Unbreakable (Romans 8:28-39)

Big Idea: God’s purposes and God’s love for us are unbreakable.


“I have some bad news.” That’s what our daughter, Christy, told us on Friday night when we got back from the Good Friday service. My mind began to go through all the things that could have gone wrong before she told us what had happened: she broke her glasses. I was relieved, actually. Glasses can be replaced. I’m actually surprised her glasses have lasted as long as they have!

But, her glasses are broken. It’s a reminder to us that important things break. Cars break. As we know in Liberty Village, elevators break. But it’s not just stuff that breaks: relationships break. Bones break. In an 8K race I ran yesterday, a guy right behind me took a tumble. A few days ago, there was a fatal accident on the highway just outside our condo. We are fragile creatures, and life is rough to say the least. Even entertainment — movies like Unbroken and TV shows like the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt  — alludes to the fact that life can be unbelievably hard, and that surviving is something that we can’t take for granted.

It leads us to the question: is anything really unbreakable? Glasses are fragile. Our stuff is fragile. We are fragile. Life is fragile. Is there anything that we can count on that cannot be broken?

In fact, there is. And it’s what Easter Sunday is all about.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at Romans 8. It’s such an important passage. Ray Ortlund, Jr. Says, “Paul’s letter to the Romans has the potential to transform the church in our generation, as it has in the past,” and I agree. In the book of Romans, we find one of the most profound presentations of the gospel message, or what God has done in Jesus to make us right with him. Someone else said:

If the Epistle to the Romans rightly has been called 'the cathedral of Christian faith', then surely the eighth chapter may be regarded as its most sacred shrine, or its high altar of worship, of praise, and of prayer … Here, we stand in the full liberty of the children of God, and enjoy a prospect of that glory of God which some day we are to share. (Charles Erdman).

We’ve been seeing from the book of Romans what we have in Jesus Christ. If you are in Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation for you. None. If you are in Jesus, you are now indwelt by God himself. He comes and lives within you. If you are in Jesus Christ, you are adopted. God doesn’t just forgive you; he adopts you. He takes you into his family. This is even better news than being forgiven. As J.I. Packer says, “To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.” Not only that, but you are heirs. You will inherit everything that God has promised to you.

All of this is good. Actually, all of this is amazing. But there’s a problem. You can be forgiven, indwelt, adopted, and made an heir, and still feel like you’re at risk, that you’re fragile, and that God’s control over your life is fragile. You can still feel like God could reach the end of his patience with you and decide to give up on you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over 25 years of pastoral ministry it’s that life can be brutally difficult, and that you and I will face events and tragedies that will threaten us and make it seem like everything in our lives is breakable. Paul even alludes to this in verses 18 to 25 as he talks about our present sufferings. Don’t let anyone tell you that you won’t suffer. Life is brutally hard, and it will sometimes seem like everything around you can break. We need something that is field-tested, that will survive whatever life can throw us including layoffs, breakups, crises, illnesses, and even death. Is there anything that is unbreakable in our lives?

Yes. In the middle of life’s difficulties, there are two things that will not break no matter what happens. According to this passage, God’s purposes for us and God’s love for us are unbreakable.

Let’s look at both of those.

First, God’s Purposes for you are unbreakable.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

This is a very hard verse to believe. It’s a great verse, but I almost cringe when I hear it because it’s thrown around like a panacea in the hardest of circumstances. But here is what Paul is saying. God has a purpose for you, and that purpose is that you be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) and that he complete the work that he has begun in your life until you are finally and completely saved. If you are in Jesus Christ, that is God’s purpose for you. It’s a pretty amazing thing. Ray Ortlund Jr. says that it’s like looking at an artist’s magnum opus. God has begun work on us and is fashioning us into what he wants us to become. It’s about:

…being changed from what we are right now, with all our struggles and failures, and being liberated into the glorious image of God’s Son in resurrection immortality forever. Not bad. Do you realize that, if you are in Christ, you are God’s personal project? He has undertaken to make you glorious.

And amazingly, Paul says that God is working everything together in order to accomplish that purpose. This means that God is at work in every circumstance of our lives with the ultimate goal of completing that work in us. There is not a single thing that can ever happen to us that will not accomplish God’s good purpose in our lives to make us into who he wants us to be. “God’s love employs the worst of life for his loving purpose” (Ray Ortlund). Even your sins. Everything, including evil and tragedies! The Bible is saying that all things in your story — not some things, not just the nice things, but all things in your story — are being used by God to fulfill his great purpose of redemption. It’s what theologians call the providence of God. The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 asks, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” and answers:

Providence is the almighty and ever-present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.

As one theologian put it, “God’s unstoppable purpose in calling believers to salvation cannot be frustrated, and thus he employs all things to bring about the plan he had from the beginning in the lives of believers” (Thomas R. Schreiner).

What does this look like? The best illustration I’ve seen comes from author Philip Yancey:

In high school, I took pride in my ability to play chess. I joined the chess club, and during lunch hour could be found sitting at a table with other nerds poring over books with titles like Classic King Pawn Openings. I studied techniques, won most of my matches, and put the game aside for 20 years.

Then, in Chicago, I met a truly fine chess player who had been perfecting his skills long since high school. When we played a few matches, I learned what it is like to play against a master. Any classic offense I tried, he countered with a classic defense. If I turned to more risky, unorthodox techniques, he incorporated my bold forays into his winning strategies. Although I had complete freedom to make any move I wished, I soon reached the conclusion that none of my strategies mattered very much. His superior skill guaranteed that my purposes inevitably ended up serving his own.

Perhaps God engages our universe, his own creation, in much the same way. He grants us freedom to rebel against its original design, but even as we do so we end up ironically serving his eventual goal of restoration.

If I accept that blueprint — a huge step of faith, I confess — it transforms how I view both good and bad things that happen. Good things, such as health, talent, and money, I can present to God as offerings to serve his purposes. And bad things, too — disability, poverty, family dysfunction, failures — can be redeemed as the very instruments that drive me to God.

I said that this is the best illustration I found, but that’s not completely true. The best illustration I can find is the cross. On Good Friday we remembered that Jesus was betrayed, illegally convicted, mocked, beaten, and executed. It was the most horrible thing that could ever happen: we killed God the Son. But in the ultimate example of God working all things together for our good, he took “the most horrible thing that ever happened” and turned it into “the most wonderful thing that ever happened" (Paul David Tripp). His death became our salvation.

