Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Boasting in the Gospel

Part 10 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 3:27-31




Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded (v. 27). 


Our "I" Problem

What is the humanity’s greatest problem? Our greatest problem is our “I” problem. Augustine and Martin Luther described our “I” problem as being curved inward on oneself. (This is a translation of the Latin phrase incurvatus in se.) The human heart is curved inward—away from God and others. In other words, we are by nature most devoted to ourselves. We’re always looking out for number one. We worship the almighty self.

When we get a family photo taken, our biggest concern is “How do I look?” When a friend dies, we think, “I hope I’m in the will.” When we go shopping for a new car, we think, “I wonder which car would most impress my neighbours.”

Paul writes, “All have sinned” (v. 23). Our “I” problem—being curved inward on ourselves—is the root of all sin. (By the way, notice that the middle letter of “sin” is “I.”) We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we’re sinners. We aren’t self-centered people because we think and act in self-centered ways; we think and act in self-centered ways because we’re self-centered people.

Because we’re curved inward, we are boastful people—though we try to hide our boasting. When a student gets a 95% on an exam, he wants all of his classmates to know. But he doesn’t want to be seen as bragging. So he asks his friend, “How did you do?”, hoping that his friend will ask him how he did. Then he can reveal to everyone in a “humble” that he did better than anyone else.

One of the reasons why social media thrives is because we’re boastful people. We post something on Facebook hoping people will think, “She has such a great marriage”; “He is so talented.” We fish for compliments (e.g., selfies).


Boasting Eliminated

In verse 27 the question is raised, “What then about boasting?” Paul answers, “It is excluded [i.e., eliminated].” No one should boast about being justified (i.e., declared righteous by God). Why? Because, Paul says, a person “is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (v. 28). The gospel eliminates our boasting.

How can we be filled with self-centeredness and sinful pride after reading the following words of Paul in his letter to the Philippians?
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.  
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:3-8, NIV). 
To be justified by putting our faith in Jesus means to trust in what he did (on the cross with indescribable humility), not on what we do. The hymn “Rock of Ages” says, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” Being justified has nothing to do with being better than other people; it has everything to do with God’s grace. Justification is God’s achievement, not ours. This means we can’t boast in what we did for God, but we should boast in what he did for us.

There’s only one way to be justified: Paul writes, “God is one—who will justify the circumcised [i.e., the Jews] by faith and the uncircumcised [i.e., the Gentiles] through faith” (v. 30).


Upholding the Law

Paul writes, “Do we then overthrow [i.e., nullify, NIV] the law by this faith?” (v. 31a). If we say that a person can’t be justified by obeying God’s law, are we saying that we should cast it aside (i.e., forget about it)?

Paul answers, “By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law” (v. 31b). How did Paul “uphold the law”? He upheld the law by teaching that those who have been justified by faith aren’t free to live any way they choose.

People who boast in the gospel are people who obey God’s commands. Boasting in the gospel makes us humble. Boasting in the gospel gives us a servant’s heart. Boasting in the gospel fills us with love. Boasting in the gospel gives us the attitude of Christ—who humbly served God and others out of love.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Amazing News!

Part 9 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 3:21-26




But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (vv. 21-22). 


The Heart of Romans

The book of Romans is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to Christians living in Rome. Many scholars believe that Romans 3:21-26 is the heart of the letter. Martin Luther went so far as to say that this passage is the heart of “the whole Bible.”

So far in his letter, Paul has given us a lot of bad news. “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:10). But starting in verse 21, Paul gives us the good news—the gospel of Jesus Christ.


But Now!

The verse two words of verse 21 are two of the best words in the entire Bible: “But now.” Let’s add these two words to the end of verse 20: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight [i.e., declared by God to be innocent of wrongdoing], since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now….”

This week I’ve been installing laminate flooring in our house. On the kitchen there was an extra layer of plywood on the floor, and it was nailed down every three inches! The task of removing that plywood seemed almost impossible, and it created a huge mess. But now!

Paul writes, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” (v. 21). In other words, it’s now possible to be justified—not by obedience to God’s law but “through faith in Jesus Christ.” We aren’t justified because of what we do but because what Christ has done. This is the gospel!


