September 4, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Senior Pastor
If you wanted to be cool in the nineties, there is a 100% chance that you had at least one article of clothing from No Fear [logo]. No Fear was launched in 1989 by two brothers and their friends who were really into motocross, and they basically sold shirts that were all about living on the edge, and taking risks, and winning at sports, and chugging energy drinks. They had slogans like, “You can’t steal second with your foot on first,” and “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”
“Second Place is the First Loser.”
And my personal favorite, “Life’s Not Too Short, It’s Just that You’re Dead for So Long.”
But for awhile there, you couldn’t walk through a middle school cafeteria without seeing every other kid wearing a No Fear shirt.
Why were they so popular? Because everyone wants to have the reputation of being fearless. You want to be the guy that says, “get the ball to me, Coach” when your team is down by two with ten seconds left and only a three pointer will keep your season alive.
You want to be the pitcher who stares down the best hitter in the league… and winks at them.
You want to be the kicker that says, I can hit the field goal with one second left, Coach Saban, and there’s no way they would ever run it back for a touchdown…
We all want to be fearless, but the truth is, Henry David Thoreau was right when he said that “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” We want to be bold and courageous risk takers, but we almost always default back to playing it safe.
And we do that in our Christianity as well, don’t we. We want to be that fearless witness who speaks up about our faith at school, or shares the gospel with the guy at work. We want to be the husband that sits down with his wife and says, hey, can we pray together?
But instead of being fearless Christians, we usually default to being quiet Christians. Timid Christians.
So as we come to the end of Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we find the secret to living this kind of fearless, audacious, bold Christianity. I want us to read this together, and then I want to point out the four rhetorical questions Paul throws out in order to make his argument that we can live fearlessly before God when we understand that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. If you are physically able, would you please stand to honor the reading of God’s Word.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:31-39 ESV
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Pray with me.
Sinclair Ferguson tells about a time a number of pastors from the Czech Republic were attending a preaching conference in the American South. And during some downtime, the host took these guys, who had grown up in Eastern Europe under Communist rule, to a Wal-Mart SuperCenter. Now, most of us would not think anything at all about Wal-Mart—it wouldn’t be the highlight of our trip abroad, would it. But these guys had never seen anything like it before. And when they walked through the doors and beheld the shelves lined with every imaginable fruit and vegetable and product, they turned to their host and they said, “Is this a store for the people in the government?” They couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that all of these things were accessible to everyone in America.
And Tony Merida, author of the Christ Centered Exposition commentary on the book of Romans, says that when we get to Romans 8, especially verses 31-39, we might have a similar feeling—are all these promises and privileges for every Christian? Or are they only for a few, like really elite Christians.
And the answer is, this is for all of us. As staggering as it is to comprehend, these great and precious promises are for every single follower of Jesus.
Paul asks four “who” questions in this passage. Romans has sixteen chapters, and this is the end of chapter 8, so really these questions are like the midterm exam.
Each of the questions starts with “who”: [Each transition]
- Who can be against us? (verse 31)
- Who can accuse us? (v. 33)
- Who is to condemn us? (v. 34)
- Who can separate us? (v. 35)
Now, with each one, he gives the answer of the person or thing that is able to, but doesn’t.
He tells us who is able to be against us, but is actually for us.
He tells us who has the right to accuse or condemn, but chooses not to.
Or, with the last one, the things that seem like they ought to be able to separate us from the love of God, but actually have no power to do so.
And here’s what is truly amazing: Not only do they not do what they have a right to do, but they actually accomplish the exact opposite of what you would expect them to do.
If you really take this to heart, you are going to find you have a capacity for fearless Christianity that you never thought you had. And in fact, you’ll find yourself impatient and bored with weak, timid, riskless, gutless Christianity. Let’s look at them one by one.