What this means is that everything that happens to you — everything, including the really hard things — will be used by God to accomplish his purposes in your life. In the end, if you have trusted in what Jesus did at the cross to accomplish your salvation, you will be glorious. John Donne, an English poet who lived almost 500 years ago, put it this way: “I shall be so like God, as that the devil himself shall not know me from God, so farre as to finde any more place to fasten a temptation upon me, then upon God; not to conceive any more hope of my falling from that kingdome, then of God’s being drivern out of it.” God’s purposes for you are unbreakable.

But that’s not all:

Second, God’s love for you is unbreakable.

In his book By Grace Alone, Sinclair Ferguson identifies four major "fiery darts" Satan uses to unsettle believers and rob them of their assurance and peace in the gospel:

  • Fiery Dart 1: "God is against you," Satan says. "He is not really for you. How can you believe he is for you when you see the things that are happening in your life?"
  • Fiery Dart 2: "I have accusations I will bring against you because of your sins," Satan argues. "What can you say in defense? Nothing."
  • Fiery Dart 3: "You can say you are forgiven, but there is a payback day coming—a condemnation day," Satan insinuates. "How will you defend yourself then?"
  • Fiery Dart 4: "Given your track record, what hope is there that you will persevere to the end?" Satan asks.

Will any of these things remove us from God’s love? Is God’s love for us fragile? Paul answers with three assertions in verses 31-39, all of which have to do with Easter:

Since God is for us, no one can successfully oppose us. Paul writes:

What then shall we say to these things? 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 with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

When he was growing up, the late author Brennan Manning had a best friend named Ray. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the frontlines together.

One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Brennan's life was spared.

Years later he went to visit Ray's mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Ray’s mother got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan's face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?” Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And the answer coming back: “What more could he have done for you?”

The cross of Jesus is God's way of doing all he could do for us. The evidence of God being for us is supremely manifested in the giving of his Son. And now that he has given us the greatest gift (his Son), he will surely give us everything else that we need (32).

No one will ever bring a charge against the elect. Paul writes:

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34)

There are a lot of bad things people can say about us that are true. Anyone who knows me well could stand up and deliver charges against me: faults in my character, things that I should have done that I didn’t do, careless things I’ve said, and more. All of these charges are true, but none of them can stick. Why?

If accusations are brought against us, we need not fear, for the charges are silenced by the upraised, pierced hands of our Intercessor. If we are to be condemned, it will have to be over Christ’s dead and now resurrected body, which actually is the basis of our salvation!” (Kent Hughes)

This passage says that God no charges will stick against us, because God dealt with them all on Good Friday, and has declared us to be not guilty. No one will condemn us on the day of judgment. Not only will God not condemn us, but Jesus will defend us against any charge. No accusation against us will prevail.

Finally: Nothing and no one can successfully separate us from God’s love in Christ. Paul writes:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Paul looks around at anything and everything that can separate us from God’s love. He throws out every worst-case scenario out there that could threaten God’s love. Death will not pull me away from God’s love. Neither will anything in this life, nor cosmic spiritual powers, nor anything in time. No disappointment, no neurosis, no disease, no broken romance, no financial crisis, no mental illness will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. God’s love for you has no outer limit.

There is very little in this life that can’t be broken. Everything around us is fragile. But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean that two things are true: God’s purposes for us are unbreakable. God’s love for us is unbreakable.

I told you my daughter’s glasses broke. I went to the optometrist yesterday. We bought insurance for the glasses, but it had already expired. But they said, “Don’t worry, we’ll look after it.” Broken, cracked, smashed — but guaranteed. They weren’t going to let anything happen that they weren’t going to cover.

Two thousand years ago, a man died for us. A few days later he rose from the dead. All of this was to tell us: God will stick up for us. God will provide for us. God justifies us. His purposes for us will not fail. God loves us. God’s love is loyal, generous, just and eternal. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, this is his love for you today. If you are not, then come to him today — to the one whose purposes and love are truly unbreakable.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Adopted (Romans 8:12-17)

Big Idea: Adoption gives us a new identity, experience, and destiny.


So here’s how things work around here. Every week we get up here and say something really important. Most weeks we will tell you that what we’re talking about is important, probably more important than anything we’ve talked about other weeks. After a while, you start to roll your eyes, because every week we keep saying that tonight’s topic is one of the most important things. And yet you keep coming back.

Tonight, we’re going to repeat the process. Except what we’re going to talk about actually is one of the most important things we could ever grasp. That isn’t just my opinion. Renowned Canadian theologian J.I. Packer agrees. He writes:

You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. “Father” is the Christian name for God. (Knowing God)

So today, we’re talking about something very important. It is, as Packer says, the sum of the whole of New Testament teaching. It is the summation of the New Testament, and the test of how well you understand Christianity.

But it’s even more than that. I really appreciate what Packer says: it’s not just knowing it, but experiencing it. It’s how much we make of the thought of being God’s child; it’s being controlled in our worship, prayers, and whole outlook on life.

So today, I want to look at this. Specifically, I want to look at three things that we learn in this passage. It tells us that we have three new things: a new identity, a new experience, and a new destiny.

First, we have a new identity.

Listen to what Paul says in verse 14: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Don’t miss this. What Paul is saying is for those who have encountered Jesus Christ, there is a completely new identity. In other words, not everybody is a child of God. Some people teach that, and in a sense it’s true. When Paul spoke in Athens, he quoted one of their poets: “For we are indeed his offspring” (Acts 17:28). What Paul means is that we are all related. Every human being was created by God in his image. But that’s not what Paul is talking about in Romans 8. In Romans 8, he is distinguishing between two types of people: those who are children of God, and those who aren’t. Not everyone has this privilege. If you have encountered God’s grace through Jesus Christ, then you have a completely new identity: you are a child of God. The gospel of John says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

What does it mean to be a child of God? Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz told a story that helps us understand. Billy Graham is the famous evangelist who has preached to millions of people all around the world, and who now lives in North Carolina. People come to visit him in his home. They drive up the long drive and come to the gate. They knock on the gate and say: “Billy Graham, let us in. We've read your books; we've watched you on TV; we've written to you; and we want to come to your house.”

And she says that her father says: "Depart from me, I don't know you. You're not a member of my family, and you've not made any arrangements to come."

But Anne Graham Lotz says that when she drives up that same driveway and knock on the gate, she says, “Daddy, this is Anne, and I've come home.” The gate is thrown right open, and she goes inside, because she is her father's child. Although he is a lot of things — evangelist, legend, author, confidante to presidents — to her he is Dad. Her identity changes everything, and puts her on a completely different footing with her father.

