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Gaining the victory…the first step on the way to a victory is to recognize the enemy

05 Sep

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About the only time I play golf is when I play with one of my two sons, Eric or Gregory (and it’s been way-y-y-y too long, now that I think about it).

On one occasion, we were walking to the club house just before we were to tee off. Knowing I had not played for some time, Eric offered me a good word of advice: “Dad, until you build up your confidence, why don’t you drive with an iron at first?”

“Eric,” I responded, “I have all the confidence in the world. What I lack is ability.”

1 Corinthians 15:57 (27 kb)Confidence can be a very good thing. It can also be a mill stone around one’s neck. Being confident simply is not enough. The crucial issue is in whom, or in what, is our confidence. Ill-founded confidence is deadly. Well-founded confidence is proper and good.

Paul speaks to such issues when he tells us that we have an “overwhelming victory” available in Christ: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”[1]

The original language of scripture is strong here. This “over-whelming victory” is not something small at all. By comparison, in football it is not willing 10-7 on a late field goal, but being ahead 100-0 at the half! It’s claiming the laurel in the 100-meter dash by 50 meters!

It’s overwhelming! It’s a victory! It’s all possible because of God’s acts toward us!

Just imagine: God is for us! God is not against us!

This statement, “God is for us,” cannot be interpreted or applied apart from His purpose (8:28). God is not “for us” in some nebulous, undefined way. We do not have the promise that God will deal with us in any way that we ask or desire.

The prosperity gospelizers promise a God who is a kind of magic genie, as though we need but inform Him how He can serve us. God is “for us” in a way that produces the “good” He has purposed and prepared for us in eternity past. It is God’s prerogative to define “good,” not ours.

Romans 8 is the Christian’s “Declaration of Freedom,” for in it Paul declares the spiritual freedoms we enjoy because of our union with Jesus Christ.

Although the Bible is a book offering the good news of salvation from sin, it is also a book that presents the bad news of condemnation for sin. No single book or collection of writings on earth proclaims so completely and vividly the totally desperate situation of man apart from God.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul declared, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Because of that sinfulness, all unbelievers are under God’s condemnation and are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).

Sin places men under the power of Satan, the ruler of the present world system (John 12:31). They are under the control of “the prince of the power of the air” and “of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).

But remember: the believer is to be judged for his faithfulness to Christ. He will be judged for how responsible he is—for how well he uses his “spiritual gifts” for Christ—for how diligently he serves Christ in the work of God. The judgment of the believer will take place at the great judgment seat of Christ.

The key to every aspect of salvation is in the simple but infinitely profound phrase in Christ Jesus. A Christian is a person who is in Christ Jesus. Paul has already declared that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death,” and that “therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:3-5).

Our being in Christ is one of the profoundest of mysteries, which we will not fully understand until we meet Him face-to-face in heaven. But Scripture does shed light on that marvelous truth. We know that we are in Christ spiritually, in a divine and permanent union. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive,” Paul explains (1 Cor. 15:22).

Believers are also in Christ in a living, participatory sense. “Now you are Christ’s body,” Paul declares in that same epistle, “and individually members of it” (12:27).

We are actually a part of Him and, in ways that are unfathomable to us now we work when He works, grieve when He grieves, and rejoice when He rejoices. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” Paul assures us, “whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Christ’s own divine life pulses through us.

Many people are concerned about their family heritage, about who their ancestors were, where they lived, and what they did. For better or worse, we are all life—linked physically, intellectually, and culturally to our ancestors. In a similar, but infinitely more important way, we are linked to the family of God because of our relationship to His Son, Jesus Christ. It is for that reason that every Christian can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).


Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give

The Son willingly endured the agony of the cross in order to do the will of His Father and to bring glory to Him. The Father willingly gave up His Son so that by means of His sacrifice the Son might be glorified (see John 17:1-5; Philippians 2:5-11). Imagine the heart of the Father as He heard the plea of His Son in the Garden of Gethsemene. Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou, My God, should die for me?

If God gave up His beloved Son, His precious Son, then it is not difficult to believe that He will “freely” give us “all things.” The “all things” must, however, be limited to all those things which are essential to bring about the “good” He has purposed for us. And these things are freely given “with Him.”

Some have great confidence but in the wrong thing. The lyrics of a popular “Christian” song say something like: “I have determined …  to be invincible …” This song writer has far too much confidence—in himself.

Paul gives us every reason to be confident, not in ourselves but in our salvation and in the sovereign God who is accomplishing it.

Heed well Paul’s words here. They offer hope and confidence in the midst of a fallen world. To everyone who is in Christ by faith, they are words of comfort and reassurance.

The story is told of a man who operated a drawbridge. At a certain time each afternoon, he had to raise the bridge for a ferry boat and then lower it quickly for a passenger train that crossed at high speed a few minutes later.

One day the man’s young son was visiting his father at work and decided to go down below to get a better look at the ferry as it passed. Fascinated by the sight, he did not watch carefully where he was going and fell into the giant gears. One foot became caught and the boy was helpless to free himself.

