In Step with the Spirit w/ Gavin Henderson
Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.
The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.
Anthony: Hello friends, and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and trinitarian view.
I’m your host, Anthony Mullins, and it brings me joy to welcome our guest, Gavin Henderson. Gavin is the superintendent of churches and pastors in Europe for Grace Communion International. He lives in Great Britain with his wife, Sinead, and their three children, Nova, Digby, and Brogan.
Gavin, thank you for being with us. Welcome to the podcast, and since this is your first time joining us, we’d love to know a little bit about you, your story, and how you’re participating with the Lord these days.
[00:01:17] Gavin: Thank you, Anthony. It’s a real joy to join you on the podcast here. I’ve been working for Grace Communion International for a while now in Europe. And it’s a real joy to work with a number of small groups and churches that have across region.
And it’s such a joy to wake up each day and to know that you can participate in ministry. That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges, but it’s a real joy to have that purpose and sense of direction in my life. And I’ve been a Christian for what seems like most of my life. But certainly, when I first felt the call to ministry quite a while ago now, it took me by surprise, and it’s such a joy to be involved in Christian ministry. And it’s a joy to be able to be a part of this podcast, so thanks, Anthony.
[00:02:10] Anthony: Oh, it’s my pleasure. I’m so glad you could join us.
And so, let’s do it. We’re here to talk about the scripture passages from the lectionary, and we have five pericopes this month.
Matthew 10:40-42, “Welcome Me”
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, “Real Rest”
Romans 8:1-1, “In Step With the Spirit”
Romans 8:12-25, “Adoption”
Romans 8:26-39, “God is For Us”
Let me read the first pericope of the month. It’s Matthew 10:40 – 42. I’ll be reading from the New Revised Standard Version.
It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 8 in Ordinary Time, which falls on July 2.
40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous, 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Gavin, two words stand out to me in this passage: welcome and reward. They show up repeatedly, and I imagine it’s easy to reduce our teaching down “to do this, and you will receive that,” sort of a quid pro quo religion, right? What should we make of the relationality of these two words and actions?
[00:03:56] Gavin: Yeah, certainly when we read this passage of Scripture, those are two other words that really stand out. And it is easy to adopt that mindset or to take that approach when we’re seeking to preach on this passage of Scripture.
One of the things I would say, that welcome is, of course, a response. Whenever we think of welcome, it’s not that we’re initiating but rather we’re responding to something that has already happened. And in the case of the examples we see in this scripture, of course, you have the prophet who’s turning up. You have the righteous person who has arrived. And so, the welcoming there is a response.
But I think if you look at the context of this scripture as a whole, and preceding passage in Matthew 10, one of the things that really strikes you is that Jesus has been sending out his disciples. And so, this passage, when we understand it within the context of a sending out of the disciples is really encouragement for those of us who participate in sharing the good news. Because whenever we go out into the world to share the good news, I think it’s normal to have a fear about how people will receive us, how people will respond. And really what Jesus is saying in this passage is he’s encouraging us about how much God values our work and what we are doing in this.
It is really demonstrating the love that God has for his disciples. If you were to welcome a prophet, in the name of a prophet and you gave him welcome, then prophet’s reward is, he would share his insight. He would share what he came to say. Likewise, if a righteous person turns up and you welcome a righteous person, a righteous person will obviously respond positively to your welcome and you’ll receive a reward.
And so, the same is true when we go out to share the gospel message—that those who respond to the gospel message, God recognizes how they treat the disciples who go out and share the good news. And this is encouraging for us.
But I think this is really the kind focus of this passage and redefines how we think about welcome and reward. Because really this is encouraging us that when we go out and share the good news God blesses those who welcome the good news. We can take encouragement from that fact as we go out and share the gospel.
[00:06:42] Anthony: Yeah, I appreciate that perspective because it frames reward in terms of the here and now.
We talk about living in the inaugurated kingdom of God, the already, but not yet. And sometimes we can think of reward as the not yet. That’s something to come. But Jesus says that when we welcome someone, we welcome him. And isn’t that the reward in the here and now, that we experience something of Christ’s presence?
Jesus referred to little ones and I’ve heard a lot of sermons that sometimes make me a little cringed when I hear who those little ones actually are. What say you and what is a Christ-like response to Jesus’ words?
