Sermon series: Living Beyond Yourself
In football homes, Joe Namath is a household name. His exploits both on and off the field with the New York Jets earned him a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame, and a Super Bowl ring after his underdog Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III. Namath had the gall to "guarantee" a victory in the championship game, and pull it off. Pro football fans have never forgotten the way Namath ran off the field that night, holding up one index finger, silently reminding the world that he'd made the guarantee good.
It's unlikely the Apostle Paul was holding up a single index finger when he finished writing his letter to the Romans, but maybe he could have. After all, what we call Romans Chapter 8 is known today as one of the greatest chapters in all the Bible. If Bible chapters had a "Hall of Fame," you can rest assured that Romans 8 would be enshrined there.
Charles Stanley tells the story of a professor who wanted to teach his students a lesson about grace. There is a great article that illustrates the concept of grace written by Charles Stanley.
"One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace. At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam, and caution the class to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough.
"The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard through out the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, "You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment."
"We sat there stunned," Stanley said. "Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A? Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room.
"When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page.
"Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally.
"One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A."
Romans Chapter 8 is the last line on the test of life. All who read the words here and believe them pass God's test with flying colors. They get an A, so to speak. Some hear about God's holiness, and give up ever trying to make the grade. Some of those spend an entire lifetime angry at the God who desires to give them grace. And of course, a lot of people depend upon morality and good deeds to get them into heaven, and they do their best to work their way into God's approval. Unfortunately, nothing less than a perfect score will do - and only the by God's grace can any of us achieve a perfect score.
Like Charles Stanley's professor, God makes an offer that seems to be too good to be true. But the truth is, it's the only question that ultimately matters. Would you take the grace of God, or reject it?
(Read Romans 8:31-32.)
I. God is for you!
On June 25, 1981, Eugene Lang returned to the elementary school he had attended 53 years earlier. Lang was a successful businessman by that time, a man worth millions, but the neighborhood he'd group up in had changed drastically. East Harlem's children were poor, and the drop-out rate for the community schools were among the highest in the nation. As Lang made the standard, graduation-day speech about working hard, studying, and going to college, he noticed that hardly anyone was paying attention. So that's when he changed his speech.
"This is your first graduation - just the perfect time to dream," he says. "Dream of what you want to be, the kind of life you wish to build. And believe in that dream. Be prepared to work for it. Always remember, each dream is important because it is your dream, it is your future. And it is worth working for."
"You must study," he continues. "You must learn. You must attend junior high school, high school, and then college." The words are empty, no one really believing that these kids will make it. The statistics, the history, argues against his speech. But he continues. "Stay in school and I'll ..." The speaker pauses, and then, as if suddenly inspired, he blurts out: "I will give each of you a college scholarship."
After a second of silence, a wave of emotional cheering and applause and excited conversation rolled over the room. It was the start of an amazing movement that has seen more than 12,000 students attend college with the help of more than 200 additional, generous sponsors.
In that first year of the promise, however, Lang did more than guarantee the money for 61 fidgety sixth-graders. He helped school administrators prepare the students for college, even hiring tutors for the students, giving them the very best chance at making their way to - and through - college.
To say the least, those sixth graders and their families found out that Eugene Lang was for them!
Doesn't it make a difference if you know someone is for you? Get ready for some great good news: God is for you!
The verse says, "If God is for us ..." The Greek word for "if," in this case, doesn't mean that God's being for us is a possibility. Instead, it's a certainty. If the clock at work tells you it's 12:30 p.m.,. you might say, "If I'm going to eat lunch today, I'd better get going." More than likely, that statement isn't about the possibility of lunch - it's about eating lunch! No, this statement isn't about the possibility of God's love for us - it's about the certainty of God's love for each of us.
Take a moment, and savor every word. God is for us!
Your family may have turned their backs on you, your child may have disappointed you, your job may have disappeared into the thin air of layoffs and cutbacks ... but the maker of the mountains is for you. The One who laid the floor of the oceans is for you. The one who scattered the more than 100 billion stars over 100 billion galaxies, in what scientists say is a length of more than 30 million light years with a playful toss of his hand, is for you!
God is for you. Not was, not will be or might be, but is, right now. There is no waiting. There will be no probationary period. There is no small print to wade through. Right now, God is for you. His availability to you is not dependent on whether or not you've been good or bad, he's not some kind of Santa Claus deity checking his list twice, and frowning at what you did last week. No, this God is for you, right now!
God is for you. He's the one racing down the sideline, cheering your touchdown run. He's the one coming to the mound just before you pitch to the best player on the other team, and he's encouraging you, telling you that he knows you can do it ... and when he heads back to the dugout, you really believe you can, because God is for you. He knows your favorite food, your favorite way to spend an afternoon, and He wants to overwhelm you with good things. He is for you!
