God’s faithfulness. I don’t remember which chorus it was, but it was one that speaks of the faithfulness of Jesus and of God and his standing with us every step of the way, his support for us, his never ending ownership of our lives and of our process of salvation, the journey of salvation, that assurance that we have in God. I want to flow with that theme so I changed and I believe this is a spirit lead my topic and I want to….. let’s go to the book of Romans, chapter 8, I think it’s a good place to begin. As we celebrate the Lord, as we’ve exalted him, we’ve worshiped him because of his goodness, his faithfulness, his mercy, his steadfast love us. It’s so good to take that opportunity also to see where the grounding, the scriptural grounding of what we have just proclaimed here, where it lies and to reinforce in us that sense of assurance, of God’s goodness. So, chapter 8 of Romans stands in my mind as the essential document, if you will, of the assurance of every believer, the foundation that we have of confidence in the Lord, in our calling as believers.
I remember that the last time I preached, 3, 4 weeks ago, it was on the subject of the prodigal son and I would call it really the merciful father, the forgiving father. And we saw there that grace of God exemplified in one of the main characters of Jesus’ parable, that father who allows his son to leave, having been offended by the son, the son goes off, wastes the father’s money, abases himself completely with totally, undignified, sinful behavior and comes back chastised and humble and fearful and hoping maybe to get a few crumbs of his father’s mercy. And he has his speech all prepared and to his surprise, his father not only receives him, but really runs to him and catches up to him and welcomes him with open arms and gives him a regal reception and restores him to his previous state of dignity and ownership of the home.
You know, what better illustration of the love of God and of the grace that founds the relation that we have with Jesus Christ. But of course that understanding many times fails us and the circumstances of life, the daily struggles that we face, the sinfulness in ourselves, the conflicts that we face in our life, the times that we offend God, not only once, but time and time again, and the struggles that we have and you know, the vicissitudes of life and the frailty of the whole human journey and pilgrimage, makes us doubt many times. How many times can God forgive me? And can I make it?
The Bible speaks of the Christian journey being like a race many times and of course a race presupposes that there may be losers and there may be winners. I mean, and there’s a whole segment of scripture that presents the Christian life as a perilous journey. It is a journey of struggle, it is a journey of warfare. There are enemies that are out to destroy us. The devil and the demonic want to trip us in our walk and our own sinful nature also. And sometimes, I know we’re lead to doubt and to fear.
You know, will I make it? Will I make it to the end? We just had a case in the Latino church in the Hispanic congregation of a man who was with us for several years and he had a drug addiction problem and received huge amount of care from us, a loving, tender guy, very humble and you know, there’s no doubt in our mind that that man loved the Lord and I know some severe people could say, ‘well, how could he love the Lord if he still had struggles with drugs? Because he did, and towards the ends of his life, the last few months of his life, after being here and having really finally connected with the Lord, I think that he had known the Lord many years before even coming to the church and you know, he had a time of victory over his addiction, and he had contracted some diseases because of his long life of addiction. And you know, he was here, he was victorious, he was coming to the church, he loved the Lord, served the Lord and then towards the ends of his life he backslid and really sort of gave up in a sense, the struggle, and fell again into usage of drugs.
And you know, he never completely lost touch with the church, I mean, he had the care of Sam and Greg Bishop, associate pastors who loved him and we tried to get him into a home and so on and so forth, but he was struggling. As I understand he did confess that he believed in the Lord, it was a difficult thing, frustrating for us many times as we tried to get him to get back on track.
Finally, unfortunately he ended up dieing, perhaps of an overdose, we’re not sure. And for us, we did struggle sometimes about, what happened to him? Where did he end up? Some people might say, well, was he saved? Did he make it? Did he finally, did God have mercy on him at the last minute of his life? Was he able to call out for Jesus Christ before his last breath?
We don’t know for sure, but it does remind us of the perilousness of the Christian walk. I think it was Plato who said, ‘do not call a man blessed until the last breath of his life’, because I guess the idea of this philosopher was that problems or misfortune can come to you at any moment and you may think, somebody may be blessed until the very last minute and then a tragedy may befall and just ruin the whole thing.
