Good morning to all of you. We will be reading from the eighth chapter of the book of Romans.
Some of you know that over the past year, I have been deeply involved in a major computer system conversion. My fellow employees and I have taken our highly customized software and replaced it with an Oracle Enterprise system. The computer language is different, the hardware is different, the database is different -- it is the most radical change I have ever endured in my over twenty years of writing and maintaining computer programs. Anytime you do a conversion of this magnitude, it is a great challenge to make the new system conform to your business rules and practices. There have been many long days, many long workweeks, several missed holidays, greatly neglected health, much loss of sleep, and much frustration. But in the midst of these hardships, one of my co-workers has been a great encouragement. For each business challenge that has emerged, he has said again and again, "I am not going to let it win; I am not going to let it win." He has been determined to not be conquered by this new software. Moreover, he has been determined to conquer it instead.
In thinking about his courage and determination, I was reminded of Romans 8:37. For in this passage, we read about conquering, and we are encouraged that because of the love of God through Christ, we are not only conquerors, but we overwhelmingly conquer. We do not have to let the enemy of our souls win. In Romans 8:37 we read what will be our primary text:
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
When Paul spoke of overwhelmingly conquering, he was writing to people who had lost friends, property, and family because of Christ. Eventually, some would be tortured, and some would be put to death. Our circumstances may not be as harsh as theirs, but they are harsh enough to where we sometimes feel defeated. We sometimes feel like we have been conquered. We sometimes want to raise a white flag and say I surrender. For this reason, let us consider how, even in our own circumstances, we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus.
We are going to consider the verse we just read with respect to three questions:
- In what sense do we conquer as Christians?
- What are the circumstances in which we conquer?
- How has the love of God equipped us to conquer?
I. In what sense do we conquer as Christians?
What does the Bible mean when it describes the Christian as a conqueror? The base word used here is nikao, which, depending on the context, can be translated as to conquer, to overcome, to prevail, or to be victorious. However, in Romans 8:37, nikao has a prefix which deepens and strengthens the meaning of the word. The prefix is huper, which means over. That is to say, literally, we over conquer. That is why the NASB says we overwhelmingly conquer, and that is why many other translations say that we are more than conquerors.
In what sense are we more than conquers? A conqueror defeats his enemies, but we do even more. We not only defeat our enemies, but we are strengthened, refined, and enriched by the very weapons that are launched against us.
(1) Death does not defeat us.
The enemy of our souls would conquer us by forcing us to deny Christ and to conform to the world. To do this, people might threaten to kill us. Instead, we conquer them when we remain firm in our faith to the very end. For we know that when death comes, it does not signal our defeat. Rather, it simply means the battle is over, we won, heaven is our home, and Jesus Himself is our eternal delight, pleasure, and portion forever.
(2) Hardship does not defeat us.
When hardship comes, we have a choice: we can either stand firm in our faith, or we can give in to bitterness and despair. We can either be driven by principle, or we can give way to the wants and cravings of our flesh.
The enemy of our souls would use hardship to manipulate us and lead us towards disobedience. He would make us turn away from our faith.
Instead, by the grace of God, for those who truly belong to Christ, hardship is used to teach us and to make us stronger. One of the most amazing passages in scripture is Hebrews 5:8. Speaking of Christ it says, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered."
Now, if it was necessary to train the sinless Jesus through suffering, how much more must suffering be necessary for our training.
Thus, Paul is able to say in Romans 5:3-4, "We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."
(3) Surprise does not defeat us.
We might indeed be surprised and be caught unprepared, but God is never surprised by anything. In Romans 8:28 we read, "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."
So it is that even the enemy's surprise attacks are used by God to strengthen us and to conform us to the image of Christ.
(4) Weakness does not defeat us.
Constant attacks from the enemy might weaken us. But weakness serves to underscore our need for Christ. It pushes us towards greater reliance upon Christ.
In addition, God has been pleased to use even our failures for good. Samson was stronger than any man, yet he was defeated by Delilah. King David was able to slay Goliath, yet he stumbled under the weight of his own lusts when he saw Bathsheba. God's children have often stumbled and fallen. Yet, God has been pleased to use even their mistakes to strengthen their determination to fight against the very things that once brought them down. So it was that in the end, the repentant Samson, with his strength restored, would in his final work do more for God than he had accomplished in all his prior days. And so it was that David, a man who had committed murder and adultery, as God refined him, would come to be known as a man after God's own heart.
David would eventually write, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word."
