Sermon on Romans 8:28-39, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost 2020 (A), "Conformed to the Firstborn"
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. As we saw also last week, Romans 8 is rich with deep theology and comfort. Some of the most amazing promises of God are found in this beloved Scripture. Let’s focus in on how God chose us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
To be “conformed” is to take on something else’s shape. In Romans 12 Paul tells us not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewal of your mind. So it’s really a question of whose shape or form are we going to take? The easy path, the natural pull of gravity is to adopt the shape or form of the world. It doesn’t take any effort to soak in the values, the morals, and the mindset of the world. We’re marinated in that environment. Self-gratification, self-service, self-interested—the shape of the world is easy to conform to—it fits our natural desires. But to be conformed to the image of Jesus, to be transformed in Him by the renewal of our mind, is to take on a whole new shape and form. To become Christlike. The call to follow after Him and walk in purity and newness of life. It’s uphill or upstream against the “force of gravity” or the current of our culture, to become Christlike. Being conformed to Christ takes resistance to the world—and purpose—as Christ transforms you. The “force of gravity” and the current of our culture washes down to the bottom level of conformity. The world will praise you and accept you for it; or at the least ignore you. But if you are being conformed to the image of Jesus, they will hate and reject you! Guaranteed you will be the devil’s target and he wants to pull you down.
Why in the world would we want the rejection and hatred of the world? Because of what God is after. First, He promises that He will work all things together for our good. God doesn’t promise this to just anyone, but to those who love God and are called for His purpose. Those conformed to His Son. God says He works all things together for good. Not just the good things, but the bad things as well! Bad stuff doesn’t keep God from working. He can work good for His children even amid horrible trials and the scars of life. Not that we’re looking for bad things to happen to us or passively let them occur—but knowing God doesn’t abandon us in the bad stuff, and it doesn’t derail His love for you or His power to turn an ugly situation into an opportunity for growth. Joseph was sold into slavery, but God raised him to save Egypt and the ancient Israelites from starvation. And more importantly Jesus’ own death on the cross is the ultimate reversal of evil to good. That’s proof enough that God can work all things together for good—even the worst stuff.
God shapes us in the image of Christ so that we can face crosses and evil in life, like Christ. With Christlike faith that God has not abandoned us; that God is still good and true. With Christlike forgiveness for those who sin against us and don’t know what they do. With Christlike compassion that looks in love on those around us and seeks to find a way to help and serve others. With Christlike strength and love to stand against those who hate us, and treat them not as enemies, but as captives to the spiritual forces of darkness, that need Christ’s rescue, as we also did. To be Christlike in this way, is to know that God will not abandon us in the darkest hour, but will sustain and strengthen us through it, as God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.
We are conformed to the image of His Son in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. Christ is firstborn from the dead, which means He won’t be the last either! Many brothers will follow! This gets the point later, that not even death can separate us from the love of Christ. God conforms us to Christ not only in our crosses, but also in being raised together with Christ! We take on His image in the resurrected body in heaven. We will be Christlike in that we have a renewed, glorified, perfect body in eternal life—the way that God meant us to be. But even here and now, in this life, as we behold Christ, we are being transformed into His image. Our newness of life is already a reflection of Christlikeness now. Little by little in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we are being molded into that reflection of Christ’s image, so we reflect His light to the world.
IMAGE. God originally made Adam and Eve in His image and likeness. They bore the imprint, the shape and form of their Creator. Perfection, holiness, fellowship with God. Unlike the animals and lower creatures, we have intelligence and a spiritual soul made to worship and know God. But Adam and Eve, our first parents, lost the image of God when they fell into sin. Traces were left behind, but the corruption of sin was and is still deep. But God is restoring the image of God in us through Christ Jesus. Imagine a coin stamped with the image of a president. But it’s been deeply gouged and damaged, so that the image is hardly recognizable. Ground into the dirt in the gutter, no one wants it. But God sees His image imprinted on us and He values us. With all our brokenness and scars, He sets about restoring our image, a loving craftsman conforming us into the image of His Son. Our life, our spirituality is rebuilt on that template of Jesus, and God makes us Christlike by renewing and restoring our image in Him.
Made in Jesus’ image, Paul says we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and that nothing can separate us from His love. Jesus is the Conqueror on the spiritual battlefield. The Victor or Champion who successfully defeated sin, death, and the devil, our spiritual enemies. Conformed to His image, we too are more than conquerors. Defeat is not part of our vocabulary! Come tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword; death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, or powers or height or depth—nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God for us in Christ Jesus! This is the benefit, the promise of God for those who love Him. We conquer and are victorious through His victory. We’re joined to His life and victory. These are some pretty monumental challenges and difficulties—that might make any ordinary person surrender and go home. But we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. Even if someone takes our life, we are with the Lord Jesus and our soul is secure and out of their reach. And the body is raised with Him in the Last Day.
Christ is the foundation for a life without fear, a life that is ready to tackle our challenges and live for Him. Ready to be a fearless witness for Jesus, Christlike in our boldness, Christlike in speaking the truth. And as we live and walk in Christ, more and more our confidence will grow as we stand against the world, resisting it’s downward pressure to conformity, and standing strong and tall, face to face with Jesus, being conformed into His image. In His peace, go with His blessing. Amen.