Saturday, February 24, 2007

Romans 8:33-34

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Who will bring a charge against us, knowing that God is the judge and is biased in our favor? Who will condemn us, knowing that Christ has paid our ransom and even lives to intercede for us? Paul’s point here is simply that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. No one, not even Satan, can make a hearable, valid accusation against those for whom Christ died, and it’s because God, the creator of all existence, is the judge. This is the same rhetorical question that Paul asked in v31-32, but here Paul provides a legal illustration. Picture the judge giving His perfect Son not only to forgive sins but also to bear the punishment price for sins. Paul is saying to his audience, “Ask yourselves, ‘Who could bring a charge before this judge?’ and ‘Who could possibly condemn the defendant in this situation?’” And the answer that Paul wants his audience to give is “No one.”

In v33 Paul shows how God the Father is for us. In v34 he shows how what God the Son has done for us assures us that God is for us. It’s the same point from different perspectives. Paul is giving a certain answer to fear and guilt in v33 by pointing to the Father’s love and justification. Paul is giving a certain answer to fear and guilt in v34 by pointing to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is practically writing this right from Isaiah 50:8-9. This passage is amidst the portion of Isaiah’s writing often called “The Song of the Suffering Servant.” The prophet is writing as if Jesus Himself was speaking. But notice how Paul makes the transfer as if we are saying those same words that Jesus spoke of Himself as if we were speaking about ourselves. That’s exactly what Paul wants us to see! And this goes back to Paul’s understanding of the believers’ union with Christ. Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” But Paul hadn’t persecuted Christ. Oh but he had. He persecuted those in union with Christ, and that’s the same as persecuting Christ. There’s the union. Same goes the other way around. If Christ said it, it’s just as if those in union with Him have said it.

The judge is already biased in our favor because He chose us. He loved us savingly before the foundation of the world. We believers are His elect. Because He chose us, we are united with His Son in the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son. If the judge who justifies is biased, what good can it do to file a charge? What good can it do try to condemn one the elect? They are justified by God the Father and judge. And furthermore (and most importantly), the punishment that would fit the charge has already been carried out on Christ. So that makes God both just in judgment and the One Who justifies. This takes us back to what Paul said in Romans 3:26. God is not just forgiving us! He remains just in forgiving us, because the punishment we deserve is still carried out. And this is what should give us such a great confidence. God cannot punish me. He has punished Christ in my place. And God cannot punish anyone for sins that have been punished in Christ at Calvary.

Paul is asking, “How can a person stand unafraid before God on judgment day?” And v34 offers 4 answers: (1) Christ died. Paul is talking about Christ as the substitutionary, atoning, propitiatory sacrifice for the elect. Those for whom Christ died will never face the wrath of God, because the Son has faced the totality of the wrath of God in their place. And therefore, they will not be condemned. (2) More than that! Christ was raised. And the resurrection is essential for our salvation. It shows God the Father’s acceptance of Christ’s work on our behalf, and thus, since God accepted Christ’s work as payment in full, those for whom Christ was raised cannot be condemned. (3) Christ is at the right hand of the Father. When we say that, we are talking about the fact that God has made Christ to be sovereign and exercise dominion over the universe for His people. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and if He has set us free, we cannot be held captive by sin and death. (4) Jesus Christ intercedes for us. Many people picture Jesus somehow pleading in prayer for His Father to bless His people. And that picture is wrong from two perspectives. First, it doesn’t do justice to the status and authority of Christ. He is seated at the right hand of the heavenly Father. In other words, He is the power in the universe. His dominion and authority is unquestioned. Second, it depicts the Father as uninvolved in the salvation of His people. Remember, He’s already on their side. He’s already justified them. He’s already given them the Son. So, here’s the picture: Christ is ruling all of creation in providence for the good of His people, whom He bought. For whomever He died and rose and rules and intercedes, there is no condemnation. If God is for us, Who can be against us?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Romans 8:31-32

What, then, shall we say in response to this? 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, along with Him, graciously give us all things?

