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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

From Hard to Easy


 

For those who are in Christ Jesus – that is to say for those who by the death of Jesus have become God’s children and his beneficiaries – there is nothing that can come between us and the love God has for us.


Nothing can separate us from His love. Not dimensions of height or depth. Not dimensions of demons or angels. Not dimensions of time. Not dimensions of bodily existence. Not dimensions of power. Nothing can separate us from his love. And we know this because Romans 8:38-39 says it.

And neither can suffering separate us. Verse 35: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall [the suffering of] trouble or [the suffering of] hardship or [the suffering of] persecution or [the suffering of] famine or [the suffering of] nakedness or [the suffering of] danger or [the suffering of] sword?

Verse 37: ‘No! In all these things we are more than conquerors [over suffering] through him who loved us’ – namely Jesus.


Share in suffering

Why insert ‘suffering’ before all of these life experiences – trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword?

And my answer is suffering is what Romans 8:17-38 is all about.

Here’s verse 17:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’, (that’s an important ‘if’ - none of Romans 8:17-38 applies to you if you’re not a child and an heir of God).

if indeed you share in Christ’s sufferings, in order that you may also share in his glory’.


Okay, so what are Christ’s sufferings? They are trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword, just like it says in verse 35. For sure, these are Paul’s sufferings, but Paul himself said that he filled up in his flesh what was lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24). Here are some of Jesus’ sufferings; Isaiah 53 speaks more clearly than any old testament passage probably, about the sufferings of the Messiah.


He was despised and rejected of mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering’.


Jesus’ experience of life on earth was characterised by suffering and Paul expects that anyone who is a child of God and a co-heir with Christ will share in Christ’s sufferings also, that is if they are going to share in his glory also.

No share in his sufferings, means no share in his glory according to verse 17.


Share in glory

And what glory is Paul speaking of?

V.18 says it’s a glory ‘that will [future tense] be revealed in us’.

V.20 says that ‘creation itself is waiting to be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the [same] freedom and glory of the children of God [that they will enjoy when Jesus returns]’.

V.23 says that ‘we ourselves [who are still here on earth] groan [with creation] inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship and the redemption of our [new glorified] bodies’.

V.30 says that ‘those God justified, he also glorified’.

So, to be sharers in Christ’s glory is to be translated from this lowly decaying body and world, through death, into the resurrection from the dead, where we will receive new and glorified bodies, capable of enjoying the fullness of God’s glory in his presence forever. What was sown in dishonour will be raised in glory; what was sown in weakness will be raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:43).


Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20), and that glorified body he has we’ll share in one day, if we are children of God; if we are co-heirs with Christ; and if we are sharers with him in his sufferings whilst we are here on earth.


God is either for us or against us

All of that shows us where Paul’s mind is at as we get to verses 31 and 32. He seems to be concerned that we might lose hope in this life as we encounter our share of suffering. And so he wants to strengthen us, that we may partake in the glory that is yet to be revealed.


Chapters 1 to 8 of Romans are at pains to say, there are only two alternatives - not three, not four – only two. People either suffer now, with Christ, for a short time, and then enter into glory. Or they shun Christ now and his sufferings, seeking to live out this short life maximising temporal comforts, and then enter an eternity of suffering.

It’s either suffer now with Christ and enter God’s glory, or seek glory now - in whatever form you can get it - and enter an eternity of suffering at the hands of a wrathful God. There’s no other way.

Here it is negatively in Romans 2:5: ‘But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgement will be revealed’.

And, Romans 2:8: ‘But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger’.

And here it is positively in Romans 5:9: ‘Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!’.

There’s no third way. In Christ, what can separate us from the love God? Nothing! Outside of Christ, what can separate us from the wrath of God? Nothing! Therefore, we must be found to be in Christ, not having a righteousness of our own, but a righteousness that is through faith in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:9), or there is nothing left, except a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Hebrews 10:27).


God is greater

So, what shall we say in response to all things? What shall we say to the fact that sharing in Christ’s glory means sharing in his suffering also? Paul answers with two of the most logically concrete, foundation-level, grounding statements in all the bible.

