|The Gospel of Godís Grace #11
Life in the New World
January 18, 1998 / Romans 7:7 ó 8:39
Paulís epistle to the Christians at Rome is about contrast. It contrasts law and gospel as the basis of oneís hope for salvation, life in Adam and life in Christ, justification by works and justification by faith, being controlled by the "sinful nature" and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a powerful teaching technique. Some things are best understood in human experience by contrasting them with their polar opposites.
Who, after all, appreciates good health as much as the person who has been critically or chronically ill? Who understands freedom better than someone who has lived under totalitarianism, spent time in prison, or survived a kidnaping? And who knows the sweetness of Christ so well as the woman or man who has lived the ordeal of sinís painful emptiness ó perhaps only to trade it for the frustration and despair of religious legalism ó when the pure light of the gospel of Godís grace bursts through? It is oneís moment of passage from death to life, bondage to freedom, melancholy to ecstasy.
Hebrew Scripture had created a sense of desire and anticipation for something new and different in human spiritual experience. It anticipated a situation that would stand in contrast with all that had gone before. Jeremiah had described it this way: "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ĎKnow the Lord,í because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest" (Jer. 31:31-34a). And the most wonderful feature of that time would be this: "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jer. 31:34b).
This "new age" or "new world" would be ushered by the appearance of an eschatological figure called Messiah (i.e., the anointed one) and a cataclysmic event that would mark the inauguration of his kingly reign. Paul had lived with this dream from his boyhood in Judaism. But he had rejected the claim of some among his peers that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah who was to be confessed as Lord. In fact, he had blasphemed Jesus, argued against his messianic claims, and resorted to physical persecution of those who could not be dissuaded from following him.
Then, consistent with his eternal purpose in Christ, God broke into Paulís life on the Damascus Road. In Paulís own words, the sovereign God who had "set me apart from birth" intervened and "called me by his grace" in order to "reveal his Son in me" (Gal. 1:15-16). From that time forward, the persecutor turned proclaimer regarded Jesus as the Messiah and held that his resurrection from the dead ó as evidenced to him personally in the Damascus Road confrontation and conversation ó was the event which had signified not only the Lordship of Jesus Christ but the start of the long-awaited new age, new world, new creation.
If Christ is the Messiah and if the door to the new age has been opened to us through his death and resurrection, then the Law of Moses, obedience to it, and character formation under its guidance are not the path to God. Law has been supplanted by Christ. Good works and character formation as the key to eternal life have given way to trust in Godís work through Christ. The true goal of life is no longer "follow the rules and be good" but "know Christ." Christ alone is the way to right-standing with God. This, of course, is precisely what Paul had come to understand. And the burden of his ministry was to make the message of the grace of God known not only to his fellow-Jews but to the Gentiles as well.
To preach Christ alone as our hope for eternal life is, however, to leave oneself open to misunderstanding and misrepresentation ó whether in Paulís day or now. "If the message is ĎChrist alone,í " someone chides, "then Moses, the Law, and what we do with our lives donít count for anything." Says another: "Just believe in Jesus and forget about the Bible and sound doctrine! Thatís Ďeasy believismí and means everybody that nods politely in Jesusí direction is going to heaven." Or: "If the gospel is just ĎJesus, Jesus, Jesus!í then weíre all off the hook on lifestyle; just Ďtrust Jesusí and live as you choose ó tell lies, commit adultery, steal from your neighbor ó and still go to heaven when you die."
Paul expected that the gospel he preached would generate that sort of response, so he brings it to the foreground and addresses it forthrightly. In fact, this text is the second time he has answered his anticipated critics. The former was "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" (6:1). Put another way, the first question Paul saw coming was this: "Doesnít your interpretation of Ďgraceí encourage people to sin?" Now the issue is this: "Is the law sin?" Put another way, the present question is: "Arenít you discounting the importance of the Bible and saying its commandments and laws and just too demanding and therefore the source of our struggle, sin, and death?" (7:7).
