Monday, March 18, 2019

Let Grace Be Grace!

Part 5 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 11:1-10




So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace (vv. 5-6). 


LET A COOKIE BE A COOKIE!

Sometimes my wife tries to make cookies with healthier ingredients. But how much can you change a cookie and it still be a cookie? To me, a cookie is supposed to be sweet. I say, “Let a cookie be a cookie!”

What a cookie is or isn’t is subjective. But to the apostle Paul, what grace is and isn’t is black and white. And the meaning of “grace” is incredibly important because over and over again in his letter to the Romans, Paul states that we are saved by grace.

If we are saved by grace, that means salvation is a gift. It’s undeserved. We aren’t saved by God’s grace plus our works. You can’t add works to grace, “otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (v. 6). Paul is saying, “Let grace be grace!”

How does the concept of grace make you feel? Should anyone—regardless of what they’ve done—be saved by grace? Does salvation by grace lead to a passive Christian life?


CHOSEN BY GRACE 

In chapter 10, Paul says that the Jews of his day had heard and understood the gospel, but most of them had rejected it. Now in chapter 11, Paul brings up the question “Has God rejected [i.e., given up on] his people [i.e., the Jews]?” (v. 1).

Paul’s answer is “No!” He says, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (v. 2). [1] To “foreknow” is to “chose ahead of time.” [2] Here Paul is talking about group election (i.e., election of the nation as a whole), not individual election.
“The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the faith of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all people, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deut. 7:6-8). 
In Paul’s day, even though most Jews had rejected the gospel, there was a “remnant” within Israel that was saved. Paul writes, “At the present time there is a remnant” (v. 5)
  • There was a remnant in Paul’s day. Paul says, “I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (v. 1). 
  • There was also remnant in Elijah’s day. Elijah thought he was the only follower of God left in Israel, but God said to him, “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (v. 4; cf. 1 Kings 19:1-18). 
Paul says that the remnant in his day was “chosen by grace” (v. 5). This is individual election. They were not chosen “on the basis of works” (v. 6). If works had anything to do with it then “grace would no longer be grace” (v. 6).

Paul writes, “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking” (v. 7). What was Israel seeking? The Jews were seeking justification (i.e., the acceptance of God). Paul says, “The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (v. 7).


RESISTANCE TO GRACE 

Many people have a resistance to the concept of grace. We want to say, “I earned that.” Or, “I had a part in that.” That’s pride.

And to many religious, self-righteous people, it’s offensive that God would save “bad” people.

To accept the gospel requires humility. It requires us to admit, “There’s nothing I can do to make me acceptable in God’s sight.”


WHAT GRACE DOES 

Does grace lead to a passive life? If we’re saved by grace, can’t we say, “I’m saved by grace, so it doesn’t matter what I do”?

Think about Paul’s life. He says, “I am … unworthy to be an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). He realized that he was completely undeserving of salvation: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (v. 10).

How did grace affect Paul’s post-conversion life? He says, “[God’s] grace was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of [the other apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (v. 10).
____________________

[1] In the OT, “know” refers to something more than intellectual knowledge. In Amos 3:2, God says to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” And in Genesis 4:1, we read, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived.”
[2] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 354.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Can Anyone Be Saved?

Part 4 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 10:5-21




For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved?” (vv. 11-13). 


WHO CAN BE SAVED?

We have no greater need than the need to be saved.

Can only the elect be saved? Or can anyone be saved?

Yes. Only the elect can be saved, and anyone can be saved.


SALVATION IS ATTAINABLE BY FAITH 

Paul says there are two kinds of righteousness (i.e., two ways to pursue justification): (1) “the righteousness that is based on the law [i.e., obeying the OT commands]” (v. 5) and (2) “the righteousness based on faith [i.e., believing the gospel]” (v. 6).

