The following is my chapel message from the other day. The Secondary chapel had been going through a series based on the book Knowing God by J.I. Packer. I spoke on Chapter 22, “The Adequacy of God.” [All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.]
As Mr. P_____ said, our topic today is “The Adequacy of God.” Now, adequacy isn’t exactly a term we use on a daily basis so someone tell me what it means to be adequate. [students responded] I don’t know why, but to me, the word adequate has a negative connotation. It seems like it belongs between “fair” and “good” on a scale ranking how great something is. I tend to see being “adequate” as being a negative (or at best a neutral) thing, but in actuality it’s a positive thing. The definition we’ll be using for today will hopefully remove some of those negative connotations we assign to the word. And that is this: “to be adequate is to satisfy in terms of quality and/or quantity.” I’ll say that again: to be adequate is to satisfy in terms of quality and/or quantity. I have 3 cups of water on the podium here. [One was only about 1/4 filled with clean water, one was filled with dirty water, and one was filled with clean water.] You’ve just finished soccer, or basketball, or baseball practice; you’re hot and sweaty and thirsty. Which of these cups would be most adequate? [students responded, choosing the cup filled with clean water] Right, it is more satisfying in terms of quantity than this cup, and it is more satisfying in terms of quality than this cup. So when we talk about the “adequacy” of God, we are talking about him satisfying a need or needs, the way this cup of water would satisfy your thirst.
As some of you know, I was born in 1981. So I spent my formative years during the 1980s. This of course means that I have fond memories of fashion styles that horrify you when you see pictures of your parents wearing them and music that embarrasses you when your parents listen to it. It also means that I got to experience one of the greatest decades in recent U.S. history. Yes there were some low points like the Reagan recession, the Iran-Contra Scandal, and a stock market crash, but there were also many high points. A decade that started with President Carter standing by helplessly while 53 Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days ended with the fall of Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe after President Reagan defiantly called out Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. While many in the 1970s predicted or feared that America’s best days were behind her, the end of the 1980s found America with greater influence and prosperity than she had had in years. And despite the Reagan recession early in the decade, the majority of the 1980s saw an economic boom, to the point that the stock market crash at the end of the decade did not devastate the country even though it was actually worse than the one that preceded the Great Depression. The 1980s quite simply marked the first time in a generation that Americans did not have to live in fear of a foreign enemy or economic ruin. And in addition to this relative comfort and safety, the 1980s saw great advancement in technology. Personal computers, cell phones, video games, CDs, and the Internet were all developed or popularized during the ‘80s. Of course Atari and 8-bit Nintendo had nothing on the Wii or Xbox, but still, it was a pretty incredible time to be around.
Most Americans in the ‘80s had every reason to feel happy, content, and fulfilled, but in 1987, at the height of American prosperity, the #1 song in the country was U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” If you aren’t familiar with it, the message of the song is exactly what the title says, the singer has experienced what this world has to offer, including religion, but hasn’t found what he’s looking for. In a decade marked by success, wealth, comfort, and technological advances, a good number of Americans associated with a song that talked about not being satisfied. Even though they were much better off than they had been in the ‘70s, people still were not happy.
In many ways, not much has changed in the past 20 years. Not only has “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” continued to be a popular song, but other bands, both Christian and secular, have picked up on the theme of being unsatisfied with this world. In Christian music, Stacy Orrico’s “There’s Gotta Be More to Life” became a cross-over hit, reaching #30 on the Billboard charts, Brooke Fraser’s “C.S. Lewis Song” starts out with the line, “If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,” and Switchfoot seemingly has at least one song dealing with this theme on every album, whether it’s “Something More,” “Meant to Live,” “Gone,” “Faust, Midas, and Myself,” or “American Dream.” In secular music, a 2003 John Mayer song called “Something’s Missing” put it this way:
“I’m not alone, I wish I was ’cause then I’d know I was down because I couldn’t find a friend around to love me like they do right now. I’m dizzy from the shopping malls. I searched for joy, but I bought it all. It doesn’t help the hunger pains and a thirst I’d have to drown first to ever satiate. Something’s missing, and I don’t know how to fix it. Something’s missing, and I don’t know what it is at all.”
It then goes on to talk about being lonely despite having friends, relationships, and possessions that Mayer thinks should quench his feeling of dissatisfaction.
Of course, this isn’t exactly a new theme; U2 wasn’t the first group in history ever to find this life unsatisfying. In fact this is a concept that is present throughout Scripture, perhaps most obviously in the book of Ecclesiastes, where the author details his pursuit of all the pleasures of this world only to conclude that everything is meaningless.