His answer to both objections is exactly the same in the Greek text ó me genoito, translated "By no means!" for the former question and "Certainly not!" for the latter. Grace does not encourage sin; it makes sin all the more abhorrent and becomes a saved personís motivation for pursuing holiness. People set free from sin by the wonderful power of heavenly grace have Godís will and pleasure as their motivation for living. Neither do saved people make light of Scripture, doctrine, and commandments; they affirm not only the right of God to give law but acknowledge his every command to be just, good, and spiritual. It is simply that human weakness keeps us from being able to honor divine law and makes it impossible for that law to save us.
In what sense are Christians living in a "new world" because of Christ? If we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and partakers in Godís "new age," why do we sometimes struggle so with our faith and lifestyle? And how can we find deliverance and victory in this struggle? How can we replace doubt with trust or fear with confidence?
A Walking Civil War
In Romans 7:7-25, Paul describes his personal experience with divine law and biblical commandments.
Although some expositors deny this is Paulís personal experience and only a rhetorical "I" throughout this text, what prompts anyone to want to exempt Paul from the same struggle he sees in the rest of us? The saints of God in every generation ó even the apostles themselves ó had to come to terms with their personal human weakness (i.e., sarx = "flesh" in KJV, "sinful nature" in NIV). Judas fell from his high calling to apostleship and became the apostate betrayer (Acts 1:15-20). Peter denied the Lord at his trial before the high priest (Mark 14:66-72). Even after Pentecost, Peter mistreated his Gentile brothers in the Lord and was rebuked for his error by Paul (Gal. 2:11-13).
Still other writers take chapter 7 to be Paulís description of himself prior to the encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road and chapter 8 to be his life afterward. In other words, chapter 7 is Paul the Jew while chapter 8 is Paul the Christian. Again, that is not a natural reading of the text. If chapter 7 were written in the past tense and chapter 8 in the present tense, such a reading might make better sense. Both, however, are written in the present tense.
In my opinion, Paul describes in these two chapters the experience every believer feels at times of being a walking civil war. Even though we are forgiven and regenerated in Christ, we still live in an environment that is hostile to righteousness and with personalities still in process of transformation into Christís likeness that will not be complete until he returns. Jump ahead in the text and read these words thoughtfully on this point: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (8:22-23).
In one way of looking at things, I am as saved today as I will ever be. All the sins in my past experience and memory have been forgiven and washed away by the blood of Christ; all the sins I will yet commit are no real threat to my security, for the Lord will not enter them on my record (cf. 4:8). From another angle, however, I have a long, long way to go to my full salvation and complete redemption. I still get discouraged and have to battle spiritual depression. It embarrasses me to admit that I am such an inadequate husband, father, friend, servant to God.
I am living in the tension between Godís "already" and my "not yet." I am already Godís child, but I am not yet home. I am already living the benefits of salvation, but I do not know the fullness of salvation I will experience when Jesus appears. I am already indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit, but what he is able to do through me now is only a "firstfruits" installment and promise of what lies ahead. I am already made alive in Christ, but the life I live now is subject to suffering or persecution that could weaken or destroy my faith; I am not yet in my resurrection body that will be incapable of the infirmities or fears that can work against me now. Between the already of earthly experiences and the not yet of heavenly glory, there is a quantitative gap of immeasurable proportions. Qualitatively, however, what is yet to come is but the extension, flowering, and fulfillment of what has already started.
Paul was aware of this same gulf between present limitation versus future completion in Christian experience, and he wrote movingly, personally, and sympathetically about it. And, yes, he wrote emphatically and with hyperbole. But why should he not exaggerate, say, his personal struggle with covetousness or lust to make his point in this context? It is a common and effective device of good communicators.
For the sake of comparison, do you remember Paulís discussion of rivalry and division at Corinth? After three chapters, he finally said this: "Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit . . ." (1 Cor. 4:6a). He had personified the issues at Corinth in terms of himself and Apollos for the sake of bringing them into focus. He has done the same thing here by illustrating the problem with law in a believerís life with what is likely an overblown account of his own experience. "Perhaps, therefore, Paul is both telling his own story and universalizing it. In brief, his experience (the sequence of comparative innocence, law, sin and death), though uniquely his own, is also everybodyís, whether Adamís in the garden, Israelís at the mountain or, for that matter, ours today."1
Thus the apostle raises two fundamental questions about the relationship of his personal spiritual experiences to the law he had known from childhood, the Law of Moses. First, "Is the law sin?" (7:7). Second, "Did that which is good, then, become death to me?" (7:13).