[00:07:25] Gavin: I think the word “little one,” certainly if you read in the commentaries, you can see a lot of debate about who is being referred to.
And I think in many ways, it’s referring to those who are sometimes held in the least estimation by society. I think sadly, sometimes it’s even talking about those held in the least estimation by the church. Sadly, even in the church, there are people who aren’t always valued in the way that they should.
And I think this passage challenges us in how we look at others and how we respond to others in their faith. It’s not a judgment on people’s faith. Quite the contrary. I think what it’s doing is it’s challenging us in how we respond to people—even the people that aren’t held in high estimation by others around them.
And one of the things that’s a kind of standout is I think—John Calvin, when he was speaking on this verse in his commentary, he talks about how if you actually think about what is said in this verse: whoever gives even a cup of cold water. Really a cup of cold water is the very kind of “meanest office of kindness”—that’s how Calvin refers to it—that you can offer to somebody. You’re not even boiling the water to make a cup of tea. You’re not cooking anything, really. You’re just giving them the very basics that they need.
But even if those very basics are given, God doesn’t forget even the smallest of kindness that are shown to what would seemingly be, by society and others, as the very least of his disciples. And so really this is, I think, quite encouraging for us because I think for many of us, when we engage, we don’t necessarily feel that we are these bastions of the faith that go out there.
Often, we find and have a personal view of ourselves that’s a lot more modest as Christians. And this verse is just encouraging us that God doesn’t overlook even the smallest of kindnesses that is done to those who are his disciples, those who choose to follow Jesus Christ.
I think there’s a number of challenges for us, a number of ways that it encourages us to have a Christ-like response to Jesus’ word, but really it makes us consider our views of other people, how we view them, and how we respond to them as well.
[00:10:11] Anthony: That’s well said. And I think one of the things that’s helped me as I reflect on this particular scripture through the years is to recognize that sometimes I’m the little one.
It is a joy to give the basics, as you said Calvin referred, to someone in need, but sometimes I’m the one in need. And I think that gives us a perspective of humility, even as we go out to serve others. Thank you for that.
Let’s move on to our next passage of the month. It’s Matthew 11:16 – 19 and 25 – 30. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 9 in Ordinary Time, which is July 9. Gavin, would you read it for us please?
[00:10:52] Gavin: Yes, sure.
19 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18 “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
[00:12:08] Anthony: Gavin, if you were preaching this pericope to your congregation, what would be your focus?
[00:12:15] Gavin: I think there are different sections of this passage that you can focus on, but there’s a section at the beginning that really resonates with me. And certainly, part of the reason it resonates is because I really like the language that’s used. But also, because initially, I struggled when I read this passage to understand exactly how it fitted in with the rest of the scriptures.
It’s in verse 17 when Jesus said, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance. We wailed and you did not mourn.” This passage of scripture reminds me a lot of my experience with my children.
I have three children who are all under 10. And inevitably what happens is the children—they enjoy imaginative play. And so, all three of them are playing together, and then sooner or later one of them will get upset because the others aren’t letting them play the game that they want to play. So, whatever the imaginary game is at the time, one of them will come through and say, the other is not playing it right.
And this is really what is being talked about in this passage. And I think it really brings something of value that we can use when we’re preaching. Because for children often, we want to play the game that we want to play, and if others aren’t playing it the way we want we get upset with them.
We want to be in control. We want to have a say about what others do. And this is the context of what Jesus is saying that the children are sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “We played the flute, and you did not play along. You did not dance.”
And if we think of the larger context of what is being said here, Jesus is in a section where he’s been speaking about John the Baptist. And in verse 18 when he talks about how John the Baptist came and he didn’t eat, and he didn’t drink. And yet the response people said he was a demon. And then you have Jesus who comes, and he does eat, and he does drink, and they say he’s a glutton and a drunkard.
And it’s basically, I think a really valuable thing that we can learn about the expectations that we have when it comes to religion, when it comes to church, when it comes to so many of the things. These people came up with reasons and excuses about why they could disregard what John the Baptist said and what Jesus said, even though those reasons were contradictory. They wanted to be able to control the game, so to speak. They wanted to have control of the narrative.
