Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Abundant Mercy of God

Part 4 of Summer in the Psalms 2019

Text: Psalm 51




Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions (v. 1). 


Will God Always Forgive Our Sin? 

Psalm 51 is a psalm of lament. According to one dictionary, a lament is “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” Usually the laments in Scripture are about something external (e.g., the condition of Jerusalem in the book of Lamentations). But Psalm 51 is different. In this psalm, David laments about something internal: his sinfulness.

Will God always forgive our sin? Maybe my sin is too great? What if I keep committing the same sin over and over again? Will God always forgive my sin? Psalm 51 gives us the answer to this question.

Will God always forgive our sin? Yes, God will always forgive our sin. In Psalm 51, we find the reason for this answer and a condition to this answer.


The Reason 

Psalm 51 was written after the prophet Nathan had confronted David about his sin of adultery with a woman named Bathsheba. [1] And the psalm begins begins with David crying out to God, “Have mercy on me” (v. 1).

David’s request for mercy indicates that he believes he doesn’t deserve God’s forgiveness. He’s like a guilty man throwing himself on the mercy of the court. Will God show David mercy? Will God forgive him? Yes. God will always forgive our sin because he is a God of “abundant mercy” (v. 1).

“Mercy” [2] means “compassion.” In the story of the prodigal son, when the father sees his son returning home, he “[feels] compassion, and [runs] and embrace[s] him and kisse[s] him” (Luke 15:20). That’s a picture of the mercy of God.

When God revealed to Moses his “name” (i.e., who he is), he proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exod. 34:6-7). [3] This is who God is.

How merciful is God? God has “abundant mercy.” What do you think of when you hear the word “abundant”? I think of wealth. Ephesians 2:4 says that God is “rich in mercy.” God will never say to us, “Sorry, I can’t spare any more mercy.” God always has enough mercy for us--no matter how great or frequent our sin.


The Condition 

There is a condition we must meet in order to be forgiven by God. We must come to him with a “broken and contrite heart.” Verse 17 says, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This is what is called repentance.

The prodigal son returned home with a broken and contrite heart. He confessed to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). But what did the father do? He celebrated the return of his son (vv. 23-24). God will never turn away anyone who comes to him with a broken and contrite heart.

In Psalm 51, David is no longer trying to hide his sin. Verse 6 says, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being.” We can’t hide the truth from God, but we can hide the truth from ourselves (i.e., by telling ourselves lies about our sin).

In verses 3-5, David is finally honest about his sinfulness. First, he confesses his sin: “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (v. 3). Second, he doesn’t minimize (i.e., sugarcoat) his evil acts: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (v. 4). Third, he acknowledges his evil nature: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5).

In 2 Samuel 11, David’s question was “How can I get away with this?” Now in Psalm 51, David’s question is “How could I have sinned against God like this?”


The Cost 

What’s amazing is that God himself has paid the cost for our forgiveness. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according the riches of his grace.” Without the death of Christ, there is no forgiveness.

Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). The opposite is also true: He who is forgiven much, loves much. We who have been forgiven much should love much. We should, as Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted [i.e., compassionate], forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

____________________

[1] This story is found in 2 Samuel 11-12.
[2] In the ESV, two different Hebrew words have been translated “mercy.”
[3] This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about sin. Verse 7 goes on to say that God “will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The God of Thunder

Part 2 of Summer in the Psalms 2019

Text: Psalm 29




Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness (vv. 1-2). 


Yahweh Versus Baal 

Psalm 29 is a psalm of praise. The object of the psalm’s praise is “the LORD.” In this psalm, you’ll find the word “LORD” eighteen times! In the original Hebrew text, the word translated as “the LORD” is “Yahweh.” This is God’s name.

Psalm 29 is also a protest against the worship of Baal, one of the Canaanite gods. The Canaanites believed that Baal was responsible for storms, thunder, lightning and rain that made the earth fertile. When the Canaanites heard thunder, they thought they heard the voice of Baal. In this psalm, the psalmist has taken phrases that were used in the worship of Baal and substituted “Yahweh” for “Baal.” [1]

Psalm 29 could be given the title “Yahweh Versus Baal.” The psalmist is saying that Baal is no match for Yahweh. Yahweh is the real God of thunder. 


