This week's Bible Study - October 4, 2015
God's Promise of Victory
Quotes of the Week:
I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.
Booker T. Washington
We love to hear that we are promised victory, don't we? Berkley and I are avid sports fans and we have attended a bunch of St Louis Cardinals games this year. In some ways, baseball is a weird sport, because on a given day, any team can beat any other team. This can happen in any sport, although it happens more often in baseball. Over a long season, the better teams are much more consistent which is evident based on their records. When we have gone to games, it is much more fun when the Cards win. (Thankfully, they won most of their home games this year!) Over the course of the professional baseball season, there are no teams that go undefeated (or even close) and there are no teams that lose all their games. Certainly, some teams end up with winning or losing streaks throughout the season, but those are often fleeting.
Sometimes, it seems as if life is a bit like a professional baseball season. Throughout life, we have victories and losses, but life is like a very long season. At times, we may seem to be on a roll, where things are going good, but at other times, it seems like we can't catch a break. We learn to expect that there will be good times in life and we understand that there will be bad times as well.
What comes to mind when you think of victory provided by God? Ultimately, for believers, we have victory through salvation and eternal life with Him, through our relationship with Jesus Christ. And, there will be times when God is very evidently at work in our lives, in a tangible manner. We'd like to think that would be all the time and that as long as we sought God, life would go as we had hoped, yet we know that we will experience victory and defeat.
Part of this passage is one that is quoted often, and when times are good, people like to say it all the time, as if nothing bad will come their way. However, through different circumstances in life that Berkley and I have experienced, these words meant as an encouragement by others can be like the thrust of a dagger. It isn't as if the truth of the passage is lessened, but when you are in the midst of the ugly parts of life, knowing that God works all things together for good really begs one to question why God would allow this or that. Recently, there have been killings of Christians in different parts of our world (even in the United States) where they were killed for their profession of faith. Certainly, those who are martyred hold a special place reserved by God, but that is little consolation for those left behind. Spouses, parents, children, siblings and close friends are deeply grieved and begin to question why a loved one lost their life. As we study this lesson, let us be aware of those who are hurting, so that these words do not come across as glib and that we do not inflict more damage on others by quoting these truths.
This specific verse, Romans 8:28, is quoted often, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." To begin with, this does not say that everything that happens is good. The fact is that bad things happen to people. This is not saying that we shouldn't care and should have a 'que sera sera', 'whatever will be will be' type of attitude.
If you look back at your life and your own experience, have you always seen God cause "all things" to work together for good that you can recognize? Certainly, there are things that happen that can result in some good at some point. In some instances, people come to know the Lord through terrible tragedies. However, as stated previously, there are many other things that have happened in our world that were not in God's will, nor has He caused these terrible things to happen. We would like, at times, for God to step in and correct an unjust situation. Wouldn't you have hoped that God would have stepped in to stop tragedies in modern life, as well as to end the Holocaust before it began? Unfortunately, we deal with the fallen nature and deeds of mankind. While we know that God 'could' have corrected some things in life, we know that He did not do so, for whatever reason. We struggle to see how good can come out of these things that have occurred in our world.
There are many things that have happened in our world, and we would have to make quite a stretch that God sees those as any good, or even to see good that could come out of it. In trying to reconcile what we see and what the Bible says, I began looking more intently at the 8th chapter of Romans, in which we can read of the many things that God has done and is doing in the lives of believers. These are things that result in salvation of believers. Perhaps these are the 'all things' that God works to the good of those who have been called according to His purpose. I believe we can see that all these things that God has done could work together for the good of believers. Could it be that we have taken this passage out of context for centuries?
We need to realize that this passage does not say that all things work together for the good of all people, which only adds to the thought that 'all things' are about salvation. This is not the principle that says that suffering makes anyone a better person. This is for believers; those that love God and are called by God. There is something we do (love Him) and something that He does (calls us). This is something that some people may want to change, so that all people could make their own choice, apart from God's calling. We struggle with how God deals with those who may have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. We struggle with whether God has called our loved ones to Him. We only truly know how God deals with those of us who have placed their faith in His Son. In all parts of the world, some aspects of God are evident (i.e. in nature) and God deals with all people in some manner. Often, we take what we know about our calling and presume upon all others. Again, the true meaning of this, and how it is mechanized supernaturally, is handled by a much higher pay grade than any pastor or teacher, so we won't delve into those aspects here.
We see a progression that God has with each believer. We read that He knows us. He foreknew, predestined, called, justified and then glorified. Some people think that they have a handle on all of this, but when we meet our Lord in glory, we will understand that it was all His doing and much we didn't know. There won't be much emphasis on these verses (29 and 30) in this lesson, but certainly many lessons could be and have been written on each of these aspects.
So, when we think of the difficulties (or perhaps atrocities) that we or others around us are experiencing, let us realize that we may not understand what good is coming out of them. I remember teaching a class at one point many years ago, when I naively believed that we could ascertain some sense of goodness in all situations and when I said something along that line, one man talked of how his father had died prematurely many years earlier and he was still unable to see anything good that came out of that. Of course, I had no answer, but it helped me to reconsider my own stance, based on what I had experienced up to that point in my life. We may not know in 5, 10 or 25 years or ever, but we can believe that God will somehow use all things for our good. As we live our lives as believers, we try and align our will to His, but we will never fully be able to do that and we struggle with only seeing things from our own perspective. However, if we realize that 'all things' are the things that God has done to accomplish our salvation, we can make sense of this passage.