There’s a contrast here between the law and the gospel.
  • The law is about doing (which basically sums up every religion other than Christianity). Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5: “the person who does the commandments shall live [1] by them” (v. 5). 
  • The gospel is about believing. [2]
In verses 6-10, Paul explains that “the righteousness based on faith” is attainable. Here he goes back to the book of Deuteronomy. [3]
  • The phrase “Do not say in your heart” (v. 6) is from Deuteronomy 9:4. The full verse says, “Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land.’” This fits very well with what Paul has been saying about justification in Romans: I am not justified because of my righteousness
  • The rest of the quotes are from Deuteronomy 30. [Read Deuteronomy 30:11-14.] The people of Israel didn’t need to ascend into heaven or descend into the sea/abyss to get God’s law. God gave it to them. [4] And we don’t need to ascend into heaven “to bring Christ down” (v. 6) or descend into the abyss “to bring Christ up from the dead” (v. 7). God has already brought Christ down from heaven (i.e., the incarnation) and brought him up from the dead (i.e., the resurrection). 
  • Paul uses the words “mouth” and “heart” (found in Deuteronomy 30:14) to explain how a person can be saved: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 9). [5]
“The word of faith” (v. 8) [6]—the message that we must believe in order to be saved—consists of two parts: (1) “Jesus is Lord” (who he is) and (2) “God raised him from the dead” (what he’s done). 


SALVATION IS AVAILABLE TO ANYONE 

Who can put his or her faith in Christ and be saved? Paul says “everyone”! He quotes two OT verses to make this point:
  • Isaiah 28:16: “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame [i.e., condemned]” (v. 12). 
  • Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13). In Romans 10, “the LORD” is Jesus.” In Joel 2:32, “the Lord” is Yahweh. When the early Christians declared Jesus to be Lord, they were saying that Jesus is God. 
Many people believe that 1:16 is the key verse in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [i.e., Gentile].”


THE GOSPEL NEEDS TO BE HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD 

In verses 14-21, Paul writes that the gospel needs to be heard and understood. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (v. 17).

Did the Jews have an excuse for not being saved? No.
  • “Have they not heard?” (v. 18). Yes, they had heard.
  • “Did Israel not understand?” (v. 19). Yes, they did understand. The Gentiles were believing, so the Jews had not excuse. 

WHAT NOW? 

This passage tells us that we need to do two things.
  1. We must believe the gospel. 
  2. We must communicate the gospel. (Notice the great concern Paul has for the unsaved Jews in Romans 9-11.) [7]
____________________

[1]“Live” doesn’t mean “gain eternal life.” It means enjoying the kind of life God wants us to live.
[2] When we get to Romans 12, we will see that believing leads to doing.
[3] Romans 10, we find several OT quotations. Paul often quotes the OT in very creative ways—sometimes in such an unusual or unexpected way so that he’s accused of misapplying the OT. Paul’s quotations from Deuteronomy 30 are especially difficult to understand because Deuteronomy 30 is about the law, not the gospel.
[4] We shouldn’t think that the law was a bad thing. It was a gift from God to Israel, and God doesn’t give bad gifts. But the law wasn’t intended to justify a person (i.e., make a person perfectly righteous). A lawnmower is a good thing, but you don’t expect it to wash your car! That’s not a lawnmower’s intended purpose.
[5] Paul isn’t saying that verbal confession is a requirement for salvation in addition to faith.
[6] Paul also calls this “the gospel” (v. 16) and “the word of Christ” (v. 17).
[7] Before we communicate the gospel, we must pray. “Notice that because Paul believes the truth about God, and because he cares about those around him, he prays. Our prayer lives— whether we pray, and what we pray— tend to reveal what truly lies in our heads and hearts” (Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 for You, p. 65).

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

How Do I Know if I'm One of God's Elect?

Part 3 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 9:24-10:4




For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (10:4). 


ARE YOU ONE OF GOD’S ELECT? 

In Romans 9-11, the apostle Paul brings up the subject of divine election—a subject that today often leads to arguments among Christians. Divine election is the biblical doctrine that God, in eternity past, chose who would be saved.

My view on divine election is that it’s unconditional (i.e., not based on God knowing who would believe). What the Bible says about divine election and human freedom (i.e., our ability to make real choices) appears to be a contradiction. It’s a paradox.
  • Before creation God chose who would be saved. (Those whom God has chosen to save are “the elect.”) 
  • God word promises that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). 
People often wonder, How do I know if I’m one of God’s elect? It’s an important question!


