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The Heights and Depths of God’s Love in Christ Jesus
When Ashley and I first met to discuss our teaching of Romans, and we were looking at Chapters 5-8, we saw how Paul really teaches a lot of big themes in this section. We thought it would be a good idea to look at some of these themes, such as justification, adoption, and sanctification and to define them, to look at what is involved in them, and really to lay out some of the major foundations of Paul’s theology of the Christian life.
Because we’re just surveying Romans, which is all you can do in 6 weeks, we wanted to introduce to you to some of this theology and some of these bigger terms that get thrown around in casual Christian conversation. I’ve heard people label our use of these theological words as “Christian-speak” or “Christian-ese speak.” By saying that this is Christian-speak, it is really saying, this is “inside” language. This distinguishes me from you, a real believer from a non-believer. I want us to learn to avoid Christian-speak, to avoid separating ourselves from others….
Now these terms can be and are extremely helpful, so I don’t want to just say it’s wrong to use them, but we must be careful how we use them. Paul uses these words in his gospels, so they are good words; they communicate what he’s trying to explain. They’re foundational to Christian life, but they can often be used in Christian conversation without defining or exploring them, and so we can carry hollow meanings of them around (if we even know what they mean). If and when I use these terms, I like to always say what I mean by my use of the word. When I’m leading and other people use these terms, I like to ask them to tell us what they mean by them. I do this so that we know we are talking about the same thing, and so that others who may not be as familiar with the Bible or Paul’s teaching here, can know what we’re talking about. I think trying to be clear is a minimum when we’re trying to communicate our faith to others, even to other believers.
So tonight we’re going to look at a lot of theological terms. I’m sorry to give you so many, and I’m going to try and not overload you. But in Romans 8, Paul uses a lot of them, so I want us to know what he means by them. Write them down, think about them. Refer to them when someone else uses them… Remember, that this is an overview. I hope you will come away with a better understanding of what these terms mean, what their definitions are, but also what they mean in terms of the Christian life and in terms of how we live out our own lives faithfully to God who has brought us, as we saw last week, from death to life.
How have you seen Christian theological terms positively or negatively used in your experience in the church or around Christians?
Our purpose in looking at these terms is to make them clear, to get an overview of them, and to hopefully be able to explain them to others.
We’ve been looking in Romans over the past 3 weeks and have seen that a believer is one who believes from the heart and therefore their actions flow from this belief. Paul talks a lot about the law and how it is unable to make a person righteous or holy before God; that it can have the opposite effect because it magnifies and can even seem to bring out sin. In Romans 3 we saw that no one is righteous before God, but then last week in Romans 5 and 6, we saw that through union with Christ, a believer is considered dead to sin and alive in God; a believer is now seen as righteous. We talked about being made righteous before God, not through the law, but through Christ, as our justification. In Romans 7, Paul wraps up a major section on what the law is and is not. He ultimately declares that the law is holy, it is good, it is righteous, but that it doesn’t have the power to save you. Only Christ can save you, and through him we died to the law, but now we live under a new law, the law of the Spirit.
We move to looking at Romans Ch. 8, and we see that Ch. 8 is Paul at his best. I could have prepared at least four different talks on the different subsections, because each subsection is extremely rich. I even wanted to prepare four different talks, but we only have one night, so I’m compromising for you… No, really, we could have taken one small passage and really delved into it, and taken away a nugget of truth for ourselves and how to live out our lives. But because Ch. 8 is so rich, I want us to look at it from a high-level point of view. I want us to see how Paul lays out his theology of the Christian life. I want us to get more than a nugget and begin to see the structure of Paul’s view of what it means to have life “in Christ,” to be “in Christ.” Ch. 8 is just as deep in its overarching theme as it is deep in its subsections. You will see these overarching themes in every letter that Paul wrote. And he gives most of them to you, right here in Ch. 8.
Read Romans 8.
My parents were divorced when I was 5 years old. My dad left our family and quickly started a new one. I was hurt, but I was 5, so I didn’t really know what was going on. I don’t have a lot of memories from that time, but I do remember how I felt when I was sad or lonely, or didn’t get my way, or felt that my mom was being unfair to me (which for a selfish 5-yr-old, was probably a lot). I remember in those times of frustration crying out over and over again, “I want my daddy. I want my daddy. I want my daddy.” I knew that if my dad was there, life would be better. I knew that he would make everything better. I knew that if only my dad were there, then life would make sense. I knew that my dad’s love was so strong that it would rescue me from whatever trial I was facing.
But each time I cried out, and I sobbed uncontrollably, and my mom would even threaten to call my dad, he never came. My dad never came. He never rescued me. He never made that situation better. He didn’t make that life any easier or any better for me. My life didn’t make sense because my dad wasn’t there. And he wasn’t coming. (It didn’t mean that he didn’t love me anymore, but that he didn’t love me in the way I thought he should. He didn’t love me in a way that I could visibly see and recognize and feel.)
