God’s Unchangeable Heart for His People
On May 28, 2017, I preached my first sermon here at EBC. The text was Romans 8:32 and the title was “God’s Unchangeable Heart for His people.”
I’ve been thinking about that passage and that message quite a bit in recent days. I pulled up that manuscript, and I want you to hear some of those words that I said in the introduction to that message that Sunday.
“I know, as I’ve become acquainted with you as a church, that you have a history, a history of God’s hand at work, and God working through numbers of ‘didn’t see that coming’ moments- some sweet, some bitter.
“If you think back to your individual life, I’m sure you can recognize many of your defining moments—and many of those were defining precisely because of their difficulty. You can see how God has been at work through those difficulties.
“But isn’t it true that much of the time, we have a far easier time pointing out God’s hand at work in the rearview mirror. But where we’re driving right now, and the road ahead, are often not so clear.
“And is it not often the case that it’s easier for us to recognize God’s providence in our life up until now than it is to have a calm, fearless confidence in Him regarding the present or (perhaps especially) the future?
“One of the questions I want to ask this morning is: how does God want His people to think about the future? Does God want us to drive by the rearview mirror all the time? Or does He want us to have a certain mindset, a certain attitude about tomorrow and all of our tomorrows?
“And if so, then what? What is the way that God wants us to think about tomorrow? What should go on in our hearts as we face our futures with all of the uncertainty and unknowns? How do we march into the future with confidence and courage?”
And then I said this: “I know that here we are all here this weekend asking big questions and making decisions about the future, knowing that there is much in that future that we don’t know. We don’t know how many ‘didn’t see that coming’ moments await each of us in the coming years.”
And here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, in our homes having to watch the church service on a screen. Sure didn’t see this coming, did we. This is one of those moments that I was talking about in that sermon almost three years ago. And so the question is, what are we going to do now? How are we going to respond?
Do you think it’s true that we have an easier time seeing God in the rearview mirror than on the road ahead? Has that been a part of your struggle in these past few days or weeks? “Yes, I know that God has done all of these wonderful things in the past, I know He delivered His people from Egypt like we heard in Psalm 135, but I could really use Him right now.”
You’re not the first person to respond that way. Think about the 12 apostles out in the middle of the lake, with a crazy storm that threatened to sink their ship.
“And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’” (Mark 4:38–40).
“Why are you so afraid?”! “Um, because I was about to die!” But notice that Jesus gently rebukes them for their lack of faith. They had no excuse. Think about what they had already seen. The disciples had watched Jesus heal and cast out demons with a word. They knew that He had the power to control the seen and unseen worlds with nothing more than his voice.
But when they got into this new situation, they forgot all about that. They didn’t make the connection that if Jesus could heal bodies and cast out demons with a word, then obviously a storm is no big deal to Him. Instead, they freaked out, as if this new challenge might be too big for Jesus. Maybe He won’t be able to handle this one. Maybe this one will be beyond him.
In other words, they were compartmentalizing things. What they had seen Jesus did in the past was sealed off in a little compartment, and was not having an impact on what was happening in the present moment.
And so a big part of walking by faith means not doing that. We don’t seal off the past and the present and the future in little compartments. We make the connections and understand that everything that God has been for us in the past, He is for us at the present moment, and will be for us into the future.
COVID-19 has not changed the character of God. It has not made Him recalculate His promises like some earthly politician. Everything He has been, He will be.
And that’s what our passage this morning is all about, as we focus in on verse 32 of Romans chapter 8.This verse is all about making the connection between the past and the future.
And I hope you don’t mind that I’m really just preaching an updated version of that same sermons from 2017. I think we need to hear it again. I need to hear it again. These words might have fresh meaning in this new context especially because we’ve heard them before
So let’s hear Romans 8:32 again: “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?” (ESV)
Do you see some of those big ideas there? What God did for us in the past is the key to understanding His present and future grace towards us. And what this verse does for us is fix our attention on one great event in the past—that one great event where God revealed His love for us in the most dramatic and unmistakable way. And it tells us that this event is the key towards understanding God’s heart towards us in the future.
