Hope in Adversity : If God is for us (Romans 8.31-39)

– Bishop Stephen Hale

Yet again we come to a magnificent part of Scripture. If God is for us, who can be against us? We need to bear in mind that when Paul wrote this letter the relatively new Christian faith was under continuous assault. There was fierce resistance from the pagan Roman world which resulted in many being persecuted and martyred. There was equal resistance from the Jewish leadership in its various forms. In January this year I read the novel ‘Damascus’ by Christos Tsiolkas. It is a stirring account that captures the vulnerability of the first Christian disciples. Life was cheap and they lived under constant threat from plagues, poverty and persecution. It beautifully captures the sense of community they shared and how attractive it was.

So, Paul asks five questions:

1. If God is for us, who can be against us? (v.31b)

Sin, the flesh and the devil are arranged against us. But we know that God is for us? What glorious words. How this can be, is captured in the next question.

2. 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? (v.32)

The demonstration of God’s commitment to us is in the willing self-surrender and sacrifice of his own Son. Because of this death we are now able to stand in God’s presence and we know that he stands with us in all we confront today.

3. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. (v.33)

We may be accused of many things in this life. Let’s face it Christians are under constant assault in our day and age. In some cases it may be warranted, but often not there is no basis to it. None of this really matters because we know our standing with God is secure because he has justified us. In his sight it is just as if we never sinned because of Christ’s work.

4. Who is he who 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? (v.34)

Jesus not only died for our sins, but he was raised again and because of that we have new life which starts today and goes on into eternity. We are not condemned but loved and accepted. Even more than that we have our saving Lord interceding on our behalf.

5. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (v.35a)

Paul then lists the full range of possibilities that we could face and many today do face as disciples of Christ – famine, persecution, nakedness, disease, danger, the sword. It doesn’t matter what we face in this life because we know that we are caught up in something much bigger and much better. ‘In all things we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus our Lord.’(v.37)

Hope in Adversity: All things for Good (Romans 8.28-30)

– Bishop Stephen Hale

The climax of Romans 8 is one of the most majestic in the whole of the Scriptures. It starts with verse 28, which is one of the best known verses in the whole of the Scriptures. As John Stott says, ‘On it believers of every age and place have stayed their minds. It has been likened to a pillow on which to rest our weary heads.’(p.246)

At present all us have weary heads. Even if we’re not doing very much (due to Stage 4) there is so much tension around. This is true at the community level and also the local level of our own households and families.

As Paul puts, ‘and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes’(v28).

Paul is making a huge claim here. In all things, God is at work for the good of those who love him. One of my little quips is, ‘somehow how God is in control.’ By faith we know and trust that in all things God is at work for our good. In all things, somehow, God is in control. I think all of us can reflect upon times in our lives when it wasn’t in any way clear that God was at work for our good or that somehow, he was in control.

So, what is Paul affirming here?

  1. God works and that work is in our lives. The God of the universe is invested in and interested in us and our lives!
  2. God is at work for the good of his people. He himself is wholly good and wants what is good for his followers.
  3. God works for our good in all things. This includes the sufferings referred to in verse 17 and the groanings (v23) we reflected on last week. Nothing is beyond being used by God for his good.
  4. God works for those who love him. God’s providential plan and purpose is the completion of our salvation. This is a lot more than ‘all’s well that ends well’.
  5. Those who love God are those who are called according to his purpose. Their love for him is in response to his love for them. As disciples we are people who have been called, we have a purpose and we share in God’s mission in God’s world.

Paul says we know these things. We don’t always know the details of why what is happening today is happening today. But we do know that somehow our lives are caught up in something much bigger and we can trust God as we cope with what we’re living through at present. There are many mysteries, but there is also much to be confident in and about. Just think of Joseph who was abandoned by his brothers in the desert. As he said, ‘you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…the saving of many lives.’

On top of all this Paul lists five undeniable truths.

  • God’s foreknowledge
  • God’s predestination
  • God’s calling
  • God’s justification
  • God’s glorification.

Space doesn’t permit me to go into each of these in any detail,  but they are remarkable truths.

Today, this week, this unprecedented year, next year and beyond, know that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, and who have been called according to his purpose.’

