Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The New Way

Part 20 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 7:1-6




We serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (v. 6). 


Don't Do That!

There’s a local gas station that has signs posted everywhere saying what you can’t do. Signs like that stimulate rebellion within us. People often view the Bible like that—just a list of things we can’t do. To those people, God’s commands hold no appeal.

But the apostle Paul says that we can go from viewing God’s commands as things we must do to viewing them as things we want to do. How does that happen?


Released from the Law

Paul writes, “Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?” (v. 1). The “law” is the Mosaic law—the law that was given by God to the people of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai.

Then Paul presents an analogy in which a married woman is like us (i.e., believers) and her husband is like the law: “For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage” (v. 2). And “if she marries another man she is not an adulteress” (v. 3). [1]

Paul says, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law” (v. 4). [2] How did this happen? We died to the law “through the body of Christ” (v. 4)—through Christ’s death on the cross. We “now belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead” (v. 4). “Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive” (v. 6).

What’s the big deal about being “released from the law”?


Going from Under Law to Under Grace

What Paul is saying here goes back to what he said in 6:14: “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Let’s trace the history of how we went from being “under law” to being “under grace.” The Bible is broken up into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. “Testament” is another word for “covenant.” A covenant is an agreement between God and man. [3] Being “under law” means living under the old covenant. Being “under grace” means living under the new covenant.

  • God gave the law to Israel and promised, “If you obey my commands, you will be blessed.” (Read Exodus 24:3-8.) The Israelites said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exod. 24:3). This was the old covenant. Of course, the Israelites failed to do what they said they’d do. 
  • Through the prophets, God promised a new covenant. (Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27.)
  • The new covenant is based on the blood of Jesus. During the Last Supper, he announced, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Under the new covenant, God promises, “If you put your faith in Christ, your will be blessed. Your sins will be forgiven [4]; you will know God [5]; you will give given the Holy Spirit [6]; and you will have my law written on your heart.” [7]

Now “we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (v. 6). When God changes our hearts by his grace and the Holy Spirit coming to live within us, God’s commands are no longer merely things we must do; God’s commands become things we want to do. Obedience is not to be an external thing (i.e., a demand); obedience is to be an internal thing (i.e., a desire from a changed heart). 


They Shall Be My People

Wayne Grudem states that “at the heart of all of [God’s covenants] is the promise, ‘I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’” [8] God wants us to be with him and to know him. 

In the apostle John’s vision of the heavenly city, God says, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself with be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). This promise will be fulfilled because of the blood of Jesus. 

Doesn’t a God like this deserve to be loved with all our hearts? Don’t his wise and good commands deserve to be viewed as things we desire to do, not merely as demands we must do?

____________________
[1] The point of this passage is not to teach about divorce and remarriage. My personal belief is that divorce is permitted in certain situations (Matt. 19:9).
[2] The main point of the analogy is that “one’s relationship to the law is changed when death occurs” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 349).
[3] Wayne Grudem defines a covenant as “an unchangeable, divinely imposes legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship” (Systematic Theology, p. 515).
[4] Jeremiah 31:34
[5] Jeremiah 31:34
[6] Ezekiel 36:27
[7] Jeremiah 31:33
[8] Systematic Theology, p. 515.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Slaves of Righteousness

Part 19 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 6:15-23




But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life (v. 22). 


Oh Really?

What is freedom? Some people think that being free is to be autonomous (i.e., free to make one’s own decisions). Maybe you’ve heard someone brag, “Nobody tells me what to do! I do whatever I want to do!”

“Non-Christians often pride themselves on being free, in contrast to Christians, who in their estimation have lost their human autonomy by bowing the knee to Christ.” [1] But this “freedom” is an illusion. No one is really autonomous—even the person who says, “Nobody tells me what to do!” According to the apostle Paul, everyone is a slave. 


Are We Free to Sin?

In verse 15 Paul brings up a question similar to the question found in verse 1: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” [2] “In both vv. 1 and 15 Paul asks whether the grace of God should lead to sin. However, in 6:1 it is a question of sinning in order to gain more grace, while in 6:15 it is a question of sinning because of grace.” [3]

Paul’s answer to both questions is the same: “By no means!” We have been given freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. God’s grace has changed our hearts. We don’t want to be free to sin; we want to be free to obey God’s commands.