That’s what Paul is saying. If you are in Jesus Christ, then Father is now the name by which you call God. Nobody ever called God Father before Jesus came along. If you are in Jesus Christ, you’re now part of God’s family. You are his children, his own sons and daughters and heirs. You can approach him with boldness. You have an in with God. You have privileges. You can approach God without fear and know that he has a fatherly concern for you. “This is the heart of the New Testament message” (Packer).

What does this mean? The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way. We now:

…enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have His name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry, Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him, as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

There’s so much here. We now have new privileges. We now have God’s name upon us. We can now approach God with boldness. God now cares for us, protects us, provides for us, and corrects us. He will not revoke our adoption. We now receive all that he has promised us as heirs. We could spend weeks exploring all of this.

I know I keep quoting J.I. Packer, but what he has written on this subject is so good. Packer says that this is the highest privilege that the gospel offers. It’s even better than our justification, by which he means it’s even better than God’s forgiveness of us. Why is this so? Justification, he says, is definitely necessary, and it definitely meets our deepest spiritual need. But adoption is even higher, because of the rich relationship with God that it signifies. You see, we could be forgiven by God, but that would still not necessarily mean that God loves us. It doesn’t imply any deep relationship or intimacy. A judge can pardon you, but that doesn’t mean that he has to like you. In fact, a judge can set you free and still absolutely hate you.

But that’s not what God does. God justifies us. He forgives all of our sins. But then he does something unbelievable. He brings us into his family. He loves us, and he becomes our Father. Our relationship becomes one of closeness, affection and generosity. “To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater” (Packer).

The good news that we offer this community — the good news that we need ourselves — is not just about forgiveness. It’s not just about the afterlife. It’s far better than this. It’s that we can have a new relationship with God through Jesus in which we enjoy all the privileges of becoming God’s children. He offers his love and all the rights and privileges that come with being his children.

It’s unbelievable, but that’s not all:

Second, we have a new experience.

It’s one thing to have a new identity. It’s another thing to experience it. If you look carefully at what Paul says in this passage, he’s not content to let this hang in the air like a theory or a concept. Paul gets real with this truth. Look at what he writes:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… (Romans 8:15-16)

This is not meant to be a theory. It’s meant to be an experience in two different ways.

First, it changes us from a spirit of slavery to a spirit of sonship. We no longer relate to God from a position of fear or a position of servitude. We’re children now. This gets personal. Paul compares two ways of thinking about God. One is about fear, dread, and inadequacy. Have you ever felt insecure in a relationship? You know how awful that is. Paul contrasts that with a second way of thinking about God: not fear, not dread, not inadequacy, but intimacy. It leads us to address God in the most intimate terms, as a child would address his or her father.

Second, it’s also experienced within our spirits. We inwardly sense that we are God’s sons. In Hebrew culture, the testimony of two witnesses was required to establish truth. Paul says that we have this here. The two witnesses are the Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our own spirits. You were meant to experience this inward assurance that you are loved by God. It’s a personal touch from God in the depth of your being. I don’t know if you have ever experienced this. I hope you have. There have been times when I’ve had a strong and powerful sense of my relationship with God. We were meant to experience this. It’s not reserved for the elite. It’s for all of us.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones says if you want to get an idea of what it’s like, picture a man walking along a road with his little boy, holding hands. “The little boy knows that this man is his father and that his father loves him. But suddenly, the father stops, picks up the boy, lifts him up into his arms, embraces him, and kisses him. Then he puts him down, and they continue walking. The boy is no more a son when he is being embraced than he was before. The father’s action has not changed the relationship; it has not changed the status of the boy; but oh, the difference in the enjoyment.” That’s what we’re meant to enjoy with God.

I hope you get a sense of how amazing this is. If you are in Christ, you are justified. That alone is amazing. He has forgiven all of your sins. He has cleansed you from all unrighteousness. But it gets even better. Not only has he done this, but he has adopted you and given you a new identity as his own child. You are his; he is yours. You can approach him in confidence and intimacy. But it gets even better than this. It’s not just a theory but it’s meant to be an experience.

How do you get this? Ask God for it. Charles Spurgeon said:

Thank him for little grace, and ask him for great grace . He has given you hope, ask for faith. And when he gives you faith, ask for assurance. And when you get assurance, ask for full assurance. And when you have obtained full assurance, ask for enjoyment. And when you have enjoyment, ask for glory itself. And he will surely give it to you in his own appointed season.

I heard a story this week of a man who owned a sheep ranch. He couldn’t make enough on his ranching operation to pay the principal and interest on the mortgage, so he was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, he had to live on government subsidy.

One day a seismographic crew from an oil company came into the area and told him there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well, and he signed a lease contract. They found a huge oil reserve, and he became a multimillionaire. The day he purchased the land he had received the oil and mineral rights. He’d been rich from that day. Yet, he'd been living on relief. A multimillionaire living in poverty. The problem? He didn't know the oil was there even though he owned it.

Many Christians live in spiritual poverty. They are entitled to all the privileges and benefits of being God’s adopted sons, but they are not aware of their rights. They live like orphans rather than living off the rich reserves of grace that are theirs.

I love what Spurgeon said. “Ask for enjoyment.” Ask God to make his love real to you. Meditate on the gospel. Purse the means of grace. Flee from sin. If you are in Christ, you have the identity of his child. Ask him for the enjoyment of that privilege. Live in light of who you really are.

We’ve said that this is revolutionary. We’ve seen that this is the heart of the Christian message, and that it gives us a new identity and a new experience. But there’s one more thing that it gives us:

Third, we have a new destiny.

Paul says in verse 17: “…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). He may have saved the best for last. Paul’s talked about our present enjoyment of the benefits of adoption: that we have a new identity, and that we can experience that identity here and now. But in this verse he paints the future for us. Now that we’re adopted, we have an inheritance coming our way. Paul’s going to spend the rest of the chapter talking about this, so we won’t go into depth, but we’ll spend just a few minutes talking about it today.

