Daily Archives: August 15, 2017

☩ Our Inseparable Union with Christ

Conqueror

“What then shall we say to these things? 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 with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure 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 8:31-39.

THIS IS ONE of those passages that really stand out in the whole realm of the Scriptures, as with mountains peaks, some are greater than others because of their breathtaking height. All Scripture is inspired and breathed of God and yet there are passages that have so much content that one could expound and unfold the meaning of them for weeks and even years.

We’ve all read this passage; we’re all too familiar with it that we can oftentimes lose its grandness, but a careful reading will reveal so many facets we’ve not even begun to touch yet – and this is one of the incredible aspects of reading God’s Word. It’s not just some textbook that we’ve read a hundred times over; this is something amazing that imparts life and incredibly realigns our perspective on life. Most of our problems as Christians result from a wrong way of thinking, and is there any wonder when we give so little time to hearing God’s voice through His revealed Word?

The apostle Paul has just written about our sonship with God (verse 14-16) and because we are heirs of Him, our current situation, that may cause so much grief, doesn’t even come anywhere near to the worth of being compared to the mind-blowing future ahead of us. Paul unfolds the succession of our salvation from beginning to end in verse 30. It is flawlessly secured and nothing can sever that or thwart God’s sovereign ruling over us.

Paul then deliberately interrupts the flow and asks in verse 31, “What then shall we say to these things?” Before moving on, he is asking us to pause for a moment in consideration to the inexhaustible truths he’s just penned. This main passage (verse 31-39) we are looking at overall is a reinforcement of his reasoning, inspired of the Holy Spirit – because there were some who (no doubt in Paul’s mind) were going to raise doubts, questionings – “Wait for a moment, Paul, these are amazing statements, but how does it all work out with the immense suffering and opposition we’re going through right now?” – and Paul was fully aware of this, already having in mind to answer any objection raised that would cast any shadow or stifle the liberating truths he was unfolding step by step.

Paul, more than any other follower of Christ, was perfectly aware of what the church was contending with in the midst of her suffering. Let us bear in mind that Paul wrote quite a number of his epistles in chains or was confined to limited freedom for the cause of Christ, so who better than Paul to address the church with a word that was precisely fitting to those undergoing life-threatening opposition?

This is a stark contrast to today’s church as Leonard Ravenhill said, “The early church was married to poverty, prisons and persecutions. Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality and popularity.” – can we dispute that in our westernised cultures? An honest and heart-searching read of the New Testament Scriptures are going to leave many of us feeling very uncomfortable because of the gulf between us and the early disciples; the early church will seem so foreign to us – not because of cultural differences, but because they lived the reality of, “Those who desire to live godly lives will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Much of what comprises today’s Christianity is about having God as the big dream-giver – One Who blesses OUR plans and ambitions, but New Testament Christianity is being taken up with GOD’S purposes and plans. Even our salvation isn’t merely being saved from eternal damnation, but that we may know HIM, to be conformed entirely to the image of Jesus Christ for HIS glory and HIS perfect pleasure – that’s the ULTIMATE reason for our salvation. Hell is never the primary reason for our being saved; we are PRIMARILY SAVED from our deadness and rebellion toward God IN ORDER that we may WALK with Him, thus really living life.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” “(verse 35) – or, who shall sever us from Christ? Paul raises the very aspects that Christians were facing or were about to encounter – “Will tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword separate us from Christ; will these end our union with Christ?” Quite an impressive list as Paul hits on the very things people had in mind, but wait until he goes way beyond this taking up a whole other realm in subsequent verses that we’ll look at further on.

It’s worth recalling at this point that Paul touched on this earlier on in chapter 5:3, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame [or disappoint us], because God’s [undying] love has been poured into our hearts though the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.” Here, in our main study, Paul is taking back up this theme from a different angle, further impressing upon us that God is very much with us in the midst of suffering – in fact, He ordains it for the best. This “hope” that Paul speaks of is touched once again in chapter 8 verse 24, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” – and again, we have this echoed in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” – whether or not Paul wrote it, but it is certainly in the same style, leading many to believe that he may well have indeed penned this letter.

