What was the last thing you would say that you poured your “heart and soul” into, or what about the last thing that you did with “all your heart and soul”? We don’t use that phrase to talk about something we do half-heartedly, right? We use that phrase when we talk about something that we are using all of our focus, power, energy and time to make happen. When I was in eighth grade I poured my heart and soul into becoming a football player. I trained, ate healthy, worked hard and practiced continually – I wanted to be a football player so bad. But, no amount of effort and work was going to help me grow a foot and put on fifty pounds of muscle, which was what I needed to not be turned into a skid mark on the turf every week. That’s the bummer about us – we can try really hard at things, but still fail. But you know what’s a fun thing to think about: God doesn’t fail. God is all powerful, “Our God is in the heavens, He does all that He pleases.” (Ps. 115:3). God is never cut from the team, or left short-changed. So the question that is worth thinking about is this: What does God work towards with all His heart and soul?
In my study this week I just stumbled upon this passage in Jeremiah 32:40-41 and it stunned me. “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” How amazing is that! God says that the one thing He works towards with all his heart and soul is to do good to us eternally; with everything I have, says the Lord, I will pour out my blessings on you! And most stunning of all, the verse ends with telling us that God rejoices in this. Think about that for a second: It gives God great delight to work all of His power to do good for you. You, little insignificant, tiny you – you make God happy. Do you know that? You are an essential piece in the happiness of God – what humbling truth!
Can we begin with just a simple prayer for God to open our eyes to the colossal weight behind that statement?
Our Father, who art in heaven, would you help us sense the depth of that statement. Give us a taste for what it means for an infinitely holy God to pledge His allegiance to us tiny, sinful people. Show us the gap between You and us, and help us be stunned that you would come to us, a people entirely undeserving of your grace. Help our hearts believe that it is your delight to do good for us. Help us, we ask in your Son’s name, Amen.
If God is for Us…
Our verses that we are looking at today, verses 33-34, are just a continuation of Paul’s big point that he made in 31: “if God is for us, who can be against us?” Verse 32 showed us that God will supply us with “all things”; because God was willing to give up His Son, we know that He would never withhold any good gift from us. Now, sometimes it feels like He does, but that is why we must constantly remember the Cross – we know that God always gives us good things because He didn’t spare us His Son! He loves us SO much that He will trade in the life of His Son to have us – so we know He will take care of us. If I spend a million dollars on the present, you think I’m gonna skimp on the wrapping paper? That’s Paul’s logic in 32, if God was willing to give us Christ, how will He not also with Christ graciously give us all things?
But in verses 33-34, Paul looks at another angle of knowing that “God is for us”. He is anticipating the objection that every human heart feels when they hear such outlandish, over the top, shoot the moon kind of promises like 8:28 or “If God is for us who can be against us?” There are two equal errors that can shipwreck our faith when we hear these kinds of promises: either we think we deserve it, or we think there is no way we could deserve it. Either we think that kind of promise is owed to us, or we think there is nothing we could do to earn it. And our passage is going to meet both of those errors head on.
First, for those who assume that these promises of God are owed to you. Maybe it comes out of growing up in the Church, you have heard these promises so many times that you have just sort of assumed them. Maybe you are very proud of the kind of life you live, or the amount of faith you have, and the ways that you keep yourself pure from the rest of the world; God is probably glad to have you on His team because you are so useful. Well, let’s look at the passage, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that who was raised…”
Notice the emphasis in both passages is on Jesus, and not on a person? Paul doesn’t ask “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? They are so good, nobody can find any fault in them.” No, it says “It is God who justifies.” Paul drives that point even deeper by showing us the essence of justification: “Jesus died”. Salvation is the work of God, not the work of us. You ever hear that Alan Jackson country song, “Where I Come From”? In it he talks about how everyone in the South is “working hard to get to heaven”. That is the heart of the person who feels like he can make God owe him blessings – you work hard, put in the time, and get your reward. But you see, that makes salvation a paycheck, not a gift.
And maybe you are saying, “I don’t think like that, Marc. I know salvation is a gift.” And maybe you do know that, but you are functionally living as if it is up to you to justify yourself. Justifying ourselves is when we sense inadequacy in us, a lack of measuring up, and we try and earn our value by something we do. So maybe that is being remarkably diligent with attending church and reading your Bible, or maybe you try and justify yourself by being the smartest person in the room, or maybe by exaggerating your greatest stories – you can turn towards anything and it become a tool in your hand to earn your worth. I was walking by a street the other day when a guy in an old muscle car revved his engine at a stop light, and peeled out down Jeffers, racing no one, impressing no one, and looking like a doofus to everyone. And the thought struck me, “He’s just trying to justify himself.” He is just trying to do something to help pick up his sagging sense of self, and feel like he has value. Now, wanting to be a better person and be impressive are not inherently bad things, not at all – but when they become your main thing, the source of your joy and identity, then you know that are trying to justify yourself.
Here is the Gospel: You and I are sinners, which means that we fundamentally live for ourselves, and that even in our pursuits of “working hard to get to heaven”, really were just all about us – and therefore, were just more sin. All our efforts to climb the ladder up to God, only put us deeper in the debt of our sin. The only thing that could wash us clean of our sins was for Jesus to come and take all of our debt on His shoulders, and pay for it at the cross; you are so sinful, that Jesus had to die for the Father to forgive you. If you believe that, that assumption that you have the God “owes you” blessings will fall off of you like a rotten slug. You will be humbled.