So, this idea of frailty about the Christian pilgrimage, the Christian walk. And by the way, interestingly enough, this gentleman he had a talent for painting and years ago, I didn’t really remember, he gave us a painting of a cross and it’s a very lovely painting. It’s a very simple cross in the center of the painting and then there’s all kinds of rays emanating from the cross. I mean, the rest of the frame is filled with just rays of light emanating from the cross. And when we were on vacation now, just the day we’re leaving, my wife and I are packing and we were taking out some paintings to put on our house there, a little vacation house that we have in Maine, and she pulled out this painting and she said, ‘hey, take a look at this’, and as I said at the beginning it was several years ago by this guy. I didn’t even remember it and we didn’t know that this situation had happened, that he had died and you know, and this tragedy. And I said to her, ‘wow, it’s nice,’ and I remembered that this guy was struggling and so on and so forth and I said, you know, I had a moment of an impression in my spirit of saying, ‘hey, let’s keep that painting, and even though he’s been struggling so much, let’s put it somewhere in our house’, because I felt that it was an affirmation of God’s grace, of the cross. Maybe this guy with all his struggles, in his spirit, he understood instinctively, deeply the power of the cross to forgive, to heal, to unleash God’s grace and I felt that he was going through all this struggle, that this cross that he had painted, maybe in a moment that he was better emotionally and spiritually, could serve as a kind of a reassurance for this guy, that God’s mercy was still there with him.
You know, we struggle in life with so many things, we have so many you know, people who deal with addictions, we deal with mental bondages that we have, habits that we hold. I mean, how many of you can say, including myself, that we don’t have areas in our life that we struggle with, of thoughts that are not the best, or impulses, or resentments, or desires, habits that we have. I mean, nobody can claim that we don’t have those struggles, those persistent, systemic, structural struggles that we have in our life. And what keeps us grounded, what keeps us in hope is that cross of Jesus Christ, the fact that God is not a God who simply get tired of us and let’s go us, but through all that zigzagging, the up and down, the falling and rising that cross remains there shining, extending its light, extending its beacons of blessing, of hope, of mercy to us and covering us.
The Bible says that the blood of Christ cleanses us, washes us from all of our sins and it is a constant thing. So, when we came back and we found out that this gentleman had died, you know, my mind went back to that cross and how interesting that we didn’t know about this. That cross had been lying there hidden, in that painting for a long time and God chose to remind us before we came back and found out that he had died. You know, that gave me hope about this man’s life.
And this is what this chapter of Romans, chapter 8, I’m sorry I got so much into introduction, I didn’t get into the text. But this is really…. We can come back into the text now, I think with a better understanding of it. And chapter 8 is full, it is a chapter on hope, it is a chapter on assurance, it a chapter on confidence that even as we struggle in the Christian walk and we fail God and we are inconsistent, God’s love is so overwhelmingly stronger and more persistent.
And so he says, for example, the Apostle Paul in chapter 8 verse 1: “….Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death….”
I mean, that’s a powerful… one of the assurances that we have as believers is that as long as I remain in Christ, I mean, and what is it to remain in Christ? I mean, we could spend hours talking about what it is….. to remain in Christ is it not to sin at all? If that were the case, I’d have to be disqualified right away. You know, we sin as a byproduct, just as we sweat, we sin. I mean, it’s in our nature and I think what the Apostle Paul means, when he says to be in Christ, he’s speaking about that inner attitude of linking your life to Christ, yoking yourself to Jesus Christ, holding on to him, claiming his righteousness, holding on to his sacrifice on the cross and the value that God assigned to that sacrifice. It means not trusting in your own righteousness, your own works, your own justice, but believing and choosing to believing and holding on to the belief against, even your own nature, that sometimes pushes you to believe the contrary, that what Christ did on the cross is imputed to you, is assigned to you, that you can draw value from what Jesus Christ did on the cross and that that blood and the power of the blood, and the value of that blood covers you.
