Before I became a Christian, I thought Christianity was based on blind faith, and here’s a funny story that illustrates the point rather nicely . . .
Blind faith missionary & can
This afternoon we’re going to see that our faith is not blind faith, it’s actually built on a mountain of solid rock.
And this afternoon we’re going to look at a statement which sits on top of arguably the highest mountain in the whole Bible. It’s the pinnacle of Paul’s long argument in the book of Romans. At the end of Chapter 8 he says climactically,
8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
You, my friend, are more than a conqueror. That’s our title this afternoon. More than a conqueror. In fact literally, in the greek, you hyper-conquest through Christ.
This is the third talk in our series: “Living a Life that makes a difference.” And let me say right now, categorically, that if you can get Romans 8 deep into your heart and soul, you will hyper-conquest through life and you will make a difference in this world. No shadow of doubt about it.
But hang on a minute! We’ve just landed like a helicopter on top of the mountain of Romans 8. If we’d had enough time, it would have been far more satisfying to have arrived having climbed up all the way from chapter 1.
Sadly, we only have time to back up to verse 28 of chapter 8. Which says this:
28 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.
This verse comes with a foolproof warranty. It has been road-tested by generations of Christians who would happily queue up to take the microphone and confess that it’s kept them through all manner of trials and tribulations.
This verse does NOT say “now you’ve become a Christian everything will be fantastic and nothing bad will ever happen to you.” What it does guarantee is that no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, God is at work in those circumstances for your good. You, my friend, are never alone. No matter what you’re going through. God is at work right now in your circumstances for your good.
Let me give you an amusing illustration of this:
• Durham: Confident of getting on course at City University
• Rejection letter: “God, where have you gone?”
• Cardiff? “But God that’s in Wales.”
• There was a recession on but I got job offers from Gloucester and Birmingham
• Went to a phone booth to ask an evangelist called Lex Loizides for advice
• Went to phone booth cos I lived with 4 female welsh rugby players
• Emyr was only bloke. Non-English speaker from Anglesey, HP Sauce and pork chops, conversations in broken Welsh over breakfast.
• Lex rang me this week from South Africa, Wish I could be “Rex”
• The Times, night of the Long Knives
• Through going to Reigate that I met Julia, all the best things that have happened to me in life, came as a result of that decision
• But back when I was holding that piece of paper,
• Larry Tomczak
This verse used to be part of our national consciousness. For example, in the West Midlands town of Dudley, you can visit The Black Country Living Museum. It’s a whole town that’s been re-built exactly as it was 100 years ago, with actors going round all day in Victorian dress. And when you go into the workers cottages, over the fireplace, given pride of place in each home, you’ll find, in a picture frame, the words of Romans 8:28. Some are embroidered by cross-stitching, in other homes it’s carved in wood, or engraved on metal. A century ago, this verse was on the wall of many a British home
Today, you’ll find those Romans 8:28 plaques at car boot sales, in antique shops, on scrapheaps and in rubbish bins. I say let’s take this verse back. Let’s re-claim the ground. Let’s give our all to see this nation turned round in our lifetimes. That’s the vision that drives me forward. I care about his nation. I want to see God and the Bible back at the centre of things. One day, I want people to say, “Grief alive! I can hardly believe it! Christianity is back with a vengeance. There are new churches starting all over the place! It feels like everyone in my office is becoming a Christian. And have you heard about that Christchurch, London? it just keeps getting bigger. And they’re not the only ones.”
That’s what we’re living for. I want to say, “Wake up Britain, and get ready for a shock: Christianity is on the way back! Does the future have a church? You’d better believe it!”
And in the 10 verses that follow Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul rises to sublime heights unequalled in any other part of scripture. His great spirit-directed mind sweeps over the whole plan and purpose of God from a past eternity whereby God chose us before we’d even been born, to our future eternity in glory. And he tells us that we’re booked straight through. The steadfast love of God is so all-powerful that our glorification is assured. It’s guaranteed and signed in the blood of Jesus Christ.
I hope you’ll drink deeply of these verses tonight.
The Puritan Thomas Watson called them “a divine cordial”. Another puritan, Edward Elton called them “a honeycomb of heavenly sweetness and soul comfort.”
If you were marooned on a desert island and could take only 10 verses of scripture with you, if you took these next 10 verses, you wouldn’t have drunk them dry by the time you were rescued.
29 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.
30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Here is a golden chain of salvation made from four unbreakable links.
You may be here tonight feeling that life could hardly be worse. Everything may seem to be going wrong. This verse says you won’t fall, because you’re held by a God who cannot let you go.
You see, way back before you were even a twinkle in your father’s eye, you were pre-destined. Eph 1:4 says that God chose you before the creation of the world. Before the world existed, God chose you. Jesus says the same thing, “you didn’t choose me”, (Jesus says in John 15:16) “I chose you”. Your salvation, my friend, does not depend on you. If it did, you’d have something to boast about. If you’d become a Christian through your own brilliance or wisdom, you’d have reason to be proud. But no, salvation is a God thing. You were pre-destined, and it may be that the first time you ever realized that was when you were called.
