Sunday, July 1, 2018

Accusations


One of Paul’s goals in writing his letter to the church at Rome was to present a fairly detailed explanation of the Gospel. By the time he gets near the end of what we call chapter eight, he has done that. What he does in these last sentences of the chapter is to pull things together in a practical way. This why he writes,

What then shall we say to these things? Romans 8.31

By that question Paul shows that he is ready to mention a few applications of what he has explained.

Last week, we looked at one answer to his question.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Today, we look at a second answer to his application question.

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. Romans 8:33-34


Paul raises the issue of Christians being accused and condemned. He wants to show that the Gospel that he has just laid out has something to say about this.

It just might be that you don’t feel the force of his question. It just might be that you’re thinking, ‘Who’s going to accuse me? I haven’t done anything. Nothing really bad, anyway’. And yet, I think that reflecting just a bit on Paul’s question will change your mind.

I say that because it’s just a fact that there is plenty for us to be accused of. And that’s because we do much that is wrong. Or to use a church word, we sin and we sin a lot. And any person who responds by telling himself, ‘Well, it’s not that bad’, is either trying to hide from the truth or doesn’t know God or himself very well. We do much that is wrong, much that is evil. We sin a lot.

I really think that the key here has to do with what you look at when you evaluate yourself. Bear in mind that it is God who examines us, who knows us. And He doesn’t do that as we would. For one thing, He doesn’t just look at the things we do. Remember, the Pharisees. They impressed people by the things that they did. However, Jesus had some very pointed things to say to them and about them. And the reason is clear.

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

When we include thoughts and desires in our evaluations, when we include the heart, it becomes quite clear that we sin a lot. We do not obey God’s Law as we ought, not from the heart. We really don’t.

Good things happen when a person gets honest about this, when a person sees his failure more and more clearly. That might sound strange, but I think you’ll see that it’s true.

Here are a couple of thoughts that I think will show you what I mean. Consider this question. Why should someone become a Christian? There are many different reasons that are offered these days, but I am persuaded that one major reason is simply this: our tremendous offense against the God who created us, the God whom we were created to worship. We have sinned against the great and majestic God. We have offended against Him, something that should bring great shame. A person needs to become a Christian so that the relationship that he has ruined can be restored and so that he can begin to work at worshiping God in the way that He deserves.

But that is not the reason that is commonly offered. There are many people who decide to become Christians simply because they want to be loved. God is advertised as the one person who is all about them. He will love them since they are so needy.

But how can something so self-centered be the foundation of a repentance that despises sin and a faith in Jesus that is willing to suffer for Him?

It needs to be said that there are many who profess to be Christians who simply are not Christians. They have not had the enormity of their sin explained to them. They have decided to be a Christian for the wrong reason. Their lives are not about following Jesus for His sake. What is needed is an honest statement of our problem. We have sinned, greatly sinned, against a holy God. We have offended against His majesty. We have done what is shameful. And we have no excuse for that.

Being clear about the wickedness of sin is also helpful for someone who really is a Christian. It helps him to see the Gospel more clearly. You see, if your sin isn’t that big of a deal, then what Jesus has done isn’t that big of a deal. But if we can see our sin as the immense offense that it is, then we will be amazed at Jesus coming to deal with that offense. That’s when John Newton’s words will have a greater punch:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

It’s when a person sees his sin more like what it really is, when he feels like a wretch before God, that he will be amazed at what Jesus has done to rescue him.

So, let’s not minimize our sin. It’s dishonest. It keeps us from understanding reality. And it robs Jesus of the praise that He has clearly earned.

I went through all of that to help you make sense of Paul’s question.

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?

I hope that you can see that any number of charges could be brought against you because of your sin. I hope that you can feel what’s going on here.

But Paul has an answer for his question.

Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Romans 8.33

How does Paul answer his question? He points to a doctrine that he had explained earlier in his letter. He points to the doctrine of justification. God has justified His elect.

Now, how does that solve the problem of someone pointing the finger at your many and awful sins? All you need to do is look at the result of your being justified. You are declared just. That means, as far as God is concerned, you are perfect. You are holy. You are righteous and fully acceptable to Him. And that is true because of what has been called the Great Exchange. All of your sin was placed on Jesus. He suffered the Father’s just rage against it all on that Cross. But then, all of Jesus’ perfection, all of His holiness, was placed on you. As a result, the Father deals with you, always deals with you, in the same way that He deals with Jesus, His perfect Son. Always. Let me remind you again that what the Father said to Jesus He says to you.

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. Mark 1.11

All of this is yours because you have been justified.

Then, Paul adds this.

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8.34

Here, Paul lists what Jesus has done so that we can be acceptable before the Father. This includes why we can be justified: Jesus’ death and resurrection. But please note that Paul doesn’t limit himself to the Cross and the empty tomb. He also includes Jesus’ ascension to the Father. So, it’s not just what Jesus did in the past that applies here. It’s also what He is doing right at this moment. Jesus is interceding for us before the Father. So, even today, in response to any possible charge against us because of our sin, Jesus stands next to the Father to say, ‘I paid for that sin’. You’ll remember that I talked about this on Ascension Sunday.

