“When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They are forever inventing new ways of sinning and are disobedient to their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving. They are fully aware of God’s death penalty for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway. And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.” Romans 1:28-32, NLT.
“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:33,34).
It is the great hope of the believer in Christ that he will one day arrive in heaven, at last safe from this world which is fading away and facing the sure judgment of God. God has provided for him an inheritance which is indestructible and unspoiled, which will never fade away. But in the mean time, life must be lived here, and the believer with any self awareness knows that he is weak and easily distracted and worn down. There are times when the pleasures of sin that are within reach seem to eclipse the pleasures of God and heaven which feel intangible and distant.
But, God has not left us alone, He has never left us to our own devices. The fact is that scripture tells us that God planned for us before we even existed by “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world“ (Revelation 13:8). It was not for those who are strong or who love God that He acted; “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son . . .” (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). And further, if we are in Jesus Christ it is God Himself who put us there. “. . . by His doing you are in Christ Jesus. . .” (1 Corinthians 1:30), and again “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again . . . ” 1 Peter 1:3((See also Colossians 1:12,13; John 1:13; James 1:18.)).
But there is more. God has not left us to ourselves in this world. Our passage in Romans 8 tells us that Jesus intercedes for us. By His very presence at the right hand of God He presents an unassailable defense. Jesus died. The spotlessly pure Son Who is of infinite worth to the Father, has borne our sin to death and hell. He was raised from the dead because He had no sin of His own, and in discharging the curse for our sin, God is forever satisfied! At the right hand of the Father Jesus reigns (Matthew 28:18). So who can successfully accuse you who are found to be “in Christ?” As Isaiah 50:9 says “It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” There is no higher appeal than God! If He says of you “not guilty,” though angels or principalities or Satan or your neighbor next door should accuse you, you are free before God. Period. God averted His own wrath through the death of His Son. You are immensely blessed in what you have received, and God is greatly glorified in what He has done.
Does having Christ as our intercessor mean that we can expect no hardships, or sickness, or sin, or pressures, or persecution, or that we need not face death? No, God has His purposes in all the trials of this life. But we have this confidence: because of the finished work of Jesus Christ all things in life will have a blessed and priceless result. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the (the preeminate((Greek prototokos (pro-tot-ok’-os), preeminance as the divine Son over all creation (Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 1:6; Rev 1:5), including those finite sons conformed to His image.)) ) among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30). We are works of grace in progress. Like an acorn that is planted to bring about in time the full, mature, majestic oak, we will finally be glorified. And what will that glory be? To be conformed to the image of Jesus. And in so being we will eternally glorify the Son Who eternally glorifies the Father, Who unceasingly loves the Son, and unceasingly loves His redeemed brethren.
For God’s purposes trials will come. But God is almighty. Jesus’ cross, death, resurrection, and exaltation guarantee without fail that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ. Not “. . .tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.” (Romans 8:35). We may die to the glory of God (v. 36), but “. . . in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I (Paul) am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39). This is our confidence and firm hope. We shall see Jesus, and our glory will be our likeness to Him.
In the mean time, we live, we serve and obey, and we pray. In all these we receive help from God because we are but dust. After all, if God “. . . did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). We “. . . ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23). And “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26,27). We hope for what we presently do not see, but with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. For we can say with the apostle Paul that “(We) consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).
“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God.” So says naturalistic philosopher Thomas Nagel.
The Bible takes no pains to convince us that God exists, rather it hugely assumes as a given the God-Who-is-there1, Who is self-evident in the Universe that is His handiwork. Are there those who deny Him? The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”2 So obvious is the fundamental fact that God is, that the Bible calls that group who reject His reign as fools. Scripture is not sympathetic with the notion that there are those who “honestly” hold that God is not or cannot be. Rather, it states that Man in his sin willfully suppresses recognition of God, and thus we deny Him in His glory.3 The Apostle Paul in the inspired opening statements of his epistle to the Romans tells us that the Gospel is desperately needed because
…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.4
Paul only echoes the Old Testament Scriptures. More literally, the fool says in his heart, no God. So say the Psalms.5 It is not that the existence of God is here denied, but He is denied the right to rule. The fool is like a man at a dinner, who, when a bowl is passed to him with the wave of a hand says, “no broccoli.” The vegetable is steaming before his eyes, but he’ll do without it, thank you. This is borne out in that the same God-denier in Psalm 10 who says no God goes on to say to himself, God has forgotten, He has hidden His face; He will never see it (his wicked deeds), and, You (God) will not require it (bring him to judgment).6 That is to say, he knows of God, but he will live as a practical atheist, and God can just “deal with it.” He is the wise one, God is the fool.