When God adopts us, we become heirs. “Your eternal happiness hinges on this one thing: Are you a child of God?” (Ray Ortlund). If you are, you are richer than you can imagine. You have an inheritance coming to you that is unbelievable. God will wipe the tears from our eyes. We will be like Jesus. We will experience life better than we’ve ever imagined. I love what Mike Wittmer writes about the new earth that we will enjoy:

So the new earth will be an exciting, interesting place to be. We will be always growing, always learning more about ourselves, the world, and God. We will never bottom out and become bored, for we will never know as much as God knows. There will always be some new joy to discover, some place to visit or revisit, some new dish to create, a new flower to breed, a new song to sing, a new poem to write, a new golf club to try out, a new lesson to learn and then pass on to someone else, some person to know more deeply, something new in our relationship with God. And this stretching and growing will go on forever…Nothing will be more satisfying than dwelling with our Father on the earth we call home, enjoying the well-rounded, flourishing lives he intended for us all along. Our next life will look an awful lot like this one, lacking only the suffering that arises from sin. (Heaven Is a Place on Earth)

Doesn’t that sound great? This is the inheritance that awaits the children of God. Amazingly, it’s all ours because it’s all Christ’s, and we are co-heirs with him. Because he inherits it, we will too.

But Paul does add a condition. He says, “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” It’s odd for Paul to mention suffering at this point. He was on a roll. I was feeling pretty encouraged until Paul brought this up. Why does Paul bring this up?

I believe it’s because Christianity is real about our problems. You are adopted, and you get to experience that adoption, and you even get to inherit all things, but that doesn’t exempt you from suffering. The gospel enables us to face up to the hard realities of this world rather than denying them. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Suffering is common. It’s actually part of the Christian life.

Peter and John were jailed. Stephen was killed. Paul himself was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, starved, threatened, and exposed to the elements. And what was true of these early preachers soon became true of their followers as well. They were ridiculed, hated, abused, and eventually martyred for their faith in great numbers. In addition, they endured the many disappointments, deaths, deprivations, and disasters common to all human life in a fallen and extremely sinful world…Suffering is as common to God’s people today as in New Testament times. (James Boice)

Paul is not saying that suffering is how we earn our status as children, or gain our inheritance. He is saying that it’s proof that we are God’s children. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who explores this line of thought extensively in his study of Romans 8:17, says, “If you are suffering as a Christian, and because you are a Christian, it is one of the surest proofs you can ever have of the fact that you are a child of God.” But we can’t miss what Paul says in the next verse: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). This is how J.I. Packer puts it:

And throughout our life in this world, and to all eternity beyond, he will constantly be showing us, in one way or another, more and more of his love, and thereby increasing our love to him continually. The prospect before the adopted children of God is an eternity of love.

This is what this passage tells us. We are adopted, and it changes everything. It gives us a new identity. It gives us a new experience, here and now. And it gives us a new destiny. Knowing this sustains us even when things get really tough here and now.

I want to close by saying two things. First, if you are here today and don’t consider yourself to be a Christian, we are so glad you are here. We are honored to have you. I want you to understand that this is what Christianity is all about. It’s not a set of rules. It’s not about rituals. It’s about adoption. This is the whole of the New Testament teaching. It’s the test of if you understand Christianity. As you consider the claims of Christ, I want you to see that the heart of Christianity is a God who adopts unworthy people and calls them his own. You’re invited. This is open to anyone who comes to Jesus Christ and confesses him as Lord.

Second, I want to speak to those of you who are followers of Jesus Christ. It is my great privilege to tell you that you have not just been forgiven; you have been adopted. You can now approach God with boldness. God now cares for you, protects you, provides for you, and corrects you. He will not revoke your adoption. You now receive all that he has promised you as heirs, a fellow heir with Jesus. And this isn’t just head knowledge. He wants you to experience this.

I want to close with great advice from J.I. Packer:

The immediate message to our hearts of what we have studied in the present chapter is surely this: Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of—a happy Life?—yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say. This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life, and of a God-honoring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

No Condemnation (Romans 8:1-2)

Big Idea: What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? He removes all condemnation.


Skye Jethani relates a story about holding a series of meetings with college-aged students. The topics ranged across the spectrum—doctrine, hell, dating—but each conversation had three rules: be honest, be gracious, and be present.

On one night the students wanted to discuss habitual sins. Although they struggled with a variety of sinful behaviors, they all agreed on one thing: God was extremely disappointed with them. One student said, “My parents were students at a Christian college in the early '90s when a revival broke out …. They were on fire for God. And here I am consumed by sin day after day.” Often through tears, many other students shared similar stories about how they believed God must be disappointed with them.

After listening to their stories, Jethani asked, “How many of you were raised in a Christian home?” They all raised their hands. “How many of you grew up in a Bible-centered church?” All hands stayed up. And all of them agreed that God was extremely disappointed with them. Maybe you can relate.

I want to ask a question tonight: What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? Or to put it differently: What does God think of you today? Not the cleaned up, airbrushed version of you, but the real you. I wonder if I asked you, “Do you feel that God is disappointed in you?” how you would answer.

Because the reality is: We have to answer this question. All of us here today are strugglers, every single one of us. So the question is a legitimate one: What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing?

To answer this question, I want to look at a great passage of Scripture: Romans 8. It’s such an important passage. Ray Ortlund, Jr. Says, “Paul’s letter to the Romans has the potential to transform the church in our generation, as it has in the past,” and I agree. In the book of Romans, we find one of the most profound presentations of the gospel message, or what God has done in Jesus to make us right with him. Someone else said:

If the Epistle to the Romans rightly has been called 'the cathedral of Christian faith', then surely the eighth chapter may be regarded as its most sacred shrine, or its high altar of worship, of praise, and of prayer … Here, we stand in the full liberty of the children of God, and enjoy a prospect of that glory of God which some day we are to share. (Charles Erdman).

We’re going to spend some time leading up to Easter looking at this great chapter in the book of Romans as we wrap up our series on our identity in Christ. But here’s the thing: Paul begins Romans 8 with the very dilemma we’re talking about. What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? In chapter 7, he gives a profound description of what it feels like to be fighting but failing:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:15, 18-19, 24-25)

There’s been a ton of debate about what Paul is talking about here. Is he talking about his experience before he was a Christian, his experience as a Christian, or is he speaking about Israel’s experience? We can’t be sure, but we can say this: this is, to some extent, the experience of every Christian. Anyone who has seriously followed Christ has known something of wanting to obey Christ, but feeling frustrated, and feeling like a failure. We want to do good, but we end up doing the very thing we did’t want to do. We want to please God, but the power to do so is out of our grasp. I know that I can relate.

Given this struggle, Paul says two things. First, he says the answer to this dilemma is Jesus. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) When we come to the end of ourselves, and realize our need of Christ, we are in a very good position indeed. We’re exactly where we need to be. Notice what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “Wretched man that I am! What must I do?” He says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?” The answer has to come from outside of ourselves, and that answer is Jesus. If you feel like you don’t measure up, then the answer isn’t to try harder. The answer is to look outside of yourself to Jesus and all that he brings us. We’re going to talk about this in the coming weeks.