Remaining in Christ, being in Christ means that Christ’s person, Christ’s life, Christ’s example, Christ’s power, Christ’s record as established through the gospels and through the rest of the scriptures means everything to you, that you have grounded your life on him, that your impulses, that your thoughts, your emotions are deeply related to Jesus Christ, that you look through the eyes of Christ, that your life has meaning and importance because of who Christ is, that your whole ethical system, your values’ system, your way of relating to people, your understanding of the world, the perspective that you have on human life, the way you see yourself, is all colored by the person and the teachings and the principles of Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to be in Christ. It means to ground yourself in Christ. It means to tie yourself to Christ like a man, for example, who is being pushed by the winds of a hurricane and ties a rope to himself and then ties himself to some column of some sort and just holds on to that column and the wind will through itself against him and try to wrestle him from that column, but he remains yoked to it.
That’s what being in Christ means, you see, it is an affirmation of the will, it is an attitude. It is no so much necessarily that you may live a perfect life, that you may make no mistakes, that you do everything right, that you think everything right. No, it’s to be grounded in Christ, for Christ to be your all and for the struggles of your life, and even the failures of your life to be interpreted in the light of the fact that Jesus Christ is, the fact that you have accepted him as your judge, as your norm, as your point of reference, as your protector, as your guarantor, that’s what being in Christ means. In other words, it’s the seat of your identity has become Christ.
So if you can claim that, and you know, I think a lot of people whom we see in life sometimes struggling against sin, and we see the exterior and I know people who struggle for example, with all kinds of persistent sins in their life, and yet they’re here in the church, they love the Lord, they’re passionately struggling, they serve, they pray, they weep, they repent, they know the scriptures, they do not try to hide their sin. I believe that they are in Christ, I believe that as long that they have that agony inside of them, that struggle, that desire to serve the Lord, to please him even if sometimes they may fall, they are in Christ. They are covered by the blood.
That is not, I insist, to say that we can go around doing whatever we please, because precisely what I see is that struggle, it is that understanding. I have offended God, I need to get my life straighten and I’m trying. I think as long as there is that, we can say, I am in Christ, I am covered by his blood. And it’s so good to have a community of people who have that gracious understanding so that we can pray for each other, we can encourage each other, we can be accountable to each other, we can hold each other accountable, we can lovingly rebuke and encourage and challenge each other, but we are in Christ.
And so, if we are in Christ, if we have that attitude that I’m trying to define here, which is very dynamic and tense, if we have that attitude, if we can say, ‘yes, that’s me, that is the importance that I give to Jesus Christ, to his teachings, if we are in Christ and there is no condemnation, we can be safe, we can be secure, we can trust that Christ’s blood covers us and pays the debt at the end of the day.
Another assurance that I see here is in verse 9, it says, “… you however are controlled not to by the sinful nature, but by the spirit, because the spirit of God lives in you…”
In other words, that means, be in control, means that your are possessed, you are fully under the command of the sinful nature and I think many people are like that. Many people don’t feel any compunction about what they do, they feel no regret, there is complete unity between their will and their sin. They have made peace with their condition. So, they do evil without any kind of conflict, any kind of desire to struggle against it, any kind of rebellion against the sin. They are controlled by it.
And that’s the way most human beings live in a sense, you know, they live and we see this in society many times, people excusing their sin and being perfectly aligned with their sin and calling it actually a virtue, and naming it for something else, you know, our modern culture is specialized in that completely. The person who doesn’t know Christ really has no hope of breaking ever free from sin. The person who doesn’t have the power of Christ is simply completely controlled, is simply in the power of the devil and the power of the sin.
Many passages of scripture attest to that.
But when Christ comes into your life, then you are given the power to rebel against sin. You are given a new nature and now, with the power of Jesus Christ, the power of the spirit you can break through sin. I don’t believe that any Christian can ever say, oh, I can’t break this, I cannot overcome this. I just simply have to resign myself to whatever it is, my addiction, or my rebelliousness, or my bad temper, or my vengeful attitude. None of us can say that because as believers we can be sure that with the power of God in our lives we can overcome anything.