This man (or woman) is doomed. He has a malady of the heart, which is fatal. The Scriptures tell us that the self-help efforts of Man are no remedy. He is a creature of darkness, without any capacity to illumine himself, with no ability to seek out God, for his heart is dead to God.7 It is easier for a man to perform his own surgical heart transplant than for the fool to enliven his dead heart. Man is absolutely impotent to raise himself from this death to God, nor does he want to.8 So Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin says:
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to the understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science – in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism. It is not that the method and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.” (Emphases added)
This is the universal human condition. It is our spiritual DNA.
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,” they are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; there is no one who does good. God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”9
Nominal atheism is a hard row to row. As C.S. Lewis wrote “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere— ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”10
Committed atheists must somehow deal with the minefield of inconsistencies and just-so rationales of such a worldview. C.S. Lewis wrote of his experience as a young, enlightened, scholastic atheist “I was at this time living, like so many Atheists of Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.” In spite of all mental deflections thrown up to barricade against the acknowledgement of God, the Apostle Paul is adamant that people do “suppress the truth (of God) in unrighteousness” and “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”11 It seems that mankind is ruinously hostile to God and the idea of His right to rule, though simultaneously hardwired to know that God is. Ironically, God is the only one who can push a man’s or woman’s RESET button.
- Phrase borrowed from Francis Schaeffer [↩]
- Psalms 14:1 [↩]
- Romans 3:23 [↩]
- Romans 1:18, 19 [↩]
- Psalm 10:4, 14:1, 53:1 [↩]
- Psalm 10:11, 13 [↩]
- Ephesians 2:1, 5 [↩]
- If a person experiences conviction with a desire for repentance, and a hunger for God, it is evidence that God the Holy Spirit is at work in his or her heart. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption… 1 Corinthians 1:30 [↩]
- Psalms 53:1-3 [↩]
- CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 191 [↩]
- Romans 1:18, 19 [↩]
From time to time I will post excerpts or thoughts that have been a source of illumination to me. Below is an excerpt from The Valley of Vision.1 I am particularly struck by the last line which defines our place of provision in this life.
MAN A NOTHING
I am a shell full of dust,
but animated with an invisible rational soul
and made anew by an unseen power of grace;
Yet I am no rare object of valuable price,
but one that has nothing and is nothing,
although chosen of thee from eternity,
given to Christ, and born again;
I am deeply convinced
of the evil and misery of a sinful state,
of the vanity of creatures,
but also of the sufficiency of Christ.
When thou wouldst guide me I control myself,
When thou wouldst be sovereign I rule myself.
When thou wouldst take care of me I suffice myself.
When I should depend on thy providings I supply myself,
When I should submit to thy providence I follow my will,
When I should study, love, honour, trust thee, I serve myself;
I fault and correct thy laws to suit myself,
Instead of thee I look to man’s approbation,
and I am by nature an idolater.
Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee.
Convince me that I cannot be my own God,
or make myself happy,
nor my own Christ to restore my joy,
nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me.
Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction,
for when my credit is good thou dost cast me lower,
when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away,
when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness.
Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy
appetite, lustful heart;
show me that none of these things
can heal a wounded conscience,
or support a tottering frame,
or uphold a departing spirit.
Then take me to the cross
and leave me there.
- The Valley of Vision, Edited by Arthur Bennett, pub Banner of Truth Trust, p 166 [↩]