1st question: Who can be against us
Paul begins with “what then shall we say to these things?” These things could be the previous paragraph, beginning in verse 28—that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Or you could back it up to verse 1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But most scholars believe that these things really is taking into account everything Paul has written so far in Romans. Go back to Romans 1:2. Who is Paul writing to—“to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”
So the entire message of Romans can be summed up in verse 31: GOD IS FOR YOU. That alone should be a source for incredible comfort. God is for you, even though you have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
God is for you. Even though your sins deserve death, His free gift to you is eternal life through Jesus Christ.
God is for you. He demonstrated His love for you in that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.
So if God is for you, Paul asks (and he’s spent the last eight chapters proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is for you); then who can be against you?
Remember I said that Paul follows up all four of these rhetorical questions with the possible answer. Here’s how it works in the first question:
Question: Who can be against us?
Answer: He who did not spare His own son. God is the only one that could possibly be against us, is the one who did not spare His own son. And if He did not even spare His own son, so great was His desire to restore us to right relationship with Him, then we can be confident. Flip the question and make it a declaration. If God is not against us, then no one can be.
Listen, beloved: The only way God will be against us is if we reject the Son He did not spare for us. If we turn our nose up at so great a gift, then God is right to condemn us. Hebrews 2:3 says, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” If we reject His salvation, then He will reject us.
But when we surrender to His Lordship, not only is God NOT against us, but He graciously gives us all things. There’s that word again. We talked last week about how the Greek word translated “all things” is panta. It doesn’t actually have a word for things. English supplies that. But in the Greek it says, He who did not spare his own son but graciously gave Him up for us ALL, how we He not also with Him graciously give us ALL. What an incredible promise!
Because of that promise, we can live fearlessly. God graciously gives us all things. Think of it like the simplest Venn diagram you’ve ever seen. This circle represents all things. What is the subset of things God hasn’t given us? It’s not there.
2nd question: Who can bring any charge against God’s elect?
Paul asks his second question in verse 33: Who can, or who shall, bring any charge against God’s elect?
Before we deal with the question, let’s make sure we understand what we mean by God’s elect. On the back of your listening guide you’ve got a very basic definition of the doctrine of election. It is the scriptural truth that God chooses to show grace to undeserving sinners. You also hear it talked about as predestination. Now we could really get into the weeds and try to work out how this works with free will, but that’s a sermon series for another year. For now, just take “God’s elect” to be all of us, as followers of Jesus. So who can bring an accusation against a follower of Jesus.
If you stopped with just the next three words, you would have your answer: “It is God.” But you can’t stop with the next three words. You have to read the next five words: It is God who justifies. So God can accuse us, but God doesn’t accuse us. Instead, God does the opposite. Instead of bringing a charge, God justifies.
You also have a basic definition of justifies on the back of your listening guide. It means declaring a person to be just or righteous. This is a present active participle in the Greek, which means it’s an ongoing action. God is still in the business of justifying the ungodly to Himself! We have been justified— that is a once and for all, completed action, but God is continually justifying.
Make no mistake—God and God alone is doing the justifying. Our good deeds don’t make us right. Being born to Christian parents doesn’t make us right. It is God who justifies.
Aren’t you glad? Do you see how this truth enables us to live fearlessly? Because if I could do something to gain my salvation, then that means I could do something to lose my salvation. But if it’s God who justifies, then I can trust that God isn’t going to change His mind. God isn’t going to take it back. Because God is the one who justifies, then my salvation is secure, and I can be fearless.
Number One: God is for us, and no one can be against us.
Number Two: God justifies us, and no one can bring a change against us.
Now for Paul’s third question: Who is to condemn?
Verse 34 asks, “Who is to condemn?” And in what by now is a familiar pattern, the next phrase gives the answer for who is able to condemn: “Christ Jesus.”
Jesus can, but Jesus doesn’t. Instead of condemning, Christ died and was raised. And now that He has been raised, He is now seated at the right hand of God. And not only does He not condemn (speak against us); He actually does the opposite: He speaks for us. He intercedes.
There is no better illustration of this than Jesus with the woman caught in adultery.
