The Love Of God
Re-Translated In February 2000
1. This Lord's day falls on the end of the ecclesiastical year according to the church calendar because next week we're in Advent. Also, we have come to the end of one of the major divisions even in The Epistle To The Roman Disciples which we started reading in January. Up to chapter four the topic of "Why are we justified by faith without depending on works?" was mainly dealt with. From chapter five [the biblical writer] discussed "What does it mean to live as a person justified by faith?" In going back over these declarations Paul says, "Well, what should we say about these things?" In the passage of scripture we read today Paul makes clear what the conclusion is to what he has been stating so far.
God Is On My Side1
2. Now, let's read from verse thirty-one to verse thirty-four.
"Well, what should we say about these things?" If God is our ally, who can oppose us? Ought not the One who handed over to death for all of us even his own son without sparing him give to us all things along with his son? Who will accuse those chosen by God? God is the one who makes a person righteous. Who can condemn us in sin? The One who died, no, rather, the one who was raised from the dead, Christ Jesus is seated on the right [hand] of God and intercedes on our behalf," (verses thirty-one through thirty-four).
3. If God is our ally ---. This is not a hypothetical statement that is against the facts. "Because God is our ally" is what he meant to say. Also, as is clear from what we have read so far, the foundation for [God being on our side] is in Christ. We see the basis for this in the event when God once unmistakably manifested his own love historically. It is the event when "he handed to death without sparing even his own son on behalf of all of us."
4. There is an Old Testament story at the background in which Paul uses this word. It is the story of when Abraham offered to God his own son Isaac, (Genesis chapter twenty-two). At that time, Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah, built an altar, and would have slain his son in order to offer him as a burnt offering. But just before that moment God stopped Abraham and said the following: "You have not spared in offering to me even your only son." According to tradition, this Mount Moriah points to Mount Zion, the temple at Jerusalem, (Second Chronicles 3:1). In the same Jerusalem at this time God himself without sparing his only son handed him over to death on our behalf. Based on that truth, Paul said, "God is [our] ally."
5. I am not overemphasizing that the foundation is Christ no matter how much I say it. I say that because we often take our eyes off Christ and try to look for a foundation elsewhere. Will my wish come true or not? Will my troubles be resolved or not? Will my illness be healed or not? If things turn out as we had wished we say "Yes, God is truly on my side," but if things don't go our way, we think "God is against me." However, Paul doesn't say that as he looks at the real world before him.
6. These words, "if God is our ally," remind me of someone. It is Ms. Kaaren Erickson who once sang praises in our humble church and gave her testimony to us. She was a singer at the Metropolitan Opera House [in New York]. But, when she came to our church, it was after she had surgery for cancer. I remember something she said to us. After her surgery she was afraid of a relapse of cancer. She told us that she spoke her feelings to a friend. [Her female friend] said, "We know God is [our] friend. Everything will be just fine." Then, Kaaren told us that she said to her, "Hold it now. If the cancer relapses, you might start saying God is not [on our side], won't you?" --Well, what do [you] think about it? She said the following in this church. "Even if God didn't think that I should survive until a hundred years old, it would not change the fact that God is my friend." Where was she looking? [She wasn't fixing her eyes] on her sickness nor on the healing of it, but she was turning her vision upon Jesus Christ the only son whom God has given.
7. "Ought not the One who handed over to death for all of us even his own son without sparing him give to us all things along with his son?" As is clear from where we have already read, what Paul is looking to and hoping in is the perfection of salvation. He says this while he waits and hopes with conviction for that time when he will inherit the kingdom of God, receive the glory of God, and take part in eternal life. Not obtaining an ultimate and final salvation is the same as not obtaining any at all. But since [he] is participating in the glory of God, [he] will obtain everything. Can we expect anything but the best from the God who gave us his only son? In short, Paul was saying this very thing.
8. But, of course, Paul knew also that the final day was a time of judgment. Already in chapter two, we have seen the following in the text. "Unless you change your hardened heart, you are laying in store for yourself the wrath of God. This wrath will appear on the day of wrath when God carries out his righteous judgment," (2:5). Because God is God, he will judge the world righteously. God will get through to justice. The standard for the righteousness of God is the law of God. It was not given just to the Jews. Even the Gentiles will not be excused from this judgment because the righteous requirements of God have been written on the hearts of the Gentiles, too. Also, Paul says, "This matter will become clear according to the gospel I am revealing on the day God judges the hidden situations of the people through Christ Jesus," (2:16). It is not just the things plain to the human eye, but we will be held accountable for the hidden situations.
9. During this judgment, a voice will arise to accuse us. When it identifies our sin it no doubt will be an accusation which we cannot help but admit that every bit of it is true. We will not be able to refute [the accusations]. Paul may here be thinking of Satan prosecuting [us] at the last judgment. We will be hopeless in trying to defend ourselves whenever Satan, or whoever it is, brings the charges before God the judge of the hidden situations.
