OUR COMMON Assurance
We’re taking a break in Luke for a couple months, because we’re entering the holiday season.
After the break last week (we had Harry Noël preaching here while we were at Perrine and Abdias’s wedding), we didn’t want to jump back into Luke for only one week before going into Advent. So today’s sermon is going to be a one-shot, but I hope it will help us get ready for the Group Connect and for Thanksgiving this afternoon.
Of all the passages in the Bible that have been precious to me over the years, this is the probably my favorite, the one that has done me the most good—because as many of you know, I grew up in a church context in which we could be sure of very little. I was taught that Jesus opened the door to salvation on the cross, but it’s totally up to you to walk through it, and then to make sure you don’t wander back out the door at some point. I didn’t become a Christian until I was in my early twenties, and I carried the weight of that uncertainty for a long time.
Then I finally started seriously reading and studying my Bible, and realized that God is way better than I ever gave him credit for.
This passage—which we find in Romans 8.12-30—is particularly precious to me because, Paul has already given us the amazing certainty we see in v. 1-11, and he will reach his great crescendo in the passage that comes next…
But taken on its own, that all can seem a little too good to be true.
That’s why in these verses—at least this is the effect this passage has always had on me—he tells us why we can trust all of these assurances that come before and after. And in the early days of my own faith, it is that why which convinced me that everything Paul says actually isn’t too good to be true.
And that why is rooted in one simple fact: that God has made us his children.
Paul’s going to explain to us the common identity we have as God’s children, he’s going to describe to us the common glory we receive as God’s children, and finally he’s going to reaffirm the common assurance we have as God’s children.
So I’ll invite you to begin reading with me, starting in v. 12.
OUR COMMON IDENTITY (v. 12-17)
12 So then—
When someone starts a sentence like that, we’re supposed to think back to what they just said.
If you remember, Paul has just finished giving us the amazing antidote to the disillusionment he illustrated in Romans 7—there is a law of sin at work in us, and no matter how hard we fight against it, we’re unable to defeat it on our own.
So what’s the solution? V. 1:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Spirit has saved us in Christ, and set us free from the law of sin. Jesus fulfilled the law for us, condemned our sin in his body on the cross, and set us free to live according to the Spirit.
And we have that firm assurance we saw in v. 11, that
11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
In other words, this is going to work.
What God declares of you in Christ—that you are righteous—he WILL enable you to work out in practice.
How can we be so sure that it’ll work? Because the Spirit living in us, giving life to our mortal bodies, enabling us to become what God says we are, is the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.
So Paul says if we have been saved in Jesus Christ, brought from death to life by the Spirit, declared righteous in Christ, then he will give life to us; he will cause us to set our minds on the things of the Spirit and become like Christ. It’s not a possibility, it’s a certainty.
And it’s really important to know that going in, because everything he’s about to say depends on it.
So Paul says, because of all that (v. 12):
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
In other words, if the Spirit assures us that this will happen, we owe him. We are debtors toward him—and the debt that we owe is to do what he is giving us the strength to do: “Don’t live according to the flesh.”
Why? V. 13:
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Now let’s be clear: Paul’s not going back on the certainty he established before, he’s simply stating a fact—if we live according to the flesh we’ll die, but if by the Spirit we put our sin to death, we will live.
The question is how that works. If I “live”, is it because Jesus saved me, or because I managed to live the way I was supposed to live?
And Paul’s answer to that question (it’s implicit, but it’s there)—his answer is breathtaking.
He says, v. 14:
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Do you see the logic there?
V 2: The Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death.
V. 13: So if we put our sin to death by the Spirit, we will live, because—
V. 14: If the Spirit has set us free from sin, that means we’re his sons and daughters.
And a father does not let his children die if he can help it.
My wife and I have two kids—Jack is six and Zadie is almost six months old on Tuesday.
Zadie’s not doing a lot of running yet—she pretty much just lays there being cute—but Jack, as you know, is a Tazmanian devil.
I think it’s physically impossible for him to walk: the kid runs. All the time. He’s a fan of parkour, so he literally bounces off the walls. And we live in Châtelet-Les Halles, a very busy place as you know, which means that every day we’re cheating death with him, because there are cars driving by, and just a little sliver of sidewalk separating the cars from Jack.
To his credit, he’s very careful most of the time, but let’s say he ran out into the street and a car was coming, and I saw it.
I’m his dad, and I love him more than anything. So I would be willing to grab him by the hair, if I had to, and yank him out of the road to keep him safe. I would be willing to run out into the street myself and get hit by that car instead of him, if it would keep him safe.
If you remember, this is exactly what Paul just told us God did. He sent his willing Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and killed him to save us. And in so doing, he made us his sons and daughters.
God doesn’t let his children die.