But Paul also says a second thing, and it’s what I want to look at today. In Romans 8:1-2, Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? He removes all condemnation. Is God disappointed in you because you struggle? No. He has provided a Savior, and he has removed all condemnation.

Let’s ask a few questions about this passage. What does it mean? On what basis? And what difference does this make?

First: What does it mean?

It’s important to understand what Paul means, because this is one of the most important truths of the Christian faith. To really understand this, we have to understand the what, who, and when.

What — Here’s what Paul means. It’s a legal term. Paul doesn’t only mean that we aren’t condemned. It’s stronger that that. It means that we are completely free from any debt or penalty. Not only are we not under condemnation, but it doesn’t even exist anymore. It is gone forever and cannot exist for us. No charge against us can stand; no one can condemn us.

Now, it’s not because we don’t deserve to be condemned. Paul has just built a case that we’re all guilty before a holy God. There’s not one person — religious or not — who escapes. Nobody measures up to God’s standard. Nobody can stand before God boldly with our record exposed. We’re all in big trouble on our own, and should be concerned with God’s condemnation — except that Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Here’s what it means: “If you are in Christ Jesus, there is no valid reason why you should ever again experience fear or apprehension about your relationship with God or your eternal destiny” (Sam Storms). This is amazing! As the hymn says:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine…

That’s the what. You deserve condemnation, but that condemnation doesn’t even exist for you anymore. It’s gone.

Who — Who does it apply to? Paul does not say Christians are free from condemnation because they are sinless, but because they are in Christ. This is not for everyone; it is for sinners who are in Jesus Christ. When we are in Christ Jesus, everything changes. To be in Christ means that we are in an actual relationship with Jesus Christ in which all the benefits of his life and obedience are ours, because we’re united with him. Paul says that once we are united in Christ, in this relationship with him, then there is no longer any condemnation for us. It’s gone, and it can never come back.

When — And here’s the when. It’s present tense. It’s not later when we get our act together. It’s right now in the middle of the struggle.

Not when we get older. Not when we get more mature. Not when we overcome all sinful habits. Not when we get past being hurt by others. Not when all our bills are paid. Not when we get a new job. Not when we learn more of the Bible. Not when people start treating us nicely and with respect. Not when we get the praise and public adulation we think we deserve. Not when our enemies stop persecuting us. Not when the wrongs against us have been put right. Not when we’ve been vindicated. Not when we stop making fools of ourselves in public. Now! (Sam Storms)

I hope you can see how important this is. In fact, Dr. Marytn Lloyd-Jones said, “If you have got hold of this idea you will have discovered the most glorious truth you will ever know in your life.” In fact, he says, “Most of our troubles are due to our failure to realize the truth of this verse.” The problem for a lot of us is that we live a lot like the students I mentioned at the start of this sermon. We assume that our standing with God is based on our performance. To put it in theological terms, we base our justification (our standing before God) on our sanctification (our growth in holiness). This puts us in a precarious position. Lloyd-Jones describes what it looks like if we don’t get this truth:

They seem to think of the Christian as a man who, if he confesses his sin and asks for forgiveness, is forgiven. At that moment he is not under condemnation. But then if he should sin again he is back once more under condemnation. Then he repents and confesses his sin again, and asks for pardon, and he is cleansed once more. So to them the Christian is a man who is constantly passing from one state to the other; back and forth; condemned, not condemned. Now that, according to the Apostle, is a wholly mistaken notion, and a complete failure to understand the position. The Christian is a man who can never be condemned; he can never come into a state of condemnation again. ‘No condemnation!’ The Apostle is not talking about his experience, but about his position, his standing, his status; he is in a position in which, being justified, he can never again come under condemnation. That is the meaning of this word ‘no’. It means ‘Never’.

You don’t have to be perfect. Jesus was perfect for you. If you are in Christ, there is no condemnation, even though you continue to struggle. This is a truth that can change your life as you grasp it. You can personalize it. “There is therefore now no condemnation for _______.” Fill in your name and live in light of this reality.

But that’s not all. We need to understand Paul’s reasoning behind this declaration.

On what basis?

On what basis is there no condemnation? The answer may surprise you. Look at verse 2:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

You could read that over a few times and not understand that completely, so let’s try to understand what he’s saying.

Paul contrasts two laws: the law of the Spirit of life, and the law of sin and death. We used to live in a way that was controlled by sin and death. You know what that’s like: controlled and dominated by sin, and unable to change despite your best intentions. Here’s the thing: we think that we control our choices, but Paul is saying that apart from Christ we’re actually not in control. We’re under the law and domination of sin and death. The problem with sin and death is that it’s deadly. It produces all the wrong things in our lives. As long as we continue to live under the domination of sin and death, we’re in trouble. We’re condemned.

But Paul says that when we came to Jesus, something happened. Now, “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus.” You’ve been liberated through the Holy Spirit. You’re under new management now. Sin has been kicked out as your boss, and the Holy Spirit has taken over. “It is God’s Spirit, coming to the believer with power and authority, who brings liberation from the powers of the old age and from the condemnation that is the lot of all who are imprisoned by those powers” (Douglas Moo). This is great news. Not only have you been forgiven, but God himself has taken over management of your life so that you are no longer controlled by sin and death. The Spirit has liberated you, and you are not under the control of sin like you used to be.

I walked by a store the other day. It had a sign outside that said “Under New Management.” If you are in Christ Jesus, you could put that sign on your life as well. You are not condemned, and the reason is because God has not only dealt with the penalty of your sin, but he has also broken the power of sin and taken over your life. It is the Spirit of God who provides victory, and that Spirit is the possession of every true child of God. Even when you struggle — and you will — you are still under new management. You’re no longer condemned, and you’re no longer under the power of sin. We forget this sometimes, but this is our new reality, and it changes everything. Talk about encouraging. You no longer have to fight sin on your own. You’re now under the control of the Holy Spirit, who is changing you from the inside out.

In other words, the basis of verse 1 is not us. It’s not about our worthiness or sinlessness. The basis of verse 1 is what God has done for us. What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? He removes all condemnation. Not only that, but he sets us free from the power of sin, and puts us under the control of the Holy Spirit. If you are in Jesus Christ, this is true of you. It’s an astounding truth.

But I want to make this practical. So let’s close by asking:

So what?

As we close this sermon, we have to ask what this means for us today. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So what? Because of this truth, there are two things that are true of us, and both of them are amazing.

