The long-anticipated movie, Suicide Squad, releases in theaters tomorrow. In books, TV shows, and movies, all the plots follow a similar pattern: the juxtaposition between good and evil with the good forces eventually triumphing over the evil villains. Rarely do we see a movie where the villains win. Suicide Squad is unique in that these villains will be fighting for an apparent good, whatever the plot reveals that may be. Let us always remember, however, that unless they are reformed, villains will always be what they are: villains. You can never trust a villain, but you can always trust a villain’s self-interest.
As Christians, we are simul justus et peccator—simultaneously saint and sinner, and we wrestle with this tension. We are justified as saints through Christ while we still struggle with sin, but as saints we are not condemned to sin because we have been made friends of God. Before coming to Christ, Scripture speaks of us as enemies of God. However, as believers, we are no longer His enemies. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10). Paul writes it another way: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” (Colossians 1:21-22).
Before we receive faith in Christ, we are enemies of God. As His enemies, we are hostile to Him and are concerned with the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Think of unbelievers; they are hostile to the very idea of God. Whether this hostility is aggressive or passive-aggressive, it does not matter; the hostility remains. The works of the flesh they consider good or neutral rather than what God’s Word says it is: evil, wicked, and villainous.
One might say, “But you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person and have good morals.” This is false thinking, for not a single person is good, even though they have the ability to do what appears to us as good works (Mark 10:18; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10). Someone may see no difference between the unbeliever who gives to charity and the Christian who also gives, but the difference that lies in their good works is faith. Faith produces good works, not the other way around. Although it appears an unbeliever does good works, it ultimately counts for nothing because they lack faith. It is difficult to acknowledge this, but this is how Scripture speaks on their “good works” (Proverbs 21:4, 27; 15:26; Hebrews 11:6). There is no hope for one who is an enemy of God, unless that person receives faith in Christ.
In Romans 5:10, Paul writes to the Christian Romans that they were enemies of God; the past tense is the key here. They’re no longer enemies of God because Christ reconciled them to God. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). The word “reconcile” means “to restore friendly relations.”
While we were enemies of God, Christ restored our relationship with God! That relationship was broken at the Fall, and God sent His Son to reconcile us. Now, we become friends of God through Christ. Scripture speaks of us as being friends of God. John the Baptizer said, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29). Scripture often likens Jesus to being the bridegroom and His Church to being the bride. Not only are we His bride, but we are also His friends.
James puts it another way: “…and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God” (James 2:23). Not only is James quoting from Genesis 15:6, but he is also confirming what Paul said in Romans. The hub of the epistle to the Romans is justification by faith. Here’s just one of the excerpts Paul said concerning justification:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works… No unbelief made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:1-6, 20-25.)
Paul reiterates himself a lot in his epistles when he says righteousness is counted to us by faith and not by works, most notably in Ephesians 2:8-9. What Paul is saying in the above passage is this: If we can justify ourselves by our works, then we have something to boast about. That is, something to boast about before men, not God. We would be able to say, “It was I who did all the work! I get all the credit!” It is not a gift, but something he is owed because of all the work he did to get there. Instead, justification is a gift because God gives it to us by simply believing in Him and what He says—that He sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins and raised Him from the dead, who declares us righteous before God for His sake alone. I don’t think the Paulian epistles could be more palpable about justification by faith. The faith Abraham had, which saved him, is the same faith we have in Christ today. When Abraham had his faith in God, he was called a friend of God. And so today, through our faith in Christ, we become friends of God as well.
Besides, Jesus Himself calls us His friends! “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you” (John 15:15-16). A person does not know what his enemy is doing. As our Friend, Jesus has told us all we need to know about our Father in Heaven. We have no ability to “choose” or “accept” Him apart from His grace; rather, He chose us, and as our Friend He sends us out into the world to carry the fruit of the Spirit wherever we go.
We are no longer villains. We are now victors through Christ! Actually, we are more than that. Paul said, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). To be a conqueror is to be victorious over an enemy. But Paul says we are “more than conquerors.” What could possibly be greater than a conqueror? “More than conquerors” is one word in the Greek, ὑπερνικώμεν (hupernikōmen), which is an inflected form of ὑπερνικάω (hupernikáo), which means, “to win overwhelmingly.” The word ὑπέρ (hupér) with its subsequent genitive noun means “beyond,” and νικάω (nikáo) means “to conquer.” This is why we get the most common English translation “beyond conquerors” or “more than conquerors.” Its true meaning, however, is “to win overwhelmingly.” Let’s put this into the verse then, shall we? “In all these things we win overwhelmingly through Him who loved us.” So, because of Christ, we have not just victory, but an overwhelming victory.
What does an overwhelming victory look like? A simple victory might look something like this: as general, your army is in the middle of battle. Victory is unsure, and at times it looks like your army is winning, while at other times it appears your enemy is winning. You can never be sure of whom victory belongs to until one force eventually outnumbers the other. Then, as you look over the horizon, you see your soldiers raising the banner as they begin to cheer in victory. Finally, even when victory has seemed uncertain, you’re victorious, but not without significant losses. Simple victory is always bittersweet. You have won, but not without having made significant sacrifices.
An overwhelming victory looks like this: you send your men out to battle and all of a sudden all your enemies fall dead without your soldiers having done a single thing. That is the victory we have in Christ. Throughout our journey in the faith, there may be times when we give in to sin, but that all comes to naught when Christ returns. We haven’t done anything to earn salvation, and we don’t ever need to do anything to earn it because Jesus Christ has earned it for us. He did all the work, He fought all our battles, and He won the war for us. Therefore, we have overwhelming victory in Christ because He destroyed sin and the Devil without us ever having to do anything. All we have to do is believe God and who Jesus Christ is, and this faith is counted to us as righteousness, moving from a state of being enemies to being friends of God. At the 2016 LCMS National Convention, Reverend Daniel Preus eloquently described this overwhelming victory we have in Christ:
One day I will stand before the judgment seat of God and my Savior Jesus is going to confess me before the Father. He is going to point to me and say, “Father, this is one of Your children. I died for him. I washed his sin away. I now confess him before You. Receive him into the kingdom which You prepared for him.” And the Father will say, “Come. I cannot refuse him whom My Son confesses. So, come, enter the place My Son has prepared for you. Come, receive your inheritance.” This is what you and I look forward to as the Last Day approaches.
Reverend Preus is illustrating the justification we have in Christ—our overwhelming victory. As friends of God, He sees us covered in the justifying blood of the Lamb and welcomes us into the kingdom as if we never sinned. Through Christ, we are overwhelmingly victorious over sin and the Devil. Though we war against the flesh, our spiritual enemies fall before Christ at the foot of the cross, for Christ dealt the striking blow against sin and the Devil by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. We who believe this, our faith is counted to us as righteousness before God, and Christ no longer calls us His enemies, but His friends.
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