The father saw what happened but knew that if he took time to extricate his son, the train would plunge into to the river before the bridge could be lowered. But if he lowered the bridge to save the hundreds of passengers and crew members on the train, his son would be crushed to death.

When he heard the train’s whistle, indicating it would soon reach the river; he knew what he had to do. His son was very dear to him, whereas all the people on the train were total strangers. The sacrifice of his son for the sake of the other people was an act of pure grace and mercy.

That story portrays something of the infinitely greater sacrifice God the Father made when He sent His only beloved Son to earth to die for the sins of mankind—to whom He owed nothing but condemnation.

Knowing this fact and living based upon its certainty is difficult. Paul tells us that God understands that and “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

The Holy Spirit is the connecting link of our relationship with God. God has given us the Spirit as a guarantee that we are saved, the children of God (2 Cor. 5:5).

We can call God, “Abba! Father!” because we are identified as God’s children by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God (Rom. 8:16-17). This does not come about because of direct intervention of God in some intuitive, experiential way.  We can only be children of God by being obedient to His will (1 John 4:1-3; 5:1-3; 2 John 7-9).

John says the Spirit dwells in those who obey God (1 John 2:3-4; 3:24). “The basis of our assurance of being children of God is not subjective emotionalism.  It is rather the objective criteria of keeping the commandments of the Lord.  When this is done, the Holy Spirit bears witness with the spirit of man.”  [2]

This directs us to another statement of Paul:  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The story is told of an airliner which began to develop trouble in mid-air. One engine began to smoke. Over the speaker came the pilot’s reassuring voice informing the passengers of a small problem. One engine had caught fire, but it had been extinguished. With three remaining engines, the plane would easily reach its destination. Then a second engine failed. Once again, the pilot calmly assured the passengers there was no danger; two engines would suffice. A third engine failed. Now the pilot informed the passengers that it would be necessary to land short of their destination. Finally, the fourth engine failed, and from their windows the passengers saw the plane’s crew in parachutes descending to the earth.

The pilot’s calm and reassuring voice again came over the speaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are having a problem with the airplane. We will need to make an emergency landing. The pilot and crew have abandoned the plane and are parachuting to safety. There is no need to panic. The plane is operating on automatic pilot, and everything is under control … control … control …”

There are times in life when things seem to be out of control. At those times atheists and agnostics are quite convinced, following our analogy, that the plane has no pilot. If ever there was a pilot, he has bailed out, leaving them to themselves to face threatening dangers.

We who are Christians believe there is a God. When life goes smoothly for us and God’s blessings are evident, we are tempted to believe we are in control. We may even think we do not need God.

When the bottom falls out and the trials of life seem to be swallowing us up so that we seem to lose control, we may still believe that God is in the cockpit. But we may begin to question whether God is really in control. We may be tempted to think God’s control over creation might be limited and fallible.

Whatever the Christian sees happening, we may be assured that it is not only under God’s control, but its purpose is to produce what is for God’s glory and for our good.

When life’s trials cause some to wonder if God even exists, and others to wonder whether He is in control, the Christian may be assured that God is there. He is in charge of bringing about His purpose for His glory and our good. Let us savor the truth of God’s sovereignty. While His sovereignty brings terror to the hearts of unbelievers, it is music to the Christian’s ears.

In the center of main street in Enterprise, Alabama, stands one of the strangest monuments in the world.  It’s a memorial to an insect! Handsomely carved in stone is the likeness of a boll weevil.  Many believe that divine providence was involved in the circumstances that led to the erection of this unusual statue.

In early plantation days almost everyone in the community raised cotton.  But as the years rolled on, a serious pestilence infested the area in the form of a small beetle that punctured the boll of the plant.  As a result, it became almost impossible to bring a season’s growth to maturity.

George Washington Carver, along with several other scientists, became deeply concerned about the situation and began intensive studies to see if any substitute crop could be grown in that part of the country. Raising peanuts was the answer, for they could be planted and harvested with very little loss. 

In time, cotton gins were forgotten in that region, and it became known as an outstanding peanut center of the world.  Soon the farmers’ profits far exceeded what they had earned from their best cotton yield. In the end, they realized that the destructive insect they had feared had actually triggered the research that brought them prosperity.

The Lord often allows trials to unsettle our lives for a blessed purpose.  Perhaps we are trying to “grow cotton” when we should be “raising peanuts.”  If so, the delays and disappointments we experience are just the gracious “boll weevils” sent to redirect us so that we will plant the crop of God’s choosing!

In his book Forever Triumphant, F. J. Huegel told a story that came out of World War II.  After General Jonathan Wainwright was captured by the Japanese, he was held prisoner in a Manchurian concentration camp.  Cruelly treated, he became “a broken, crushed, hopeless, starving man.” 

Finally the Japanese surrendered and the war ended.  A United States army colonel was sent to the camp to announce personally to the general that Japan had been defeated and that he was free and in command.  After Wainwright heard the news, he returned to his quarters and was confronted by some guards who began to mistreat him as they had done in the past. 

