Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Most Important Promise in My Life: How God Has Sustained My Hope

The Most Important Promise in My Life

Some words penetrate so deeply into your soul that they change the way you think about everything — and the change is full of hope. That is what I would say the apostle Paul did for me when I was awakened to the all-encompassing logic of heaven in Romans 8:32. I was 23 years old.

When I saw this verse, as I had never seen it before, God implanted it so firmly in my soul that it became a lifelong, living agent of practical, hope-giving, life-altering power.

Of all the places in the Bible that provide a solid place to stand when all around you is shaking, this has been my foundation stone more than any other.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all,
how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Heaven’s Logic

Romans 8:32 is a quintessential summary of the argument (and argument is the right word!) of the first eight chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. There is a logic to this greatest-of-all letters. I call it the logic of heaven.

This kind of logic has a technical name. You may or may not know the name of the logic, but you definitely know how to use it. You can call it an argument, or a logic, from the greater to the lesser. The technical name is a fortiori, which is Latin for from the stronger. The idea is this: if you have exerted your strength to accomplish something hard, then surely you can exert your strength to accomplish something easier. That’s an a fortiori argument.

So, suppose you say to your child, “Please run next door and ask Mr. Smith if we can borrow his pliers.” But your child says, “But what if Mr. Smith doesn’t want us to borrow his pliers?” How can you persuade your child that Mr. Smith will surely loan you his pliers? By using an a fortiori argument!

It goes like this: you say to your child, “Yesterday, Mr. Smith was happy to let us borrow his car all day long. If he was happy for me to borrow his car, he’ll be very willing for us to borrow his pliers.” Even children grasp a fortiori arguments. Loaning his car was a greater sacrifice than loaning his pliers. Therefore, it was harder to loan his car than it will be to loan his pliers. If he was inclined to do the harder thing, then he will be willing to do the easier thing. That’s the way we use a fortiori arguments.

Paul’s Fabulous a Fortiori

Now watch Paul use this kind of argument for the greatest event in the history of the world. He says, God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. That’s the harder thing. Therefore, he will most certainly give us all things with him. That’s the easier thing. When this argument penetrates through the callouses of familiarity, it becomes gloriously hope-filled and all-encompassing.

I had read that verse all my life. But here I was at twenty-three, and for the first time, this logic — this God-inspired logic, this holy, heavenly, glorious, inexhaustible logic — penetrated into my soul and implanted itself so that it became an unshakable foundation and living root of hope and power. I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, focus with me for a moment on the content of the two halves of this verse.

Greatest Obstacle to Everlasting Happiness

First, think with me about the first half of Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all . . .”

What are the great obstacles between us and everlasting happiness? One obstacle is our sin. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), and the wages of that sin is eternal death (Romans 6:23). Another obstacle is the wrath of God. If God is justly wrathful toward us in our sinful guilt, then we have no hope of everlasting happiness. And Paul leaves no doubt that we are under God’s wrath. We are in fact “children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3).

Those seem to be the biggest obstacles between us and everlasting happiness. But are they? I think there is a bigger obstacle, one that will be much harder to overcome — the one Paul points to in this first half of Romans 8:32. This obstacle is God’s infinite love and joy toward the beauty and honor of his own Son.

See if you don’t hear this obstacle in the first half of Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all . . .” Paul expects us to feel the massive tension between the phrase his own Son and the phrase did not spare. This is supposed to sound like the hardest thing that was ever done — God’s sacrifice of the Son of God. “His own Son.”

Could God Hand Over His Own Son?

When Paul calls Jesus God’s own Son, the point is that there are no others like him, and he is infinitely precious to the Father. Twice while Jesus was on earth, God said, “This is my loved Son” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5, author’s translation). In Colossians 1:13, Paul calls him “the Son of his love” (author’s translation).

