I want you to picture two journeys – one in a car and the other on a narrow-boat. On most car journeys (and usually within 5 to 10 minutes), children ask their parents a question. The question is always the same – and the answer is always the same. Question: 'Are we there yet?' Answer: 'Soon'. Now that's exactly like studying the book of Romans! We ask, 'Are we there yet?' and the answer is 'Soon'!
At Foxton, in Leicestershire, there is a canal with ten locks. A daunting prospect if your narrow boat is at the bottom, and as you peer into the distance up to the highest lock. But on reaching the top you look back down to the bottom, and feel a great sense of achievement. 'We've made it'! 'We've arrived at last'! 'It was worth all the effort'! Now that's exactly like studying the book of Romans!
Think of Romans as being like a series of locks. We cannot ignore them. We cannot avoid them. We have to pass through them. In Romans we begin at chapter one and after encountering a series of lock-gates we reach the dizzy heights of chapter eight. Then we pause and take a breath (when Paul goes off at a tangent in chapters nine to eleven) and then there is the gentle descent to chapter sixteen.
The last part of chapter eight (the passage we are looking at today) is both a conclusion and a summary of all that has gone before. Let's pause for a moment and glance back to four pivotal moments in the first eight chapters. You could think of each of them as being like four lock gates.
1 In chapter one, the key text of Romans.
'The righteous will live by faith' (1:16-17).
2 In chapter three, we are told that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (3:23).
3 In chapter five, we are told that since we are justified through faith we have peace with God (5:1).
4 And now in chapter eight, we learn about life in the Spirit and of our eternal security in Christ (8:5, 39).
It seems to me that the key that opens Romans 8:28ff is the word 'love'. Of God's love for us and of our love for him. Now until chapter eight, Paul hasn't spoken much about love. There are a couple of references to love in chapter five, but now Paul refers to it four times. That surely is significant. One commentator tells us that the fountain of love is in the Father, and that flows out to us from Christ (Calvin, Romans, 189). In Romans 8 - Here is love in action. Here is love we encounter. Here is love that engulfs us. Here is love that assures us. Here is a love that warms our hearts. Yes, Romans is a great theological book, and it includes much Christian doctrine, but at the same time it has an important message for each Christian believer. It speaks of God's love for us and of our love for him.
From John, that great theologian of love, we learnt that 'God is love' (1 John. 4:16); that God loved us so much that he sent his Son as a propitiation for our sins (1 John. 4:10); and in response to that generous, costly, self giving love, 'We love, because he first loved us' (1 John. 4:19). And that dynamic, saving love, is that love that causes us to bow in worship and adoration, and invites us to reflect and to respond to him. 'We love because God first loved us' (1 John. 4:16). That, in part, is the message of the last section of Romans 8.
1 God's love for us
Too often, I think, we speak too freely of God's love. It often comes from the lips of Christians. In hymns and songs we use our voices to sing about it, and in groups we use our minds to discuss it and analyse it and dissect it, but we fail to allow God's love to touch our hearts. We keep it at arms length and are content to view it from afar. Consider this, that in studying Romans while it may have challenged your thinking, and stretched your mind, has it touched your heart?
Think about it, that each new day you and I are the recipients of God's love. In the midst of the business of work, the dull routines at home, when you are caught up in the traffic, during those sleepless hours at night, try and reflect (even for a moment) upon the goodness and the love of God. We don't deserve God's love – but he graciously and generously pours forth his love upon us. And the bottom line is this, what is our response to God's love?
In George Hebert's poem on 'Love', he begins 'Love bade me welcome' and it ends 'You must sit down and taste my meat. So I did sit and eat'. And it is that invitation that should evoke from us a clear response to the one who has loved us. 'We love, because God first loved us'. And how is that love manifest? In Romans 8:28ff it is expressed in two ways.
1a) By the finished work of Christ.
Look at the mini-creed in verse 34. Paul speaks of the One who died, and who was raised to life. Of Him who is exalted and now prays for us. The love of God is made known to us in the person of the LJC – in his death and resurrection and in his constant prayers for you and for me!
