Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Romans 8:33-34 – Knowing Heaven’s Care

Paul is reminding his readers about some of the blessings that are certain and sure and about which Christians need to think about in order to enjoy spiritual comfort. He uses the method of question and answer and such a method would have been a very helpful one for them to use themselves when thinking about biblical doctrines. The doctrines that he mentions in verses 33 and 34 are familiar ones.

First, we should think about the God who justifies his people (v. 33). We became right with him when we believed in Jesus and were forgiven all our sins as well as being clothed with the righteousness of Christ. God was pleased to do this for us.

Second, we should think about Jesus (v. 34). Paul here focuses on the priestly office of Jesus and mentions his sacrificial death and his heavenly intercession. Why did Jesus die on the cross? He died to pay the penalty for our sins. Why was he raised from the dead? It is the proof that his work on the cross was sufficient to deal with our sins. Having been raised, he then ascended to heaven, to God’s throne. What does he do there? Paul reminds his readers that Jesus is interceding for them. This does not mean that he is begging his Father to bless us. Instead, he can claim for us the blessings he purchased for us by his death.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Romans 8:32 - What will God give us?

We see an answer to our question when Paul refers to ‘all things’ in his question: ‘How will he not also with him freely give us all things?’ What are the ‘all things’ referring to?

They could look back to the inheritance that Paul wrote about earlier in the chapter, the creation that will be liberated when Jesus returns. If that is what Paul means, then he is telling us that we should always look ahead to the glory that is to come.

It is possible that Paul has in mind by ‘all things’ the fact that God will give to each of his people everything that they will need for living for him in a sinful and dangerous world, and that there is no external power that can stop God from providing for their needs. What do we need? We need his pardon daily, we need his presence daily, we need his power daily, and we need to be reminded of his promises daily. In this regard there is a wide range of blessings covered by ‘all things’.

I see no reason why both options cannot be true. Paul draws our attention to how God provides those blessings when saying that they are given freely or graciously. God does not give them reluctantly or haphazardly. Instead he ensures that they will all be given. We are reminded here of the incredible faithfulness of God. Because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins according to the will of the Father we will receive everything they planned to give us in this life and in the eternity to come.

What should our response be? We should reflect often on the faithfulness of God. He will always provide what we need.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Romans 8:32 – Who is for us?

Paul’s straightforward answer to this question is God. It is possible to think of God in many ways, but often it can be done in an abstract manner. We are familiar with the way philosophers reduce God to a concept for discussion as if they could possibly be the judges as to his existence or not. Or we can recall how a claim to be serving God moved many of the political ideas and reforms of the past and present. So what does Paul want us to think about when he says that God is for us?

When Paul asks, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’, he is stating a proposition that every thinking person would accept. God is the most powerful being that exists, who possesses infinite energy and strength, and who can treat with disdain the strongest exhibition of earthly or creaturely power. It is logically true that if God is for a person, then it does not matter who is against that person. If God acts on behalf of a person, that person is going to win.

Paul here however points to a very tangible and indisputable way in which God helped every one of his people and that is to think about what he did at Calvary. There he gave his Son in order to benefit all his people. The Father gave up his Son willingly and fully. Of course, we must ask to what was the Son given up. The answer to that question is astounding – the Son was given up by the Father to his wrath. So we can see that Paul is asking his readers to remind themselves continually that God has dealt with their biggest problem already, which was the punishment that their sins deserved.

We could ask, ‘Why did God give his own Son for us?’ One answer would be that God did so because he loves us, but this answer requires us to ask in what way or ways did he love us. A more expansive answer is that God loves us as part of his eternal plan in which the Trinity arranged for what each of them would do in order to provide salvation. His love for us involved more than giving his Son for his people. The giving of his Son removed the barrier to God giving anything to those he loved. Now that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins God will perform everything else he has planned.

I liked the comment of C. H. Mackintosh on this verse: ‘The language of unbelief is, “How shall He?” The language of faith is, ‘How shall He not?’ We will think tomorrow about some of the other things that he will give to his people.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Romans 8:31 – Who can be against us?

Several answers can be given to this question from a Christian perspective. There are at least two external opponents, and they are the devil and the world. Both of them are determined foes of God and his kingdom and often they work together against Christ and the church. Sometimes their method is that of intense persecution whereas at other times their method is temptation of Christians to compromise their allegiance and devotion to Jesus. Moreover, they don’t engage in a short-term strategy. Sometimes their attacks can feel like a war of attrition as they persist in opposing the Lord’s cause.

In order to resist them we need to wear the spiritual armour that Paul details in Ephesians 6. Yet although their blows are severe, in the end they are not against us. If believers are persecuted and martyred for the sake of Jesus, they will receive a great reward from God. If they are led astray by a combination of the world and the devil, God will recover and restore them.
In addition to the external opponents that every Christian faces, there is also an internal power that attempts to prevent Christians obtaining the blessings that Jesus has purchased for them and that God the Father has promised to them. The internal power is personal sin, which remains within a believer after conversion. Its power is weakened because the Christian is also indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, personal sin is so pervasive within a Christian that it affects everything he does. In this life, he never performs a totally sinless action. At a basic level, we can say that he never gives God 100% of what could have been given, and even his best actions could have been better. Yet because we can go to God for pardon, it turns out that even our sins cannot be against us permanently.

What else can be against us? One obvious factor is our human weakness. Even if we were perfect as humans we would still not be omnipotent or omniscient. The tasks given to us as members of God’s kingdom are so great that not even a gifted person such as the apostle Paul could do any of them in his own strength. Obviously we can do outward things. For example, if I was to have three meaningful conversations daily with different people about Jesus, it would take me sixty years to speak once to each person in my home town. Of course, if every Christian in it were to do so, it would only take one month or less to reach the whole town. But even if we were to manage that target annually, we still cannot convert one person by ourselves.

Another problem that could be against us is our lack of adequate insight into the situations we face. Life from one perspective is an ongoing lists of decisions and with regard to many of them we cannot see or understand all the angles. Even if we had the power, we do not have the wisdom with which to grasp all the aspects of a situation. And most situations intertwine with numerous other ones, and all we can say to God is that we do not know what to do.

And there is the enemy of death. We can see how it destroys the hopes and pleasures of countless numbers. It seems so powerful because no-one can escape from it permanently. Yet as we observed when thinking about the martyrs, death does not prevent believers from being with God. Although it is such an enemy it becomes the door for God’s people to enter his presence. Eventually it will lead to the great resurrection.

What can be against us? Obviously a wide variety of different enemies. Can they prevent us getting to the eternal glory that God has promised? No.