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Friday, August 14, 2015

Is God Really For Us?

Is God Really for Us?


Deus pro nobis, "God for us." If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). Paul sets forth that phrase in a conditional sense; in other words, the language suggests a kind of uncertainty. The apostle says "If God is for us," as if it were a matter open to some doubt or further speculation, but Paul is not indicating uncertainty about God's being for us.

He has labored thus far through the epistle to demonstrate how deeply God is for His elect. Paul is speaking in the language of logic, even of a syllogism, which gives a first premise and then a second premise and then rushes toward a conclusion. The conclusion of a syllogism is one that follows inexorably from the premises, if the premises are sound. If A and B are true, then C must of necessity follow. So when Paul asks, "If God is for us," he is writing syllogistically, not with respect to uncertainty. We could just as easily translate it with the word since: "Since God is for us, who can be against us?"

Obviously, if God is for us, the whole world can be against us, because man in his revolt against God not only protests against his Creator but against all the redeemed. Implicit in the apostle's statement is not just who can be against us, but who could possibly stand against us. This is, of course, a rhetorical question; the answer is obvious. No one can stand against us if God is standing with us. An aphorism that has since become something of a cliché goes like this: one person with God on his side is in a majority against all the rest of the human race.

Spared He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?(Romans 8:31). We notice first the idea of sparing. When people are rescued from an almost certain doom at the last second, we say that they have been spared a disaster that was about to befall them. When we read such language in Romans 8, how can we not think back to Genesis 22, where God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac, the son whom he loved, on the altar at Mount Moriah? In obedience Abraham took his son on an arduous journey and placed him on the altar, bound in ropes, and he lifted up the knife to slay him, but at the last second God stopped him: "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him" (Genesis 22:12). 

God commanded Abraham to spare his son. It was on Mount Moriah, later named Mount Calvary, just outside the city of Jerusalem, where, one thousand years after Abraham's experience, our Savior on the night before His death went into the garden of Gethsemane and sweat drops of blood pleading with the Father to allow the cup to pass from him. "Nevertheless," Jesus said, "not what I will, but what You will" (Mark 14:36). In that moment of the grand passion of Christ, the Father said no. The Father would not spare His Son.

How can we not understand the posture of God toward His people after He has gone to such lengths to effect our redemption? God spared nothing, not even His Son, so that we might be saved. Therefore, Paul says, "He delivered Him up for us all." I don't believe for a moment that God did this for all mankind. God gave His Son to redeem His elect, those who are a part of the Golden Chain.

Because of Christ's perfect obedience for us, the Father bestows every conceivable blessing upon him. His inheritance is the world and everything in it. Paul says that because the Son died for us and the Father did not spare him, He will also give us everything that He gives His Son. Here Paul adds to the idea of our adoption, which he developed earlier in Romans 8. We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ; the Father is pleased to give all things to His Son, whom He did not spare, and not only to His Son but to all those whom He had given to His Son for His Son's glory.

No Charge Paul continues with his list of questions. Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? (v. 33). Satan works to bring every conceivable slanderous charge against God's elect. Satan never ceases accusing the brethren. He never stops harassing us and getting at our consciences, telling us how wicked we are and that we do not deserve to be in fellowship with Christ. The principal work of Satan in the life of the believer is not temptation, though he is engaged in that; his chief work is accusation. He accuses us in order to take away our assurance and joy and the consolation that is ours in Christ. He keeps reminding us of our sin. He keeps telling us of our shortcomings. He lays against God's elect every conceivable charge that he can bring; yet, there is no work more futile, which is why Paul mocks Satan with this question. What can be sillier than to bring accusations against those who have been redeemed through the blood of the Lamb? The one who justifies is the judge of all, and He has declared us just by the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Who can rightly bring any charge against Jesus? He said to His contemporaries, "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" ( John 8:46). He is sinless, so any attempt to charge Jesus with sin is an exercise in futility. It is a waste of time and breath because the Father knows that Christ is without sin. Christ's perfect obedience is transferred to the account of all who put their faith in him. It is just as futile for anyone to lay a charge against us as it is to lay a charge against Christ, because we are clothed in His righteousness. We are justified by His merit. God has not pardoned or exonerated us, but having clothed us with the righteousness of Christ He has pronounced His verdict of righteous. Once the supreme, sovereign judge declares us righteous in His sight, all the slander in the world can make no impact on God's assured, final judgment. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because the judge has declared us just. Justification is not just an abstract doctrine, and we must never negotiate it. It is the very heart and soul of the gospel. Because of our justification in Jesus Christ, we need fear no slander from Satan or from the world.

No Condemnation Athanasius was driven into exile countless times. His tombstone reads, Athanasius contra mundum, that is, "Athanasius against the world." Deus pro nobis, Athanasius; God was for you though the whole world was against you. My mother taught me to say, "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me." The first time I tried it, I discovered that words can hurt.

Slanderous accusations can be more painful than sticks and stones, but they bounce off the skin of the Christian in the presence of God, because God has declared us righteous in His sight. The verdict is in. There is no higher court of appeal than the verdict rendered by the sovereign Judge of all the earth. It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? (vv. 33-34). Once God has justified us, who can condemn us? Condemnation is gone.