The apostle John tells us in chapter 8 of his gospel that one day the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman before Jesus. And they said to Him,
“they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
And they were correct, sort of. Leviticus 20 does indeed say that a woman who commits adultery must be stoned. But what it actually says is that both the man and the woman must be stoned. The man is conveniently missing from this story, which means that this was probably a prostitute, and they were using her to trap Jesus. They knew that if Jesus said “let her go” then they could accuse Him of breaking the Law of Moses. But if He said to stone her then He would lose the support of all of those who had come to hear him teaching on love and forgiveness.
They figured they had him between a rock and a hard place.
Jesus ignored them at first, but when they pressed Him for an answer, John says
he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And when all those who had gathered up stones heard His response,
“they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
Jesus stood up and asked her the same question Paul asks in Romans 8:33 “Who condemns you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Beloved, do not miss this: Jesus was the only one in that circle who had no sin. He was the only one that had the right to condemn.
But the one who had no sin had no stones.
Listen: Satan desperately wants to condemn you, and he will do everything in his power to make you feel condemned. But that is all he can do. He can’t condemn you; he can just make you feel that way.
The One who is able to condemn you died on the cross so you wouldn’t have to be. The One who can condemn you was Himself condemned for you.
He died the death you deserved to die. And three days later, He rose again to show that the grave has no power over us. He died, was raised, and is now seated at the right hand of God. The image is of a courtroom. God is seated where the judge sits. And to the right of the judge is the defense attorney.
Get this: Jesus is sitting in the place of the defense attorney. So, not only does He not condemn us, or accuse us, or speak against us, verse 34 says that He is actually interceding for us. To intercede for someone is to speak on their behalf. Can you imagine?
This is why the writer of Hebrews says that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, because we have a high priest who is interceding to the Father on our behalf. Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In other words, let us fearlessly approach the throne of grace!
4rd question: Who can separate us?
Once again, Paul argues that the things that would be able to separate us actually accomplish the opposite.
Paul isn’t saying that none of these things will happen to followers of Jesus. He isn’t saying Christians won’t experience hardship or distress; or that they won’t be persecuted, or face famine, nakedness, danger, or sword.
Paul knows this firsthand. Remember, he is writing this letter from prison.
If our earthly bodies survive the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword, then all of those crises will draw us into a closer relationship with God. If our bodies don’t survive, then we will be ushered into the presence of God. That’s why Paul, in the next verses, says “As it is written, for your sake we are being killed all the day long, we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Either way, we win. This is what Paul was talking about when he said in Philippians 1 that to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
We are more than conquerers. It’s not that Paul had a death wish, He wasn’t like a suicide bomber who sought martyrdom. Paul wanted to live. But he also knew that all his enemies could do was kill him. So he was like, do your worst. Nothing will separate me.
The end result ought to be fearless Christianity.
I heard an illustration years ago—this was actually an illustration I used in the first sermon I ever preached, when I was sixteen years old. But none of you were there, so I’ll use it again.
In the late 1800’s, a young man in Europe worked for years to earn enough money for passage on a ship to America. He saved every penny until finally he was able to buy his ticket. He thought to himself, all this suffering will be worth it when I can finally get to America.
It was a long voyage, and the small amount of food the man had brought with him was soon gone, and the man grew hungry. Every night he would look through the windows at the first class dining room. He would see the rich food laid out on the Captain’s table for all the wealthy people, and the hunger in his belly would gnaw at him.
Finally, the night before they were to dock in New York, he couldn’t stand it any more. He went to one of the ships stewards and begged him for some of the scraps from the captain’s table.
The steward asked to see the man’s ticket, and when he examined it, he said, “Sir, this is a first class ticket. You’ve been entitled to eat from the captain’s table for the entire voyage.”
Beloved, the promises of Romans 8:31-39 are your first class ticket.
- Nothing can stand against you because God is for you.
- No one can bring a charge against you because God has justified you.
- No one can condemn you because Jesus was condemned instead of you.
- Nothing can separate you from God’s love.
So live fearlessly. Come to the captain’s table.