Even though you’re young, you have probably experienced this too. If you’ve ever felt lonely even when surrounded by friends and family, or insecure even when you’re having success, or like your life is terrible even though you are better off than most, you’ve felt something like what John Mayer and Bono felt when they penned their songs. The problem is that even though we all feel like something’s missing and that we haven’t found what we’re looking for, we choose to go through life blindly trying any number of things to quell these feelings of dissatisfaction rather than trying to discover the source of these feelings. Before we look at what it is within us that needs satisfaction and what will satisfy it, I want to quickly look at the things we often use to dull our feelings of longing.
There are generally 3 things that young people (and adults too) value in others: intelligence, athleticism, and good looks. If you have one of those attributes, you are basically guaranteed to have friends. If you have 2 of those attributes, you are most likely going to be popular. If you somehow manage to have all 3, you are probably the main character on One Tree Hill or one of those other shows that are on CW11. It is not a surprise, therefore, that many people, especially those in your age bracket, try to attain a sense of adequacy, a sense of satisfaction, through one of those 3 things.
Whether you realize it or not, many of you in this room try and find a sense of adequacy in intelligence and academic success. I see this every time I give back a test. Many of you immediately turn to a friend and ask, “What did you get?” And of course whichever person got the higher grade is usually the one who initiates the conversation. Sometimes the person who feels most confident that they got the highest grade in the class raises their hand and asks, “Mr. L_____, who got the highest grade?” in hopes that the entire class will hear of his success. And this isn’t limited to a particular class or group of students. You ALL do this. Now some of you may ask because you are genuinely interested in whether a friend did as well as they were hoping they did, but the majority of you do this because you feel some level of satisfaction, some level of adequacy, when you beat your friends and classmates on tests. You feel superior because your grade is superior. The problem is that there will eventually be a subject that you struggle in. Some of you have already experienced this. Maybe you were an A student in 6th grade and struggled in 7th. Maybe you were a good student through 8th grade and dropped off when you got into high school. Some of you may have a particular class you just can’t seem to get a good grade in. It may be Calculus, or AP Stats, or Current Events [This was a joke. I teach an elective on Current Events that lots of students signed up for before dropping it when they realized that it involved work.], but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get it. Others of you won’t find that class until college. But you will find it. There will be a class, a test, a concept that you just can’t get. And if your sense of adequacy comes from your intelligence, if you try to satisfy your innermost longings and struggles through academic success, you will be left feeling empty when that success is hard to come by.
On the other hand, some of you gave up on feeling satisfied with academic success long ago. Maybe your sense of adequacy comes from your athletic ability, being the star point guard or the best runner. This is probably especially true for the guys. We tend to place too much importance on our athletic exploits, even when they only happen out at recess against people a couple years younger and a few inches shorter than us. Athletic successes, however, are even more fleeting than academic ones. Most of you know this already, but I was on the varsity track team in high school. Our sports teams were really good so having a varsity jacket was something we took pride in. It was even better since as a track team we went several consecutive years without losing a dual meet or a county championship and won the state championship for both winter and spring track my sophomore year. Suddenly not only did our varsity jackets earn us respect at school, having “State Champions” written on the back of them got us respect out of school too. But as great as it felt to wear that jacket in high school, any satisfaction it gave me ended the day I graduated. A high school graduate wearing a varsity jacket meets mockery, not respect. Most of you will not pursue athletics after high school, and your accomplishments will be forgotten almost immediately after Mr. L_____ and Mr. P_____ hand you your diploma. Some of you will delay your fade into athletic oblivion until after college, but it will still come. Even professional athletes are subject to this. Some linger on in the public eye through broadcasting or acting, but many take on anonymous jobs like selling insurance or managing restaurants after retiring from sports. Then there are those who aren’t even able to do that. A recent Sports Illustrated study found that 78% of NFL players are bankrupt or have serious financial stress within 2 years of retirement, and 60% of NBA players are broke within 5 years of retiring. Being gifted with athletic ability guarantees you nothing, and if your minor accomplishments in this area are what you find satisfaction in, you’ll be faced with disappointment early on in life.