Whose Slave Are You?

Paul writes, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (v. 16). “Either people are under the power of sin, or they are under the power of God. The question is not, then, whether one will have a master, but which master one will serve.” [4]  Everyone is a slave—either a slave of sin or a slave of God. 

What does it mean to be a slave of sin? Sin is described in the Bible as missing the target (like missing the target on a dart board). The target is God’s will for our lives. Sin is not only doing things we should do (i.e., sins of commission); it’s also not doing things we should do (i.e., sins of omission). Two commands sum up what we should and shouldn’t do (i.e., God’s will): (1) love God with all your heart and (2) love your neighbour as yourself. To love someone, there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t do.

When we fail to love, what’s the reason? We have a default setting (like a computer); it’s self-centeredness, which is the essence of sin. A me-centered life (i.e., serving yourself) might seem free (i.e., autonomous), but it’s actually slavery to sin (i.e., missing the target—the way God intends for us to live, true freedom).

Paul goes on to say, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (vv. 17-18).


A Slave of Righteousness Is Not Really a Slave

Paul says, “I am speaking in human terms, because of you natural limitations” (v. 19a). “The illustration from slavery is inadequate because the relationship believers have with God is shorn of all the negative elements present in slavery.” [5]

Paul continues, “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification [i.e., holiness]” (v. 19b). Part of becoming a Christian is making Jesus the Lord of our lives.

A slave or righteousness is not really a slave. Notice the word “present” (i.e., offer). It’s a choice. It’s something we want to do. When we remember God’s grace, we want to please him.


The End

In verses 21-23, Paul contrasts slavery to sin and slavery to God. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (vv. 21-22).

“When” the Roman believers were “slaves of sin” their lives produced “fruit” that brought shame, and the end of that kind of life is “death” (i.e., eternal death, separation from God in hell).

“Now” that they have become “slaves of God,” their lives are producing “fruit” that is bringing sanctification, and the end of this kind of life is “eternal life.” “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23).

____________________

[1] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 212.
[2] Paul brings up this question because of what he wrote in verse 14: “You are not under law but under grace.”
[3] Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 398.
[4] Ibid., p. 396.
[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 333.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Become What You Are Becoming

Part 18 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 6:6-14




Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (v. 13). 


What Is Freedom? 

What is freedom? Many people think that freedom is being able to do whatever you want to do. But that’s not true freedom.

Think about the rich and famous people in this world—people who have the ability to do whatever they want to do. If someone with the ability to do whatever he wants to do, chooses to live that way, he will end up being a miserable person.

We see many rich and famous people turning to alcohol and drugs—which allow them to escape life. Some even end up committing suicide. Why would these people want to escape life—or even end their lives? You’d think they’d be the happiest people on earth. Don’t they have the lives we all want? Apparently not.

Freedom should lead to happiness. But doing whatever you want to do doesn’t bring happiness. That kind of life, as the author of Ecclesiastes puts it, is “a chasing after the wind” (Eccles. 1:14).

So what is freedom? It could be said that a bicycle wheel is free to spin on its axle. It could also be said that a bicycle is free when it becomes separated from the axle and rolls down a hill. I would say that a bicycle wheel is free when it spins in the way it was designed to spin—on its axle. That’s true freedom for a bicycle tire. [1]

Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). And then he said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36). True freedom—the kind of freedom Jesus was talking about—is freedom to live to live as God intended us to live.

This kind of life is not “a chasing after the wind.” It’s finding what we’re really searching for. It’s living life as we were meant to live it.


Set Free!

In verse 1, Paul brings up a question that is sometimes asked: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (v. 1). Paul says, “By no means!” (v. 2). The ultimate insult to God is to say, “God, I’m going to live however I want to live, and you’re going to keep on forgiving me.”

Paul writes, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v. 2). Later, he says, “You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). The believer is united with Christ—in his death and resurrection (vv. 3-4). [2]

This union with Christ happened when we put our faith in Christ. To be precise, Paul says this happened at baptism (“all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus,” v. 3). In verses 3-4, baptism stands for the “conversion-initiation experience,” [3] which includes faith in Christ, repentance of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and baptism (which in Paul’s day normally took place immediately after conversion).

