Summary: An expository sermon on Romans 8:31-39 touching on Pauls meaning of the Greek word nikao, "overcoming"

“Where Shoe Companies Get Their Names” by Matthew Everhard. An expository sermon from Romans 8:31-39 originally delivered at Hudson Presbyterian Church on April 3rd, 2005

What do you think is the most misleading commercial on television today? You’ve heard of truth in advertising… Who do you think are the most flagrant violators of that policy? Maybe it’s the weight loss pills. You know they have these totally fake “before and after” pictures where on the left the person is sticking out their belly, they look like they just woke up from a hibernation, and the studio ran out of light bulbs that day. And on the right is the same face, but with makeup, a great hairdo superimposed on some supermodel’s body. Is that misleading? Or maybe it’s the fake spray-on hair. Do you remember that stuff? Some company actually tried to sell you a can of spray paint for your head! Listen, if you’re really going that bald, you don’t need a can of insta-hair, you need a razor alright?

I’ll tell you what I think though. I think the most misleading commercials on TV are the shoe commercials. Does that surprise you? Think about it. They take the most celebrated athletes in sports. They add slow motion effects. They’ve got sweat dripping down from their faces. They’re dunking the ball, they’re running the streets faster than cars, they’re smacking the baseball out of the yard. And they’re gonna tell me that Lebron James can’t score 56 points in one game unless he’s wearing the right sneakers? Are you seriously expecting me to believe that if Lebron accidentally laced up a $30 pair of Wal-Mart’s instead of his $150 pair he couldn’t even get rim?

But listen I’ve got to hand it to Nike: at least they picked a biblical name. Did you know that Nike ripped their name right out of Romans chapter 8? I am absolutely not kidding. “Nike” is taken from the Greek verb Nikao which means “I conquer.” Did you know that? And that is exactly what they’re promising you. “If you buy our shoes, you too will be able to conquer on the court or in the field or in the world.”

And that promise of victory, the ability to overcome, the desire to conquer is so alluring isn’t it? That’s probably because most of us are far more familiar with defeat than we are with victory. Think about it: 80% of small businesses fail within one year. Most people have suffered some sort of relationship break up. Probably a bunch of us here have been fired from a job at some time or another. We’ve all bombed a test or a paper in school even though the grading scales are juiced up to make us feel good about ourselves. We’ve all had a project or a program at work that just didn’t succeed like we hoped it would.

But life can cut deeper still can’t it? Chances are most of us will suffer from a serious medical illness someday. We will all suffer the grief and misery of the loss of someone we care deeply about. And then there is the enemy of death itself: The ultimate loss that no one can overcome, right? In almost 2000 years since Paul wrote Romans no one, not even one person has been able to stay alive indefinitely.

So how can Paul look us right in the eyes and tell us in verse 37 that in “all things we are more than conquerors”? There’s that Nike word again in the original language! That whole phrase “we are more than conquers” is actually just one word in Greek. It’s a compound word with two parts: uper (from where we get our word super) and nikao (from where we get the name Nike). Paul is in essence saying: In all things, we are like super-champions, super-winners, super-conquerers! Do you believe that? How does Paul get off saying that? Is that truth in advertising? Let’s go back to verse 35 and see if we can find out.

Paul started this whole section out with a rhetorical question in verse 35: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” In other words, is it theoretically possible for a believer to fall from grace? That’s sort of an important question to think about isn’t it? If you and I are going to follow Jesus Christ with our lives, I want to know if this is the sort of relationship that is going to last. Can I trust Jesus to stay with me, even when things get rough and I mess up? And so Paul scratches out a good old-fashioned list. He lists seven things that would scare even the most faithful Christians out of their socks: Can hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? You know, we could take the time to define all of these things. We could say that hardship is the general word for all kinds of earthly sufferings, and that distress means the inner-turmoil of the troubled soul, that persecution means specifically suffering for bearing the Name of Christ. But I think we get the idea. Paul knew what suffering was by experience and so do most of us. Paul had been imprisoned, beaten, hated, shipwrecked, snake bitten, back stabbed… I bet you too could make a list of your own sufferings seven layers deep.

But let’s get back to the question at hand. Can any one (or anything) separate us from the love of Christ? According to Scripture, the answer is a resounding “no!” You see, hardship and distress and persecution may cause you to lose your focus on God, but brother, He will never ease up on His love for you! You might forget Him for five years, you might stop praying, stop seeking His throne, stop searching for answers in the Scriptures: But all the while, God has never stopped whispering your name. He never stops thinking about you. He never stops adoring His children. Trouble can roadblock your lane heading north in the devotional life, but it cannot “orange barrel” the indescribable love of Almighty God heading south to His children!

