Big Idea: God’s purposes and God’s love for us are unbreakable.
“I have some bad news.” That’s what our daughter, Christy, told us on Friday night when we got back from the Good Friday service. My mind began to go through all the things that could have gone wrong before she told us what had happened: she broke her glasses. I was relieved, actually. Glasses can be replaced. I’m actually surprised her glasses have lasted as long as they have!
But, her glasses are broken. It’s a reminder to us that important things break. Cars break. As we know in Liberty Village, elevators break. But it’s not just stuff that breaks: relationships break. Bones break. In an 8K race I ran yesterday, a guy right behind me took a tumble. A few days ago, there was a fatal accident on the highway just outside our condo. We are fragile creatures, and life is rough to say the least. Even entertainment — movies like Unbroken and TV shows like the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — alludes to the fact that life can be unbelievably hard, and that surviving is something that we can’t take for granted.
It leads us to the question: is anything really unbreakable? Glasses are fragile. Our stuff is fragile. We are fragile. Life is fragile. Is there anything that we can count on that cannot be broken?
In fact, there is. And it’s what Easter Sunday is all about.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at Romans 8. It’s such an important passage. Ray Ortlund, Jr. Says, “Paul’s letter to the Romans has the potential to transform the church in our generation, as it has in the past,” and I agree. In the book of Romans, we find one of the most profound presentations of the gospel message, or what God has done in Jesus to make us right with him. Someone else said:
If the Epistle to the Romans rightly has been called ‘the cathedral of Christian faith’, then surely the eighth chapter may be regarded as its most sacred shrine, or its high altar of worship, of praise, and of prayer … Here, we stand in the full liberty of the children of God, and enjoy a prospect of that glory of God which some day we are to share. (Charles Erdman).
We’ve been seeing from the book of Romans what we have in Jesus Christ. If you are in Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation for you. None. If you are in Jesus, you are now indwelt by God himself. He comes and lives within you. If you are in Jesus Christ, you are adopted. God doesn’t just forgive you; he adopts you. He takes you into his family. This is even better news than being forgiven. As J.I. Packer says, “To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.” Not only that, but you are heirs. You will inherit everything that God has promised to you.
All of this is good. Actually, all of this is amazing. But there’s a problem. You can be forgiven, indwelt, adopted, and made an heir, and still feel like you’re at risk, that you’re fragile, and that God’s control over your life is fragile. You can still feel like God could reach the end of his patience with you and decide to give up on you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over 25 years of pastoral ministry it’s that life can be brutally difficult, and that you and I will face events and tragedies that will threaten us and make it seem like everything in our lives is breakable. Paul even alludes to this in verses 18 to 25 as he talks about our present sufferings. Don’t let anyone tell you that you won’t suffer. Life is brutally hard, and it will sometimes seem like everything around you can break. We need something that is field-tested, that will survive whatever life can throw us including layoffs, breakups, crises, illnesses, and even death. Is there anything that is unbreakable in our lives?
Yes. In the middle of life’s difficulties, there are two things that will not break no matter what happens. According to this passage, God’s purposes for us and God’s love for us are unbreakable.
Let’s look at both of those.
First, God’s Purposes for you are unbreakable.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
This is a very hard verse to believe. It’s a great verse, but I almost cringe when I hear it because it’s thrown around like a panacea in the hardest of circumstances. But here is what Paul is saying. God has a purpose for you, and that purpose is that you be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) and that he complete the work that he has begun in your life until you are finally and completely saved. If you are in Jesus Christ, that is God’s purpose for you. It’s a pretty amazing thing. Ray Ortlund Jr. says that it’s like looking at an artist’s magnum opus. God has begun work on us and is fashioning us into what he wants us to become. It’s about:
…being changed from what we are right now, with all our struggles and failures, and being liberated into the glorious image of God’s Son in resurrection immortality forever. Not bad. Do you realize that, if you are in Christ, you are God’s personal project? He has undertaken to make you glorious.
And amazingly, Paul says that God is working everything together in order to accomplish that purpose. This means that God is at work in every circumstance of our lives with the ultimate goal of completing that work in us. There is not a single thing that can ever happen to us that will not accomplish God’s good purpose in our lives to make us into who he wants us to be. “God’s love employs the worst of life for his loving purpose” (Ray Ortlund). Even your sins. Everything, including evil and tragedies! The Bible is saying that all things in your story — not some things, not just the nice things, but all things in your story — are being used by God to fulfill his great purpose of redemption. It’s what theologians call the providence of God. The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 asks, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” and answers:
Providence is the almighty and ever-present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.
As one theologian put it, “God’s unstoppable purpose in calling believers to salvation cannot be frustrated, and thus he employs all things to bring about the plan he had from the beginning in the lives of believers” (Thomas R. Schreiner).
What does this look like? The best illustration I’ve seen comes from author Philip Yancey:
In high school, I took pride in my ability to play chess. I joined the chess club, and during lunch hour could be found sitting at a table with other nerds poring over books with titles like Classic King Pawn Openings. I studied techniques, won most of my matches, and put the game aside for 20 years.