Not Plan B

Paul writes that the gospel has been “manifested” (i.e., made known), “although the Law and the Prophets [i.e., the OT Scriptures] bear witness to it” (v. 21). The book of Leviticus bears witness to the gospel. In Leviticus 16 God gives instructions regarding the Day of Atonement:
[The priest] shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil…, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins (vv. 15-16). 
In the Greek translation of the OT, the Hebrew word for “mercy seat” (i.e., the cover of the ark of the covenant; “atonement cover,” NIV) is translated hilasterion. This same Greek word is found in Romans 3:25 and has been translated “propitiation” (“atoning sacrifice,” NIV).

The sin offering on the Day of Atonement ritual didn’t actually take care of Israel’s sin problem, but it pointed forward to Jesus. Jesus is the priest who brings the sacrifice. His body is the sacrifice. And the cross is the mercy seat. As the priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, Jesus shed his blood on the cross.

The death of Jesus wasn’t Plan B to take care of our sin problem. We can see it foreshadowed over and over again in the OT.


Justification

In verses 22-24 Paul presents three truths about justification. First, justification is available to everyone. Justification is “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (v. 22). Is that redundant? No, Justification is “available only through faith in Christ—but it is available to anyone who has faith in Christ” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 226). Second, justification is needed by everyone. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 23). Third, justification is available because of God’s grace. We are “justified by his grace as a gift” (v. 24). It’s not earned; it’s a gift.


Are You Still Amazed by the Gospel?

Is the gospel still amazing news to you? Over time, amazing things can become boring to us. Have you heard the gospel so many times that it no longer seems amazing to you? (“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this before.”)

If we really believe what the Bible says about us and we you really believe what the Bible says about God, we should always be amazed by the gospel.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Speechless Before God

Part 8 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 3:1-20




Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God (v. 19). 


Are We Really That Bad?

As I was reading Romans 3:1-20, were you thinking, “Is the human race really that bad?” Paul, quoting the OT, writes, “None is righteous, no, not one” (v. 10). [1] Are we really that bad? 

When you were a kid, did your mom water down the Kool-Aid? Maybe there was a day when you went to your friend’s house, and his mom made Kook-Aid with the right amount of water and sugar. And then you discovered what Kool-Aid was really supposed to be. What you thought was Kool-Aid was really watered-down Kool-Aid. And I believe it’s true that what we think is righteousness is really watered-down righteousness. 


A Contradiction?

In verse 1 Paul brings up the question “What advantage has the Jew?” Paul’s answer: “Much in every way” (v. 2). He says, “To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God [i.e., the OT Scriptures]” (v. 2). Then in verse 9 Paul raises the question “Are we Jews better off?” Paul’s answer: “No, not at all” (v. 9). So Paul says that there is an “advantage” in being a Jew but the Jews are not “better off.” What does Paul mean?

Paul is saying that a Jew does have advantages in life because he’s a Jew, but on the day of judgment a Jew won’t be “better off” (i.e., God won’t show favouritism to a Jew). We could liken being born a Jew to being born into a good Christian family. There are advantages to being raised in a Christian family. But not every person raised in a Christian family is saved. And on the day of judgement, God won’t show favouritism to the person who had a Christian upbringing.


Our Addiction to Sin

Paul writes, “All [i.e., every single person], both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (v. 9). Paul isn’t merely saying that we commit sins; he’s saying we are “under sin” (i.e., under sin’s power). We are all sin addicts. Sin is disobedience to God’s commands. We disobey God’s commands when we fail to love (either God or our neighbour). We fail to love because we are by nature selfish people. Have you noticed that a toddlers like to say, “Mine!”

Even when we want to do good, we often fail to do it. Paul writes in chapter 7, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (v. 15). And even when we succeed in doing good, our good deed is tainted by a selfish motive. When you give to a charitable cause, why do you give? Paul isn’t saying everyone is as sinful as he or she could possibly be, but he is saying that nothing we do is as good as it should be. [2]


Guilty

Paul says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped [i.e., silenced], and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (v. 19).

Then Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (v. 20). To be “justified” means to be declared righteous (i.e., innocent of wrongdoing). Since we are all sin addicts, there’s no chance that any of us can be good enough to be declared righteous by God. 


