Thursday, January 15, 2015

No Condemnation in Christ, Part 4: Conquerors With God

Throw on some armor and saddle up!

Here we are, in the final piece on Romans 8; we've been exploring the ways this chapter speaks mercy and grace to sinners.  In the last post, we looked at the fact that not only are we Christians forgiven in Christ, we actually have a glorious destiny.  Now we're going to look more into this amazing reality.  

"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.  For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers.  And those He predestined He also called; and those He called He also justified; and those He justified He also glorified."
Romans 8: 28-30
Those who serve God are chosen.  God, Who lives outside of time, was able to determine, even "before" the beginning of time (He "foreknew"), those who would choose to love Him, and from His eternal vantage point He made it their destiny to be glorified.  This doesn't mean that we must be perfect and sinless in order to be counted in that number.  If we love God, which to be sure does include a desire to please and serve Him, then even though we stumble and fall, He justifies us.  

Our enemy, the devil, will continue to oppose us throughout all of our Earthly lives.  He and his minions will tempt us to do that which displeases God, and will always try to tear us away from our glorious destiny.  We can't give up the fight, for we know from other scriptures that only "those who endure until the end" shall be saved.  So we can't take our destiny as being "secure no matter what," because certainly God's foreknowledge, by which He has destined us, was a foreknowledge not of those who would love Him only for a time, but for those who would love Him through to the end.  However, we can rest assured that, so long as we do love God, and keep holding on, Satan cannot win:
"What then shall we say to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He Who did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with Him?  Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones?  It is God who acquits us.  Who will condemn?  It is Christ Jesus Who died, rather, was raised, Who also is at the right hand of God, Who indeed intercedes for us.  What will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?  As it is written:
'For Your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.'
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him Who loved us." 
Romans 8: 31-37

No matter what sort of weapons the enemy uses against us, so long as we cling to our Lord, the evil one can't stand against us.  He may win battles, and we may find ourselves cast down into the pit.  But we will always rise again, our rising modeled on the rising of Christ, the Firstborn.  If we are "looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered," then we will also rise again just like the Lamb Who was slaughtered.  This doesn't only apply to our physical rising after our bodily deaths--many of which have indeed come at the hands of enemies of the Faith--but also to our spiritual rising whenever our souls have died, temporarily, through sin.

Satan cannot keep us down, the grave of sin cannot contain us when we trust in God, Who will raise us from the dead.  We rise, time and again, to glory, by the Grace of God whenever we repent and avail ourselves of His forgiving power through repentance and confession.  No power in the universe could stand in the way:

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." 
Romans 8: 38-39

That is the beautiful truth, and the reason that even Satan himself, despite his deviousness and his power, can't deprive us of our rights as children of God.  For God is infinitely more powerful than even the most magnificent or potent of creatures, including the prince of darkness.  This same God, Whose power knows no bounds, loves us, and it is His unfailing will that we should be with Him forever, that we should reign with Him, if we simply love Him.  That's the consolation and the hope we have.  That's why, no matter how bleak things look, no matter how often we fall into the snare of the enemy and find ourselves discouraged, we have the guarantee that, so long as we are willing to keep up the good fight, we will prevail.  God never fails.

And that is truly good news for a sinner such as I.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

No Condemnation in Christ, Part 3: People of Hope

Continuing our series on Romans 8, an awesome chapter of scripture devoted to the mercy of Christ, we've already talked about the difference between the "flesh" and the "spirit," and how, even though we live with the consequences and temptations of being in the flesh, by God's Grace our primary existence, and even that of our bodies themselves, can be in the Spirit, God's spirit which "will give life to [our] mortal bodies also."  This is how, even though we are weak, prone to sin, we are still heirs to God's kingdom, and still have hope of living "in the Spirit" each moment.

The fact of the matter is that those who are in Christ are destined for glorious ends; and this means all of the temptation and shame we endure in this life, so long as we hold to Christ and strive to do His will, will not be the last word:

"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory revealed for us.  For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the One Who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved."
-Romans 8: 18-24
We who live here on Earth may cry out desperately, echoing St. Paul as we shout:  "Miserable man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this mortal body?"  We, marred by addictions, seemingly imprisoned by the vices we have accumulated throughout our lives, may easily believe that Satan is winning the battle for our souls.  But St. Paul has written that the sufferings of this life will be nothing in light of the glory we will know.  And what greater suffering is there than the temptation to despair, planted in us by our constant failures?  What greater suffering, for one who cares about God, can there be on this side of eternity than the fear that we fail Him in so many ways?  This suffering too, then, will be "as nothing" compared to the reward.

Sort of like how the "suffering" of resisting having dessert for every
meal is "nothing" compared to the health benefits of--oh who am
I kidding, the jury's still out on that one.

The sadness we feel, the frustration at our own sins and wicked habits, those vices to which we fall again and again despite wanting to please God, those terrible feelings are our "groaning within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies."  We know that we were made for something better.  We long to be better, because it's our destiny.  That's good news, when we consider what it means!  If our inner sorrow and suffering over our shortcomings are not a sign that we are irredeemable, but rather a sign that we are simply longing for our destiny of being clean, then that means--because it's our destiny--we will be clean.  Not merely in the sense of being redeemed in spite of our faults (so long as we repent when we fall), but in the sense that one day, when all is fulfilled, we will have no faults.  Our discontent with the way things are is a good sign that things are not supposed to be this way, and so, because God is good and will prevail, will not always be this way.

It's easy, even so, to give into despair.  We might wonder why, if our destiny is so bright, do we not have more assurance of it?  Why can't we have a real glimpse at the future, so that we will know that our destiny is glorious?  Paul has answered that question for us:

"Now hope that sees for itself is not hope.  For who hopes for what one sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance."
Romans 8: 24-25
God has called us, as testified elsewhere in Scripture, to possess the virtue of hope.  And hope cannot be nurtured where one has already seen the outcome.  You can't hope for a good thing that you know is a foregone conclusion, because there's no need for hope.  Hope builds us, strengthens us, makes us brave.  It's easy to be strong and bold when you know things are okay, so it's not even true strength.  Since we are molded and formed in hope, however, we have a chance to truly grow and become strong, to learn true endurance. 

And endurance is how you become a kung fu master!
(That's relevant because kung fu is always relevant)

That's why even when it comes to the goodness and right action bestowed on us by Grace, we have to believe in these things through faith, not sight.  Because that goodness to which we are heirs, which we have already inherited to some extent with our baptism and for as long as we walk with God, is not always something tangible, that we can see.  That's because it's not from us, it's not something that's readily measurable that we can see ourselves doing.  See more from Paul:

"In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.  And the one Who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the Holy Ones according to God's will."
Romans 8: 26-27
Even our deepest prayers are "inexpressible," and are prayed for us by the Spirit.  But that's something that we can only believe by faith and hope, because by virtue of being inexpressible, there's no way we can comprehend or observe it in the way that we would be able to observe human words.  It's the same, I believe for much of the goodness that is being worked in us, in spite of our imperfections:  They are worked in us by the Spirit, and while it's true that there will be tangible and observable fruits--for "by their fruits you shall know them"--it's just as true that many of the workings of the Spirit are invisible, unseen, and "inexpressible."  So we can only hold on by having faith that, as long as we love God, there is goodness and glory in our destinies, and that we are redeemed, even when it seems very hard to see it.

We are people of hope.  And to be a person of hope is to believe in and anticipate the unseen.  Shouldn't we apply that, also, to the "unseen" ways in which God is preparing us, even now, for glory?  The answer, I hope, is clear.

Note:  One more entry in this series remains.  I hope you'll join me for the upcoming conclusion!