The Bible speaks of us being more than conquerors. So, you know, whenever we find any kind of difficulty in our life, whether it be material or exterior nature, or whether it is something that we’re struggling with inside ourselves, we should never say, well, you know, it’s too late, I’m too old, I’m too used to this. I tried many times. No, the believer is called to keep doing it, let’s keep trying, let’s keep fighting.
You know, many times when I discover things in my life that I know are not of God, instead of losing hope, actually, I get kind of charged and energized. Ah! here’s one more thing that I can dedicate my life to fighting against and submitting and giving God the glory when I finally bring it under subjection. It makes my life a lot more interesting, I don’t know about you, but I believe the Christian life is a life…. We’re warriors, we are at war and it gives me a sense of actually, the dignity and the power and the adventuress, if you will, of the Christian life, because it is a life of conquering, it is a life of fighting against those enemies that are inside of us. It is a life of continual self purification, self transcendence, gaining self control, growing to be more like Jesus Christ, because we know that we have the power to overcome anything, any situation with the knowledge, with the wisdom that the Bible provides and also with the power of the spirit of God.
So, we can say, yes, we are not controlled, what you receive as a believer when you come on to Jesus Christ is this certificate of freedom that gives you an absolute right to believe that you can overcome any situation of slavery in your life, any kind of bondage in your life, any kind of difficulty: financial, physical, relational, emotional, spiritual, whatever it is, as a believer you are free.
The Bible says that if you are in Christ, if the spirit of Christ is in you, then you are free indeed. You have been freed by Christ, by the truth of Christ, then you are free. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. So, there is that idea that we are not ruled by the sinful nature any more, but the spirit of God that lives in us.
And you know, another thing that’s beautiful about encouragement that we have as believers, in verse 15 it says:
“…. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received a spirit of sonship and by him we cry ‘Aba’, Father. The spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children….”
Guau! That’s a beautiful thing. You know, that I can come to God as his child, as his son, as his daughter. You know, I don’t come to God as a petitioner or somebody who’s afraid to be thrown out on his head because he didn’t follow the right formula or whatever, you know, the Bible says, time and time again it says, ‘come boldly to the throne of God, come confidently, you are children, you’re not strangers, you’re not clients of God, you’re not a social security number, you are a son of God, you can come to God even if you don’t know what to say. You can come to God with simple child-like words, you can come to God even when you’re angry at him. God is not afraid, he is not offended by sometimes our frustration with him. He’s not afraid, he’s not offended by our perplexity many times, when he does something that we don’t understand, and he’s silent when we want him to speak and we want an answer and he doesn’t give it to us and we get frustrated.
You know, we are children, and children can afford to speak honestly with their father. This whole idea of being children opens up an entire zone for reflection for the believer, in terms of our relationship, what implications it has when we come in prayer, when we sin before God. A father doesn’t throw his child because they disobeyed and there’s a natural relationship that cannot be broken by a logical relationship. That same way, as children of God, adopted children of God, I mean, we are of his nature, we are bound to him in such powerful ways and therefore we can relate to him, not out of fear, but out of confidence.
And it says here that we are heirs. It means that all the bounty of God, the treasures of heaven, the blessings of God, all the abilities of God are potentially at our disposal as well through Jesus Christ, we can come to God and ask him for healing. We can ask him for provision, we can ask him for emotional healing, we can ask him for illumination when we are in times of perplexity and confusion. All the gifts of the Kingdom of God are available to a child of God.
So, that’s another beautiful thing that we have with God as well. And then in verse 18 it says:
“…. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…”
So, here’s another thing and even further it speaks about in 19, “… the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed..”
So, there’s another beautiful thing that we can expect as believers, through the grace of God. I know that this frame, sinful frame, these struggles, these agonies that I have in my life, I know that the diseases and the limitations of my physical body, one day will be completely overcome by that hope that God has put in my heart, of a life that is free from disease, a life that is free from the ravishes of sin, a life that is free from all the darkness that has glued itself to my psyche because of the pains that I’ve experienced and the traumas that I’ve had or the sins that I’ve committed, like a pot that you know, that you’ve cooked in it so long, after a while it shows the marks of the cooking and the fire.