Those are some of the ways in which we conquer as Christians. We proclaim the gospel, we obey Christ, and we remain firm in our faith no matter what happens. Death, far from defeating us, instead seals our victory. Hardship, far from defeating us, is used to enrich us spiritually and to make us stronger. Surprise, far from defeating us, is used for good by the God who is never surprised by anything. And weakness, far from defeating us, makes us find our strength in Christ.
Having discussed what a Christian conqueror is, let us now examine the circumstances in which we conquer.
II. What are the circumstances in which we conquer?
Romans 8:37 says that we overwhelmingly conquer "in the midst of all these things." What things? The things referred to are listed above in Romans 8:35-36:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
Let us look at these things individually.
The first word is tribulation. Tribulation includes affliction in the general sense, even as it was promised to Adam in Genesis 4:17, "Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life."
Adam's toil is representative of the groaning that is common to all people, even as we see in Romans 8:22, "We know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now." Again, in Romans 8:23 we read, "We ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body."
But lest we groan ourselves into despair, we also find in Romans 8:18, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
The next word is distress. These are seasons when we are under pressure or danger or trouble, and we, on your own, see no means of deliverance. Yet how often has God, in these kinds of situations, glorified Himself and encouraged us by His provision. Thus, we find, again and again, that we endure, not by the cleverness of our own devices, but by the grace of God. David testified of this same grace in Psalm 4, which was written while David was fleeing from Absalom:
David cried out to God and said:
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! [then he remembers] Thou hast relieved me in my distress; be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
Then David had something to say to his tormentors:
O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach? How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him.
Finally, David encouraged himself with what he already knew:
Tremble, and do not sin; meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord. Many are saying, 'Who will show us any good?' Lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us, O Lord! Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for Thou alone, O Lord, dost make me to dwell in safety.
This is one of my favorite passages, for it is true that even in the midst of great distress, God can give us the kind of peace that allows us to lie down and sleep.
The next word is persecution, and God can give us peace, even in the midst of that. Some are persecuted because they preach the gospel, and many more are persecuted because they live out the gospel. Yet, how many have counted it a privilege to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ, even as in Acts 5:41, the apostles, after being flogged for preaching the gospel, rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for the sake of Christ. Also, our Lord gives great consolation to the persecuted in Matthew 5:10-12 when He says,
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The next word is famine. Broadly, it speaks of going without the necessities of life. Some go without life's necessities because the society in which they live is poor. They share the poverty of their neighbors. When the rain is withheld, they suffer together.
Some go without because they live in societies where there is discrimination against Christians. Often, the United States has sent aid to Muslim areas, aid that was intended for everyone, but when that aid arrived, it was withheld from the local Christians.
Sometimes someone goes without because he has had to choose between his job and some act of dishonesty. Because of his faithfulness, he loses his position.
Could you and I endure these circumstances? Not on our own, but there is a strengthening grace from God that empowers us to endure anything. Paul gives testimony of this in Philippians 4:11-13,
Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
The same is true for us. We can endure whatever we have to endure, not because of our own inner resources, but through God, who is willing to strengthen us just like he did Paul.
The next word is nakedness. Rarely would a person in our nation have to go without clothing. Yet, many are the people who have been forced into sexual situations against their will. They not only feel conquered, but they feel dirty. Even if they were completely innocent, they continue to struggle with a sense of shame.
Yet, the God we serve has seen past the nakedness of our bodies to the nakedness of our very souls. He alone has known each heart in all of its shame, and yet He has loved us with an everlasting love. He has done even more; He has covered us with the garments of salvation, just as we read in Isaiah 61:10, "I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness."
If you have been humiliated in this way, and if you belong to Christ, be encouraged. For nothing can ever take away the robe of righteousness that covers you now by the grace of God. Whatever dark sense of shame you might be feeling, it dissipates next to the brightness of the robe of salvation that covers you now, and it will disappear forever in the future glory that awaits all who belong to Christ.
The next word is peril. The people of God are exposed to many of the same dangers that are shared by all kinds of people. For example, all it takes is one driver illegally passing over a yellow line while an unseen car is approaching, and suddenly a family is destroyed. All it takes is someone following too closely. Suddenly a deer jumps out; you put on your brakes; and the driver ploughs into the rear end of your car, injuring your back.
Add to this the additional perils that Christians suffer in some places because of their faith. In our own country, a young man in a ghetto is robbed and beaten because he refuses the protection of gang membership. In India, a young bride is mercilessly beaten by her Hindu husband because she attends church. In Saudi Arabia, an Egyptian worker is beaten with a rod three hundred times because he leads Bible studies. Yet, Christianity continues to spread. Dictators come and go, and nations rise and fall, but the church, that bruised and beaten bride of Christ, remains, even as Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, "The gates of Hades shall not overpower it."
