Two or three years ago, when our denomination focused on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans for the annual Mid-Winter Bible Study, I taught the book in several places and wrote a number of practical articles which are posted on our website.
The thing about this being Holy Scripture however–and not just the writings of one apostle to a church–is that it continues to yield insights long after one thinks he has plumbed its depths. One of the traits of God’s Word is that it has no bottom, no place where one arrives and decides “that’s all there is.”
This book, your Bible, is unlike all the other books on your shelves. It’s a rare novel that you take down and reread for the fourth or fifth time, finding insights which you missed the other times. With most books, you read them once and you’re through. But, one could spend a full year on any one book of the Bible and never exhaust its riches.
It’s that deep, that multifaceted, that rich.
If the Epistle of Romans is like a gold mine–and it is–then chapter 8 of Romans is like a mother lode, a rich vein, in that mine. You can find nuggets laying on the ground which require no effort from you except to recognize them and gather them in and put them to work in your world. Romans 8 is strewn with nuggets.
But there are also deeper riches in this rich chapter which yield themselves only to those who spend time there, dig down deeply, study quietly and widely and thoughtfully, and who wait for the revelations from the Lord, who after all is the true Author of the piece. Some truths are so profound and so well-camouflaged they give themselves only to those who meditate and wait patiently at the feet of the Master Teacher.
Consider, based on Romans 8, the following outline: What God Does For Us We Cannot Do For Ourselves.
1. What the Law could not do for us, God did: He sent His Son.
“What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did–sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).
God sent His Son. This speaks of the incarnation.
What a statement. What an event. What a universe-rearranging moment when God sent His Son.
“When the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons….” (Galatians 4:4-5).’
By now you’ve noticed that Scripture beggars all human language in the attempt to tell who Jesus is, why He came, and what He accomplished.
In Romans 8:32, Paul drew this conclusion for us: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all–how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?”
He has given us the best Heaven had; why should He hold back anything else?
2. What the flesh can not do, the Spirit does: gives life.
“And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who indwells you” (Romans 8:10-11).
He gives life. This speaks of eternal, spiritual life.
This supernatural life is available nowhere else but from the One who originally breathed the breath of life into the first man (Genesis 2:7). Try as you may, you cannot achieve it on your own. This is why we read: “…who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
Eternal life is a gift of God by the Spirit through Jesus Christ. It is not a do-it-yourself project. (No church may erect a Home-Depot-like sign out front announcing: “Salvation: you can do it; we can help.”)
It’s a gift. (See Romans 6:23b.)
Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
The Lord dramatized this message on another occasion: “The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25).
All around you are found the walking dead. Those who hear the call of Jesus may come to life. When He awakens them to eternal life, Zombie-land is forever a thing of the past.
Salvation puts us in Jesus. “If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation” (II Corinthians 5:17). “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
3. What our spirit cannot do, God’s Spirit does: bears witness.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).
We are His children. This speaks of our identity in Christ.
How do I know that I am his? His Spirit assures me in my heart. Otherwise, I would have not believed it, finding it far too grand a truth, too high a concept for this poor man to attain. As the Psalmist said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it” (Ps. 139:6).
So, He does it. He saves me, then assures me I’m saved. How good is that?
Some will tell say that claiming to know God is presumptuous, that only the self-deluded know for a certainty that they are saved and Heaven-bound. Scripture sasy otherwise. The Apostle John saturated his entire first epistle with assurances that “we know.” (See I John 2:3,13,14,18,20,21,29. And that’s just one chapter!) Not only do we know, but John says, “We know that we know!” (2:3)
A born-again believer who constantly fears he is not saved or is uncertain of his status in Christ is not exhibiting humility but unbelief. He is not being carefully cautious but while ignoring the plain teachings of Scripture he is refusing to claim his right as a blood-washed child of the King.
4. What the best efforts of man cannot do, the Spirit does: helps us pray.
“And in the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
He helps us in our weakness. This is about our service.
You cannot read that statement without your mind going to II Corinthians 12 where Paul confesses to a weakness–a thorn in the flesh–about which he prayed again and again. Finally, the Lord said to Him, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” So, rather than deny his weakness, Paul embraced it. He said, “I will even boast about my weaknesses in order that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
God knows we are weak. “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). When we fail, the only one not surprised is the Lord. He knew He was getting no bargain when He took us in. But, not to fear. After all, He came prepared.
We do not know how to pray as we ought.
I’m glad the Lord put that in the Word. I knew it and you knew it, but we did not know that the Apostle Paul thought it about himself or that God in Heaven accepted it as how things are.
So, the Holy Spirit prays for us. And we go right on praying ourselves, weak though we are, pitiful though our efforts be.
5. What no man can do, God does: brings good out of bad.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28).
He causes all things to work together for good to the faithful. This is about His sovereignty.
The faithful do not despair when “things get worse.” (That line–things get worse–a famous novelist posted above her computer to guide her in plotting her stories.) We who are fallen creatures live in a fallen world. It makes sense that bad things will happen. In this world, there are storms and disease, crime and ignorance, failure and wars.
God is able to bring together all these dire events–a house fire, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a sickness, a betrayal, a divorce–and work them out for good in the lives of those who look to Him in faith and give these conditions to Him.
He is sovereign–Lord of all–and nothing is beyond Him. Only our myopia prevents us from seeing that He is always nearby, ever on the job, and constantly at work pulling divergent strands together to form an unbreakable cable of His will and His glory.
Let us pray that we may trust Him in our failures and heartaches, our losses and our grief, knowing that He can take the worst of it all and turn it into the greatest of blessings.
6. What nothing on earth can do: separate us from the love of Christ.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For thy sake we were being put to death all day long; we were counted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
This is about His enduring care for us.
We pitiful creatures have used every one of those forces–tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, etc–as excuses for believing that God has abandoned us. “Oh, where is God?” we say when we lose a job, lose our health, lose our marriage, or lose a friend.
Paul says we are “more than conquerors.” The Greek word used here is hypernike, a compound of “hyper” meaning “over” or “super,” and “nike,” the Greek word for victory. We are hyper-conquerors in Jesus.
Therefore, we go forth into the rest of life and all that lies beyond it in the full knowledge that nothing in all creation can come between us and the love of God which we have found in Jesus Christ.
Now, if we could just get a glimpse of what it means to be loved by Jesus!
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If I were to preach this message….
1) I would not quote all the scriptures we’ve posted here. There is such a thing as overloading your congregation.
Better to use a handful of texts which they can grasp and take home with them than to throw twenty scriptural references at them so you can say you have covered the subject.
2) On the other hand, if we were in a classroom setting where people are taking notes and time not an issue, I’d include the references we’ve posted here as well as any others that might come to mind.
3) I would prayerfully consider combining some of the points and preaching fewer than six. Generally speaking, six points for a 25 minute sermon is just too many for people to grasp. (Which raises the question: Why did I do six points? With a blog, there is no time pressure and space is basically unlimited. So I write as it comes to me and stop either when I’ve covered the subject or run out of things to say.)
4) What if my attempts to combine the six points into, say, three points leaves some of the material in Romans 8 unaddressed and uncovered? It is not necessary for a sermon to cover all the riches the minister finds in a passage. Once you realize that and free yourself from the burden of full-coverage, you find a liberty in study and more joy in preaching. Your congregation will be delighted when they realize your sermons are more accessible, more understandable, and more transferable.