Paul’s response (verse 37) to what threatens our relationship with Christ is one that is so affirmative and so audacious – “NO”, and I capitalise that word because it’s a loud exclamation; it begins with that impenetrable backfire – “NO, in all these things…” It is absolute boldness in the face of our worst and greatest enemy, and such is the work of the Holy Spirit when He clothes us with power that stands so contrary to what has gripped us and paralysed us with fear.

“…in ALL these things”. What things? The very list he reeled off – the very things that overwhelmed some in the church, then and today. It’s not outside and away from such incidents but in the very throes of them. One of the staggering wonders of Christianity that distinguishes it far above all cults and religions is this: that in the midst of adversity we know Christ’s liberating life; We can know His peace that infinitely transcends any other kind of peace that is conditional upon circumstances; we haven’t got to seek out or wait to find a secluded and quiet place to know tranquillity and stability of heart; we can know and taste it in the midst of the fiercest trials. This is what impressed the Roman Empire and others that opposed Christianity. Think of Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, whose face was like the face of angel when being questioned before the council in Acts 6:15. The early Christians not only lived well, but they died well, fully persuaded that their faith in the One and Only Lord, Jesus Christ, was not futile or in vain; it brought about an immeasurable eternal weight of glory.

Romans 8:28 indisputably ties in with this main thread of Paul’s progressive argument: “…ALL things work together for good , for those who are called according to His purpose.” It goes without question that Paul mainly had in mind the ‘bad’ or unfavourable things that happen to us, but God works them ALL inextricably together for His glory and our best. Indeed, we know that He does ALL things well. Bad things DO happen in the Christian life, situations that are beyond our comprehension, times where God delays His answer to our prayers and where even God may seem to oppose us, but as William Cowper once penned in his hymn, “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face”, we can be sure for everyone of us that belong to God, we will soon feel His smile upon us.

This is where an implicit trust in God comes in and where/what we adhere to doctrinally becomes real to us in actuality; it’s one thing to live out of textbook Christianity but quite another to live in the light and reality of the Truths God has brought us into. Trials are what break the alabaster jar releasing the fragrance of God’s promises in our lives. Do we sulk in our trials or do we submit to God and resign ourselves to Him – “not my way, but Your way, Lord.”

Assurance of salvation; knowing that we belong to God – that we are His – is a doctrine we hardly hear of nowadays. Nothing gives greater comfort than an assurance of our sonship to God and neither is there anything more severe, in our trials, than lacking the assurance of our salvation, feeling that we are reprobates. The devil knows how to torment in our deepest and heart wrenching trials, but through them we come to know the reality that God is all that we have, despite everything else turning to ruins around us – God is our greatest treasure, our inheritance, not our blessings, but God Himself. This was the bedrock of the early Christians that Paul refers to in Romans 5:1-5; they rejoiced in their suffering because they had an assurance that they belonged to God and nothing that came their way – good or bad – was out of mere fate, accident, or out of the plan of His for their lives; their suffering was bringing them to a greater realisation of their inheritance in Christ.

To the health, wealth and prosperity preachers, Paul is a failure; they will NOT preach on the sufferings of Paul; they will oppose and rebuke suffering, treating it as from the very hand of Satan. In actuality, Paul is the greatest example of what it is to be a Christian; victorious through suffering, the exact opposite to formal ‘Christianity’ – or religion for a better word – that shies away from any form of opposition.

“NO, in ALL THESE things we are more than conquerors [in the midst of extremities] through Christ Who loved us.” Not just conquerors, but “MORE than.” Either Paul had lost his mind, or his mind was intactly risen to greater Realities. Who better than Paul could be so daring to say such things, who himself had first learned to be victorious in the very throes of his extremities before proclaiming these dynamic truths? “More than conquerors” – what a title has been given to us! – not conquerors for our own ends, not to develop ourselves so we can bolster our egos as much of westernised Christianity endorses; we’re conquerors over self, the world and the devil – that means anything contrary to the ways of God.