The next word is sword. Sometimes swords are used to scare, threaten, and manipulate people. Other times swords are used to kill people, and many are the Christians who have been put to death because of their faith. Yet, they were so confident of God's promises towards them, that some even kissed the stake upon which they would be burned. They were convinced, as Paul was in Romans 8:38-39 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, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These are representative of the circumstances in which we conquer. The enemy of our souls sends tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword, and anything else he thinks he can use to tear us away from our faith in Jesus Christ. And yet we persevere. Why? Why do we persevere in faith? We persevere because of God's love for us. As we read in Romans 8:37, "We overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us."
An offended brother might respond, "So what if God loves me! I am miserable. What good is it to me that God has warm feelings towards me? Where were those warm feelings when I lost my job? Where were those warm feelings when my wife wrecked the car? Where were those warm feelings when my child got cancer? Yes, I know I should be thankful for salvation, and I am. But I am so miserable that I wish I were dead?"
In response I would say, do not confuse the huge love of God with the mere warm feelings of people. God's love is more than feelings. A human being might have warm feelings towards you and yet be powerless to help you. In contrast, God's love is a love that does something. His love is exercised with wisdom, power, and authority.
Consider what God has already done to enable us to overwhelmingly conquer our adversaries.
III. How has the love of God enabled us to conquer?
God has shown his love for people in general from the very beginning. He placed the first people in a beautiful garden where food was abundant, life was pleasant, and work was enjoyable.
After Adam and Eve sinned and had to leave the garden, God did not leave them to despair but continued to work with them and teach them. Although the ground was cursed and began to produce thorns, much of the earlier beauty was retained. In addition to this, God has continued to show kindness towards even wicked people and has encouraged us to do the same, as we see in Matthew 6:44-45:
I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
But the greatest kindness of all is that which God has shown by giving us his son. As we read in John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."
Then we read in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Further clarification is given in John 3:36 where we read, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Today, the wrath of God continues to abide on those who reject Christ. They will suffer in Hell, for all eternity, punishment for every sin they have ever committed.
But for those who submit to Christ, as we find in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
No condemnation! Our greatest problem has been taken care of. We bear no guilt for the sins of the past, the sins of the present, or the sins of the future. They have all been paid for by the work of Jesus on the cross.
Of course, those who truly belong to Christ do not sin willingly. They fight against sin, and when they do sin, they repent. They fail many times. Yet, they have this overwhelming consolation -- there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
(1) The fullness of our salvation.
But God has done more than save us from condemnation. Romans 8:29-30 gives us a wide-angle view of the salvation that has been accomplished for us:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Let us look more closely at these words: foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified.
In the context of this passage, the word foreknew means loved and chosen beforehand. This is the same sense of the word that we find in Romans 11:2 where we read that in spite of the wickedness of Israel, "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew."
The next word is predestined. While foreknowledge has to do with God setting his love upon particular people, predestination has to do with God setting the destiny for those people, and that destiny is salvation, as we find in Ephesians 1:5, "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will." Why does God predestine only some people to salvation and not everyone? I don't know. God decides based on His own wisdom, as we see in Ephesians 1:11, "Having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."
To what are we predestined? Certainly, it is the salvation of our souls. But there is more. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. God is not only saving us from the consequences of sin, but He is saving us from the power of sin as well. It is God's will that we become holy like His Son.
The next word is called. There is both a general call and an effectual call. The general call goes to all that are able to hear the gospel. The effectual call goes to all that are predestined to be saved. But they both demand the same thing: repent of your sins and believe the gospel.
It is sad that most people who hear the general call will never respond. They do not respond because they are spiritually dead. Because of the fall, the gospel makes no sense to many of them. For others, although they have some understanding of the gospel, they are so offended by it that they hate both the gospel and Christians who proclaim it.
This is the state of every Christian before he is regenerated. Regeneration is what makes the effectual call effectual. It is what guarantees that the effectual call will have the intended effect. Regeneration is the secret work whereby the Holy Spirit changes a person's heart. The person is made willing to receive the gospel. This work is totally passive on the part of the person. But once a person is regenerated, that person can and will respond to the gospel. Everyone who has been regenerated will repent of his sins and believe, even as we find in John 6:37, "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."
Further down, regarding the necessity of regeneration, we read, "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him."