Not Spared, but Given Up
So let’s pay careful attention to the wording of this verse. Look at that first phrase, which tells us that He “did not spare His own Son.”
That language is important. You might know the phrase “they spared no expense.” Where most would have stopped and said “I’m not willing to pay that much,” these people did not spare any expense for whatever this thing is.
Think of something in life that you would really like, or want really bad, more than anything else. What expense would you not spare for that? Where would you draw the line and say “No, that’s too much”?
God’s love for us is revealed here: that in saving us, He spared nothing, not even His own Son. Would anyone have blamed God if he said to us, “I love you. I want to give you joy in my presence forever. But the only way to make that happen is through the death of my only son and I can’t let that happen.”
No-one would have been able to blame God if He did that. But God did not do that. He did not spare His own son. He held nothing back.
Instead of sparing Him, He “gave Him up for us all.” Actively, willingly, freely, determinedly, God took the initiative in giving Jesus up to the cross.
I hope you’ve been hearing that message in Titus over the past several weeks. God took the initiative to save us. We were once foolish and disobedient and lost in passions and pleasures and malice and envy and hate. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4–6).
There was nothing we could do to make this happen. We wouldn’t have even have dreamed to ask had it not been given to us. God did this because He chose to.
And He did it even thought it cost Him His own son. Do we really get that? Think of a familiar passage like John 3:16—God so loved the world that He gave… what? If we were hearing this for the first time, would any human dream of finishing that sentence “His only son”?
I don’t think any of us would ever have dreamed that up. But that’s what God did. That’s the price He was willing to pay to love you.
Some of you parents have gotten the tiniest idea of what this was like when you’ve sent one of your children away to school or to summer camp. Perhaps even closer is the parent who has sent a child away into a situation of known danger. Maybe to the police force or to military engagement or to fight forest fires or to serve the Lord in a dangerous environment.
And yet each of those parents is hoping for the best. Praying their child will be the one to dodge the bullet and avoid the danger and come home safely.
It wasn’t like that with God. He sent His son knowing exactly what would happen, because that was the plan. “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” says Isaiah 53:10.
God knew what this would mean. He knew that this would mean His son dying and bearing all of His wrath in our place. He knew that this would mean watching and not intervening as His son shed tears of agony and sweat drops of blood and cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knew that this was a worst-case scenario. And He sent Him anyway. He did not spare Him but gave Him up for us all.
Finishing the Question
Now let’s remember how this sentence is written. The sentence is written to tell us something about God. “He, who did not spare His own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not…”
So if you stop there you can see what’s going on. What should we know to be true about God today because of what He did when He sent Christ?
He who did not spare His own Son, but give him up for us all, how will He not…
What? How do many Christians finish this sentence, by the way they act and live? “He who gave up His Son for me, how will He not get really mad at me if I step out of line. Just look at how much grace He’s already given me!” “He who gave up His son for me, how will He not now expect something significant from me? He did so much for me, and now it’s my turn to do something for him.”
Isn’t that how many Christians live the Christian life? In it’s best cases, this gets expressed in terms of thankfulness. “God did all of that for me, and I want to be thankful and do my best for Him today.”
In it’s worst cases, this gets expressed in terms of guilt. We feel guilty about how much God has done for us and how little we’ve done for Him in comparison, and so we try to pay Him back, and it’s that sense of debt that drives our Christian life.
But neither thankfulness nor guilt fully understands the incredible truth of Romans 8:32. We should be blown away by how this verse finishes. “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?”
God’s Heart for Us
It’s not hard to see the basic structure here. This is a greater to the lesser kind of argument, and the question is asked is to make us realize that have no answer. In other words, it’s a rhetorical question. We’re supposed to realize that there is no way that this can’t happen. If God gave us the greatest gift of His son, is any smaller gift going to be too big of a deal for Him? Of course not.