Here’s the bottom line. As a result of this part of the Gospel, no one can justly point a finger at us when it comes to our sins. Oh, there may be accusations, but because of what Jesus has already done, and because of what He is doing right now, any attack, any accusation, any condemning comment - they all have an answer.  Those sins have been dealt with. Because of Jesus, we are warmly received by the Father. He loves us.

So, our sins are serious, very serious. But Jesus has dealt with them all.

Now, let’s take the next step. Who might point a finger at our sins in order to undo us? Well, there is always Satan. He is named as someone who does this sort of thing. Listen.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God." Revelation 12:10

Satan, our accuser, is answered. And even though he points to actual sins, horrible sins, there will be no condemnation. Because of Jesus.

But as I thought about this and how it might apply to many of you, it seemed to me that the person who does the most damage by pointing at your sins just might be yourself. And it’s not just that you accuse, you also condemn. This is a problem for far too many Christians. When they see their sin, they criticize themselves, belittle themselves. They beat themselves up. They speak terrible words to themselves, condemning words, because of their sins.

It needs to be said that a lot of the time this self-condemnation is not so very conscious. A lot of the time it’s just a feeling. They feel that their lives aren’t really worth much because they do such a lousy job of it. And the tone of their lives isn’t the joy of salvation that it can be. While it may not be despair, there is an air of defeat. ‘What a terrible Christian I am.’ And again, it isn’t always very conscious.

This past week the Spirit helped me to see myself in all of this. From time to time I will have a flashback memory of something stupid that I said or did. My stomach will get tight and there will be these feelings that translate as ‘What a jerk!’ There are no words, but the feelings are pretty clear. The Spirit helped me to see that I do what I am describing to you. That was a new thought. I say this to you because I’m trying to be more open with you and I’m hoping that this gives you a better sense of what I’ve been saying.

So, is this you? Do you accuse yourself? If you do, the Gospel has something to say to you.

I think that before we go any further it’s important to make a distinction. There are sins and then there are mistakes. It is not a sin to make a mistake. And the fact of the matter is that we all make mistakes. You thought that the right way to do that task was like this when it actually was like that. And it was a problem that you made that mistake, a problem that some people around you let you know about in no uncertain terms. And you said those words or felt that feeling: ‘What a jerk!’

Being human means having to learn things. And sometimes we learn things by making mistakes. To be sure, there are times when our mistakes are our own fault; times when we didn’t listen to the instructions very well. But there are other times when those mistakes just aren’t our fault. Sometimes instructions are not explained at all well. And it’s just a fact that some tasks placed before us are beyond our ability, and trying to accomplish them results in mistakes. But that isn’t sinning. You’re not a jerk because you goofed. You made a mistake. Learn from it. And this is important for us to remember as we teach these kids how to live. A mistake is just a mistake, something to learn from. It is not anything to be ashamed of.

But it’s still true that we sin a lot. And when we realize what we have done, all too often, we say or feel the same sort of things. ‘What a jerk!’ And emotionally we take a nosedive.

But what would happen if we took Paul’s answer to heart?

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. Romans 8.33-34

When you sin it’s time to believe the part of the Gospel that says that you are justified. Jesus has died for you, was raised for you and right now intercedes for you. And He did and does that for that sinful thing you just did.

This brings us back to where we so often return: repent and believe the Gospel. When the Spirit points out some sin, repent of it. Don’t minimize it. Admit it. But likewise, don’t tell yourself that what you have done is so awful that even God can’t forgive it. Be honest with yourself. ‘What I did was wrong. There is no excuse. It was wrong and an offense against God.’ Then, be honest with God. ‘Father, that was just wrong. It was an insult against You. I have no excuse.’ But then, take the next step. ‘Father, please, forgive me my sin because of Jesus. Blot it out like You’ve promised. And then, Father, change me by Your Spirit. I don’t want to act like this. Kill this sin in me and make me holy like You are. Make me like Jesus.’ The promise of God is that anyone who comes to Him like this will be forgiven. Once that happens, as far as He is concerned, the matter is ended. The sin is blotted out. There is nothing for Him to remember. And there is nothing for you to condemn yourself for. Believe the Gospel that says that you are justified before God.

It seems to me, in light of all of this, that the normal Christian life is to be one of great joy. Our sins, which are many more than we ever will realize and are far worse than we comprehend - our many wicked sins have all been dealt with. Jesus has taken care of them all. The Father’s opinion of us is greater than you can imagine. The Spirit gladly lives in us, working His magic to change our lives. Yes, there is much to groan over, but there is more to rejoice over. Believe the Gospel and rejoice.