In Acts 13:47-48, Paul had preached to both Jews and Gentiles. This was the general call. But in verse 48 it says, "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed."
In verse 48, it was the ones who had been appointed to eternal life who received the effectual call.
If it seems harsh to you that the effectual call is necessary, please keep in mind that without the effectual call and the work of regeneration that accompanies it, no would believe --- there would be no conversions.
Next comes the word justified. Having been regenerated, we are able to believe the gospel, and having believed, we are now justified through faith in Jesus Christ. Through justification, perfect righteousness is now imputed to us. Other words for imputed include reckoned and credited. We are credited with having a perfect slate of righteousness.
It is one thing to be forgiven, and I will always be grateful that God has forgiven and continues to forgive my sins, just as Romans 4:7-8 quotes Psalm 32:1-2 saying, "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account."
But when we were justified, we received more than pardon. We received a righteousness that was not our own, even as we read in II Corinthians 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
Next comes the word glorified. When Christ returns, we will share in His glory. But our future glory is so certain, that it is expressed in Romans 8 as a present reality. We see the present and future sense of glory used together in Colossians 3:1-4:
If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory."
What a thorough salvation we have: we are foreknown; we are predestined; we are called; we are justified; and we are glorified. You could be the poorest person on this earth, but if God has loved you this much, you are rich beyond measure. Once God was your judge. Now He is your heavenly Father. Once you knew the fear of a slave. Now you know the acceptance of a child of God, as we read in Romans 8:15-17:
You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
(2) The completeness of Scripture.
Not only has God loved us by saving our souls, but He has also loved us by giving us His Word, along with the vast resources of knowledge and understanding contained within it. For example, every believer wants to know how to make decisions that are right and holy. We all want to grow in our ability to consistently live holy lives. The Bible answers this need by teaching us how to grow in holiness, as we see in John 17:17, "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth." Moreover, the Bible is sufficient for all issues of the soul, as we find in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness."
(3) The availability of Wisdom.
God has also loved us by giving us wisdom when we ask for it. For example, when trials come, we often wonder whether we will have the wisdom to deal with them. In James 1, the writer seems to anticipate this after discussing the various trials the Christian faces, for we read in James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."
(4) The Intercession of the Holy Spirit.
God has also loved us by giving us the Holy Spirit. Some feelings are beyond words; some needs are beyond expression. There are times when we don't even know how to pray. But God has made provision for this. Thus, we find in Romans 8:26-27:
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 [groans] 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.
(5) The Intercession of Jesus.
God has especially loved us through the ongoing work of His Son. For not only does the Holy Spirit intercede for us, but Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, intercedes for us as well, as we see in Hebrews 7:25, "He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." We also see this in Romans 8:34, "Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us."
Jesus is well-trained for this role because, as we find in Hebrews 2:18, since "He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted."
We have seen what a Christian conqueror is. He is one who stands firm in His faith against all adversaries. We have also seen some of the contexts in which the Christian is called to conquer: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. Finally, we have seen how the love of God has equipped us to conquer: the fullness of our salvation, the completeness of scripture, the availability of wisdom, the intercession of the Holy Spirit, and the intercession of Jesus.
The outcome of the Christian resistance has already been determined. Though the enemy may appear to prevail for season, in the end, his fiery assaults will merely strengthen and refine those who belong to Christ, while, at the same time, exposing those who thought they were His sheep but are not. There will be some that thought they were born again, but never having had a God-wrought change of heart, many of them will fall away. Some true believers will fall away as well, but because of God's preserving grace towards those who truly belong to Christ, they will eventually repent and return to the faith they abandoned. In the midst of all of these challenges, we will, because of the grace of God, emerge as more than conquerors, just as Romans 8:37 says, "We overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us."
- He loved us before time, when He planned our salvation.
- He loved us at the cross, when He purchased our salvation.
- He loved us at the moment of conversion, when He brought us to our knees under the conviction of sin.
- He loved us at the moment of reconciliation, when He raised us up and caused us to know the joy of His forgiveness, and His love continues.
He has shown His love for us during our greatest trials, as He has encouraged and strengthened us in the midst of them.
He is showing his love right now by interceding for us, and He will love us in the days ahead, equipping us, preparing us, and supporting us in all that we are ordained to face. The enemy of our souls is vicious, but we do not have to let Him win. We do not have to let him win because God has made us more than conquerors.
Therefore, take courage saints of God, for it is God who says that you are more than conquerors. It is God who says your sins are forgiven. It is God who has declared you to be righteous. And it is God who has set His love upon you -- in the past, in the present, and for all eternity.