A Call to Worship 

Psalm 29 begins with a call to worship: “Ascribe to the LORD [i.e., Yahweh], O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength” (v. 1). Who are the “heavenly beings”? Probably angels. “Ascribe” means to acknowledge. The angels are told to acknowledge the “glory [i.e., greatness] and strength [i.e., power]” of Yahweh.

The call to worship continues in verse 2: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor [i.e., beauty] of holiness.” The NIV says “the splendor of his holiness.” Yahweh deserves worship. He is a God to be both feared and loved. Why?


The Voice of Yahweh 

In verses 3-9, the phrase “the voice of the LORD” occurs seven times. Verse 3 says, “The God of glory thunders.” In this psalm, “the voice of the LORD” is thunder. The psalm describes the movement of a powerful thunderstorm. Thunder was the loudest noise that ancient people ever heard.
The storm begins over the Mediterranean Sea: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty” (vv. 3-4). I’m sure we’ve all witnessed a powerful thunderstorm. How did it make you feel? Afraid? Amazed?

The storm travels east to the mountains of Lebanon: “The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion [i.e., Mount Hermon] like a young wild ox” (vv. 5-6).

The storm travels further east to the wilderness of Kadesh: “The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire [i.e., lightning bolts]. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh” (vv. 7-8).

Then the scene shifts to the temple in Jerusalem: “In his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” (v. 9).

Verse 10 says, “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” He is the king over everything. He is the king forever.

Psalm 29 reminds me of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. [Read 1 Kings 18:17-29, 38-39.] When the prophets of Baal cried out to their god, there was “no voice” (v. 29), no thunder or lightning from Baal. “The LORD [i.e., Yahweh], he is God” (v. 39).

Richard Dawkins has said, “An atheist is just somebody who feels about Yahweh the way any decent Christian feels about Thor or Baal or the golden calf. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” [2] How would you respond to this? 


Jesus Is the Voice of Yahweh 

The Bible begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). How did God create all things? By his voice. He spoke the words, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

When we flip over to the Gospel of John, we discover that the apostle John begins by saying, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). “The Word” is Jesus. He is “the voice of the LORD.” John writes, “All things were made through him [i.e., the Word], and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). Then in verse 14, John declares, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”

Do you remember the story of Jesus calming the storm? He said to the wind and the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” (Mark 8:39). The voice of the LORD can start a storm (as in Psalm 29) or stop a storm. How did the disciples react to this miracle? They were “filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (v. 41).

It was this same Jesus who died for us. The voice of the LORD can be heard as we look at the cross. Yahweh--the holy, glorious, all-powerful God--says, “I love you.” Yahweh deserves our worship. He is a God to be both feared and loved.


Peace to Yahweh’s Worshipers 

Psalm 29 begins with the angels in heaven ascribing glory to God (vv. 1-2) and ends with peace on earth: “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (v. 11). Does that sound familiar … glory in heaven and peace on earth?

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the angels praised God by saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). On that night, the voice of the LORD came to earth not as thunder, but as a baby--a baby who would bring peace.

Think about who Yahweh is--the God of thunder, the God who could destroy everything with just a word. Now think about what this God did for you. Think about the humble birth of Jesus. Think about his death on the cross. We should be filled with amazement. We should be filled with praise. We should be filled with love. We should bow down before this God and say, “Here’s my life. It’s yours.”

____________________

[1] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Psalms, p. 199
[2] https://www.ted.com/talks/richard_dawkins_on_militant_atheism?language=en

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Blessed Life

Part 1 of Summer in the Psalms 2019

Text: Psalm 1




Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (vv. 1-2). 


Our Search for Happiness 

We all want to be happy, don’t we?

Unfortunately, we often look for happiness in all the wrong places. We think we’ll find happiness in money, a job, a relationship, possessions, etc. But if all we have are these things, we won’t find happiness.

Psalm 1 tells us how to find real happiness.


#blessed  

Psalm 1 begins with what word? “Blessed.” What does “blessed” mean? It means “happy.”

Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount by repeatedly using the word “blessed.” Based on what Jesus says, we know that being “blessed” doesn’t necessarily mean that the person who is blessed has an easy life. For example, Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

The kind of happiness that Psalm 1 is describing is not a happiness that fluctuates according to life’s circumstances. The apostle Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11, NIV). The blessed life is not always an easy life, but it’s the best life.

How can we live the blessed life?


Two Ways of Living 

In Psalm 1, there’s a contrast between “the righteous” and “the wicked.” The psalmist’s focus is on the righteous person (i.e., the person who is blessed), so that’ll be our focus as well. But as we look at the psalm’s description of the blessed life, we’ll compare it to the life of the wicked person.

First, what the blessed person doesn’t do: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (v. 1). The blessed person doesn’t “walk in step with the wicked” (NIV). He/she isn’t “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). 

Second, what the blessed person does: “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (v. 2). “The law” can be applied to all of God’s word.

The blessed person values God’s word. If our “delight” is in God’s word, what will we do? We’ll meditate on it. It won’t go in one ear and out the other. When we meditate on God’s word, we should be listening for what God wants us to hear (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16).

What does the wicked person value? Autonomy. The wicked person is someone who says yes to himself/herself and no to God. He/she thinks (foolishly) that happiness can be found in living life according to their own rules.

Third, what the blessed person is like: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (v. 3). The blessed person is like “a tree planted by streams of water.”

The blessed life is a fruitful life (doing good for others like fruit from a tree).

The blessed life is a resilient life. The blessed person has hope (because of the death and resurrection of Christ) even in the midst of terrible storms.

The blessed life is a prosperous life. How does a tree (e.g., an apple tree) prosper? It does what God made it do: bear fruit.

What does the wicked person like? He/she is “like chaff [i.e., the husk surrounding a seed] that the wind drives away” (v. 4). This is a life without direction, a wasted life.

How can we live the blessed life? We can only live the blessed life if we delight in God’s word. That begins with saying yes to God’s invitation to receive salvation through faith in Christ. It continues by saying yes to God’s word each day.


The Two Roads 

In verses 5 and 6 we see the final outcomes of the blessed life and the life of the wicked person: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment [i.e., the final judgment], nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” [Read Matthew 7:13-14.]

Notice the first and last words of Psalm 1. It begins with the word “Blessed” and ends with the word “perish.” Those two words tell us where the two roads of life lead. [Read Matthew 7:24-27.] 

Psalm 1 doesn’t give any commands. But it pictures two ways of life and shows us which is the wise choice and which is the foolish choice.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

This Is Your Wake Up Call

Part 7 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:11-14




Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (v. 11). 


A Wake Up Call 

Have you ever received a wake up call? I’m talking about a literal wake up call: “Good morning, Mr. McLeod. This is your wake up call.”

Yes, hotels still do wake up calls. Why do people request a wake up call? Usually because they have something important to do the next day. Maybe they don’t want to be late for a very important meeting at 9:00 a.m. Or maybe they’re taking their kids to an amusement park and want to be there as soon as it opens.

The apostle Paul gives his readers a wake up call. He’s saying, “This is your wake up call.” He tells us to do two things: (1) wake up and (2) get dressed.


Wake Up! 

It’s time to wake up. Paul writes, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep” (v. 11). What kind of “sleep” do we need to wake from? To “sleep” is to be “conformed to this world” (12:2). Christians are to be non-conformists.

Paul says, “You know the time.” Do we? Why is it time for us to “wake from sleep”?

(1) “For [i.e., because] salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (v. 11). “Salvation” refers to the believer’s future glorification (cf. 8:23, 29-30).

(2) “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (v. 12). “The day” is the day of Christ’s return (i.e., “the day of the Lord”). This is the next major event on God’s calendar. And it could happen at any moment! [Read 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10.]

How can Paul say Christ’s return is “almost here”? It’s been almost 2,000 years! [Read 2 Peter 3:3-10.] 

Some people who have almost died (e.g., heart attack) say they’ve received “a wake up call.” Their perspective on life has changed. Their priorities have changed. Some things have become more important to them, and some things have become less important to them.

We need a wake up call. This world as we know will one day pass away. So it’s foolish to be “conformed to this world.” We should have a different perspective and different priorities. The apostle Peter writes, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11).


Get Dressed! 

