Who does God say you are? 3: Romans 8:31–39
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
Before the talk, the recording includes the reading of Romans 8 verses 31 to 39 from the J B Phillips translation by Gill Morgan. The total length of the recording is .
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Gill: I’m going to read this morning from the JB Phillips version of the New Testament, just to bring a different slant on things and Paul’s going to be preaching on Romans 8:31–39.
In face of all this, what is there left to say? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not hesitate to spare his own Son but gave him up for us all – can we not trust such a God to give us, with him, everything else that we need?
Who would dare to accuse us, whom God has chosen? The judge himself has declared us free from sin. Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us!
Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, pain or persecution? Can lack of clothes and food, danger to life and limb, the threat of force of arms? Indeed, some of us know the truth of the ancient text: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’.
No, in all these things we win an overwhelming victory through him who has proved his love for us.
I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today or what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 8:31–39. Phillips
Father, we thank you for that wonderful passage which is so encouraging to us. And now, Lord, we pray for Paul as he comes to bring us your words on that word. Father, give us receptive hearts, receptive minds. Help us to hear what is in this from you for each of us individually. We thank you for the work that Paul has put into preparing this for us and we pray that he will speak with your authority as he comes to speak to us now. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Paul: Thank you, everybody who’s been part of and involved in the service this morning. Loved, is our theme this morning. Last week or the week before, we had a home group at Marilyn’s house. She apologized to me for the state of her entrance lobby for her husband was beginning to move some books home from his office at university into their study at home. It looks like that Tim loves to study. To see perhaps what others have written about a particular subject and our own Andrew, Basden, not Faraday as far as I know, is on the verge of completing a piece of published work, which he can leave the work at the world of academia. Perhaps a life’s magnum opus for others to read and learn and understand about the stuff that Andrew for many years has been reflecting and thinking upon, gained from many years of study.
Books. To quote CS Lewis,
You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit
me. What about Ernest Hemingway? “There’s no friend as loyal as a book.” Now, Oscar Wilde
is quoted as saying, “If one cannot read a book over and over again, there’s no use in reading it
at all.” When I moved into the office upstairs in January 2017, I noticed that a number of books had been
left by others in the past on the shelves. A number of them were given away and a few of them I kept, including
one little slim tome called “A Dictionary of Theological Terms Written in Straightforward
Is not one of the books I use very often, but this week I delved into it hoping to find something deep and meaningful, something theological for the word love. This is the crescendo to Paul’s explanation from Romans five right through to the end of Romans eight. For some reason, it makes no appearance. Love makes no appearance in a dictionary of theological terms in straightforward English.
How odd, I thought. Isn’t the central point of our faith to love. I went to another book, one of my favourites, rather chunky books. You don’t have to read it from cover to cover, Strong’s exhaustive Bible concordance. It contains every single word from the Bible in its Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, translated into English and the Greek word for love as many of us knows in this concordance is agape.
Agape is the active love of God for his son and his people and the active love of his people that are to have for God, each other, and even enemies. The concordance also talks about agape being a love-feast, the common meal shared by Christians in connection with church meetings. That’s what brings us to this [communion] table, our common purpose, to love God, to love one another, and not just to talk about it, but to show this love actively. Love, wanting what is best for one another.
Over the past few weeks since beginning this series on how God sees us, we have begun to explore the importance of the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Today we explore these things as God’s gift to us, the all-encompassing love of God. In Romans chapters five to eight, Paul’s central theme is that of assurance. That of peace and hope, being dead to sin and alive to Christ. Being slaves no longer to sin but bound to Christ. Being away from the law, towards grace. Paul talks about all of this assurance because the Holy Spirit becomes our seal, our guarantee, that we belong to Christ and therefore we belong to father God.
There is a sense that Paul is building up in chapters five and six and seven and the first part of chapter eight almost through an explosion of the most important thing that hearers could hear: that nothing, nothing, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. If God is for us, then who can be against us? Paul asks. It’s a rhetorical question. It doesn’t need an answer because the answer is already known, But Paul replies anyway, such is his excitement about where the passage is heading. “He who didn’t spare his own son, but gave himself up for us all.” As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, the death of God’s son, Jesus, is so important that Paul must mention it in the context of God’s love for the good of the whole world.
Another rhetorical question is followed up in verse 33. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? Or from another version, the RSV. This is translated as God’s elect, God’s chosen people. The Voice translation makes it explicitly clear that God’s not guilty verdict has already been declared.
Well, some people might suggest that God’s elect are people who God foreknew and forechose. I wonder whether this not guilty verdict is somehow and actually at the same time for the whole world, because we read that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. The point here is that no charge has been brought to answer. Or, to perhaps put in more common parlance over the last two or three weeks, to quote Lady Hale recently, there has been no promulgation of parliaments. It’s as if it had never happened. The judgement of the courts is as if the suspension of parliament had never happened, is restored, it’s as it should have always been. No charge to answer.
The third rhetorical question out of the four in this passage comes next, who then is the one who condemns? Is the same answer given when Jesus is asked to judge the woman caught in the act of adultery in John eight. As Jesus looks up to those accusing her and responds with, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Which is followed by the silence sloping off of each accuser until nobody but he and the lady are left. He attends gently the lady, “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir.” “Then neither do I condemn you”, Jesus declared. “Now go and leave your life of sin.” The same conclusion is drawn here in Romans eight. Who is the one who condemns? No one.
