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Be persuaded; be convinced

Romans 8:1–2, 26–39

Persuade’ is a word we often use. If we say someone has persuaded us to do something, we mean they’ve induced us or talked us into doing it. For example, “My doctor persuaded me I ought to exercise more.” Sometimes we’re persuaded or induced against our will or our better judgement.

There’s a whole vast industry given over to persuasion of that kind. It’s called ‘advertising’; and in our commercial, consumerist society it’s one we encounter every day. Each time you open a newspaper or turn on the TV, someone will be there trying to persuade you to spend your money.

Another word meaning much the same is ‘convince’. For example, “I wasn’t intending to buy a $200 pair of shoes, but the sales assistant was so helpful he convinced me I should!”; and “Goodyear Autocare in Erindale convinced me to replace all four tyres on my car.”

Depending on which Bible you’re using, either ‘persuaded’ or ‘convinced’ will be the first verb in Paul’s famous pronouncement in Romans 8:38–39, the key verse in today’s scripture reading. For example, the ‘King James Bible’ says: “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

‘New International Version’, which is what we currently use here at TUC, is almost the same, but is a little simpler and it uses ‘convinced’ instead of ‘persuaded’: “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.”

Whether your Bible says ‘persuaded’ or ‘convinced’, the message is the same: Paul is certain we cannot be cut off from or removed from the love of God as revealed in Jesus.

Before we consider that reassuring idea further, let’s examine the context in which Paul utters his pronouncement in the last two verses in Romans 8, which is one of the best-loved passages in all scripture  Paul’s letter to the Romans has been called his ‘magnum opus’ — his greatest work among the 10 books of the Bible attributed to him. He wrote it for the Christians in Rome — a mixed audience of Jews, Greeks, Romans and other Gentiles. It’s in Romans that Paul sets out his teaching on ‘justification by faith’, which is the theologians’ way of saying that we’re brought into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus. Another way of putting it is to say that we achieve a state of righteousness in God’s sight, and are cleared of all our guilt and wrongdoing, through belief in Jesus and his power to turn out lives around. Paul also argues that by the free gift of grace we are set free from our slavery to sin and wrongdoing.

It’s also in Romans that Paul tells us that faith in Jesus will transform us. After encountering Jesus and accepting him as the chief reference point in our lives, we experience salvation. That is, we are saved from the dreadful bondage of sin, saved to live a new and virtuous life empowered by our faith in Jesus.

It’s in Romans, too, that Paul assures us of salvation. If we have faith in Jesus we will be saved from our imperfections, our waywardness, and our wrongdoing. We will be saved from all that clutter of our wrong relationships with God and other people. Being saved, we enter into a right relationship with God. That is why Jesus is called the Saviour.

And that is what our scripture reading this morning is all about. Paul is assuring us that we if we have faith, we are no longer condemned by our sin but set free. Nothing, he says, can take that away from us. He is persuaded that that is true. He is convinced of that. Both persuaded and convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Before we consider Paul’s message in our scripture reading in detail, let’s briefly consider the context in which Paul wrote his letter to the Romans. He seems to have written it in the late 50s AD, about 25 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Initially hostile to the early church in Jerusalem, Paul had been a leader among those persecuting the Christians there. He had even minded the cloaks of those who had stoned to death Stephen, the first Christian martyr, looking on with approval as Stephen met his barbaric, grisly death.

Some time after that, Paul had his ‘Damascus Road’ experience. He was travelling to Damascus with the full authority of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to hunt out and murder Christians there. On the way, he was struck blind in a blaze of light, a vision in which he heard Jesus speaking to him. “Paul, Paul, why persecutest thou me?” he heard Jesus asking in the words of the King James Bible. Encountering Jesus like that proved to be a life-changing experience for Paul — as it still is for anyone who encounters Jesus today. Henceforth, Paul dedicated his life to preaching ‘Christ crucified and risen’ throughout the length and breadth of the eastern regions of the Roman Empire. To keep in touch with the churches he helped establish, he wrote letters to them — his Epistles, as we call them, in the New Testament.

‘Romans’, the fifth book in the New Testament, is the first of the Epistles.

When Paul wrote ‘Romans’, he was probably in Corinth in southern Greece, where he had been living and preaching for several months. He was about to return to Jerusalem; and from there he would be sent to Rome, not on another preaching safari, to Spain as he wanted, but as a prisoner sent there for trial. By the time Paul wrote ‘Romans’, he had been preaching for about 10 years. He knew there were already Christians in Rome, a city he hadn’t yet visited. He wished to establish contact with them and encourage them towards unity as one of the new churches or communities of believers springing up across the Empire.

And that now brings us to the portion of Romans 8 which we heard in today’s scripture reading. Let’s briefly review what it teaches us. It starts by telling us that ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because the Holy Spirit has set them free from sin and death’. Because of their faith in Jesus, God will not punish them for their wrongdoing but instead extends to them the grace that sets them free from the burden of their misdeeds.

Moving on to verse 26, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. God knows our hearts and minds, knows us better than anyone else, knows us better than we know ourselves. We ourselves are inadequate to plead with God because, as verse 26 puts it, we do not even know what we ought to pray for. We can, however, rely on the Holy Spirit to plead for us because through our faith we are ‘God’s people’.

