Monday, December 2, 2013

Romans 8:1---A Study on Precious Remedies against Satan's Devices

Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”   There is no better news that I could give to you right now.  For you, personally, to know that for those who are in Christ Jesus, for those who know Him as their risen Lord and Savior, there is no condemnation!  When I first typed the verse reference it said “Romans 8:!”...and I think that might be just as accurate.  Typing on a keyboard I cannot think of anything more appropriate than a “!” to express this verse.  It is “!”, undoubtedly. The fact that the God of the universe has made it where sinful rebels can come into fellowship with Him, enjoying the knowledge that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!  That definitely warrants a “!”, if not two or ten.  You must, as a believer, know and remember this wonderful truth.

We must also know and remember that there may not be a truth that Satan will attack more in the mind of a believer than this glorious fact.  He will do anything he can to get you to doubt, ignore, or abandon this truth.  Because if he can get you to feel condemned, he renders your faith virtually powerless and your fellowship with the Father hindered and weak.  You will find yourself not living joyfully in the peace that surpasses all understanding but rather you will find yourself conceding the victory that Christ has already won and returning to the burdensome yoke of trying to earn God's approval by being “good enough”.  Any ground that Satan gains in the life of as believer is ground that the believer gives to him.  And this may be Satan's most desired lot of property, the believer's confidence that because of Christ he is eternally right with God.

So how does Satan attack this truth in the thoughts of a believer?  How does he attack the believer's peace, the believer's assurance of God's forgiveness and fellowship?  He does so in many, many ways but there are four that I have found especially prevalent, with remedies for these devices found in Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome.

Device 1
First, a device Satan loves to use to get a believer to abandon this beautiful truth is to entice the believer to focus more on his sin that he does on his Savior.  He works to ensure that the believer will look at and focus on his sin much and focus on his Savior little, if at all. 

Now, to be clear, it is imperative that the believer spend time looking at and examining his life and his heart, his affections and his actions.  The believer must seek out unconfessed sins and enjoy the repentance that God will grant, forsaking these sins actively and violently.  But this staring into the depths of our sin is only appropriate as a means unto worship and affection and reverent awe of our great Lord and Savior.  Anything that we fixate our time, attention, efforts, and emotions on more than our Lord is an idol and I cannot think of a more inappropriate idol than our own sinfulness.  

Romans 6 provides a beautiful remedy for this device of our enemy.  Verses 6-14 remind us that while the presence of sin in the life of a believer is real, the power of sin has been stripped away by the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:6–14
6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
 Because of what Jesus Christ did, the Christian is no longer “enslaved to sin”.  The believer has been set free from sin because of her being “in Christ”.  Note the passive voice of verse 12.  “Let not sin reign”.  Sin has no reign in the life of a believer and the only authority it has is authority the believer hands over.  So, knowing therefore that sin has no authority, it is crucial that the believer does not let it have some sort of illegitimate authority in her life by fixating all her time and attention and focus and effort on her sin when her Savior deserves all that and more.
Romans 3 offers another remedy to this device of the enemy.  Verses 23-26 remind believers that not only has a payment been made for the penalty of sin, it has been made in full! 

Romans 3:23–26 
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
There is a gold mine of great Biblical truth in this passage that the believer could spend the rest of his or her life unearthing!  But what is specifically shown, in relation to the device of the enemy to tempt believers into focusing on their sin rather than their Savior and thus disbelieving the great truth of Romans 8:1 is this, God put forward Christ as a “propitiation by His blood”.