If by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live…because we are his children.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
And Paul says that if we are his children then we know it. V. 15:
15 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!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 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.
I’ve told Natalya’s story before, and I asked her if I could tell it again today. Natalya began coming to our church a curious agnostic.
My wife invited her to come read the Bible with her and some other women. We were convinced she had faith before she even realized it: we could see it coming, by the questions she asked, by the way she talked about what she was reading…
One Sunday I made an invitation to the church to anyone who wanted to be baptized; I explained what baptism was and what was required to be baptized (i.e. nothing but faith in Christ).
And she came to me after the service and said, “Yeah, I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for; I need to get baptized.”
We’d been praying for her for so long, I was thrilled. I told her that we’d suspected for a long time that she had faith; and I said, “But now, you know that you’re his too.”
And I don’t know if she remembers this, but I’ll never forget it: she just said, “Yeah, I’ve been his for a while now.”
That knowledge, that realization, is what Paul’s saying. If we belong to him, we know it—the Spirit does something in us to let us know—not just in our heads, but in our guts—that we belong to him.
And that means suffering, and glory. There will be suffering, because Christ suffered. Because we’re God’s children, we’re also his heirs with Christ—heirs of everything that came to him. His suffering, but also the glory he received at his resurrection.
And that is where Paul ratchets the assurance up a notch.
OUR COMMON Glory (v. 18-25)
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Whatever it is you’re going through, no matter how hard it is, there is no common measure between that suffering and the glory we’re waiting for. The good God promises us tomorrow is infinitely better than the bad is bad today (if that makes sense).
And this is great: the earth itself is aware of this fact. V. 19:
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
Remember the Garden of Eden?
Eve sinned, God cursed her (and all women after her) to painful childbirth and conflict with the men. When Adam sinned, God didn’t just curse Adam, and other men; he cursed the ground (Genesis 3.17-18). He said, “This world will fight against you; work will be hard. Planting and harvesting will be a challenge.”
So Paul says that the earth itself, in some way, feels that something is off, and is eagerly longing for the day when Christ will make everything right again.
And WE feel that even more acutely, v. 23:
23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
I shouldn’t have to say it, but I will anyway: it’s okay to have a hard time dealing with this place. (I don’t mean Église Connexion, I mean this world.)
We feel like things shouldn’t be like this—it shouldn’t be this hard, life shouldn’t be such a burden—and we’re right. That’s a consequence of man’s sin against God, it’s not the way things were meant to be.
But even in the garden God promised that one day a man would come who would crush the serpent’s head: that all that’s wrong with the earth will one day be made right again.
We know this, and we hold onto this and we’re waiting eagerly for it, and until that day comes, it’s like we’re fighting to breathe. We’re groaning inwardly while we wait for Christ to return and right all of these wrongs.
Now, it’s easy to see this groaning as a bad thing, but it’s not. This groaning, this waiting, for the redemption of our bodies… Paul calls it hope, v. 24:
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
We have to understand that the Bible doesn’t talk about hope the way we usually do. We say things like, “I hope the weather’s nice this weekend,” when we have zero assurance that it will be. When we say, “I hope this will happen,” we mean, “I really want it to.”
Hope in the Bible is very different. It’s when we have the certainty that something will happen (because God promised it would), and we wait for it, and we look forward to it.
Hope in the Bible is that feeling you get after a long trip, when your plane finally lands, and you’re walking out, and you know that just on the other side of that wall, your family is waiting to welcome you home. You’re not with them yet, but oh, they’re close!
So because the Spirit has set us free from sin, and gives us what we need to put our sin to death, we are God’s sons and daughters.
And here’s why I keep talking about our common ancestry, our common glory.
We are not saved as individuals only. We of course are individuals; our personalities and gifts and likes and dislikes, unique to each one of us, remain intact when we are saved. But we are saved into a family. We call each other brothers and sisters so often that sometimes we get numb to the fact that it’s literally true.
God adopts us as his sons and daughters, which means that we are quite literally brothers and sisters in the same family, under the same Father.
When a family is a family, they live life together. They share their home. They share their food. They share the common experience of family life together. The very definition of a family is several individuals living this life together.
That’s us. Because the Spirit has set us free from sin, and gives us what we need to put our sin to death, we are God’s sons and daughters; we are brothers and sisters with one another.
And because we are his sons and daughters, because we are brothers and sisters in the same family, we are heirs to this perfect hope of the day when we will be with him.
Paul could have stopped right there and we could count ourselves blessed beyond words. But to bring all that together, Paul gives a kind of list of implications of what he’s been saying, and the sum of the parts is the absolute assurance that we enjoy as God’s children.
He gives us three separate reasons we have for assurance.
OUR common Assurance (v. 26-30)
Our first assurance as the children of God is that we have the ultimate prayer partner.