If God did the big thing for us, then of course He will do something smaller for us, like keep His promise to feed and clothe us (Matthew 6:25-34). If He gave you His own son, then of course He’s not going to abandon you in the middle of a pandemic. If He didn’t hold back His own son, but gave him up to three decades of misunderstanding and pain and finally death in order to save you, do you think He’s looking at you today and saying, “Well, this wasn’t really in my plan, so you’re on your own with this one.”
Not a chance. “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?” (Romans 8:32), including whatever we happen to need at the present moment.
That’s the logic of this verse, and it’s easy enough to grasp. But there’s something going on here, in behind the logic, that makes the logic work. There’s something that Paul is assuming here concerning the character of God.
Here’s what I’m getting at. Imagine these events taking place on a human level. Imagine your house is on fire from something that was your own fault, and something you’d been warned about repeatedly, and there you are trapped deep inside, and a firefighter came to rescue you, and he did so but in so doing he lost his own life. You lived, he died.
And at the funeral his father stood up and said, “I encouraged my son to pursue this career knowing that this day might come, and it was a sacrifice I don’t take back.”
Now, the next week, you have no gas in your car and no money for groceries because you lost everything in the fire. Who is the last person on planet earth you are going to call up to ask for help?
That man didn’t spare his own son, but gave him up for you; how in the world would you ever dream of asking him for anything else after that?
So imagine the knock at the door and it’s him. “I heard you were short of cash. Can I take you grocery shopping? Do you need some help making your car payment this month? You lost everything in that fire. Do you need some furniture? Why don’t you come live with me? I see you have no parents; why don’t I adopt you to be my child? All that is mine is now yours.”
Grace or Guilt
That kind of story, but on an even greater scale, is what’s going on here. This is the kind of Person that God is. This is His heart for His people.
God does not love like so many people do—in little pieces, small amounts, so that we’re never too sure if we’ve reached the end of it. God’s love is not like a rain barrel, and we need to be careful that we don’t empty it out before it can refill again.
No, God’s love is like Niagara Falls. You can’t empty it. The gift of His Son, as great as it was, does not threaten the supply one bit. “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:17).
And that’s the truth about God that makes the logic of Romans 8:32 work. God’s heart for His people is unchangeable, His love is inexhaustible, His grace is unceasing, and so if He gave you the greater gift of His son, than how will He not also with Him, today and tomorrow and into your future, graciously give you all things?
Let me put this in a slightly different way. God’s heart towards you today is the same as His heart towards you in those moments as Jesus died on the cross. Think of how much He loved you in those moments, in the very act of giving up His son. That is the way that He is loving you right this very moment. And that is the way that He will be loving you when you wake up tomorrow and the next day and the next day. That is the way He will be loving you one week from now, one month from now, one year from now.
And so, because the Lord does not change, because the steadfast love of the Lord does not change, then if He didn’t spare His son for you, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also freely give us all things?
What Are “All Things”?
Now at this point we need to ask a couple of clarifying question to bring this truth into sharper focus. Because it is possible to misconstrue this verse as teaching something that it’s not.
Think about what it says: God will graciously give us all things. All things. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I can think of some things that I would like to be included in here. I’m sure you can, too. Like, the coronavirus going away tomorrow.
But I can think of two reasons why “all things” doesn’t guarantee our own personal wish list.
The first is just the context of this verse. This whole section of Romans 8 began with the words “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (v. 18). And we hear about creation groaning, and then verse 23 says- “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoptions as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
When we look at the rest of this chapter we see that the “all things” that God will graciously give us is not the freedom from things that make us groan, but
- the ability to be more than conquerers in all of these things
- the help of his Holy Spirit in our weakness
- the way that He will work everything for our good
- the way that He will make sure that nothing will separate us from His love.