"Is the law sin?" Of course not. The law that came through Moses was ultimately from God himself. "So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good" (7:12). Paul was not about to criticize either Godís right to command his creatures or any specific rule that was included among those commandments. Paul would only criticize and accuse "sin" (i.e., the transgressions of law that trace to our rebellion against God). "What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ĎDo not covet.í But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death" (7:7-11).
Law does a holy and helpful thing in identifying sinful behaviors. It marks them for the sake of our protection from them. The "Thou shalt nots" of Holy Scripture are warnings posted to keep us from things that maim and kill human joy, peace, and life. The strange and perverse thing about human nature is that marking a road "Private / No Trespassing" seems to guarantee its being heavily traveled! The problem is not that somebody has a private drive to his residence but that a combination of curiosity and arrogance convinces the rest of us that it is all right to drive just far enough to see the house for ourselves. The problem with "Do not covet" is not that God has warned us against greed and lust but that the very warning tends to provoke ó at least on certain days and under certain circumstances ó the very thing prohibited.
"Did that which is good become death to me?" No, it is not law but sin (i.e., our violations of law) that brings anyone among us under a death sentence. "But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful" (7:13b). Indeed, part of what Paul calls the utter sinfulness of sin is that it can take a holy and good thing like law and use it as a weapon for our destruction. Law was intended by God to expose our sinfulness and inadequacy to save ourselves, thus to cause us to trust God and him alone for our sufficiency. Law has been distorted by the Great Deceiver and offered to us as the means by which we can attain sufficiency before God and secure a right relationship with him. It is right for covenant people to look to the law for guidance in morality and healthy human relationships; it is utterly wrong and hopeless for people who are seeking God to try to find him through their obedience to those holy commandments.
Perhaps the greatest lie ever palmed off on the human race by the one who is the father of all lies (John 8:44) is the one which says divine commandments coupled to human obedience equals eternal life. Among other reasons, law was given to make us see that right-standing with and life from God could not come by law-keeping; the point of exposing that painful truth to us was to turn our eyes to Godís Christ. "For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe" (Gal. 3:21b-22).
. . . Paul makes clear that from the beginning the law was intended to point to trust in God (see Rom. 3:31). The problem with the law was that it came to be regarded not as pointing beyond itself to the trust in God which rectifies our relationship to him, but rather it was regarded as itself the instrument, through its fulfillment, for rectifying that relationship (see Rom. 9:30-32).2
Does It Sound Familiar?
The conflict inherent in human frailty before divine holiness is nowhere better articulated that in the final section of Romans 7. "For if I know the law but still canít keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I donít have what it takes. I can will it, but I canít do it. I decide to do good, but I donít really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, donít result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time" (7:18-20, The Message).
Knowing what is right is no guarantee of doing the right thing. If it were that simple, I could write poetry, play professional basketball, and live without sin. On the other hand, if putting away bad things were simply a matter of recognizing their harm and making the equivalent of an emphatic New Yearís resolution, my Christian sister would not be an alcoholic, my Christian brother would not be having an affair, and I would not be so awkward and impatient in trying to help them.
All of us know that Paulís confession includes more people than himself when he writes: "For in my inner being I delight in Godís law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members" (Rom. 7:22-23).
Was that Paulís experience every minute of every day? No. He had some really good days. There were days and weeks when he confronted evil successfully, proclaimed holiness boldly, and lived as a model of Christian virtue. But not every day was that good, and ó as with any spiritually sensitive soul ó one of his bad days probably caused him more anguish than a hundred of his good ones could cause him joy. To put it another way, a long period of faithfulness could appear to be destroyed and brought to nothing by one really terrible moment of failure. Anyone trained as early and as long as he had been to measure his standing with God by his performance had to have lapses of that sort of thinking. I still do.
David had pledged himself to purity and had lived that pledge for years. Then one day he stared when he should have looked away and wound up committing adultery. How did he react? When his heart broke, he wrote: "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psa. 51:5). Give yourself a break, David. You didnít come out of your motherís womb committing sin. You werenít having evil thoughts and doing perverse thing the day you were conceived. But that is the way we tend to think when we do something we know we have done something for which there is no excuse. "Iím rotten, no good, worthless," she says. "Iíve done the one thing I said I would never do. I couldnít trust myself ever again to do anything decent, and there is no reason I should go on living."