Wainwright, however, with the news of the allied victory still fresh in his mind, declared with authority, “No, I am in command here!  These are my orders.”  Huegel observed that from that moment on, General Wainwright was in control.

Huegel made this application:  “Have you been informed of the victory of your Savior in the greatest conflict of the ages?  Then rise up to assert your rights.  Never again go under when the enemy comes to oppress.  Claim the victory in Jesus’ Name.”

Huegel observed, “We must learn to stand on resurrection ground, reckoning dead the old-creation life over which Satan has power, and living in the new creation over which Satan has no power whatever.”

O death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory? This is so true that even Satan cannot deny it. Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin, death and hell is greater than all heaven and earth. You can never imagine his resurrection and victory so great but that in actuality it is far, far greater.

Some will tell you that triumph will come by the development of human beings–the gradual evolution of their potentialities. We should just give it time, wait and see. Everything’s coming up roses. World War I dealt that theory the cutting blow. World War II broke its spirit. Vietnam laid it in its grave. The takeovers of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan shoveled the dirt of interment on it. Will human progress stop people and nations from sinning? Will human progress and achievement ever wipe away all tears from our eyes or heal our broken hearts? To ask these questions is to answer them. 

No, the final victory will not come through some natural progress of human development, nor through the religious forces that are operative in the world right now. The victory will come not by an improvement of the present order but through its complete overthrow and supercession.

The high point of human history will be the sudden appearance on the field of battle of the captain of our salvation. And he will come in glory, and it will be comparable to what John beheld: Look, I see a great white horse. And there is a rider on that horse whose name is Faithful and True, and there are many crowns upon his head. [3]

Retired football coach Gene Stallings tells of an incident when he was defensive backfield coach of the Dallas Cowboys.  Two All-Pro players, Charlie Walters and Cliff Harris, were sitting in front of their lockers after playing a tough game against the Washington Redskins.  They were still in their uniforms, and their heads were bowed in exhaustion.  Walters said to Harris, “By the way Cliff, what was the final score?”  In our competitive society, we sometimes fail to remember that excellence isn’t determined by comparing our score to someone else’s.  Excellence comes from giving one’s best, no matter the score.

Having studied our text of Romans 8:31-39, let me leave you with some avenues for future thought, study, prayer, and application.

First, the sovereignty of God is the basis for our security.We dare not be confident in ourselves. We dare not doubt that we shall be more than conquerors. This would be to deny His Word and to distrust God. We, like Paul, should be absolutely convinced concerning these things, based upon the Word of God. Our security is rooted in God, in His sovereignty, and in His unfailing love.

Second, our security and confidence in God is the basis for our service. It is not doubt, nor fear, nor guilt which should motivate our service, but a confidence in God mixed with deep and abiding gratitude. Because we are secure in Christ, we may serve. We need not focus on ourselves but on Him. Since He is the “author and finisher of our faith,” we must “fix our eyes on Him” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Third, our security is never an excuse for sloppiness.Some would abuse the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and the believer’s security. They would sinfully suggest that since God is in control, it matters not what we do. This is just the opposite of the truth. God’s sovereignty is the basis for our diligence and obedience. If we trust in ourselves, this would be folly, because we will fail. But when we trust in God, we know that we ultimately cannot fail and that our efforts are not in vain.

Fourth, the Scriptures never raise any doubt that God will finish what He started at salvation. The question raised in Scripture is not, “Will the saints endure to the end?” The question is rather, “Are we sure that we are in Christ?” The security of the believer is never brought into question in the Scriptures. Whether or not we are a believer is a question which is raised, and rightly so. The Bible gives us the examples to follow (Acts 2:38;  8:4-29; 9:1-20; 22:1-16; 10:1-48; 16:12-15, 22-34; 18:8; 19:1-6).

Fifth, the basis for our salvation and our security is found in the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. Did you notice that every fear, every dread, in this text is the result of sin? And did you notice as well that every cure goes back to the cross of Calvary?

Here is God’s means of redemption. Here is the measure of His love. Here is the assurance and confidence that God’s purposes and promises will never fail. No wonder we must continually go back to the cross.

We should never grow weary of going back to the cross. Here is where our salvation began. Here is where it was finished. That God sent Jesus to the cross is the measure of His love for us. That God would raise Jesus from the dead is the measure of His power. When such love and power meet, we, as sons of God, have every reason to be confident.

Finally, the security of the believer requires a response. Paul’s conclusion reminds us that biblical revelation requires a response. The security of the believer in the sovereign love of God should produce humility, gratitude, dependence, confidence, and praise.

Let us ponder these closing words of Romans 8, especially in contrast to the agonizing cry at the end of chapter 7. Let us savor our security, and let us stand fast, knowing that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.

[1] Romans 8:35-37

[2] “Alive In The Spirit”, Jimmy Jividen, p140

 

[3] R. Geoffrey Brown, “Look! A Great White Horse!,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 111.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2014 in Encouragement

 

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