As I said last week, we have been working our way through Paul’s master work, the letter to the Romans, his final letter, in which his theology of sin and grace is most clearly articulated. Last week we were left hanging at the end of chapter seven (although Paul did not separate it into chapters, and would probably have been appalled that we were left there), that difficult question, “Wretched man that I am, who will save me?” As I promised, the answer is found in the first sentence of today’s passage. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The eighth chapter of Romans has been called the Gospel in miniature. It doesn’t retell the story of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, no, but it tells us why it matters. What difference it makes. And what is particularly beautiful about it is that it’s less interested in the “how” it was accomplished—all those atonement theories that the church has argued about for centuries. It is simply about the results. The freedom from sin’s tyranny and freedom for life in the Spirit.
I will confess that I was annoyed when I saw that I was going to miss these weeks of Romans 8. And so, I am going to beg your indulgence, and do it all today. I am not going to preach much, I think the words of Paul say enough. So I’m going to read from that 8th chapter—not all of it, I promise. Just “the high points,” as my mom would say.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. …If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you…all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 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 within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced 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.
There it is. The simple truth. NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It’s there, waiting for us to receive it. If you think you’re not good enough to be loved by God, remember that God made you good enough, through Jesus Christ. And you don’t need to understand how in order to accept it.
I have been holding onto an illustration of God’s grace for a while, hoping for an occasion to use it. I think this is the day.
Heidi Shott, a woman on the bishop’s staff, has this old Coca Cola machine that she plugs in every June. Visitors to her house in the summer can get an ice cold drink (I don’t think it’s only soda in that machine!) for a mere dime. A dime! Can you imagine?!
But what is more important—what makes this a perfect example of the grace of God—is this. Sitting on a table near the machine is a basket filled with dimes. You don’t even need your own coin. All you need is the desire. All you need is the thirst, and the willingness to accept this free gift. (When I told Heidi I was going to use this illustration someday, she told me to point out that many of those coins are “Liberty” dimes!)
The grace of God sets us free from all the things that keep us from living as beloved children of God. All you have to do is believe that you already are. All you have to do, to quench that thirst, is accept that God is offering you the Water of Life.