Jesus himself told the parable of the tenants, in which a master’s servants were beaten and killed by the wicked tenants when the servants came to collect the harvest that belonged to the master. The master, amazingly, decides to send his own son to try one more time to collect what was rightly his. Jesus describes this picture of God with these words: “He had still one other, a beloved son” (Mark 12:6). One son is all God the Father had. And he loved him infinitely.

The point of Romans 8:32 is that this love of God for his one and only Son was like a massive, Mount Everest obstacle standing between God and our salvation. Here was an obstacle almost insurmountable. Could God — would God — overcome his cherishing, admiring, treasuring, white-hot, infinite, affectionate bond with his Son and hand him over to be lied about and betrayed and denied and abandoned and mocked and flogged and beaten and spit on and nailed to a cross and pierced with a sword, like an animal being butchered and hung up on a rack?

God Did Not Spare Him

Would he really do that? If he would, then we could know with full certainty that whatever goal he was pursuing on the other side of that obstacle could never fail. There could be no greater obstacle. So whatever he was pursuing is as good as done.

The unthinkable reality that Romans 8:32 affirms is that God did it. He did hand him over. God did not spare him. You might say, Didn’t Judas hand him over (Mark 3:19)? Didn’t Pilate hand him over (Mark 15:15)? Didn’t Herod and the mobs of people hand him over (Acts 4:27–28)? Worst of all, didn’t we hand him over (1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:24)? And perhaps most surprisingly, didn’t Jesus hand himself over (John 10:17; 19:30)? The answer to all those questions is yes.

But in Romans 8:32, Paul is penetrating through all these agents, all these instruments, of death. He is saying the most unthinkable thing: in and behind and beneath and through all these human agents, God was handing over his Son to death. “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). In Judas and Pilate and Herod and the crowds and the Gentile soldiers and our sin and Jesus’s lamb-like submission, God himself handed over his Son. Nothing greater or harder has ever happened. Or ever will.

Easy Half of the Argument

Therefore, in Paul’s a fortiori argument, God has done the hardest thing to give us everlasting happiness. He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. What does this guarantee? Paul puts it in the form of a rhetorical question (that means a question he expects us to immediately answer correctly): “How will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Paul expects us to turn this into a strong, certain statement. Namely: “He most certainly will also with him graciously give us all things.”

Since God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all,
therefore, he will most certainly give us all things with him.

All things! This is not a promise of a trouble-free life. Four verses later, Paul says, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36).

“He will give us all things” means all things we need to do his will. All things we need to glorify him. All things we need to move from predestined to called to justified to glorified — that is, to everlasting happiness (Romans 8:30).

Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, therefore:

  • All things will work together for our good (v. 28).
  • We will be conformed to the image of his Son (v. 29).
  • We will be glorified (v. 30).
  • No one can successfully be against us (v. 31).
  • No charge shall stick against us (v. 33).
  • Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (v. 35).
  • In tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword, we are more than conquerors (vv. 35–37).
  • 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 (vv. 38–39).

My Hope Hangs on Romans 8:32

Now we circle back to the beginning. I said that when I was 23, this logic of heaven penetrated so deeply into my soul that it changed the way I think about everything — and that the change was full of hope. What I meant was this. This logic of heaven teaches that the Father’s not sparing the Son secures every promise I have ever trusted in, or ever will.

I live my life every day by the promises of God. I owe every one of them to the logic of Romans 8:32. Do you see how sweeping and all-encompassing this is for me? All my hope hangs on God’s promises. And all the promises (all things) are guaranteed by the logic of Romans 8:32.

Paul said, “All the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]” (2 Corinthians 1:20). That is because the Father did not spare his Son. He did it so that all things — all these promises — would be absolutely certain for those who trust him. I have fought all the battles of my life with the promises of God — battles against fear and lust and greed and pride and anger. Battles for courage and purity and contentment and humility and peace and love. All of them by the word of God — the promises of God.

Behind every one of those battles is the logic of heaven: “I did not spare my own Son; therefore, my promise to you cannot fail. I will help you. Go. Do what I have called you to do.”

from Desiring God http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/10732/10630638
via DG