And I think we can really reflect on this verse and think, how do we respond to the gospel message of Jesus Christ? Do we look for reasons to reject what Jesus says? Do we look for reasons when we read a verse, and think, ah, yes, brother, that verse, that section of that verse doesn’t apply to me because of this or because of that? Or do we instead come with hearts that really desire to take scripture and apply it to our lives?
Do we try and learn everything that we can from a passage of scripture and see how we can apply it in a practical sense to our lives even if—or even maybe particularly, if what is said in scripture perhaps causes us some difficulty? If we find it difficult, the words that Jesus is speaking to us, those are really the times I think when we need to pay the most attention. We can’t just try and define Christianity, the religion, that we want.
Instead, we always need to go back to what Jesus actually says. We need to be receptive to the gospel message as opposed to trying to define what the gospel message says and then get the Bible to fit in with what we believe.
[00:16:17] Anthony: You mentioned how we look at Scripture. Obviously, we’re coming to find out who God is revealed in Jesus Christ, but also, what is this saying to me? What’s the response in the power of the Spirit?
Thinking of that practical application right now, Gavin, there’s quite a few people in my life who feel weary, heavy. And Jesus said in this passage, come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. The world is weary, is it not?
And it seems like the world is crying out for real rest. Tell us about it.
[00:17:04] Gavin: Absolutely. I think as we look around society today both in the UK and the US, wherever you are in the world, I think life is difficult and I think many of us do feel that we are carrying burdens that are beyond us in many ways.
And this is such a beautiful passage of scripture because so many of us are crying out for rest. But I think one of the beautiful things that Jesus is saying in this passage is when it comes to our own lives so often it’s a struggle to do what we think is right.
We carry all these burdens that often we place upon us or others place on us. And what Jesus is saying is we can rely on him; we can trust in him.
I’m really into food. I enjoy cooking. I enjoy eating and I enjoy reading cookbooks and watching programs on cookery. And in some ways this verse reminds me of something that you find in high-end restaurants. So many high-end restaurants have what they call a test kitchen. And one of the beauties of a test kitchen is you can go out and there’s no pressure on you. But instead, there’s freedom to try without the fear of failure that is so common in society today.
If you work in a restaurant, the reality is you have to follow a recipe every day, and you have to make sure that the people who are eating get the very best of what you can do. But the reality is that’s very trying. It’s all this pressure and this burden on you to try and get everything right.
In a test kitchen, instead that pressure is removed. And instead, there’s freedom to try and create the best food that you can possibly create without the same fear of failure. And often you have the guidance of an experienced master chef who helps you to understand what you are doing.
And in some ways, this is what this verse really speaks to me about. That Jesus is saying that we can take away the pressure of trying to get everything right ourselves. But instead, what we can do is just bring everything to Jesus, and he takes the pressure from us. And we have the freedom to be the people that God designed us to be. And he is there, we are yoked to him. But he’s guiding us so that we can really respond to him and what he’s doing to be the very best of ourselves.
It is really taking away the pressure of trying to get everything right through our own strength. Instead, it’s relying on Jesus Christ’s strength and following where he is leading us. And in following where he’s leading us, we have true freedom. We’re able to really try and be righteous without the fear of failure, without that kind of restriction that is the reality that we face in this world. And I think this is a freedom that the world needs. But it’s also a rest.
It’s a rest from relying on our own righteousness, our own works, and instead trusting and relying on Jesus Christ.
[00:20:42] Anthony: Amen. One thing I didn’t expect to happen during that conversation was for me to get hungry. So, what time do I come over for dinner, Gavin, now that I know what your passion is? That’s good to know.
Let’s move on to our next passage of the month. It’s Romans 8:1-11. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 10 in Ordinary Time, which is July the 16th.
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed, it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
If God the Father didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn people, I’m guessing he’s not sending us as his ambassadors to condemn people. Tell us why “no condemnation” is ridiculously good news.
[00:22:49] Gavin: It really is, Anthony. It really is such ridiculously good news. And the reality of sin is that we would all be condemned. And so often we have a kind of narrow view of sin or misunderstand sin in many ways. Because sin isn’t just a problem that we have as individuals, but we live in a world that’s corrupted by sin.
And sin isn’t the problem, the full sense of the problem, in that when we try and live an ethical life, it’s not just the bad column we have, but we are called to do good works. And when we miss opportunities to do good works, then that creates a challenge for us as well.
But the whole concept of no condemnation is really moving to a completely different system, and it’s the system of grace. And it’s really this whole transformation in the way that we understand the world. It’s moving from looking where everything condemns us to life, to grace, to understanding that the world works in a different way.
And I think really to understand that it’s to understand who God is and how he can do this for us. Because so much of the way that the world works even today is an eye for an eye. This idea that when you make a mistake, you need to be punished, you need to be condemned for that mistake.
And part of the problem that we have as human beings is some of the mistakes we make, we just don’t have the power within us to restore. But of course, God does have the power to restore any mistake that we make. If somebody loses their eye, that’s beyond our power to do something about. But it’s not beyond God’s power.
God has the ability to restore things in a way that’s beyond what we can. And this is really how we move into that different system, that system of grace. And it’s why no condemnation is such good news, because it’s transformational to those who understand that they are not condemned.
And this is why, when you talked about this, Jesus isn’t sending us out into the world to condemn others because the reality is he’s taking us out of this system of condemnation completely. He’s moving us into this system of grace, and so we’re not sent out to condemn people.
Instead, we are sent out to show grace to people. It’s a completely different way of looking at life that we see. And this is what Paul was talking about in this passage. He’s talking about a different way of living that we have been given in Jesus Christ, how we now have the Spirit of life as opposed to the law of sin and death.
And of course, life comes from God. God is the one who gives us life. And this is why it’s such ridiculously good news, as you put it, no condemnation in Jesus Christ.
[00:26:17] Anthony: It is a different kind of system, isn’t it? We see in Father, Son, and Spirit, a restorative justice, not a retributive one.
And we do want people to pay, like you mentioned, and that even in the Psalms some of the cries to God is when are you going to smite these people that are after me? But thanks be to God that he does restore.
Help us to exegete verses 5-8. How do we rightly talk about living according to the Spirit? How do we know if we’re doing it?
[00:26:52] Gavin: As Christians we read passages like this in Romans 8, and obviously we want to be living according to the Spirit. And it can be sometimes challenging when we read Paul’s words, to understand how to put them in context in our lives.
And I think it’s important to understand a couple of things as we look through versus 5-9. As we look at these, this section of scripture, one of the things that I think we need to be clear on is Paul is not really contrasting the physical with the spiritual.
That’s not the contrast he’s talking about when he is talking about flesh. He’s talking about our sinful nature in many ways. It’s not saying that our physical bodies are the problem and that our spirit is not. That’s not the contrast, but rather it’s really reflecting how we choose to live our lives, what we choose to have as our focus and as our priorities.
And this is what he’s talking about when he’s encouraging us in this section and in many ways, I think, really what he’s describing in these verses is repentance. What he’s describing is a turning away from the ways of our previous life, the ways of our previous sinful nature, and a turning to God, to embracing what God is doing in our lives, what God is doing in the world, what we are choosing to focus upon.
There’s that beautiful hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”
And this is really what Paul is talking about here for us to no longer dwell on the previous things in our life. But instead to focus on the things of the Spirit, to set our minds on the things of the Spirit.
It’s important that we understand the now and not yet of this verse. Because sometimes as Christians we can struggle with that because both elements are clearly there. And Paul here is talking in this sense, we can’t take this as a now. The reality is that we do still struggle with sin. We still struggle with our sinful nature, and Paul isn’t ignoring the fact that we struggle with our sinful nature. But rather he’s encouraging us to also reflect on the not yet, reflect that there is going to be a time when sin is behind us.
And what we need to do now is to have this repentance, to have this turning towards God, turning towards the things of God, turning towards the things of the Spirit. And this is what he’s talking about in this passage. It’s repentance at its very heart.
When we talk about living according to the Spirit, it’s talking about a turning to God. It’s a talking about our priorities and choosing how we affect our priorities. And it’s really interesting that in the scientific world, there’s increasing evidence that what we choose to focus on actually affects the wiring of our brain itself. And here Paul in many ways was well ahead of the science, in this sense, in telling us that if we focus on the right things, if we focus on the work of the Spirit, then we will see the change that we want as Christians. We’ll see a life of repentance take place.
[00:30:47] Anthony: You made me think of a quote I read from Leslie Negan that we are shaped by what we attend to, and I think that’s what you were speaking to.
Let’s transition to the next passage, which is Romans 8:12-25. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 11 in Ordinary Time, which is July the 23rd.
Gavin, do us the honors, please.
12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our Spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God, 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its enslavement to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor, 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what one already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
[00:32:56] Anthony: The doctrine of justification gets quite a bit of attention in the commentaries on Romans and quite justifiably—pun intended. Hallelujah. Praise God that we are justified. But it seems to me little appears to be said about the doctrine of adoption. Why is our adoption as God’s children instrumental to our understanding of the gospel and our relationship with the triune God?
[00:33:25] Gavin: Thanks, Anthony. I think that’s a good point, and the way I like to view this is the doctrine of justification helps us understand what we are being saved from. But the doctrine of adoption helps us to understand what we are being saved for. Different sides of the same coin, so to speak.
But I think it is really important for us to understand that we have been saved for a purpose. And when we understand what that purpose is, it’s really exciting. And this is what the doctrine of adoption is about. And this is what Paul is talking about in this passage is that we are able to cry Abba Father because of what Jesus Christ has done.
It’s helpful to understand a little bit about the Roman system of adoption that was in place at the time of Paul’s writing because it can help us understand a little bit about the significance of adoption. Because in Roman culture, adoption was something that did take place and often it would be adults who would be adopted. It wasn’t normally children who were adopted, but rather adults.
So, you would have a wealthy person, or a person of power and they would adopt somebody to become their heirs. And often there would be some reason why that adoption was taking place. But this was a legal process that was recognized in the Roman world. Adults did become adopted and then become rightful heirs, in some cases, even above the blood family of the person involved.
And there were many famous examples of that. And while it was primarily men and adults, it wasn’t universally. So, there are cases of women being adopted and children being adopted as well. But it wasn’t adoption in the way that we often think of adoption in the modern sense, which is what we see in the world around us.
But I think one of the reasons it’s so significant here is, again, if we think of how this changes our relationship, but what is actually being said. When we understand the doctrine of adoption, when we understand what Paul is saying in this verse, is that we are children of God in Christ. We are heirs of God. We are joint heirs with Christ.
And when we understand who Jesus Christ is, that he is the Son of the Father, that he is the second person in the Trinity. It really is beyond our wildest imagination that we have been included in that relationship. We have been included in what Jesus Christ has in his relationship with the Father.
That we are his children to the point that we can cry out Abba Father. We can cry out to our Father in the most intimate terms. And when we do Paul describes that as the Holy Spirit in us bearing witness to the fact that we are children of God. And this is the purpose for which we were saved.
We weren’t just saved and then left to our own devices. No, we were saved so that we could be God’s children. We were saved so that we could be adopted and be coheirs with Christ. And that’s such a beautiful concept, but it also gives us this hope for the future when we understand that we haven’t just been saved from our sins.
As incredible as that fact is, in fact, God goes even further, and he includes us into his family. He makes us his children and that we are coheirs with Jesus Christ.
[00:37:57] Anthony: There’s a lot of groaning going on in this passage, Gavin. Help us to apprehend what Paul is writing for us in the latter half of the pericope.
[00:37:58] Gavin: There is quite a lot of groaning, and when you read through this, it is one of those words that stands out. I think verse 22 is a really helpful one for us to understand what Paul was talking about when he is talking about the groaning, because he says, we know that the whole of creation has been groaning together as it suffers together, the pains of labor.
And as we think about that, you think of a pregnant woman who is in incredible pain through much of the periods of labor, and they will be groaning and yelling out. But it’s a kind of preparation for what is to come and the joy of the child that is about to be born.
And I think it helps us to understand that what Paul is talking about in the groaning is there is a part of ourselves, there’s a part of creation all around us, that is longing for this time when sin will be no more, is longing for this time when everything will come to that fullness that has been promised to us in Jesus Christ.
I really think it’s talking about the longing that we have in us for a time when there will be no more sin, a time when we will have the new earth and the new heaven that Paul talks about elsewhere in Scripture. So, when he’s talking about the groaning in this passage it’s groaning in the sense of anticipation, but it’s also a recognition at this moment that the world that we live in is not the way that it should be. It is a world that is marred by pain, is marred by sin, but that the pain and the sin of this world is not the final word. Instead, it is something we are going through, the pain of labor we have as we look forward to that time when we will have the redemption of our bodies, as Paul puts it, while we wait for adoption.
So, it focuses us. Yes, we recognize the problems in the world around us, but it also clearly paints the picture of the hope that we have in the future. And that is the hope that we look for, that we wait for with patience.
[00:40:20] Anthony: Yeah, that’s a good word—that pain doesn’t get the final word. We know that Jesus Christ is the inerrant and infallible living Word of God, and he has the final word.
But it also gets me thinking, Gavin, how it would reframe pain that we experience on this side of the veil of heaven, to understand it as labor pain. That there is something more to come, new life that we will experience in its fullness.
Our final passage of the month is Romans 8:26 – 39. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 12 in Ordinary Time, which is July the 30.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 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 within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.
It’s probably unfair to only have a few moments, Gavin, to discuss this amazing passage. It’s a challenge to even know where to begin. So where would you like to begin, Gavin?
[00:43:21] Gavin: This is such a beautiful passage of Scripture. I mean, really this is. As you reflect on those words, you can almost get lost in them because this is Paul at his very best, I think, in this section in Scripture.
But if we go back to the start of our passage here, I think really what he’s saying is so encouraging for us as Christians, as disciples, as followers of Jesus Christ that we aren’t doing this alone. In everything that we do, God is with us. The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
And I think particularly for a lot of new believers this is a passage that is really helpful for them to understand that God isn’t asking them to rely on their own strength. And even when it comes to something which is as fundamental for Christians as praying, God helps us with our prayers. And sometimes for new believers, it can be really challenging when you are praying with other believers.
Some believers really have a gift for prayer, and when they pray, it is so uplifting and encouraging. And as a new believer, you can struggle because sometimes your prayer life is still developing. Sometimes you might even find it difficult to know where to begin in prayer. But what this verse is saying is just start.
Because the truth is the Spirit helps us. Often when we pray, our prayers are very selfish. They’re focused often on our immediate needs. And sometimes they go a little bit beyond that. But the reality is that every time we pray, the Holy Spirit is interceding with us and transforming our prayers as they’re presented to God.
And God knows our hearts. He knows the mind of the Spirit, and he knows what we need. And this is the God we worship. This is the God we praise. This is the God who loves us, that even when it comes to prayer, he is at work for us. He is helping us. And so, it means that we should never hesitate.
In our prayers we have nothing to fear about praying to God or that we make mistakes in our prayer, because inevitably we will sometimes say the wrong thing or sometimes, we don’t even know what to say. Sometimes we are confronted with difficult scenarios, and we don’t even know the right thing to pray for.
I’ve been [with] people who are very unwell and are at the point where it’s not clear what their future should be. What is the best thing for them at that stage in their life? And sometimes we just don’t even know what to pray in those circumstances. But the good news is the Holy Spirit is with us.
We don’t do anything by ourselves. God is with us. He is for us. And this is what this passage is saying.
Again, if we go back to that “now and not yet” concept, here God is saying his plans for us is more than we might think. He predestined every one of us to be conformed to the image of his Son. He predestined every one of us to be like Jesus and that’s an incredible thought! We can think in our own lives, how are we ever going to be remotely like Jesus? And yet here we’re told the Spirit helps us in our weakness, helps us to be conformed to the image of his Son, the image of Jesus Christ.
This is really encouraging news. And that’s certainly where I would begin on this passage because I think this is something that people new in the faith really need to hear and to understand that they do not engage in discipleship alone. God is with them at every stage through the process.
[00:47:46] Anthony: Yeah. I’ve often asked if the Holy Spirit is interceding on our behalf and Jesus is also interceding on our behalf at the right hand of the Father, which this passage points to, why bother to pray? If they are praying for us and they know the will of the Father.
But it’s relational, right? Just like with your own three children, Gavin, you probably have a pretty good idea of what their school life looks like, but you still want to know, to hear them talk about their experiences because it’s relational.
And I think that’s part of what conforms us to the image of the Son. In our time of just relating with God, in the Spirit, as they intercede on our behalf, that we come to know something of the mind of Christ, and we are formed by it. Hallelujah. Praise God.
I’m hard pressed to think of a better way to end our time together than worshiping the God who says nothing can separate us.
And I think he really means nothing, as he goes through this litany of list here from the apostle Paul. So, herald, this good news for us, Gavin.
[00:48:54] Gavin: Yeah, so this is just such a beautiful section of Scripture here—to think that there’s just nothing that can separate us from the love of God.
It’s such a powerful concept because the reality is that so often in our lives, we do feel separated. We do feel isolated from others. If you look around society today, loneliness is such a problem. People feel alone. People feel unloved. And you can see this throughout societies and in different cultures and different places around the world.
And yet the good news is nobody is unloved. God’s love for us is so much greater than we can imagine. His love was so great that he gave his own son Jesus Christ, so that all of us can have life, so that all of us can share in the inheritance that Jesus Christ has. This is the good news that we are called to.
The reality is that if we go through periods where we do feel separated, we need to return to this scripture. We need to remember the promise we have: there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ.
And then Paul goes on to really highlight that it’s absolutely nothing. Death itself cannot separate us from the love of God. So, nobody who has died is separated from the love of God. Nothing we can face in life can separate us from the love of God. There are no beings or powers out there that can separate us from God’s love. There’s no heights, no depth.
There’s nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And so really this should be our identity as Christians. This should be the foundation that we rest upon—that we are loved by God with the love that we as humans will spend the rest of our lives slowly beginning to understand more and more of.
I don’t think there’ll ever be a stage where we as human beings fully understand the fullness of God’s love. But we will spend the rest of our lives, the rest of our rest of eternity, learning more and more the love that God has for us, the love that has been displayed for us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
[00:51:30] Anthony: Hallelujah. That is some really good news.
I want to thank you, Gavin, for joining us here on Gospel Reverb. It’s been a blessing to have this conversation around something we’re both passionate about, and that is the written word of our Lord.
And I want to remind our listeners, Christ has descended deeper than any abyss you might find yourself falling into. He has likewise ascended higher than all things, and now carries with him his humanity in the presence of our Father. Therefore, Paul can say, if God is for us who can be against us? Hallelujah.
I want to thank Reuel Enerio, our podcast producer, who does such a great job, and also Elizabeth Mullins, my wife. I like her exceptionally, and she also does the transcription.
Gavin, your words are going to be remembered for a long time to come. Thank you for them. As is our tradition here on the podcast, we like to end in prayer. Gavin, would you please pray for us?
[00:52:34] Gavin: Sure.
Heavenly Father, what a joy it is to be able to spend time in Scripture to reflect on the words that you have given us, Lord. Words that testify to your Son, Jesus Christ, that testified to what Jesus Christ has done for us. And as we have looked at these words, Lord, one of the things that is so striking is the love that you have for us. Father, words don’t begin to describe that love.
We find ourselves struggling at the very limits of language as we try and articulate how great the love that you have for us is, Lord. But Father, we praise you. We thank you for what you have done for us in Jesus Christ. And Father, I pray for everybody who’s listening to this podcast, that you’ll inspire them, that you’ll encourage them, that you’ll help them to hear your words to them.
Lord, as they listen to this podcast, that you’ll encourage them to go out and to reclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for us, that he has saved us from our sins. We no longer have to try and work out our own salvation. We no longer have to try and work out our own righteousness, but instead we just rest and trust in Jesus.
And through Jesus, we have been saved for a purpose. And that purpose is life with you, Lord. And Father, we thank you for the hope that you have given us. We thank you that as difficult as this world may be, as difficult as the challenges that we face on a daily basis in our lives, that we know we have an eternal future that is secure in Jesus Christ.
Father, we ask that you help us to rest in that good news, to rest in that hope. And Father, let us turn our eyes squarely on your Son, Jesus Christ. Let us joyfully move towards him in every way that we possibly can.
Father, I just pray for everybody listening to this and I pray for your church. I pray for the body of Christ that you’ll encourage that. And we just pray for that time when you will return to this world in glory and the whole earth will finally understand who you are. Lord, that is our longing, that is what we hope for.
And so, we just give all praise to you, and I thank you for everybody involved in this podcast who has helped it happen as well, Lord. Just thank you, Lord. And I say this in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.
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