Then, in Chicago, I met a truly fine chess player who had been perfecting his skills long since high school. When we played a few matches, I learned what it is like to play against a master. Any classic offense I tried, he countered with a classic defense. If I turned to more risky, unorthodox techniques, he incorporated my bold forays into his winning strategies. Although I had complete freedom to make any move I wished, I soon reached the conclusion that none of my strategies mattered very much. His superior skill guaranteed that my purposes inevitably ended up serving his own.
Perhaps God engages our universe, his own creation, in much the same way. He grants us freedom to rebel against its original design, but even as we do so we end up ironically serving his eventual goal of restoration.
If I accept that blueprint — a huge step of faith, I confess — it transforms how I view both good and bad things that happen. Good things, such as health, talent, and money, I can present to God as offerings to serve his purposes. And bad things, too — disability, poverty, family dysfunction, failures — can be redeemed as the very instruments that drive me to God.
I said that this is the best illustration I found, but that’s not completely true. The best illustration I can find is the cross. On Good Friday we remembered that Jesus was betrayed, illegally convicted, mocked, beaten, and executed. It was the most horrible thing that could ever happen: we killed God the Son. But in the ultimate example of God working all things together for our good, he took “the most horrible thing that ever happened” and turned it into “the most wonderful thing that ever happened” (Paul David Tripp). His death became our salvation.
What this means is that everything that happens to you — everything, including the really hard things — will be used by God to accomplish his purposes in your life. In the end, if you have trusted in what Jesus did at the cross to accomplish your salvation, you will be glorious. John Donne, an English poet who lived almost 500 years ago, put it this way: “I shall be so like God, as that the devil himself shall not know me from God, so farre as to finde any more place to fasten a temptation upon me, then upon God; not to conceive any more hope of my falling from that kingdome, then of God’s being drivern out of it.” God’s purposes for you are unbreakable.
But that’s not all:
Second, God’s love for you is unbreakable.
In his book By Grace Alone, Sinclair Ferguson identifies four major “fiery darts” Satan uses to unsettle believers and rob them of their assurance and peace in the gospel:
- Fiery Dart 1: “God is against you,” Satan says. “He is not really for you. How can you believe he is for you when you see the things that are happening in your life?”
- Fiery Dart 2: “I have accusations I will bring against you because of your sins,” Satan argues. “What can you say in defense? Nothing.”
- Fiery Dart 3: “You can say you are forgiven, but there is a payback day coming—a condemnation day,” Satan insinuates. “How will you defend yourself then?”
- Fiery Dart 4: “Given your track record, what hope is there that you will persevere to the end?” Satan asks.
Will any of these things remove us from God’s love? Is God’s love for us fragile? Paul answers with three assertions in verses 31-39, all of which have to do with Easter:
Since God is for us, no one can successfully oppose us. Paul writes:
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? (Romans 8:31-32)
When he was growing up, the late author Brennan Manning had a best friend named Ray. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the frontlines together.
One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Brennan’s life was spared.
Years later he went to visit Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Ray’s mother got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?” Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And the answer coming back: “What more could he have done for you?”
The cross of Jesus is God’s way of doing all he could do for us. The evidence of God being for us is supremely manifested in the giving of his Son. And now that he has given us the greatest gift (his Son), he will surely give us everything else that we need (32).
No one will ever bring a charge against the elect. Paul writes:
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)
There are a lot of bad things people can say about us that are true. Anyone who knows me well could stand up and deliver charges against me: faults in my character, things that I should have done that I didn’t do, careless things I’ve said, and more. All of these charges are true, but none of them can stick. Why?
If accusations are brought against us, we need not fear, for the charges are silenced by the upraised, pierced hands of our Intercessor. If we are to be condemned, it will have to be over Christ’s dead and now resurrected body, which actually is the basis of our salvation!” (Kent Hughes)
This passage says that God no charges will stick against us, because God dealt with them all on Good Friday, and has declared us to be not guilty. No one will condemn us on the day of judgment. Not only will God not condemn us, but Jesus will defend us against any charge. No accusation against us will prevail.
Finally: Nothing and no one can successfully separate us from God’s love in Christ. Paul writes:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…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 8:35-39)
Paul looks around at anything and everything that can separate us from God’s love. He throws out every worst-case scenario out there that could threaten God’s love. Death will not pull me away from God’s love. Neither will anything in this life, nor cosmic spiritual powers, nor anything in time. No disappointment, no neurosis, no disease, no broken romance, no financial crisis, no mental illness will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. God’s love for you has no outer limit.
There is very little in this life that can’t be broken. Everything around us is fragile. But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean that two things are true: God’s purposes for us are unbreakable. God’s love for us is unbreakable.
I told you my daughter’s glasses broke. I went to the optometrist yesterday. We bought insurance for the glasses, but it had already expired. But they said, “Don’t worry, we’ll look after it.” Broken, cracked, smashed — but guaranteed. They weren’t going to let anything happen that they weren’t going to cover.
Two thousand years ago, a man died for us. A few days later he rose from the dead. All of this was to tell us: God will stick up for us. God will provide for us. God justifies us. His purposes for us will not fail. God loves us. God’s love is loyal, generous, just and eternal. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, this is his love for you today. If you are not, then come to him today — to the one whose purposes and love are truly unbreakable.