A pastor used to counsel a young man who was struggling with alcohol-addiction. What the young man did not realise was that the pastor saw out the window and watched him hide his beer before they talked. Then, after the man had told the pastor how much he wanted to be free from drinking, the man would collect his beer again. Now the pastor did not doubt the sincerity of that young man. , but he could see that that his addiction had control of him. This got the pastor thinking: ‘Where does really power to change come from?’ He came to believe in the power of love to change people.
As we look at this passage of Scripture, I want you to feel that you are secure and loved. No child can thrive if they do not feel secure and loved. Similarly, no Christian will grow if they don’t feel secure and loved.
You are secure in Christ
‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (1).
Notice that he does not say, ‘there is no sin in those who are Christ Jesus.’ John tells us that if we say that we have no sin, we lie and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:7). We are God’s failing and imperfect people, yet we are never condemned. Does that mean that God loves me even when I am sinning? Absolutely! You are as much a son or daughter of God when you are sinning as when you are obeying.
In verses two to four, Paul explains how God accepts sinful people like us. He says that being good cannot make us right with God because of the sinful nature. Isaiah tells us that our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (64:6). Everything we do is stained by self-centredness and pride. Trying to earn God’s acceptance by being good is as pointless as trying to wash a white shirt with hands covered in oil. It’s as ridiculous as throwing our dirty laundry at the sky and shouting at God, ‘accept me because of these.’ But what we could not do, because of sin, God has done for us in Jesus. Jesus lived the perfect life and died a sacrificial death for our guilt. Therefore, those who have submitted to Christ’s love and leadership are counted righteous.
You can be changed by the Spirit
Am I telling you that obedience does not matter? Not at all! If you have submitted to the love and leadership of Jesus, you will want to change. Two things combine to change us: seeing God’s and being empowered by God’s Spirit.
Verses five to eleven talk about the effect of the Holy Spirit on us. Paul tells us that without the Holy Spirit we are hostile to God. People claim to admire Jesus. But often they admire Jesus as simply a good moral teacher. When they hear Jesus say that there is no good news for good people they resist his gospel of grace (Mark 2:17). There is no more obvious evidence of hostility to the God of grace than the claim, ‘I am a good person.’
The reverse is also true. Grace is for those who know they have a problem with personal evil. Acknowledging our guilt and wanting a relationship with the God whose Son died for our guilt is evidence that the Holy Spirit is striving with us. A desire to become like Jesus and so please our Heavenly Father is evidence of the Holy Spirit within us. Our Father wants to move us from the place of sorrow over our sin to rejoicing in his forgiveness and love.
Indeed, a lingering sense of guilt inhibits growth as a Christian. Trust God’s promises to forgive and live in the beauty of his grace. Another thing that hinders our growth is the lie that we cannot change. Maybe our battle with lust or bitterness has lasted so long, and we have seen so many defeats, that we think we never will improve. Yet Paul says that the power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us (11).
I would encourage you to see the victories as well as the defeats. See that victory in the fact the Holy Spirit makes you want to be free. Take not of the times when God provides a way out of the temptation. But as you see progress let us be careful of pride (which is a sure recipe for further defeat).
I want to mention two more wonderful ministries of the Holy Spirit before we look at the unbreakable love of the Father.
Firstly, we read that we ‘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!”’ (15) The devil always seeks to cause us to doubt the love of God. So when you start thinking that God is like a severe Garda or unmerciful judge, the Spirit reminds us, ‘no, he is your Father and he loves you.’
Secondly, we read that when we do not know what to pray, ‘the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 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’ (26-27). It is as if the Spirit says to the Father, ‘Paul does not know how to pray about this situation, but if he knew you the way I knew you this is what he would say.’ I think this is why sometimes the answers to our prayers are for more beautiful than we had voiced.
You are loved of the Father
Paul speaks of being children of God and heirs with Christ. This is the beautiful truth of adoption. God has not only let you out of the prison of guilt and he has not only saved you from hell, he has brought you home to be a cherished child. In his book, ‘Knowing God’, J. I. Packer writes, ‘in adoption God takes us into his family and fellowship – he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.’
I need to mention the repeated emphasis on suffering in this passage. The Christian suffers with Christ (17) and suffers in a world that awaits Christ’s restoration. But we are not to be discouraged by the suffering, for God is working all things together for our good, which is to be conformed to the image of Jesus (29).
Before we finish, I just want to emphasise the fact that the Christian is secure in God’s love. One Bible commentator, Alec Motyer, was visiting a church in America, where he was introduced to a Christian man who was desperately insecure about his faith. This man, who we will call John, feared that at some point in the future he would let God down and walk away from his faith. Motyer asked John, ‘John, what tense is the verb foreknew in this passage?’ It is past tense. ‘John, what tense is the verb predestined?’ It is also past tense. ‘John, what tense is the verb called?’ Past tense! ‘What tense is the verb justified?’ Past tense! ‘And John, what tense is the verb glorified?’ It is past tense as well. ‘But our glorification is not yet completed. It will not be completed until Jesus returns and gives us our resurrection bodies. But God is so committed to bringing his people to that destination that he can speak of it as if it has already happened.’ Don’t worry about your future; God is more committed to you than you are to him. Look for the evidence of new birth know and trust him to keep you.
I find great confront in the verb foreknew. God knew me before I became a Christian. He knew me in my sin, and yet he loved me. God knows my end from my beginning, he saw today’s sins and tomorrow’s, yet he drew me into relationship with himself. He has promised that I will never be condemned and that nothing can separate me from his love.
When I was in my very early twenties, I began to feel very insecure about my faith. You see I remembered something terrible that I had done when I was thirteen—I had experimented with a satanic prayer. I didn’t see how God could forgive that. It made me deeply insecure, and robbed me of peace and joy. God does not want us to be slaves of fear. If you are terrified about some awful thing in your past, claim the promises of God. John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, was haunted by his past and eventually came to peace by claiming Jesus’ promise, ‘that I will never drive away anyone who comes to me’. A similar promise is where John writes that ‘if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). It is never God’s desire for you to be haunted by your past!
I have also had people come to me with doubts about God’s love for them because they feel so defeated about their sin. But remember that without the Holy Spirit you would be hostile to the God of grace. Make sure that your sorrow over sin isn’t just wounded pride, and then realise that your desire to please God is evidence that the Holy Spirit has not stopped striving with you. Remember that despite your failures there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Let that love and security be the soil in which you grow.
John Bunyan loved to talk about the gracious love of God. At one stage his critics explained, ‘if you keep assuring people of God’s love they will do whatever they want.’ He replied, ‘if I assure people of God’s love they will do what he wants.’ The key to growing as a Christian is to see God’s passionate, committed love for you and rejoice in the security with which he holds you.