Of course the third thing kids value is just as fleeting, and that’s beauty. If you are one of those who are mildly obsessed with checking your reflection in the mirror and wearing all the latest styles, the best case scenario is that your good looks will fade slowly over time as you age, and the fashion you hold so dear now will repeat its popularity in another couple decades. Because beauty is not only temporary, it’s subjective. And if your satisfaction comes from how you look, you end up being one of those 40-year-olds who still has the same clothing and hair style that they did when they were 20, walking around looking like their yearbook picture with wrinkles just because that’s the last time they felt adequate based on how they look.
As I mentioned earlier, adults find satisfaction in those 3 things just like you guys do. In addition to those, there are 2 other things in which we seek it. Those of you in 7th and 8th grade may not relate to these at all, but those of you nearing graduation should understand it a little more. And it’s incredibly politically incorrect to say, but women are more prone to one and men are more prone to the other, probably because they are corruptions of our biblical roles. We’ll start with the men. One of the things that men are most prone to seek satisfaction in is work. This is evident even in the way we talk about our jobs. When someone asks me, “What do you do?” I don’t respond, “I teach.” I respond, “I am a teacher.” That’s how we describe our occupations. We don’t talk about our jobs, what we do; we talk about our identities in relation to our jobs, who we are. So instead of working because it is our God-given responsibility as the head of the household to earn a living to support our families, we end up working because we have tied who we are to what we do. And just like academics, athletics, and beauty, our jobs are incapable of satisfying us. I love my job. I have friends that I can honestly say I have no idea why they do what they do. Everything I hear about their jobs is about how much they hate them. So I feel pretty confident that I love my job more than most people love theirs. Yet there are times when you guys drive me absolutely nuts. There are days I leave here wondering how I’m going to make it through the rest of the week. As much as I love my students and as much as I love teaching, if my job was what I tried to fill the emptiness in my life with, I’m not sure I would be able to keep doing it. Boys, you will discover exactly what I’m talking about one day. Men discover this all the time. That’s why so many either throw themselves into their jobs and become workaholics, struggling to find some sort of satisfaction, or go in the opposite direction and stop caring about their jobs all together because they’ve already discovered there’s no satisfaction to be found.
Some women also try to find a sense of adequacy in work, but for the most part, they try to find it in relationships. For the girls in this room, that most likely means friendships and family. But I probably don’t need to convince you that no matter how much your family and friends love you, they will still occasionally let you down. But for some reason, despite all the times friends let them down, some people, mostly girls but not only girls, still seem to think that what is missing in their life is a significant other. One of the best illustrations of this is a movie from the mid-1990s called Jerry MacGuire. In the movie, the main character, played by Tom Cruise, ends up falling for a woman played by Renee Zellweger, and by the end of the movie, Tom Cruise looks tearfully into Renee Zellweger’s eyes and says, “You complete me.” And over the past 15 or so years since the movie came out, that has become the standard for relationships. Many people, even well-meaning Christians, have included that line in their wedding vows. No one seems to realize how ridiculous that statement is. The thing that is missing in our lives, the reason why we never feel satisfied, cannot be filled by any person. And to think it can be puts unrealistic expectations and impossible pressure on the person we expect to fill that gap. I love my wife, but she doesn’t complete me because she can’t complete me. She complements me, cares for me, and comforts me, but she can never complete me. Because what I need most, the something that is missing, the thing that I am looking for is not a person, just like it’s not academic success, athletic accomplishments, good looks, or a fulfilling occupation.
Now based on the fact that this is chapel and that our topic is “The Adequacy of God,” I’m hoping most of you have already figured out that the only thing in which we can find satisfaction is God, but before we talk about that, I want to identify exactly what it is that needs to be satisfied, what exactly it is that is missing, what exactly it is that we are looking for. And to do this, we’re going to be looking at Romans chapter 8, so turn there in your Bibles please.
Romans 8 is sometimes seen as being the pinnacle of Scripture. Some of you may have heard of the “Romans Road,” a popular evangelization tool that explains the entire gospel just by using verses taken from the book of Romans. The reason why that’s possible is because Romans is basically a very condense, concise systematic theology. Paul goes from covering sin in the first part of the book, to Christ and salvation in the middle of the book, to how we are supposed to live in light of Christ and salvation at the end of the book. And just like Romans is sometimes seen as being the greatest book in all of Scripture, chapter 8 is often seen as being the greatest chapter in the book of Romans. We’ll get to why in a minute, but I first want to provide you some context. In chapters 1-5, Paul covered our sin nature, our need for salvation, and the source of our salvation: Christ’s work on the cross. In chapters 6-7, Paul goes back to our sin nature. Just in case we missed it the first time, Paul reminds us of the fact that we are incapable of doing anything right on our own. In chapter 7, Paul, who in Philippians 2 reminds his readers that he has more reason to boast in himself than most people, reaches a low point in self-image, writing in verses 15-20 and 24:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. … Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
It is clear that our needs go a little beyond the scope of academics, work, or relationships.