VESSELS OF MERCY 

Paul describes those whom God has chosen to save as “vessels of mercy, which [God] beforehand prepared for glory” (9:23). The “vessels of mercy” include both Jews and Gentiles: “even us [i.e., Paul and the believers in Rome] whom [God] has called [i.e., called to salvation], not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (v. 24).

Then Paul fires off a series of OT quotations that speak of God showing mercy to both Jews and Gentiles.
  • “As indeed [God] says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people [i.e., the Gentiles] I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.”’ ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God”’ (vv. 25-26; cf. Hos. 1:10; 2:23). [1]
  • “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay’” (vv. 27-28; cf. Isa. 10:22-23). 
  • “And as Isaiah predicted, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah’” (v. 29; cf. Isa. 1:9). If it wasn’t for God’s mercy, all of Israel would have been destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 17). 

CHRIST IS THE END OF THE LAW 

In verses 30-33, Paul presents an irony: The Gentiles, who weren’t seeking righteousness (i.e., justification) had found it, and the Jews, who were seeking righteousness, had missed it. Why? Paul writes, “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (v. 32). The Jews had “stumbled over the stumbling stone” (v. 32).

The “stumbling stone” is Christ. Paul quotes Isaiah 28:6: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (v. 33). Because they were pursuing righteousness by works (i.e., obedience to the law), they didn’t see their need to trust in Christ.

“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (v. 4). What does Paul mean when he says that Christ is “the end of the law”?
  • “End” could mean “termination” (though we still have commands—“the law of Christ”—that we are to obey). 
  • “End” could mean “goal.” Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). 
  • It could be that both meanings are included in the word “end.” (My view.)
We could think of the “end” as being the finish line. Christ is the finish line. Everything in the OT points to him and our need of salvation. The Jews though thought that the finish line was the law. 

Paul has given two reasons why the majority of Jews in his day were not saved. 
  1. God had not chosen them to be saved (divine election). 
  2. They had rejected Christ (human freedom). 

HOW DO I KNOW? 

The apostle Peter writes, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). 
  • Make sure your trust is in Christ. Everyone who is justified will be glorified (Rom. 8:30). It’s not “Can I be justified?”; it’s “Will I be justified?” 
  • Show evidence of a changed heart.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Is God Unfair?

Part 2 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 9:14-23




So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy (v. 16). 


DIVINE ELECTION 

In Romans 9, we come face to face with the doctrine of divine election. What is divine election? The word “election” means “choosing.” [1] And the word “divine” indicates that this choosing belongs to God. Divine election is the doctrine that God has chosen before creation who will be saved.

The big issue with divine election is whether it’s conditional (i.e., based on God’s foreknowledge of people’s faith) or unconditional. I believe that divine election is unconditional. Wayne Grudem writes that election “is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.” [2]

In verses 14-23, the apostle Paul brings up the two most common questions people ask about unconditional election.
  1. “Is there injustice on God’s part?” (v. 14). 
  2. “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (v. 19). [3]
If unconditional election is true, is God unfair?


NO EASY ANSWERS 

Admittedly, the questions that Paul raises aren’t easy questions to answer. Divine election is a difficult doctrine. It’s not something we can completely understand (like the Trinity).
  • Before creation God chose who would be saved. 
  • God’s word promises that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). [4]
The fact that the Bible contains many paradoxes (like divine election and human responsibility) could be seen as evidence that it’s not a merely human book. (Who would make this up?)


PAUL’S ANSWERS 

How does Paul answer these two questions?
  • Question: “Is there injustice [i.e., unfairness] on God’s part?” (v. 14). Paul’s answer: “[God] has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (v. 18). [5]
  • Question: “Why does he still find fault?” (v. 19). Paul’s answer: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (v. 20). 
Basically, Paul is saying that God has the right to do what he wants, and who are we to accuse him of being unfair? Perhaps those aren’t the answers we’re looking for, but we must remember two things.
  • God will never act in a way that is contrary to his nature. If God is good and just, he is good and just in all that he does. 
  • Some of the questions we ask have answers we can’t understand. 
Lest we think that God is cold-hearted toward the non-elect or that he prevents the non-elect from being saved, listen to what God says in Ezekiel 33:11: “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?”


