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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                                           Sermon # 1235

November 8, 2015                                                                                          Romans 8:12-39

Dr. Ed Pettus


“The Lord Has Done Great Things For Us”



            The world is a tough place.  We get torn down by the stress, by the bad news, by the hard times, and simply the troubles of life.  We need to hear and to know the news that sets us free from all the trouble and sets our hearts in the joy of the Lord.  Psalm 126 is a Psalm that comes after the exile of the Jews.  They had been taken captive by a foreign power, stripped of their homeland, and taken out of the comfort of belonging at home.  In that Psalm, joy is restored.


When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.  Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.  Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”   The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.


            When the Lord does things for us it is like those who dream.  When the Lord does things for us it fills us with laughter.  When the Lord does things for us we sing for joy.  The Bible is filled with things the Lord has done for us.  He is the Lord who has redeemed and shown mercy and loved and filled us with life.  Today we will reflect on Romans 8 and the things God has done for us.  Romans 8 is one among many passages from which we could choose.  


  • He Has Set us Free in His Spirit (8:12-17)


First, the Lord has set us free in His Spirit.  In Romans 8:12-17 we read that we have been set free from the flesh and from fear.  When I think about Paul’s understanding of the flesh, I think about our senses.  We thirst, we hunger, we yearn, we see, we hear, we touch, and so forth.  The Bible speaks often about how we are enslaved by our senses.  Modern advertisers play on those senses in reaching out to make us think we cannot live without some particular product.  Sprite once commanded us to “obey your thirst”.  Haagen-Dazs tells us that “pleasure is the path to joy”.  Just watch one Hardee’s commercial these days and you would think that a hamburger was a sensual experience.  

God has set us free from the world’s attempt to dominate our senses.  God has set us free from our own flesh oppressing us.  Now, that does not mean that we have mastered our senses and our flesh.  We know that we still have to work at it with God’s help.  But what it does mean is that we are not subject to the flesh anymore in the sense that we have no control over it.  Our obedience does not go to the flesh but to the Spirit of God.  

The same word can be said about fear as Paul says about the flesh.  We are set free from fear.  Fear does not have to be a way of life.  We need not fear death or sin.  We need not fear the unknown or the darkest valleys.  We know that we sometimes have fear, but is is not the dominant factor of our lives.  Advertisers sometimes use fear as a way to get us to act.  Fear of a political party, fear of the end of the world, fear of sickness, or maybe a fear of body image.   We can be free of all these things, fear and the flesh because God has called us his own.


This freedom is known in our adoption as God’s children.  This adoptio gives us the sense of belonging in a family.  When things are tough we know that we can come home.  Believing in Christ is the ultimate coming home and the ultimate place of belonging.  We are children in the family of God.  We are children of God by the gift of God – in the spirit of adoption.  Paul says that if we live by the flesh, we will die.  If we live by the Spirit, we will live.  It is a simple contrast – life in the Spirit, death in the flesh.  It is life in the Spirit that adopts us into God’s family.  Paul says we do not owe anything to our sensual nature, to the senses or the instincts of this life.


  • He Has Given us Hope (8:18-25)


God has not only freed us from certain things, but he has also given us things in which to hope.  There is something much much better to come for God’s own.  Being set free leads encourages hope.  Hope looks beyond the present condition.  The time of hope fulfilled is yet to come.  We are living in the tension between what we have received in Christ and what is yet to come in Christ. The Spirit of God is at work in us today to help us during this in-between time.  The Spirit keeps hope alive in us and the Spirit helps us in prayer.  Every time I see a news article about some grave injustice in the world or some sad event where innocent people are killed, I think about this passage.  I think about the Spirit helping us to keep hope alive because there are lots of reasons for hope to die.  The travail of creation is one reason, but the apparent downward spiral of the human condition is another.  Maybe we just see it more because of modern 24 hours news services, but bad news seems to trump any good news.  There is hope and no matter what suffering may come, no matter what groaning or weakness, there is always hope.  The Spirit keeps that hope alive.  