This is a significant word that covers a significant concept that is much too nuanced and important to be overlooked or simply glossed over.  Propitiation is, according to Wayne Grudem, “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”  [1]  Michael Horton notes:
From the Greek verb hilaskesthai and its cognate noun hilastērion, propitiation refers to the necessity that God’s justice be satisfied (cf. also hilasmos in 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). Because God is holy and righteous, he cannot overlook transgression (Ex 34:7; Num 14:18; Ps 5:4–6; Nah 1:2–3). “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Ro 1:18). Propitiation, therefore, focuses on God’s relationship to the sinner. God must be just in his justification of sinners (Ro 3:25–26)...God’s holy wrath is clearly displayed by God against sin throughout Scripture. Throughout both testaments, it is clear not only that in our fallenness we are at enmity with God, but that God is also at enmity with us (Ro 5:10 and 11:28, for example, refer to us as having been the subjects of God’s enmity). As long as there is the reality of divine wrath, the reality of divine propitiation will be warmly received as its antidote. It is God’s love that moves him to provide his own satisfaction of justice. Rather than being set in opposition, God’s love and propitiatory sacrifice of his Son are mentioned in the same breath, for example, in Romans 3:25 and 1 John 4:10.[2]
Don Carson explains,
“Propitiation” is that act by which God becomes “propitious,” that is, favorable toward those who have offended him...The cross is the place, the event, the sacrifice, by which God becomes favorable or propitious toward us poor sinners. The cross, in other words, was the place of propitiation; it was the means by which God was propitiated, his anger assuaged and appeased.[3]
Satan's desire is to lead the believer to focus on his sin and neglect to focus on his Savior and to see the despair and fruitlessness to which this inevitably leads.  The remedy is quite simple.  To quote Robert Murray McCheyene,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. [4]

“For every look you take at yourself”, and your sin, “take ten looks at Christ.”  Believe the beautiful truth of Romans 8:1 because, through you are still sinful, the work and person of Christ is still sufficient.  He was put forward as a propitiation.  He was accepted as a propitiation.  The divine wrath that we earned has been turned to divine favor by the effective and finished work of our great God and Savior!  

Should we look at our sin?  Certainly!  But only so we might worship our God more fully and purely, only so our love and appreciation of our mighty and gracious King might grow, only so our hope may become all the more assured.  Despair has no place in the life of a believer because, “(t)here is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Device 2
A second way that Satan attacks this truth in the hearts and minds of believers is by causing believers to make false inferences about the acts of God.  That means this.  Something happens and we know why.  My car breaks down, God must be mad at me.  A hurricane hits New Orleans, God is after the gays!  Kanye West, or Weezy as Kim and I call him, shows this fallacious thinking quite clearly, “I been talking to God for so long, and if you look at my life I guess He's talking back."

The prosperity “gospel” is all about this with health and wealth being a direct result of your faith and financial seed sowing.  But all of us are tempted in this manner, to think that we can determine how God feels about us based on how our back feels that morning.  Or how our kids are behaving or how our car drives or if our check clears or if the report from the doctor comes back with a desired result. 

Paul gives us a great remedy for this is a beautiful verse in Romans 8.  Verse 28 reminds us that there are many things that come about in our lives that may be contrary to our desires but are not contrary to out good.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

We struggle with many issues because we think we are much wiser, smarter, brighter than we actually are.  We oftentimes even elevate our intellect above God.  Now, most of us are not bold enough to vocally articulate, “Hey God, I am smarter than You.  I know better.”  We, for the most part, have enough sense to know how insanely stupid that sounds and how insulting that would be to an eternal, omniscient Being.  But we do say it.  We say it when we resist God's plan for our life because it does not line up with the one we have formed.  We say it when we look at a hardship that our loving Father has allowed and purposed in our life to grow us and teach us and use for our good by conforming us to the image of His beautiful Son and we treat it as evidence of God's displeasure, anger, disappointment or dissatisfaction with us as His children.  When we buy into the lie we begin to believe that simply because something us uncomfortable or painful or difficult then it must be a judgment, a display of God's condemnation of us.  We must be reminded of Romans 8:28 and the fact that though some things may be undesirable, as God's children, they are not contrary to our good and most definitely does not contradict the truth of Romans 8:1.

We also must remind ourselves that God’s hand can be against a man and His heart be firmly set upon Him.  The case in point would be Job.  Job was, according to Scripture, a righteous man.  He loved and worshiped the Lord.  However, according to God’s sovereign purpose, Job’s life was rocked.  Royally!  Children, dead.  Wealth, gone.  Health, miserable.  Wife, even more miserable!  And all of this, though administered by our enemy was by the hand of God.  Satan was allowed to do nothing outside of the providential will of our great God. 