10. Paul is not thinking lightly about this last judgment of God but says some more, "Who will bring the charge against those chosen by God? It is God who makes a person righteous." Paul looks again to Christ and says [this]. He looks to the only son who God gave on our behalf. The redemption of our sin was accomplished in him. Therefore, no one but God bestows righteousness on us. The One to judge us, therefore, is the One who bestows righteousness on us, [even] the one and only person who can justify us.
11. Therefore, no one can condemn us in sin. Since God does not condemn us in sin, no one else can do it either. At the right hand of God there is the risen Christ. Christ is on the seat of God's authority. This [same] Christ is interceding on our behalf. The King of kings and the Lord of lords is interceding on behalf of us helpless sinners. He loves us, he gave up his own self, was hung on the cross for us and tasted the agony of death; he is the One [who did this for us]. In the hands of the risen Christ are the marks from the cross, the scars from the nails. Even though he has the glorious figure of the resurrection, on his hands and his side he also has the marks of the suffering of death by the cross. When Christ intercedes for us it means that he intercedes for us with the work that he himself has accomplished. He alone can mediate our sin.
12. This verse is a line from my favorite poem:
I asked Jesus, "How much do you love me?"
Jesus answered, "This much" as He stretched
His arms and died on the cross for me.
14. The one interceding on our behalf is this one [as described in the verse above]. Why [does he intercede for us]? The basis and the reasons for it do not lie with us. He does not love, forgive, or intercede [for us] because we are worth loving. It is an act that comes purely out of God. Therefore, Paul's ultimate conviction is one that says nothing can separate me from God's love.
Nothing Can Separate [Us] From God's Love
15. So then, let's read from verse thirty-five to verse thirty-nine.
"Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Not hardships. Neither pains [or problems]. Nor persecution. Nor famine. Nor nakedness. Nor danger. Nor the sword. 'We are killed all day long for you, we seem like sheep getting slaughtered,' says the scripture. However, in all these things we win a brilliant victory through him who loves us. I have a conviction. Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor that which rules, nor things present, nor things future, nor things with power, nor things in high places, nor things in low places, nor any other creature is able to separate us from the love of God shown in our Lord Christ Jesus," (verses thirty-five through thirty-nine).
17. Hardship, pain, persecution ... these are conditions which humans can put on other humans. Humans surely have the ability to inflict pain [on others]. They have the potential to persecute [others]. They might even be able to kill someone else with the sword. These are believed to be words that probably originated from Paul's own experience. I think he surely must have ultimately received even the sword of a persecutor encroach upon his life. This was nothing surprising for Paul; for, it had already been recorded down in the scriptures. Paul is quoting here from Psalm 44:23. There the pains of a believer are recorded. Indeed, perhaps, if one looks for images of the believer in pain in the scriptures, examples of that would be too numerous to count. Well, we of today may not necessarily be experiencing the same persecutions and hardships as Paul. But, no matter what the situation, don't we after all know it the same whether from the words of scripture or true life that this matter of believing in Christ and being made a child of God never means an exemption from pains and problems?
18. However, Paul still makes the declaration even more that "In all these things we win a brilliant victory through him who loves us." It is not because the hard times have passed and gone. Hardships will continue until the end of [our] days. But, amid those hardships, he cries out (in the Literary Version), "We have gained more than a victory!" Why? Because he knew just one unshakable truth, which was, that no one could separate us from the love of Christ. No matter what there may be, nothing can lead us away to a place the love of Christ does not reach. The song that Kaaren sang in [our] worship service still echoes in my heart:2
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future.
The life is worth living just because He lives.
20. If a person cannot be separated from the love of Christ, he or she will not become an absolute loser. Since [we] cannot be separated from the love of Christ, [we] already have the victory right there [for us].
21. Furthermore, what Paul had in perspective was not just what people can do to others. He shows there is nothing to be afraid of, even [those] powers that go beyond humanity. By "neither angels, nor that which rules" he was clearly pointing to supernatural or spiritual creatures. Also, after that, "neither things present, nor things future" refers to temporality and "neither things in high places, nor things in low places" refers to spatiality. It means no matter when or where. Also, it takes precedence over "death" and "life." In short, this probably means "neither dying nor living can separate [us] from the love of God." What kind of declaration of victory is this? We would love to invite Kaaren again, but that would be impossible. This sister fulfilled her life on this earth August 30, 1997. Did her cancer defeat her? No, not at all. Was she defeated by death? No, not so. Because death could not separate her from the love of God. As Kaaren herself has said, God was her friend to the end of [her] life and even now he still is on her side. Furthermore, the God who loves Paul and loves Kaaren is the God who loves us, too.
22. We cannot be separated from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus by dying, living, or anything we do. Is there more to say than this? Does a person need to know anything more than this? Would you say that there is something that has more meaning for humanity than this? Here is where the salvation of a person joined to Christ [really] is.
1 Translated as "God is on our side, God is for us, God is our ally, God is our friend" and other such variations.
2 She sang in English, but the literal Japanese of our sermon text says,
Because Jesus is, tomorrow I will not be afraid;
Because Jesus is, fear is extinguished;
Because he holds the future,
Life is wonderful, because Jesus is.