Then there was Peter. He genuinely loved Jesus and pledged this to him: "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you" (Matt. 26:35). When the fateful moment came in the courtyard of the high priest and he failed to measure up to his volunteered commitment, Peter "went out and wept bitterly" (Matt. 26:75b). Does it take John Grishamís ability as a novelist to create believable dialogue for that hour? "What I did was worse than Judasí treachery, for I had been so quick, so bold to confess my faith in him. Then what did I do when he needed me? Oh, Iíll never forget the look in his eyes when I had denied knowing him. Iím no good to him now, and there will never be a place for me in his kingdom. And I had thought I could be a leader in his cause. Ha!"
What has been your most painful version of that experience to date? Wasnít it the lowest day in your life? Didnít you think it was hopeless? That there was no reason to go on? Maybe you lived through it, but you have been spiritually empty and hollow since it happened. Or perhaps you are in the throes of spiritual desperation today. You think youíve gone too far, sinned too much, created too much heartache.
Maybe youíve said something like this: "What a wretched [person] I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (7:24). Or perhaps you set it up in terms of your intention and your lived reality: "I myself in my mind am a slave to Godís law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin" (7:25b).
Wouldnít you like to know that God is not caught off guard by your situation? That he has a means adequate to deliver you from the judgment and chaos you feel? Wouldnít you like to know there is still hope for you? That there is a new world, a new power, and a new outcome possible for you?
The essential message of the gospel of Godís grace to sinful, trapped, and melancholy souls is this: "Thanks be to God ó through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (7:25a). Even against the backdrop of lawís holiness and your unholiness, sinís power and your weakness, God has provided the answer to sinís condemnation and domination in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is the strong affirmation of hope that opens one of the grandest single chapters in all of Holy Scripture: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit" (8:1-4).
Our deliverance from an otherwise impossible situation has been accomplished by Christ and brought to completion by the Holy Spirit. Under law, we are judged guilty and worthy of death because of disobedience; in Christ, there is no guilt and no death because "the law of the Spirit of life" has liberated us from sinís stranglehold. Now trace Paulís explanation of this in three distinct steps.
First, law was "powerless" to save us ó not because of any defect in it but because it was weakened by our sinfulness. "No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law," Paul has already written. "Rather, through the law we become conscious of sin" (3:20). Understanding and admitting that we cannot have right-standing with God through keeping his law, we look now to Christ alone for salvation. "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand" (5:1). Voila! We have been "set free from the law of sin and death," for we have given up looking to it for right-standing with God.
Second, God brought this about by sending Jesus as a man (i.e., "in the likeness of sinful man") to offer himself on the cross as a "sin offering." In Jesusí self-offering as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, sin was "condemned" not only in the pronouncement but also in the execution of its sentence, death. When Jesus died, he took the condemnation I deserve and bore its full penalty. He jumped in front of the bullet headed toward me. He put his neck in my noose. He took the lethal injection drawn for me. Use whatever figure helps you appreciate the cross from your own background to visualize that the death Jesus died on Calvary was the one you should have died.
Those who believe this about the death of Christ can be "clothed with Christ" for their security (cf. Gal. 3:26-27). The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon used to tell the story of a man who had been sentenced to death by a Spanish court. Because he had been born in England and lived in America where he had attained citizenship, the consulates of both countries tried to intervene. But those diplomatic efforts were rebuffed and went unheeded. Finally, they wrapped the man in their flags, the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes. Defying the executioner, they issued this warning: "Fire if you dare! But if you do, you will bring the power of these two great nations upon you!" There stood the condemned man, but the riflemen would not fire. Protected by those two flags and the governments they represented, the man was safe. The person clothed or wrapped in Christ has a similar invulnerability before sinís desire to destroy.
