Am I Enough 3
Passage: Romans 8:1–8:39
The past two weeks we have been grappling with a question that can often consume us, can cut us to our core: am I enough? This question strikes us, quite literally, as a deeply personal one. It gets us in our gut, its sparked in the part of our mind that we can’t seem to get control over. But I want to suggest this morning that this question while being deeply personal is also deeply theological.
I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown recently. And not just because we are having a Daring Greatly book club [insert date here]. And not just as a resource for these sermons. But because so much of her writing resonated with my own hopes and fears, yearnings and anxieties. We currently have a small group that’s working through her book The Gifts of Imperfectionwithin the context of our sermon series and in that book she talks about what she calls Wholehearted living. This book came about as a response to her research on shame. She saw the power and impact shame had on us, how it takes root, and how we respond to it. And she said, what about the resilient? What about people who are able to overcome shame? She calls those people the Wholehearted. And she says that what the Wholehearted have in common is they have a deep sense, they holdfast to, they know deep down that they are worthy. Worthy of love. Worthy of good things. That in themselves, they are enough.
As a pastor what I would want to suggest is that these people, the Wholehearted didn’t come to this idea on their own. Their feelings of self-love and self-worth aren’t based in some sort of self-confidence. Some belief in the worthiness of their unique humanity. Instead what I’d suggest is that this understanding of being worthy, worthy of love and good things and flourishing, their belief in their enoughness is a deeply theological belief. That it’s rooted in the work and action of God in the world. That God’s got something to do with it.
I think when we ask ourselves the question am I enough part of what we are asking is am I worthy? Am I worthy of love? Later on in this series we’re going to look at this from a particular point of view, am I worthy of love from a particular person. But today I want us to look at this question generally. Am I, in general, worthy of love? Am I lovable? Because I think those are two categorically different questions. Oftentimes we think if we can find that one person who will love us then it proves the we are in general lovable, but I submit that if we don’t think we’re worthy of love in general than we’ll never fully receive the love from a particular person. And so today let’s take up the general question am I worthy of love? And really, deep down, what I think that means is am I worthy of God’s love?
Brene Brown talks about the Wholehearted having an innate sense of worth. But as a pastor I don’t think that comes from inner strength. I tend to think it comes from something God imputes and imparts to us. Even if we might not acknowledge it is being imputed and imparted from God. But for now, for today, I want us to look at this question as having its root, its source, in where we stand before God. And to do that I want to walk through the eighth chapter of Romans.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans was his greatest theological achievement. It is, I believe, the only letter he wrote to a church he’d never visited. He wrote it in advance of his visit, but this is a letter where he isn’t talking directly into a particular church context because he had no knowledge of the church context. In fact, in Paul’s day Rome was the wider world, Rome was the whole world. So in writing a Letter to the Romans he’s writing to everyone everywhere. And indeed this is his magnum opus, his systematic theology. And in some respects chapter 8 cuts to the core of everything, for the people reading this letter in the Roman church and to those of us living in 2019 hustling to try and prove our worth to others.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Alright so there’s a lot in here. I told you this was Paul’s magnum theological opus. And let’s face it; he’s even wordier than I am. But this is what he’s talking about. Earlier in the letter he’s talked about how all of us sin and fall short. He says that Israelites were given the law to reveal their inability to live up to God’s standard of righteousness. And those of us that aren’t Israelites, well we have our own ways of revealing we don’t live up to par. And over and over again Paul keeps talking about the law and how it enslaves. Because we get so caught up in trying to live up to the law. We get so caught up in trying to meet this impossible standard. And he resumes a lot of those themes here. He obliquely mentions his prior argument that the law cannot save, its powerless to save us, and connects living by the law to living in the flesh. But let me break that down a bit.
Many of us gathered here today in 2019 are not kept up at night worrying about our ability to live up to every detail of Leviticus. There are people in 2019 who are concerned with that, but I don’t think any of us in this room are those people. But that isn’t just what Paul meant when he talked about law. Which is why, I think, he interchanges law and flesh in this chapter.
For Israelites, adherence to the law was the way you could save yourself. It’s the way you could justify yourself. It’s the way you could feel worthy, the way you could feel enough. Torah doesn’t serve that purpose for us, but other things do. There’s something, there’s some thing you could do that would justify you. That would make you feel worthy. That would make you good. There’s some obsession you have that you think if I were just a good “this” you’d be worthy of your existence. And if you could meet that bar all the worry, all the anxiety would be gone. We all have our version of the law.