First, this can be yours.  The great news about the gospel is that it’s available to anyone who’s desperate enough to want it. You don’t have to get your act together. God’s grace is available to you now. “All you need, to qualify for all that blessing, is to be a sinner in Christ, not a rehabilitated sinner, not a tidied-up sinner, but the sinner you are in Christ. Jesus said he came not to call the righteous but sinners (Matthew 9:13). He has no interest in good people. He attracts bad people. We are bad people. But if we are in Christ, we have God's grace right now while we are bad” (Ray Ortlund). So take this today. Jesus will welcome you and take away all condemnation. This can be yours today.

Second, the pressure is off. You can relax. You can rest assured that you are accepted before God with nothing to prove.

Remember those students I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon? Every one of them agreed with one thing: God was extremely disappointed with them. The person who led the group reflected on the experience and wrote:

I did not blame the students for their failure. Somewhere in their spiritual formation they were taught, either explicitly or implicitly, that what mattered was not God's love for them, but how much they could accomplish for him. (Skye Jethani)

The great news is that we can be freed from the feeling that God is disappointed with us. There is no condemnation. What matters is not how much you can accomplish for God, but how much God loves you in Jesus Christ, and that is secure. Don’t be surprised when you struggle. But in the middle of that, don’t doubt God’s love for you. One of my friends posted on Facebook this week: “List of things that can separate you from God's love:” and then nothing. The list is empty. If you are in Christ, you are secure. There is no condemnation. It doesn’t even exist anymore. You are secure.

This means we don’t have to prove ourselves. We don’t have to be sensitive to criticism. We don’t need to lack confidence and joy in our prayer and worship. I meet people all the time who don’t feel good enough, that they measure up. The truth is that we don’t measure up, but we don’t have to feel condemned. Because the objective reality is that there is no condemnation, we can make that our subjective reality as well.

Nobody says this better than Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. . . . Never look back at your sins again. Say, "It is finished, it is covered by the blood of Christ." That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you. What you need is not to make resolutions and to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying. No! You just begin to say, "I rest my faith on him alone, who died for my transgressions to atone. (Lloyd-Jones)

Here’s a test for if you get this passage. Matt Chandler says:

The litmus test of whether or not you understand the gospel is what you do when you fail. Do you run from God and go try to clean yourself up a bit before you come back into the throne room, or do you approach the throne of grace with confidence? If you don't approach the throne of grace with confidence, you don't understand the gospel. You are most offensive to God when you come to him with all of your efforts, when you're still trying to earn what's freely given.

As Ray Ortlund says, if you are in Christ, you are a righteous sinner. It's not an either/or, it's a both/and. Even as you struggle, there is no condemnation. Let this truth sink deep into your soul.

Finally: This truth frees us to serve. We’re not just set free from condemnation. We’re set free to serve. It’s not just freedom from condemnation; it’s also freedom to live in a new way. We’re going to look at this in coming weeks. We’ve been set free, and it’s a glorious freedom.

You may think that this truth may cause us to sin more. If there’s no condemnation, then why not do whatever you want? It’s actually the opposite. Sam Storms points out that nothing paralyzes us like guilt and shame. If you want a recipe for living in bondage, that’s it right there. This passage sets us free from all of that. It helps raise us beyond self-help. It’s a much better way than formulas or willpower. I love what Storms says: “When you feel beautiful before God, you feel powerful before sin.” If you want to be set free from sin, lean into the truth of this verse. See how God sees you in Christ. Grasp what he’s done for you, and you’ll experience freedom.

I want to close by talking about a scene from the 2011 movie Moneyball. Moneyball is about Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland As, trying to assemble a winning team. Ultimately during the 2002 season, the Athletics win an unprecedented 20 consecutive games, setting the American League record. Despite all their success, the A's lose in the first round of the postseason.

As Beane sits alone in the clubhouse, the general manager attempts to convince him that he "won pretty big." Seeing that he is unconvinced, his GM invites Beane to the video room. Brand has cued up a segment of tape for Beane to watch—a clip about a player named Jeremy Brown, a catcher from their minor league baseball team, the Visalia Oaks.

Here’s what happens in that video. The catcher is at bat. He hits a fast ball and and sends it deep into the center. The catcher rounds first, and is about to do what he’s never done before. He’s going to round first and head to second. But he stops. He stops and crawls back to the security of first base. He clings to first base like a frightened child clings to a teddy bear. It’s his nightmare. “They're laughing at him,” says Beane. And they were laughing at him.

But the general manager explains why they’re laughing at him. “Jeremy's about to find out why; Jeremy's about to realize that the ball went 60-feet over the fence. He hit a home run, and he didn't even realize it.” Beane stares at the screen as Jeremy finally discovers that the ball went out of the park and then jubilantly rounds the bases for home.

This is a picture of what Romans 8:1-2 tells us. We don’t have to cling to first base. Christ has already hit the home run that brings us home. His righteousness has been credited to our account, and we are now at peace with God. We don't have to live in fear, carefully crawling back to and then clinging to first base. Instead, we can jubilantly run the race as we head confidently toward home. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Why Plant Churches? (Romans 15:14-21)

I want to take you back to a recent evening in our lives that marked an ending for us, and a beginning. I want to take you there so I can ask you a question that was asked about us that night.

The night was January 15th. On that night we marked the end of almost 14 years of ministry at Richview Baptist Church in Toronto. We had one of our two kids while we were there. We had spent some of the best years of our lives while I pastored at Richview. On that evening we were saying goodbye to our church family. My library was in storage. I remember very clearly the feeling of leaving the keys on my desk and closing the door to my study for the very last time, knowing that the next morning I’d begin work on converting a room in my basement into my new study.

That evening, someone who loves us and who has appreciated our ministry asked an question about our plans to leave Richview and to begin a church plant. The question was asked quietly: Does Toronto really need another church? Another way of putting the question is this: Why bother with church planting when Toronto already has so many churches already?

It’s a great question. In fact, it’s a question that I’ve asked many times in the past as well. Toronto has so many churches that are plateaued or in decline. Why start a new church? Why not put a moratorium on church planting and just focus on revitalizing existing churches? Does Toronto really need a new church? It’s a great question, and there’s a great answer as well.

In the passage we have before us this morning, the apostle Paul is concluding his letter to the Roman church. His letter is one of the high points of theological insight within Scripture. As he gets to the end of his book, he tips his hand about the reason that he’s writing. After all, he didn’t start the church in Rome and he had never visited it. Paul gives the answer in this passage. In Romans 15:14-16 he says that he wants to remind them of what they already know, because he’s an apostle to the Gentiles, and they’re a predominantly Gentile church.