God is for you. He's got your photograph on His refrigerator. That's your birthday on His calendar. If God has a bumper sticker on some kind of heavenly car, you're the kid who's made the honor roll, you're the kid He's bragging on. From Isaiah 49:16 comes this amazing statement: "I have written your name on my hand!" Your name, your details, your heart.
God is for you!
II. God is for you, despite your failures
The problem we have with Romans 8, and the idea that God is for us, is that we're so familiar with our failures. And so, says the heart, God might be for other people, but I've done too much wrong. I've made too many mistakes, made too many poor choices. I can't really believe that God would be for me - because God knows all about me.
Take heart: The man who wrote the words of Romans 8 also wrote the words of Romans 7. How had he sinned? For starters, he had persecuted the first generation of believers, and had watched Stephen's execution in the shadow of where the cross once stood. Even as Paul became a great church planter, and a writer of letters that would soon make the New Testament, he battled the sinful urges of his own heart.
(Read Romans 7:14-20.)
Warren Buffett is one of the greatest investors in our day. He is also one of the wealthiest men in the world. Buffett is so famous that a special edition of the Monopoly board game features him and his companies. In June 2005, Buffett decided to help raise money for his charitable foundation by offering an online auction for someone to have lunch with him. The winning bid was $351,100 - the price of access.
Do we recognize the value of the wisdom of God's Word, and our access to the eternal God in prayer and worship? Despite our sin, we still have free and open access to God. That is grace!
"eBay Bidder to Pay $351,100 for Buffett Lunch," msnbc.com, accessed 7-02-05
If Satan were a lawyer, he'd have an easy case. "God," says the liar, suddenly telling the truth, "this one has harbored impure thoughts. This one has even acted upon those thoughts. Here are the recorded, verifiable, certified, and notarized cases of gossip, sexual sin, hatred, bitterness, cheating, lying, coveting, self-smugness, laziness, drunkenness ... "
The list goes on. It gets embarrassingly personal, and horribly public in the courtroom of heaven. And we're guilty. We stop the speech, step forward and announce it. "God, I know what I'm supposed to do, but I can't seem to do it. Father, I knew better, and I did wrong. I don't deserve your mercy, your love, your salvation, I don't deserve for you to be for me any longer."
Can I ask you something? What made you think you deserved it in the first place?
God knew about your sin then, and God knows it now. And He is still for us! Roughly 2,000 years ago, Jesus died for every sin you'd commit before you'd accept him as your Savior. He knew in advance how you'd blow it before you became a Christian. And guess what - Jesus was also well aware that you wouldn't achieve perfection after you became a believer, either. Paul never got there - "I haven't achieved it yet. I'm still striving toward the goal," he'd write in Philippians, perhaps his last words.
And so we're sinners. And Satan reminds us of that.
Paul was smart. Instead of listening to Satan's accusations of his own shortcomings, Paul listened once more to the message of Christ. And so he leaves the dark words of Romans 7 to make a startling statement as Chapter 8 begins. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Why? Because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."
Is it any wonder that the early Christians simply referred to the New Testament as "The Good News?"
God is for you, despite all that you've ever done. Have you come face to face with your sin? Great! If you're in the seventh chapter of your own personal letter to the Romans, it's quite possible that the best chapter of your life is right around the corner. If Satan is reminding you, right now, of the sins you've committed, it's possible that he's trying to get you to quit, to give up hope on a God that loves you, a God that is for you. Maybe Satan knows more about your future than you do. Don't quit! God is for you!
III. The cross is proof that God is for us
It is said so quickly: "God did not spare His own Son." The words are too short to do justice for what happened.
You might sum up the sacrifice of another person's lifetime by saying simply: "Her son died in the war."
Mull it over for a moment. "Her son died in the war."
Only six words to sum up the sacrifice of a lifetime? When she first discovered she was to be a mom, she felt the nausea for weeks. She connected with this baby first through the morning sickness. Soon, when the nausea passed, she felt the child kick her in the side. It was common for him to wake her in the middle of the night. Toward the end of the pregnancy, she slept hardly at all. Eventually, she felt the labor pains, and screamed in agony, moments before she saw the most precious sight she'd ever laid eyes on.
She nursed this baby boy, she gave up sleep for this boy, she held this fragile infant. She changed the diapers, washed the diapers, dried the diapers, folded the diapers. She bounced him through the colic and rocked him through the fevers. She cheered his first steps and wiped away the tears, and the blood, from his first scrape. She provided the discipline, she read the books, she took him to school. She learned as many spelling words as he did, she explained math and history and the mystery of girls.
