Romans 8.26-39 – Freedom in Death
This week we are wrapping up our series on Romans. For Paul the true story of salvation is the story of freedom. We looked at Paul from the time that he persecuted the early church, and had Stephen killed, the first Christian martyred. We journeyed with Paul across the Mediterranean Basin were he spread the Gospel from port to port and city to city.
And, last week we arrived at the heart of the Gospel message that Paul spread across the land and seas. Paul explains to us that when we believe, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and through the Holy Spirit we are adopted by God to be His children. Paul turned a corner in his letter to the church at Rome last week. In fact he moved us from a horizontal dialogue about our inward brokenness to a vertical conversation with God as adopted children in the Spirit of Sonship. Paul lets us know that we have a letter of adoption from God written on our hearts whenever we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. That letter is the legal document of our adoption into God’s family.
No longer are we spiritual vagabonds without shelter, now we know that God has chosen each one of us to be a tabernacle, or dwelling place, for His Spirit to reside. Just as the tabernacle for the early Israelites was a place where God came to visit the people of Israel, so our hearts are made ready to receive the same kind of holy visitation from our God.
Unfortunately, our Kingdom adoption papers don’t provide a loophole that prevents suffering or trials or persecutions. In fact our adoption guarantees a kind of suffering on behalf of God. Paul explains that it is through our mutual suffering with Jesus Christ that we are glorified.
But what does glory mean for us? Is glory something we should seek from God? The glory of God is truly his goodness. The very essence of God’s presence that is so awesome to behold is considered his glory. And, it is His presence that beholds this manifestation of glory that possesses us when we are born again. Through the indwelling Spirit of God, we become vessels for God’s glory.
The Spirit of God has a feeling of weightiness and heaviness. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for glory is כָּבֹוד kabowd, which carries the idea of heaviness and weightiness. You may have heard the name Ichabod – which means God’s glory has departed.
In the Greek translation of the New Testament the word glory is used to give great honor to God, and God chooses to give this honor to people. God chooses to bestow on his children his glory.
One illustration of God’s glory is when the disciples could not stay awake at the time of Jesus’ arrest. A mentor of mine once suggested that we ought not hold the disciples’ sleepiness against them, as they could not bear the weight of God’s glory. They could not stay awake under God’s holiness. And, neither could you and me. That’s what glory is like for humans to bear.
Another illustration for us would be the stories of the Great Awakening – when America was evangelized by the great such as John Wesley’s friend George Whitfield. It was said that when George would preach whole pews of people would faint under the heavy presence of God’s glory. Another example of God’s glory coming down is the Cane Ridge Revival that Methodist folk participated. It is said that people would faint under the weightiness of God’s presence.
In this text Paul has opened our eyes to see that this relationship each of us has with our Heavenly Father. And it is by God’s own choosing that we are able to converse with Him. He has chosen to re-create us through the Holy Spirit. He has chosen to have a relationship with us inspired by the Holy Spirit. He has chosen to speak to us through the Holy Spirit. Paul explains that God has gone to great lengths to give us this transformation in the Holy Spirit – even to come on earth to live as a man and die as our Savior.
Paul goes into great detail that nothing will keep Him from loving us. And, God surely will interpose his blood to forgive us our sins, and set us free from the spirit of fear and death. We are God’s own chosen vessels in which he chooses freely to deposit his glory.
God goes to great length to create in us the first fruits for the Kingdom to come particularly through our sufferings and persecutions, our trials and our tribulations. God came to suffer like one of us, in order that we might behold the inner-glory like him. And, it is through our personal and corporate sufferings that God transforms us into a holy vessel that can contain that glory.
The first verse of our text today teaches us that the Holy Spirit has come to help us in our weakness. The Holy Spirit prays for us when we cannot pray for ourselves, and when we don’t even know how to pray. The Holy Spirit is actually pleading for us who believe – in accordance with God’s will and plans for our lives. The Holy Spirit lines us up with the will of the Father. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to keep us in step with God’s design for our lives – and we know that God is only good. All his plans are always only good for us. And, that goodness is for the transformation of our fleshly selves into the image of Jesus Christ.
