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“How Can We Understand?”

Romans 8
Bob DeGray
June 22, 2009

Key Sentence

God himself has spoken so that we can deal with David’s death.


I. We understand it in light of God’s rescue plan (Romans 1:16-18)
II. We understand it in light of the two natures of believers (Romans 8:5-6)
III. We understand it in light of God’s promises


Before I begin let me introduce myself. My name is Bob DeGray. I’m the pastor of Trinity Fellowship, which David’s family helped to start 17 years ago. I’ve known them longer, since shortly after David was born. My second oldest daughter, Abigail, is married to the second oldest of David’s brothers, Tim.

For those reasons and because I’m an early bird, it was me that Doug called Tuesday when this happened. I drove Doug and Joanna to Galveston. I’ve been with the family a lot since then. So believe me I’m not just a pastor doing a service. I’m processing this like many of you are.

The question I’ve been asking myself all week is “How can this happen” How can this young man whom you’ve heard about, who in many ways was so admirable, how can we understand something as crushing in his life as suicide, especially a suicide as horrible as this? How do we cope or deal with David dying this way?

Now, I’ve watched David’s family turn, time after time, individually and in group settings to the Bible, I’ve seen that God has responded as we’ve turned to the Scripture, that he’s given us truths to cling to even in this awful circumstance. And what I want to to you say is that I believe God himself has spoken so that we can deal, honestly, with David’s death.

We can begin to deal with David’s death by thinking about it in light of God’s rescue plan. God has already revealed his solution to people’s most urgent need. The Apostle Paul writes about this in his letter to the Romans, and most of what I want to say is taken from that letter, and from Romans 8 that Tim just read.. In the first chapter he says

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

You see the Gospel is good news about God’s rescue plan. We can’t get a handle on what happened last week without understanding that good news. Paul says he’s not ashamed of this simple message because it reveals God’s power to rescue everyone who believes.

But rescue them from what? In the very next verse of Romans, chapter 1, verse 18, Paul begins to explain “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” The problem – and David understood this as he talked to people - is that men and women sin. All of us have rebelled against God’s rule, against his right as creator to tell us what to do.

Now you’ve heard over and over again that Dave was a creator: he created music, he created art. And I’m pretty sure he felt he had the right to tell his music what to do. I know he could get very frustrated if a piece of music didn’t behave the way he wanted it to, and he was inclined to throw it away, or never listen to it again. In the same way God as creator has the right to tell you and me how to behave. And because he loves us he has told us ways to behave that are for our good.

But you and I, have wanted to assert our own independence, defy these rules that are for our good. We shake our fists at God and walk off to do what we want rather than what he wants. The Bible calls that sin. In fact, after a very careful development of this idea Paul says in chapter 3 of this letter “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There are no exceptions to this.

And God therefore has the right to throw us away, to never listen to us again, like a piece of music that didn’t behave. In fact our sin naturally creates this separation, just as in music a dissonance naturally creates a separation in the chord. The Bible says ‘your sins have separated you from your God and hidden his face from you.’

You yourself know how that works in your relationships: when you lie or deceive or put someone off, it separates you from that person who supposed to be your friend.

And Paul, after several more pages of development says ‘the wages of sin,’ what you earn by sinning, ‘is death.’ Death is eternal separation from God. So that’s not good news: that’s the bad news. The good news is that despite this sin, this separation, this rebellion against the creator, God still loves us with an incredible love. He doesn’t want to be distant from you. He wants relationship with you. But he’s got to do something about this sin that separates. So he sent his son Jesus to bridge the gap between himself and his loved ones.

Jesus comes and lives a perfect life. Jesus comes and loves a perfect love. Jesus comes and shows what it looks like to be in perfect harmony with the Father. Jesus comes and sinners love him – he heals and draws people to himself. Jesus comes and sinners hate him. He reveals the poverty of their souls. And finally, hate wins; Jesus is ruthlessly destroyed and grotesquely murdered.

But in that death Jesus pays the price of our separation. He doesn’t die for his own sins; he joins us in separation from the Father, in punishment and death so that having paid the price of our sins he can rise to restore us to the God who loves us. Paul says “God demonstrates his own love for us in this – while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s the good news. Jesus died, Jesus rose again to give us new life, eternal life, to bring us to God, to cleanse us from sin and to make us right in God’s eyes, to give us God’s Holy Spirit to live in us, to comfort us and to guide us.

And the even better news is that having died to pay the price of our sin, he does not ask us to fix ourselves before we come to him. We can’t do it; he doesn’t ask it. All he asks is that we recognize the wrong road our sins have placed us on, the separation they’ve created between us and God, Having recognized that, he asks us to give up on ourselves and utterly depend on him for rescue.