Listen, if anybody knew about famine and nakedness and peril and the sword, it was God’s people Israel. Israel knew suffering more than any other people on the face of the planet. But if you want to hear a story of an absolutely relentless, unswerving, unstoppable love—read the accounts of God’s faithfulness to Israel in the Old Testament. That’s why Paul quotes the Psalms in verse 36, Israel’s prayer book! For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered. If you ever want to break up a party just start reading Psalm 44 out loud. Man, that’s the most depressing Psalm I’ve ever read! Because sometimes suffering just doesn’t make any sense at all! You can try to dissect suffering, and analyze it and ask all kinds of “why is this happening to me” questions, and you will never understand it.

I’ll tell you what: But do you know how Psalm 44 ends? Two words: unfailing love. In the end, God’s love is as relentless as the cycles of the sun. It always perseveres, always persists, it shows up every day no matter how many clouds are in the sky to obscure it. Even stars burn out over millions of years, but God’s love is endless. You see, God’s unstoppable love is the single most powerful force in the universe and the very reason why Paul can state with absolute integrity: “No! In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!”

In Christ, we can say “I don’t care what you do to me, you can lock me up, you can put me under the thumb screws, you can rip our my eyelashes one by one, you can remove my feeding tube and make me starve to death, but Nobody, Nothing, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And that is a statement of ultimate, conquering victory.

And yet so many Christians walk around defeated and depleted. Some of us are like spiritual Charlie Browns. We’ve had the football yanked out from under us so many time’s we’ve stopped believing that victory is not only possible, but already won! At least Charlie Brown never gave up though. “Well I’ve tried praying before and I couldn’t do it then, so I guess I’ll just quit.” Or “I’ve tried reading the Bible, but I just can’t.” And that includes victory over the kinds of sins that have defeated us for months or years. Does the Bible say “In some things we are more than conquerors” No! “In all things…”

And listen, this is just so clear in the book of Romans, but the victory does not come through us or through our own ability: No, verse 37, We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (emphasis mine). One of the things I love about the Olympics are the medal ceremonies. I could watch the National Anthems over and over, couldn’t you? The picture I see when I imagine this is Christ standing on the victor’s podium and pulling us up by the hand to stand on the podium with Him. You ever see a boxer pull his little daughter into the ring with him after he’s won? He is willing to share the honor, He share’s the spoils of the victory. We’re in the arms of the champion, and now He invites us to live out the celebration tour of His victory.

And then Paul makes this most beautiful statement in verses 38 and 39 (I hope you’ll take a moment to read it again with me). He says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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.”

Do you know what troubles me about this passage? It’s not that it’s difficult to understand. It’s not that Paul is ambiguous or confusing. It’s not even that it’s offensive like some Christian teaching is perceived to be. The problem is that so many people, good people, good Christians even—don’t believe it.

There are literally thousands of Christians out there, maybe you are one of them, that still worry that they aren’t going to be saved. They’ve confessed their sins a thousand times over, they have believed that Jesus died for them, they have truly accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord, and yet they feel that because they are so defeated by sin and guilt, that Christ will ultimately overlook them on Judgment Day.

I know you’re not supposed to disagree with anyone about anything in this politically correct world, but I have to beg to differ with our Weslyan brothers and sisters in Christ on this: Nobody who has truly been saved, can ever be lost again. Paul said “I am convinced!”

You know, this stuff is so important to know and understand that at youth group on Sunday nights, I literally make our youth stand up and repeat this verse by heart, week after week. If you’ve never visited youth group before and you haven’t seen this, you should. But I physically line the youth up and we quote this verse by heart. If you’ve got a youth in your family, you challenge them on this: they know this passage!

Why do I do that? Because I want our young people to believe with all of their hearts that God’s love will never fail them, and it will never fail you either! In other words, like Paul I want them to be convinced of this assurance! When Christ saves us from sin and death, it’s not a temporary conditional thing.

No ruler, no power, cannot rip you away from Christ! And believe me they’ve tried. Just ask 2000 years of Christian martyrs. They’re still trying in China and North Korea and Sudan. Neither can anything or anyone in this life! There has not been an angel or a demon created that is strong enough to tear you out of Christ’s hands! Neither height nor depth (that’s the Greek concept of fate itself) has any power to pry open even one of His fingers. And as if that weren’t enough, Paul says, “nor can anything else in all creation!”

But some people object, “Yes, but the passage doesn’t say anything about the believer himself! What if he sins his way out of grace? What if he falls away from Christ by doubting?” Well excuse me but I think that has already been covered under the category of “anything else in all creation!”

So can we be certainly certain about our salvation? Assuredly sure? Paul says not even the cold silent moment of death itself, when your heart stops beating and your lungs take in your last breath, and your soul separates from your body-- not even death itself will separate us from the love of Christ. Charles Spurgeon said, “Christ loved you when He died, He will love you when you die too.”

Scientists may be able to split an atom apart, but nothing: not Satan, not 10,000 demons, not Michael the archangel strong and holy as he is, can split you apart from Your Savior. Nothing that you’ve done in your past, nothing that you might accidentally do in the future, not a nuclear blast, not Godzilla, not King Kong… do I need to keep going?

Paul says, “I am convinced of this!” Are you? You should be. Because now “We are more than conquers through him who loved us.