Third, the lawís "righteous requirements" can now be "fully met in us, who do not live to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." Oh, there is still a place for law and divine commandments in Christian experience. We do not look to it for right-standing, but it does guide our thinking and behavior out of darkness into light, away from evil to good, from impurity to Christlikeness. Even so, this much-needed character transformation doesnít happen because we are trying harder than before or because we are more committed to righteousness than was once the case; it happens because we are living by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. According to verse 3, the weakness inherent in our "sinful nature" was the reason for lawís powerlessness to help us in our moral-spiritual struggles; now we are assured that the indwelling Spirit is our strength to live in holiness before our God. Without the inner strengthening that comes from the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 3:14-19), faithful Christian discipleship is impossible.
Throughout chapter 8, Paul presents the contrast between death and life, law and grace, heaven and hell under the terms "sinful nature" (flesh, KJV) and "Spirit." It is important to remember throughout this section that these two terms do not stand for two parts of human nature (i.e., the "lower" and "higher") but for two contrasting life orientations. A life oriented to the "sinful nature" is focused on self-fulfillment and willing to resist any claim of God that impinges on its path. A life oriented to the "Spirit" has been set free from the worship of the self-idol and is empowered unto holiness by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Put most simply, each of us has a choice to make. "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires" (8:5). Choosing the former is to opt for rebellion and death (8:6-7a; cf. Gal. 5:19-21). Choosing the latter not only means that oneís spirit is made "alive because of righteousness" (i.e., right-standing with God, justification) but also guarantees that his or her "mortal body" will be raised to life by the same indwelling Spirit who raised Christ to life again (8:9-12).
The "obligation" that a regenerate person has in view of these precious gifts and promises is therefore exclusively to the new way of life that honors Christ. After all, anyone who is in Christ is a "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). But didnít Paul feel that obligation before he knew Christ? Hadnít he tried to obey the law and "put to death the misdeeds of the body"? Indeed, and so have some of us. But neither obedience to holy commandments nor vanquishing of evil ways can be done by human determination and effort. It is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit, and it can be done only by his indwelling presence and strength (8:12-17).
After all, it isnít just that the mindset of someone outside of Christ is likely to find it difficult to obey God and resist evil. "It does not submit to Godís law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God" (8:7b-8). And it isnít that the Holy Spirit is a helpful presence to believers. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (8:9b).
In the hope of keeping it before us until it is understood and appreciated, let me take you back to a simple chart you have already seen ó and supplement it with what we have learned here.
UNDER LAW . . .
(In Adam, in "flesh" or "sinful nature")
Works are key
Merit is goal
Transgression is inevitable
Condemnation due to weakness of flesh
Sin is master because flesh cannot please God
UNDER GRACE . . .
(In Christ, led by the Spirit)
Faith is key
Promise is precious
Transgression is impossible
No Condemnation because of right-standing by grace
Sin is no longer master because Spirit puts evil to death
Is it all starting to "click" for you now? Every line of Romans to this point has put us in position to appreciate the wonderful truth of Romans 8. Thinking of the first and last verses of the chapter as bookends, there is a way to live with "no condemnation" (v.1) so that "[nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God" (v.39).
What if a Christian should have a difficult time with life between the time of becoming Godís child and entering his or her final glory with Christ? "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us," answers Paul (8:18). These sufferings may range from health problems to moral lapses to persecution for Christís sake. Lump them all together, and they are nothing compared to what lies ahead! Just as the whole of Godís created order has been subjected to "frustration" as a result of Adamís disobedience in Eden, so do males and females of the human race experience frustration and struggle (8:19-23). But the sure and certain promise of heaven ó presented to us in connection with the Spiritís indwelling as a guarantee of greater glory yet to come ó undergirds our patience between the "already" and the "not yet" of our salvation experience (8:24-25). Not only so, but the Spirit "intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" to help us through our most trying moments (8:26-27).
Then comes that verse in the Bible that has served to sustain saints through some of the darkest and most perplexing moments of human history: "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" (8:28). Divorced from its context, the verse is a powerful statement of encouragement to the people of God. Read in context, it is a Gibraltar on which faith can come to rest. God is never unaware of the life circumstances of his people. And he works actively in those circumstances to move toward his sovereign will to bring about good things for his saints.
This verse does not say that God brings about everything that happens to one of his people. Both Satan and the randomness of the universe cause many things to happen in the lives of Christians that God did not cause. And this verse certainly does not say that only good things will happen in the lives of believers. What the verse does affirm is that God has the ability to turn whatever does occur in the lives of his people to good ends, if we will continue loving him and trust him to act according to his holy purpose in our lives.
