August 20, 2022 - Romans Chapters 8-11

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Today we continue our journey through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. At the beginning of chapter 8, Paul argues that we are powerless to do God’s will in the power of our old human nature. It’s the same discovery we find written into the classic 12 Steps to Recovery for those who struggle with alcohol and other life-dominating problems. Step 1 says, “We must admit that we are powerless over our problem.” And Step 2 says, “We must admit that only a Power higher than ourselves can restore us to sanity.” Paul makes it clear that we can’t win the battle on our own strength.


In Romans 8:7, Paul proclaims, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. And those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Our natural selves are unable to submit to God’s law. In fact, our natural selves are “hostile” to God. As the Protestant Heidelberg Catechism says (Q-5), we are by nature prone to hate both God and neighbor. Furthermore, Paul teaches that those who rely on human nature for the power to live their lives “cannot please God.” Gritting our teeth, resolving to do better, and trying harder and harder will only get us nowhere.


So what’s the alternative, then? Paul says in verse 13, “But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.” Paul is saying that the power to live a holy life comes only from the Holy Spirit of God who dwells within the believer. Real willpower comes not from within. It only comes from above. People in 12-Step recovery programs find victory over their problems only when they quit relying on their own strength, and call upon that Power higher than themselves to give them that strength they cannot find within.


Paul’s got a lot to say about the Holy Spirit in this chapter. In fact, Paul teaches that anyone who does not have the Holy Ghost dwelling within does not belong to Christ. (I take that as a promise to believers.) The Holy Ghost is the person of God through which the One we call Heavenly Father dwells within humans. In verses 14-16, Paul writes, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received a Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry: Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Notice Paul doesn’t say we are begotten children. We are adopted! The Spirit of God testifies that it is true!


Paul also teaches down in verse 26 that “the Spirit also helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that cannot be uttered. And the One who searches hearts (meaning God) knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he (meaning the Spirit) intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” See how the Holy Ghost is communicating with God the Father on our behalf!


In verses 18-23, Paul says, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present life are unworthy to compare with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the unveiling of the children of God.” Why? Because Paul teaches that “the creation was subjected to futility.” Who did that? That was Adam and Eve, who inflicted a horrible world full of suffering on us all. They subjected us to futility; they put us all on a dead-end street. The great hope Paul expresses here is that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay.” Paul says, “We know that all creation groans together in travail until now,” and that “we ourselves groan inwardly as we await adoption as children, the redemption of our bodies.” We all long for the day when God will set us free from the bondage in which creation has been held since Adam’s senseless rebellion against God.


Paul winds up chapter 8 by asking, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “Who (or what) shall separate us from the love of Christ?” What wonderful questions! What wonderful answers: No one and nothing! God’s bottom line is: if Jesus Christ has taken away our sin, then nothing can stand in the way between us and God. The only barrier that has ever stood between us is sin. And God has completely removed that barrier of sin through the cross of Jesus Christ.


Paul asks, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s chosen ones?” Who’s got the legal ammunition that can wrench us away from God and cast us into the pit of hell? God is the One who declares us not guilty. Who’s the innocent party who has the legal standing to point the accusing finger at us? Only Jesus Christ, and he’s the One who died to put us right with God, who rose from the dead to clear our way to God, and who at this moment continues to plead for us at the throne of God. He’s gonna accuse us?? In the person of Jesus Christ, God has suffered all the pain of hell in our place, so that God can embrace us as beloved children, so that we may be reconciled and reunited with the One who loves us more than words can say.


What else can stand in the way between God and God’s children? Can some evil power drive a wedge between us, or steal us away from the arms of God? Is there anyone powerful enough to out-wrestle God for our souls? Is there some Incredible Hulk out there who’s gonna step in and say, “Get lost, buster! He’s mine! She’s mine!”? Is there some future event in our lives, some scandal, some horrible mistake, that’s going to tear us away from God? Can any death we could die turn God against us?


