Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Basil Alcove and the Pre-destination-based Comfort of Romans 8:17 - 39

Lunch at Basil Alcove, Fortune Centre
Meant to start on Vaughan Roberts' God's Big Picture, an overview of the entire Bible, after lunch with the group at Basil Alcove. But they'd wanted to discuss Romans 8. I could not say no.

Salmon Sticks at The Coffee Connection
So we crossed Middle Road to The Coffee Connoisseur where we ran through Romans 8:1-17 (people pausing once every few minutes to, alternately, explore various garden paths and critique the canvases Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts students were dragging past for an exhibition). Afterwards, to my great surprise and encouragement, they'd wanted more. God's word is addictive stuff indeed.

Singapore Botanical Gardens at Sunset
Pity we didn't have time for Romans 8:17 - 39, a marvellous bit of assurance against the enemy without, suffering and death, that might shake our confidence in our salvation.

Christians, especially the older believer, may find themselves shaken by the apparent unprofitability of their work in Christ. When faced with suffering, in the words of John Calvin, "sorrow takes possession of our minds and takes away all consolation and confidence". We seem such failures: our friends and family may have abandoned us; our ministries may not seem to have borne any fruit, and we ourselves are bogged down by our continuing ability to sin.

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? (Romans 8:33) Who is to condemn? (Romans 8:34) Why, staring down into the depths of our own depravity and sin with our regenerated minds, we are quite willing to bring such a charge against ourselves and condemn ourselves.

In this present time, the world finds that there is nothing about us that show that we are God's children. The quotation from Psalm 44 in Romans 8:36 is particularly illuminating:
For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
It is the bewilderment of a godly, God-fearing people at their present suffering. The believer indwelt by the Spirit does not live the victorious Christian life; he groans (Romans 8:23). We may have the firstfruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23b) but we still await the full harvest - our adoption as sons and the redemption of our bodies. There is no promise of rosy cheeks and supple healthy bodies now, for our aging and ultimately dying are our punishment for sin (see Genesis 3).

And the groaning doesn't just come from the humans in their painful mortality, but also from all of creation which was subject to futility and corruption (Romans 8:20). Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre et al were not wrong to observe the existential absurdity of the world.

And to add to the cacophony of groans from humans and the rest of creation, even the Spirit groans as he intercedes for us (Romans 8:26). Perhaps he is expressing his deep sorrow at the circumstances in which he finds himself! For so perverted and corrupted are we that we do not even know how or what to ask God to help us in (Romans 8:26a)!

But thanks be to God, through all these things, there are gleams of glory, glory that is to be revealed to us in the future (Romans 8:18). And when we become in mind and heart truly sons of God (Romans 8:19), then the rest of creation will be redeemed together with us (Romans 8:21). So the world will never be saved by the reduction of hothouse gases, climate change control or the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (aka the Doomsday Vault). Whatever it is going through now is merely the birthpangs and the pains of childbirth (Romans 8:22), the necessary suffering, before ultimate fulfilment in the future.

Because this glory is future, in this life, we live by a solidly-based hope and not by sight, which, really, is rather faulty in any case and does not see what is really happening. For in this hope we were saved. Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25)

And meanwhile, what does the Spirit pray for? What is the Spirit interested in? Not that we know him more or grow in his gifts or that we be preachers of the Spirit. Rather, it is that we be conformed to the image of God's son, that we be like Christ (Romans 8:29).

Romans 8:28 - "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" has been misused in far too many a kitchen calendar and inspirational poster. It often abused, crassly and insensitively, polluted salt in the wounds of suffering Christians. What God does not promise is greenhouse holiness - a nice little patch in the conservatory protected from bitter frost and sweltering heat tended to by competent loving gardeners. Monastaries and the spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola will not work. What God does promise is that he will work through all the failure and hurt and weakness of Romans 8 to conform us to the likeness of his son, to make us holy.

Is this promise effective enough? Why, of course! If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31) Who shall bring any charge against the people God has elected? It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33). And who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8:34). Satan the Accuser doesn't have a chance in, erm, hell.

And how can we be sure God will do as he promises? Well if he did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

God may be trustworthy, but we know ourselves too well to be confident that we will be able to cling on till the end. And so the doctrine of pre-destination and election is given not so that humans can rile against the perceived injustice of God nor so they can shrug hopelessly and say "Why should I bother to believe if I am not choosen and elected?"; it is given to believers for their comfort when their confidence in their own salvation is deeply shaken by circumstances and sin. For those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30).

And who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Romans 8:35)
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure 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. (Romans 8:37 - 39)

Basil Alcove
190 Middle Road, #01-07, Fortune Centre
Tel: 63361318


Working through current series on Romans:
First Thai, Jay Chou's Birthday Concert and Romans 1
Feasting and Larval Thoughts on Faith and Romans 4
Privé, Cilantro and the Marvellous Comfort of Romans 8:1 - 16
Basil Alcove and the Pre-destination-based Comfort of Romans 8:17 - 39
Kapok at Newton and Romans 9 - 11
Tin Hill Wine Bar & Bistro, The White Rabbit at Dempsey, Dim Joy, True Worship and Romans 12:1 - 2
Sodagreen 苏打绿 Sing With Me 陪我歌唱 Concert, Futsal Tournament, Romans 13



At July 09, 2008 7:41 am , Anonymous cupboard hubbard said...

u know what,i'm going to need your updates on DG studies to keep me updated. =) tankyew.

At July 21, 2008 1:08 am , Anonymous shadow said...

At least this is useful to one person!

Are you sure got time to read? So much exciting stuff over there plus all that good teaching too.


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