The Spirit who saved us, the Spirit who causes us to live the way God would have us live, the Spirit who tells us we are God’s children, the Spirit who causes us to hope for the day Christ will return to renew all things…this same Spirit prays for us. V. 26:
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
This is beautiful for guys like me who are…let’s call it “prayerfully impaired”.
Praying has always been the hardest part of the Christian life for me—not just because it’s hard talking to someone I don’t see (though that’s part of it). Mostly, it’s because most of the time I don’t get what’s going on.
I’ve seen it best in my marriage. My wife and I were married young (we were 22), and we got married way too fast—nine weeks after we met.
It was stupid of us, and because we barely knew each other when we got married, the first five years or so of our marriage were just awful.
And in large part they were awful because I just didn’t understand her. She’d get upset about something, and I’d be like… “I just don’t… What’s going on?”
And then she’d do something, and I’d get mad, and I had no idea why I was so mad.
Most of my life is like that—with nearly every problem, I just don’t get what’s happening, much less how to make it better.
So I want to pray, but I have no idea how to start.
You can imagine my relief when I read this seriously for the first time and saw Paul say, For we do not know what to pray for as we ought.
YES! That’s it! That’s the problem! And the solution to that problem is better than I ever could have imagined: when I don’t know how to pray, God prays for me.
And the Spirit always prays exactly what I should pray, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Because we are God’s children, we have the ultimate prayer partner: God himself.
This should free us up a lot, brothers and sisters. We should always want to grow in our ability to pray according to the will of God; we should work at it and try to get better at it. But we never need to worry about our lousy prayers, because the Spirit’s interceding for us. That’s our first assurance.
Next, because we are God’s children, we will be like him. V. 28:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good...
Let’s stop there for a second.
This verse has been abused on a million coffee cups and bumper stickers, because they almost always leave out the end of v. 28, and all of v. 29. Without the rest of the passage, this promise amounts to that kind of weak reassurance someone gives us when they don’t know how to reassure us—“Oh, honey, I’m sure it’ll be okay—everything’ll work out for the best.”
Thank God Paul didn’t stop there—he does two things in what comes next that take this promise out of the realm of “Things your mom says to make you feel better when you’re sad.”
Firstly, he tells us that all things will work together for our good because God planned it that way. V. 28 again:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
I’m sure you know this already, but it always bears repeating: none of this is an accident.
Before he created the world, God had planned his Son; he had planned our salvation; he had planned to call us to himself, to give us his Spirit to bring us from death to life, to reveal himself to us and cause us to love him.
So when he tells us that all things work together for our good, I believe him: because that was his plan all along, and God always fulfills his plans.
Secondly, Paul specifies for us what the “good” he’s talking about actually is. The “good” that God works out for us is conformity to the image of his Son. V. 28 again:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
There’s a lot here, so let’s take it slow.
For those whom he foreknew… This is a mine-field of a phrase, because people use this one word—foreknew—to basically explain away everything that comes after. They say that when Paul says God “foreknew and predestined” us, he just means that God looked at humanity, saw which people would decide to follow him and live like Christ, and predestined them to all these things.
That doesn’t make any sense—if he knew we were going to do it on our own, he wouldn’t need to predestine anything. But not only that—it’s not faithful to the way the Bible talks about how God knows his people.
You could do an entire study just on this word “foreknow” and how that concept is used in the Bible, but that could take a while.
Rather than go through all that, here’s the best way I can think to describe the way the Bible presents this “foreknowledge’ of God (if you have kids, you’ll understand).
We waited a long time to have Jack, almost nine years; and then it took four years of trying before Zadie came along. So there was a good bit of build-up in both cases.
And both times, when I held my kids for the first time, and looked down at their little faces for the first time, I thought the exact same thing: although I’d never seen them before, I looked at their faces and thought, I KNOW you. (And this isn’t just an illustration; this actually happened.)
Newborns are not attractive: they’re wrinkly and angry. You can look at a million newborn babies and feel nothing but when it’s yours, you’re hooked. You can look at that little face for hours.
And without even thinking about it, you can commit to giving that little person everything you are, for the rest of your life, because you know them, even if you’ve just met them.
Before we ever arrived, God didn’t just know who we would be: we were his kids, and he knew us. And that knowledge wasn’t based on his knowledge of what we would do; our faith is something he does in us, because he’s known us forever.
So God has always known his children, and he predestined us to be conformed to the image of his OTHER child.
See, it’s not just about our salvation. God’s plan for us is bigger than any one of us: he predestined us to be like Christ so that Christ may be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
God’s plan for his people is that he might choose to save people from all nations, races and languages, and make out of all of these disparate parts a family of brothers and sisters, among whom there is a distinct family resemblance.