Speechless

The weight of evidence against us is so great that there is nothing we can say in our defense. We are speechless before God. There is no doubt about our guilt.

But then we see the cross. We see Jesus dying on that cross. As Paul will go on to say, Jesus is the one “whom God put forward as a propitiation [atoning sacrifice] by his blood, to be received by faith” (v. 25).

I was speechless because of my guilt, but now I’m speechless because of God’s love.

____________________

[1] Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3 (vv. 10b-12); Isaiah 59:7-8a (vv. 15-17); Psalm 36:1b (v. 18).
[2] This is a paraphrase of J. I. Packer’s words in Concise Theology (p. 83).

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Justified by Works?

Part 7 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 2:12-29




It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (v. 13). 


A Contradiction?

In verse 13 Paul states, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” Does this statement contradict what Paul later says in 3:20: “by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight”? To be “justified” by God means to be declared righteous (i.e., innocent of sin).


God Shows No Partiality

In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul is claiming that all people—both Jews and Gentiles—are unrighteous (i.e., guilty of sin) and are the objects of God’s wrath (i.e., righteous anger). The average Jew would have replied, “But wait, I’m a Jew! I’m one of God’s chosen people! I have God’s law! I’ve been circumcised! God won’t condemn me!”

Why did God decide to make the Jews his chosen people? It wasn’t so God could play favourites. God chose the descendants of Abraham to fulfill a purpose: to bless the other nations. God promised Abraham, “In you all the families [i.e., nations] of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). This blessing would come through Jesus, “the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).


Justification by Faith


How can we be justified? Paul’s main point is that no one can be justified by obeying the law. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). But Paul continues, “And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (vv. 24-25). The only way we can be justified is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is the gospel!


A Changed Heart

There are two interpretations of 2:13:
  1. Paul is speaking hypothetically. If you could perfectly obey the law, then you would be justified. 
  2. Paul is referring to the works that are the result of a changed heart. This is the interpretation I favour. 
It’s the Holy Spirit who changes our hearts (v. 29). If our faith is in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit within us, who produces love (“the fruit of the Spirit is love,” Gal. 5:22). God desires not merely an outward conformity to his commands but an inward desire (motivated by love) to obey them.

No one can be justified by obeying God’s law, but no one will be justified without being a doer of the law. We also see this in the book of James. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith [i.e., mere intellectual agreement] alone” (James 2:24).

What matters most is the heart. Your heart is the real you. “The LORD God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all you heart” (Deut. 30:6).

In many ways, a first century Jew was like a modern day churchgoer. The churchgoer might argue, “God would never condemn me! I’m a member of the Baptist church! I’ve been baptized! I serve in the ministries of the church! I give!”

But are you trusting in what Jesus did for you on the cross? Do you have a changed heart? A heart of love?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How God Deals with Hypocrites

Part 6 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 2:1-11




Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things (v. 1).


Hypocrites Give Christianity a Bad Name

What kind of person is most responsible for giving Christianity a bad name? The hypocrite. How many times have you heard someone say, “Christians are nothing but hypocrites”?

Sadly, many “Christians” are hypocrites. There are many people in churches who appear to be Christians but aren’t true Christians. They don’t really love God and others. They are hypocrites, and they give Christianity a bad name. How does God deal with hypocrites? 


Is It Wrong to Judge?

Paul writes, “Therefore you [he’s now addressing Jews] have no excuse [see 1:20], O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (v. 1). What Paul says here reminds us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” 
It’s silly to think that we should go through life without making judgments between right and wrong. [1] What both Jesus and Paul are prohibiting is judging that’s hypocritical and judgmental. [2] We have a strange habit of being critical of everyone except ourselves.


God's Justice and Kindness

There are two ways in which God deals with hypocrites. First, because God is just, he won’t allow the unrepentant hypocrite to escape judgment. “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (vv. 2-3).

Second, because God is kind, he gives everyone—even the hypocrite—an opportunity to repent. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent hearts you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (vv. 4-5). But don’t assume that God’s kindness means that judgment will never come.


Judged According to Works? 

