. God vs God

God versus God.


One of the most glorious promises in God’s Word is found in Romans 8:31 (ESV) 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

This is another one of those great verses that appears in the promise boxes, and often the first part is not attached, and the promise box will read: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

 

This verse in context is one of the most glorious verses for a believer. Unfortunately, it is used in the same manner people use Philippians 4:13 to imply that with God on MY side I can go into this venture or that venture, enter the stock exchange, or start a business in the wrong economic environment. With God on OUR side, we can win the war, with God on OUR side, our sports team will walk away with the cup, with God on my side, I am invincible.

 

In certain communities, and mostly prosperous Western Communities we see Scripture used as a kind of guarantee for victory. At least you have a 50/50 chance. The question though when you lose is, where did God go wrong, or was the faith of the other team in these verses stronger and therefore at the end of the day it is God competing against God. The story is told that a platoon was led in prayer by their Chaplain during the second world war while in the trenches. He asked God for victory, and then said: “Lord, I am just worried that the enemy might have Christians who are praying as well, so rather stay out of this and we will fight the battle.”

 

It has even become a Tattoo in various formats which people will display somewhere on their bodies.

 

So far in our studies we have seen a few verses that all turn God into a kind of Genie that is on our side as we wish. The way these verses are presented are extremely positive if it only would work like that. You feel guilty for standing up against these people because they seem to have so much confidence in God. You come over as the doubter, or the one who lacks faith.

 

But the sad reality is simply this. As soon as you ignore context, then you have declared faith in the power of positive words and an exaggerated opinion of who you are, because, neither Jeremiah 29:11, or Philippians 4:13 or Romans 8:31 mean what is implied in popular thinking.

 

Let me give you an example. We all should remember the book written by Bruce Wilkerson entitled “The prayer of Jabez”. This book based on a few Bible verses became an international fad and best seller. These verses were posted on Calendars, rulers for kids at schools, coffee mugs, T-Shirts, bumper stickers, fridge magnets etc. He made lots of money by sharing from Scripture what he called the ‘Key to unlocking heaven’s riches.’ The prayer of Jabez is found in 1 Chronicles 4:10 (ESV) 10 Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.”

 

Whoopee, God did what he asked. I will deal with it in a separate article. The issue for today is that this verse and Romans 8:31 are simply used to say the same stuff. Bruce Wilkerson tells the story that he was running late one day and had to catch a plane. Fortunately, he had prayed the prayer of Jabez that morning and guess what? The plane left half an hour late. Besides the fact that Wilkerson totally ripped the Prayer of Jabez out of its context, is this really how God functions? Just think if God was your servant, making planes leave late, opening parking bays for you, controlling the stock exchange on your behalf and interest rates, wouldn’t life be a blast. I have two concerns with his statement - that because he prayed the prayer the plane left half an hour late. What if there was somebody who prayed the prayer that the plane should leave on time? Wow it would be God against God. The real miracle will be a plane leaving early because I prayed. That never happens.

 

Somehow, we have relegated Christianity to shallowness when we refuse to read the surrounding verses. For example. Is there a problem with a sport steam praying before the game and afterwards? It depends on two things. 1. Are they all Christians? And 2. What is the content of their prayer? True children of God should understand that it is futile to pray for victory on the sports field, because again, if your opponent is a Christian, then it is God against God. I know two brothers; the one is into farming and the other into forestry. The farming brother would pray for rain for obvious reasons, but the forestry brother does not want rain, because then they cannot collect the wood from the forest.

 

Is God on the side of political parties? Well, ask Habakkuk. He was looking for a positive Romans 8:31 answer from God for Israel, and what did God do? He caused them to be taken captive by the Babylonians. So, was God not for Israel? Of course, He was. I remember Danie Botha claiming victory for the ACDP a few elections ago since God must be for Christian parties. On the contrary the party became weaker and weaker over the years.