Paul asks great questions; and he gives great answers too. How will God, Who gave Himself for us (who is this “us”?), not also give us (who is this “us”?) all things? Those for whom Christ was given over to death on the cross will certainly be given all things. Paul, in this section, asks a series of questions meant to summarize the main arguments of the entirety of his letter to this point. And so when he asks in v31, “What shall we say?” he’s not simply referring to v28-30 as encouraging as they are; he’s not simply referring to chapter 8, as glorious as it is; he’s referring to the whole of his letter, everything that he’s said to this point.

Look at the next question in v31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” By saying, “If,” Paul is not intending to raise doubt. It might be better translated for us as “Since God is for us, who could possibly be against us?” It’s a rhetorical question. It’s answering the predicament that Paul pointed to in Romans 1:18-32. God is against us, so how is God also for us? Paul has spent the first half of his letter to the Romans explaining how God is for us in Christ. And if God is for us in Christ, then what could it possibly matter if anybody else other than God was against us? Paul is not saying there is nobody against the Christian, that there is no opposition. He’s saying that there is no opposition worth considering, or worth concern, compared to God being for the Christian. If the enmity which once stood between you and God has been solved in Jesus Christ, then there is no enmity worth concern. The rhetorical question is designed to draw attention to the truth that Paul has already explained and bring it to bear upon the hearts of his audience, so that they gain security, comfort, and strength.

Now it’s hard for us to really accept the message of v31 with the rhetorical question. But Paul gives us v32 to reinforce the truth that he tried to evoke from the question in v31. And it’s another rhetorical question, but it’s amazing to consider the magnificent truth that stands within it. God loves us so much that he did not even spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all. According to the rhetorical question, God will also give us all things. Who is God giving all things to in v32? Those for whom Christ died. And we know that all people will not be given all things. If we deny that statement, then we become universalists. So here it is: Those for whom Christ was given will be given all things along with Christ. And it’s not everybody, but only those who believe.

But the real point of this verse is that God the Father acted as Priest in our salvation. He provided, offered, and delivered up the sacrifice of the spotless lamb, His own precious and eternally begotten Son, on behalf of all of His people. So, how much is God for us? We hear it from Paul rhetorically. John 3:16 says it simply: “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The wrath of God struck in totality against Whom it had no right. The Bible says Judas delivered Him over (Mark 3:19), and Pilate delivered Him over (Mark 15:15), and Herod and the Jewish people and the Gentiles delivered Him over (Acts 4:27-28), and we delivered Him over (1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:24). It even says Jesus delivered Himself over (John 10:17; 19:30). But Paul is saying the ultimate thing here in v32. In and behind and beneath and through all these human deliverings, God the Father was delivering His Son to death. Acts 2:23 “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Nothing greater has ever happened for sinners than God delivering His Son to death.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Romans 8:29-30

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.

What is the purpose according to which those foreknown by God are called? Paul lays that out in v29-30. For one thing, God has purposed before the world’s foundation to conform His people to the image of Christ, to glorify them alongside His Son. God is making us to be morally like Christ. And this is sanctification. So God’s purpose in calling us is to make us holy, to set us apart and glorify us as heirs. And no event of our lives can interfere with that purpose. In a strange way the suffering of our lives is connected to that glory. Look at Jesus' life and how every event of His life, every event of His humiliation is a part of His exaltation now. That’s so helpful, because there are going to be experiences in our lives that we don’t understand. But, the Father says, “Even if you don’t understand, I do; and I am causing these things to serve the interests of your glory and your good.”

Now notice the word "foreknowledge." Paul does not say that God foresaw something about those people; it’s not that God foresaw some having faith, and therefore predestined them. That doesn’t make any sense. It’s not what God foreknew about those He predestined. It’s whom He foreknew. Paul is saying that God foreknew them, not something about them. God knew them in an intimate way, just as we know our wives. He fore-loved them. Just as the Old Testament speaks of God knowing His people, it doesn’t mean He knows what they look like or what they are going to do. It means that He is involved in a special love relationship with them, which sets them apart from every other person in the world. We’re talking about a personal relationship of love. God set His saving love on you before you existed.