Sometimes this life will rock us.  Royally!  And oftentimes, in the midst of the storm, we will not be able to see or understand why.  Oftentimes, even when the storm has passed and we have the luxury of hindsight, we will still not be able to see why something happened.  Due to God’s ways being so much higher and His wisdom being so much greater and His will being so much better and His motives being so much purer than man’s, it would be inappropriate for us to presume to know definitively why God has specifically done something that is beyond our comprehension.  To this end, it is good to know that simply because His hand is raining fire down upon your life, this does not mean His heart and affections are far from you.  Rather, we must remember that when we are in Christ, we are His child and His love for us is beyond our wildest dreams—even if our world is caving in around us.

Device 3
An effective way that Satan attacks the truth of Romans 8:1 in the heart of a believer is to lead them to the understanding that a loss of assurance is a loss of faith.  For many reasons, some beyond our understanding, the Christian life has and ebb and flow to it.  There are seasons of fruitfulness and an overwhelming assurance of God’s favor upon us.  We are certain of His love for us in our thoughts and in our gut.  We feel the presence of God and we have a rock-sure assurance of His presence, His love, and our right-standing with Him.  Those are wonderful, mountain-top times in our Christian walk.  They are amazing seasons of almost tangible joy, peace and happiness.

Then there are the other seasons of the Christian life--the times when God withdraws His presence (or at least our experience of it), the times when we do not feel the overwhelming assurance of God’s favor, the times when we are not certain of His love for us in our thoughts and in our gut.  Those are the tough times and those are the times when we are prone to experience this particular device of our enemy as he does all he that he is able to do to convince us that the loss of our assurance, this spiritual desertion, is a loss of our salvation.  He leads us in our thoughts to a place that says “If I don’t feel saved, then I am not saved.”  This is a dangerous and miserable place to be.

It is helpful during these times to be reminded that assurance is not equal to salvation.  This is shown most clearly in the negative sense where Jesus promised there would be a day when many people who were quite assured of their right-standing with Him would approach Him boastfully, only to be rejected.
            “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
(Matthew 7:21-23)

Those who approach Christ on the last day have assurance, apparently assured of their right-standing based on their own works, but they do not have saving faith.  They do not have salvation.  Their assurance is not equal to faith.  And the flip-side is also true.  Lack of assurance is not equal to lack of faith.  Lacking assurance, that is lacking that feeling of salvation, the visceral experience, the knowing that you know that you know, is referred to as “spiritual desertion”.  Spiritual desertion is the time when God withdraws His presence from the believer for His own sovereign purposes.  Sometimes as a chastisement meant to draw a believer to repentance, sometimes as a way to refine and strengthen our faith, sometimes to serve His sovereign purpose in a manner that we might never be privy to the reason.  Nevertheless, simply because a believer is enduring a season of desertion does not mean that the Father has left them and repossessed His gift of salvation.

When in the midst of a season of desertion, a season of lack of assurance, the believer would do well to remind himself or herself of the fact that salvation is the result of what Christ did, not what we feel.
Romans 5:6-11 shows us that our salvation is based totally on the finished work of our great Savior:
            For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

While we were enemies with God we were reconciled by the blood of His Son.  He did not die for us because we were worthy or because He saw some redeeming quality in us.  Nope.  While we were still weak, incapable of saving ourselves, Christ died for the ungodly—those opposed to God, rebels in utter, hate-filled rebellion.  He died for us while we were still sinners, while we were His enemies!

One of the beautiful parts of this passage is the context.  This is a response of Paul to the suffering being endured by himself and by those Christians in Rome to whom he was writing.  Verses 1-5:
            Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Paul is telling the believers that we can rejoice in our sufferings, rejoice in our hardships, rejoice in our fears and trials and failures because God will use them for our good(by conforming us into the image of His Son by producing endurance, character and hope; Romans 8:1), but also because we can remember in the midst of trials and tribulations, our salvation is secure because it is based on a firm foundation, a Rock that cannot be moved. 