Paul says that everyone will be judged according to works: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (vv. 6-7). Does this contradict what Paul states later in Romans? For example, he says in 3:20, “By works of the law no human being will be justified [declared by God righteous, innocent of sin] in [God’s] sight.” [3]

We aren’t justified by doing good works; we are “justified by faith” (5:1). But good works are the evidence that we have been changed by the Holy Spirit after we believed the gospel. This is what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9:
By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 
“Faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). “The presence or absence of saving faith in our hearts will be disclosed by the presence or absence of good works of love in our lives.” [4] Earlier Paul mentioned “the obedience of faith” (1:5). “Faith [works] through love” (Gal. 5:6).


God Doesn't Play Favourites

The reason why Paul states that “everyone will be judged according to works” is because he’s arguing that everyone—Jew and Gentile—will be judged in the same way. A Jew won’t receive preferential treatment. The Jew in Paul’s day is similar to the churchgoer in our day. Some churchgoers think, “God will be easy on me on the day of judgment because I’m a church member, etc.” But “God shows not partiality” (v. 11). God doesn’t play favourites. “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (v. 8).

“In contrast to the Jews’ tendency to regard their election as a guarantee that they would be ‘first’ in salvation and ‘last’ in judgment, Paul insists that their priority be applied equally to both [see vv. 9-10].” [5] With greater privilege comes greater responsibility.

The churchgoing hypocrite will either repent of his sin or face the wrath of God. There is no other fate for the hypocrite.

___________________

[1] When someone says, “You shouldn’t judge,” they’re actually judging!
[2] A judgmental person lacks honest about his own sinfulness and is quick to judge others harshly. Someone like this doesn’t understand God’s grace.
[3] One interpretation is that Paul is speaking hypothetically: if you could obey the law perfectly, then you would obtain eternal life. But I don’t think this is the correct interpretation.
[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, 84.
[5] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 139.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Why Is God So Angry?

Part 5 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:24-32




Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (vv. 24-25). 


A Foolish Exchange

People have made a foolish exchange. They have exchanged the Creator for created things (v. 25), thinking that these things can make them happy. C. S. Lewis writes,
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world (Mere Christianity, 134-135). 
We were made to know God. And if we never find him, our search for happiness will end in disappointment.

God “gave them up” (vv. 24, 26, 28). He allowed them to do what they wanted to do. The result was “all manner of unrighteousness” (v. 29).


God's Anger

Verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Why is God so angry?

When we hear the word “wrath,” we often think of someone who has an anger issue (i.e., someone with a short fuse). But God doesn’t have a short fuse. In Exodus 34:6, God proclaims to Moses that he is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” God is slow to anger.

God’s wrath is his righteous anger (i.e., a right kind of anger) over all sin. God is angry only when it’s right to be angry. There are times when anger is right (i.e., appropriate, fitting) and indifference is wrong. It’s right to be angry when an evil act is committed (e.g., this week’s school shooting in Florida). We get angry because we care. “Unrighteousness” (i.e., sin, breaking God’s commands—not loving God and others) makes God angry because he cares about us. Sin hurts either us or others. 

When an evil act is committed, we also desire justice. But God gains no pleasure out of punishing people for their sin. “As I live, declares the LORD GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11). Jesus “wept over” (Luke 19:41) the city of Jerusalem and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matt. 23:37).

God will not overlook any sin, but he wants to forgive every sin. He is “patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The cross proves to us both the awfulness of sin in the eyes of God (if he could overlook sin, why did Jesus die for our sin?) and the love of God for us.


Homosexuality 

The apostle Paul singles out one sin: homosexuality. Why? Probably the phrase “contrary to nature” (v. 26) is the key to answering that question. Paul began by talking about mankind suppressing the truth about God, which is contrary to nature. Belief in God is natural (i.e., we’re hardwired to believe in God). So then Paul points out a sin (homosexuality) that is unnatural (i.e., not what God intended for mankind).

We live in a culture in which anything is acceptable between two consenting adults. But God made us male and female. And God made sex. And sex is only to be enjoyed by a man and a woman who are married to each other. (However it isn’t a sin to be attracted to the same sex.)