We all have tapes that play in our heads. We all have theological tunes, or perhaps stories that we tell ourselves. Some of the stories have been planted there in our past, others we have been taught and so we have come to believe them as truths. Some of those tapes might actually be true. But for many of us, myself probably included, there are lots of tapes in our heads, lots of voices if you like, telling us stuff that we believe, then we – Sorry, I’ll say that one again – Lots of voices telling us stuff that we then begin to believe about ourselves.
We know the things, we know the negative stuff. The things we might comfort ourselves with knowing that even though they might not be true, they’re not exactly false. In effect, those tapes we play in our heads become part of who we are. That lonesome person might start to believe that no one cares about them, in spite of the fact that there are lots of people around them who care.
The belief that perhaps we play that will never be better than this so why not just get on with our heads down, I’m better off alone. What if there was another way? What if there was another creative way of dealing perhaps with that problem? The ongoing problem with me not seeing myself as God sees me. How do I get around that if those tapes keep saying that I’m a miserable failure at keeping sin from myself, then I’ll believe them. I’ll just keep believing those tapes.
But what does Paul speak about here? There is no one to condemn us because Jesus has dealt with it. We hear it but do we internalize it? We might know it to be true but it could never be for me. There are plenty of clues even in this passage of scripture that tells us that these tapes aren’t the right ones because God is for us, God is for you. In giving himself up for us all, we are given all things. There is no charge against us. None. It’s undone. There is no condemnation. Even now, Paul says that Jesus Christ who died, and even more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God interceding for us. It’s a present tense. Jesus has done all this stuff and even now is presenting our cause to Father God. There is no condemnation for sin any more. It is dealt with, it is done, it is completed and, as Jesus says on the cross, it is finished.
Dallas Willard, a Christian counsellor and writer says this, “Much of our problem is not, as is often said, that we have failed to get what is in our head down in our heart. Much of what hinders us is that we have had a lot of mistaken theology in our head and it has gotten down into our heart. And it is controlling our inner dynamics so that the head and heart cannot, even with the aid of the Word and the Spirit, pull one another straight.” [From Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s essential teachings on discipleship.]
We sometimes believe even the wrong spiritual tapes and it can take us a long time to unlearn them. But what is so important to understand and appreciate is the final rhetorical question that Paul presents us with here in Romans eight. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Whatever the tapes in our heads tell us, we can know that the real answer is nothing. The real answer is that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Of course, it’s easy for us to say this and perhaps to settle into our lives knowing that it’s quite unlikely that any of us will suffer for our faith.
This morning, the door is open, anyone can come in. We don’t, in the main, have to quote Psalm 44:22, as Paul does here and say that we face death all day long, considered to be sheep to be slaughtered. Thank goodness. For most, if not all of us in this room, we will never have to face persecution for knowing Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t stand with our brothers and sisters across this planet who might literally be facing death in these moments.
I’m always so amazed when I read Open Doors materials, that people in such terrible circumstances might report that though they are terrified they are somehow aware that there’s somebody praying for them, and that buoys them up. What courage! Paul goes on to say, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Now Paul likes to invent words in the New Testament and in the Greek “more than conquerors” is just one-word so it could be like hyper-conquerors. Paul invents a new word to express his joy and his excitement about what we are and who God says we are.
This gets us up to the top of the assurance mountain if you like, that Paul has been eager to ascend since the beginning of Romans five. Here is the assurance, “Jesus,” nothing more, nothing less. We can be assured that Jesus conquers. Even if we don’t believe it, it doesn’t make it any less true. No longer do we have to believe those tapes in our heads, no longer. Choose to believe on Jesus’ faithfulness, his death, his resurrection. Claim that promise that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Paul is convinced that this hyper-conquering-ness, that’s a new word, this hyper-conquering-ness enables us to accept that we are fully, totally and holy loved. What he could have said by reminding us what Jeremiah 31:33 says, he takes the whole of Romans up to now. He could have just said, “I’ve loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” The ultimate thing, the ultimate reality, is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As Jeremiah 31:33 points out, we were always loved, because that’s what is meant by everlasting, right? What if somehow Jesus’ love really is very wonderful? What if somehow when we read in the Bible actually makes sense in our hearts, even if the theology book doesn’t actually mention the word love? What if I actually somehow understood and received the truth that God has loved me with that everlasting love? It’s certainly true and something that most of us still need to grab hold totally of and accept it, believe it, and understand somehow that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor demons, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s the work of God’s Spirit.
Love, unending, everlasting, never-ending, eternal, wanting what is best and seeking out that what is best even in the worst of people. The love that draws the shepherd to leave the 99 sheep in order to find the one that wandered off. That kind of love. That’s the kind of love that changes the world. That’s the kind of love that Jesus demands of us, commissions us to take to one another and to Frodsham, to Cheshire, and to the ends of the world.
In ending I just want to quote Dallas Willard again, “So we must understand that God does not “love” us without liking us – through gritted teeth – as “Christian” love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of His perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with all our tired but indispensable old word love.” [From Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our hidden life in God.]
If we can’t get our heads around a God who loves us, shall we begin with trying to understand that there is a God who actually likes us for who we are? God likes you. Let’s enjoy revelling in that fact, shall we? God likes you. Shall we leave it there for now?
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Scripture quotations marked Phillips on this page and in the audio are from The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Used by Permission.