It is also good for the believer to see that that spiritual desertion falls under the “all things” of Romans 8:28.  It is something that God uses for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  Joel Beeke addresses this very thing in an article at The Resurgence:

But what about the dreadful burden of divine desertion, that is, the burden of feeling that God has withdrawn Himself and become silent in my life? How can the groan of Zion, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me” (Isa. 49:14), ever work for good? If Thomas Watson called divine desertion “a short hell” and Samuel Rutherford called God’s silence (which lies at the heart of experiencing apparent divine desertion) the most bitter ingredient that the believer has to drink in his  cup of sorrow—how can such desertion work for good?
 Perhaps the best way to persuade you, if you are a true Christian, that even God’s apparent desertions of you are intended for your welfare, is to ask you a series of questions—the kind of questions seventeenth-century Puritans would ask you if they were alive today:
Does not divine desertion drive you to prayer to seek after and prize communion with God more than ever, causing you to knock at heaven’s gates with unceasing petitions? 
Does not the Lord use divine desertion to cause you to examine your own soul in order to discover, pull, and cast away the accursed weeds of sin which have caused you to desert God and Him to desert you? 
When the Holy Spirit teaches you that the most common cause of divine absence is your own sin, does his not cause you to hate sin with a holy hatred? 
Does not God use His own withdrawals in your life like a rough file to scrape off spiritual rust—rust which all too quickly develops on your faith, hope, love, and other graces when they are not used regularly? 
Does not God’s desertion serve by the Spirit’s secret influences to purge you of remaining infirmities, weaning you from worldly thinking, worldly conversations, and worldly actions? 
Have you not experienced that the Holy Spirit uses the withdrawals of God to cut off your reliance upon anything within you, such as your experiences, your humility, your prayers, your faith, and your conversion, so that you may learn to more fully believe in and rely upon Jesus Christ alone? 
Has not the Holy Spirit used divine desertion to cut off your relying upon even the gracious benefits God has given you, so that what God gives does not lord over your soul over and above the Lord Himself? 
Through God’s apparent desertions are you not often taught that His delays in your life are not denials, but rather, that at His time and in His way He will again draw close to commune with you through His Word? 
Does not the Lord sometimes hold Himself back in order to teach you that He would be righteous never to commune with you again on account of your continued sinning against Him? 
Through divine desertion does not God persuade you that He must be honored in His presence and His absence? 
If you are honest, are not these Spirit-taught fruits of divine desertion profitable for you even though you often fight against many of them? Can you not see that the Lord brings you, in Watson’s words, “into the depths of desertion before you die in order to keep you from the depths of damnation after you die”? 
At times you may even fear that He holds you above hell by desertion, but afterwards must you not confess that He does so to keep you from hell for eternity? Your desertions work for your spiritual welfare to prepare you for heaven, and to make heaven all the more heavenly when you shall finally enter into glory. 
Truly, even when God appears to absent Himself from you, He is still secretly present with
you, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, with His Godhead, majesty, grace, and Spirit (Question 47). 
Dear believer, keep courage. God’s temporary, apparent desertion of you is just that—temporary and only apparent. As Puritan John Flavel wrote: 
Christ’s desertion [by God] prevents your final desertion. Because He was forsaken for a time you shall not be forsaken for ever. For He was forsaken for you.... [Moreover,] though God deserted Christ, yet at the same time He powerfully supported Him. His omnipotent arms were under Him, though His pleased face was hid from Him.... So, Christian, just so shall it be with thee. Thy God may turn away His face, [but] He will not pluck away His arm. 
Puritan Timothy Cruso put it this way: “He who hath engaged to be our Christ for ever, cannot depart for ever.”

Device 4
Another device Satan uses to attack the truth of Romans 8:1 is to remind the believer of their frequent relapses into sins formerly repented of and prayed against.  This is one we all endure. It is the struggle of finding ourselves committing sins we have confessed and thought we had turned from.  Satan’s goal here is to convince the believer that since they have sinned, again, and since they are constantly sinning, again and again, then God has no part of them and they have no part of God.  “You’re a sinner, so you must not know the Savior”.  “You are supposed to be a new creation, but you continue in the ways of your old self.”  These are the bombs that Satan loves to lob into our spiritual fort to see what he can destroy.  These are attacks we desperately need to be on guard against. 