His plan was to adopt people from all over the world, and to change them so that no matter what they look like, it might be immediately clear that This is one of Jesus’s brothers. This is one of Jesus’s sisters.
God’s goal in saving us is so much bigger than simply giving us eternal life (as if that weren’t enough!). God has one “begotten” Son, and a multitude of adopted sons and daughters. His goal is to elevate and glorify his Son, by making all his adopted children look like him. Because we are God’s children, we will be like him. That’s our second assurance.
Lastly, Paul gives us an assurance that is past, present and future, and it is simply that our salvation is sure. V. 29 again:
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Our salvation was already sure before God ever created the world, because God already knew us as his children. It was sure before the world was created, because God knew us, and he predestined us to be like Jesus. Our salvation is still sure today, because those whom he predestined, he also called.
He called us from death to life by his Holy Spirit. He opened our eyes to see the beauty of Christ and the wonder of the gospel. He changed our hearts to love what he loves and hate what he hates. He called us to himself.
Our salvation is sure because those whom God called, he also justified. He sent Jesus Christ to live our life and die our death and be raised for our justification—he put our sins on Jesus and killed him for it; then he raised him from the dead and gave us his perfect life. Now when he looks at us, he does not see the imperfect sinners that we are; he sees the just sons and daughters he has made us to be.
And our salvation is sure because those whom he justified, he also glorified.
This is strange, because we just read, in v. 17-23, that we’re still waiting for this glory to be revealed to us.
So I love that he says it this way. The glory that is to be revealed to us—that day when Christ will return and renew our bodies and share his glory with us, forever—that glory is so sure, and so certain, that Paul can refer to it here in the past tense. It’s a done deal.
Our salvation is certain, brothers and sisters, because he does all of it.
If we belong to him, if the Spirit dwells in us, and has given us faith in his Son, then our salvation is rooted in the past, active in the present, and certain in the future.
There is no room for doubt here, and the good news is that there’s no reason for doubt here.
LIVE your assurance
Think of what it would be like to begin a project—the most important project of your life—and to know without a shadow of a doubt that this project will go exactly as planned. There will be surprises, absolutely—you don’t know exactly how you’ll get to this perfect end result you have in mind.
But you know with absolute, ironclad certainty, that the end result you have in mind is going to happen just that way.
Do you have any idea how freeing that would be? How fun it would make things that never used to be fun? How much joy you’d find in things that used to feel like a burden?
That is exactly the effect Paul is going after here.
The call of this text is very simple: Because you know it’s going to work, DO THE WORK.
Because you know your salvation is sure, live that assurance.
Live in light of the gospel. Live lives of glorious freedom, knowing that your assurance has nothing to do with anything you do or don’t do, but that your obedience to God’s commands is a simple overflow of your joy in him.
Because you are God’s children, BE his children. Grow to look like your big brother Jesus.
And do it together. Because you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, live like his sons and daughters. Live your lives together, for his glory. Get to know your brothers and sisters, because you will never be able to be fully obedient to the commands we find in the Bible if we don’t actually live as family. That’s hard to do with a church as big as ours, and you can’t do it with everyone—but you can do it with a small group of people. You can get to know a small group of people, and be known by them, well enough to live the gospel out together. That’s why we’re doing Group Connect today; it’s not a program. It’s a way of helping us live what Paul is telling us to live here: if you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, live like his sons and daughters, live like brothers and sisters.
Because God has condemned your sin to death, put your sin to death by the Spirit. Help one another battle temptation, to say no to sin. Obey God, in what he tells you to do, and what he tells you not to do.
Because God predestined you to be conformed to the image of your brother Jesus, become more and more like your brother Jesus. Remind one another that this is going to work.
Because God has given you this hope for the day Christ will return and renew all things, live in the light of that day when Christ will return and renew all things. Remind each other that the struggles of today will not last, that we’re moving toward something better.
Because you know the Spirit prays for you, PRAY. Pray together, pray for each other, teach each other to pray.
Because you know you are heirs with Christ of his suffering and glory, endure in suffering, and rejoice in that glory. This is something you only learn through experience, and it is invaluable for someone suffering to have seen other people suffer well, so they know what it looks like. If you’re suffering, don’t do it in isolation: suffer in full view of your brothers and sisters, so they can pray for you and see you and learn from you and help you get through it. Do this together, so you can see together what it looks like to rejoice in the glory waiting for us before it ever comes.
In short, because you know these things are true, live out these truths in practice.
If the pile-up of grace after grace after grace that Paul describes here should teach us anything, it is that God is not half-hearted about saving us. He does not go about lukewarmly fulfilling his plan.
When God is for us, he is all for us. So Paul calls us here to to be humbled by that, and to rest in that, and to live that out, and to respond to that in unbelieving gratitude for his grace.
…And that’s where we’ll be next week as we begin Advent.