 

I have spent hours reading sermons once again on this section, obviously not in full detail. What broke my heart again is that so many theologians, teachers of God’s Word ignore the context and simply focus on practical stuff that they can contrive from a plain reading of the text. All this seems to be done from memory and then they find a few verses to attach to their thoughts seeking to prove their point. The meaning of the text cannot be understood without keeping the previous writings and especially chapter 8 in mind. And then also to bear in mind that there are three questions being asked in the closing verses, a) Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?” b) Romans 8:33 (ESV) 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? And then c) Romans 8:35 (ESV) 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

 

The joining sentence that is of critical value to understanding these three questions is contained in the first part of verse 31:

 

So, we need to put this verse into context to understand its true meaning. Now, we do not have time to go through all of this in detail. We must however remember that verse 31 is nestled between verse 30 and 32 and they are all nestled between everything that precedes them in chapter 8 and everything that follows in chapter 8, and chapter 8 is nestled between chapters 1 & 16. Now, it is not always true that verses far from our verse in focus are always part of the argument, they might be part of a previous argument which might have ended.  The argument might simply be in the immediate verses, while the verses further away might have a greater bearing on the verses surrounding our key text, and the verses still further away, have a greater bearing on the verses surrounding the verses that are surrounding the verses around our key text. I guess you get the point. So, in reality, we sometimes need to dig very deep to understand the riches of the text before us. The problem for this study series that we are doing at present is that we cannot commit the time and space to do full justice to the text before us. But, friends, a simple reading of the text, rather than reading into the text even in English will give us the context. JUST DON’T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS without doing your homework. The text can be so exciting and even in our excitement we water it down.

 

I am going to deal with the text off by heart so to escape the temptation of doing a full exegesis.

 

Besides the deeper exegetical issues, Romans 8 is all about life in the Spirit now and the eventual glory we will enjoy. It really makes sense of life now, and why we go through suffering. It is all about eternal security, the perseverance of the saints, and our final glorification, and how everything we experience in between makes sense.

 

Our starting point is Romans 8:1 (ESV) 1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

 

Besides the other theological issues in Romans 8, there is a real dynamic in the text that I want to call Ecstasy or delight/happiness and Agony. We will stay with Ecstasy (Not the drug). Too many believers believe that the Christian life is all ecstasy, and that agony does not belong to us.

 

Now verse 1 starts with the word ‘therefore’ and when we see the word ‘therefore’ we need to find out what ‘therefore’ is there for. So, it is linked to the previous sections as I explained earlier. We sadly do not have the time to devote on all that background.

 

So, let’s start with ‘ecstasy’ in verse 1. ‘No condemnation for those in Christ Jesus’. Wow, this is hallelujah stuff.  And there is no condemnation because of the law of the spirit that sets us free. The next few verses will tell us that those who are not in the Spirit but in the flesh cannot enjoy real ecstasy as they are condemned. It concurs with John 3:18 (ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

 

So, those without Christ cannot know real ecstasy, but we can because Romans 8:9 (ESV) says: “9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Hallelujah, again. Ecstasy.

 

But then, amongst other theology (remember we are only focusing on one angle or facet) there is the reality of Agony. Those who according to verse 15 are children of God, those who by His Spirit cry Abba Father, will experience agony. Romans 8:17 (ESV) 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Now look at this. Here is my translation. “and if ecstasy, then ecstasy, ecstasy from God, and ecstasy with Christ, PROVIDED we ‘AGONY WITH HIM’ in order that we may enjoy ‘ecstasy with him’. You get the gist. Bottom line, children of God will go through ‘agony’ no matter what those in the health, wealth and prosperity movement say.

 

Friends that is life. Due to sin coming into this world life has become a strange intermixture of good and bad, of heartache and joy, sin, and righteousness that we oftentimes find very hard to understand. But the glory or ‘ecstasy’ of Christianity is that, whether our hearts are aching or rejoicing, there is no incident or circumstance -- no matter how trivial -- that is without purpose or meaning. God has declared this in Romans 8:28 (ESV) 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Now, we will get back to verse 28, because I have skipped a big chunk now. So, back to verse 17 and we march on to Romans 8:18 (ESV) 18 For I consider that the sufferings (agony) of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory (ecstasy) that is to be revealed to us.” Then Paul gives us a theology of suffering from verse 18-30. A simple summary of this section is this. Why do we suffer? We suffer due to sin coming into the world, because God has in a judicial way subjected the whole of creation to frustration. So, all created things are in entropy. However, God did this ‘in hope’: 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21 (ESV) The hope is that the whole of creation will enjoy the ‘ecstasy’ that the children of God enjoy. Here is a critical issue. Back in verse 16 we are told that the “Spirit of God testifies with our spirit that we are children of God”. Aha, now in verse 18 we see the ecstasy of the children of God. Okay, we are children of God, but there is something more. Romans 8:23 (ESV) says that 23 …not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly (agony) as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons (ecstasy), the redemption of our bodies (ecstasy).

