The Nature of God’s Love

May 30, 2010

As we read through the book of Romans there seems to be some common themes that we see over and over again. The common topics are: The Law, Sin and Grace. And in case you are thinking those are probably common themes throughout the Bible, or the New Testament or even Paul’s letters, they are, but we see this combination more in the book of Romans than anywhere else in the bible.
The topic of the Law is broached 250 times in the 27 books of the New Testament 50 of those incidents are found in the book of Romans. Grace is mentioned 13 times in the book of Romans as compared to 70 times in all the other New Testament books combined. And in the New Testament every third time the word sin is used we find it in the book of Romans. What does it tell us, other than Denn spends way too much time counting words in the Bible?
It tells us that Paul was trying address a couple of problems in this book that appeared to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. On one hand it seems that there were some in the Church in Rome who were struggling with legalism. The law was supreme to them, they were still trying to dot every “I” and cross every “T”. And I would suspect because people are people are people and there really has been very little change in people over the past 2000 years, that not only did they expect themselves to follow the Old Testament law but they expected everybody else to as well.
And there are all kinds of issues that arise when we condense our relationship with God down to simply following a set of rules. For one thing it removes it from the area of a relationship and turns it into a contract and it becomes something we earn not something we are given.
Then at the other end of the spectrum from Legalism was Liberty, in this case liberty to sin, it would appear that as often happens it takes a while for the pendulum to find the centre and as it swings away from one extreme it misses the middle and ends up on the other side ( video or PowerPoint)
And so on one hand you had those who were in bondage to the law, and you don’t have to investigate very far to find that the law of the Jews really was bondage; it dictated what you could do, when you could do it and who you could do it with.
And that wasn’t the intent of the law. The law was put into place to protect us and to protect others. It was there to hold together the fragile ties of society and relationships but leave it to people to mess it up. And so the commandment to respect the Sabbath and avoid work on the seventh day became a complex series of regulations defining what work was and what work wasn’t. How far could you walk, how much could you carry and on and on it went. And so much time was spent on the minutia of the law of God that they never got to know the God of the Law.
And so there were still those who thought that if they were going to please God it wasn’t dependant on the relationship they had with him, instead it was dependant on how good they were and that at the end of the day it was going to come down to a tally sheet and they would need to have more in the plus column then in the negative column. And it was to them that Paul wrote Romans 3:27-28 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.
And on the other hand you had those who felt there was no need to follow the law at all, not only had they thrown out all of the excess of the law they had thrown out the law as well. And so they used grace as an excuse to do what they wanted to, they used the gift of heaven to justify living like hell. The thought was that if the sacrificial death of Christ was able to grant us forgiveness from the sins of yesterday the same sacrificial death of Christ would be able to grant us forgiveness from the sins of tomorrow.
And as a result for some it was like it had been written in Judges 21:25 . . . all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. And it was this error that Paul addressed in Romans 6:1-2 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?
And so the analogy that Paul uses is slavery, some were slaves to the law and others were slaves to sin, but they were all slaves to something and time and time again he comes back to grace, the grace of God that frees us not only from the bondage to the law but can free us from the bondage of our sinful nature that compels us to rebel against God.
And so it bring us to the last nine verses of Romans Chapter 8. Which begin with that words: Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? For 30 verses Paul has been talking about the grace of God, the strength that the Spirit gives us, that fact that we are not slaves to sin but the children of God and all that implies, that we are his heirs and that we are destined for glory. And so Paul writes Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? So it starts with a Premise. The Premise
of God’s Love: The premise is that we win because God is in our corner. Does it mean we will always get the better job, that our marriage will be perfect, our kids will never rebel? Does it mean that we will never be sick, never be down, never be poor?
No, but it does mean that as we move through the arena of life that we won’t have to do it alone, that our comforter, our coach our encourager will be none other than the Creator of the Universe, the master of all things. That when we stumble and fall he is there to pick us up, to brush us off and to assure us that we are loved and that he still believes in us.
As much as we love our kids we can’t put them in a bubble and protect them from everything, as much as we might want to. If legislation keeps going the way it is it won’t be long before bubbles are mandated for all children under the age of 18. And as much as we want to we can’t protect our kids from every bad thing or bad person who comes their way, but does that mean we love them less. And we can’t protect them from bad choices they make, but does that mean we love them less? But we can be in their corner, and we can cheer them on and that is what God does for us.
How disappointing when someone you think is special and cares for you doesn’t defend you or stick up for you. Even when you know you were wrong you still want someone in your corner. You need the “atta boys” before the “you jerks”.
So how do we know that God is in our Corner? What assurance is there that God is for us? Paul continues to write in Romans 8:32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? So here we have The Proof
of God’s Love: How do we truly know that we are loved? By what is given up for us. Right, what sacrifices are made for us. Children know their parents love them by the sacrifices that are made for them.
You understand that don’t you kids? Your parents do what they do for you not because they have to but because they love you. Whether it is paying for your hockey or your music lessons or
summer camp, all of those things require sacrifice and they do it because they love you. I’m sure there are all kinds of other places they could spend their money not to mention the time sacrifices that are made to attend hockey games, school concerts and to help with your homework, the countless miles that are driven getting you to and from places that is love. Ordering pizza with just pepperoni because you don’t like the works, that’s love.