This transformation into God’s own image through Jesus Christ is the way in which we become Jesus’ Kingdom siblings. God calls us. God makes us righteous by the Holy Spirit within us. God glorifies us through the transformation of our humanity into God’s own image. The wonder of it all is that God is the One who initiates all this. God chooses us from the creation of the world, and provides for us every step along our journey. God never leaves us nor does He forsake us, although there are times we might experience God’s distance. But that distancing is to draw us closer to Him that we might seek out more intentionally an intimate relationship with the God of the universe.
God proves his intentions toward us by giving us his One and Only Son Jesus to be the blood sacrifice that was necessary to restore us to right relationship. If God has given us His Son, then God will also provide freely all the things that we need for this transformational work. Paul’s argument continues by explaining in legal terms that God is himself our judge and our defender. It is Jesus who pleads our case, and God who acquits us. If God is for us, then there can be nothing that stands between us, and our God. Because God loves us so much, we will win a sweeping victory over our troubles.
Paul is smart enough to recognize that the first argument that you and I will surely point out is that there are troubles in this world. No doubt! We face troubles daily. For Paul suffering and hope are truly tangled together in this life. Suffering and hope are inseparable for a Christian. The Christian’s hope rests in the power of the resurrection. Our hope rests in the power of transformation. We have died in Christ and no longer live unto ourselves. Our hope rests in the fact that we will rise to new life. In this world we will know suffering. But if we remain in faith to God’s promises, then we also will know hope, hope beyond worldly hope.
Hope is an amazing characteristic of Christianity. Through the Holy Spirit, we are given comfort in knowing there is life after death, but that’s not the only hope we are given. Through the Spirit of Life we are given lots of different kinds of hope for everyday living.
Our ultimate hope is always for a resurrected body that lives with Jesus, but as we wait for that day to arrive we face many trials and tribulations. Paul is quick to point out the trials of his own experience as he faced life and death situations.
In fact Israel has been persecuted across the pages of history – and even now Israel faces grave persecution. I saw in the news this week an eye-witness report of how the terrorist were launching bombs toward Israel, but the bombs were being redirected in mid-air. This re-direction of weapons was considered the very hand of God intervening on Israel’s behalf.
Now I don’t always believe what I hear on the news. But this illustration surely points to God’s hand in the midst of our troubles. God didn’t detonate the bomb, but he guided the trouble away from perhaps a more strategic target. Just as God protected Job’s life, so God protects Israel and us.
In this passage – in verse 8.36 – Paul quotes from Psalm 44.22, it says, “Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Paul is speaking of the threat of death that has come against all believers, including himself just like Job.
It’s interesting that Paul uses this particular psalm. If we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, then a quick look at Psalm 44 is in order. Scholars believe that Psalm 44 is one of a kind. Scholars suggest this psalm is a “confession of innocence before God under the covenant.”
The “innocence” in Psalm 44 is not unlike Job’s “innocence.” Remembered the story of Job… Job was considered blameless before God. Job was an honest man. He was filled with integrity. He revered God, and hated what was evil. However, it’s not that there hadn’t been sin in his life, for even Job offered sacrifices just in case one of his children sinned without knowing it. But Job was blameless. There was no reason for him to have troubles. He was wealthy, and had a large family, cattle, donkeys, crops, and slaves. He had a good life.
And, because of Job’s goodness, Satan asked to test Job to see if in fact his goodness would hold up. Satan understood the human weakness. As believers of God we trust ourselves to God’s saving help and to his favor. We never expect God to allow evil to come our way. We expect favor. We expect provision.
And, all these good things are ours, but God never promises us that our lives would be free of troubles. In fact, if we look back to Romans 8:17 Paul explains very clearly, “We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him.”
We expect God to bless us when we follow him. But the truth of the matter is that God doesn’t promise his people an easy path even when we are loyal. When the people of Israel have been faithful followers – meaning that they are not worshiping other gods nor have they abandoned the covenant, hardships may still come. God does not grant his followers an easy path, but he does promise his steadfast love. It is in these times of faithfulness, of loyalty toward God, that we struggle when suffering comes.