Later my dad was killed by a train, which seemed like another abandonment to me. I was fatherless. When I finally came around to a true relationship with God, I, unfortunately, brought a lot of this baggage from my own father to how I viewed my relationship with God. I think a lot of us do this. I believed in God as a Father, but I still wasn’t entirely sure I could trust him. What if he abandoned me or rejected me? These were questions that were always underlying the surface. After going to counseling, I had a breakthrough when I realized that my dad had hurt me, but that God the Father wasn’t like my dad. God would never abandon or reject me. I realized that my parents were sinners too, my dad made mistakes, just like I still actively make mistakes that hurt others deeply. But God is unlike this. Maybe you had or have a really great, loving, Christian father, or maybe you have one like mine. Well, I want you to come to know that God’s love for his children is so much better than even the best of these fathers’ love. I give this illustration in order to make a contrast between our earthly fathers’ love for us and our heavenly father’s love for us.
The Heights and Depths of God’s Love
Tonight I’m calling this lesson, the Heights and Depths of God’s Love. The heights and depths of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. We’re going to look at 3 things: The Pattern of God’s Love, The Benefits of God’s Love, and How We Are More than Conquerors through God’s Love.
First, The Pattern of God’s Love. Last week, I talked about Union in Christ. I talked about how through our baptism/conversion event, we were joined to Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom 6 vv. 3-4). We looked at how we were justified, or declared righteous in God’s sight, by virtue of being in Christ, being united to him. This week, in Romans 8, we’re looking in a much broader sense at what more, than justification, believers have by virtue of this union.
There are two points I want to make about union with Christ. The first is about events that occurred in “the history of salvation” (or in time where God is working to redeem his people from slavery to sin). The first point of union, “the history of salvation,” is simply that the life, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus Christ was an historical event and sinners were united to him in this event… Everything about Christ’s life was an historical event and sinners were united to him in this event. Christ saved his people, once for all, at one point in time. Christ accomplished redemption for his people. His work is unrepeatable in time and it’s final. It was sufficient. 1 Peter 3:18 says “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.” Christ’s death had the purpose of bringing us to God, uniting us to him. So we were united in the moment that Christ died on the cross.
The second point I want to make about union with Christ is called the “order of salvation,” and it means that we are personally united with Christ in our own lives, at the time of our baptism/conversion event… At this moment then, all the work of Christ saving his people, all of this comes to benefit sinners who believe, and the benefits of this union are then applied to them, they (or you and me) became “in Christ,” and were united to him. So the second point, “the order of salvation” is that union with Christ is personal, and it involves the application of Christ’s benefits to believers. It is personally applied to as many as believe, and it affects a change in the believer’s life and continues to effect change. These two points are what is meant by the idea of “union with Christ.”
So in discussing the pattern of God’s love, let’s look at what is God’s love? Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” and in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” So God’s love is that Christ laid down his life for his friends, for sinners, for you and me… Christ laid down his life in order that we could know God’s love. It is through Jesus Christ that we come to know what God’s love is.
Then what is the pattern of God’s love? What is the pattern that gets applied to us in our union with Christ? The pattern is Jesus’ own life which he laid down, in love. The pattern of God’s love is Christ’s own life. His life, his death, his resurrection, for sinners, is both the culminating event of the Father’s love for us, and it’s also the pattern of God’s love for us. Christ’s life, then, will provide the pattern by which our own lives are lived. And by this, I mean that the pattern of Jesus’ death and resurrection has benefits. These benefits will then be replicated and applied in individual believers’ lives.
Second, The Benefits of God’s Love. Our union with Christ has many benefits. Union with Christ is how the pattern of God’s love in Christ is applied to believers. We receive many saving benefits from God just by believing in his Son as our Savior… These benefits are ours. We’re going to look at 9 of them tonight. Okay, I know, 9 is a lot, but Paul addresses all of these here in Romans 8…I’m going to try and do justice to each of them, but to also move rather quickly through them. I’m not listing them in the order in which we receive them (in our union), because we receive them all at the timepoint of our union with Christ, but you might notice a little order, and its based on how we encounter them as we move through Romans Ch. 8. The 9 are: death and resurrection in Christ, regeneration, adoption, calling, predestination, sanctification, justification, glorification, and perseverance.
One, there is Death and Resurrection in Christ. We looked at this last week in Rom 6:3-4 where we are said to have entered into Christ’s death and resurrection through our baptism/conversion event. Eph 2:4-6 also speaks to where we were made alive even though we were dead, and God raised us up with Christ. Another passage is Colossians 3:1-4 which says “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” and “you have been raised with Christ.” Paul speaks of the believer as having participated in Christ’s death and resurrection by the union with Christ.