It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us (v. 34). It is Christ who died; it is Christ who was raised for our justification; it is Christ who ascended to the right hand of God, where He is seated in the position of cosmic authority. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The highest tribunal in the cosmos is the one who died for us. When Stephen's enemies stoned him, they acted with great fury, gnashing their teeth in hatred. They threw rocks that opened gashes on that saint, yet while his blood poured from his veins and life drained from him, he looked up, and God gave him a vision into heaven. He saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:54). The earthly court condemned him to death, but at that very moment in the heavenly court the Judge of all the earth was Stephen's defense council. What matters is where the court sits, and it sits at the right hand of God.

Our Intercessor Not only is our Savior our judge and defense attorney, but He is also our intercessor. He is our great high priest, pleading our case before God every minute. It is foolish, therefore, to worry about the slander of men. Who shall lay any charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies. Christ is the one who died and was raised for our justification. Christ is the one sitting at the right hand of the Father, and Christ is the one who intercedes for us every day. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (v. 35). Those who live a life of uncertainty thinking they can lose their salvation if they fail to persevere to the end need only remember the finest flower in God's garden, the tulip.

Paul explores things that have the potential to drive a wedge between us and our Savior: Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (v. 35). In these very things we have assurance of Jesus' presence with us. If anything seals His love for us, it is His promise to be with us in the midst of persecution and peril and sword and famine and everything that the world, the flesh, and the Devil can throw against us. The things Paul anticipates here are not exhaustive; this list is representative. Paul could go on forever naming things that try to separate us from the love of Christ.

As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (v. 36). The image of sheep is used often in the Bible to refer to the flock of God and to Christ, who is our good shepherd. During Jesus' trial before Pilate, Jesus was "as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7Acts 8:32). Our Lord, the great shepherd, became the sheep, the docile one who went willingly to the slaughter. We participate in that vocation by participating in His humiliation, His tribulation, and His death.

Conquerors In the nineteenth century some of the most cynical attacks ever written against Christianity came from the pen of Friedrich Nietzsche. He declared the death of God. According to Nietzsche, God died of pity. Nietzsche was convinced that Western civilization, particularly Western Europe, had become completely decadent by his day, primarily due to the baleful influence of Christianity. He could not stand that Christianity exalted virtues like mercy, love, and pity. He believed that such virtues strip human beings of their natural humanity. Nietzsche argued that what most defines humanness is the will to power. Every human being has a drive to dominate, conquer, and rise to the top. Nietzsche said that Christianity with its false piety takes away the strength of humanity, leaving a race of impotent men. Nietzsche called for a new humanity, the dawn of a new superman, the Übermensch.

This superman would serve as an example of authentic human existence, the father of biological heroism. Is it any wonder that Hitler sent copies of Nietzsche's Spake Zarathustra to his henchmen as Christmas presents when he was trying to develop the super race of Aryans in the twentieth century?
The chief characteristic of superman, according to Nietzsche, is that of conqueror. He is the man, Nietzsche said, who sails his ship into uncharted waters. He is the Hemingway of his day who grabs the bull by the horns. He will bow to no opposition and show fear before no power of nature, such as a volcano. He is defiant to the end. He is Übermensch, the superman, in counter-distinction to the weak, pitiable Christian who turns the other cheek.

I always think of Nietzsche when I read Paul's words about our being more than conquerors in pestilence, tribulation, peril, and sword and in being led as sheep to the slaughter. The Greek word Paul uses for "conquerors" comes from the term hupernikaō. We are hyper-conquerors. The Latin is even better—super vinceˉmus: in all these things we are supermen through him who loved us.
We have a superman, an Übermensch, in Christ. He has conquered the world. Nietzsche believed that dialectical courage would mark the superman; dialectical courage is irrational courage. Nietzsche also declared that life is meaningless and that there are no real values. Since life is meaningless, he said, people can be of good cheer. There is no reason for rational courage because it only leaves people at the bottom of the sea. How different that is from Jesus' charge to His people: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). There is reason for our cheer and joy—the Lord Jesus Christ has conquered powers, principalities, and every wickedness in the cosmos.

No Separation For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (vv. 38-39). We may feel at times that God has departed from us, but that is when we have to believe His Word rather than our feelings. The Word of God promises and guarantees that death cannot separate us from Christ's love, nor can life or earthly governments. Men could throw Joseph in prison for years, but they could not separate Joseph from the love of his God. Principalities in the demonic world or Satan and his angels cannot separate us from the love of Christ, nor can anything that happens today or tomorrow. What about height? What about depth? Paul is giving us selective examples of what might separate us from the love of Christ. His point is that nothing—height, depth, life, death, powers, principalities, or any creature—can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Is it safe? That has been the theme of our study of Romans 8. If we have been saved, we are safe from anything this world can put against us because God from all eternity has loved and redeemed us. We are His elect. We have been chosen by God to be conformed to the image of Christ and to be Christ's possession—not for a day or a week  but for eternity. If we do not like the idea of God's sovereign grace, if we are still kicking against it, why? It is our guarantee that nothing can separate us from the great love wherewith He loves us.

~R. C. Sproul~

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