Amos 3:2 God says to the people of Israel, “You only have I known among all the families of the earth.” He knew about all the families but only chose Israel. There are many, many more examples of this throughout both Old and New Testaments. All things will work together for your good if you are called, and therefore love God, because, or for, as v29 says, God has known you, and chosen you, and loved you, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8; 17:8). I make these points to encourage you. Consider that just as behavioral conformity to Jesus is a life-long battle with wrong deeds, and emotional conformity to Jesus is a life-long battle with wrong feelings, so intellectual conformity to Jesus is a life-long battle with wrong thinking. We should not be surprised to see stumbling or struggling with the harder teachings of Scripture. Behavioral, emotional, and intellectual conformity to Christ do not come all at once, but in God’s timing.

Take “foreknew” from v29 and add, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. Paul is saying that before the foundation of the world God loved you, and because He loved you, He predestined you. He chose you. He set a purpose for your life, and that purpose is invincible. Proverbs 16:9 “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” And because He chose you, He then calls you to His purpose, and He counts you righteous in Christ, He justifies you. And finally, He glorifies you. Notice that sanctification is left out. Does that mean that sanctification is unimportant? No. Paul has been talking about sanctification throughout this chapter; it comes by suffering. The Spirit works in you to conform you to the image of Christ, so that you can be glorified. As we are glorified, and as we share in the glory of our older brother—how amazing to refer to Jesus that way—His glory will not be diminished by our sharing in it. It will be manifested, because He is the reason that we are participating in that glory. So is our participation in that glory dependent on our choice? If so, then Christ’s glory is diminished. But if not, then we can truly praise Him for saving us completely and forever. We had no part in it. Paul says glorified as if it is done. It’s so certain that you’re going to share this glory with God that Paul speaks of it in the past tense.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Romans 8:28

This verse has been translated from the original Greek three different ways. I'll begin by listing each of them:

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.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to His purpose.

And we know that God works together with those who love Him to bring about what is good--with those who have been called according to His purpose.

Which is it? Paul made this statement, which has recently replaced John 3:16 as the most quoted verse in all of Scripture, with something very important in mind. In our text, we are given basically three options to choose from. Which is Paul’s intended meaning? (1) In all things God works for the good of those who love Him. (2) All things work together for good to those who love God. (3) In all things God works together with those who love Him to bring about what is good. The KJV renders this verse: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [His] purpose.” The Amplified Bible says: “We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” The NASV reads, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good.” The ESV, my translation of choice, reads: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” It is clear when we look at v28-30 that in this context God alone is working all things for the good of His people. Look at the verbs. God is the actor; He is at work. God works everything, even evil, for good. God works good in everything. We touched on deism in the past, that God has been passive since creation. And we saw that it is false. We see it again here. God is working everything for good. That alone should give us comfort.

Keep in mind the context of this verse. It follows a tremendous passage on suffering, and it’s hard to learn how to cope with suffering while you’re suffering. So Paul would say to learn how to cope, so that when you face trials and sufferings, you will cope Biblically by taking comfort that God is working good in your sufferings. He is actively bringing all things according to His purpose and will to the consummation. It’s not just there is a future hope that is certain; it’s not just that the Spirit helps us in our weakness; it’s also that God is actively working all things for the ultimate good of His people. Paul is not simply saying that all the nice things work together for our good. He is saying that every obscene evil that you can imagine is turned by God to your best interests: death, illness, marital strife, vocational problems, persecution because of your belief, your child has been diagnosed with an incurable disease. God causes all things to work together for good. Your wife wants a divorce. Your job has been terminated, etc. God causes every single event in your life to work together with other seemingly isolated events for your ultimate good.