It’s time to get dressed. Paul says, “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (v. 13).

When we think of “light” and “darkness,” we usually think of what is good and what is evil. But Paul probably also has in mind two different ages: “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) and the age of salvation to come.

In verses 12b-14, there are three pairs of contrasts: (1) “cast off the works of darkness” / “put on the armor of light” (v. 12b); (2) “walk properly as in the daytime” / “not in orgies, and drunkenness, not sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy” (v. 13); (2) “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” / “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (v. 14).

What does it mean to “put on the armor of light” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”? Basically, they both mean to live as a follower of Christ should live.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul writes, “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” Faith, hope, and love. We are to have faith in Christ, hope in Christ, and love for Christ.


What Are You Living For? 

What are you living for?

Imagine that Jesus is standing before you. Then ask yourself, “What is really important? What will last forever?”

Maybe we need a wake up call.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Love Is the Fulfilling of God's Law

Part 6 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:8-10




Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (v. 8). 


The Dept of Love

It’s a good feeling when you finally pay off a debt—when your credit card balance is finally zero or the mortgage payments finally come to an end. But there’s one debt that will never be paid in full: the debt of love.

We’ll never get to the point where we can say, “I’ve been kind for long enough. I think it’s time that I stop being kind.” The apostle Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (v. 8). What he’s saying is there’ll never a time when we’ll be excused from loving others.


Is It a Sin to Borrow Money?

“Owe no one anything” (v. 8). Is this a command to never borrow money? Let’s say we’re at McDonald’s and I realize I’ve forgotten my wallet. Is it wrong for me to ask you to lend me five dollars? No, Paul “is not prohibiting us from borrowing money but demanding we pay back what we owe [e.g., taxes (v. 7)]” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 436).

Sometimes debt reveals that there’s a problem in our hearts. People often get into debt because they worship the gods of materialism and pleasure. In Colossians 3:5, Paul says that “covetousness…is idolatry.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). Don’t live for present pleasures (and get into debt) like the world does. Be different.

Our hope doesn’t come from things or pleasures. Paul could say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). How? His hope was in Christ.


Love Your Neighbour as Yourself

Why do we always need to love others? “For [i.e., because] the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (v. 8). “The law” refers to the commands of God found in the Old Testament.

Jesus was once asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” What was his answer? He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he added, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40).

So we could say that when we love, we are doing what God’s law requires. “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 9).

Paul is dealing with our horizontal relationships (with one another), not our vertical relationship (with God). He’s saying that all of the commands that have to do with our relationships with others will be obeyed if we love our neighbour as ourselves. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10). (Who is our neighbour?)


How Do We Love?

What does it mean to love others? It means to love others as God has loved us.

Listen to Ephesians 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Later in Ephesians, Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25).

In Philippians 2:6, Paul describes Jesus as “being in very nature God” (NIV). He goes on to say that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (v. 7) and that ended with him dying “on a cross” (v. 8). New Testament scholar D. A. Carson believes the verse 6 could be reworded to say that “because he was in very nature God,” Jesus died for us. Sacrifice isn’t just what God did; it’s who he is!

To love is to make a sacrifice for the good of others. Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Heaven's Citizens and Human Government

Part 5 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:1-7




Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (v. 1). 


Submit to the Governing Authorities

When Christians come to this passage in Romans, more time is usually spent talking about what it doesn’t mean. But let’s start by talking about what it does mean.

The apostle Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (v. 1). Who are “the governing authorities”? The government—the people who make our laws.

Paul says, “Be subject [i.e., submit] to the governing authorities.” We might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trudeau would be our Prime Minister!” Or Americans might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trump would be our President!” That’s true, of course. But let’s talk about who was in power when Paul wrote these words.

Paul probably wrote his letter to the Romans in A.D. 57. Do you know who the Emperor of Rome was in A.D. 57. It was Nero. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live under the rule of Trudeau or Trump than Nero!


Why?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Someone might say, “If I’m a citizen of heaven, then I don’t need to submit to ‘governing authorities.’” But Paul says, “You’re wrong. ‘Every person’ must submit to their governing authorities.

Why? Why should we “be subject to the governing authorities”? Paul gives two reasons. First, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because God has appointed them. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (v. 1b).