Hope in Adversity: Groans and Glory (Romans 8.18-27)

– Bishop Stephen Hale

I titled this series ‘Hope in Adversity’. Even when I was planning this I didn’t expect to be where we are now! It’s been amazingly applicable and so is this wonderful passage. It puts things into perspective but also offers great hope for today.

Compared to our future glory, our present sufferings can’t be compared. Things are tough at present and we’re all being impacted in a variety of ways. Paul puts all of this into a bigger perspective. As believers we await a glorious future which has no end. We await a day when the creation and the children of God will be liberated from sin and struggle and we will enter into what Paul here describes, as the glorious freedom of the children of God. That which we currently know by faith, we will see by sight. That which we hope and long for will become a visible, tangible reality. All of our battles and tensions will cease. Even Covid-19 will pass!

In the meantime, we groan and our world groans. There are many trials and many struggles. These struggles and these tensions are all too obvious – the virus, the impact of the shut-down, the environment and climate change, the disparity between rich and poor, family violence, lack of recognition for our first nation brothers and sisters and many other issues. As well as that we all groan personally – family tensions, illness, lack of contact with loved ones, employment challenges, financial pressures, depression and many other matters. We also groan because we long to fully inherit what we know by faith. We know that things could be so much better and they will be so much better.

Some of you reading this may be contemplating your own mortality. You groan and long to be set free. As it says, ‘If we have hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.’ (v. 25) God knows our groans and it is good to speak to him and others of them and it is also good to contemplate and long for our future glory.

Just imagine living in our groaning world, without this hope? Sadly, many have bought into the idea, that when you die you die. That’s it. They have no hope. Classically they believe that you only have one life and you need to make the most of it today. I suspect that one of the reasons for the rapid rise of people presenting with mental health challenges is because of this lack of hope. I fully acknowledge that this area is complex and there are many factors.

But hope makes a difference. You know that there is a better future and that today’s challenges won’t go on forever. In fact, our struggles today make our hope an even greater comfort and help.

As well as that, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts and amazingly ‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness.’ (v. 26) Even more than that the Spirit ‘intercedes for us through wordless groans.’ (v.27) If you don’t know what to pray or are too overwhelmed to pray, it is amazingly reassuring to know the Holy Spirit is praying on your behalf, in accordance with God’s will.

So, cry out to God, groan before him and seek his help. He offers to help you, especially in your weakness!

Hope in Adversity: Children of God (Romans 8.12-17)

– Bishop Stephen Hale

One of the great thinkers/writers of the twentieth century passed away last week, J. I. Packer. He wrote Knowing God in 1993 and it had a huge impact. Packer put it this way, ‘you sum up the whole of the New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy father (p.224). This is the wonderful thought we have before us here in Romans 8.12 onwards.

If we are led by the Spirit of God, then it is a clear sign that we are children of God. We are children by adoption into God’s household and family. We move from being enslaved to sin, to being liberated into true freedom. Just imagine, we become God’s own children. God becomes our Father and we know we are his children. We get to address God directly and personally as ‘Abba Father.’ God is still great and almighty, yet he is also personal and approachable. This means that God is our Father and Jesus is our brother and we each are brothers and sisters together. We are members of a global, cross generational and cross-cultural family.

Our adoption is one of the many blessings of being in Christ. As adopted children the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts. We know that God is personally present in us. We have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit that what is promised is true for us.

Not only that, but we are heirs. This means that we have a heavenly inheritance, which starts today. We get to share in the family business today. We get to serve in God’s workforce and to be a part of the outworking his plans in people’s hearts and lives today. It means that all of our lives have purpose and meaning because they are caught up in our service of God. He chooses to do his work on earth through his earthly servants. This is far more than pie in the sky when you die, but meat on the plate while we wait. At times this will involve suffering and struggle. It isn’t easy to serve God in all of our lives. As Paul puts it, we share in his sufferings today, so that we may share in his glory down the track.

I hope you find these profound spiritual realities uplifting and exciting. Give thanks to God for being his child. Be grateful that God is your loving heavenly Father. Praise him for the future inheritance that you have entered into already. Ask him to help you to serve him well today.

