Romans 8:31 “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
If you burst in excitedly on your family and friends, your face shining, breathing rapidly, and tell them some wonderful news, then you’re expecting an enthusiastic response. But if they remain po-faced, unmoved by your joy, then you feel as flat as a pancake. What a put-down! They might grudgingly nod to show they’ve heard you, and even mumble a few words, and then quickly return to reading the paper or watching a cookery programme on TV. They are telling you they’re unimpressed by your enthusiasm. They might well be opposed to the news you’ve brought them. Some people became Christians and then they shared that information with their friends and family. They expected interest, inquiry and maybe debate. What they received was apathy and indifference. Mum said, “Very nice . . . now what do you want for supper?” Dad gave a grunt and hardly looked up from the paper. They weren’t happy. They didn’t welcome the news that their son had become a Christian. In fact they were quite opposed to this development, and they hoped that you’d quickly get through this religious phase with as little harm done as possible. The Christian was hoping for a better response. The apostle here in our text, is pressing for a response to what he had told the Roman Christians.
1. GOD HAS BEEN SPEAKING TO US.
Paul raises the question, “What, them shall we say in response to this?” Now a true preacher is obsessed with two things, firstly that he should preach clearly. This was also Paul’s concern. He asks the Colossians to pray about his preaching and this is what he asked. He said to them, “Pray for us . . . that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains,” and then he adds this request, “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Cols 4:3&4). “I want to preach it in an attractive, and lucid, and clear manner so that my audiences will understand and be gripped by it. Can you pray for me that I would do that?” But then he has another concern, and that is that there would be a proper response to this clear message. Have they understood what we’re saying and how do they react? Again we have learned from Paul to be looking out for a response. Even in this letter he asks them the question that’s in our text – “What shall we say to this?” – four or five times; for example, in the opening words of the fourth chapter, “What then shall we say?” Then again in the opening words of the sixth chapter, “What shall we say, then?” And again in that same chapter and verse 15, “What then?” And again here, the longest of these questions to his readers; “What, then, shall we say in response to this?” (v.31). And he’s going to say it again in the next chapter and verse 14, “What then shall we say?” It is not good enough to be sitting and hearing God’s word while it runs through our minds and then it is all over and we can go hom! Have we realized the revolutionary implications for our thinking and living of what we’ve been hearing? What conclusions have we to draw from this part of God’s Word? What are the practical inferences for life on Monday morning? Peter preached at Pentecost and he blew their minds away. The audience understood all too clearly the implications what they’d just heard. They had crucified the Son of God, and now they were facing an open-ended encounter with God his Father. We are told that they were cut to the heart. We know what they actually said, for they turned to the Christians and cried out to them, “What then shall we do?” Peter told them, “You’ve got to repent for what you’ve done, and be baptized.”
Is that your spirit, when you come to church? You want to know of things you’ve got to do. You want to change for the better. You want to consider the consequences for your life of what you’ve been listening to from God’s Word? Some of you, I fear, are listening to preaching the way I collect coins and stamps: casually. I take whatever comes. If a letter from a foreign country arrives, Iola cuts off the stamp, throws it into an envelope and promptly forgets about it. I do the same with coins from overseas trips: whatever remains in my pocket after an overseas trip goes into a plastic bag which is on the top of a row of books in the study gathering dust. Why? Because I’ve only got a superficial interest in coins and stamps. Perhaps someday, I tell myself, if I ever get the time, I’ll start collecting stamps again and stick them in the schoolboy album that I still have. Or, possibly, one of my grandchildren will take up the hobby, and I’ll have something to help him get started. But some of you are doing the same thing with God’s truth.
God doesn’t want a superficial, casual concern. He wants you to become the kind of dedicated, knowledgeable collector of truth, understanding it for its usefulness in life and ministry. Serious stamp collecting is hard work! You have to give thought, time and effort to the project. You have to check on what is valuable and keep it, and discard what is worthless. Listening to sermons properly is solid work; it takes dedication, searching for missing elements in the fabric of truth. Superficial hearers know little of this.