Daniel 4:17 says, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” This was a lesson that King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way.

The Roman governor Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10). How did Jesus reply? “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (v. 11).

Paul adds, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (v. 2). If you refuse to pay your taxes, you’re resisting God!

Second, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because they maintain order in society. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (vv. 3-4a).

Do we submit to the governing authorities just to avoid punishment? No, we “must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (v. 5). We do it because it’s the right thing to do.


Always Obey?

Do we always have to obey the governing authorities? Paul says, “Be subject to the governing authorities.” To “be subject” (i.e., submit) is “to recognize one’s subordinate place in a hierarchy, to acknowledge as a general rule that certain people or institutions have ‘authority’ over us” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 797)  But this doesn’t mean that we should always obey people who are in authority over us.

Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s [i.e. taxes, etc.], and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). To God belongs our unqualified obedience. “If the state commands what God forbids, or if the state forbids what God commands, then civil disobedience is a Christian duty" (Timothy J. Keller, Romans 8-16 for You, p. 123). Peter said to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).


Be Transformed

Let’s go back to 12:1-2. Paul says, “Present your bodies [i.e., yourselves] as a living sacrifice.” What’s our motivation? “The mercies of God.”

How does God want us to live? “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Be transformed by the gospel. Be different!

How should a Christian interact with a person with different political views? “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

[Read 1 Peter 2:13-17.] God “is more concerned with our humility and self-denial and trust in Christ, than he is about our civil liberties" (John Piper, "Subjection to God and Subjection to the State").

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Abnormal Love

Part 4 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:14-21




Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (v. 21). 


Following Jesus

[This sermon was preached in a baptism service.] Today we witnessed five baptisms. This church believes that baptism is to be preceded by faith in Jesus Christ. Acts 2:41 says, “Those who received [Peter’s] word [i.e., the gospel] were baptized.” First, faith, then baptism. The person being baptized is making it known that he or she is a follower of Jesus.

The decision to follow Jesus is a decision to live an abnormal life. Do you agree? Think about Jesus, the person you’re following. Was Jesus normal?


Love Your Enemies

The life of a follower of Jesus is to be characterized by love. Jesus showed us what love is. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). Here’s a good definition of love: “Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving” (Paul Tripp, What Did You Expect?, p. 188).

Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matt. 5:46). That’s normal love. Jesus expects his followers to have abnormal love. [Read Matthew 5:38-47.] To most people, this kind of love doesn’t sound very appealing. Where do we get the desire to love others like this?

Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (v. 2). What we need is not behaviour medication. We need gospel transformation. The gospel should change the way we think and act. We should continually remind ourselves that we are sinners saved by grace. Are you more influenced by our culture or by the gospel?


Don't Seek Revenge

Paul writes, “Beloved never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (v. 19). This is what Jesus did: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23). God will not allow evil to go unpunished. The cross shows us that God will not overlook sin.

Our hope should be that the person who has wronged us will repent of their sin. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Paul writes, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (v. 20). The last part of verse 20 is difficult to interpret, but the most popular interpretation is that it’s talking about the possibility that the person will feel ashamed and repent. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21).


We Live for God's Glory

What’s your response when you’re mistreated?

We don’t live for ourselves. We live for a higher purpose. We live for God’s glory. Paul told the Corinthians, “Why not rather suffer wrong?” (1 Cor. 6:7).

Think about what God has done for you. Jesus came to earth to be mistreated.

There is no greater way to show that we are the followers of Christ—and that the gospel has made a difference in our lives—than seeking the good of others even when they mistreat us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Genuine Love

Part 3 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:9-13




Let love be genuine (v. 13a). 


Gospel Transformation

The apostle Paul writes, “Present your bodies [to God] as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). He is urging the believers in Rome to give their lives completely to God, to say, “Here’s my life, God. It’s yours.”

How do we get to the point where that’s our desire?

What we need in our lives is not behaviour modification. What we need gospel transformation. What or who you love affects what you do.

Paul makes his appeal “by the mercies of God” (v. 1). He’s saying, “Think about your sinfulness. Think about the mercy and grace of God. Think about the gospel.”

Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (v. 2). That’s how we’re transformed. It’s by thinking about the gospel more and loving God more. Then obedience becomes something we want to do.