The first goes like this:

If God is for us, who can be against us’.

The logic here is: if A – ‘God is for us’ – is true, then B – ‘who can be against us’ - must also be true.

This is how that works. How does suffering come about? Suffering happens when powers are engaged against us. Those powers could be natural, or human, or super natural, but they are directed against us.

So, if we suffer verbal abuse, it’s because people have turned their powers of intellect sinfully against us and verbalised their thoughts.

If we suffer physical abuse, it’s because people have turned their powers of strength sinfully against us.

If we suffer the consequences of our own actions, it’s because the power of our sin has manifested itself in our experience.

If we suffer sickness, it’s because the power of sin has become tangible in a fallen world.

If we suffer stress, it’s because the powerful pinch of time, which endlessly marches on, is reducing the opportunity to complete tasks.

If we suffer separation, it’s because the power of length and breadth and depth and height are preventing us coming together.

If we suffer temptation, it’s because the powers of darkness are arrayed against us.

If we suffer death, it’s because the power of sin reigns in our mortal bodies.

Those powers are real and they’re significant, and we feel them mainly in suffering. And to be a follower of Jesus means significantly increased exposure to those powers. The reason for that, is that Jesus is the greatest good that exists and Satan is enraged by his goodness. But since Satan can’t get at Jesus, he’s going after his followers like a roaring lion.

In Revelation 13 there’s a beast, and the beast receives power from Satan - the dragon - and verse 6 says, ‘[the beast] was given power to wage war against God’s holy people’.

Ephesians 6:12 puts it in less graphic words, ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’.

So don’t hear Paul saying that these are small powers or insignificant sufferings – they’re not! They’re of absolutely cosmic proportions. But what Paul is saying unmistakably is that God is greater than them all.

How much greater? Answer: much greater.

Romans 16:20 says, ‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’.


The basis of what Paul is saying in verse 31 is that the powers engaged against us are great, but Almighty God is infinitely greater. And since he is infinitely greater than all other powers, if God is for you – not against you; but for you – then who can be against you and prevail?

Can Satan be against you and prevail? For sure he is against you, but he cannot prevail, for God is for you.

Can Sin be against you and prevail? For sure sin against you, but it cannot prevail, for your all-powerful God is for you.

Can hunger, or nakedness, or hardship, or danger, or sword, or height or depth, or anything else in all creation, or even death be against you and prevail? For sure they are against you, but no, they cannot prevail, for God who is unchangeable, infinite and everlasting is for you and not against you, and he will not let them prevail. Even though it may look like they are prevailing now, they will all, most assuredly, be crushed under our feet forever, when Jesus returns.


Infinitely hard

But at this point we should stop and we should ask ourselves, how is he for us like that? I mean, he’s powerful to overcome all these enemies for sure, but why would he do it on my behalf? And that prompts the second profoundly logically deduction Paul makes in these two verses.


Verse 32:

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

And the logic of this verse goes like this: If A - the hardest thing to do - has been accomplished on our behalf, then will not B – the easier thing to do – come our way?

If God did the infinitely hard thing in not sparing his own Son, but giving him up for us all, then he will, most certainly, do the easier thing which is to give us everything.

Which means that the promise that we will finally come into the glory of new resurrection bodies and be with Jesus forever, is founded on the fact that that’s easy for God to do in comparison with what he had to do to make himself for us and not against us.

What did it take for the wrath of God to be removed from us and the favour of God to rest upon us?

It took everything. It took all the power of God to momentarily break the bonds of love between himself and Jesus, and send him to the cross. And it took all the power of Almighty God to take his eternal pent-up wrath kindled against our unrighteousness and sinfulness, and pour it out on his own precious son.


Listen to a handful of texts from the gospel of John, because we have to get a flavour of how precious a bond it was, to understand what power it took to deliver Jesus over to suffering and death and shame and wrath:

John 1:18: ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with Father, has made him known’.

John 5:20: ‘For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does’.

John 8:16: ‘I stand with the Father who sent me’.

John 8:54: ‘My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me’.

John 10:38: ‘Believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father’.

John 17:11: ‘Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one’.