And we do it in relationships in a hundred different ways when we sacrifice what we’d prefer for our husband or wife. Wives you don’t seriously think your husband enjoys chick flicks do you? Conditional love or love that says “I’ll love you as long it doesn’t cost too much” is a little suspicious. Kind of like the guy who wrote the not to his girlfriend that said “For you I’d climb the highest mountains, I’d cross the hottest desert, I’d swim the deepest ocean. PS if it’s raining Saturday I won’t be over.”
And so Paul says “How do I know God loves me? Romans 8:32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?
What greater sacrifice could there be than this. If you stopped and thought about it there are probably some people in your life out there that you’d be willing to sacrifice yourself for. Perhaps even someone who would sacrifice themselves for me.
But I would suspect that not one of you here would be willing to sacrifice one of their children for me. If someone offered you the choice: If you aren’t willing to sacrifice your child then Denn will have to die. You might apologize but I am sure it would be Hasta la vista Denn, adios, Auf Wiedersehen
And I wouldn’t blame you. To be truthful if I had to make that choice the only way you could survive is if I allowed Stephen or Deborah to die you wouldn’t stand a chance. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. But the scriptures tell us that is how much we are loved by God, John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. And Romans 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
The bible comes back to this time and time again, God loves you so much, you, you dirty rotten scoundrel, God loves you so much that he willing surrendered his only son, for you. That’s how I know that God is in your corner.
And so we have the premise, God is in your corner, if God be for you who can be against you? And we have the proof of that, God loves you so much that he willing gave up his Son for you. But what does that mean? What is the “So What”
After all we’ve all seen undying love that went south, that didn’t last until the signatures on the marriage licence were dry. So listen to what Paul tells us: Romans 8:35-37 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
The Promise of God’s Love: It’s easy to look around when life is rough and think “Where is God now? What have I done to deserve this?” Those were the same questions that were asked of Job. You remember Job don’t you? There is an entire book written about him in the Old Testament, how the Devil was able to test him and torment him. How he lost his wealth and his family and his health, all that he was left with was a nagging wife and three friends who tried to convince him that all of his problems were his fault, but they weren’t. Through it all Job lost what he had, but he never lost who he was or who’s he was.
We have succumbed to that same heresy today, that only bad people have troubles and if you have enough faith and love God enough and, and, and that you will never have any problems or worries or concerns. And that is a lie. Two thousand years ago Paul asks that very same question. Does it mean he (God) no longer loves us when things go wrong, when life isn’t fair, when we are sick and people are picking on us? And then he answers his own question Romans 8:37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Life for the early Christ followers wasn’t easy, they were persecuted, they were tortured some of them were killed for their faith, and Paul is saying, I know how the story ends; We win. All too often all we can see in life is what is happening right now, and sometimes right now isn’t pretty but Paul is saying in the big picture we win.
And as an aside, it is when we focus on the right now that we become tempted to quit, because it’s all we see right now and we can’t see beyond the present reality to the preferred future, and so because our marriage isn’t great, right now we quit. And because our job isn’t satisfying right now, we quit. And we try to solve short term problems with long term solutions. That was free.
And now we come to the great passage that ties this all together, we have seen that God promises to be with us, we have seen how that is proved by the fact that he sacrificed his only son for us, we have discovered that his love is not revealed through our circumstances and we arrive at Romans 8:38-39 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is for you folks, this is The Protection of God’s Love. This is one of those great scriptures that we as Christians hang our faith on and this is where Paul has been heading. We have the promise of this great love but what if we somehow lose it or it is taken away from us? But that’s not going to happen. The first line says it all, everything after that is just window dressing. Romans 8:38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. And he could have stopped there. But he is ready to answer the questions that people were waiting to ask. Hey Paul what about angels and demons, do they have the power to separate us from God’s love? Nope! And about when we die are we separated from God’s love then? Nope! What about when life dumps all over us, what about then? Nope. And the power of hell can’t do it, and whatever is in the sky can’t do it and whatever lurks in the abyss can’t do it, nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the Love of God.
But there is one thing conspicuous by its absence. One thing that Paul leaves out, one wild card that is able to do what the powers of hell can’t do. And you know what it is don’t you? Deep in your heart you know the one power in all of creation that is capable of separating you from the love of God.
Jesus tells a story in the book of Luke about a young man who asks for all of his inheritance from his father. Do you remember the story? We refer to it as the Story of the Prodigal Son. Often time we use prodigal as someone who turns from God and then returns. Nope that isn’t what prodigal means, prodigal describes his behaviour when he spent all his wealth on partying. The New Living translation says he wasted all his money on wild living, the King James calls it riotous living, but you get the picture. And you know the story, how when his money ran out so did his friends, and how even though he was the son of a wealthy man he ended up working in a pig farm and barely surviving. It was then that he swallowed his pride and returned to his father who had been waiting for him to return. We all know the story.
You see the Father’s love hadn’t changed, even though his son had rejected him and all he stood for he still loved his son. But the son had separated himself from his father’s love, he did what no outside force could do. Oh his father still loved him but he had chosen to not avail himself of that love.
You see what angels and demons, the heights of the sky and the depths of hell can’t do, you can and that is separate yourself from God’s love. Has God’s love changed, nope not at all, he still loves you and he wants to extend his love and grace to you, and like the prodigal’s father God is standing waiting to see you
The promise is not that you can’t walk away; the promise is that the Father will be there with his arms wide open waiting for you to return.