There was a moment, or a period of your life, when God became more than a word to you. The penny dropped. It might have been a gradual process as you were brought up in a Christian home, but at some point in your life, God came calling.
For me it was a bit more dramatic.
• 14 April 1985 I was sitting in the 6.30pm evening service
• Woman stood up and said she had a prophecy
• Drop handlebars Raleigh Arena,
So I was called. So were you. It doesn’t matter how or when. You’re in Christ now. That’s why you’re here tonight.
The next link in this unbreakable chain is our justification. Paul’s spent most of his letter to the Romans explaining how we got justified, how we got right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We’ll come back to this in a moment, but let’s just look at the next word, which has been described by several commentators as “the most daring statement in the whole Bible.”
Because Paul doesn’t say God will glorify us, “probably, fingers crossed, touch wood.” Paul says our glorification is so certain, so done and dusted, so secure that he refers to it in the past tense!
That’s daring because even today in 2005, no human being has been glorified yet. A whole load of things need to happen before anyone can get glorified. The world has to be evangelised, Jesus has then got to come back to this planet, then there’s the resurrection of everyone who’s ever lived at the Great White Throne judgement. Only after everyone’s been judged, does a new heaven come down and get joined to a new earth, and only then do we enter the final state where we get glorified.
All that stuff is yet to happen in human history, but your arrival in glory, my friend, is so certain, that Paul talks about it in the past tense. It might just as well have already happened. Signed, sealed, delivered, it’s yours!
31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?
This is the first of four triumphant questions which Paul, standing on top of the mountain of Romans 8, hurls defiantly out toward a universe already stunned by the magnificence of Christ’s finished work. And here Paul challenges anybody, any power in heaven, on earth or in hell to dare to contradict the undeniable truth contained in each of the four questions he asks.
And very helpfully for us, each triumphant question addresses a very real pastoral issue with an immovable, unchangeable Christian truth.
Here’s the first question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The pastoral issue addressed here is the very real one of fear.
You see if Paul had simply asked “Who is against us?” We could have come up with a host of answers. The devil is against us for a start. His power is limited, and his time is short, but he’s a real enemy, nonetheless. The unbelieving world is opposed to us, sometimes by its patronizing indifference, sometimes by its open hostility.
For all I know, your boss at work may be against you. You may very well have a work colleague, a landlord, a lecturer, a flat-mate, or a traffic warden who you just sense is against you.
But if God has gone to all the bother of pre-destining you, calling you, justifying you, at the expense of his only Son, and if your glorification is so definite that it might as well have already taken place, then you cannot lose.
It’s as if Paul is saying “Get out pen and paper and divide the blank page of your life into two columns with the words “Pro” and “Con” at the top. Write down everything against you in the Con column, then watch them fade into the background as Jesus himself writes the word “God” into the Pro column. Romans 8 was written so that you tonight, my friend, could leave through those doors absolutely convinced that God is for you.
How so? Well here’s the next triumphant question . . .
32 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’s argument here is simple logic. If God loves us enough to give up his only Son to die in our place, then every other gift we might need from him is small beer by comparison.
So are we going to trust God to deliver the goods? The pastoral issue addressed here is not fear, but insecurity. In our insecurity we think like this: “If I really throw my lot in with Jesus, and become a sort of full-on Christian, I’m closing off a lot of my options, I could be heading down a very narrow road. And by doing so, I might miss out on some of the good things that life has to offer. I might miss out on the relationship, the career, or the things in life that I feel I really need. How can I be sure that God will give me what I need?” Maybe there’s someone here tonight and you’re nervous about going the whole hog with Jesus Christ.
Example of “finding my wife”
• When I became a Christian I was told “the only person you can go out with is a Christian.”
• Only other person in the youth group was Jonathan Davies
• Many years later, I was in a church, where I couldn’t see how God would possibly provide a wife for me
• I was single for many years. Maybe I’ve got the gift of singleness
• Then she walked in the room, and I said “here you are Paul, you can have your gift of singleness back. Things have changed.”
• But even when there was no prospect of anything happening I hung onto this verse, which I’d memorized from Larry Tomczak
If you’ve just sat down to dinner with a millionaire and he’s just given you a million pounds in cash, why do you think he’s going to get all uppity when you ask him to pass the salt. It’s no big deal for him to pass the salt or pepper when he’s already handed over a million quid.
God has already given up his only Son. He’ll give you salt, pepper, tomato ketchup and whatever else you need. It’s a done deal. He’ll give you all that other stuff. The cross is stone-cold incontrovertible, legal, proof that God loves you. And because he loves you, he won’t let you down. The Lord is your shepherd, you will lack no good thing.