But then he begins talking about his church planting ministry. In this passage Paul gives us three reasons why church planting is so important. So this morning I want to simply do what Paul does in this passage. Let me give you three reasons why church planting is important, and then let me do what Paul does as well. Let me challenge you to see how you can play a role.

So let’s look at three reasons why we need to plant churches. And then let me tell you how you can be involved in one of the greatest ministries that we have before us at this time.

Why plant churches?

One: Plant churches as an act of worship.

Look at verses 14 to 16 with me:

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:14-16)

There are many ways that you can think of church planting. Close your eyes and picture what comes to your mind when you think of a church planter. Here’s what I think of: a 20-something young guy with an edge and a Mac computer who likes to blog and hang out at coffee shops. That’s the image that many people have of a church planter. Or maybe you think of church planters that you know. I think of guys like my church planting friends Dan, Joe, Paul, and Tim. I don’t know what image you have of a church planter, but I will bet it’s not the image that Paul gives us here.

Here’s the image that Paul gives us. He gives us the image of a Jewish priest offering a sacrifice to God. But the priest isn’t offering an animal sacrifice or using a knife. Instead, Paul gives us a shocking image. He pictures the church planter as a priest using the gospel as the tool, and the new Gentile believers as the offering. Remember that Gentiles were forbidden to enter the temple. But here Gentiles are in the temple, and they’re being offered as an acceptable sacrifice because they have been made holy by the Holy Spirit. It’s a jarring image, and it’s worth chewing on for a long time I think.

Why plant churches? The first reason Paul gives us is a doxological one. We plant churches as an act of worship to God. We plant churches because we want to fulfill our priestly ministry of offering to God people who were far away from him, but who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit and who are now acceptable sacrifices of worship to him. Church planting is an act of worship. It’s like what John Piper said, if I could adapt what he’s said:

[Church planting] is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. [Church planting] exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not [church planting], because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, [church planting] will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of [church planting]. It’s the goal of [church planting] because in [church planting] we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of [church planting] is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Ps 97:1). “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps 67:3-4).

But worship is also the fuel of [church planting]. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord…I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High” (Ps 104:34, 9:2). [Church planting] begins and ends in worship.

We have our eyes on a neighborhood in Toronto. And I own a Mac and I’ll probably hang out in coffee shops in that area, and I may even work on my blog. But the image that I have in my mind as I move into that area is that of a priest. I want to go in as a priest in that area and offer God an offering of people who have been transformed by the gospel and the Holy Spirit. That’s the first reason why church planting is so important. It’s an act of worship to God. It’s so that we can offer the sacrifice of transformed lives to God in worship.

But there’s a second reason why we should church plant:

Two: Church planting is strategic.

Read what Paul says in verses 17 to 19:

In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ… (Romans 15:17-19 ESV)

Paul seems a little confident in this passage. We’re not used to hearing somebody talk about being proud of their work for God. And in verse 19 Paul makes an audacious claim: that he’s fulfilled his ministry by planting churches in a circle or arc from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum. This is a huge area, from Jerusalem all the way to what we would call Albania today. It’s just northeast of Italy. We read later on that Paul is even planning to branch out further to Spain. Paul says that he’s fulfilled his ministry throughout this vast area. How is this even possible? There were only a small number of churches.

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Here’s what I think Paul means. He means that churches had been planted in key population centers so that those churches could carry out the work of evangelism themselves. Paul believed that by planting churches in cities, those churches would continue to grow and spread and influence the entire regions surrounding those cities. Paul’s own distinctive ministry of starting foundational and strategic churches had been fulfilled, and the name of Christ would soon be heard throughout its borders. This is exactly what happened. It reminds me of the pioneers. As soon as they were close enough to see the smoke rising from a neighbor’s house, they knew it was time to move on and populate a new area.

Tim Keller puts it this way:

Paul's whole strategy was to plant urban churches. The greatest missionary in history, St.Paul, had a rather simple, two-fold strategy. First, he went into the largest city of the region (cf. Acts 16:9,12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5- "appoint elders in every town"). Once Paul had done that, he could say that he had 'fully preached' the gospel in a region and that he had 'no more work' to do there (cf. Romans 15:19,23). This means Paul had two controlling assumptions: a) that the way to most permanently influence a country was through its chief cities, and b) the way to most permanently influence a city was to plant churches in it. Once he had accomplished this in a city, he moved on. He knew that the rest that needed to happen would follow.

Keller concludes:

The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else--not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes--will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.

If you want to see Ontario transformed, here’s what we need to do. We need to go to key urban centers like Toronto and plant churches. They’re like beachheads. It’s the most strategic thing we can do. And those church plants are not only going to have an influence on those cities. Like it or not, what happens in the city influences the entire region as a whole. And if churches are planted in places like Toronto, it’s going to have a strategic influence on a much larger area than we realize.

That’s why we need to church plant. Church planting is an act of worship, but it’s also strategic. It’s so strategic that Paul believed that churches planted in major population centers would be enough to spread the gospel in that entire region. That’s the second reason why church planting is so important.

Church planting is an act of worship. Church planting is strategic. There’s one more reason why church planting is important:

Three: Church planting is evangelistic.

Paul writes:

…and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”
(Romans 15:20-21 ESV)

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Here’s a map of Toronto that has our current Fellowship churches. Notice that there are entire areas - particularly downtown - where we don’t have any churches. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t churches there. It must means that we don’t have any churches in those areas.

What struck me is that many of these areas are ones that are exploding with growth. The population of Toronto has grown by 9% in the last five years. Condos are springing up all over the place in locations where we just don’t have any churches. Paul said it was his ambition to preach the gospel where it hasn’t been preached. We have this opportunity right in Toronto.

The opportunity we have before us is one that goes back all the way to Isaiah 52:5. Paul quotes it in verse 21:

Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.

Why church plant? Because I have the opportunity of participating in something that started a long time ago. Those who have not yet been told of the Lord must know. People who have never heard the gospel must understand. Church planting is a means of evangelizing areas where Christ is not yet named, and that includes huge parts of Toronto.

Charles Simeon said:

Who that knows the value of his own soul, must not pant after the salvation of the souls of others? And who, that knows his obligations to God, must not long to serve God in a way so acceptable to his mind, and so conducive to his glory? Let me not, then, call you to this work in vain. If there be any who are by education and by grace fitted for personal exertion in that field of labour, let him, like the Prophet, stand forth, and say, “Here am I: send me.” If it be only in a subordinate manner that you are able to assist in this good cause, still let it be seen that your heart is in it, and your labour according to the full extent of your ability. In your contributions, be liberal after your power: and in whatever way you can be useful, “give yourselves to the work” with cheerfulness, and persevere in it with diligence. Certainly, if ever united exertions were called for, it is now, when God is so evidently prospering the work, and putting honour on those who are engaged in it — — — “Come then, all of you, to the help of the Lord:” and “whatever your hand findeth to do, do it with all your might.”