It’s imperative that we maintain a balance between biblical conviction and Christlike compassion. If you say to a gay person, “I love you, but I can’t accept your lifestyle,” they’ll say, “But this is who I am!” You probably won’t convince them with your words, so just show them love. 


Don't Forget About the Other Sins

Let’s not overlook the other sins mentioned in this passage. Gossip is a sin that angers God (v. 29). Instead of praying for a person’s problems, the gossiper would rather talk about their problems. Instead of saying a kind word to that person, the gossiper would rather criticize them behind their backs.

Don’t say anything negative about someone that you wouldn’t say to them. And when you hear gossip, ask the person, “Have you spoken to them about this concern you have?” God hates gossip. It hurts people, and it can destroy the unity of a church.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Foolish Trade

Part 4 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:21-23




Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (vv. 22-23). 


The Human Heart Is an Idol Factory 

The apostle Paul writes, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged [i.e., traded] the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (vv. 22-23). What he’s saying is that mankind traded God for idols. Idolatry is the worship of a God-substitute. Idolaters exchange the worship of God for the worship of a substitute.

What are the first two commandments? The first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). And the second commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exod. 20:4-5). The Ten Commandments begin by forbidding idolatry—perhaps because idolatry is the root of all other sins. 

The human heart is an idol factory. The apostle John writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). John was probably writing to Christians living near or in the city of Ephesus. [1] In Ephesus, there was both pagan idolatry and idolatry of the heart. [2] Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (see Acts 19:21-41). The worship of Artemis was pagan idolatry. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, states that a “covetous” person is “an idolater” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 3:5). Covetousness is one type of idolatry of the heart.

John Calvin writes that idolatry is “to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself.” [3] Tim Keller defines idolatry as “the making of good things into ultimate things.” [4] In his book Counterfeit Gods, Keller writes than an idol is “anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [5] Whenever there is a financial crisis, there are some people who commit suicide. Without their money, life isn’t worth living. Money is their god. Idolatry is turning a good thing (like money) into an ultimate thing.

Settling for Less 

Paul says, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (v. 22). When we turn from God to devote our lives to an idol, we are settling for less—much less. How do we settle for less?

First, when we trade God for an idol, we become less. Paul was probably thinking of Psalm 106:19-20 when he wrote verse 23: “They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” The psalmist is referring to the golden calf incident. After God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, they “made a golden calf” (Exod. 32:4) and “worshiped it” (Exod. 32:8). Tragically, the making and worship of the golden calf took place while Moses was on Mount Sinai received the Ten Commandments from God.

After the Israelites made and worshiped the golden calf, God described them as “a stiff-necked people” (Exod. 32:9; cf. 33:3, 5; 34:9; 2 Chron. 30:8; Neh. 9:16, 17, 29; Jer. 7:26; Acts 7:51). The golden calf would have been a bull (an ox?), a stiff-necked animal. The Israelites resembled their idol. [6] Psalm 115:8 says, “Those who make [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.” [7]

Humans were made to resemble God. Genesis 1:26 says that God made us “in [his] image, after [his] likeness.” In his book We Become What We Worship, G. K. Beale writes, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” [8] In Romans, the Greek word for “image” (eikon) occurs twice: “images [i.e., idols] resembling moral man and birds and animals” (1:23) and “the image of [God’s] Son” (8:29).

Second, when we trade God for an idol, we get less. When people are devoted to an idol, they are looking elsewhere for satisfaction. People who are devoted to idols say, “If only I could [fill in the blank], then I’d be satisfied.” But idols always end up disappointing us. Augustine prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” [9]

God declared, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). To the woman at the well, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:13-14).


We Are All Worshipers

Everyone is born worshiping. We all have the desire for “something more.” And we try to satisfy that desire with all sorts of things. But only God can satisfy that desire.
What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. [10]
To trade God for something else is to settle for less—much less.

___________________

[1] D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, 451.
[2] God says in Ezekiel 14:3, “These men have taken their idols into their heart” (cf. vv. 4, 7).
[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36.
[4] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 162.
[5] Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xviii.
[6] The Israelites repeatedly acted in a stiff-necked manner in the wilderness, refusing to obey God. This was especially seen when they refused to enter the promised land.
[7] See also Psalm 135:18; Isaiah 42:17-20.
[8] G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship, 16.
[9] Augustine, Confessions, Book 1.
[10] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, page unknown.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

No Excuses

Part 3 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:18-20




For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18). 