WHO AM I? 

Divine election isn’t in the Bible so that we can argue with one another about it. One reason why the Bible tells us about divine election is to produce humility in us.

Who am I that God would choose to save me? I am saved only because of his grace. Who am I that God would allow himself to be treated unfairly—betrayed, mocked, crucified—so that I could be saved?

And we are called to show this same kind of grace to others.

____________________

[1] To “elect” someone is to “choose” that person (e.g., electing a political candidate).
[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 670.
[3] The fact that Paul brings up these questions indicates that he’s talking about unconditional election, not conditional election (i.e., an election that is based on God’s foreknowledge of a person’s faith).
[4] The Bible doesn’t teach fatalism or that we’re like puppets/robots.
[5] Paul takes us back to the book of Exodus. In verse 15 he quotes Exodus 33:19. And in verse 17 he quotes Exodus 9:16. The book of Exodus tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3) and that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34; 13:15).

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Can God Be Trusted?

Part 1 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 9:1-13




But it is not as though the word of God has failed (v. 6a). 


ROMANS 9-11 ISN’T EASY READING! 

We’ve now come to the most difficult section of Romans: chapters 9-11. Full disclosure: In these chapters, there are truths about God and his ways that I don’t completely understand.

At the end of chapter 11, the apostle Paul concludes this section with a doxology, which, in part, says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable [i.e., incomprehensible] his ways!” (v. 33). The KJV says that God’s ways are “past finding out.”

But, of course, the inability to understand something doesn’t make it untrue. For example, if a two-year-old child doesn’t understand how computers work, that doesn’t mean computers aren’t real.


ISRAEL’S UNBELIEF 

Paul writes, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (v. 2). Why? Because most Jews had rejected the gospel. And he says, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (v. 3). In other words, Paul is willing to go to hell instead of his fellow Jews who had rejected the gospel.

Paul lists several privileges that God had given to Israel (vv. 4-5). [1] And notice the last privilege he mentions: “from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ” (v. 5). “The Christ” (i.e., the Messiah)—Jesus—was born a Jew. And what does Paul say about Jesus? He says he is “God over all” (v. 5).

When God—God the Son—took on humanity, he was born a Jew. But he was rejected by most Jews. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).


DID GOD BREAK HIS PROMISES? 

“Romans 9-11 is not about Israel—it is about God.” [2] Israel’s unbelief leads to a question about God. God had made many promises to the people of Israel. For example, God promised, “I will be their [i.e., Israel’s] God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). Who are the people of God today? The church, which is mostly made up of Gentiles.

Did God break his promises to Israel? And if God broke his promises to Israel, will he do the same to us? What about the promises in Romans 8? Can God be trusted? Here’s Paul’s answer: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed” (v. 6).

Paul writes, “For not all who are descended [physically] from Israel belong to [spiritual] Israel, and not all are [spiritual] children of Abraham because they are his [physical] offspring” (vv. 6-7). There are two Israels. There is a physical Israel, and there is a spiritual Israel (sometimes called a “remnant,” v. 27).

Did God break his promises to Israel? No. God never promised to save every physical descendant of Abraham.


DIVINE ELECTION 

Paul goes on to say that people are saved because of God’s choice (i.e., election). This choice is not based on any foreseen good of person chosen to be saved. Paul gives two examples of divine election from Israel’s history: (1) Isaac was chosen instead of Ishmael; (2) Jacob was chosen instead of Esau. [3]

Some Christians believe in unconditional election (i.e., an election not based on anything about us—our goodness, faith, etc.); others believe in in an election that is based on God’s knowledge of who would believe. (But if God’s election is based on foreseeing our decision to believe, is God really making a choice?) [4]

Divine election shows us that God deserves all the glory for our salvation. John Stott writes, “If we were responsible for our own salvation, either in whole or even in part, we would be justified in singing our own praises and blowing our own trumpet in heaven. [5] But such a thing is inconceivable.” Salvation is by God’s grace alone.