Men and women, would you say that you devote as much time to understanding truth and its implications for life as you do to one of your hobbies? If you are willing to spend more time learning how to play golf, there’s something radically wrong with your priorities. But it may be that you don’t even spend time with hobbies or sports. You’re just lazy. Face it. God says to wake up and get to work! He wants no Christian to be lazy about his faith. While he requires no one to be an enthusiastic stamp collector, or a fisherman, or a golfer God does require all Christians to enthusiastically work at their faith. Enthusiasm isn’t enough, however. That soon wears thin. The superficial hearer often gets all excited about what he hears – until he discovers that he must commit himself, and discipline himself in pursuit of righteousness, and expend time and energy to running the race. You must come here to listen and to ask yourself some questions like these, “Where does God want me to change in my beliefs and in my activities? How must I bring about this change? What is the first stage? Where and when must I begin?
Now Paul has been telling the Christians in Rome some extraordinary truths about the status and experience of the mere Christian, for example, that from the very moment an unbeliever ends his estrangement from God and begins to follow Jesus Christ then God gives him the Holy Spirit who ever lives to intercede mysteriously and persistently for him. God also begins
to works all things together for his good. The apostle then goes on to say that the Lord also wraps as it were a golden chain from heaven around him (which no power on earth can sever), and joins him to God for ever and ever.
Well, what shall we say in response to this? You must say something because this God claims to be your God. What are you going to reply to what I have been telling you? The God who created this world also created you. He keeps you alive and blesses you with all the greatest gifts that you enjoy – health, long life, friends, peace, family and prosperity. How do you respond to what God has done and what he continues to do for you? He tells you that you are a sinner and that he will judge and condemn you if you don’t turn in repentance and start to trust and obey him. If you just say curtly, “I did things my way” then you are saying no to God. How do you respond to God? There has to be a response. Your indifference and apathy and refusal to get excited is one massive negative reaction, isn’t it? These verses have been telling us that all men are either saved or lost, that there is a line that he traces going through this entire congregation and it divides us all into one of two categories, on the one side are believers in Jesus Christ and on the other side unbelievers. You are on one side of the line or the other, the saved or the lost. Where are you? What do you say in response to this diagnosis?
Jesus stood before his friends one day and asked them what were men saying about him, and after they had passed on some of men’s responses then he looked them in the face and said to them, “Who do you say that I am?” He asked, “What is your response to all the things you have seen and heard over these last years with me? You have heard the Sermon on the Mount. You have seen my life, how I respond to temptation and provocation and opposition. You have seen my great signs and wonders. The wind and waves obey my commands. I have fed five thousand men, filling all their bellies till they could eat no more from a mere five loaves and two fishes. I multiplied them and fed a huge crowd. I have healed a man born blind, cleansed many of the curse of leprosy; I have raised the dead; I have delivered people from demons – you remember the chained, naked man in Gadara? No one has come to us sick whom I have failed to restore to good health, even those in advanced stages of paralysis and heart disease and cancer. You have sat in the Upper Room and heard what I am going to do in the future. I am going to prepare a place for you in heaven, and will send the Holy Spirit into your lives. You have heard my great claims, that I am the way the truth and the life. That I am the only way to God, that I existed before Abraham, that I will judge all men and women one day, that I and God are one. Who do you say that I am? You have to respond. I am claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of David, that I will give rest to those who come to me. How do you respond to all this?
Do you say, “Huh! Jesus Christ is a holy fool, a nut case, round the bend, seriously deranged,” and you see yourself as the most sane and balanced person in the world? Who do you say Jesus is? That he is a very evil man? Perhaps the most evil man the world has known, making these claims to be the incarnate God, frightening us with threats of hell or offering to save us from it, disturbing us with his lying falsehoods? Who do you say that Jesus is? You must make a decision. “What, then, shall we say in response to this . . .” Jesus? This message? This gospel? This extraordinary person whose writings are there before you in the New Testament? He existed, and he did these things, and he said those words, and he rose from the dead on the third day and we know that he has vitally changed the lives of a hundred of us who meet in this building each Sunday. We want you to know that we would be utterly different people if we believed that he was a crook or that he was crazy. Do we seem to you to be inadequate, pathetic personalities hanging on to a religious zimmer called ‘Jesus’ in order to stroll through life, while you have wonderful inner joy and peace, walking tall, knowing yourself, and facing certain death with hope and confidence? Is that how it is? Be honest. There is no point in lying. Who are you fooling? “What, then, shall we say in response to this?” The Lord Jesus once told a moral man that he must be born again, and he is telling you that you too must be born again. “What, then, shall we say in response to this . . .”
