Sermon: Conforming to His Likeness

Romans 8:26-39

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth and He called it all good. On the sixth day He made man in His image and He said that it was very good.

We skip forward two chapters and we have a mess. The man and woman have rebelled against God and they are cast out of the Garden. It is no longer very good. Its not even good – its a disaster.

Throughout the history which began that day, God was trying to restore man to the “very good” place again. Its been a struggle between man’s rebellious nature and God’s infinite grace. This is the story of the Bible. Those who point to the angry God of the Bible do not understand His grace. They do not understand the struggle of His enduring love. Through boats and battles, judges, prophets and kings God has tested His patience against the rebellious freewill of man.

Man has to choose to love God. Love must be a free choice or it is not love at all. And that love must be without boundaries, without cost, without compromise. Eventually, because He loved the world so much, God sent His Son into the world so that everyone who believes in Him (loves Him of his own freewill) would not perish but would have everlasting life – a life of sublime contentment in the amazing love of God which begins now and will last for eternity.

God knows us and He has a plan for us. His purpose has been since before time began – it was something He predestined, or, if we want to avoid all the difficult connotations of that word .. it was something He predetermined, way back on Day 6 of creation.

All our destinies are predetermined – God’s clear intention is that we be conformed to the likeness of His Son. (8:29) And that at the end, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

But this process of conformation is quite difficult, which is the reason for Paul’s letter to the Romans. He is trying to explain God’s intention, how we fit into that intention, why we are too weak to do it ourselves and how God has therefore, in the Holy Spirit, made it possible for us to be changed.

Our text in Romans begins …”In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”

“In the same way” as what? Good question.

We have to go back earlier in the chapter to see that Creation has been groaning as it waited to be liberated from its bondage to decay and to be brought into the glorious freedom that has been determined for the children of God.

“In the same way” the Spirit intercedes for us with groans which words cannot express and we ourselves groan inwardly as we await our adoption as sons and our own liberation from bondage.

Its a struggle of monumental proportions, but God is on our side.

He wants us to be conformed into the image of His Son. He wants us to be “very good” again. Jesus is our model and our teacher. He does not condemn us in the struggle. Indeed, He helps us against the struggles we face – trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and the sword.

And as Paul says to us, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus loved to teach by means of parables. The point of the parables was to tell an oblique story; a story which could only be properly understood by those who had ears to hear. There had to be a desire to comprehend and to respond.

The response required was repentance – a turning away from the rebellious or sinful nature and a turning towards God’s intention for us. Repentance is much more than simply managing our sin. It is an acceptance of the fact that we have rebelled against God’s purpose and it is a re-submission of ourselves into the purpose of God – that we have been created to be God’s friends and the stewards of His creation. It is submitting ourselves to God so that we can be conformed into the likeness of His Son, by the Spirit who helps and intercedes for us.

 

Now the parables of Jesus are mostly about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is a difficult concept for us to grasp but in simple form it implies a situation in which God’s will is done.

So, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer it is “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.”

It is the coming of God’s will into our hearts and lives. It is a rejection of our former rebelliousness. It is living in the whole love of God.

In our text in Matthew we have five parables which tell us three things about how God’s Kingdom comes.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

First, in the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Yeast, we see that this Kingdom is constantly growing. The smallest seed becomes the largest tree in the garden. A small amount of yeast works all the way through the dough.

Through the Law and the Prophets and finally in Jesus, the seed has been planted; the yeast is in the dough.

It might not seem like much is happening when we look around the world today but the Kingdom is growing. You don’t see the seed growing, or the yeast working its way through the dough but if you look away and then look back you see that something has happened. God is at work, He is bringing His Kingdom into being. Slowly and steadily His will is being done on the earth as it is in heaven.

Your heart and mine have been changed and are continually changing. We are salt and light in the world and planting seeds and yeast in other peoples hearts.

Second, in the Parable of the Treasure hidden in the Field and the Parable of the Pearl we see the challenge of our response to this coming Kingdom.

A man finds treasure in the field and he goes away and sells everything he has in order to buy that field.

A merchant is looking for fine pearls. When he finds one of great value he sells everything he has and buys that pearl.

The treasure and the pearl represent the kingdom – which, according to the simplified definition which I gave earlier is the coming of God’s will into our hearts and lives. It is God’s will prevailing on the earth. It is us being conformed into the likeness of Christ.

Selling everything you have represents the rejection of your former rebelliousness in order to live in the whole love of God. It is worth everything you have ever held dear.

I could preach 50 000 sermons on this subject and they would all say the same thing – by the wrong choices we make, by the negative attitudes we have, by our sins and our sinful nature, we keep ourselves from the whole will of God. We keep ourselves in the disaster zone; no longer “very good”. We subvert the process of allowing God to transform us into the likeness of His Son by the intervention of the Holy Spirit.

The challenge for those who choose to follow God is how much we are prepared to change, how much we are prepared to step away from in order for the transforming Spirit to be at work in our lives and this is the point of the last parable in this sequence.

In the Parable of the Net, the net is let down into the lake and it catches all kinds of fish. The fishermen collect the good fish into baskets and throw the bad away. It is a parable about the judgement – not about the judgement of sin but about those who have allowed themselves to be conformed into the likeness of God’s Son and those who have not. At the heart of this judgement is our submission to compromise.

As we saw in the earlier two parables, submission to the Kingdom is worth everything you have. We cannot serve both God and Mammon – you will end up loving one and rejecting the other.

The decision to love God must be with all your heart and mind and spirit – only then can He transform you into the likeness of His Son.

At the end of time – when all is said and done, the extent to which you have submitted yourself will determine whether you are classed among the wicked or the righteous. And whichever choice you have made – its all or nothing – every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of the Kingdom.

He will reign in righteousness. He will be Lord of All and those who have “sold” out on everything else will find themselves fully in the Presence of God in all His glory.

And because faith brings the future into the present – this can be a reality even today.

Let He who has ears, hear what the Spirit says to the Church!

 

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