 

In the meantime, from verse 26-27 we see that as we suffer ‘agony’ the Spirit of God helps us in our ‘agony’ and He intercedes for us before the Father with groaning we cannot express, because He knows the will of the Father.

 

And what is the will of the Father? Let’s put it in another way. What is the revealed part of the will of the Father? Here is a major Hallelujah verse in the Bible. And we are back at Romans 8:28 (ESV) 28 And we know that for those who love God all things (even Agony) work together for good (ecstasy), for those who are called according to his purpose.” Christian, God has a purpose. There is purpose in life. What seems to be a meaningless jumble of events in history is not meaningless at all; there is a purpose to every event. Everything is moving to accomplish a desired end, and that end is the subject of this whole letter to the Romans. That is what it is all about: How God works through human history to accomplish his one great and enduring purpose.

 

This is Wow stuff. Now what is the basis for this? Okay, it is great to know that I am not condemned, that I am a child of God, that the Spirit does super stuff in me and for me that I am not even aware of. So, yes – we have agony and ecstasy now, and MAJOR ECSTASY one day in glory. But why? How does this ‘God purpose’ affect me? Here is the answer: Romans 8:29-30 (ESV) 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Now, if you do not believe in the perseverance of the saints, then you need to explain from Scripture how one becomes unjustified and unglorified. If you don’t believe in the perseverance of the saints then you must believe in justification by works, or grace as the reward of choice. Nothing is an accident. If you are a child of God, you are foreknown, you are predestined to be like Jesus, and because of this eternal, predetermined purpose you are called, justified, and glorified. This is Ecstasy to the power 1000000000000000000000000 and ever increasing. It is at this moment that you need to gasp for air. Think of the implications, think of the ramifications. It is WOW, WOW, WOW! Oh, how I wish I had time to stand still and deal with the theological statements made in these verses.

 

So, in spite of agony, all things work together for our good, because we are no accident, but we are part of God’s purpose. Look how Paul summarizes it in Ephesians 3:10 (ESV) 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:21 (ESV) 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

 

Now, if you still do not grasp the WOWNESS of what we have just spoken about, let me just get back to the foreknowledge of God, and then you need to shout Hallelujah otherwise you are missing the point.

 

When you consider the fact that at every birth the chances that you and I should be the one that should emerge from that union are somewhere in the range of one to one or two hundred million. Because of the abundance of sperm to one ovum, doctors tell us that the possibility that any one particular person could be foretold and foreknown is fantastic -- the odds are one to two hundred million for every single birth. So, when you consider that, out of all those possibilities, God has seen that we would be the ones who would come -- and not only us, but all believers of all time, in all ages -- you begin to get some staggering understanding of the mind and the wisdom of God. It is simply mind-blowing to think that God would have the ability to do this.

 

We are impressed by great computers that amass huge numbers of facts and put together amounts of information that none of us as individuals could ever handle. But these computers are nothing! They are children's toys, compared with the greatness of the mind of God, who saw all the fantastic possibilities and yet knew that we would be there. Not only that, but he knew it long before the world was ever called into being! That is the amazing statement of the Scriptures. Before the foundation of the earth, God foreknew that we would be here. Now, I cannot go any further than that. That baffles me, and bewilders me, but, nevertheless, it is fact, and I can simply cry: “WOW, Hallelujah, praise the Lord for His infinite wisdom”. And guess what? According to John 6:65 (ESV) we read: 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Jesus also tells us that none of those that the Father has given Him will be lost. John 6:44 (ESV) 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” You are drawn by God and kept by God, and not by your own will. The will of man that man was created with is under bondage and will always choose wrong, or away from God. Ephesians 4:1-3 is abundantly clear about our nature outside God. We are saved by grace and not by a personal choice and we are kept by grace and not by a personal choice.

 

We will continue next week.

 

Amen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church:- 22 August 2021