What about our faith—our decision to believe? Douglas Moo (a Calvinist—someone who believes in unconditional election) writes,
…faith cannot be omitted from the salvation equation. However much we may want to claim that salvation is based on God’s choice, we must also insist that the human decision is based on God’s choice, we must also insist that human decision to believe is also both real and critical. We are not puppets in God’s hands, passively moving as he directs. We are responsible human beings, called by God to exercise faith in his Son. The evidence of Scripture compels us to maintain a fine balance at this point. The Bible teaches in passages such as 9:6-13 that God is the one who ultimately determines, by his own free decision, who is to be saved. But it teaches that every human being is called upon to respond to God’s offer of salvation in faith. [6]
Stott says, “Many mysteries surround the doctrine of election, and theologians are unwise to systematize it in such a way that no puzzles, enigmas or loose ends are left.” [7]


DIVINE LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS 

Lest we get the impression that God is a cold Deity, that he just randomly chooses who will be saved (“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe….”), let’s consider how Jesus (God in human flesh) felt about Israel’s rejection of the Christ.
  • “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on the day the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:41-42a). 
  • “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 were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37). (The fact that Jesus says, “You were not willing” implies that they could have been saved.) 

Paul says, “I would give up everything if Israel could be saved.” But that’s what Jesus actually did! A God who loves us this much will keep his promises. Our God can be trusted.

____________________

[1] Tim Keller points out that these privileges “should have prepared and pointed them to Christ” (Romans 8-16 for You, p. 49).
[2] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 291.
[3] “Loved” and hated” in verse 13 refer to actions, not emotions. God chose Jacob and rejected Esau.
[4] It’s argued that Paul is not talking about individual salvation here, but isn’t he answering the question of why most Jews (individuals) rejected the gospel?
[5] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 268.
[6] Moo, Romans, p. 307.
[7] Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 268.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

If God Is for Us, We Will Never Be Abandoned

Part 3 of God Is For Us

Text: Romans 8:35-39




For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (vv. 38-39). 


TOGETHER FOREVER 

During a wedding ceremony, the couple is warned that bad circumstances might come, such as sickness and poverty. They might not “live happily ever after.” And they are asked to promise that they will stay together as husband and wife “until death do us part.”

I believe that 99.9% of brides and grooms are sincere when they make that promise. They truly believe that they can’t live without each other, that they’ll be together forever. But, sadly, less than 99.9% of marriages don’t last a lifetime.

Marriages end for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes a marriage ends simply because the couple falls out of love. They just don’t love each other the way they once did.

Will God ever stop loving us? Would God ever say, “I’m tired of [insert your name]. He/she is constantly falling short of my expectations. He/she will no longer be my child.” 


GOD’S LOVE IS REAL LOVE 

Love that is only an emotion is not real love. Real love causes a person to act. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). God’s love is more than an emotion. God’s love causes God to act.

  • “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). 
  • “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). 
  • “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).
If you want to know what real love is, consider what God has done for us. To love is to give, to give help to those in need.


NOBODY AND NOTHING! 

Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” What’s the answer? Nobody! We can’t be separated from God’s love.

Nothing can undo what God has planned for every person who has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ.   God has given to us an unchangeable verdict: “There is…now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1; cf. vv. 33-34). God has given to us an unbreakable promise: Every person whom God justifies will be glorified (Rom. 8:30). Romans 8 begins with “no condemnation” and ends with “no separation.”

But what about when we experience “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (v. 35)? Does God use these things to show us that he doesn’t love us anymore? No. Most of these things Paul had already experienced in his own life. [Read 2 Corinthians 11:26-27; 12:10.] And his life would end by the “sword” (i.e., execution by beheading). Paul also quotes Psalm 44:22 (v. 36) to show that God’s people shouldn’t be surprised by suffering. Bad circumstances don’t tell us that God doesn’t love us anymore.