The next group of verses, 28 to 30, are a problem. They start off well, saying that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love God. I remember singing a song about that in Sunday school 70 years ago. “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord,” it used to go. We might argue about the theology of it, but if you believe it’s true you’re an optimist rather than a pessimist.

Verses 29 and 30 are a difficulty for many Christians, because they’re the basis for the doctrine of ‘Predestination’. According to this doctrine, God has foreknowledge of every one of us from long before we were born, indeed from the beginning of time. According to this view, God has always known how we will turn out. Some of us — the faithful — were

‘predestined’ for righteousness and for salvation. Others, the ‘ungodly’, were not. At the

judgement they will be the unwanted goats separated out from the desired sheep!

Many of the greatest theologians have grappled with the notion of Predestination. Some, including St Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin, have preached Predestination.

Others, notably John Wesley, have rejected it, seeing it as too deterministic, too inflexibly set in concrete. The notion that some people are pre-selected for salvation while others are pre- ordained for damnation was unacceptable to Wesley because it left no room for the free will God has granted us, nor for the working of grace.

I myself favour Wesley’s view. I can’t believe that even before conception and birth we were placed in separate compartments labelled “The Saved” and “The Damned”. Wesley preached that even the most damnably wicked among evil-doers may, through grace, be saved from their sins and restored to a right relationship with God. Grace, he preached, transforms us, enabling us to be born again into righteousness. The Wesleyan view is that God loves all people, even the ungodly who reject him. God therefore seeks reconciliation with us. Through our faith in Jesus, grace is extended to us, and that restores us to righteousness.

Paul seems to realise that he has thrown a cat among the theological pigeons by raising the subject of Predestination. “What, then, shall we say in response to these things?” he asks in verse 31. His own answer is the greatly comforting reassurance, phrased as a further question — “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Paul then goes on to explain that God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all”. This is another theological conundrum — another doctrinal can of worms known as the

‘Blood Sacrifice’. According to this view, God forgave penitential ancient Israelites their sins if they sacrificed to him living things — a lamb, for instance, whose throat was cut and its blood spilt on an altar. If we accept the ‘blood sacrifice’ view, we believe God condemns to death all sinners for their sins. However (‘capital H’ however), God sees Jesus’s death on the cross as a grand ‘once-and-for-all-time’ sacrifice for the collective sins of humanity. Jesus, God’s own son, is sacrificed on the cross to expiate the sins of humankind. Through the shedding of his blood, our sins are forgiven.

Well, as Paul might ask, “What shall we say in response to these things?” That’s not a path I wish to explore right now because it’s a sermon on its own. Suffice to say, I find the notion of an obligatory ‘blood sacrifice’ wholly repugnant. I cannot believe that a God of love demands the spilling of blood before that God grants us grace and redemption. That’s not a God I can believe in! I think there are better ways of explaining the mystery of ‘Christ Crucified and Risen’ than to say that that the death of Jesus on the cross was the ultimate blood sacrifice.

Coming now to verse 34, Paul rhetorically asks who will condemn the faithful believers. What he’s effectively asking is, “Who is going to insist that humanity be consigned to perdition — to utter destruction, perpetual death, extinction and oblivion?” His own immediate answer is ‘No one!’ That’s because Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ, now sits at the right hand of God, interceding for us, pleading for our salvation.

Paul then declares, in verse 37, that through the love of Jesus and his intercession on our behalf, we become “more than conquerors”. But conquerors of what? Paul doesn’t say, but perhaps, like Jesus, conquerors of death. Or he might mean conquerors of our own sinful natures, which is what prevents us from attaining a state of righteousness, and puts us into a wrong relationship with God.

It’s at this point, verses 38 & 39, that Paul delivers his theological punch-line. “I am convinced,” he proclaims, “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.”

It’s one of the most famous and best-loved pronouncements of all time. There’s no abstruse doctrine here, no perplexing theological conundrum. If you prefer your Christianity plain and simple, this is a message preached for you! God is love; and if you have faith in Jesus Christ you cannot be denied the love of God for humanity! It is yours for as long as you live!

We might agree on that here in church, but what about during the rest of the week as we live out our lives in the workaday world? Well, yes, it applies there too. There is, however, a catch, which is this: by accepting the love of God through Jesus, you enter into a relationship with God the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. As in all relationships, there are obligations. God extends love to you; and in return for that you are expected to live the Christian life. I cannot tell you how to do that; only your own conscience can. But I am convinced that God will speak to you in ways that are special for you in your individual relationship with Jesus.

May our relationships with Jesus be ever close. May we continually hear and obey God’s voice. And may the knowledge that we cannot be separated from the love of God, as expressed through Jesus, sustain each one of us as we strive to live the Christian life! Amen!

Ian Willis

Dr Ian Willis is a long-term lay preacher at TUC.

Ian has a deep commitment to prayer and regularly gives his time to pray with preachers and worship leaders before worship services each Sunday.

Ian is also a writer and historian.

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About Our Church

Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering, fellowship and ministry.

We come together for authentic and Christ-centred worship. While we worship in a variety of styles, we share a common focus on faithfully listening for God’s Word and sharing His kindness and compassion with others. We express our love for God and others through a range of ministries, and connections with our community.

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