Sermon #194 St. James the Less #101 7/26/20
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8 Again
Well friends, I think we all survived our in-depth discussion on Paul and Romans 8 last week, but…we would truly be missing out on the crowning jewel of this chapter if we did not spend just one more week with Paul. I think we’re up for it.
You may remember that last week we talked about the Cosmic Powers of Sin and Death and how they are active forces in the world that work against God. They seemingly engulf the world in chaos and darkness at times. And Paul, as the great theologian that he is, showed us how these Powers of Evil have been crippled by Jesus and will ultimately be vanquished when he returns.
This week Paul shifts from being a distinguished theologian to now having the voice of a caring pastor. Though he has never met these Christians in Rome, you can see in his words that he loves them and wants them to know how much God loves them.
Paul himself has had a rough go of it since becoming a Christian. He’s been kicked out of synagogues, arrested, and jailed all because he’s a follower of Jesus. He knows very personally what these fairly new Christians are going through, or what they will go through in the near future because of their faith.
He reassures them that the Holy Spirit will intercede on their behalf when they come to the Lord in prayer, and that no matter how things may seem, everything works for the good of those who love God.
But there are plenty of situations that don’t seem good at all, in fact they can make life miserable. He names a few just in case they don’t get the picture: hardships, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and the sword. All of these are the fruits of the Cosmic Powers of Sin and Death that we talked about last week. All of these will attempt to separate us from God and his love.
Paul as a caring pastor warns us of these pitfalls that we as Christians can get stuck in. All these things will distract us and lead us away from God.
But stuck in the center of our passage is a question that cuts to the heart of the matter. No matter the hardship or distress, Paul exclaim, “If God is for us, who is against us?” If God is for us, truly for us, then what can the Powers of Sin and Death do? What possibly could their fruits of hardship and distress do to us, if God is on our side?
I had that verse taped on my bedroom wall growing up. I think the first time I read Romans by myself, I didn’t understand much of it, like we said last week, even St. Peter didn’t always understand Paul, but I could understand that one sentence: If God is for me, who can be against be? I mean really, who could be against me?
I was 12 years old when I taped that verse on the wall, and I would’ve literally tattooed it to my heart if I thought I could. You see at the time I was anything but a happy kid. Sixth grade is hard to begin with, that’s the first year of middle school in Rutherford County, and I was a new kid. Many of my classmates had gone to the elementary across the street, while I went to a different school in town.
I was a kid with a lot of anxiety and fear. I worried about what others thought of me, and middle schoolers can have little to no mercy to begin with. Even the smallest comments could crush my spirits.
I remember in math class one day two girls in front of me were talking about the upcoming dance and who’d they go with, one girl said, “You should go with him,” and pointed back to me. She looked back, I timidly smiled, and she went, “Ew, never.” And just like that, my little heart was crushed. I didn’t even like the girl, but it was the feeling of not being wanted that hurt so bad.
And on top of being quiet and timid, I also felt like I was carrying all the worries of the world on my shoulders. I was anxious the moment I woke up, and it only rose higher as we drove to the school. On some days I’d be in tears as I was getting out of the car. My anxiety would rise again each time I was given an assignment to do. I demanded perfection from myself, and so any minor mistake was not a teachable moment but a grave offense.
I was sad, anxious, and fearful when I opened up the Paul’s Letter to the Romans for the first time. I kept reading, hoping to understand something, desperately wanting some answers, and then my eyes came across the phrase, “If God is for us, who is against us?”
I don’t think I understood anything else Paul said in that letter, and I’m not even sure if I read any further. I had found in that verse the freedom that I had been desiring for so long. I was a captive to my insecurities and anxieties, and just by reading this one phrase, I could feel their chains fall off of me.
I went straight to the family computer, printed out that verse, and stuck it to my wall. That next day, and everyday after that, when I walked into the school building I whispered to myself, “If God is for us, who is against us?” Every time my anxiety began to rise, or I got down on myself, that phrase was always on my lips, and it’s been with me to this very day.
God’s Cosmic Love
I hope you’ve been able to experience the same kind of peace and transcendent love that I found when I first read that verse. It is a peace that truly does pass all understanding.
Now that doesn’t mean that we won’t have fear and anxiety, but we know that God’s love has taken root in our heart and once it’s there it’s nearly impossible to be uprooted. It is the knowledge that we were loved into existence and we were loved into salvation.
We come to know that the Cosmic love of God conquers all, even the Powers of Sin and Death.
We may feel the effects of the Powers of Evil on a daily basis in the forms of anxiety, depression, or self-doubt on a personal level; and on a much larger scale we may see their effects worldwide through starvation, disease, and awful things like human trafficking and sex slavery.
When we look out at the horizon and see our life and the state of our country and the world, even amid all of the chaos, we can be confident that God is sovereign and reigning over the Cosmic Order.
No matter how things appear, no matter how bad things get in our life and in the world, we should whisper to ourselves,” If God is for us, who is against us?”
I love this quote because it almost dares us to come up with someone more powerful than God? No one’s going to beat him. He’s undefeated in the ring, and he’s fought the most brutal of enemies. And no one, absolutely no one, will love us more than God.
You know, it’s important that we realize this isn’t a fickle kind of love. His love doesn’t come and go, it’s not even a feeling for God, he just is love.
C. S. Lewis said that it’s much safer for us to talk about God’s love for us than our love for him. Though our love for God can be distracted at times, we can even use that love for other things, not so with God.
And it’s not that God is calling us to always have our heart on fire for him at every moment of our life, no human can sustain that level of emotion, but he is asking us to commit ourselves to follow him and to do his will.
Lewis says, “[God] will give us feelings of love if he pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, his love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to him" (Mere Christianity, bk 3, ch. 9)…"[Though he has rebuked us for our unfaithfulness, God] has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense” (The Problem of Pain, ch. 3).
This kind of love bids us to trust the God who has literally gone to hell and back for us. This love demands us to let go of our need to control and to plan every aspect our lives, our families, and our careers; and to know that no matter how things may seem in our personal life or around the globe, God is still reigning, still ruling, and still loving us to no end.
We need to be found in that love, dive into it headfirst, and be sustained by it day after day. And I hope that we can bring others into that love as well. This world needs to know that God is still reigning, still loving—for there is freedom, true freedom in knowing that deep down in our bones nothing will separate us from the love of God.
And so my friends, if God is for us, who, I dare you to tell me who, can be against us?