Can altitude or geography separate us from God? Is there a windswept peak, or some dark ocean trench, that is literally God-forsaken? Is there any planet in space where we can say that we are no longer in God’s grasp? David asks in Psalm 139, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in the grave, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”


All that’s left that can possibly alienate us from God is the bitter circumstances of life, and what they may do to us from within. Pressure, anxiety, harassment, starvation, not having a thread to wear, danger, lethal weapons pointed straight at us – none of these can stand between God and us, but they all have the potential to erect huge barriers in our hearts toward God, to turn us away from God. Only an inside job can fix that.


In verse 28, Paul gives us that famous line: “We know that all things work together (literally “synergize”) for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” Paul never says that all that happens to us is good. Much of what happens to us in this life is undeniably evil, and no one should pretend otherwise. The Bible says to rejoice, not FOR all things, but IN all things. The Bible does NOT tell us to rejoice over pain. That’s masochism. What we ARE called to do is to rejoice in the God who is bigger than our pain, and who has never left our side.


Paul never promises that God will work everything out to an earthly happy ending. That’s not reality. That’s not true-to-life. Nor should we expect or demand happy endings down here in this world that is shot through with the curse of our first ancestors’ sin. But the glorious truth about God is that God transforms undeniable evil into undeniable good.


All that happens to us in this life is part of a great tug-of-war between good and evil. We are bound to get caught as casualties in the crossfire. But even the worst of what happens to us is charged with spiritual significance. Life is not a series of meaningless accidents. God is at work, using even our mistakes, our sins, our pain, and our misfortunes to prepare us for a future glory that far outweighs it all, and using these misfortunes to win other people to Christ when they see how God helps us through our heartaches.


All that happens to us in life, serves God’s purpose together, not as incidents in isolation. Rick Warren uses the image of baking a cake. Taste the ingredients in isolation: flour, raw eggs, oil, cacao powder – all of them yucky or bitter, even if you add in some salt and sugar. But bake them all together, and the results taste very different! Also, keep in mind, Romans 8:28 is a promise only to God’s children. One could say that all things are likely to work together for bad for those who are at war with God and refuse to let God have God’s way in their lives.


“If God is for us, who can be against us?” The word Paul uses to mean “for” us is the Greek word “hyper”. Here it means “in our place”. It also means “over the top” (which is what we mean when we say “hyper-active” or “hyper-sensitive.” When I took a look at this passage, I found the word “hyper” 4 times. Verse 31 – “If God is hyper us” (if God going to bat for us in our place), “who can be against us?” Verse 32 – God “gave up his Son hyper us” (in our exchange). Verse 34 – Christ is at the right hand of God, “pleading hyper us” (on our behalf).


All these meanings would come to mind for Paul’s audience when they heard the word “hyper” used to describe God’s attitude toward us. God is hyper about us! That doesn’t mean that God’s whole being revolves around us, as if God existed just for us. It does mean that God is on our side, that God has gone over the top for us. It does mean that God has gone to bat in our place, that he has suffered the pain of hell so that we would never have to do so. It does mean that God is pulling for us when we’re down. It does mean that God is our greatest fan. God’s love goes literally “over the top” for us!


The last time the word hyper is used is in verse 37, as part of a compound verb. It says that in all the worst that can happen to us, we are “hyper-conquerors” through the One who loved us (Christ). We are “more than conquerors”. We are far more than winners! We may not feel like it, when life comes crashing in on us. We feel like we’re just barely surviving. That’s why Paul needs to remind us otherwise, to put our suffering into perspective for us. God’s love makes us “hyper-conquerors!” We are more than winners! We’ve got a God who is hyper us, who is on our side! Don’t let life’s frustration lead you to throw away your victory crown!


Paul says that nothing in all creation can separate us or “put space” between us and the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” If God loved us so much as to take our place in hell, what further proof do we need? God is for us! God’s love has gone “over the top” for us! And no one can drive a wedge between us!


In chapters 9-11, Paul turns his attention to the question, “What about the Jews?” Large numbers have come to believe in Christ, but large numbers haven’t. What about them? Paul’s heart breaks for his fellow Jews; he says that he’d be willing to be eternally cursed, if that would save them. Later on in chapter 10, Paul cries, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God is that they might be saved!”