And that’s what I think Paul means by living according to the flesh. Living according to our own ability to save ourselves. Our own ability to justify ourselves. Our own ability to make ourselves feel worthy. And what Paul is saying here is that we can’t do it, we can’t make ourselves feel lovable, we can’t make ourselves feel worthy, deep down we’ll never be assured of our own goodness so long as we are relying on our own version of the law to give us that salvation.
But Paul isn’t saying salvation is impossible. Paul isn’t saying we can’t ever feel worthy, good, lovable, enough. Paul is just saying we can’t get there by our own means.
Instead, God sent Jesus to die our death. God sent Jesus to die to our sin. God sent Jesus to fulfill the law and die, showing the law’s powerlessness. The law can’t save us. But God raised Jesus Christ from the dead as another sign to us: a sign that God has the power to save us.
Then Paul starts talking about all this living by the Spirit and not by the flesh and dying to the flesh and being raised in the Spirit. And here’s what that means for us: we have to put down our own version of the law. We have to put down whatever measuring stick that you think makes you worthy, makes you lovable. Because it won’t ever do what you want it to do. And when you put that down, when you stop trying to fill yourself up with something that won’t satisfy, that’s where you’ll experience the gift God has been longing to give you, the gift God sent Jesus into the world to give to us all. Love. Those who die to the flesh, says Paul, those who put down the thing they think will save them, will hear God call them child and will respond calling God “papa”.
But that’s not where Paul ends because it’s not where our experience ends. Paul continues:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but 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. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 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 through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 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. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
I love this section of Romans 8. I mean there’s a lot of groaning going on, but I love what Paul is getting at here. Because in the first section he makes it seem so simple. Just stop living according to the flesh and start living by the Spirit, just put down the thing you think will save you and embrace God’s offer of salvation and it’ll all be great. Except it’s not always. There’s stuff that needs to be worked out. There are times we don’t feel that love. There are times when we want to pick back up that thing we thought would save us. Because faith is tough. Living by the Spirit is tough. Believing in God’s love is tough. Because it’s all out of our control. And when life gets messy we want that control. Because control is clean. Faith is messy.
So there’s this groaning. Because we are caught in this middle place between trying to save ourselves and believing that God will save us. Or put another way we are caught in this middle place between believing we are lovable, believing we are worthy and also trying to prove our worth, trying to prove we should be or are loved. And that dissonance causes us to groan.
But here’s the truth. Here’s the Gospel truth. It’s how Paul finishes the chapter. It’s what comes after all the groaning.
What, then, shall we say in response 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, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 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. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For 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.
Nothing. Nothing. Not one thing. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. That’s the Gospel. That’s the truth. For those of us who don’t know if we are worthy of love. For those of us who strive daily to prove our own worth. For those of us who think if we are a good parent, a good spouse, a good child, good at my job, then we will be worthy, then we will be lovable, then we will be loved, then we will be enough, THIS IS OUR GOSPEL. When we aren’t a good parent, when we aren’t a good spouse, when we aren’t a good child, when we fail at our jobs, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. There isn’t anything we can do to prove our love. There isn’t anything we can do to lose that love. There’s nothing. Nothing separates us from God’s love. We are loved. Whether we like it or not. Whether we can explain it or understand it or not. Whether we feel it or not. We are loved by God in Jesus Christ. Always. Forever. No strings attached.
So I started today with an assertion. That our own striving to prove our own worthiness, our aversion to being vulnerable, our belief that if we don’t measure up in some way that we aren’t lovable, was deeply theological. And here’s what I mean by that. If you knew deep down that you were loved, what difference would that make for your life? If you knew deep down that you were worthy, what difference would that make for your life? If God is and God loves you, what difference would that make for your life?
Or put another way, where are you in Romans 8? I see three distinct movements in Romans 8. There’s Paul trying to tell people to put down their measuring stick and know God loves them. There’s Paul talking about the groans of living in between knowing God loves us and having that fully realized. And there’s Paul talking about nothing separating us from God’s love. Where are you?
Me, I’m in the groans. I know God loves me. But more often than not I still want to pick up one of my measuring sticks. But here’s the deal, when I’m able to remember God loves me I’m free to do healthy things not because I think they’ll make me worthy of love, but because I think they’re best for me. And that difference, right now, is all the difference. There are still times I work out my anxieties around being lovable. But there are some times I live in light of God’s unconditional love for me. I like the latter.
So where are you in Romans 8?
Wherever you are, I invite you to come to the table today. Because in communion we are reminded of God in Jesus Christ’s unconditional love for us. Freely offered. No matter where we are. God loves you. And that love is made present to us in communion.
Because in communion we remember that God in Jesus Christ gave himself up for us. When our love failed, God’s love remained steadfast. God’s steadfast love led Jesus to the cross. On the night in which he gave himself up for us…