Paul is not saying that all things are good in the believer’s life. There are many things that are not good. Some not good things are done to us, which we experience at no fault of our own. Other not good things we do ourselves. Paul is saying that God works in all things, God works all things, everything individually, comprehensibly for the good of the believer. Likewise, Paul is not saying to take a “Que Sera Sera” approach to life, “whatever will be, will be.” Paul is not saying, “Everything is going to work out just fine, so don’t worry about it.” He’s not asking you to have a blind optimism, a hopeful resignation to your fate in the future. That’s not his counsel. Paul is explaining the special providence of God over His children. And it is one of the most comforting truths of the Bible, because in it we learn that there is no meaningless or wasted suffering in our life. There is no purposeless experience in the totality of our lives. God in His sovereign wisdom works everything to bring about His purpose for glory.

But the only ones who can claim this comfort are believers. This promise, this encouragement, this providence is not generic. It’s restricted; it’s discriminatory. Paul is not talking about some sort of general principle of the universe. This is a specific activity of the sovereign God on behalf of His children, whom He has drawn into a saving relationship. We cannot assure unbelievers with these words. For the unbeliever, for the one who has rejected God, for the one who does not trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot say this suffering will result in glorious good. This promise is only for believers, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. This description is of one people, not two different types. This people, believers, love God, because He first loved us; because He’s done a work of grace in us, we love Him. But Paul doesn’t just say it that way, because he knows that there are some people who might think if he only said those that love God, it might seem as if God’s encouragement here is based on our love of Him. And so he immediately stops and says, “And let me remind you that those who love God are the called ones. They love Him, because He called them. He sought them and ran to them. He drew them, and consequently, they love Him.” So Paul looks at it from our perspective (those who love God) and from God’s perspective (those who are called according to His purpose). And both are upheld.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Romans 8:27

And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

The Spirit prays for us according to God’s Will that God would bring to pass in time the decisions and circumstances that would most magnify Christ in our lives, and this happens especially when we are at a loss as to what the specific will of God is in a particular circumstance, because of our weakness. Notice here in both v26 and 27 that we have two intercessors before the Heavenly Father. Christ lives at the right hand of God always interceding for the saints; and the Holy Spirit indwells us, interceding. Picture a dog on the earth trying to speak to his master, a man, who happens to be in the far reaches of the galaxy, without either of them having a telephone or radio device, or even speaking the same language for that matter. Now picture yourself praying to God. It’s the same sort of thing. We have neither the right nor the ability to speak to God apart from our intercessors. So picture a man praying to God. The prayer doesn’t even get out of the man’s mind. But the Spirit is there, indwelling the man, and serving as a telephone or radio device, complete with a translator to make sense out of the man’s babbling. And picture Christ on the other hand, serving as the telephone or radio device, indeed the mediator of the conversation, with God the Father on our behalf.

There is this huge encouragement in prayer, that the Father knows the mind of the Spirit. Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit expresses our heart’s longings perfectly to the Heavenly Father. And they are perfectly understood by the Heavenly Father, even if we can’t quite comprehend them ourselves. It’s so easy for us to become discouraged in prayer because we do it so badly, and we don’t know what to say. But every prayer that the Spirit renders up through our groanings is in perfect accordance with the will of God Almighty. It’s just like the intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ, where He says, “Not My will, but Your will be done.” And every groan, every sigh, every moan, every unuttered and unutterable expression, every word that gets stuck in the throat and cannot come out, the Spirit makes it to be as acceptable and understandable as the intercession of our perfect Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Picture Jeremiah in chapter 20. He’s begging God to end his life. He’s cursing the day that he was born. He has no clue. He is so torn up inside that he doesn’t know what to pray. And the Spirit is taking that prayer and correcting it even as it goes up. Picture David lifting up his broken sentences. He wails, “How long, oh Lord?” And the Spirit is rendering it up in perfect accordance with the will of the Heavenly Father in such a way that He turns it into Scripture and makes it a model prayer for us…. (( Picture Elijah in 1 Kings 19 desiring death, as he thought he was the last one of God’s people. But God said, “No. I’ve got 7000 suffering servants.” And God gave him a new commission and a buddy named Elisha. Picture Paul, being persecuted for preaching the word and perhaps thinking of moving to a different town as his message was not being heard. And God appears and says, “I have many people here.” And Paul stayed for 18 more months)) …. That’s the work of the Spirit in us even today. And how comforting it is that the God of the universe is working in you and in me to will and to act according to His good purposes (Philippians 2:13).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Romans 8:23-26