Our union with Christ has set us free from sin (i.e., the power of sin). Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (v. 6). We are now able to “walk in newness of life” (v. 4). [4]


The Indicative and the Imperative

“Romans 6 is the classic biblical text on the importance of relating the ‘indicative’ of what God has done for us with the ‘imperative’ of what we are to do.” [5]

We are to become what we are becoming. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). God has freed us from the penalty and power of win. One day he’ll free us from the presence of sin.

We have a new peace. We have a new hope. We have a new desire (i.e., a desire to please God).


No Longer Slaves?

So we’re no longer slaves, right? Not exactly. If we go back to the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see that he describes himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus” (1:1). In the original Greek, “servant” is doulos, which means “slave.” We say that Jesus is our Lord, which means “master.”

We have a new master: “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (v. 13). [6] But this slavery is actually freedom.

Paul writes, “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (v. 14). To live “under law” was to live in the time before Christ died for our sins. God’s law was written on tablets of stone, telling us what we must do and not do. To live “under grace” is to live now—in the time since Christ died for us. God’s law is written on our hearts, giving us the desire to obey God’s law. The Holy Spirit gives us the desire. God’s law is obeyed when we love. And “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22).

Obeying God can be doing whatever we want to do.

_____________________

[1] This illustration was inspired by a similar illustration found in Tom Taylor’s book Paradoxy (p. 104).
[2] I must admit that some of what Paul says about being united with Christ is difficult to understand. But this shouldn’t be unexpected since the apostle Peter writes, “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16).
[3] Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p. 260.
[4] This doesn’t mean that we won’t sin. Paul says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” (v. 12).
[5] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 390.
[6] Of course, the NT also says we’re children of God: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:7).
[7] “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33).

Monday, July 9, 2018

A New Life

Part 17 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 6:4




For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (v. 5). 


We Don't Get Unlimited Time, But...

Imagine that you were given a jar of coffee beans, and you were told that the number of beans in that jar is the same as the number of days you have to live.

Each day you would take a bean out of the jar, and you would see that the number of days you have left to live getting smaller and smaller until you were left with only one bean.

How would that make you feel?

In this life, we don’t get unlimited time. We only get a certain number of beans (i.e., days).

When that reality finally hits us, we might start to panic and say to ourselves, “I haven’t done everything I want to do!”

We could even say, “I don’t have time to live for God!”

For those who are troubled by the brevity of life, the Bible has a comforting promise: “We [i.e., people who have put their trust in Christ] shall certainly be united with [Christ] in a resurrection like his” (v. 5).

There’s a connection between living now in “newness of life” and believing in a future resurrection. 


Do You Have the Desire to Live in Newness of Life?

“Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20). No matter how great our sin is, God’s grace is greater.

So, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (v. 1). Paul answers, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v. 2). To say to God, “I’m going to live however I want to live, and you’ll keep on forgiving me” is the ultimate insult.

Paul says that we “died to sin.” When did that happen? We died to sin, Paul says, when we were baptized: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (v. 3). We Baptists don’t believe in baptismal regeneration—the belief that baptism is what causes us to be “born again.” Are we wrong?

When Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, people were immediately baptized after they put their faith in Christ. Baptism was part of what could be called the “conversion-initiation experience.” When a person was “converted,” four things would happen: (1) faith, (2) repentance, (3) gift of the Holy Spirit, and (4) baptism.

Baptism is a public declaration that we desire to “walk in newness of life” (v. 4). Do you have the desire to live God’s way, not your own way? That desire is evidence that the Holy Spirit lives within you. But having the desire to live a new life and actually doing it are two different things.


A Glorious Future Frees Us to Serve Now

Eternal life means infinite beans (i.e., days). Each one of those beans represents a day that is better than the best day of this present life.

Do we really believe that? We often don’t live like we do.

This life isn’t all there is. We don’t just get a few beans (i.e., days) and then we die. We have the promise of a resurrection. We have been “united with [Christ]” (v. 5). As he was raised from the dead, we will one day be raised from the dead. God’s plan for us is better than we can imagine!

Knowing that God has something amazing planned for our future frees us to serve him and others now.

Monday, July 2, 2018

If Grace Abounds, Why Not Sin?