Here in Romans 9, Paul sorts it out. It’s not like God’s word has failed. Since when have a majority of our people ever been on board with God? It’s always been a minority, a remnant, who are God’s true people. Not everyone who’s got Abraham’s or Israel’s DNA is a real child of God. And it all boils down to God’s choice, not to human decisions or worthiness. God chooses the winners and the losers. It has nothing to do with us. Jacob and Esau are the perfect example. These guys had the same father and even shared the same womb. But God chose the winner in that match before they were even born, before either of them had done 1 thing good or bad. That’s why God says to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” “So then,” says Paul, “it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”


God is not obligated to show mercy to anyone, and it’s not up to us to say who God should be nice to, or why this person and not that one. In fact, if God wants to, God can even harden someone’s heart. Pharaoh is the classic example. God makes Pharaoh stubborn, so that God can use Pharaoh to show God’s power to the whole world (although I must say that God never hardens anyone’s heart against their will).


Then in verse 20, Paul answers the question, “How is that fair? How can God find fault? Who can resist God’s will?” Paul asks, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Shall the thing that is formed say to him that formed it: Why have you made me thus? Has not the potter the power (or authority or right) over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” God’s got the right to do the same with us.


What’s crazy, says Paul, is that God has chosen so many non-Jews to believe, while so many of his originally chosen people do not believe. Why have Gentiles who were not seeking God found him, while so many in Israel who were seeking God have not found him? The reason is because they were seeking God the wrong way. Paul says at the beginning of chapter 10 that “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Paul says they’re trying to establish their own righteousness, by their works; they won’t submit to God’s way. Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end (or goal) of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Faith in Christ, in his atoning death for our sins, is the only way to God, for Jew or Greek.


Paul then asks, “How can people believe in him of whom they have never heard?” But then he asks, “Have they not heard? Indeed they have!” Paul quotes Psalm 19, where the heavens are telling the glory of God: “their sound went into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” As Paul wrote back in chapter 1, we are all without excuse. We can’t say we haven’t heard.


In chapter 11, Paul asks, “Has God rejected his people?” By no means! “God has not cast away his people whom he foreknew.” Elijah thought he was the only believer left, but God says he’s got 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The same is true now, Paul says: God’s got a chosen few, chosen by grace, not by works (by worthiness). Paul says in Romans 11:6 that grace and works are mutually exclusive: “And if (they are chosen) by grace, then it is no more (meaning “no longer”) by works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” If you can’t earn it (which is what “grace”) means), then you can’t earn it (which is what “works” means). (The second half of the verse appears to be added; our earliest copies don’t have the second part.)


So has Israel fallen to where they’ll never get up? No, Paul thinks that God is making it easier for more non-Jewish people to believe first. In Romans 11:25, Paul teaches that temporary blindness or literally “hardening” has come upon a part of Israel until the full number of non-Jews comes in, and then Paul believes “all Israel will be saved.” As Paul concludes in verse 29, “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (literally “irrevocable”).


In chapter 11, Paul uses the image of Israel as an olive tree. Unbelieving branches get broken off. But then God grafts in branches from a wild olive tree, meaning non-Jews. Paul tells the Greek and Roman believers: Don’t boast because other branches were broken off, so that you could be grafted in. They were broken off because of unbelief; you’re grafted in only by faith. So “if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also not spare you,” while if the other branches come to believe, God can easily graft those natural branches back in.


Paul ends chapter 11 overwhelmed by how God is working out his plan to bring both Jew and non-Jew to faith. He writes, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”


As we turn to chapter 12 next time, Paul begins this new section with the word “Therefore.” They say that when you find the word “therefore” in the Bible, you need to see what it’s there for. Here Paul signals that everything he’s about to say in chapter 12 is a natural response to what he’s told them in chapters 1-11. Because of all the mercies of God we’ve been talking about up till now, here’s some practical ways we should be living out our faith as a response to the mercies of God. We’ll see what he has to say next time on Biblical Words and World.