So it’s not “I gotta be better.” It’s “I am so grateful for what God has done for me that I want to give my life to him.”


Living for the Applause

Paul writes, “Let love be genuine” (v. 13). These words really serve as a heading for what follows. Love is more than an emotion. Love shows up in what we do and say. We are to have the same kind of love that God has for us (i.e., a love that gives).

What’s the opposite of “genuine”? Fake. So Paul is saying, “Don’t appear to have love but actually have fake love.” What do we call this kind of person? A hypocrite. A hypocrite is like an actor who plays a part. An actor is usually very different from the character he/she plays.

Did Jesus encounter any hypocrites when he was on this earth? Yes. [Read Matthew 23:25-26.] It’s easy to be a hypocrite (e.g., being friendly to a person but then gossiping about that person).

A hypocrite lives for the applause. [Read Matthew 6:1-4.] Does God applaud the hypocrite? No. He’s not impressed. We are nothing if we don’t have genuine love. [Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.] 


How Are You Treating Christ?

How we treat the church is how we treat Christ. Do you believe that?

Do you remember what Jesus said to Paul (then Saul) on the way to Damascus? He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul’s persecution of the church was a persecution of Jesus himself.

And Jesus also said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it [i.e., an act of kindness] to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Our kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ is kindness to Christ himself.

How are you treating the church (i.e., your brothers and sisters in Christ)? We say that we love Jesus, but then we do what grieves him.

Remember that we were not loved by God because we were lovely. Genuine love comes from the heart—a heart transformed by the gospel.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Humbly Serve One Another

Part 2 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:3-8




For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (v. 3). 


Gospel Transformation 

The gospel transforms lives.

How do we know if our life has been transformed by the gospel? Examine our relationships. Our relationships reveal the level of our gospel transformation.

Gospel transformation is to be lived out in community. 

We’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re can be good Christians while neglecting the command of Jesus to love others as he has loved us—even if we do lots of good things (e.g., read the Bible daily).


It Begins in the Mind

If I had to sum up verses 3-8 in one statement, it would be: Humbly serve one another. 

Humility and service are two things that don’t come naturally for us. So how do we get to the point where we humbly serve one another?

Paul writes, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (v. 2). When we change the way we think, we change the way we live.

We need to think about two things.

First, we need to think about what the gospel tells us about ourselves. 

Paul says, “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (v. 3). In other words, be humble.

Most of us have an inflated opinion of ourselves. Even if we have low self-esteem about some areas of our lives, we still think too highly about ourselves in other areas of our lives. “I’m smarter than that person.” “I’m a better parent than that person.” “I know more about the Bible than that person.” 

What does the gospel tell us about ourselves? The gospel tells us that we are sinners and that we are saved only by God’s grace. Don’t think too highly about yourself!

And how were we saved? By Christ’s death on the cross. So the gospel also tells us that we are loved and valued by God. Don’t think too lowly about yourself!

Christ died for me, but he also died for that believer who’s hard for me to love. I need to remember that God doesn’t love and value that person less than he loves and values me.

Second, we need to think about the reason why we are members of the body of Christ. 

Paul writes, “For as in one body [i.e., our physical bodies] we have many members [i.e., parts], so we [i.e., the church], though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (vv. 4-5).

There is unity (one body) diversity (many members) in the church (just like in the human body).

And the members of the body of Christ are meant to serve one another (just like the parts of the human body serve one another): “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (v. 6).


Discerning the Body

In Paul’s instructions about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34), we find “body” three times. In verses 24 and 27, “body” refers to the physical body of Christ. But I believe “body” in verse 29 refers to the church: “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

Paul writes, “There is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). But what was happening in the church in Corinth? “When you come together as a church, I heard that there are divisions among you” (1 Cor. 11:18). They were tearing apart the body of Christ.

When we eat and drink during the Lord’s Supper, we are to remember two truths: (1) Christ died for us; (2) we are one body. We are to discern what God’s will is for the church. He wants us to be unified in love for God and love for one another.

Do we love God if we don’t love one another? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Are we keeping his command to love another as he has loved us?

We won’t humbly serve one another unless we love one another.