You might say, “Most people going to church are hypocrites.” I don’t know most people going to church, but I know you. What is your verdict on Jesus – not on his followers. What is he? A crook, a psychotic, a fanatic, a hypocrite? You say, “Well I just can’t see it,” Of course you can’t until you are born again. God says, “If our gospel is hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3&4). How can a blind man see anything? You must be born again to see. You say, “Well, it is foolishness to me.” Of course it is, “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness . . .” (I Cor. 1:18) and it will continue to be so until you are born again. You say, “Well, it just isn’t reasonable to me,” but Paul goes on to say, “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Cor. 1:19&20). Your predicament is so bad that only a new birth from heaven itself – only a miracle – can help you. There is no hope for you without it. Cry mightily to God to give you a birth from above. What do you say in response to these things? That you are right, and Jesus and the New Testament and all of us are wrong? You protest that we are the ones who are claiming to be right. No, no, we are claiming that Jesus is right and holy and good in everything. We are not like that; we are sinners, but we are pointing to Christ. We are trusting in him. We are saying that he is truth, that there is nothing false or evil in him at all. By him we judge everything else. By him we judge that your unbelieving response is inadequate. Look again at Jesus? Read the New Testament again. Come and listen to me preach again. Buy some helpful books from the Christian Book Shop again. God has been speaking to you. Have you been taking his word seriously? If you don’t take God seriously I fear you won’t take other things seriously, marriage, women, children, your work, your futures. And that is a fearful life. Now let us go on and ask what then is Paul’s response to these great things?
- GOD IS FOR US.
Paul says, “If God be for us.” Some of you take it for granted that God is for you, he always has been and he always will be. A friend of mine recently organized an evangelistic mission in his church and he’d been recommended a former international rugby player to be one of the speakers. The man was disappointing. He wa
s vague and confused in some of the basic things he believed when he needed to be clear. My friend asked him how he’d become a Christian, and he replied that he had always been a Christian. He was taking it for granted that God was for him. People have often made that mistake. The children of Israel went to a city called Ai to capture it and they got a bloody nose and limped away! They took it for granted that Jehovah was bound to be for them, and they’d defeat Ai as easily as they had defeated Jericho but God wasn’t for them because of fundamental defiance by one of their leading men named Achan. Again, the prophet Jeremiah preached to the Jews and warned them that because of their love for false gods they were going to go into exile. “What nonsense! God was for them.” Alas, he wasn’t, Jeremiah was right, and into Babylonian exile they went. Again, Jesus noticed a Pharisee in the Temple praying aloud standing up so that everyone could hear him. He was sure that God was for him, but he wasn’t. It was the repentant tax-collector whom God was for.
Paul says to the Roman congregation, “If God be for us . . .” not to stir up ghosts of doubt so that they all walked out of church that Sunday after hearing this letter read to them beating their breasts and saying, “What if God isn’t for us?” No! Paul took that word ‘if’ as a word of settled conviction. It was a foregone conclusion. The word ‘if’ in these circumstances is the strongest testimony to the fact that God was for them. A wife tells her devoted husband that she discovers that she is pregnant with an eighth child. “Can we support another baby?” he says half smiling. “If you love me,” she says, “I reckon we can.” That ‘if’ is the ‘if’ of deepest assurance and persuasion.
Since God is for us all is different. That’s Paul’s response to everything that God has done, to all the proofs of his love that he has taken us through in this chapter so far. He was for us before the world was made. He was for us before we existed. He was for us when we were against him. He was for us when no one shouted their support for Christ while he hung on a cross. He was for us when Jesus lay in the tomb dead. He was for us when the Lord rose from the dead. He is for us at this very moment because he lives to intercede for us.
So, God is for us. Isn’t that the most wonderful news any of you could hear? God is, and God is for us! Won’t we dance for joy at hearing this? Children, isn’t this so encouraging for you that God is for you who’ve put your trust in him? He is right behind you all the way. When you go to a new school or a new job or when there is trouble at home then you can guarantee one thing, that God is for you. He is not a nasty God spoiling your life but he puts broken lives back together.