- And ultimately the promise of a resurrected body in a New Creation.
So the whole rest of the chapter tells us that “all things” doesn’t mean what the prosperity teachers on TV are telling you. It doesn’t mean instant healing from every sickness and a guarantee of earthly prosperity.
God often wills for His children to suffer, because He has good purposes for that suffering and He uses it to do things He couldn’t do any other way.
There’s a second reason why Romans 8:32 does not mean total freedom from difficulty. Just look at the verse itself. God did not spare His own Son. God did not say “yes” when His son asked for the cup to be taken from Him. God is willing to have those He loves endure great pain for the sake of their ultimate joy. God is willing for us to endure the cross for the sake of the crown.
Isn’t that what verse 17 says? “… We are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
So the “all things” in this verse means something more like 1 Corinthians 3 where is says that “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
All Things Include Death, and This Is Good News
I hope that this doesn’t kill it for you. I hope that hearing that “all things” might include some hard things doesn’t take the air out of the tires of this passage. Here is the conclusion we should arrive at instead: knowing God’s unchangeable heart for you, you know that any difficulty in your life is coming from the very same person, the very same heart, that loved you enough to give up his own Son for you.
This is a promise for all of our “didn’t see that coming” moments. We know that God’s heart for me us unchangeable. He spared nothing but gave up His own son for us. So if He has chosen for difficulty to happen, then that is coming from the same Father, the same love, the same grace. He knows what He is doing. And His grace will be sufficient for me. The Spirit is going to help me in my weakness. God is going to work this for good. This will not separate me from the love of God in Christ.
That’s what Romans 8 is telling us
So think about what’s ahead for you. What faces you this week? What are you afraid about? What worries you? What are the moments this week that you’re not looking forward to, or maybe are not going to want to look back on?
I’m assuming, as I ask these questions, that the coronavirus thing is huge in our minds. But I’m sure there’s more. Many of you were struggling long before this pandemic came along.
And yet I want to suggest, based on Romans 8:32 this morning, that the degree to which the future brings us fear is the degree to which we still do not fully believe the Gospel.
Because if we fully understood and fully believed the gospel, there would be no place for fear. We would stare at the future and know that in whatever situation is coming, God will be everything for us that He was when Jesus was on the cross. And if He did that for us, it’s impossible that He will not also with Jesus graciously give us all things.
Now, all things may include struggle. But it will also include the grace to grow through that struggle and weather it well and become like Jesus in the process.
I hope you find this encouraging. I hope you find this comforting. I hope you find this empowering.
I also want to be realistic this morning and acknowledge that, just because you’re hearing and agreeing with this right now, that doesn’t mean you won’t be struggling at all tomorrow or even in later on today. Fear and worry have ways of hijacking our hearts and clouding our thinking.
So I want to give you a very practical suggestion of how to go forward. Memorize Romans 8:32. Many of you have the time now. Even if memory is hard for you, you can do one verse. Commit this verse to memory and use it to do battle when the doubt and the fear come piling in on you.
And for some of you, I’m going to challenge you to go further. Especially if you have more time on your hands in these days, I challenge you to memorize more of Romans 8. Even the whole chapter. It will be work, but it’s not as hard as you think. There’s apps and stuff you can get that will help you. And, again, you’ve got the time.
Wouldn’t that be some good fruit from all of this? Investing this time in hiding God’s word in your heart, something that will bring benefit for years to come?
One final note this morning. Maybe you’re watching or listening to this and you don’t know that any of this is true. You don’t know Jesus and you don’t know whether He knows you and whether or not you’ve been saved by Him.
I want to encourage you that everything I’ve said this morning could be true for you, today. God’s word says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Turn from your sin and throw yourself upon the mercies of Jesus. And if you want to know more of what that means for you, please get in touch with me or someone you know who knows Jesus. Nothing would bring us more joy than to help you know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.