When we consider all things that we experience in life, as Christians, we need to realize the ever amazing promise of salvation. We read that if God is for us, who can be against us? He gave His own Son for us all and would also give us all things. We would like to think that we would feel totally secure in our faith at all times and we would never have doubts. Assurance of salvation, even when taught, is something that we truthfully wrestle with. I believe that this doubt creeps in, not because we don't have confidence in God's love, but we have the fickleness of our own heart. Especially when we deal with the ugly parts of life, we begin to believe that if God truly loved us, thenů. This is a dangerous position for us to put ourselves in, because we somehow start seeing God's love for us as conditional.
We need to realize that salvation through Jesus Christ was always God's plan. Even from the start of the Old Testament, there are many references and prophecies to what God would do through His Son (this is but one of the many proofs of the Bible's truth). It was always God's plan to provide salvation through Jesus Christ. When He was put to death on the cross, there were some that saw Him only as a criminal and nothing else. However, when we think of what Jesus experienced on the cross, we see that Jesus can relate to what we experience, as nothing we will experience will come close to what He experienced on our behalf. Many said that if He was indeed from God, God would have stepped in to show His love. Instead, God's love proved to be silent at that time, showing exceeding love for you and I, as well as for generations in the future.
When we get to the point of understanding the true cost of salvation, we should never question if God is for us. Through the Old Testament, the one thing that we learn above all is that man has no ability to be righteous on our own. When we understand what God required for forgiveness in the Old Testament (a blood sacrifice for our sin), we understand that Jesus truly paid the penalty and that God's requirements for righteousness, put on us, have not been ignored. Unfortunately, as we live our lives, we know that there is always an aspect of our own unrighteousness and guilt that our minds can never get away from. However, when the verdict is finally written and given, we will be rid forever of the least smidgen of fear of rejection by the sovereign God
Paul asks the question who or what shall separate us from the love of Christ. He writes that trouble or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword shall not separate us from Christ's love. In short, there is no earthly circumstance that can separate us from God's love. We will all go through external pressures and difficulties where we may at times question God's love, because it does not 'seem' as if He would allow us to go through these things if He loved us. Again, we realize that every part of us becoming a child of God was based on the things that God made possible, apart from any one of us. When we start to see our status in Christ as something that we earn or maintain, we will question His love from time to time. Even when it feels that we may be separate from the love of Christ in life, we know that God is the author and maintainer of our faith.
We also know that we will endure inward pressures such as stress and grief of all types. None of these things will separate us from Christ's love. We are reminded that this is written by Paul, who certainly experienced circumstances and pressures that would have caused someone on their 'own' mission to stop. However, as Paul experienced the adversity, the more he seemed to experience the unchanging love of God. When we experience adversity or circumstances that we would rather avoid, are we able to understand that, despite these things, God is with us?
Have you ever thought about why it is important that our security in Christ is based on His love for us and not our love for Him? This may sound like hearsay, especially if you have experienced the 'life of Riley' to this point. There are some people who seem to live charmed lives, with family, job, finances and many good friends that rarely experience anything harsh. If this is you and your family, realize that you have been blessed in many ways. However, one thing that we can count on is that we will face many trials in our lives. And, if you haven't experienced much yet, your reaction may be much different when it happens than what you may naively expect now. We try hard to maintain our love for Christ, but even trying hard, we waver from time to time. However, in verse 37, we read that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. There will be times that we don't feel much like conquerors, but in spite of what we experience and in the midst of what we experience, we are conquerors. It's not because of who we are or what we do, but because of what was done on our behalf.
Verses 38-39 are two of my favorite verses in book of Romans. They read "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." There is nothing external, internal, spiritual or supernatural that can separate us from the love of Christ. Maintaining the love of Christ in our lives through all we experience is indeed a victorious life.
In studying and writing this lesson, my perspective on 'all things' has slightly changed. We like to take Romans 8:28 out of context and use it whenever anybody is dealing with difficult times, as if this is a blanket statement that will make whatever that they are experiencing to seem good. When we realize that our victory is based on our salvation, we begin to realize that all things are used by God for our good (our salvation).
As stated, we will experience hard times in life. Certainly, we would like to avoid the ugly parts of life. We would like to have no breakups of families, no loss of jobs, no financial distress and no serious disease in our own lives or in the lives of those we love. However unfortunate these things are, they are part of all of our lives at some point. Again, I don't believe the passage studied says that all of these things are for good. These times are not good times in the present and do not necessarily make for good in the future. However, we can experience the love of Christ in the midst of them. Who we are in Christ does not change, but these experiences impact people in different ways. You may have heard that trials can make or break an individual. Some people learn from trials or are able to adjust to changed circumstances. Some people will endure the trial, but on the other end of it, they may become shriveled up, bitter, angry or cynical. When this happens in our lives, our ability to truly share the love of Christ is minimized. How can we talk about the love and forgiveness we have in Christ, but find ourselves continually focused on ourselves or blaming others, even years after the trial? Have we fooled ourselves into thinking that these types of attitudes are not recognized by others and that they don't ruin our own witness?
You and I, as believers, are more than conquerors. Do you feel like a conqueror? Face it - there are many times that we don't feel that way. Certainly, there are many who are in the midst of grief or dealing with very intense issues in life and it would be wrong to say that they should 'feel' like a conqueror. However, if you find yourself always coming up with an excuse or if you constantly pass blame on others, you are making a choice to be defeated rather than to be a conqueror. As believers, we are conquerors, even when we don't feel like it.