Part 16 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 6:1-4




What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (v. 1). 


Can We Game the System?

In 5:20 the apostle Paul writes, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” No matter how great our sin is, God’s grace is greater. 

What is God’s grace? God’s grace is the undeserved kindness he shows to us. So far in his letter to the Romans, Paul has talked a lot about something called justification (i.e., being declared righteous by God). Justification is by grace through faith. It’s based on what Christ has done for us—he died for our sins—not on what we have done for God. Justification is given—as a free gift—by God; it’s not earned by us.

In 6:1 Paul brings up a question that is often asked about the gospel: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” The more sin he forgives, the more gracious he becomes. Why not sin so that God’s grace will look even better?

Athletes often look for ways to “game the system”—exploit the rules to gain an advantage (e.g., fake an injury instead of wasting a timeout). Can God’s grace be exploited? Can we game the system?


How Can We Continue in Sin?

Paul’s answer to the question raised in verse 1 is “By no means!” (v. 2). In other words, of course not! Why not? He says, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v. 2).

To “continue in sin” and “live in it” means to live a lifestyle of sin. Many people think that freedom is living however you want to live—no rules! But that’s not true freedom; it actually ends up being slavery. We live in a free country, but there are laws in Canada. We can't do whatever we want to do. True freedom isn’t lawlessness; it’s the freedom to be what God made us to be.

To “continue in sin” is to exploit God’s grace. How can we—people who have been saved by God’s grace—exploit that grace? We can’t. In other words, we don’t want to do that. Why don’t believers want to exploit God’s grace?

First, we don’t want to exploit God’s grace because we love him. When we do something that insults someone, they might say, “How could you do that?” How can we continue in sin? To want to exploit God’s grace is the ultimate insult to God.

Second, we don’t want to exploit God’s grace because our desires have changed. To “die to sin” means to be freed from the power of sin [1] (“so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin,” v. 6; “sin will have no dominion over you,” v. 14). It doesn’t mean that we’re numb to temptation or that we never sin. It means that “living my own way” no longer has the same appeal.


When Did We "Die to Sin"?

When did we “die to sin”? Look at verses 3 and 4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Paul says that a believer is united with Christ (in his death, burial, and resurrection) through baptism. Is Paul saying that baptism is what makes us a Christian? No, but we must keep in mind that in Paul’s day, a person was baptized immediately after putting his or her faith in Christ (e.g., the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 and the Philippian jailor in Acts 16: “he was baptized at once,” v. 33). It would have been extremely rare to find an unbaptized believer.

Baptism is part of what could be called the “conversion-initiation experience,” [2] which also includes faith, repentance, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This helps explain Peter’s words in Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

We Baptists are guilty of de-emphasizing baptism in reaction to those who say a person is saved by baptism. Douglas Moo writes, “I think if Paul had ever been asked about an ‘unbaptized believer,’ he would have responded: ‘Well, yes, such a person is saved, but why in the world isn’t she baptized?’ [3]


What's the Next Step of Faith for You?

 Part of the conversion-initiation experience is being given the Holy Spirit. He transforms our hearts. Because we love God, we want to do his will.

What’s the next step of faith that God wants you to take? Baptism?

____________________

[1] God has freed us from the penalty of sin (i.e., justification). God has freed us from the power of sin (i.e., sanctification). God will free us from the presence of sin (i.e., glorification).
[2] Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p. 260.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 206.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

What Adam Did, Jesus Undid

Part 15 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 5:12-21




Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men (v. 18). 


Jesus, the Undoer

Have you ever had to undo something that someone else did?

My wife is a hairstylist by trade, and there have been times when she’s been asked to undo a mess someone has made with their hair. Maybe they used a do-it-yourself hair colouring kit and turned their hair green. Or their child was playing with scissors and cut a chunk out of their hair.

In Romans 5:12-21, the apostle Paul tells us that by one act Adam brought great harm to the human race. But Paul goes on to share the good news: what Adam did, Jesus undid. 


What Adam Did, Jesus Undid

Death is a universal problem that has brought tremendous sorrow into the world. Humanity as been able to prolong life through medical science, but eventually all people still die. What is the biblical reason for death? In verse 12 we find the answer: “sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin” (v. 12).