Here is a good question to diagnose your heart today: Do I believe that my value and worth is earned, or given?
Okay, that’s for the first group of you. Secondly, for those who struggle with the opposite error, who feel like there is no way that God could ever make that kind of promise to you, because you don’t deserve it. You look at your life, you look at what you have done, and what has been done to you; you look at the mistakes, and fake promises and commitments you have broken, and say, “There is no way God could be pleased with me, there is no way He would want me – there must be some catch.” Well, what does the text say, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died…” Paul is using rhetorical questions here, which means that the answer is so obvious that he doesn’t need to provide it; this means that when Paul asks who is to condemn, the answer is NO ONE! We saw earlier in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
If we saw in the previous group of proud people who thought they have earned their standing with God, then it might be tempting to think that this group of people is the exact opposite – they think that they don’t earn their standing with God. Actually, these two groups are just two sides of the same coin; those who despair believe that they earn their standing with God by good works just as deeply as those who gloat. The difference between the two is that one set performs really well, and the other set doesn’t. The first are the winners, and the second are the losers. For me personally, I tend to fluctuate back and forth between both extremes – but if I can be honest, most of the time I naturally gravitate towards feeling like a loser, feeling like I don’t deserve God’s love or blessing.
But when Paul says that there is nobody who can bring any charges against God’s elect, that peaks my interest, mainly because I know that I have a whole lot of reasons why people could bring charges against me. Paul is purposely making this sound like a court; making it seem like the Father is the Judge, and we are on trial. The courtroom is actually a really good illustration of the Christian experience; Satan is called “The Devil” which simply means “the Accuser”, and the book of Revelation tells us that all Satan does is accuse Christians, 24/7. And in 1 John 2:1, we see that Jesus is described as our “Advocate”, our representative, like our lawyer. So, let’s go ahead and imagine ourselves, if we can, that we are there in the courtroom of God. And Satan has in his hands a record that has in it every sinful thing we have ever done, every sinful thought we have thought, and ever sinful desire we have ever desired. He is pouring over our record, seeing every flaw, every screw up, every sin, in vivid detail – as he rises he smirks at us, “You’re toast”, and he lays into a full on assault before the Father, giving a thousand reasons why we deserve nothing but condemnation, judgment and to spend an eternity in Hell. And you shrink in terror because you know that he is right – everything he is saying is true, you do deserve Hell. You have sinned so many times; you are full of guilt and shame – you have nothing to say, but to tremble in fear.
But imagine, imagine the incredible relief you would feel to have Jesus stand up, speak with the Father, and to hear him say “NOT GUILTY! You are free!” What remarkable joy would flood through you! That is what Paul means when he says, “Who can bring any charge against God’s elect?” Paul is saying that there is absolutely no one, no human, not even Satan or yourself can make any kind of accusation of your condemnation stick. But how could that be? How can that be possible when we are so full of sin?
Here is the Gospel: In the depths of your sin and guilt, God so loved you that He sent His Son to come down and to absorb all of your guilt and shame and despair over your sin into Himself, so that you would now stand holy and pure in God’s eyes and enjoy Him forever. You see, the Gospel says that you are so sinful that Jesus had to come and die for you, but it also says that you are so loved that Jesus wanted to come and die for you. That humbles you, but without making you despair and slip into self-hatred. But that also makes you confident, but without making you cocky and arrogant. When you believe this, you become a humble-confident kind of person.
If you feel that there is no way God would accept you, then look to Christ. If you feel like God owes you, then look to Christ.
Lastly, how do we know all of this is really true for us? Well the verse ends with, “- more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Paul tells us that while Jesus’ coming and dying for us is wonderful, what is even more important is that Jesus rose from the grave. This Sunday we will be celebrating the fact that 2,000 years ago Jesus resurrected from the grave and defeated death. The New Testament claims that the resurrection is the one thing that we as Christians are to hope in most. Here is why: Jesus’ resurrection proved that He is who He said He is, and His work was completely finished. Paul at one point says that if the resurrection turns out to be false, then we all should abandon Christianity. You see, it is not just the fact that Jesus died, but ultimately that He was God and lived a perfect life, the life that we are supposed to live, but none of us have. And because Jesus lived a totally perfect life, then that means that death had no hold on him – so when Jesus died at the cross, he wasn’t dying for His sins, but for ours. So when Jesus resurrects it tells us that 1)God the Father accepted His sacrifice and the work of salvation is truly “finished” and 2) That Jesus really did live a sinless, perfect life, because He was God.
If you go to a store and purchase something, and for some reason are stopped by security as you are walking out, as long as you show them the receipt for what you have in the bag, you are free to go. Why? Because the receipt is proof that your merchandise was paid for – that is what the resurrection is like. It is the proof that the Gospel is true for us. Because Christ is risen, we can sing with confidence the old hymn,
“When Satan tempts me to despair,
and tells me of my guilt within,
upward I look and see Him there,
who made an end of all my sin,
Because a sinless savior died,
my sinful soul is counted free,
for God the just is satisfied,
to look on Him and pardon me.”
And when you believe that, you will truly believe that God is for you, and therefore, no one can be against you.