Hope in Adversity: Life in the Spirit (Romans 8.5-11)

– Bishop Stephen Hale

Just imagine you’re wandering though Woollies Blackburn South peering at people behind their face masks. It wouldn’t be obvious that there are the two groups of people that Paul talks about here in Romans 8. Either those who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them or those who don’t. (see v.5) In the supermarket generally you’re purely focused on earthly things! These days, of course, everyone has learnt to say something like, ‘I’m not very religious, but I’m a very spiritual person!’ If you press people on that one, they generally get very defensive very fast!

If we were to wander through the same place with God’s eyes, he would see some who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them and others who live for themselves. These two ideas have often been confused by the church at various points in Christian history. Some have understood it to elevate a certain type of spirituality over another. If we look at the passage, we will see that when Paul talks about ‘flesh’ he is talking about fallen human nature. Those who live according to the Spirit are people who have been set free from the consequences of their sin and rebellion. These people are still sinners who need to come back again and again for forgiveness, but they are seeking to live a new life in a new way and they are doing it with the Holy Spirit’s power and help.

The goal for Christian people is to walk in the Spirit. As we live this earthly life, we seek to focus on what God would have us think and do. It’s a challenging life because we don’t seek to live a comfortable life but one where we are striving for something much better.

At present we are all being asked to live very restricted lives. We are being told again and again that ‘we’re all in this together’. My actions have consequences for others. Those who step put of line are fined but also subject to scorn and ridicule. As we all know it isn’t easy!

As Paul puts it a life of the flesh seems a lot easier, but it has terrible consequences. We can do as we please (except at present!). But unfortunately it leads to spiritual death as it is displeasing to God. You may choose to ignore him in this life, but you’ll still have to face up to him in the next!

Verse 11 brings it all together. If the Holy Spirt is dwelling in you, then you’ll seek to live a new life in a new way today. Then when you face the end of your earthly life, the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, will raise you from the dead as well. You have a great life with God today and an even better one with Him in His eternal future.

A better life today and an eternal future! What more could you want?

Let’s each seek to draw on the Holy Spirit’s help to live that new life in a new way as we rejoice in the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

Hope in Adversity. No Condemnation. (Romans 8.1-4)

– Bishop Stephen Hale

We live in strange and anxious times. In days like this it is especially important to know the reassurance of God’s word. For the next five weeks we’ll be focusing on Romans 8. This passage is considered to be one of the most uplifting in the whole of the Bible. It is full of memorable verses and it will be a great encouragement for each of us.

Paul starts off with the most wonderful words, ‘now there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.’(8.1)We live in a very judgemental era where anyone who steps over a line will be condemned swiftly and harshly. Social media is a brutal beast.

As Christians we don’t pretend that we have it altogether. We acknowledge our sin and failure. We recognise we deserve God’s just judgment. What joy it is to know, that in Christ Jesus there is ‘no condemnation’. How can this be?

As Paul puts it, we have been set free from the law of sin and death (v2). God did this by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. (v3) We aren’t condemned because Christ was condemned on our behalf. He bore our sins in his body on the cross. In the temple they offered up a lamb as a sacrificial offering. Christ is our sin offering and it is for all time and available to all people.

Our response to God’s grace is as simple as ABC.

We Admit we need God’s help and forgiveness

We Believe in Jesus and his saving death on our behalf.

We invite Jesus to Come into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Many of us may have prayed a prayer like that many years ago. That doesn’t mean it is any less special or significant. While writing this I received news that a good friend of mine had passed away over-night. In one sense it was a blessed relief after a long battle with cancer. On the other hand, it is very, very sad. Yet, there was the joy of knowing she is with her Lord and is in a better place. There was no condemnation but welcome.

Not only do we know the joy of no condemnation, but God has blessed us with the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts. In verse 4 we read, ‘who do not live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.’ When we ask for God’s forgiveness and invite him into our lives, he does that through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work in us to enable us to live a new life, in a new way, to God’s glory. If you’re struggling, then ask the Holy Spirit for help. The Holy Spirit is there to help, encourage and comfort us.

How terrible it would have been, if we had to try and live a new life in our own strength. It would be a recipe for despair. In God’s kindness, through the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, we are strengthened to live in a new way.

In this coming week, may we each draw on the Holy Spirit’s power to enable us to be a source of love and comfort to others. May we be guided by the Sprit and may we seek out opportunities to serve those in need.

Every blessing.