are experiencing those very things. Right now, today, as we speak. If we experience peril or threats of violence, will that separate me from the love of Christ? No. Will He still love me if I experience those things in my life? Yes.
Then we come to verse 36, which seems to be a mystery verse at times to us. It is a quote from Psalm 44:22, where it says, “Just as it is written, (in the Old Testament) ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Why does he throw this in here? Well, he is really trying to stress this fact, that hardship has always been the experience that followers of God have had. In fact, if you write in your Bible, you might write next to it, or on top of it, or whatever, the word, ‘normal.’ That is really why the verse is here. It is normal that followers of Christ might experience these kinds of things in our life. Normal.
Most of you know that I had to undergo a rectal resection. It was about a year ago. It took me months, months, for my body to really relearn how to function. I tell you, that just sort of avalanched down on me and I felt the pressure of it. I felt hemmed in by it. You may know, I have shared that one of my themes was, I wanted to entrust my soul to a faithful Creator. See, the promise for a follower of Christ is not immunity from adversity. The promise is, those things, that adversity will never separate us from the love of Christ. The promise is, we will have victory from that adversity
Look at verse 37. He says, “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” The word ‘all’ is very emphatic. All the things I have been talking about in this section and all these things we overwhelmingly conquer, we are super victors, he says. You might be saying, ‘Now wait a second. Wait a minute.’ Especially if you are in the midst of it right now, you might say, ‘I don’t quite get how that one works.’ When you are in the middle of a rectal resection and you really can’t walk ten paces in one direction, you don’t really feel like a super victor.
How does this work? Well, he is saying from a divine perspective this is true. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 17, it says that some of this stuff that we are undergoing, this affliction that we are undergoing, is called momentary and light. I don’t know, when you have a significant physical issue, or you are dealing with cancer, or whatever it may be, it doesn’t really feel very momentary and it certainly doesn’t feel very light. But, from a divine perspective, it is momentary and light, because it is just going to be a flash of time. But, from an eternity perspective it is different. Here is what is interesting, that momentary light affliction that we undergo, he says, is producing for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond all comparison. As we are trusting Christ as we go through these things, it is producing for us this eternal glory that is far beyond any comparison. No matter what you may want to pick out that we may go through, it is nothing to compare to the glory that is to come.
How do we qualify as super victors? Well, look at verse 37. “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer,” here comes the key phrase, “through Him who loved us.” It is all because of the Lion from the tribe of Judah, which by the way, we are going to look at more carefully next week.
The second thing we wanted to look at was Paul’s ultimate conviction in verses 38 and 39. Notice he says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You know, that word that is translated, that verb here in verse 38, ‘convinced’ is a word that means to be thoroughly persuaded. It is in what is called, in the original language, a perfect tense. That means I have this conviction and the ramifications and results of that continue on. This is a fully certain conviction that Paul has. It is way beyond, you know, ‘I think that none of these things will be able to separate us from the love of God.’ It is not, ‘I guess, I’m not really sure, but I’m guessing.’ It’s not, ‘I hope, oh man, I just hope somehow…’ No. He says, ‘I am convinced. I am thoroughly persuaded.’ And, he talks about pairs here. He says, “Neither death, nor life.” No sphere of existence you could think of. Death can’t do it, life can’t do it.
“Angels and principalities.” Probably angels referring to the good angelic realm, the principalities to the evil angelic realm. He is basically saying, ‘angels can’t do it, principalities can’t do it. There are no supernatural forces that can do it.’
Then, he says, “Things present and things to come.” Nothing today, nothing tomorrow, that we can’t even see coming is able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
He says powers can’t do it. Probably a reference to those who are in power and authority over us in this world.
He says, “Nor height, nor depth,” nor the outreaches of space or the deepest realms of the ocean. Then, he says, “Nor any created thing.” I like the way the New Living Translation says it, “Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So, stop right there. Nothing in all creation can do it. Even you or I can’t do it. So, who is left? Who’s left? Only God is left and He is on our team and He is for us.
The point he is making is this, nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Men and women, this is a delicious truth and this truth spurs us to run toward God, not run from God. See, those early years of my spiritual life that is really what I was doing, I was running from God. This truth spurs us to run toward God.
What do we learn from these verses, chapter 8, verses 31-39? I would like to identify three things. Number one, we learn that God knows. No matter what we may ever face, God knows and we will never, ever be alone.
The second thing we learn is that God is for me. It is so important to grip that firmly. He is on your team. When you know Him, you’ve trusted in Him as your Rescuer from sin and judgment, He is on your team. He is for you.
The third thing we learn is that God loves me and there is nothing that can ever separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Fanny Crosby, in 1873, a hundred and fourteen years ago, wrote these words from a classic hymn. You will recognize it. She wrote:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
Romans, chapter 8, verses 31-39, these are God’s words. Eat them. Embrace them. Believe them. And they will be a joy and a delight to your heart.
Let’s pray together. And, as we pray I would like to pray over all of you, Ephesians, chapter 3, verses 17-19. I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your heart as you trust in Him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love and may you have the power to understand how wide, how long, how high and how deep His love really is. May you deeply experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be filled with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Amen.
Questions for Reflection on this message
1. What was your favorite ice cream cone flavor when you were younger? How did that become your favorite?
2. When you were younger did anyone ever imply (or perhaps you inferred it) that if you “stepped out of line” spiritually God would punish you by wrecking your life in some way or by attacking a loved one? Elaborate. Why does such theology get promoted?
3. We mentioned Romans 8:30 where Paul shows that our salvation process is guaranteed by God. Each of the verbs are past tense. The Roman believers receiving this letter would have clearly understood that they had been predestined (past), called (past), justified (past), but none of them had yet been glorified (fully in Christ’s image), nor have any of us. What is the significance of Paul using the past tense with this final verb? Explain.
4. Why is it that the forces we face daily (the world system, difficulties, indwelling sin, aging, Satan and his minions) cannot jeopardize our eternal relationship with God?
5. Bruce stated that because we have trusted in Jesus as our Rescuer we are virtually unimpeachable. How would you defend that idea?
6. There is quite a list of significant adversities in verse 35. Why are we tempted to doubt His love when we are experiencing situations like that? Elaborate.
7. When we face any difficult situation or adversity, what are some ways in which reading and meditating on Romans 8:31-39 might encourage us?
8. In what way can we say with Paul that we are “super victors” (verse 36)?
9. How would recalling and reflecting on these three summary statements make a difference for you this next week: God knows. God is for me. God loves me.
10. Express your gratitude to God for all Jesus is and all He has done for you.