Do you all have this God whom you know is for you? If you think of God as being the trees and the sea and the sky then all you have is a god above you. If you think of God as someone in the background who is always there working away quietly in your life then he is a god beyond you. If you think of God as the god of the Ten Commandments and the law then he is god against you. But the God of the Bible is the God who is in Christ, the God of grace and he is for us. Who is a pardoning God like him? Who has such free grace as he does? “This God is our God for ever and ever” (Ps. 48:14). There are no limits to which he’ll go for us. He will go as far as the east is from the west to save us and keep us.
Paul tells us in Romans chapter eight that God has done everything for us who trust in Jesus. He knew all about us, all the worst bits, but he still loved us, right in the beginning before we started loving him or knowing anything about him. He has planned beforehand our final destination, all our sin will be taken away and we will be like Jesus and with him for ever. He has pre-destined us to that. He called us to him; he has justified us and glorified us. God is for us. The Creator of the Universe is for us. The God who makes the sun rise and sends the gentle rain, who heals our diseases, who gives us wonderful mummies and daddies, he is for us, not just for perfect boys and girls, but for all of us who trust in him.
There was a believer in God in the Old Testament named Jacob and when he was young he wasn’t a very good man, he lied and he cheated, and he stole, and he actually knew God when he was behaving like that – and we are just can be that. He wasn’t much of a Christian was he? He was a bit of a worm. Do you know that God was for him too! Do you know what God said to him? “Fear not, you worm Jacob . . . I will help you.” He didn’t help him to sin; he had to repent of his sin, but because he sinned God didn’t say, “That’s enough. Good bye!” God was still for him and helped him out of the mess he’d made.
These next weeks the Olympic Games are on in London and in a number of the events two people take part together. Two people row a boat, or two people play handball, two people play together badminton or tennis, and then each one must be as strong and fast and have as much accuracy and endurance as the other. Each one has to be for the other, trusting and supporting the other! What a team! But now look at this team. One is God and the other is a worm! What a partnership, set up by God. What different contributions each makes. Jacob puts in his weakness, and God puts in his strength. Jacob puts in his sin and God puts in pardoning grace. Jacob can contribute nothing and God contributes everything. God and the worm. An unbeatable combination. Certain gold-medal winners. Anyone with God on his side is a winner. “I am for you, Jacob,” says God; “I will help you.” And God is for us when we trust in him. He is for me in my work, for you in school, for Mum running the home, for Dad in his job.
God is not just the Creator of this universe, he is also really close to us. I read a horrible story in the newspaper this week of a young man who had walked up to a student he’d never met before and shot him in the head, dead. That wicked man was incensed because he’d split up with the woman he lived with who was the mother of his child. Today he is in prison and will be there for decades. He is a father of that little boy, but he will never be father to that boy. I don’t think the boy’s mother will ever want him to be a father to her son. But many of you have had very different fathers, and they gave themselves to you. They were for your mothers nurturing and cherishing and training you. They were there for you in free moments. They entered into your hobbies, fishing and cycling and mountain climbing. They participated in your interests. You never asked Dad a question without him trying to answer your query. He trained you, and he led you, and he encouraged you year after year. He was not just a father of you, he was a father to you. The Bible tells us, “The Lord of hosts is the God of Israel, even a God to Israel” (I Chron. 17:24). This is the picture that our God wants us to have of him, that he is for us, that he is God to us, and if God be for us then we are not going to worry too much about the bully
in school, or the boss in work, or the temptress, or the threat of redundancy. The God who owns all the cattle and sheep and the IT companies in Wales is our Father and he is for us.
God is for us in the preachers of the gospel whom he gifts and sends to us. He speaks to us through them. God is for us in the leaders of gospel churches. God is for us in the simplicity of New Testament worship. God is for us in the graciousness and fruitfulness of the other Christians who surround us. God is for us in all the ways they counsel and help us. God is for us in the way he never gets tired of us but is full of interest in us day by day. God is for us in the times he wakes us up and warms our hearts and restores our souls, when he gives us better than good days, and sends us times of refreshing from his presence with us. He is always for us in his own time, in his own manner, on his own terms, by his own conditions. God is for us. There is the eternal, covenantal commitment of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to his truth and for his people.