So that, Paul says, is why he’s a church planter. He’s a church planter because church planting is an act of worship. He’s a church planter because church planting is strategic. And he’s a church planter because church planting is evangelistic.

But then Paul does what I have to do as well. Paul enlists the Romans and enlists their help in what he’s doing. He says in verse 24: “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while” (Romans 15:24). And he asks them to pray for him as well. Douglas Moo says, “Paul here hints at one of his main purposes in writing Romans: the need to get help from the Romans for his projected Spanish mission.” He wants Rome to be the base of his support for his mission in Rome.

You see, although Paul has planted churches all throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, he’s not done yet. He still wants to go even farther, to far edge of the Mediterranean, and spread the gospel there as well. Paul’s not done planting churches as long as there are still more population centers that need the gospel.

You see, church planting is about more than a church planter. You need people praying. You need bases of support. You need all kinds of people taking all kinds of roles.

I saw this picture recently:

120304c

Deck Hands Needed

Live Aboard
Low Pay
Long Hours
Good Food

Permanent Crew Space Available
Opportunity of a Lifetime

It reminded me of the quote from Sir Ernest Shackleton, from the advertisement he used when recruiting men for his expedition to Antarctica in 1914:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

That’s the adventure of church planting. It’s worth it because it’s an act of worship, and because it’s strategic and evangelistic. And it’s why you should consider partnering in planting churches as well.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Accept One Another (Romans 15:7)

When I look around on a Sunday, I'm often surprised by how different we are. Within some churches, people look pretty similar. That's not the case here. We come from different socio-economic levels. We come from different cultures and ethnic groups. We are all different ages.

What are some of the problems that we may encounter because we are all so different? (take notes)

This isn't a new problem. I'd like to tell you about the church in Rome around 57 A.D. The church in Rome had a major issue, and they weren't alone. The church had two main people groups.

Jews - The Jews could look at their history and rejoice that they were God's chosen people. Generations of Jews could read the Old Testament promises of the Messiah and the salvation he would bring. Now these Jews could rejoice that the Messiah had come, and that his promises had been fulfilled. God had kept his promises to Israel. Evidence suggests that the church in Rome had been founded by Jews and was dominated by Jews for the first two decades.

Gentiles - But some Gentiles had come to believe in Jesus Christ as well. In Rome, something unexpected happened. Comparatively few Jews had responded to the gospel, while many Gentiles did respond and become part of the church.

In 49 A.D., the Roman emperor expelled all Jews from Rome. All at once, every Jewish Christian had to leave the Roman church, and only the Gentiles were left. By the time Paul wrote this letter, many of the Jewish people had probably returned. But they came back to a church that had become a Gentile institution.

You could feel the tensions. Jews saw themselves as God's holy and chosen people, but now Gentiles had taken over. The Jewish believers had beliefs that came from their Scriptures and from their culture about food and holy days; the way the Gentiles acted violated many of these beliefs. The tension between these two groups simmered and sometimes boiled over.

We read in chapter 14 that both groups were criticizing each other. One group - the Jewish believers - said that the Gentiles were living in a way that made people question if they were really Christians. The other group - the Gentiles - accused the Jewish believers of holding on to silly prejudices. The controversy really came down to three issues:

  • whether or not you could eat anything or whether certain foods are prohibited
  • whether some days are holy or whether every day is alike (like the Sabbath)
  • possibly, over whether or not it is right to drink wine

Bottom line: there was real tension between the Jewish believers, who were trying to keep themselves pure from idolatry, and the Gentile believers, who think that such requirements are ridiculous and a holdover from Judaism.

And so you have:

  • conflict
  • pride - a condescending attitude toward the other group
  • lack of love
  • bad testimony

The easiest thing in the world would have been to split.

These are the same problems that we have today when churches divide over issues.

What Paul Says

Paul never actually deals with who was right and who was wrong, because the real issue wasn't the issue. The issue wasn't one of sin or false teaching, which he would have condemned. The issue was more one of pride and lack of love.

First, stop condemning each other (14:1-12). In the first part of chapter 14, Paul does two things. First, he gets the issue out on the table. Then he says: stop judging each other! He gives two reasons. The Romans are all fellow slaves of Christ, and God alone has the right to judge his people.

This is more subtle in our day, but we still have a tendency to do this - to look down on people who are different from us. They like this music; they dress this certain way; they are too in touch and they are too out of touch. Paul says to stop all the judging. If it's not an issue of blatant sin or false teaching, then stop pointing the finger.

The principle: we must sometimes agree to disagree over some matters. If the matter is not prohibited by Scripture, and is not against sound theological reasoning, then we should not criticize other believers or break fellowship just because we don't like it.

Second, be loving instead of selfish (14:13-23). Here Paul addresses the group that thought that there was nothing wrong with eating meat. Paul really agrees with them, but he says there is a bigger issue: one of love.

If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother or sister for whom Christ died...Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.(Romans 14:15, 19)

"Have it your way" - but what about when having it your way really irritates others? Then be loving instead of selfish.

Finally, receive each other to the glory of God (15:1-13). Paul says in Romans 15:7:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

What does this mean? It means that we recognize each other as true brothers and sisters in Christ; to welcome them into our worship services and to give them full place along with other worshipers. It means that we welcome them with our hearts, not grudgingly. It means that we recognize that God has worked in history to create a people composed of both Jews and Gentiles - that God has broken down every division that separates us. As long as we belong to Jesus, we belong together.

This is one of the things that showed people the power of the gospel - that Jews and Gentiles could receive each other. Just like today. The fact that we receive each other despite all these things testifies to the power of the gospel. When we split because of these things, we may as well say that the gospel has no power.

But notice what Paul says: accept one another, just as Christ accepted us. How did Christ accept us? Verse 3 tells us:

For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me."

Jesus didn't please himself; he lived a life of love and sacrifice. When we were sinners, he accepted us by sheer grace. How can we withhold that grace from others when we have experienced it?

Here's the bottom line in verses 5-6:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why we want to be a church in which young and old worship together, where all the divisions that bug us are overcome: so that we can testify to the power of the gospel, and so that "with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.