11th Sunday after Trinity August 11, 2002
329, 393, 437
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 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.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, our ever-living Savior:
Years ago there was a comic strip in many newspapers that was noted for the down-home sort of wisdom displayed by its animal characters. The strip was called “Pogo” and perhaps the most famous line of the comic was: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
There’s a lot of truth to that statement. Mankind, as a race, has done a lot of damage to itself over the centuries, through warfare, pollution, crime, etc.
“We have met the enemy and he is us.” The Christian, as he struggles along in his walk as a child of God, may sometimes feel that way too. Paul knew the frustration of dealing with a stubborn, sinful nature; he knew the shame that his own sinful thoughts and unrighteous deeds brought into his life. He felt the sting of a guilty conscience, just as you and I have. In Romans, chapter seven, he spoke of the torment in his heart because of sin: “The good that I would, I do not do; the evil that I would not—that I do” (Romans 7:19).
Paul knew who the enemy was, but when Paul arrives at the end of chapter eight, he seems to be speaking as a different person—a totally confident, utterly victorious person. Nothing seems to trouble him at all. Is this the same person? And who does he mean by “we?” Who are these people who stand so boldly before God? I. These are they who are justified by grace through faith II. These are they who live under the love of Christ III. These are they who are more than conquerors
These are they who are justified by grace through faith.
Justification means to be counted righteous. It means the same as when a person is declared “not guilty” by a judge—the accused is found to be innocent and not punishable for any crime.
Paul states that “It is God who justifies”—sounds rather scary, doesn’t it? It is sort of like when Luther would read the phrase, “the righteousness of God” (cf: Romans 3:21), and it would make him tremble at the thought of trying to measure up to the righteousness of God, and satisfy His demands.
Do we measure up to God? God is love. Are our lives the pure expression of God’s unselfish love? Or do we spoil that love with self-interest? God is patient and kind—are we God-like in our patience and divine in all our kindnesses? God is the source of all that is good, and all that comes from God, whether seemingly good or bad, is finally good for those who love Him. Are we truly thankful for all that He does? It occurs to us that those people who can stand before God must be better people than we! By our own sins, we have been our own worst enemy!
Yet, all must stand before the judgement seat of God; we all have to give account to our Maker. And there are plenty of others around who are only too quick to condemn us: our own consciences (which know us from the inside out), our neighbors and fellow humans (some of whom we’ve truly hurt by our sins), and others who in sin would like to hurt us. But most of all, Satan who led man to sin in the first place, is always ready to accuse us before God—to point out our sins and invite God’s condemnation to come down upon us.
“Who shall bring a charge against us?” Just take a number and get in line!
But Paul speaks as though there are some who are exempt, some who escape such condemnation, who are actually justified by God. That is the key. Once “the Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25) has declared someone “not guilty” there is nothing more any accuser can say. And that is exactly what Christianity is all about—justification through faith.
There are two ways to be accepted by God: To be perfect from the beginning of life to the end, or to be counted as perfect through the merits of Christ. Only Christ was fully perfect from birth to death. But He was both God and man. In Him, God was reconciling the world to Himself—opening a door for sinful man to escape the wrath of God and receive the grace of God.
Who are these people whom God counts as righteous? They are sinners who have come to believe that what Jesus Christ did, He did for them. They have learned that what they could never do—atone for their sins—Jesus did by giving His life and suffering our punishment. Jesus finished the work we couldn’t even begin. Jesus proved His accomplishment by rising again. Jesus, who died on the cross in the deepest shame, was accepted to the right hand of God. There He continually pleads our case, reminding the Father, not of our good deeds, but of His completed work. Paul began this chapter with a reassuring word about his own standing before God, even when he finds that there is nothing good in Himself: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Who are they who stand before God? All those who believe in Jesus as their Savior. They are people like ourselves, who cannot plead their own merits, but trust in Christ’s. This is our comfort. Christ’s work will never change or go away. Everything else in your life may change, but God’s verdict on you, in Christ, will not.
Who are these who stand before God? Though it may not seem so, these are they who live under the love of Christ.
Besides the grief brought on by our own sins, there is plenty else to come along in this sinful world that may convince us that God has turned against us. Paul mentions “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword.” Every life has some of these, although, in our modern lives we seem to be more insulated against some of the things people faced a hundred or a thousand years ago. But they are still there to make us fear, doubt, and waver on the path of faithfulness toward God.
When Job’s family and possessions and health were lost, his so-called friends came and tried to convince him that he must have done something to turn God against him. That’s a natural reaction, isn’t it? If bad things are happening to me, I must have angered God.
But the believer’s view comes to be very different. Though we suffer no end of persecution and trial, Christ’s love remains very much upon us. The whole work of redemption has, at its heart, God’s love. In the face of every event or situation that might suggest otherwise, the work of the Gospel—the record of God’s promise of a Savior fulfilled—is our assurance that God loves us and always has. Through Jeremiah, He told the Jews in the midst of their difficulties “with an everlasting love I have loved you” (Jeremiah 31:3). Since God’s love for us is rooted in the greatest love—that of Jesus laying down His life for us—it is a love that cannot be overcome or weakened. No matter what happens, God gives us reason to believe that His love remains upon us.
Who are these who stand before God? In spite of all that they must endure, they are the ones who are more than conquerors, victorious in Christ over all evil.
We are justified by faith. By faith we enjoy the assurance of Christ’s love. But it goes further than that. By faith in Christ, we partake of Christ’s true victory. His triumph becomes ours.
You might think you have your trials. I tend to think I have my own. Usually, if we speak of them, it is when we feel that we are going to be defeated by whatever burdens us at the moment. “I just can’t take it anymore!” But Paul had trials we can scarcely imagine. If, and when, he spoke of them, it was never in complaint, and it usually was mentioned as evidence of two things: His devotion to the cause of the Gospel, and proof of the Lord’s continuing care. Paul saw difficulties and trials as opportunities for God to manifest His power and love. The end of our text reaches a crescendo of joyous confidence. Paul sees nothing in the created world—neither in the vicissitudes of life nor in the cold certainty of death; neither in the present, nor in the future; neither in things visible, nor among the invisible devils—nothing at all that can snatch from the embattled Christian the victory, the peace, the eternal glory that was won for him through Christ.
By faith, we do not eventually gain eternal life, we enter it in that wonderful living relationship with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus. In the same way, even in the midst of life’s battles and trials, we do not reach an eventual victory off in a vague future. The victory is ours now, because is was Christ’s the moment He stated His “It is finished” from the cross.
The victory is that we are now the justified, beloved children of God through faith in Christ. But faith is a living, active thing. Faith works love and obedience in our hearts. It sanctifies and strengthens our will to do what is pleasing to God. The life of faith will not lead us into carelessness about sin. It will not steer us into the broad and easy ways of a corrupt and damned world. Faith will encounter every difficulty and hostility and patiently forge ahead in the path the Savior trod. Faith will recognize that we sin daily, and that we must find our salvation at the cross of Jesus, not in our own righteous living.
Faith in Christ holds the gift of righteousness, the joy of love, the promise of victory. Paul has shown us a people who stand before God, righteous and approved. He includes himself among them, despite his own moral and mortal struggles, and now he invites us to count ourselves among them too. For these are the people who have come to know the Savior, Jesus Christ. We have met these people, and they are us! Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.