The next pastoral issue Paul addresses is guilt
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 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?” Well lots of people might, but more pertinently, 1 John tells us that our own hearts, our own consciences, sometimes condemn us. We’re only too well aware that although we’re forgiven, we’re still sinners.
My brush with the law
• I have here a Police document which reminds me to my shame that on the 9th of November 1988, I was arrested for harassment . . .
• I was arrested fleeing the scene of my crime
• Holloway behind bars – Shock
• Sad to think of me all alone, in the cells
• I now hold a record which I’m convinced will never be beaten. For two consecutive years I was voted “College Criminal” and “College Saint” A unique double that will probably never be repeated, combining a career as a Christian and as a criminal at the same time!
So what if, having had a great time here at the New Connaught Rooms tonight, you sin tomorrow – big time. What then? You can bet your bottom dollar the devil will pile in and say, “Not much of a Christian are you. I think you’ll find that a real Christian wouldn’t have done that. What was that sermon you heard yesterday? You’re more than a conqueror, well you’re less than a conqueror, you’re a failure.” Oh the devil will try and make you feel guilty.
And so we worry that despite being justified, our case will be re-opened on the basis of our shaky performance as a Christian. We worry that new evidence will come to light that will result in our case being taken back to the court of appeal. As if God’s going to say: “Oh, I had absolutely no idea that that’s what she was really like. Well if I’d known that I certainly wouldn’t have given up my only Son Jesus for her. Now I realize she’s just not worth it. “ As if we’ll end up being condemned after all. Paul has already said NO! There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ!
You see, unlike a human judge, God knows all the evidence in the first place. No new evidence can come to light because God knows our past, our present and our future. And my friends, hear me tonight . . . already knowing everything about your past, your present and get this, your future performance God chose to justify you anyway. Knowing the very worst about you, in full possession of all the facts, God justified you.
So Paul asks sarcastically, ‘who’s going to condemn you now?’ Jesus? As if? Jesus isn’t going to condemn you, he’s on your side! He’s actually interceding on your behalf. He’s not prosecuting you, saying ‘come up to my standard,’ No Jesus is the one who when you were on trial, jumped in the dock, took you place, and died in your place, so you could get off scot free. Jesus is now at very right hand side of God, cheering you on. You cannot lose.
The fourth and final pastoral issue Paul addresses is suffering . . . We worry that maybe in our weakness, suffering might do what sin can’t and finally defeat us, amputating us from the love of God. Maybe I’ll throw in the towel under the weight of peer pressure.
So Paul asks:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
The big challenge for the earliest Christians was martyrdom. Danger and the sword were real threats. The people who first read this letter were faced with a stark choice. ‘If you worship the emperor and declare “Caesar is Lord.” we’ll let you go. If you refuse, we’ll kill you, just like we killed your friends.’
But Paul knows that in the purpose of God suffering is always turned to our advantage. The persecution that was intended to kill off Christianity before it had even got off the ground, was the very thing that made it spread like wildfire. And so Paul can honestly say:
8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Rather than bringing the worst out of us, persecution has always brought out the best in us. God steps in and preserves us. We remember that we’re booked right through from pre-destination to glorification. We won’t fall, God will make sure of that.
When Nero set the Christians on fire using them as torches to light up his garden, it was the best thing, not the worst that could have possibly happened to Christianity.
The same’s happening in China today. The more the authorities persecute the Christians, the more the revival grows.
The suffering for the gospel we face is trivial by comparison. But it is real. I remember the peer pressure on rugby tour
• Dressed in women’s clothes
Here we have 5 English words “we are more than conquerors” which in Greek is just one “hypernikao” which is a word that reverberates with superlative force. It tells us that we don’t simply survive sufferings, no because God is at work for our good in all things, we hyper-conquest as suffering is actually turned to our advantage.
None of us like going through tough times, but it’s the only way to grow. When everything’s fine and dandy, when I’m not thrown on God, I learn nothing. But when adversity comes we realize that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We’re actually unbeatable, we hyper-conquest.
Tonight, nothing can touch you. You are impregnable. Your salvation locked safe and sound, as you hyper-conquest through him that loved you. Nothing can separate you from Christ’s love.
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither 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.
This is the real heartbeat of Christian assurance that every single one of us has tonight. Our salvation doesn’t depend on us, thank God. It’s got nothing to do with my hold on him. It’s got everything to do with his hold on me. God’s love is pictured here as a sort of electromagnet from which absolutely nothing can prize us.
1 Peter 1:5 says that we’re protected or shielded by God’s power until the day that we’re finally glorified. Jesus himself says in John 10 that no-one can snatch us out of his hand.
You can put your greatest fears into this verse tonight and hyper-conquest over them through Christ.
Let me just do that right now by inserting some additional words into the text. What shall separate us at Christchurch London from the love of Christ? Shall unemployment, or singleness, or boredom, or finances, or flatmates, or boyfriends or girlfriends, or examinations? No in all these things, we hyper-conquest. Because nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.