- WHO CAN BE AGAINST US?
Hearing that question Paul’s listeners would look at one another and they could say, “Well, just for starters, Nero is against us. The Emperor is against Christ’s people.” And ever since Pontius Pilate and the Roman Emperors there have been many in high places against Christians. We know the history of the world. They have harassed Christians and persecuted them and crucified them and burned them and sawed them in two. They have mocked them and scorned them, and today they heavily sigh in their irony saying, “Of course we can’t go back to Christianity.” But let’s remember that being against Christianity has nothing to do with science or sophistication; it has nothing whatsoever to do with that, this opposition to Jesus Christ and his gospel. It has nothing to do with being modern and contemporary. The roots of the opposition lie deep in fallen human nature, and a determined refusal to be born again.
There are people who say today, “not many of the rulers go after him,” and it’s true that not many great men are for our Jesus, not many public figures, not many people in the media, not many TV personalities, not many Olympic sportsmen. It’s true. And there are teenagers who judge a movement by such criteria, that no cool people are Christians. They are in fact against Christ. You take all the famous figures who’ve formed the mind of this poor calamitous 20th century, that tragic and bloody century, whose sporting events have to be guarded by platoons of heavily armed soldiers and helicopters and gunships. You find many of its leaders standing united in virulent opposition to God and to his Christ. You see Dawkins and Hawkings and Hitchens, and we all acknowledge that those atheistic writers are intellectually brilliant writers, and they have helped make western civilization what it is today, and before them men like Darwin and Marx and Freud – they were giants; they were absolute supremos. Their habits of mind have been absorbed by the entire younger generation and their principles have been accepted both deliberately and quite unconsciously. People are so impressed with them. They have even put Charles Darwin’s picture on a ten pound note. This is where the scholars stand, and this is largely where the BBC stands, and the newspapers and the publishing houses. This is where the leaders of the arts and sciences stand. This is where the big personalities are, as are their lieutenants, and all the party members, they are fully paid up. They are all against the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And yet Paul says here, “Who is against us?” because the living God is so real to him. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are glorious in their holiness and fearful in their power and majesty, as terrible as an army with banner, and when he asks who is against us he looks at the army of pipsqueaks, and midgets, and ants who are shaking their fists at this supremely glorious God as they huff and puff their indignation against him. “These are the ones who’re against us,” Paul says, “Who are they? What are they?” Satan is against us, yes, he would devour us, but he walks about in chains. When Abram was sent out from his home to a land hundreds of miles away that he’d never visited then God said to him, “Fear not Abram, for I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1). You remember the scene in 2 Kings 6 when the King of Aram is intent on destroying Elisha who is in a town called Dothan. The prophet’s servant Gehazi gets up one morning and looks out and what sight meets him? “When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. ‘Oh, my lord, what shall we do?’ the servant asked. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes so that he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17). God was for Elisha, protecting and keeping him as he protects and keeps each one of us.
Remember how David begins the 27th psalm; “The LORD is my light and my salvation -whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” That is the great biblical commentary on these words of Paul, “Who is against us?” They will stumble and fall.
The great third century preacher Chrysostom was arrested and brought before the Roman emperor. The emperor threatened him with banishment if he still remained a Christian, but Chrysostom replied, “You cannot, for the world is my Father’s house; you cannot banish me.” “But I will kill you,” said the emperor. “No, but you can’t,” said Chrysostom again; “for my life is hid with Christ in God.” “I’ll take away your treasures.” “No, but you cannot,” was the response; “for, in the first place, I have none that you know of. My treasure is in heaven, and my heart is there.” “But I will drive you away from man, and you shall have no friend left.” “No,” said Chrysostom, “you cannot, for I have a Friend in heaven, from whom you cannot separate me. There is nothing you can do to hurt me.” The old preacher’s heart had taken Romans chapter eight and had made it his own and he knew that God was for him and nothing man could do could spoil his eternity. He was not afraid because the Lord was the strength of his life
29th July 2012 GEOFF THOMAS