Paul says, “No, in all these things [i.e., all these bad things] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 27). We are “more than conquerors” because God can use the bad things in our lives to do something good for us.


CAN WE SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM GOD’S LOVE? 

But can we choose to separate ourselves from God’s love? What if “tribulation,” etc. causes us to renounce our faith?

Notice the phrase “anything else in all creation” (v. 39). “Paul is not only saying that Christ still loves believers when persecution arrives, although that is doubtless true. He is also saying that the love of Christ is so powerful that believers will not forsake him despite the sword, persecution, famine, and so on” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 466).

The process of Romans 8:29-30 is an unbreakable process.


WE ALSO OUGHT TO LOVE 

What kind of effect should God’s love have on us?

  • “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). 
  • “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). 
  • “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). 
  • “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ love the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). 
Love is more than an emotion. To love is to act. To love is to help. To love is to give. To love is to be faithful. To love is to be like God.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

If God Is for Us, We Will Never Be Condemned

Part 2 of God Is For Us

Text: Romans 8:33-34




Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (vv. 33-34).


GOD IS FOR US! 

The apostle Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” There isn’t any uncertainty as to whether or not God is for us. “If” means “since”—“since God is for us, who can be against us?”

What does it mean for God to be “for” us? It means that God is on our side—we are his people, his children. “God is for us.” We can write our names in the verse: “God is for….”

Since God is on our side, it doesn’t matter who are enemies are. None of God’s plans for us will fail—especially his plan stated in verses 29-30!


JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH 

Paul has a lot to say about justification. To be “justified” means to be declared righteous (i.e., innocent). How can we be justified since “all have sinned” (3:23)? We are sinners by nature and by choice. [Read 3:23-25a.]

Our justification is by grace. It’s a gift received by faith in Christ. It’s undeserved. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).

It’s not “Look at me! Look at how good I am!” It’s “Look at God! Look at how gracious he is!”


NOBODY! 

Paul asks two questions in verses 33 and 34: (1) “Who shall [successfully] bring any charge against God’s elect?” (2) “Who is to condemn?” These are rhetorical questions. Paul isn’t seeking information; he’s making a point. The answer is nobody! 

Look at how Paul describes us in verse 33: “God’s elect.” This takes us back to verses 29 and 30. Every person whom God “foreknew” and “predestined” and “called” and “justified” will in the end be “glorified.”


IT IS GOD WHO JUSTIFIES; IT IS CHRIST JESUS WHO DIED

If God is for us, we will never be condemned. 

Paul says, “It is God who justifies.” He doesn’t focus on justification. Instead, he focuses on the God who justifies. There is no higher judge. There is no appeal that can overturn God’s verdict.

Then Paul writes, “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (v. 34). It’s like Paul is piling on the reasons why we will never be condemned (“more than that”). Back in Romans 4:25, Paul said that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The very presence of Jesus in heaven assures us that all of our sin has been taken care of and we will never be condemned.


THE GOSPEL IS FOR EVERYONE 

The gospel—the message of justification by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ—is not just for those who have not yet believed. The gospel is for everyone. Believers need to hear the gospel.

Back in Romans 1:15, Paul writes, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Who is Paul writing to? A few verses earlier, he tells his readers, “Your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (v. 8). Paul is writing to people in Rome who are believers—people who have already heard and believed the gospel.

Why do believers need to hear the gospel? Because the gospel “is not just a call to initial saving faith but also a call to continue in a daily walk of faith” (ESV Study Bible).

Paul mentions suffering earlier in Romans 8: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v. 18). In times of suffering we need the gospel.

We need to remember that God loves us—he’s “for us” (v. 31), he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (v. 32). We need to remember that we will never be condemned because God—the one who loves us—is the one who justifies. We need to remember that God will never stop loving us. “[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).

This is what the gospel tells us—those of us who have already believed. The gospel gives us peace and strength during times of suffering. The gospel is for everyone.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Son of Man

Part 3 of A Thrill of Hope

Text: Psalm 8; Hebrews 2:9



When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Ps. 8:3-4).