Persecution has always been a part of Israel’s history, a part of the church’s history. In fact we should wonder – even be surprised – when we find that we are not being persecuted or suffering! And, Jesus is our example of this. He was perfect, He was blameless, and yet it was by his suffering and death that God’s promises of the new covenant were fulfilled. If we miss the suffering factor of our faith, we will struggle to remain faithful and loyal to God in the midst of our troubles.
Paul teaches us to rise up out of the ashes of our fiery trials. When you feel like you are a burnt offering to the Lord – as if you have been used up to the last little bit — that is the point that you really have to decide if this business about “faithfulness to God” is really important to you. It is in the time of trial that your faith is proved worthy of the inheritance you have received in Christ Jesus. And it is in the time of tribulation that your struggles give way to hope – hope not of this world, but hope eternal. And it is in the time of our suffering that we can discover how long and deep and wide is the love of God for each of us!
Grayson’s response to Job’s Story
As I do every week I discuss with my family the important parts of my sermon. I focus on how we might live out the very message that I preach. I never like to preach what I am not prepared to live out in my daily life.
As Grayson and I chatted about what it means for him to live out his faith, he stated very boldly that he and his close friends would struggle to believe in God if they were faced with a trial like what Job faced. Grayson’s honest and forthright statement of how hard it would be to “keep the faith” caught me off guard. In our conversation Grayson was really wrestling with the “what ifs” of the faith journey.
My heart was really gripped with this realization that I had raised Grayson deep in the Word, in prayer, and spiritual disciplines and yet he felt inadequate prepared to deal with a Job-like experience. Job lost everything, and yet was a man of integrity. That had been my goal as a parent…to raise my son to stand strong in the faith. Yet, Grayson questioned his own preparedness for the challenges that lay ahead on his journey. He asked himself the same question that you and I continue to ask ourselves when crises pop up from time to time: Will I remain faithful when troubles come my way? The disciples faced the same challenge, and initially failed.
Job lost everything. The oxen and donkeys were stolen, and the workers in the field were murdered. A fire consumed the sheep, and devoured the shepherds. The camels were stolen, and their care tenders were killed. Job lost his children to the destruction that came from a windstorm. And, if that was not enough Job’s health is taken from him.
After all this destruction you would think that Job would find solace in his relationships with his wife and friends, but no! Job suffers with a nagging wife who tells him to abandon his God. And, his friends are not any better as they torment him with monologues – going on and on about how he needs to get right with God so this destruction will stop. But, we are privileged to hear from the writer of Job that Job isn’t the cause of his trials and suffering.
The finale of Job’s test is a showdown between God and Job. Job is exhausted with the struggle, and with his life shredded to pieces Job begins to question his God. God roars right back at Job. Job has been blameless up until he questions God. Job’s questioning was the point of repentance that secured his blessing.
The restoration began with a right relationship with God. Then the relationship with his friends improved. Job was blessed with twice as many possessions. His family comforted and consoled him after all the destruction. God blessed Job’s latter days more than his former days – sheep, cattle, oxen, and donkeys. Job had more children, and there were no women as beautiful as Job’s daughters who even received an inheritance among the male heirs
Perhaps you can identify with Job’s misfortunate, and you haven’t seen the good in the land of the living. But God promises that he will be faithful to us, when we remain faithful to him. The message we hear today from Paul and Job – even the disciples – is for us to keep the faith no matter what comes our way – even when you can’t see the future!
Ruth Haley Barton in her book Sacred Rhythms offers us insights into maintaining a life-giving relationship with God. The only way we can remain faithful is with God’s help in his Holy Spirit. By maintaining a deep and personal relationship with God we have the best chance at sustaining the winds of change that come up against us in life.
Through daily reading of the Scriptures, prayer, fasting, times of solitude, contemplation, and self-examination, these disciplines provide us a life-style that welcomes a relationship with God. Developing a “Rule of Life” – a plan of how to maintain a relationship with God – is essential to being able to stand the trials that face our lives. And, Wesley would encourage us to attended to the means of grace through the sacraments of baptism, remembering our baptism, and partaking communion regularly. And, attending to the creeds to remember the story is a great way of keeping our hearts soft toward God.