Chapter 8 is then divided into two sections. Verses 1-30 detail a number of problems we face and the gifts God has provided as solutions to them. The problems Paul deals with are nothing new if you are familiar with Scripture or if you have read the previous 7 chapters in Romans. They are the guilt and power of sin, death as the consequence of sin, the terror of being confronted with God’s holiness, suffering and our inability to handle it, our inability to approach God, and the feeling that life is meaningless and hopeless. When faced with problems like this, it’s no wonder we walk through life unable to find satisfaction. Who cares how many points you score in basketball or what grade you get on a math test when you have things like sin and death hanging over your head? These verses, however, take a different approach than the previous chapters. Instead of concentrating on the problems caused by our sin, Paul concentrates on the solutions given by God’s grace.
The first of these gifts is righteousness. Last week Mr. G_____ talked about justification. Justification is a legal term that refers to being declared righteous, or morally right and just. Our legal system has only 2 options: guilty or not-guilty. Being declared not-guilty doesn’t mean that you didn’t do it; it just means that there wasn’t enough evidence to say that you definitely did do it. When we receive righteousness from God, it is more than being declared not-guilty; we are declared innocent. It is as if we never did anything wrong. Paul writes starting in chapter 8, verse 1:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
As Paul wrote in chapter 7, and as Mr. G_____ mentioned last week, the law could never reconcile us to God. So God took our sin and the punishment for it and put in on Jesus, then took Jesus’ righteousness and put it on us. Because of this, the problems of sin and death have been taken care of. Rather than cower in fear and guilt over all the ways we have broken God’s law, we can rest secure in the fact that in God’s eyes we are seen as innocent.
The second gift of God that Paul mentions in Romans 8 is the Holy Spirit. In verses 4-27, Paul mentions the Holy Spirit 19 times, saying things like, “to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace,” “the Spirit of God dwells in you,” “the Spirit is life because of righteousness,” “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” “the Spirit helps us in our weakness,” and “the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” It is the Spirit who leads us from trusting in the law to trusting in Christ. It is the Spirit who comforts us in times of need. It is the Spirit who intercedes with God on our behalf since we do not know how to approach him. It is the Spirit who compensates for our weaknesses.
The third gift is what Mr. G_____ spoke of last week: sonship. We have been adopted into God’s family as siblings of Christ and co-heirs with him. God is our Father. Paul says we cry, “Abba! Father!” Abba was a familiar term, used by children to address their daddies. Although we were once separate from God due to our sin, we now, through the Spirit, have an intimate relationship with him, with all the riches and access that comes with being sons.
The final gift God has given us according to Romans 8 is security. This security isn’t like the security that the world offers. Going back to my 1980s references, as great as Ronald Reagan was, as safe as he made America by standing up to the Soviet Union and building up our military, people were still not safe enough to feel satisfied. Paul recognizes that this world is filled with dangers, especially for those striving to live according to the Spirit. The dangers should not lead to despair, however, for he goes on to write in verses 28-30:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
God takes everything we go through, whether good or bad, and makes it work for our good. You may not understand it at first, but that test you failed, that friendship you lost, that college that didn’t accept your application, that loved one who passed away are all being used by God to conform you into the image of Jesus. And the most awesome part about this is that Paul uses the phrase, “we know.” He doesn’t say, “we think,” or “we’re pretty sure,” or “we need to have blind faith about this.” He says, “we KNOW that all things work for good.” We have certainty. We have seen evidence of it in the past, and thus we can be sure of it in the future. God takes care of his own.
Paul goes on in verse 31 of Romans chapter 8 to ask, “What then shall we say to these things?” If those are our needs, and if God satisfies those needs in those 4 ways, what does that mean? How are we to live in light of that? And in verses 31-39, he details four roles that God is adequate to serve in based on all that we just went over in the first 30 verses.