Excuses

People are very good at coming up with excuses. What did Adam and Eve do when God confronted them about their sin? They gave God excuses. Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). But God didn’t accept their excuses.

There is coming a day when each one of us will stand before God. And everyone is guilty of unrighteousness. (Unrighteousness is the opposite of righteousness, which is right living--in other words, loving God and loving others.) We can fool others, but we can’t fool God. Nothing is hidden from him. “God judges the secrets of men” (2:16).

God knows our sin, and none of us can give an excuse that will cause God to overlook it. None of us can argue our way out of hell. This is why the gospel is so good. It’s “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16). There’s no excuse that can save us, but God offers us salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.


Suppression of the Truth

Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v. 18). God’s wrath is his righteous anger against unrighteousness. People often think of wrath as a negative emotion, but sometimes it can be an appropriate emotion. For example, when you hear a story about a child being murdered, how do you feel? Probably angry. That's an appropriate emotion. If you felt indifference, that would actually be a sinful reaction. Why do we react with anger? Because we care about children. The same is true with the wrath of God. He is angry at our sin because he cares about us. Sin hurts ourselves or others.

How do people “suppress the truth”? We find the answer in the next verse: “For what can be known about God is plain [i.e., obvious] to them, because God has shown it to them” (v. 19). And how has God shown all people truth about himself? “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (v. 20).

Creation reveals truth about God. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). But people choose to suppress that truth. In the TV series The X-Files, agent Mulder has behind his desk a poster of a flying saucer, and the poster says, “I want to believe.” There are people who search the night skies, looking for UFOs, because they want to believe in extraterrestrials. But many of those same people will look into the night skies and see evidence for a powerful Creator and will suppress the truth. Why? Because they don’t want to believe.

Some skeptics will bring up the “hiddenness” of God. They will argue: (1) if God existed, then God would make his existence more obvious; (2) God is not obvious; (3) thus, God does not exist. But Paul states that God is actually more obvious that many people will admit. God also revealed himself through Jesus. And it’s also extremely arrogant to say that if there is a God he should reveal himself as I see fit.

People’s rejection of God is due to a moral deficiency, not a mental deficiency. Creation provides many arguments for the existence of God.
  1. The universe must have had a cause (cosmological argument). 
  2. The universe’s harmony, order, and design demands a designer (teleological argument). Richard Dawkins writes, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose" (The Blind Watchmaker, 1). Of course, Dawkins believes that the apparent design in creation is an illusion. This is an example of someone suppressing the truth.
  3. Humanity’s sense of right and wrong comes from a God of justice (moral argument). 
Paul says, “So they are without excuse” (v. 20). There is no one who can excuse their unbelief by saying to God, “You didn’t reveal yourself to me!” God has revealed himself to everyone through creation. This revelation is not sufficient to save, but I believe that if a person seeks God, he will give him/her more truth about himself.


Out to Get Us?

When we read in the Bible about God’s wrath and judgment and hell, we might think that God is out to get us—that he’s just waiting for us to mess up so he can punish us.

God is not out to get us; he’s out to save us!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Part 2 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:1-17




For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). 


Good News!

The book of Romans is a letter. It was written by the apostle Paul around A.D. 57. It was written to believers in Rome. The theme of the letter is the gospel.

“Gospel” means “good news.” “The gospel of God” (v. 1) is the best good news! The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). The gospel is good news that everyone needs to hear and believe. 

It’s often said that good news is for sharing. So why is it so hard for most of us to share the gospel with others?


Good News to Us, Foolishness to Them

What makes the gospel difficult to share is the fact that most people don’t want to hear it. Most people didn’t want to hear the gospel in Paul’s day. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “The message of the cross is foolishness [i.e., stupidity] to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18, NIV). There are people who want us to be ashamed of the gospel.

Even though most people thought the gospel was “foolishness,” Paul still believed that he was “under obligation” (v. 14) to share it with others. (“I am a debtor,” NKJV). Even though there will be people who will mock the gospel, we must still share it.


Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16). We must never forget that the gospel is about a person who was publicly humiliated on a cross. While enduring excruciating pain, he was naked for all to see and mocked mercilessly by his enemies. “To die by crucifixion was to plumb the lowest depths of disgrace; it was a punishment reserved for those who were deemed most unfit to live” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 338). Jesus didn’t avoid the shame of the cross, he endured it…for us, for our salvation.

The gospel is never going to be “cool.” People will try to shame us. But we can’t be ashamed of the one who was humiliated on a cross for us.


The Gospel Is for Believers

As we go through the book of Romans, you might start thinking, “I’ve already believed the gospel. Can’t we go on to something else?” Look at what Paul writes in verse 15: “I am eager to preach the gospel to you [i.e., believers in Rome].” The gospel is not only for everyone who has not yet believed but also for everyone who has already believed. 

We can’t leave the gospel and go on to something else. It’s when we forget about the gospel that we drift away from righteousness (i.e., loving God and others, “the obedience of faith,” v. 5).

  • The gospel gives us the desire to surrender our lives to God. “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one had died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to love others. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to give. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to rid ourselves of self-centeredness. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interest but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:3-8, NIV). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to forgive. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32; cf. Col. 3:13). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to avoid sexual sin. “Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). 
  • The gospel gives husbands the desire to love their wives. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). 
We must share the gospel with others, but we must also preach it to ourselves.

Monday, January 22, 2018

What Is the Gospel?

Part 1 of The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:1-17




[The gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). 


The Book of Romans 

Martin Luther believed that their was no greater book in the Bible than the book of Romans:
This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes. [1] 
But Luther didn’t always feel this way about Romans:
I had…been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But…a single word in chapter 1…stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which…I had been taught to under-stand…is the righteousness [with which God] punished the unrighteous sinner. [2]
What caused Luther to go from hating the word “righteousness” in the book of Romans to loving everything about Romans?

The book of Romans is a letter. It was written by the apostle Paul around A.D. 57. It was written to believers in Rome. The theme of the letter is the gospel.

Paul writes, “[I have been] set apart for the gospel of God” (v. 1); “I am eager to preach the gospel to you” (v. 15); and “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16). But what is the gospel? The word “gospel” means “good news.” But what’s the good news?


Salvation

The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). The gospel is about salvation. Salvation from what? Verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” We are guilty of unrighteousness (i.e., wrongdoing, breaking God's commands). We need to be saved from the wrath of God. [3] The wrath of God is his holy anger against unrighteousness. There must be punishment for our unrighteousness.

There is coming a day when you and I will stand before God. And each one of us is guilty of unrighteousness. [4] How is it possible that we could be declared innocent by God? How is it possible that we could escape hell? The answer is the gospel. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

In verse 16, we learn three truths about salvation. First, salvation is the work of God. The gospel is “the power of God for [i.e., that results in [5]] salvation.” Second, salvation is possible for everyone. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone.” No one is excluded and no one is exempted. Third, salvation requires faith. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Faith is “not (primarily) agreement with a set of doctrines but trust in a person.” [6]

In verse 17, Paul writes, “In it [i.e., the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed” (v. 17). There’s lots of debate about what “the righteousness of God” means in this verse. It could mean one of three things: (1) God’s attribute of righteousness, (2) an act of righteousness by God, or (3) a gift of righteousness from God. Perhaps Paul meant all three. The gospel displays God’s righteousness. The gospel is about God acting in righteousness. The gospel is about God giving us righteousness.

How does God give us righteousness? Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ became sin for us—and was punished for our sin. Through faith in him, we become the righteousness of God. So Luther went from hating that word "righteousness" to loving when he finally understood that God gives us righteousness through faith in Christ.


The Great Exchange

Second Corinthians 5:21 is often called the great exchange. There is no greater trade than the exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness. What God demands from us, he gives to us—at the cost of the life of his Son.

____________________
[1] Martin Luther, Preface to Romans, page unknown.
[2] Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, 10-11.
[3] Romans 5:9 states, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Christ’s] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
[4] According to Romans 3:23, “All have sinned.”
[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, 60.
[6] Douglas G. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 67.