Paul was the man he was because of his trials and suffering – not the trials per se that changed him, but rather throwing himself upon Christ, “Therefore I will boast all the more of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul laboured with all his strength with the power of God that worked mightily in him (Colossians 1:29). Paul was stripped down to nothing to become the man that he was. “God creates out of nothing, therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” – Martin Luther. Moses became nothing through 40 years in the desert until he learned that God was the great I AM. Let us keep in mind that every person used throughout church history have been weak in themselves – “There is no such thing as a great man of God, only weak, pitiful, faithless men of a great and merciful God.” – Paul Washer.

This is the key; we conquer once Christ has conquered us – any strand of self-independence and pride will keep us ‘strong’ in ourselves, forfeiting the immeasurable strength and grace we are to find in Christ. Think of Peter who was so enthusiastic for the Lord: “I am ready both to go with you to prison and to die.” No one was more eager than Peter out of the twelve disciples, convinced that nothing would compromise his loyalty to Christ, but his fall was greater than he could ever anticipate. He was certainly a different man after he was broken of his own strength. No man or woman in their right mind endeavours to be a martyr; it is Christ’s and Christ’s alone to call upon a man or woman who is to die for their faith. As Corrie Ten Boom believed that God doesn’t give tomorrow’s dying grace today; we are given it at the very moment we need it. Christianity is not about heroism, but cleaving to the Almighty and Sovereign God..

“For I am sure” – this is extremely strong language for Paul to use and we find similar instances in his letter to the Philippians 1:6 “I am SURE of this, that He Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”, and again in 2 Timothy 1:12 “…for I know Whom I have believed, and I am SURE that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” That very word, “sure” can also be translated: convinced, certain, persuaded, assured, unquestionable, indisputable, sold out, beyond a shadow of doubt.

For I am sure 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.” This is the other realm Paul takes up and one aspect that struck me was the “life” part; what was Paul getting at here? A preacher once said, “Harder to live for Christ than to die for Him.” Cross carrying is for life; death is momentary. I believe it to ultimately mean in living with the fear of losing Christ in the midst of life because of our sin and the deceitfulness of our hearts; will we be deceived and fall away from Christ in the end (this will be dealt with fully further towards the end)?

Paul deals with absolutely everything in this section that may appear to threaten our inseparable union with Christ. Nothing whatsoever has been left out, and just in case anyone was to raise some point that Paul ‘may’ have forgotten: “Hang on a second Paul, you’ve left something out”, Paul comes back with this: “Nor ANYTHING ELSE in ALL creation”

These are incredible truths. How does it apply to us? Do we believe this for ourselves? Do we see ourselves as more than conquerors in Christ for HIS glory? Do we see ourselves, considering these truths right now, to be seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6)? We don’t always feel it. Fact first, then faith in believing it, and then feelings that come afterward – never the other way round. We’re aware of our sin and failings, so how can we see ourselves as more than conquerors? Surely that’s only for the super-abounding Christians – the kind we’re inclined to wrongly think that ‘don’t’ sin. If you are God’s child, then this applies to you as much as it did to Paul and the early Christians. The very same grace the apostle Paul was saturated with is equally abounding to you and me.

We have to reckon with this truth, that nothing shall separate us from Christ, just as Paul stated in Romans 6:11 in considering – counting – ourselves dead to sin. We’re no longer under the dominion of sin; we’re under the dominion of Christ; we are now slaves to Christ, not to our sin, this world, or anything else in all creation.

Some of us may wonder as to how we will make it to the end because of the sin we see in ourselves. Sin will not have dominion over us for we are not under the law but under grace. Peter only made it through BECAUSE Christ prayed that his faith would NOT fail. Look at John 17 (The High Priestly prayer) – every one of us who have been chosen in Christ is included in that very prayer. Is it not amazing to seriously consider the weight of this truth that Christ is ever-interceding (praying) for us (Romans 8:34)? We have as much chance of falling away from God as raising ourselves from being dead in our sins and dead to God. It is impossible. Because we are saved, we WILL grow in holiness; we WILL persevere; we WILL conquer; we WILL be conformed through and through to the image of Jesus Christ BECAUSE God has willed it before the foundation of the world.

God grant us more grace to live up to the calling He has on our lives – our lives that are not our own, but have been purchased by the blood of Christ for HIS honour.

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