You know, we’re like that many times. By the time we’re ready to die and go from this earth, we have all kinds of scars in our psyche, in our emotions, in our bodies, even. What redeems life? What gives life hope? This idea that one day I shall be free from all of those ravishes and marks of a difficult existence here. There will be no more pain.
The Bible says in Revelations that “… no more tears, no more diseases, no more sufferings, God will wipe away every tear from us. He will give us a new body, he will give us a new nature….”
There’s a wonderful book, by the way that I suggest you read if you can, it’s called “90 minutes in heaven”. It’s become a best seller, I’m glad to see, I’ve read it a couple of years ago and I was really impacted by it, of a pastor who had a horrible accident and died for an hour and a half and you know, this book has the mark of authenticity. I’ve read several books in my life about near-death experiences and so on and so forth, but this book has…. It is very, very powerful. I don’t remember right now the name of the writer, but I do suggest that you get it if you can, “90 minutes in heaven” is called. And it shows, briefly, because the book is about much more than that. He comes back to life, his body is completely ravished by an unspeakable accident, car accident and you can see why he would have died, and then the rest of his book is about his recovery and all kinds of things. So, even there it has the mark of authenticity.
It’s a wonderful book and it speaks about what he experiences in those minutes that he was dead in heaven, in the meeting people that he had met years before during his childhood and in other times and the experiences of bliss and the beauties of heaven that go very well with what the scripture says, and with what other people have reported in their own experiences of heaven. It was a wonderful, encouraging book, what has been called the blessed hope that we have. As a believer in Jesus Christ I know that that experience awaits me, that eternity with Christ, that I will have broken all the limitations of my body right now and of my nature, my human nature and I will be given a new identity in a sense, a new totally reconciled psyche, perfectly in tune with God, knowing God as he wants to be known, and I had wanted to know him all my life.
All of that, and you know, these present sufferings, these present difficulties, the struggles, the agonies, the uncertainties, all of that will just fade, it’s not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed. It will be such a spectacle to see the children of God graduate and receive their new robes and their new identity, that it says that the whole creation waits for that moment. It will be the most grand spectacle that has ever, ever been seen in the universe and somehow creation itself, mysteriously, mystically, the planets, the oceans, the dust of the universe, the comets, and all the different atoms and all the different things that make up the material realm, the universe, just are awaiting breathlessly, somehow in sort of a collective consciousness, waiting to see that moment because it will be so amazing and we are going to be parts of that, we are insured of that as long as we remain yoked to Jesus Christ.
One last thing, there’s many others, but I’ll finish here. In verse 26, it says: “… in the same way the spirit helps us in our weakness, we do not know what we ought to pray for but the spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express….”
So, here’s another thing that you know, as a believe you have given to. I’ve said a whole lot of things, no condemnation, freedom from the control and the possession of the sinful nature, a spirit that enables you to come confidently before the Lord without fear because it is the spirit of sonship, you’ve been adopted as children of Christ, the hope and the certainty of a new body and a new nature, a glorified nature given to you at the end as your graduation present, the whole struggle.
And then, here’s another thing, that while we are on earth fighting away, you know, this idea of prayer, this idea of having connection with God and having access to God 24 hours a day, being able to communicate with the Lord when we have our needs, when we have our difficulties, when we are precisely in the struggle and we don’t know what to do and we don’t know what to say and we don’t even know what to ask for many times, God says, ‘hey, I’ve given you something as well here. I have made sure that through my Holy Spirit I encourage number 1, in prayer, and when you don’t know what to ask for, and you’re completely befuddled and confused and uncertain, my spirit inside of you will be praying with you and for you in a way that you even be able to understand. And it will ask for the right thing, for the thing that you would want to ask for if you knew exactly how to pray, and if you knew exactly how what you are going to ask for will turn out ultimately, in the grand scheme of things. My spirit knows, in a moment of great caring and mercy for you, will pray for you and will come to the Father and present to the Father the right request.