God had warned Adam, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Adam’s sin is called a “transgression” (v. 14) and a “trespass” (vv. 15, 17, 18) because it was “a willful violation of a known law.” [1] What kind of death did Adam bring into the world? Paul probably means both physical death (separation from the body) and spiritual death (estrangement from God).

“So death spread to all men [i.e., the entire human race] because all sinned” (v. 12). Why do all people die? “Because all sinned.” But what does that mean? There are three views concerning what “all sinned” means. (1) “All sinned” means imitation of Adam’s sin. In other words, we have sinned like Adam sinned. (2) “All sinned” means infection from Adam’s sin. In other words, we have sinned because we inherited from Adam a sinful nature. (3) “All sinned” means inclusion in Adam’s sin. [2] In other words, we sinned when Adam sinned. [3]

I believe the context favours the third view. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “God has always dealt with mankind through a head and representative. The whole story of the human race can be summed up in terms of what has happened because of Adam, and what has happened because of Christ.” [4]

You might see this as unfair. “Why should everyone die because of the sin one man committed thousands of years ago?” But the same could be said of justification through Christ: “Why should the death of one man thousands of years ago lead to eternal life for many?”


How Jesus Undid It

“Adam, who was a type [pattern, NIV] of the one who was to come [Jesus]” (v. 14b). How was Adam like Jesus? Both Adam and Jesus committed an act that affected the whole human race. But there’s a big difference between what kind of effect the acts of Adam and Jesus have had on us.

By one act (i.e., eating the forbidden fruit), everyone is condemned, which leads to eternal death (i.e., being estranged from God forever). By one act (i.e., dying on a cross for our sins), anyone can be justified, which leads to eternal life.

On our accounts, we either have the sin of Adam (by birth) or the righteousness of Christ (by faith).


Grace

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass” (v. 20). Sin is worse when it’s a violation of a clear command. “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (v. 20). How does God view sin? In righteous anger. But God’s grace is greater than his wrath.

The cross shows us that our sin is not something that can be simply overlooked. It also shows us the amazing grace of God.

____________________

[1] Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, p. 144.
[2] The words “imitation,” “infection,” and “inclusion” are taken from Douglas J. Moo’s Romans (pp. 189-192).
[3] In Hebrew, “Adam” and “man” are the same word.
[4] Quoted in John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, pp. 152-153.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reconciled by the Death of God's Son

Part 14 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 5:6-11




But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (v. 8). 


Saved from What?

Normally when Christians talk about being “saved,” they’re talking about a past event. (“When were you saved?”) But in Romans 5, the apostle Paul says believers will be saved (future tense).

What do we—those of us who have put our faith in Christ—hope to be saved from? When you’re in a swimming pool and you yell “Help!” to the lifeguard, you want to be saved from drowning. When you’re in a burning building and you yell “Help!” to a firefighter, you want to be saved from the fire. The kind of salvation that Paul is talking about is salvation from hell and God’s wrath.

There are a lot of people who would like to get rid of hell and God’s wrath. (“If God is a God of love, how can he send people to hell?”) But if you get rid of hell and God’s wrath, what you end up with is a less loving God. How can that be true?


Reconciliation

Notice how Paul describes us: “weak” (v. 6), “ungodly” (v. 6), “sinners” (v. 8), and “enemies” (v. 10). In other words, humanity is guilty before God and hostile toward God. We need justification (because of our guilt before God) and reconciliation (because of our hostility toward God).

God longs for people to be reconciled to him. God is like the father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). When the son finally comes to his senses and returns home, his father sees him while he’s “still a long way off” —which implies that the father has been waiting for his son to return. As the father has been waiting, has he been planning how he’ll punish his son? No, he’s been longing for reconciliation. He runs to meet his son. He receives him back. He celebrates. Jesus said, “There is joy [a celebration!] before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).


The Cost of Reconciliation

To what degree does God long for us to experience reconciliation with him? The answer is found in the words “Christ died for us” (v. 8). The cross shows us how much God loves us (“sinners,” v. 8) and desires reconciliation between us and him (“God shows his love for us,” v. 8). (Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it was easier for God to give up his Son than it would be for us to give up our child.)

What’s your reaction to the story of the prodigal son? Maybe your reaction is “He didn’t deserve to be welcome back by his father!” That’s the point.