Just to pick up on those four things. His death. In Romans chapter 8 verse 3 Paul refers to Jesus as a sin offering. His death was sacrificial – it was an atonement for our sins. And notice in verse 34 that Paul adds, 'and more than that'. What more could there be than that? Obviously his resurrection. In the words of chapter 4 verse 25 'He was delivered over to death for our sins, and was raised to life for our justification.'
His exaltation. His ascension to heaven to the right hand of the Father (the place of honour). His intercession. Now at the Father's side he prays for us as our great high priest. As one commentator put it, ‘Since his resurrection and exaltation [Christ continues] to secure for his people the benefits of his death' (Hodge, Romans, 254). Now in heaven Jesus is praying for you and for me.
In the last verse of his hymn, 'When I survey the wondrous cross', Isaac Watts ends - 'Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all'. Let these words constantly remind you of the love of the Father through the death of the Son. Let these words sink deeply into your heart and mind in wonder and worship.
But we ask, 'Why are we the recipients of God's love'? Certainly it’s not because of anything we've done. Or because of anything that we are. We are the recipients of God's love because he loves us. This is well illustrated in Deuteronomy 7. Its one of the most wonderful chapters in the Old Testament. It tells us of the covenant love of God for his people. In verses 6 to 8 they were told three things. That they were a people holy to the Lord. That the Lord had chosen them out of all of the nations. That the Lord did not chose them because they were bigger or stronger than other nations, but it was because the Lord loved them, and redeemed them. What was true of Israel is true too of you and me. The Lord did not choose us because of the colour of our eyes, or because of our social status or because of our gifts and abilities.
No! It was simply because the Lord loved us and redeemed us through the shed blood of Christ. God's love for us is made known to us through Christ, and second, his love is made known to us by his foreknowledge.
1b) By God's foreknowledge (v.29).
When the Bible speaks about 'knowing' it refers to care and affection and intimacy. It speaks of the relationship between husband and wife. When the Jews were in the wilderness God 'knew' his people. That is he loved them and cared for them, and he was bound to them with cords of love. And 'knowing' means loving, or, to put it another way, those whom God fore-new, he fore-loved. Before they were formed into a nation, God loved them. He knew them, before they knew him. That should remind us of the words in Jeremiah,
'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you' (Jeremiah 1:5).
Now surely our calling and election is a clear sign of God's love. That love is undeserved – but in his grace and in his mercy, God calls us to himself. He invites us to fellowship with him. That love is freely given. That love is poured out to us. And God shows us what it is and he causes us to respond to him. Look at God's love in action. It's expressed in verse 30 in terms of predestination, justification and glorification. The words easily trip off the tongue, but we need to grasp what they mean, and how it is that they express the love of God in Christ. Bishop Handley Moule refers to 'the long golden chain of the doctrine of the epistle' that ends here (Moule, Romans, 239). Those who love God are those who have been called by him, loved by him, redeemed by him. Those who are loved by God are those who have been predestined, who are justified and who will be glorified. Let's touch briefly on these three words and on one that Paul missed out. Did you notice what he didn't include?
Predestination is 'very deep and mysterious' but, at the same time, it is a great strength to Christian believers. Charles Simeon wisely observed that 'we must not discard the doctrine through fear of offending any who may be hostile to it; though on the other hand [we] ought not so frequently or so strongly insist upon it as unnecessarily to wound and to grieve them' (Simeon, Romans, 313). Wise words indeed! Remember that predestination is not to make us arrogant and proud, but to make us humble and submissive. Rightly understood it should bring us to our knees. If you want a very balanced view of predestination then look at Article 17 of the Church of England.
Justification is what may be called 'the continuation of the divine favour' (Calvin, Romans, 182). In being justified we are accounted righteous before the Lord. Those who are 'in Christ' have been made right with God. Notice the important phrase in verse 33 'it is God who justifies'.
Did you spot what Paul missed out? It was Sanctification. Perhaps the reason while Paul didn't include it here was that he has already covered it earlier in chapter eight. Sanctification is the progressive work of the Spirit shaping us and moulding us to become more like Jesus. Someone helpfully put it like this, that 'Sanctification is glory begun; glory is sanctification completed’ (Bruce, Romans, 178).