Let’s talk about me for a second, if you will.  I am personally tired of committing the same sin over and over again.  I am tired of confessing a sin, being broken over it and genuinely turning from it only to succumb to that desire weeks, days or hours later.  Lust, gluttony, sloth, anger, apathy, selfishness, faithlessness…you name it.  It is frustrating because I know that I should be growing in those areas and it is terryifying because I know that those who persist in sin have no part in the Kingdom of God.  Oh wretched man that I am!! Who will deliver me from this body of death!!!...wait, that reminds me of another passage in Romans.

If there was anyone who could identify with the struggle of the new man verses the old man, it was the Apostle Paul.  And the beautiful truth is that the great and wonderful promise of Romans 8:1, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus is found in the context of Romans 7. Romans 7-8 in context shows Paul’s lament over his sinfulness turn into a shout of praise: 

            For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

We must recognize that while we are new creations and while our identity is now found in Christ, rather than our sin, we are still plagued by the residual forces of sin.  This is why we struggle.  Sin is present.  Our flesh is being mortified, but it is a progressive sanctification that will lead to perfect holiness…we are just not there yet.  So we remember, when we sin, we are struggling with good company.  All the saints from Scripture struggled against sin and failed, repeatedly.  It is a reminder that all of the Christian life, even after conversion, is of grace.

We are reminded again that the payment for sin-past, present and future-was made in full. 
Romans 3:23–26
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Christ was put forward as propitiation, and even when we fail as believers to honor our God with our actions, the payment made for sin is still sufficient to appease the righteous anger of our holy God. 

In the same way that our salvation is not based on what we feel, it is not based either on what we do.  The salvation we are granted is based on the perfect obedience and sacrificial death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It is not based on what we do.
Romans 5:18-21
            Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our salvation is based on what Christ did, not what we do.  He accomplished it.  He ensures it.  He, who began a good work in us, will bring it to completion!  It is about what He has done, so all the glory belongs solely to Him.

Now, should we examine ourselves when we sin.  Certainly.  Should we be concerned when we sin and broken over it and remorseful and grieved.  Certainly.  But, we grieve as those with hope, remembering not only that the debt has been paid, God has been propitiated, and our souls have been secured by the perfect righteousness and sacrifice of our Great High Priest.  We also remember that our greatest concern is not when we struggle with sin, but when sin no longer is a struggle.  When we are being tempted and tried and we are fighting back, even in a failing effort at times, this is good.  It is when we no longer struggle, when we are given over to sin to the point of no resistance and no remorse, that we have a good reason to be concerned. 
We face a genuine enemy, an adversary who has been attacking and tempting and tricking and testing much longer than any of us have even been alive.  He is clever.  He is effective.  But he is ultimately and completely impotent.  In and of himself he has no power!  The only ground he gains in our lives is ground we give him and that is a travesty because we are giving away, not what belongs to us, but what belongs to our Lord.

Satan has his devices but God has provided us remedies that will show us Satan for what he truly is, a toothless lion that can only mimic a genuine attack.  Although he is toothless and impotent, he is clever and convincing.  He has a way of convincing the believer that he has power and should be feared, and in doing so can create some genuine hardship in the life of a believer.

But for every attack he mounts, God has provided a multitude of remedies, all made effective by the finished work of Jesus Christ and His indwelling Spirit who resides in all believers.  Satan has attacks.  The Christian has victory.  I, for one, desperately desire that we as the Church begin living as such!  Victory in Jesus does not begin when we are in Heaven.  It is readily available to every believer at this very moment.  Satan deserves no part of our lives.  We must stop giving space in our lives.  We must stop giving him our attention and our focus and our fear.  It does not belong to him.  None of our life belongs to him.  It belongs to another and it was purchased with a great price.

[1]          Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine (1252). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.
[2]          Horton, M. (2011). The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (498–500). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
[3]          Carson, D. A. (1996). Basics for believers: An exposition of Philippians (35). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
[4]          McCheyne, R. M., & Bonar, A. A. (1894). Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (252). Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier.