A new academic year, a very odd context. The effects of the pandemic continue to be seen around us as we continually adapt to new restrictions. It's now normal to say ‘social distancing’, ‘isolating’ and ‘the rule of six’. Yet, for all of the talk about this ‘new normal’, it doesn’t feel very normal.
But for Christians, we’ve already experienced one ‘new normal’ that has changed everything. These four devotions in Romans 8 are a chance for us to draw near to God - we're praying that these thoughts on His Word and the work of His Spirit will encourage us in these times.
You can read Romans 8 here.
Confession time! During lockdown I got into The Great British Sewing Bee (one of the contestants lives in the same town as me!). The show is full of imaginative challenges and each week there is a ‘transformation challenge’ – the sewers are given surprising materials and have to transform them into something exciting. It sounds simple, right? Well, it turns out that God loves a ‘transformation challenge’ too – that’s what the Apostle Paul teaches in the first verses of Romans 8. Before we became Christians, we lived in the realm of ‘the flesh’ – we turned away from God, turned against one another, and turned in on ourselves. Paul isn’t telling us this to make us wallow. No! We’re to sing with joy because, as Christians, things are different now; we’ve been radically transformed. Through faith in Jesus we’re united to Him, we’ve been forgiven and we receive God’s Spirit, who brings life and liberty. What does this mean? Everything is different now! We ‘do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ (v4). ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (v1). We’re united to Christ, our full, complete and sufficient Saviour and we have the Holy Spirit. God’s glorious, creative, liberating Spirit has been poured into our hearts. We are at peace with Him. Transforming junk into stunning outfits is impressive. Transforming people ‘in the flesh’ into people ‘in the Spirit’ is even more impressive! These are strange times, aren’t they? But whatever uncertainty we face, here is the reality: ‘Thanks be to God, who delivers [us] through Jesus Christ our Lord’! (Romans 7:25).
I’ve been joking with friends recently that during our next church meeting we should play covid-bingo… points for every time we hear: ‘taking things online’ or ‘uncertain times’ or ‘new normal’. Whether it’s having to constantly adapt to changing restrictions, being thrown by people in films (from the 80’s) standing too close to each other or suddenly not being able to see anyone but your housemates for two weeks… for all of the talk about this ‘new normal’, well it doesn’t feel very normal. But for Christians, we’ve already experienced one new normal that has changed everything. Life had meant walking around in the realm of the flesh…orphans, strangers and with death coursing through our veins. No hope, only wishful thinking. No life, only funerals. Nowhere to take our biggest fears, our most painful disappointments or our loneliest tears. Then the Spirit of God changed everything. Did you see that in this passage? The Spirit of God changes everything. The Christian’s new normal is: to belong to Christ, to live free from fear, to be children of our Heavenly Father, to have our Father’s ear, to have his welcome, to have assurance, to have a future, an eternal inheritance. Where once death coursed through our veins, now we have life, resurrection life, the Spirit’s power, filling our souls. So, which new normal is dominating your life right now? The pandemic? Or the knowledge that that the Spirit of God has made you a child of our Father in Heaven? With the Spirit living with us: we have somewhere to take our fears. We have someone to go to when we face uncertainty about the future and experience brokenness in our bodies and the world. We have assurance that the Father welcomes us, despite our failings. This 2020 new normal is hard to take. But the new normal for the Christian, of everyday life lived by the Spirit, even in these strange times, is life-changingly wonderful.
I wonder what word you would choose to describe your life as you look back on the first few weeks of term. Along with the words like excited, tired, energised; maybe you would use words like stressed, isolated, overwhelmed. Even in the best moments, there is always a downside. That’s why I find what Paul says here wonderfully realistic. The word he uses to sum up what life is like is ‘groaning’ (v23). He speaks about the creation around us groaning. Creation isn’t what it once was; it’s not what it will be one day. It’s in a state of ‘frustration’ (v20), longing for more, eagerly expecting a glorious future (v19). We experience signs of this groaning all around us and the Covid pandemic shows this in undeniable ways. But we’re also groaning: ‘…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies’ (v23). We have God’s Spirit within us as a little taste of the reality of what will come. But we groan because we eagerly long for God’s rescue; when He will claim us as His children forever by redeeming our bodies; giving us resurrection bodies like our older brother Jesus. Things are tough at the moment, aren’t they? It’s okay to groan about life here and now – we know from this passage that life is not all that it should be. But we also know that there is more to come. One day, Jesus will come back – and things will be as they should be. What a glorious truth to cling onto in these times – let’s encourage one another to fix our eyes on Him.
As soon as we start reading these glorious verses, we are met with a glorious truth: ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’. How comforting is this verse? Especially in the current climate, we can know that God is for us. We get to stand in the shadow of our Father, standing in the protection of God who reigns on high. This is a wonderful encouragement. But there’s more! As well as being protected by the Father, Christians reading this today can have utter assurance that they are justified and secured in Christ, and that they will not face condemnation by anyone. Verse 34 is a great encouragement to all Christians: Christ Jesus died for our sins, paying the price so that we could be forgiven and redeemed. He rose again after death, confirming that the price was paid in full! We see a wonderful Saviour. And we also see that He is ‘interceding for us’ – Jesus sits at the right hand of His Father, our advocate in Heaven. These amazing truths are weapons against Satan. We read them again and again, utterly astonished at what Christ has done for us, secure that no judgement will come our way. And these truths help us today. Even in suffering and hardship, nothing will separate from the love of Christ. Literally nothing on earth: not Covid, not persecution, not even death can separate us from the love of God, which is supremely shown in Jesus. Let’s live in light of this glorious truth today!
These four blogs were written by members of the UCCF Midlands Team: Jim Murkett, Helen Taylor and Esther Court. You can find out more about them and their work here.
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