Sermon: Romans 8:31-39
Lent 1 - February 18, 2018 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Have you ever spoken to another Christian or listened to a Christian giving a testimonial on a religious program on television and he expresses how wonderful his life is now? Perhaps he has come out of some very sinful behavior or extremely difficult circumstances in the past. He may say that he has surrendered his life to God and that he follows God’s will very closely. His life is not filled with problems like it once was.
When I hear people talking like this I feel happy for them and hope that their Christian life is really going that smoothly and that they are really being that faithful to God. But sometimes I wonder if these enthusiastic descriptions of faith and life are really honest or realistic. I know how my life goes. As much as I want to follow God’s will closely I find that I have a sinful nature that gets in the way. As much as I don’t want to have problems or temptations, they manage to find their way into my life and cause trouble.
This is why I find, and I hope all of us find, Paul’s words very comforting and reassuring in our text today. He writes a section in which he makes it clear that the Christian’s life can be filled with many difficulties and temptations that threaten us. Life doesn’t always go so smooth, and we aren’t always as strong as we ought to be. Yet Paul encourages us by reminding us that we are still more than conquerors because God is on our side with his forgiving and strengthening love.
Today we’re going to consider that life can be filled with
LOTS OF TROUBLE AND TEMPTATION, BUT NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF CHRIST.
This is the 1st Sunday of the Lenten season, and the gospel for this Sunday is always the account of Jesus’ temptation by the devil. Our Old Testament reading for this day is the familiar account of God testing Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Those two readings alone are a good indication to us that God doesn’t guarantee anyone a life that’s free of difficulties and temptations. If the man Abraham was required by God to face the horrific possibility of sacrificing his own son, and if Jesus, God’s own Son, was required to face the temptations of the devil, then we should not be surprised if God allows our lives to filled with lots of trouble and temptation.
Just prior to our text from Romans Paul writes a passage that’s very familiar to us: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” These words are a comfort to us because they assure us that no matter what God allows into our life, good or bad, blessing or difficulty, God will take it and in some way make it eventually work out for our good so that we are brought to faith, strengthened in our faith, and finally eternally saved.
For that reason he begins our text, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” What’s the biggest problem you ever faced in life? What’s the saddest event that has ever taken place in your life? What’s the worst disappointment you’ve ever had in your life? What’s the worst enemy that you might face in life? As bad as anything can be in life, as strong as any enemy, trouble, or temptation can be, God is always good, and God is always stronger, and God is always on our side.
But doesn’t that sound a little too good to be true? Does God always make everything work out for our good? It doesn’t seem like it when we’re going through some difficulty or challenge. Is God really stronger than any temptation or trouble we can face? Then why do we seem to have lots of troubles and temptations? Is God always on our side? Then why does there always seem to be so much against us?
Paul has a really good answer to these questions. “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, along with him, graciously give us all things?” The biggest problem we could ever face in life is our sin and the threat of God’s eternal judgment in hell. The fiercest enemy we could ever face in life is Satan himself. And yet God is greater than our sin and stronger than Satan. He proved it by sending Jesus to save us from sin and crush the head of the serpent. The Lenten season is all about Jesus suffering and dying for us to atone for our sin. We look with anticipation to the end of Lent and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection that proves to us that God has conquered sin, death, hell, and Satan for us.
Paul’s point is that if God sent his own Son to die on a cross for us he’s going to be on our side to face any other troubles or temptations that may come.
And what are some of those troubles and temptations? Do you ever feel guilty? Do you have sins from your past that still bother you? You just can’t get out of your mind what you did. You maybe even wonder if God really forgave that sin. But listen to what Paul says to you and me. “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
The answer to Paul’s question is obvious. There is no one who can condemn us for our sin. Our own guilty sinful nature that keeps accusing us is lying to us. Another person who says we’re guilty is lying also and contradicting God’s truth. Satan can’t condemn us either. Jesus overcame his temptations, defeated him, and destroyed his power by his death on the cross. The only other one who could condemn us is God himself, and even God no longer condemns us because Jesus has atoned for our sins. As a matter of fact, Jesus has risen from the dead victorious over our sin and is in heaven pleading our case for us. He says continually to God the Father, “Forgive them because I died for them.”
There can be plenty of other troubles in life as well. What troubles have you faced in the past? What troubles are facing you right now? Are there personal problems or emotional problems? Are there marriage problems or family problems? Are there financial problems? Are you unsure about the future? Do you worry about where our nation and society are headed? Do you worry about your own faith? Can you keep on believing in Jesus? Will your faith fail sometime?
Paul knows that any of these problems and much more can face us in life. He even quotes from the psalms to prove that Christians in particular will face trouble and opposition: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But he also writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” Satan may fill our lives with trouble to discourage us and make us doubt God’s love. The enemies of our Christian faith will look for ways to persecute us. But Paul says none of these, not Satan himself, can separate us from the love of Christ.
What about temptations? Do you ever face temptations in life? You and I obviously face temptation. If even Jesus the Son of God faced Satan’s temptations then we can expect that we will too. What’s tempting you right now in your life? What are those weaknesses where Satan gets you? Or we might ask why does God allow Satan to tempt us and trouble us?
What if I told you that temptations are God’s tests for us in life? They really are. There’s a very close connection between the words to tempt and to test. In our Old Testament reading today God clearly tested Abraham. He commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. God didn’t test Abraham to see if he would obey him. He knew he would. God tested Abraham to make him go through the process of testing and temptation. And in that process Abraham had to agonize over disobeying God and saving his son or obeying God and sacrificing his son. He obeyed God, but the struggle and enduring the test made him stronger, a stronger believer in God.
Even Jesus was tempted and tested. Do you know that in our gospel reading today when Satan tempted Jesus it was actually the Holy Spirit who led Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? Well, what sense does that make? Why would God do that? Is God on the devil’s side? He most certainly is not on the devil’s side. He’s fully and always on our side.
God was testing Jesus too. Like Abraham he wasn’t testing him to see if he would obey. He tested Jesus so that he would go through the ordeal of temptation and obey God. The struggle in temptation and overcoming Satan made Jesus even stronger. And Jesus would need that strength to face Gethsemane and trial and the cross. Easter Sunday morning, Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that Jesus was perfectly tested, perfectly strong, perfectly holy to win the ultimate victory for us over sin, death, heal, and Satan.
God tests us too. God allows Satan to tempt us. Sadly we don’t always overcome the temptations. But when we do we become stronger. We become stronger believers. We trust God more. We’re stronger to face the next temptation.
And through it all God is on our side. Nothing can separate from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Life can be filled with lots of trouble and temptation, but nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Amen.