In the meantime, we groan.  Creation is itself in pain until God makes all things whole again in redemption.  One might argue that sin has brought this travail upon creation – everything from natural disasters to man-made destruction, from earthquakes to oil spills.  Certainly the prophet Hosea saw a connection between creation and obedience to God’s commands:  “Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.  There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land.  2Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing” (Hosea 4:1-3).   The connection that Hosea makes is that when people fail to keep God’s commandments, even the land, even creation itself is in travail.  The reference to swearing and lying and murder and adultery is a reference to the people breaking the Ten Commandments.  When that happens, everything is in chaos.  

Now Paul may have another idea in mind with Romans 8, but the travail and pain is the same.  Creation is groaning until Christ comes again.  Creation knows that God has more in store for us and for creation itself and this is our hope.  This is our hope.

Hope is able to face the unknown.  Hope looks forward with confidence in God, faith in God, trust in God’s present help for a new future.  We might live in troubled times, but in God there is always hope.  God is working out his purposes in the midst of chaos.  




  • He Has Helped in Our Weakness  (8:26-30)


            What are our weaknesses?  We would probably rather not say!  There are so many.  But let’s just stick to Romans 8 and a couple of weaknesses.  We are weak in our knowledge of what to pray.  The second weakness I see here is we are not able to see the bigger purpose of God.  The Spirit helps us to pray and the Spirit sees the bigger story of God who works things together for good.   

            Prayer is both simple and difficult.  It can be difficult precisely because we don’t know what to pray.  When it comes to life and death, when it comes to complexities of the modern world, or when we feel helpless to change a situation, we do not know what to pray.  What a tremendous blessing to know that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  God’s Spirit helps us through these difficult times of prayer.  

            When we do not know what to pray I think it also causes us to not see the bigger picture of God’s purpose.  When the Spirit intercedes for us, we can begin to see the purposes of God more clearly.  My dad used to always say that everything will work out.  My dad is not the only dad to say this.  I’ve heard many people speak of how things seem to work out.  They may not work out in the way we might hope or the way we might like, but God knows far more than we do.  God works out the best for his own.  

            The best thing he has worked out is the end of this section of scripture:  


 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.


            This is one of those “predestination” passages that many people outside Presbyterianism think that we wrote!  Our weakness is strengthened since we are destined to be conformed to the image of Jesus.  We are growing to more like Christ.  God has called us, justified us, that is, placed us in a right relationship with Him.  And in the end, he will glorify us with Christ.  




  • He Loves Us  (8:31-39)


It is in his love that he has justified us.  In his love he has secured our relationship with him.  We might look to everything we has spoken of in this passage and say that it is fueled by God’s love.  He has set us free because he loves us.  He gives hope because of love.  He helps us in our weakness because he loves us.  Love is the basis of what God has done for us.  It is the action of the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor.  Paul’s final section in Romans 8 is something of a response to everything written before.  What then shall we say to all this?  If God is for us, who could possibly do anything against us to ultimately destroy us?  He has given us all things in his love.  And there is absolutely nothing anywhere and at anytime that can separate us from His love.  No matter what enemy we face in this world and in this life, there is nothing that can pry itself between God’s love and us.  Nothing.  I like to think that our flesh has no power to wedge God’s love away.  Our fear cannot separate us.  Our weakness has no chance at all to divide us from God’s love.  

Paul is saying - you are loved.  You are loved by the Creator of all things.  You are loved by the Lord of Lords.  You are loved by the God of gods.  You are loved and therefore you need not fear, need not be controlled by your flesh, or intimidated by your weakness.  God’s got your back!

This is the greatest news we could possibly know in the face of all the rotten news we get from worldly sources.  This is the best thing we can grasp in light of the evils of this world.  Loved by God, we hope, we conquer, we walk in a freedom that goes even beyond living in a free society.  When we walk outside of this building today, let us go with the secure knowledge of being loved, of being a part of a large family, and of knowing that the Holy Spirit of God walks each step with us, in prayer, in hope, fearless.   Makes my day and my life that much better knowing that I belong to God, as do you.  Amen.