September 13, 2017: Our Security in God
At my ordination at Exeter Cathedral, we walked down the aisle in twos — rather like Noah’s ark. I was paired with a young guy who would become a good friend. James and I liked and understood each other immediately. Whilst we were assigned to different churches, we did our post-ordination training together. I recall a particular retreat with the theological giant, Alec Motyer — a gracious, wise and Godly man. Motyer was keen to assure us of our absolute security in the love God. I have a vivid memory of James asking the question that we were all too proud (or anxious) to ask. James politely, but earnestly, interrupted, “Reverend Motyer, but what if in all the challenges of ministry and the Christian life, my faith should weaken? What if, in disappointment or exhaustion, I should slip away from Jesus?” I have heard speak of “Godly rebuke.” Oftentimes, “Godly rebuke” is not especially Godly and the phrase is used as a faux theological foil for common or garden variety rudeness. But without hesitation, Reverend Motyer modeled the art of Godly rebuke. With extraordinary tenderness and cast iron firmness, he looked my friend straight in the eye and said, “Oh, beloved, you are entirely mistaken. You believe you have taken hold of God when in fact He has taken hold of you.”
The Christian life is full of challenges. The apostle Paul described it as a life full of tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword (Romans 8:35-36). In the condensed version of Paul’s autobiography (with thanks to John Piper) he tells us: three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. [2 Corinthians 11:25-28].
For all of Paul’s disappointments and trials, Paul was adamant that we can have absolute, unfailing security in the love and power of God. Renee Swope wrote, “As we process the pain of our yesterdays, learn through the disappointments of our todays, and face some fears in our tomorrows, doubts will still creep up and threaten to steal our hope. But each time that happens, we can stop and seek God’s perspective in that place.”
In Romans chapter 8, Paul gave us three great assurances that help us to recover that Godly perspective. (I am particularly grateful to Keith Krell for his insights into Paul’s writing.)
1. No Contest: In Romans 8:31, Paul posed a critical question: “If God is for us, who is against us?”. Now, notice that the question isn’t simply, “Who is against us?”. Rather, Paul qualified it with the phrase “If God is for us.” Paul then answered with a rhetorical question, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (verse 32). Standing upon this truth, Renee Swope stated, “You and I have the choice to either let doubt beat us up or let God’s truth build us up. If we have Christ in us, we have full access to God’s power and His promises to live with a confident heart.”
2. No Condemnation: Paul went on, “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” (verses 33-34). The question he is asking is, “Who would dare ‘bring a charge against God’s elect?’”. The truth is that no one can. God has acquitted you and declared you righteous. His plea for you is based on the finished and sufficient work of the Cross. Again, Renee Swope: “Satan intends to deceive us by getting us to take our eyes off who we are in Christ and focus on our flaws — and then spend our days figuring out how we can hide them.” The truth is that for each and every one of us God’s grace and mercy always precede His calling.
3. No Separation: Paul’s next question was “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (verse 35). Notice that it is not who is going to separate us from our love for Christ, but who is going to separate us from Christ’s love for us. And that, as Alec Motyer was keen to reassure us, is a very big difference. Paul wrote that through Christ, we are not just victorious, we “overwhelmingly conquer!” Notice that he wrote in the present tense, indicating right now this is true.
As chapter eight concludes with verses 38-39, Paul pulled no punches. As fast as we can imagine exceptions, pot holes and crevices in his argument, he scrupulously filled in the cracks in our doubts and fears: “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, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And notice that Paul’s list deliberately includes us, “nor any other created thing” — by which he very much had you in mind!
Across the centuries, followers of Jesus have come to see that, even in the midst of challenges and trials, God will always call us beyond our limitations to do seemingly impossible things — impossible things that require a simple but profound trust in the security of His love. Swope added, “It’s not so much about what [Jesus] wants you to do, as what He wants to do in you, as you depend on Him.” It was always thus.
The Exeter Cathedral nave that James and I walked down together was built in 1400. Two hundred fifty years later, a minister named Thomas Brooks published a book entitled Heaven on Earth: A Treatise on Christian Assurance. In it, he concluded, “Beloved, in our dearest Lord, you are those worthies ‘of whom this world is not worthy,’ Hebrews 11:38. You are the princes ‘that prevail with God,’ Genesis 32:28. You are those ‘excellent ones’ in whom is all Christ’s delight, Psalm 16:3. You are His glory. You are His picked, called, prime instruments which He will make use of to carry on His best and greatest work against His worst and greatest enemies in these latter days.”
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