Two, regeneration. Regeneration is a term that emphasizes the renewal, rebirth, or re-creation of fallen humans by the indwelling Holy Spirit to a saving faith…Rom 8:6-8: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” Here we see that man cannot and is not able to please God, and in Rom 3 we saw that no one seeks God and no one does good. Man (or woman), by herself, is unable to be renewed or regenerated. Another key passage for regeneration is John 3, vv. 3, 5 where Jesus meets with Nicodemus, and says “unless one is born from above [v.3] or born of water and the Spirit [v.5], he cannot see [v.3] or enter [v.5] the kingdom of God.” Also, John 1, v. 13 is clear that this birth is not from the will of man, we can’t will it or hope it, but it is of God and from God. In Rom 8:11 “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” We see that the Spirit of life brings about regeneration which emphasizes renewal or rebirth by the Holy Spirit.
Three, adoption. Adoption is the act by which God makes otherwise estranged people part of God’s spiritual family. He includes his children as inheritors of the riches of divine glory. Romans 8:14-17 “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship [or daughtership]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory,” and in verse 23: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons [or daughters], the redemption of our bodies.” God brings us into his family and God is a father to us unlike any earthly father. He is unlike my own father, as much as I loved him, because he far surpasses any idea of fatherhood that I have ever known. When I cry out that “I want my daddy,” I now know that it is God the Father who answers me. He is the one who comes when I call (he’s already here!); he’s the one who rescues me (and already has); he’s the one who helps my life make sense.
As children of God, specifically daughters in our case, we are inheritors and co-heirs with Christ, our brother, of God’s glory… We share in the glory now and yet verse 23 points out that we have it only partially now. There is a sense in which the not-yet aspect is still to come, which is the adoption culminating in our bodies also being redeemed. Being adopted is intrinsic to having glory. Adoption is how God makes us part of his family and it’s how we inherit the riches of divine glory. [Do you think of yourself as God’s daughter, and more than that as an heir equal with Christ, your brother, because you are in Christ?]
Four, calling. Rom 8, v. 28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Calling can have several meanings. One would be the idea of a general call, as in people preaching the gospel and its being heard as a call to repentance. Another idea would be the effective call, or effectual call– this is the type of call which is referred to here, because Paul is referring to people who are called according to God’s purposes. So, the meaning of effectual call is that the Holy Spirit gives the grace so that an individual receives forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Notice that God is the one working in making the call effective and it is given so that the person can work for God’s purposes. 1 Cor 1:9 says that “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son,” and 1 Pet 2:9 also refers to God “who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” God is the one calling, we respond, the result of the call is union with Christ. So, the effective call achieves its purpose, which is to call a person and give them the grace (and regeneration) to repent and receive forgiveness of sin.
Moving along to verses 29 and 30 in Romans, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
Five, predestination. Here’s a definition: Predestination is the doctrine that God has from all eternity chosen specific people to bring into eternal communion with God’s self, meaning to give eternal life. I’m not going to get into a debate over predestination or even jump more into the topic than Paul does here…, but I want to note that in this verse Paul talks about us being “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” In Eph 1, verse 4 and 5, Paul also says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” God chose us before the creation of the world—see the effectual call—to be holy and blameless in his sight. God didn’t just choose people so that he could collect a bunch of sinners and be nice to them and give them eternal life so they could feel better about themselves. No!… God chose them to be holy and blameless. Leviticus 19:2, says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy,” and Peter also quotes this Old Testament passage as a way that Christians should live their lives. So, predestination is a doctrine about individuals being chosen from all eternity to have eternal life with God, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about living life to God and for God, it’s about being conformed to the image of God’s son.