Star Gazing

I have preached on Psalm 8 in the past—but never at Christmastime. The author of Hebrews makes a connection between Psalm 8 and the coming of the Christ into the world. Of course, we who are Christians believe that the Christ (i.e., the Messiah) is Jesus—Jesus Christ.

Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise written by David. In the psalm, David mentions looking up at the stars. In his younger days, David was a shepherd. And I’m sure there were many nights when David would lie on his back and gaze at the stars.

Today we know much more about the stars than David ever did. How many stars do you think there are? There are many more stars that the naked eye can see. In our galaxy alone, there are about 400 billion stars. And according to one recent estimate, there are at least 2 trillion galaxies.

We live in an immense universe. It’s not surprising that David begins and end Psalm 8 the same way: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vv. 1a, 9).


God's Awesomeness and Our Insignificance

Verse 1 goes on to say, “You have set your glory above the heavens” (v. 1b). Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The apostle Paul writes, “[God’s] 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” (Rom. 1:20). The heavens are glorious, but God is more glorious.

Listen to Isaiah 40:25-26: “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and see: who created these [the stars]? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.”

David writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (vv. 3-4). God is big; we are little. We are nothing in comparison to God.

Psalm 8 was written to encourage God’s people to praise God. Why should we praise God? Here’s one reason: We are so little, but God has done big things for us! The God who made the stars is the same God who cares about us! But how much does God care about us?


We See Jesus

Psalm 8:5 says, “You have made him [the son of man] a little lower than the heavenly beings [i.e., the angels].” In Hebrews 2, the author quotes Psalm 8. He sees “the son of man” as the Son of Man: “We see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus” (v. 9). In the Gospels, Jesus often refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” What does this title mean?

In Daniel 7, the prophet Daniel describes a vision in which he sees “one like a son of man” (v. 13). In other words, he sees a person who looks like a man. But the “one like a son of man” is obviously more than just a man. In Daniel’s vision, the “one like a son of man” comes “with the clouds of heaven.” In the OT, God is the one who rides on the clouds. “[The LORD] makes the clouds his chariot” (Ps. 104:3). “Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud” (Isa. 19:1). “The clouds are the dust of [the LORD’s] feet” (Nah. 1:3).

When Jesus questioned by Caiaphas the high priest regarding his true identity, Jesus declares, “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). Jesus was saying, “I am the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision!” What was the high priest’s reaction? He accuses Jesus of blasphemy (v. 65). By calling himself the Son of Man, Jesus was claiming to be both man (“one like a son of man”) and God (“with the clouds of heaven”).

“We see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Ponder what this means! Think about who that baby lying in a manger really was! Think about God's humility and love! And then ponder our own lack of humility and love.

The God-man died for us! That’s how much God cares about us!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Hope's Peace

Part of A Thrill of Hope

Text: Micah 5:1-5a; 7:18-20




But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days…. And he shall be their peace. (Micah 5:2, 5a). 


What We Really Need

It’s not uncommon to receive a Christmas gift that we don’t really need—or that we don’t even want. 

There’s something that we all need this Christmas. We all need hope. What happens if we have no hope? If we have no hope, we are filled with despair. We have no reason to live. We need to have good things to look forward to. If we are going through a difficult time, we need the expectation that things are going to get better.


Israel's Great Hope

The people of Judah need hope because they’re about to be attacked by the Assyrian army. So God, through the prophet Micah, gives them a message of hope: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel” (5:2).

The interpretation of both Christianity and Judaism is that Micah 5:2 is about the Messiah (i.e., the Christ). When Herod asks the chief priest and scribes “where the Christ was to be born,” they answer, “In Bethlehem of Judea,” and then they quote Micah 5:2: “ (cf. John 7:42).

The great hope of Israel was the coming of the Messiah. And God says it’s going to happen, and he’ll be born in Bethlehem.


God Keeps His Promises

The prophecy of Micah 5:2 was given in 701 B.C. Centuries pass, and the Messiah still hasn’t arrived. Is the Messiah ever going to come?

When waiting, if you wait long enough, you begin to wonder if what you’re waiting for will ever happen.

Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem until 700 years after the prophecy of Micah 5:2 was given—but he was born! “The hopes and dreams of all the years are met in thee [Bethlehem] tonight.” God keeps his promises. And believing God’s promises produces hope.

Micah 5:2 says that the Messiah’s “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” “From ancient times” probably points back to the ancient line of David. (Micah 5:2 and 4 certainly make us think of David: he was from Bethlehem—“the city of David,” Luke 2:4—and he was a shepherd.)

God kept the promise he made to David: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13; cf. Luke 1:32-33).

Micah 7:20 says, “You have shown faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”

We too are waiting for the coming of the Christ. We’re waiting for his second advent. It’s been 2,700 years, and we’re waiting for the day when “he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (5:3). Is Jesus ever going to return?

God always keeps his promises, but the when and how of their fulfillment often don’t meet our expectations (e.g., small and insignificant Bethlehem).


Hope and Peace

Micah 5:5 says, “And he [the Messiah] shall be their peace.” There’s a connection between hope and peace. If we have hope that things will get better, we can have peace—even during extremely difficult times. Hope gives us peace. 

We all need hope. What is your hope in?

There are little hopes—good things we look forward to. But is life nothing more than looking forward to a few good things before we die? There are little hopes, and there is ultimate hope.

The people of Judah were waiting for a Messiah to trample their enemies underfoot. But what does Micah 7:19 say? “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.” God’s plan was to trample their sins underfoot. How would he accomplish this? By allowing his Son to be trampled underfoot, to be crucified. “He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).

We can have ultimate hope because of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Do you have hope—ultimate hope, hope that extends beyond this life? Is your hope in Jesus? Do you have the peace of hope?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Offspring of the Woman

Part 1 of A Thrill of Hope

Text: Genesis 3:15



“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).


What Do We Really Need?

We’re counting down the days until Christmas.

We call Christmas “the most wonderful time of the year,” but Christmas always leaves us wanting more. We look forward to the gifts, the music, the food—all the Christmas traditions—but they’re never enough.

We long for something more because we were made for something more.

What do we really need? We need hope—not a finger crossing type of hope, but a confident expectation of good things to come.


Protoevangelium

Genesis 3:15 is often called the protoevangelium, which means “first gospel.” This verse contains the first hint about the gospel.

God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity [i.e., hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” This prophecy could merely be foretelling the natural hostility between humans and snakes.

But God is saying much more that that. “Offspring” is a collective noun (cf. Gal. 3:16). It can refer to one person or many people (i.e., one descendant or many descendants). I believe that the “offspring” of the woman points forward to one particular descendant of Eve: Jesus, who is described as “born of woman” (Gal. 4:4), “offspring of the Virgin’s womb” (Hark! the Herald Angels Sing).

Mary’s baby boy was born to put a thrill of hope in our hearts. 


More Than Just a Baby Boy

Mary’s baby boy—the baby lying in a manger—was more than just a baby boy.

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). 
  • “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). 
  • “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). 
  • “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; / Hail th’incarnate Deity” (Hark! the Herald Angels Sing).

The Serpent's Defeat

The serpent’s true identity is revealed in the NT. In Revelation 12, the apostle John is given a vision of “a great red dragon” (v. 3). And the dragon is identified as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (v. 9).

Satan would like to extinguish humanity’s hope. In John’s vision, the dragon is seen waiting for the child to be born so that “he might devour it” (v. 4). Satan made many attempts to kill Jesus (e.g., Herod, religious leaders of the Jews, etc.).

Finally, Satan succeeds. Jesus is crucified. But what he didn’t realize is that he would be defeated by the blood of Jesus. The serpent had bruised the heel of Jesus, but Jesus had crushed the head of the serpent. Satan is an accuser. He accuses God of not being good (e.g., his temptation of Eve). He accuses us of sin (cf. Rom. 8:33). But “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20).


Hope

Think about the excitement and magic of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

But it doesn’t last long. Soon we’re thinking, “What’s next?”

People sometimes say, “I wish every day could be just like Christmas.” I’m convinced that eternity for the child of God will be like one continuous Christmas day—but even better!