I mean, man, that’s a mystery in itself. We could take a lot of time to try to sort of unpack that idea, but I can be sure that God is going to be there teaching me, showing me how to pray. It’s not this thing that God says, ‘well, hey, I’ve told you you can pray, so now do the best you can and God help you if you don’t pray for the right thing, that’s your problem.’
No, even in that merciful benefit that he’s given us of prayer, he says, even there I’m going to help you and I’m going to support you, I’m going to encourage you and I’m going to show you what you need to pray sometimes, when you don’t know what to pray for. How much better does it get. What a wonderful package of benefits.
And we you put all these things together and one could go on, you know, there’s that beautiful summation of it in the final verses of this chapter 8, when you take all of that and you put it together, man, you have an amazing benefit package to being a believer. Practically every base is covered. You know, I’m not a Calvinist to the point of saying, well, you know, God has chosen me then I have nothing to worry about. I’ve never been a Calvinist, I won’t be although I respect those who are, but one thing I can say for sure is that I am an encouraged arminiant, that means that I am very sure of the security that I have as a child of God, as a believer.
I have everything stacked up in my favor to finish this race joyfully and triumphantly. I’m living my life confidently. I know that somehow God’s grace is so powerful that even my stumbling and my imperfections will not be strong enough to stump him and to make him tired of me and to frustrate him to the point that he says, ‘I don’t want to have anything more to do with you’. That I can be sure of.
As long as I remain in Christ, as long as the most powerful impulses of my being are directed to him and related to him, as long as he means all things to me, that’s my card, that’s my entrance card to heaven, that’s my assurance card, and God has done all kinds of things to surround with a hedge of safety and of security.
So, take assurance in that. Now, do you see why we can praise him? Why we can revel in his goodness? Why we can be assured and we can celebrate? I mean we have a passport to heaven, that passport I believe is stamped, and as long as we use the passport, then we have it, and God will ensure that we have it, even though he hasn’t taken our freedom not to have it, but he’s absolutely involved in making sure that we make it to the end.
How different from a religious mentality that suggests that somehow you have to struggle, to get to God’s seat of mercy and somehow you have this somber, what would I says, serious, sovereign saying, ‘well, why should I let you into my kingdom, trying to put all kinds of difficult obstacles in our way.’ It’s the very opposite: God’s there’s saying, ‘come on, come on in, I want you to come. I’m going to make everything that is possible for you to come and I, as long as you are running that race, I will make sure that no devil, nothing created, nothing in heaven, in earth, or below the earth will trip you and will prevent you from coming into my Kingdom, and I receive you openly.’
God is predisposed, he has an affirmative action program for every believer, that they enter into his Kingdom, you and I are part of that. Let’s thank him for that.
Let’s stand for a moment and let’s meditate for a couple of seconds on that assurance of salvation, that promise, that benefit package that we have and no matter how much I struggle, no matter what the difficulties that I’m going through are, God is there with me and for me. He wants me to make the race. He wants me to finish the race. I don’t have to cheat. I don’t have to beg. I can confidently before the throne of God and know that I’m a son, I’m a child of his and he wants me to finish the race well.
Thank you, Father. Thank you, Lord forgive me for many times being so doubtful. Father, sometimes you put your hand on my shoulder and I push it away because I cannot believe that you can be that good. Forgive me, forgive us, Lord. Help us to, as we try to please you, do it not because we think somehow that that will make us worthier of being saved, but simply that we will try to please you because we know that we are saved, because we know what you have invested in our salvation, because we know how committed you are to our finishing that race well and therefore what we try to do for you, when we try to please you and live holy lives, that we might do it in fr3eedom, we might do it in lightness of being, we might do it from an optimistic perspective, Lord, we might do it from a perspective of confidence and excess energy, because we’re not being worn out by uncertainty and by anguish and anxiety and questioning of whether we are or are not saved.
Thank you, Lord. We worship you, we praise you. Receive our worship tonight, Father, as we have praised you for your goodness and for your faithfulness. Thank you because your word affirms that time and time again. Be glorified in the worship of your people, Father, we’re so thankful for your faithfulness, in Jesus’ name, amen.