That brings us to six, sanctification. Sanctification means “to be set apart” from common use or from common things, and also it means “to be made holy.” That’s what my previous point of predestination was about, being made holy. So while Paul doesn’t explicitly mention sanctification in these verses, he refers to it implicitly when speaking about us being conformed to the likeness of his son. We also saw instances of sanctification last week, when in Ch. 6, verses 11-14, we talked about the active doing part of righteous and holy living (“do not let sin reign in your mortal body,” “do not offer the parts of your body to sin,” “but rather offer yourselves to God”). The active work we must be involved in flows as a result from our justification. Now, sanctification is a term that really is about a twofold process. There’s the fact that Christian’s have already been made holy through Christ (1 Cor 6:11: “you were washed, you were sanctified”—past tense), but then they are called to continue to grow into and strive for holiness by working with the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Pet 1:2: you “have been chosen…, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ.”) Sanctification is the twofold process by which we have already been made holy, and by which we are now continuing to be made holy and conformed to the image of God’s Son…
Seven, justification. We talked about this last week. It’s the legal act by which God makes sinners righteous, by which he declares sinners legally innocent before him. It’s the moving from being in Adam and in death | to being in Christ and in life. Remember the example of being picked by God and moved from one field dominated by Satan and into the other lovingly ruled by God. It’s a change of legal status for the guilt of sins… We also see it in verse 1 of Ch. 8, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Eight, glorification. I love this word J… In verse 30, Paul says that God has glorified those he has called. Past tense, glorified. This is another term, like sanctification (meaning to be made holy), that has a twofold aspect. Glorification is the final stage in the process of salvation. Let’s use that as our working definition. Glorification is the final stage in the process of salvation. It’s receiving all of God’s glory. Paul says here that we’ve already been glorified, and in verse 17 that we will be glorified. Paul says that through our suffering with Christ, we will be glorified- it’s a certainty. This suffering unto glory is a mark also of our sanctification. The process of being made holy, sanctified, is so that we can come to complete conformity to Christ which is glorification, the final part. Right now, we have the glory which God gave the son, because Jesus has given that glory to us (John 17:22), and we are being “transformed from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18). So, glorification has happened already, but we do “not yet” have it fully. Final glorification is the resurrection of the body at the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is complete conformity to the image of Jesus in holiness and it is being freed from spiritual and physical defect. It is an assurance that we will never again struggle with sin. This is why I love this word, because it presents such a great picture of what’s in store for us, and yet it’s what Paul says we possess, in part, even now.
Nine, and the final term I want to give you tonight is perseverance. Perseverance means, in Reformed Theology, that those who are truly among God’s chosen ones will remain faithful to the end, when Christ comes again to bring about our final glorification. John 10:28-29 says, “no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” No one can take God’s chosen ones from him. No one is greater than God or has the power to take them from him… Now, Paul doesn’t explicitly use this term either in Ch. 8, but the concept is there nevertheless. Let’s look in verse 35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” The answer to who can separate us from the love of God is right there in verse 37. Paul gives a negative answer. No, none of these things can separate us from the love of God. That’s what perseverance is: not being able to be separated from God’s love… What a joy and blessing. To know that those whom he has called, predestined, justified, and glorified will never be lost. There is eternal security in knowing that believers will make it to the end…
That’s the nine that Paul presents here in Ch. 8. These are the benefits of God’s love which God gives to us through union in Christ, after the pattern of his love, which is Jesus, his Son, and our co-heir.
That brings us to the final point, Third, How We Are More than Conquerors through God’s Love. Let’s look back at verse 37, Paul says that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Because we are united to Christ, because we receive the benefits of God’s love—those 9 big theological terms—because of God’s love for us which he gave in giving up his Son, Jesus Christ, for our sakes, because of all these things, that’s how we are more than conquerors through God’s love. We are conquerors because of the benefits he has given us… Not tribulation, not distress, not persecution, not famine, not nakedness, not danger, and not the sword…, no, none of these can separate us from the love of Christ. None of these, and nothing else…
So why did I call this lesson, “The Heights and Depths of God’s Love”? Because God’s love is so big. It doesn’t look anything like my own father’s love. I can barely comprehend all these pieces of God’s love. I can tell you about these 9 big theological terms, but the real test is figuring out how I live out my life in loving obedience to this amazing God who has given me all these things and who calls me his own, and who allows me to be a part of his own glory!… Verse 38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”… Nothing can separate us from the heights and depths of God’s love. There is nothing bigger or greater than God and nothing, not death, not life, not angels, not demons, not the present (maybe like some big sin we can’t seem to get out of), not the future, not any powers, not any different height, or depth, not anything can separate us from this love. This is good news! This is great news… This is what the message of the gospel is: that Christ came to die for sinners who aren’t able to love or please God on their own, that Christ came to give you life, to renew you, to make you God’s adopted daughters, to call you, to bring about his predestining purpose, which is your sanctification, your being made holy, because he justified sinners, and he has come to glorify you and he will glorify you, and because of this love, you will eternally be secure in his hands, you will persevere. This is the joy of the gospel… That God gives all this to sinners who believe and accept what it is that his son has done, died on sinner’s behalf—on your behalf—so that you may have life.
Questions for Discussion & Application
The terms (benefits of union with Christ): death and life in Christ, regeneration, adoption, calling, predestination, sanctification, justification, glorification, perseverance
● Are there any of these terms which you struggle to understand, in its definition? Discuss the terms.
● How does union with Christ make us more than conquerors through God’s love? Discuss what it means in your life.
● How do we apply the good news of this lesson to how we live our lives? Give examples.