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. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Paul again reminds us that we’re not alone. We also groan, just like the rest of creation. Do you groan? I know I do! I groan most in times of uncertainty. I groan when I sin against the Lord in such a way that I should be better than that. I groan when my children are sick. I just want it to be over. Come Lord Jesus. Yet life in the Spirit, though it entails groaning, also entails an inextinguishable hope. Paul has already said that we are adopted; here he says we’re waiting for our adoption. He’s already said that we’ve been redeemed. Here he says we’re waiting for our redemption. Though there is a present reality of our redemption, through there is a present reality of our adoption; we are waiting for a full bestowment. We are heirs, but we have not yet received the fullness of the inheritance. We have within us the first fruits of the Spirit, but we have not yet received the fullness of what we will be in the revealing of the sons of God. And so every believer always lives with this forward-looking Spirit, living toward the sunrise, looking for His coming. The Christian perseveres in confident anticipation, in hope, looking to future glory.

In v26, Paul takes our weakness as a given, and he makes it clear that even in that weakness, God ministers to us by His Spirit. Just as we are helped in suffering by the certain hope of future glory, so also, we are helped in our weakness by the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. God does not remove our weakness by the Spirit. Rather, we remain constantly dependent upon Him, that His power might be perfected in our weakness. When you’re saying, “I can’t do it, I don’t have it in me, I don’t have the energy, I don’t have the knowledge, I don’t have the wisdom, I don’t have a clue what to do,” God the Spirit is indwelling you, helping you in your weakness. That’s Paul’s first word of encouragement here.

Paul offers a second word of encouragement as well. The Spirit’s help in prayer is a great comfort for us. When we have needs, we pray; prayer shows that we need. Paul says that we don’t even know how to say to God that we’re in need. We don’t even know what to express to God in prayer that we need. Even our expressions of need are needy. Our prayers themselves fall short. And that’s precisely why the Holy Spirit helps us in prayer. Most of us are keenly aware of our deficiencies in prayer. Perhaps though, we might think a guy like Paul needed no help in prayer. Well, think again. Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us.” What great encouragement that is—that Paul needs Spirit-intercession, because he is weak and doesn’t know what to pray for! This is the Paul who prayed Ephesians 3:14-19, and he counted himself weak.

The Spirit serves as an intercessor. These unutterable, inexpressible things which we try to lift up to God, but can’t find words for, the Spirit causes these groans which emanate from the believer’s heart to become the vehicle of His intercession to the Heavenly Father. When you have no words to express gratitude or pain to your Heavenly Father, the Spirit speaks. A man once said, “By the work of the Spirit, a heart without words may bring down the blessing of God.” Picture Hannah, her heart torn within her. And her lips are moving, but the words won’t come out. And Eli thinks she’s drunk, because she’s moving her lips while she prays in the courtyard, and no words are coming out. And the Spirit takes the groaning of her heart and makes a prayer that Mary the mother of Jesus will copy at His announced coming. Paul is saying not to underestimate the Spirit power in prayer.

But what is it that we don’t know to pray? We know that we should pray the A.C.T.S. acronym, Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. So why do we need help here? I think this is directly related to our suffering, as discussed in previous verses. We don’t know if we should pray for a complete healing or for a peaceful death for the cancer-ridden 85-year old Christian widow. Certainly there is an argument for both. We don’t know if we should pray for a new house or if we should be content in our current dwelling. There are pros and cons to each. But the Spirit knows God’s will, and when we contemplate prayer in our hearts, though we know not the will of God for a particular circumstance, the Spirit prays it.