The first conclusion Paul draws is this: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” What this means is God is adequate to serve as our Protector. When you guys pick teams at recess or gym or during review games for tests, the same few people are picked first every time. Why is that? [students responded] It’s because the team captains are trying to ensure themselves of winning. They want to pick the person who is most capable of leading the team to victory. Now imagine you are the team captain for a pick up basketball game with a bunch of TCS secondary students and LeBron James comes over wanting to play. Or imagine you are picking teams for a review game and Stephen Hawking or that guy who set the Jeopardy record a few years ago is sitting in the class available to be picked. LeBron and that Jeopardy guy would be so much better than the competition that there wouldn’t even be a point of playing the game. The outcome would be inevitable. What Paul is saying here is that having God on your side in life is like having LeBron James on your team for a basketball game against 7th graders. There is no doubt what the end result is going to be. We’re talking about the Lord of Hosts, creator of heaven and Earth, the self-sustaining one who existed before time began, the one who parted the Red Sea and then closed it again, killing Pharaoh and his army, the one who raised people from the dead and healed lepers and blind men. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, and he’s on your team. I can’t help but think about the story of David and Goliath. Here was this shepherd boy going against a giant of a man, who had struck fear in the hearts of every man in Saul’s army, including the king himself. And David walked up to Goliath, stared him down, and said in 1 Samuel 17:45-47:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
This isn’t a great analogy, but it’s somewhat like the beginning of World War 2 in Europe. We have the strength of the blitzkrieg with tanks, the luftwaffe, stuka, and Wehrmacht, and the world has the Polish cavalry. They may give it their best shot, but it’s no competition. The battle is the Lord’s.
Now it’s important to understand that this is not a hypothetical situation. Your reaction to this should not be, “God is for me so I have no enemies, nothing to fear.” Your reaction should be, “I have enemies, strong enemies, enemies I need to be wary of, but I have someone stronger and more dangerous on my side.” It’s like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan wasn’t safe, but he was good. Aslan had incredible strength and he could be dangerous and fearsome, but that did not protect the children from attack. It just made the battle’s result a foregone conclusion should they be attacked. Paul makes in clear in Romans 8 that Christians are in fact under attack, but since God is on our side, the battle’s result has already been decided.
In addition to being our Protector, God is our Provider. In verse 32 it states, “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?” Paul tells us that God will not hesitate to give us any good thing. What is the proof that he offers to back up that claim? [students responded] Right, God already gave us the most costly gift of all: his son. He sent his own son to die on our behalf. If he didn’t hesitate to do that, why would he hesitate to give us anything else? This verse has even added meaning to me now that I’m a dad. I don’t even like giving E_____ to my parents so they can spend time with him. I’d rather keep him to myself and monopolize his time. Yet God willingly sent his son to die so that you can live. As we mentioned earlier, this act of redemption is what allowed God to adopt us as co-heirs with Christ. This means that not only is God willing to give us all things, he will give us all things. As sons and co-heirs we will receive a full inheritance from our Father.
The challenge is to trust God to fulfill this promise. In the Old Testament, Christ’s eventual sacrifice was foreshadowed by the Passover. God preserved the Israelites by the blood of the lamb, led them out of slavery and into the Promised Land. The Israelites were supposed to look back at this event as a sign that God was to be their source of provision and protection. They were to forsake all other gods to follow, serve, and obey the God that had saved them. They often failed miserably at this, choosing to trust in themselves, their kings, and the nations around them rather than in God. Will we, who have an even greater Passover to look back on, choose to trust God’s provision more than they did?
The third role that God is adequate to fill is that of Proponent or Champion. Paul writes in verses 33-34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 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.” The meaning of these verses is somewhat similar to the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants us freedom from double jeopardy. What is double jeopardy? [students responded] Double jeopardy is when you are tried twice for the same crime. Our Founding Fathers did not want the government repeatedly trying to convict someone for the same crime so they only get one shot at it. We’ve already looked at how because of Christ’s work on the cross we have been justified, declared righteous, found completely and utterly free from guilt. We are innocent. This verdict is not temporary; it is permanent. We cannot be put on trial again. This is significant because Satan is repeatedly referred to as “the accuser” in Scripture. In the book of Job we learn that he has access to the throne of God, and we see him accusing Job of not really trusting in God. In Revelation, he is again referred to as “the accuser of the brethren.” This means that despite Jesus’ sacrifice, despite our imputed righteousness, Satan is still attempting to accuse us before God, pointing out all the ways we deny him, forsake him, and sin against him. This verse is a comfort that we do not need to fear that our innocent verdict will be overturned.