The Bible calls that dependence faith, and we already heard Paul make it the big idea of the good news he’s been sharing with the people of Rome: “the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a right standing with God that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

That’s the foundation. This is the starting point for any understanding of Dave’s death. There is a God. Each of us has separated ourselves from him. Jesus died and rose again to forgive our sins and restore us to God. You’ve heard over and over in the past few minutes that Dave had believed, and taken hold of this as a child and in very many ways he lived that out, he lived in light of that truth without significant reservation or compromise well through his lifetime.

Now it is also true that then he began to walk away. But you’ve heard his friends say that even those who knew Dave more recently had probably heard echoes of this truth in his words and in his music. In fact, the night before he died Dave affirmed to his father that he still believed this truth, and that he wanted to be walking with God. But by that time the voices of evil were so loud in his ears that he wouldn’t turn back.

Nonetheless, if Dave were here today he’d say, as he said to his girlfriend Lara not many months ago, that this good news from the Bible is the truth. He’d say that you, here, today, need to recognize your need of Jesus; your sin and rebellion; God’s love and rescue that is offered to you freely, not based on your performance or your goodness, but based really on your sinfulness and need. Jesus asks you to turn and cling to him for rescue. That’s foundational.

And if you’ve never trusted Jesus to rescue you from sin, today may be the best day of your life because today, despite the sorrow, you have the opportunity to find forgiveness and new life by faith in Jesus alone. I want to urge you, if that rescue is calling you, talk to one of the people around here who know is a believer, confirm what I’m saying from their mouths, and respond to God’s call to faith.

But doesn’t the fact that Dave had believed make his death all the more confusing? I think it does. If he was rescued and given this new life by Jesus, and had lived it out, why did he end up being so haunted? Why was he so far away? How could he do this to himself and to the people who loved him? How can we understand the end of his life?

I praise God that in his Word he speaks even to this question. Now I don’t think that any of us understands perfectly what went on in Dave’s life, but God in his love has told us the truth even about this.

Even for someone who has been rescued by God and who has the promise of eternal life in God’s presence, this life presents choices. Even as a believer you can choose to walk away from God’s ways, to become a rebel, to make choices that hurt yourself - and yes, they also hurt others others. Paul is very clear on this in his letter to the Romans, and I only need to read you two verses from chapter 8:

Romans 8:5-6 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

It’s been said a lot this week, and you ought to know, that when Lara brought Dave home last Monday, he was in two minds. And he was. Part of him wanted to return and walk with Jesus, to have his mind set on what God’s Spirit desired. But part of him wanted to continue living as he had been recently, according to his sinful nature, doing the things that had separated him from his Savior and were destroying him. Paul says the mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Part of Dave longed for that life and peace again, but the voices of the sinful nature, and yes, I say, the voices of Satan and his demons urged David the other direction.

This is the key to dealing with what Dave did. He’d been rescued by Jesus but wasn’t depending on him for daily living. In fact, again being honest, he tried to have it both ways, to belong to Jesus but enjoy all the counterfeit pleasures this world offers, including the drugs and the drinking, and to some extent even the music itself. You can’t have two gods; you can’t have your mind set on two things; it’s either set on what Jesus desires, and glorifying him through your life and even your music, or your mind becomes tormented by the destructions that separates you from God.

Dave was living out that that torment. In chapter 7 Paul puts it this way: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. . . . 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Dave was in two minds, and he was wretched. Those who were his recent friends saw this. And I want to say to you today, if you are a believer walking the same road David did, embracing the things that hurt you, that waste you, that destroy you, and sacrificing your allegiance to the God who loves you, then you are on a dangerous road. And I promise you, God isn’t asking you to fix yourself. He’s simply asking you again to turn toward him. The mind set on the sinful nature, that’s death; but the mind that can turn to focus on the Spirit is life and peace.

I believe Dave was trying at the end to turn himself toward God. I also believe the addictions, the compulsions, the voices had become so strong that Dave chose to follow their horrifying lies, just to try to shut them up. Don’t believe the lies. I believe Jesus offered Dave a second chance, and that Satan and his demons were terrified about what Dave might become if God’s Spirit was again at work in purity in his life. So these voices screamed for death, and Dave followed the voices.

Now if you’re a believer you might be saying ‘hey, I’m okay. I may not be living my life the way you’re living yours, but I can handle it. I can handle the drinking; it’s fun. I can handle the drugs. I like all the other things that I admit are kinda pushing God out of my life. But I’m okay!” But you know, every time you asked Dave how it was going, he’d say “I’m okay”. And he wasn’t. As a believer you can walk with God and find strength through His Holy Spirit, or as a believer you can walk away and find death in the midst of life. You can’t straddle both worlds. Dave couldn’t continue in both worlds. And God has spoken to help us understand that we can’t either.