Glorification. In Romans 3:23 we are told that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God'. But in Christ believers share in his glory (8:17). Those who believe, those who trust in Christ will one day be glorified. The glory seen in the ascended and exalted Christ will one day be found in all true believers. 'Love bade me welcome'. Are you conscious of that today? Have you responded to God's love in Christ? And remember always that, 'We love, because God first loved us'.
2 Our love for God
How could we but not love him who first loved us? So in our responding to Christ, in our confession of sin, in our believing in him, how do we show our love in return? It certainly needs to be at the heart of our faith. In his gospel John put it like this, 'You did not chose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last' (Romans 15:16). Notice that those who have been called (Romans 8: 28,30) are those who have responded to his love. They have heard the good news, and by God's grace have come to a living faith. Here is God's summons to us to believe, to repent and to obey. Perhaps there may be someone here today who has never ever responded to that invitation. Christ invites you to come to him and to put your trust in him, and to respond to the warmth of his love.
In verses 22 and 28 Paul begins with the confident affirmation, 'we know', we are confident, we are assured of these things; and in verse 38 he says, 'I am convinced'. In other words, 'I have become and I remain convinced' (Stott, Romans, 258). He did not waver, but was settled in his opinion. It was Paul's own understanding and experience of Christ that convinced him. Paul makes it clear that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Our eternal security is found only in him. Its origins are in our election, in our conversion, in our lives and in our continuing after death.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. He is bound to us and we are bound to him. When? What about when I feel down? When I doubt? When I fall? When I disobey? When I am tempted? When? Always! Nothing can separate us from the love of God. When? Look at the examples that Paul gives in verse 35. In times of trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, death. He could have mentioned others. But he mentioned just these common afflictions.
May I ask you, Where are you spiritually? Is your faith strong or weak? How is your faith being tested? Are you close to the Lord, or far from him? Be assured that nothing that you are going through can separate you from the love of God. Are you anxious? Are you bereaved? Are you going through the 'Dark Night of the Soul'? Are you experiencing inner turmoil? Does your life seem pointless and unfulfilled? Then remember this, that nothing, nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ. Since he has called you, and chosen you, and redeemed you, he will not leave you or forsake you. Turn again to the Lord and say 'thank you' to him for all that he has done, for all that he is doing and will continue to do in your life.
Paul does not promise that there will be no opposition or suffering, but he promises us victory. How can this be? Since God is with us, who can be against us? (verse 31). Remember too the promise in Psalm 23:
'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me'.
From the daily troubles in verse 35, Paul goes onto to speak in verse 38 of other causes for concern. They are less tangible, but are still very real issues. He includes here death and life, angels and demons, the present and the future, and (satanic) powers. This mixed bag includes astrology (which at the time were believed to control people's destinies). None of these things can separate us from the love of God. John Calvin remarks that 'in our adversity God sends us the rays of his grace through darkness, lest any temptation should overwhelm us with despair' (Calvin, Romans, 186-187). And God sends the warmth of his love to our cold hearts.
Some Christians seem to think that they can drift through life without having to face difficult issues, that life is all joy and no sorrow, all victory and no defeat. As someone has put it, 'blessings without buffetings, triumphs without trials, witness without weariness' (Carson, Jesus and his Friends, 112). But in verse 36 the quotation from Psalm 44:22 reminds us that the suffering and persecution of Christians is nothing new. Those who follow the persecuted Saviour, experience persecution too. Those who follow the suffering Saviour, experience suffering too. Christian believers have always suffered, and will suffer for their faith in Christ. Remember that much of the New Testament was written against the background of personal suffering. .
In these verses Paul speaks with great confidence concerning the present, and great confidence concerning the future. Here then is the basis of Christian hope. When you doubt, when you find it hard to believe, when you are challenged and tempted – then look afresh to the Lord. Have confidence in the One who called you to himself, the One who makes it clear that nothing can separate you from him, and that in Christ you are eternally secure. Believe his word! Trust his word! Trust in him for your salvation!
I end with the words from the children's hymn. The words are simple, but very profound:
Jesus loves me this I know,
for the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong,
they are weak, but he is strong.
Jesus loves me He will stay
Close besides me, all the way.
Then his little child will take
Up to heaven for his dear sake.
May that be true for you and for me. That we might know the love of God for us, and that we might love him in return.