Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Sundays
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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? 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. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:26-39)
When I began driving I used to kid myself that I knew about the cars I drove. Those were, of course, simpler days and my 950cc Ford Fiesta Popular Plus in ‘Maritime Blue’ was not a complicated affair. Engine overheating on a hot summer’s day? Turn on the fans to full temperature and full blast and soon the engine would cool down as you heated up. Locked your keys in the car? Slip down your hand between the side window and the door panel, and in you get. Want to play some music? Tough. It had no radio fitted as standard.
The ‘Plus’, by the way, meant that the car had headrests, a rear windscreen washer and - if I remember correctly - a cigarette lighter. We “Plus” owners would shake our heads in derision at those poor saps who only drove a “Popular”
Over the years I came to realise that I was somewhat over-optimistic. I once limped Mary’s car into a garage, only to be asked if I’d ever filled it up with oil. I hadn’t. My checking of tyres at one time was so poor the rubber entirely wore through. My expert diagnosis that a power steering pump was faulty turned out to be a flat battery. Ask my friendly local garage owner (you know the one), and he’ll tell you: “it’s best he leaves it to me”.
So it is that I was simply living out Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” In cars the consequences of this mechanical arrogance are limited, but when it comes to matters of the Christian faith they are eternal.
At the root of the famous fifth century debate between Pelagius and Augustine is this point of competence. Do we really know? Are we really up to the job of living a perfect life. Pelagius was a man of tremendous self-control, and taught that everyone had the power in themselves to live a perfect life. His teaching was popular in Rome, and even some church leaders thought it just the stuff. However, the fact that Augustine is known as St Augustine, and that Pelagianism is viewed as a heresy will give you some hint as to how things went. In 431 a worldwide council in Ephesus (known as the Third Ecumenical Council) ruled against Pelagianism.
Closer to home, we find that the tenth of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the our good old Church of England reads thus:
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing [i.e. going before] us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.
Why all this pessimism about human nature? It is simply the Bible’s witness that we are flawed. Yes we are made in the image of God, but the consequence of the fall is the human race is at the same time both glorious and imperfect. Pelagius was wrong: we cannot live the perfect, sinless life. That is simply over-optimistic.
Now, finally, let me turn to the passage.
Paul argues that all three persons of the Trinity are deeply and intimately involved in our life. The Spirit helps us in our weakness, and prays for us. God the Father has predestined us and, in the words of what has become known as the Golden Chain “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”. The Son was given up for us, died for us and - with the Spirit - is interceding for us.
In effect we have the eternal and glorious Trinity, like my friendly local garage owner, saying: “it’s best he leaves it to me”.
This is a magnificent thing as it liberates us, and gives us a sure foundation for out hope. We’re not relying on ourselves in all of this, but rather each person of the Trinity is involved in bringing us all the way home. We can be confident that “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ”, because Christ himself is praying for us. It is not because of what we have done that we can be sure of our position before God, but because of what he does. Oh what a wonderful, extraordinary truth! What grace! What confidence! I could wax lyrical, but Paul waxed better and so deserves the last word:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.