Indeed, our God is concerned to see his people through their life struggles from his love for them from eternity past (i.e., foreknowledge, predestination) through present reality (i.e., calling, justifying) to eternity future (i.e., glorification). "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified" (8:29-30). A God with so intense and personal a love for his people is worthy of praise beyond our ability to offer.
John Stott analyzes the closing paragraph of Romans 8 in terms of five questions raised by Paul.3 Their combined effect is to affirm the security of believers throughout the challenges, suffering, or personal dilemmas of faith we may ever encounter.
First, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (8:31b). Paul will shortly catalog a number of things (8:35-39a) that are "against" us at certain times. But his question was not "Is anything ever against us?" but "What does it matter that things are against us when we know God is for us?" Indeed, the construction of this question in the Greek text suggests something other than the hypothetical that tends to be heard in English translation. A better translation would be this: "Since God is for us, who can be against us?"
Second, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all ó how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (8:32). God has already given his most precious gift to us, so how could anyone think he would withhold any other thing ó some lesser thing ó we might need?
Third, "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies" (8:33). Under the figure of a law court, Paul raises the possibility of some "charge" (i.e., indictment) being lodged against one of Godís saints. As with things that could be "against" us, the point is not that there are no charges that could be made. Not only is Satan the accuser of Godís people, but our own failures and sins stand against us. However, just as there is no double jeopardy under American law, so there is no bringing of charges against someone God "justifies" (i.e., declares right). Since the penalty for our sin has been paid already by Jesus Christ, no charge against a believer can stand.
Fourth, "Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who diedómore than that, who was raised to lifeóis at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (8:34). Again, our enemies, our critics, and sometimes even our own hearts (cf. 1 John 3:20) rise to condemn us. And the issue is not even the truthfulness of their accusations and proofs. Our defense is not to deny that we are worthy of condemnation but to plead the sufficiency of Christ as our Savior. We remind ourselves and anyone who desires to bring us under condemnation of this wonderful truth: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Fifth, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (8:35a). Against all the things he could imagine that might be barriers to separate us from Christís love, Paul expresses absolute confidence in its comprehensive, unconquerable nature. And lest anything had been overlooked, he affirms: "... nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Our God is sovereign in his creation. All things are under his control, and he has declared it impossible that anything should come between one of his saints and the saving love of Christ that is her hope and glory.
Paulís five questions are not arbitrary. They are all about the kind of God we believe in. Together they affirm that absolutely nothing can frustrate Godís purpose (since he is for us), or quench his generosity (since he has not spared his Son), or accuse or condemn his elect (since he has justified them through Christ), or sunder us from his love (since he has revealed it in Christ).4
The ultimate contrast in this section of text is between things as we used to know them and things as we know them in Christ. They are light years apart.
Eugene Peterson translates an earlier section of Romans this way: "If weíve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didnít you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we sent under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace ó a new life in a new land!" (6:2-4, The Message).
Thatís it! Weíve left one country ó the old country of sin where our sinful nature worked against and "weakened" the law, where our disobedience brought us under the judgment of law, where we were overcome and enslaved by selfishness ó in order to enter the new land of grace, faith, freedom from condemnation, and empowerment to holiness by Godís Spirit.
Are you living in the new land and brooding over the wickedness of your previous life? That is the pride so characteristic of your sinful nature refusing to turn loose of something for which you are ashamed. "I canít believe I could have ever behaved that way," you cry. Yes, you could and did behave that way because of the power of sin at work in you. But you are living in a new world now where forgiveness is real and meant to be taken seriously. You are grieving the Spirit of God by clinging to the memory of past sinfulness.
Are you living in the new age of grace with your mind shackled to the old ways of law? Do you worry about your flawedness and fear that you wonít make it to heaven? That is your willing vulnerability to accusations and judgment, as if God had not already given his greatest gift for you and as if he had not declared you to be in right-standing before him. Nothing can separate you from the love of God.
So no more shrinking back. You are not being called to achieve but to receive, not to try harder but to trust more. Itís a new life in a new land. Welcome. And enjoy. "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."
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