We are no more deserving.


In My Place Condemned He Stood

The night before Jesus was crucified, he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). What was the “cup”? In the OT, God’s wrath is sometimes described as a cup (“the cup of his wrath,” Isa. 51:17). Christ dying for us meant that the God’s wrath was poured out on him. This is why if we get rid of hell and wrath that God is made less loving.

From the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Jesus faced God’s wrath so that we could be reconciled. We are “reconciled by the death of his Son” (v. 10).

Because of what God has already done for us, we can be sure that we will be “saved” (vv. 9, 10).

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

We Are Servants, Not Consumers

Part 4 of Jesus, Continued...

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-20




To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). 


A Consumer or a Servant?

In a church, there are two types of people: consumers and servants.

A consumer goes to church with a shopping list. A consumer says, “I want a church that _____. The church is supposed to give me _____.”

A servant goes to church with a to-do list. A servant says, “How can I help this church be _____? How can I give _____?” 

Are you a consumer or a servant?


Spiritual Gifts

To help us be servants, God has given us spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is a God-given ability for service.

  • Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift (“everyone,” v. 6; “each,” v. 7; “each one,” v. 11). 
  • No spiritual gift in unimportant. The church is like a human body (v. 12). Each part of the body has an important ability. So does every Christian. Nobody has all the gifts. We need one another. (The eye shows the hand where to throw the baseball. The hand stops the ball from hitting the eye.) 
  • Spiritual gifts are expressed in unique ways. Having the same gift as another Christian doesn’t mean that both of you will use the gift in exactly the same way. And don’t try to be someone else. 
  • Spiritual gifts do not determine spiritual maturity. Earlier, Paul writes, “You [the church in Corinth] are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1:7). But he goes on to say, “I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (3:1). Love is the real measure of spiritual maturity.
  • Spiritual gifts do not limit a Christian to only one kind of service. If there’s a pressing need, don’t say, “That’s not my gift!” Don’t use your spiritual gift as an excuse not to serve. Certain spiritual gifts are given to some, but commands (e.g., “Encourage one another,” 1 Thess. 5:11) are given to all.
  • Spiritual gifts must be developed through constant use. “Having gifts…let us use them” (Rom. 12:6). Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have” (1 Tim. 4:4). 
  • Don’t wait until you “discover” your spiritual gift before you start serving. Just do something! 

A Servant's Heart

We have been given spiritual gifts “for the common good [i.e., to help one another]” (v. 7). The apostle Peter writes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Don’t ask, “What can I get?” Ask, “What can I give?”

Jesus declared, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). To be a giver is to be like God. God has a servant’s heart.

Are you a consumer of a servant? Do you carry a shopping list or a to-do list?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

It's All About Love

Part 3 of Jesus, Continued...

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-7




…but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). 


All for Nothing?

Have you ever assembled a piece of IKEA furniture? Have you ever neglected one important step in the instructions and had to take it all apart and start over? All of your work was for nothing.

Now let’s replace assembling a piece of IKEA furniture with living the Christian life. Let me describe to you how Fred (not a real person) lives the Christian life.

Fred is at church whenever the door is open. He’s at church more often than the pastor! He gives not 10%, but 11% to the church. And that’s off his gross income, not his net income! He reads the entire Bible once every year. He doesn’t even skip over the genealogies!

But when Fred’s life is over and he stands before God, God says to Fred, “It was all for nothing.” How could it be all for nothing?


“But Have Not Love”

We shouldn’t rip 1 Corinthians 13 from its context. In chapter 12, Paul brings up the topic of spiritual gifts (“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed,” 12:1). What is a spiritual gift? A spiritual gift is a God-given ability for service (“there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit,” 12:4)

Why have we been given these gifts? It wasn’t so we could boast about how gifted we are. We have been given spiritual gifts to help others: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (12:7). Paul likens the church to a human body—many parts with different abilities. We are the different parts of the body of Christ, and we are to work together to help each other become more like Jesus.

Then at the end of chapter 12 Paul says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31b). What is the “more excellent way”? It’s the way of love—using our spiritual gifts in love.

If we don’t have love, we miss the point of being a Christian. We can do lots of impressive things, but it’ will all be for nothing if we don’t have love (13:1-3).