Paul gives 3 reasons why we can rest assured that our justification is secure. First, because we did not choose God, God chose us. We are referred to in verse 33 as “God’s elect.” Our status has already been predestined and secured. We have already seen in verses 29-30 that those whom God has predestined are justified and glorified. Because it originates with God, our salvation is so secure that our future glorification is talked about in past tense. It is already done. It cannot be undone. The second reason Paul gives for our justification being secure is that God is our judge. It is he that declares us justified and righteous. He cannot violate his own word, and he will not suddenly change his mind. And the final reason that our salvation is secure is that Jesus is our mediator. Satan may be before the throne reminding God of all the bad things we’ve done, but Jesus, the one who willing took on our sin and died in our place that we may receive his righteousness and rose again defeating death, is seated at the right hand of God as a favored Son, interceding on his siblings’ behalf. And it was Jesus who said in John 10:27-29, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
And this brings us to our final point: God is our Preserver. Romans 8:35-36 poses the question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’” You’ve probably all at some point read a book, heard a song, or seen a movie where someone was going through an incredibly difficult trial yet they persevered because they knew that their love was waiting for them. In real life, that kind of thing never happens. People promise they will love you always, but always never ends up being as long as you’d think. We get bored or tired or someone new comes along and suddenly we have a million excuses why our promises don’t need to be kept. Just look at the American divorce rate. Right now it’s about 50%, and it isn’t much better among people who claim to be Evangelical Christians. That’s because our concept of love is based on feelings, rather than sacrifice. The type of love Paul is talking about here is agape love, self-sacrificial love, the type of love that, as he goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 13, NEVER fails.
And so we go back to his question:
““Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … 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.”
We started off this morning with the premise that we all have something missing. There is something within us that cannot and will not be satisfied with what this world has to offer. Over 1500 years ago, St. Augustine of Hippo realized this about himself, and after searching for satisfaction in education and pleasure, he came to the conclusion that only God was adequate to fill the hole he knew was in his heart. After becoming a Christian, he wrote a book called The Confessions, which was basically the story of his journey to God, and at the very beginning of this book, this reflection on his search for satisfaction, he wrote, “you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless till it finds its rest in you.” And about 1500 years before Augustine, the King of Israel in the book of Ecclesiastes, after finding that everything in life was meaningless also decided that God was the only place to find true satisfaction, telling his readers, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’ … The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Blaise Pascal, the famous French philosopher and mathematician put it this way:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
I want to go back to the illustration of the cups of water. This cup filled with dirty water represents us. We are thirsty and we desperately need a drink. We go to various wells to get water to satisfy us, all the things we looked at earlier: academic success, athletics, good looks, relationships, work, but all of the wells produce nothing but dirty water. It may help us temporarily forget about how thirsty we are, but it will never fully quench our thirst. The only way we can ever fully satisfy our need is to turn to clean, plentiful spring water [I picked up a jug of spring water.], which will represent God. In John 4, Jesus told the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In Psalm 23, which talks about God’s provision and protection, much like Romans 8 does, David refers to God causing his cup to overflow. And that is an accurate depiction of what happens when we take our cup of dirty water to the source of all satisfaction. Not only does he fill our cup, he causes it to overflow. [At this point I started to pour the spring water into the cup of dirty water. Soon all the dirty water had been pushed out of the cup, and it was overflowing with clean, clear water.] And as our cup is filled by him, the filth that was put in by our tainted wells begins to be pushed out by the clean water. And suddenly those things that were once so important no longer seem to be, and it frees us to be satisfied with who we are based on who he is. So instead of being obsessed with getting better grades than our friends, we are satisfied simply to work to the best of our ability to the glory of God. Rather than being wrapped up in a job or relationship, we see them as being methods of pleasing God and sharing his love with those around 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.”
Heavenly Father, we confess to you that we are incomplete. We are unsatisfactory. We are inadequate. We confess also that we often seek to remedy this by finding satisfaction in the creation, rather than the creator. We seek to glorify ourselves instead of glorifying you. We pray that you would forgive us for this and help us to remember that you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. We thank you for the sacrifice you made that we may be redeemed by the blood of your son.
Father, I pray that if there is anyone here who is still stubbornly insisting that they are not thirsty, that you would humble them and that they would turn to you as the fount of living water. For those of us who have already trusted in you, I pray that you would remind us daily to return to the fount and that you would give us the conviction, the courage, and the love to bring water to those who are dying of thirst.
Help us remember that nothing can separate us from your love, and help us seek you as our Protector, our Provider, our Proponent, and our Preserver. In Christ’s name, Amen.