Christ Is Our Example and Energy

Christ is the ultimate example of humble service. He declared, “Whoever would be first among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

Christ is also the energy for humble service. Why do we humbly serve one another? The thing that motivates us most should be our love for Christ. Do you love Christ? He also wants us to love his church.

Let’s examine ourselves to see if there are attitudes in our hearts that are hindering us from humbly serving one another.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The "Now What?" of the Gospel

Part 1 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 12:1-2




I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (v. 1). 


Now What?

Up to this point in his letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul has explained the gospel. And now in chapter 12, Paul gets to the “Now what?” of the gospel: we believe the gospel, now what?

We don’t forget the gospel and go on with our lives. What we believe about the gospel should make a big difference in our lives. 


A Living Sacrifice

Paul writes, “I appeal to you…brothers [and sisters]” (v. 1). He’s saying, “I urge you.” So what he’s about to say is very important.

He urges them, “Present your bodies [i.e., yourselves] as a living sacrifice” (v. 1).

What he’s saying is that we are to offer ourselves completely to God. “Here’s my life. It’s yours.” 

This kind of sacrifice is “living” (as opposed to the OT animal sacrifices), “holy” (i.e., “set apart”), and “acceptable [i.e., pleasing] to God” (v. 1).

This is not an optional second step of the Christian life.


The Mercies of God

“Therefore” (v. 1) points back to what Paul has previously written in this letter. He’s written about “the mercies of God” (v. 1).

Paul is saying, “Think about how good God has been to you. This about his mercy. Think about his grace. Think about how he has saved you.”

Is giving your life to God “as a living sacrifice” an easy thing to do? No. But it becomes easier when we remember what God has done for us.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 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” (Rom. 3:23-25).

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).

What did we contribute to our salvation? What part did we play?

Imagine that I made a huge mess in our church building. And then a group of you came and cleaned up the mess, and I said, “Look at the great job we did!” You’d probably ask me, “What did you do?” And I would say, “I made the mess!”

What did part did you and I play in our salvation? We made the mess. We created the need for salvation. Still, God didn’t need to save us. In his mercy and grace, he chose to save us. How? By giving his own Son to die for us.

Do you believe that God loves you? Do you believe that he gave up his Son for your salvation? If you really believe these things about God, how can you refuse to give your life to him?


Live That Please God

Paul says that offering our lives to God is our “spiritual [logikos] worship” (v. 1). The KJV says “reasonable service.” Perhaps “reasonable” is the better translation of logikos. Douglas Moo prefers “informed” (Romans, p. 395). Our worship is to be informed (i.e., based on what we know about God and what he’s done for us).

Theology leads to doxology. But it shouldn’t end with praise. Theology also leads to obedience. Both praise and obedience are ways we worship. Worship is the way we live, not just what we do on Sunday morning.

God wants our hearts—seven days a week. This is the kind of worship that pleases God. This is the kind of worship God deserves.


Gospel Transformation

Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world” (v. 2). He’s saying, “Don’t act like everyone else.” Instead, we are to “be transformed” (v. 2). We are to be different. We are to act like Jesus.

How can we be transformed? “By the renewal of [our] mind[s]” (v. 2). All theology is practical. When we change the way we think, we change the way we live. 

Think about what Jesus has done for us. He declared, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). How would our lives change if we loved others as Jesus has loved us?

We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can be “good Christians” by doing good things but lacking love for others.

Offering ourselves to God is “the will of God” (v. 2) for our lives. And if we live this way, we will discover (“by testing you may discern,” v. 2) that God’s will is “good and acceptable [i.e., pleasing] and perfect” (v. 2). 

Some of the best things we ever do are also the most difficult things we ever do.


Don't Forget the Gospel!

Students, in frustration, often ask, “When am I ever going to use this (e.g., algebra) in my life?” Many of the things we learn in school don’t end up being very important to our lives.

But that’s not the case with the gospel! What we learn about the gospel never stops benefiting us.

When we initially accept the gospel, we don’t say, “That’s done. I’ve got my ticket to heaven. Now I can get on doing what I want to do.” No, we say, “Now what? God, here is my life. I give it to you. What do you want me to do?”

And that sacrifice is reasonable—it’s what we should do—when we remember what God has done for us.