Let me sidetrack a moment to a hard passage of Scripture that tells us what happened to Dave. In a letter to a different church, Paul is criticize them for following celebrities. But he broadens that by saying “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Dave had the foundation of faith in Jesus. Then Paul says “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.”

You’ve heard already this afternoon that Dave did build on the foundation with some really good gold, silver, some precious jewels. Many of have testified to his devotion to Christ, and how that made a difference. I know that he led one of his brothers and his sister to faith in Christ. He wrote and played music with the goal of glorifying God. He was good, he was loving, he was a compassionate friend. But he began to build on his life also with wood, and hay and straw. His addictions, his behaviors, yea I think even something of what his music became were destroying him, and hurting others.

And Paul says what you build will be tested with fire. I’m sorry for the imagery, but this is how God himself describes it: “the fire will test the quality of each man's work.” The gold, silver and precious jewels will survive, and for them David “will receive his reward.” Jesus will commend him for the things he did through the power of the Spirit. But, Paul says, these other works will be burned up and he will suffer loss. The wood, the hay, the stubble, these destructive acts of the sinful nature, they have no place in eternity.

But thank God Dave does have a place in eternity. Paul says this, and it’s really to comfort us: “he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” The pain of Dave’s death was a literal picture of what happens to believers who pursue sin. Everything not done through the Spirit is left behind; but the believer emerges into eternity purified.

This is the mercy of God, that despite the evil that Dave did to himself and his family, and despite the fact that God does not want any of us to envy his example in any way, yet the promise remains that he has been saved through those flames. God himself has spoken in His Word so that we can reconcile Dave’s choices in life and death with his faith in a faithful God. Because God has been faithful, and he has been saved.

God has spoken so we understand his rescue through believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has spoken so that we can understand the beauty that we saw in David’s life so often, of walking according to the Spirit and the danger, that we also see in David’s life, of walking according to the sinful nature. And finally, God has spoken to comfort us. The end of Romans 8 has given wonderful comfort to many of Dave’s friends, to Dave’s parents and brothers and sister, family and friends, those who are really in pain because of this loss.

God has spoken about that suffering. Romans 8, verse 18: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Paul acknowledged both the reality of present suffering and the comfort of a reality beyond the suffering.

He says all God’s creation is waiting: The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. You see even creation groans. The world isn’t the way it was designed to be. Evil is here; we can’t deny it. Evil strangles this world, and is destructive to those who pursue it.

And so as God’s children we groan too. Verse 23: Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. God has promised eternity with him. He made that promise to Dave; he makes that promise to us, that we will be adopted as his sons and daughters, that we will experience an eternity in which our bodies are made whole again and made right. It’s a promise to us as we suffer, but also a promise about David Rask; his soul is God’s his body will be renewed.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. And God’s Spirit himself comforts us. Verse 26: 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. Much of the prayer that has gone up this week has been this wordless crying out to God through the Spirit, first for David as he suffered, then for each other when David was called home.

Verse 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. Those who have staked their lives on God become convinced that nothing happens outside of God’s plan, that he is at work for our eternal good and for his eternal glory.

Verse 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He 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? God sent his Son to save us from sin – he has demonstrated his love for us in the greatest sacrifice ever made. He demonstrated his love for us in that greatest sacrifice of all. Do you think he’s going to leave us alone now, while we weep? Do you think he’s going to prove unfaithful now? No. He isn’t.

This comfort assures us, and it assures us about where Dave is now. Verse 33: Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who 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. Satan would love to see Dave condemned for what he did, but Jesus has the last word. Satan has no power to impact the eternal life Jesus has gave Dave, nor the eternal life he has given to any of us who have believed. Satan, whose very name means the accuser says, “He didn’t walk with you. He believed my lies.” And Jesus, whose very name means Savior says “He’s mine”

Those who follow my blog know I’ve been moved by this Ben Shive song “Rise Up”. The second verse captures what I’ve been feeling about God’s point of view toward this evil: “If the thief had come to plunder while the children were alone; if he ravaged every daughter and murdered every son; would not their father see this? Would not his anger burn? And will he not repay the tyrant in the day of his return.” Satan will not win. He didn’t win David; and he won’t win in the end.

So, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall this trouble this hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37No.” No. No. In all these things - in the midst of all these things at this moment - we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced,” Paul says, and we say it with him, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither 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.” Death can’t do it; Demons can’t do it; evil can’t do it: nothing can separate us from the love of God which ours in our loving Savior, Christ Jesus, our Lord, David’s Lord.

This is the comfort as we try to understand what happened. Though David was only rescued from Satan’s power through those horrifying flames, yet Jesus won. He rescued David. Nothing in all creation and in all this evil groaning fallen world can permanently separate us – those who have believed – from the love of God which we find in Christ Jesus our Lord. God has spoken these things; His word to us is true; God Himself is true - in him we find understanding and comfort and hope even in these circumstances.