There are others. It is incomprehensible how hard it was for the Father - in perfect union and relationship with the Son; with zero reason for discordance between them – for him to turn his own son over to death and to actively punish him with the infinite wrath designed for you and me. We simply can’t fathom that kind of ‘hard’. But we can know this much, there is nothing that has ever been done, or ever will be done that was harder than that. Nothing.


And Paul wants us to feel how hard that was because part B of the logic – namely, will he not along with him give us everything – will only have as much weight as the weightiness with which we grasp the truth that God did the infinitely hard thing, when he gave up his Son for us. Part B won’t have the impact it’s meant to have unless we feel how hard it was for God to do what he did.


Whilst it is true, God did not spare his own Son, neither did anyone prise Jesus away from him. Satan didn’t strong-arm God into giving up his Son. To think that would be blasphemy. God the Father willingly gave up his Son. It was by his express design and purpose.

Listen to Acts 2:23, ‘This man [Jesus] was handed over to you [Jews] by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross’.

Or, going back to Isaiah 53. Verse 4: ‘we considered him punished by God’. And verse 6: ‘We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord [Yahweh] has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all’.


So, there’s no room to diminish how hard the giving over of Jesus was. God wasn’t strong-armed into it; he gave Jesus up for us by his own ‘deliberate plan’.

Now, if he did that infinitely hard thing for us - if he took our iniquity and laid our sins on his sinless head, and then vented the fulness of his wrath at and on Jesus; if he took his only Son with whom he enjoyed such perfect union that Jesus could say, ‘I and the Father are one’ and separated himself so completely from Jesus so as to cause him to cry out on the cross in words of utter anguish, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me’; if he could do that, in order that his posture towards us would be love and not wrath; if he did those impossibly hard things – then what should we expect him to do for us in regard to our suffering?

And the straightforward answer is, we should expect him to, along with Jesus, graciously give us everything we need to arrive at that great and glorious day and receive our glorious inheritance with glorious resurrection bodies.


Paul’s aim is to give us nerves of spiritual steel. His aim is to give us the kind of confidence that looks an executioner in the eye, and knows in a few seconds I’m going to be with Jesus in glory.

His aim is to give us the kind of confidence that is able to look beyond the false accusations coming our way, and know there is an exceedingly glorious inheritance that God is going to bring us into.

His aim is to give us the kind of confidence that makes missionaries and starts new churches.

His aim is to give us the kind of confidence that shares the gospel with friends even though they might think we’re odd.

His aim is to give us the kind of confidence that is unshakable when the doctor says ‘we’ve found cancer’.

His aim is to give us the kind of confidence that allows us to lose our lives for the sake Jesus and the gospel (Mark 8:35).


More than Conquerors

It’s out of these two rhetorical questions of gospel logic that other questions flow. Questions like:

Therefore, who will bring any charge against us? (v.33).

To which the hymn writers answer is:


‘What tho’ the’accuser roar

of ills that I have done,

I know them well and thousands more,

Jehovah findeth none’.


No one can bring a charge. The judge and justifier are the same person. It is God who justifies!

And questions like: Who then is it who condemns?

Answer: No one, because Jesus rose from the dead bodily, and ascended into heaven bodily, and sits at the right of God bodily, so as to intercede for us continually (v.34).

And questions like: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword? Facing death all day long; like sheep to be slaughtered? (v.35). No none of these will separate us from the love of Christ. God has done the infinitely hard thing in order to make the infinitely worst thing – namely, separation from Christ - the infinitely impossible thing.


Therefore, in Christ we are not merely conquerors, we are more than conquerors. God is for us for ever, and he is more powerful than life and death, angels and demons, present and future, height and depth and all created powers. Therefore, we will most certainly come into our glorious inheritance. For God who did the infinitely hard thing will not fail to do the easier thing – namely, to raise us up at the last day and seat us with him in heavenly realms in order that he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Which leads us back to the beginning of the passage and verse 18. Therefore, ‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us’.

Our sufferings are nothing. The glory to be revealed is everything.

So why is Easter so important? Because, according to Romans 8:32, God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he therefore not also graciously give us everything when we come into his glory? The answer is, he will



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