What Is Love?

But what is love? The clearest expression of love is the cross: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

The kind of love Paul is talking about is not merely a feeling. Love is behaviour. “To love is to act; anything short of action is not love at all” (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 628).

To love others is to treat others as God has treated us. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). “Concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9). “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 13:34b-35).

[Read verses 4-7 saying “Jesus” instead of “love.” Then add your own name instead of “love.”] 


Evidence of the Spirit's Presence

How do we know if we have the Holy Spirit within us? Galatians 5:22 says that “the fruit of the Spirit is love.” The Holy Spirit has been given to us to produce love in our lives. The presence of love in our lives is evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Love should be the reason why obey God’s will. (This doesn’t mean that people can’t be helped when we don’t do something in love.) The Holy Spirit has been given to us to produce in us the love we need. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:26-27).


Can't Blame It on the Instructions

The Bible isn’t unclear about love like IKEA assembly instructions are sometimes unclear. We can’t blame our lack of love on the instructions.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Trinity: A Model for the Church

Part 2 of Jesus, Continued...

Text: Genesis 1:26-27




“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26). 


The Trinity 

Imagine reading a murder mystery, getting to the part where you’re told who “did it,” but discover-ing that the rest of the pages are missing. You know who did it, but you don’t exactly know how they did it. Trying to understand the Trinity is sort of like that.

The Bible clearly states that there is only one God: “The LORD [i.e., Yahweh] our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4). But Yahweh exists as three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God is three distinct Persons. He is not successively Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Sabellianism); he is simultaneously Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Otherwise, how would we make sense of the baptism of Jesus?

God is three equal Persons. The Son is not inferior to the Father (Arianism). Yes, Jesus did say, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). But what he meant was that the Father is greater in authority. Jesus also said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:28). He meant that he and the Father are one God.
Can we completely understand the Trinity? No. But the fact that we can’t completely understand the Trinity doesn’t mean it’s not true. The fact that my three-year-old daughter can’t understand gravity doesn’t make it not true.


Made in God's Image

In the story of creation in Genesis 1, God repeatedly says, “Let there be.” But in verse 26, he says, “Let us make.” Many theologians believe that “us” is the first hint of the Trinity in the Bible. “Let us make” what? “Let us [the triune God] make man in our image, after our likeness.”

We—humans, both male and female—have been made to be like God. Are we like the Trinity? God existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed to the Father, “You loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24). God was never alone. Before he made the woman, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). We were made to not be alone; we were made to be like the Trinity—to enjoy relationships. 


A Model for the Church

The three Persons of the Trinity, though they are equal, are different from each other. In John 15:26 we see all three persons of the Trinity: “When the Helper comes, whom I [Jesus] will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

In the Trinity, there is unity and diversity. The Persons of the Trinity have different roles, but they work together in perfect harmony.

In the Trinity, there is authority and submission. The Father is first in authority, the Son is second, and the Spirit is third. It’s the Father and the Son who send the Spirit, not the other way around. Yet all three Persons are equal. Authority isn’t superiority. In the Trinity, there is no jealousy or resentment.

The Trinity is a model for all of our relationships, including our relationships with one another in this church. A church should be like the Trinity in two ways.

1. A church should exhibit both unity and diversity. 

Jesus prayed, “May they be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). Are we one? In every church, there is diversity, but is there unity? Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The “glory of God” is the image (likeness) of God. When you take our differences and then add to it our sinfulness, you often get disunity—which is not God-likeness.

We have also been given diverse gifts (abilities) from the Holy Spirit. “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 4:6). We are to work together in harmony (like the Trinity does), not unison.

2. A church should embrace both authority and submission. 

Our culture despises authority. Why? Because we are sinners who want to be in charge of our own lives. The attitudes in a church should be different from the attitudes in the world. Have you ever thought that to submit to authority is to act like God? We can be like God both by how we lead and how we submit.

The apostle Paul writes, “The head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Jesus declared, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Hours before he was to be crucified, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). The relationship of authority and submission between the Father and the Son works because of their love for each other.

[Read Philippians 2:1-11.] How awful does our selfish ambition and conceit look when compared to the Son’s submission to the Father culminating in his crucifixion? Are we reflecting the image of God in our church?