She watched him grow tall and strong and she provided socks and shoes for every step of the way. She learned the rules of his favorite sport, and the favorite meal for his favorite girl. She read the newspapers with the frightening headlines, she cried when he left for boot camp, she wrote the letters and prayed for miracles, she provided the perfect weekend for that last Thanksgiving together, and she answered the door when the officer came with the news that her baby boy had died in a ditch at the hands of an enemy who didn't give a moment's thought about the man he shot.
And so comes the sentence, "Her son died in the war." Can a six-word sentence really tell the story? No way. So, too, comes the sentence Paul gives us.
"God did not spare His own Son."
Paul uses only seven words to describe the heartbreak of heaven. We read them too quickly, in a matter of a second or two. We must slow down, and realize that there is no way any of us would ever comprehend what it was like for Jesus to take off his robe of light, leave the halls of heaven, and make himself an organism buried in the darkness of a peasant girl's womb, so that one day, after all of the words, after all the teaching, after all the miracles, he could die the most horrible death known to man - so that men might finally know God.
God did not spare His own Son. God is for us. My, how God is for us. The cross is the unspeakable, indescribable proof that God is for you.
IV. Forgiveness is proof that God is for us (8:32)
In October 2005, Moses Bittok celebrated an experience he had waited a lifetime to achieve: He became a U.S. citizen. That alone would have been enough to give the native Kenyan the happiest day of his life, but it was just a prelude.
On the way home from the Des Moines, Iowa, Federal building, Bittok stopped at a gas station to see the winning numbers in the Iowa state "Hot Lotto Game." He was surprised to find out that he had won $1.89 million."It's almost like you adopted a new country and then they netted you $1.8 million," said Bittok. "It doesn't happen anywhere - I guess only in America."
Want to see something really amazing? As soon as a person accepts Christ, he or she is given citizenship in the Kingdom of God, and guaranteed a heavenly reward that would put any riches on earth to shame.
Source: "It Wasn't All Bad," The Week (October 7, 2005), pg. 6; submitted by Kevin A. Miller, Carol Stream, Illinois
From verse 32 comes the promise that God will "graciously give us all things?" Or perhaps it says, "He freely gives us all things." One translation says, "He will lavish upon us all he has to give." Another says, after giving His Son, "is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?"
It's all from one, wonderful Greek word that used only once in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and only a handful of times in the New Testament. From Luke's Gospel, for instance, the same Greek word tells of a day when Jesus "gave sight to many who were blind" (Luke 7:21).
Picture it. Blind people begging for a living. One gives a dollar, another $5. One brings an extra portion of his own lunch so that the blind man can eat. Another brings a book and reads during the afternoon, so that the blind can hear. And then comes Jesus with his gift. SIGHT! "I can see!" screams the blind man, hugging this Jesus he suddenly sees.
A blind beggar would have received little gifts for his entire life - but nothing would have overwhelmed him like the gift of sight! That is a lavish gift.
What would be greater? A gift of a tank of gas, or a gift of a new vehicle? A night in a hotel might be a great gift for the newlywed couple, but what of the gift of the new home, paid for in full? The comparison almost can't be made, but that's the context, that's the depth, of what this verse is trying to share with us.
God doesn't just want to give you a tank of gas, a night out on the town, or a $5 handout. He has such great things in mind for you that he'll overwhelm you with goodness. "He's already given His Son, specifically to die for you, so why wouldn't he then forgive you of your sins?" Paul asks.
Do bad things happen? Sure, but God is for us. Even the worst of times aren't going to separate us from that truth. Do we continue to sin, despite knowing the grace of Romans 8? Yes, I'm afraid we all do, and we pay different prices for the wrongs we commit. But God is for us, anyway.
During the 19th century, Ireland was stricken by a potato famine. During this time, many of the Irish people immigrated to America. A young Irish boy stowed away on an America-bound ship. At seas, the ship struck an iceberg and began to sink. As people scrambled frantically for the lifeboats, the captain supervised the activity and was the last to leave the sinking vessel. When he looked back at the ship, he saw the young stowaway coming out of hiding.
The brave captain ordered his lifeboat back to the sinking ship. He climbed aboard and rescued the boy, putting him in the seat the captain had vacated - the only available place in the lifeboat. As the lifeboat slowly pulled away from the sinking ship, the captain yelled out to the boy, "Son, never forget what has been done for you today!"
Those who've never received the gift need to take action to do so, immediately. Those who've received the gift, and yet forgotten the value of it, must recommit to a life that honors the gift-giver.