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!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

If God Is For Us, We Should Never Be Afraid

Part 1 of God Is For Us

Text: Romans 8:31-32




What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (vv. 31-32).


New Series

We are starting a new series of sermons based on Romans 8:31-39. The series is called “God Is For Us.”

  1. If God is for us, we should never be afraid (vv. 31-32) 
  2. If God is for us, we will never be condemned (vv. 33-34) 
  3. If God is for us, we will never be abandoned (vv. 35-39) 

The apostle Paul asks, “What then shall we say to these things?” (v. 31). “These things” probably refers to all that he’s written in chapters 5-8. Paul answers his question with five rhetorical questions. Let’s read what says about “these things.”


God Is on Our Side

When my high school basketball team would go to a tournament, the first thing we’d do was look at the tournament schedule. Who would our first opponent be? Imagine if we could insert into our starting lineup a player like Lebron James. We wouldn’t care who we were playing against. It wouldn’t matter. That’s what Paul means when he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31).

“If” means “since.” For God to be “for us” means that he’s on our side. Since God is on our side, it doesn’t matter who our enemies are. We can say with the psalmist, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6). Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Paul isn’t saying that God’s children won’t experience any opposition. He’s not saying we won’t ever go through times of trouble. [Talk about things that could make us afraid.] What he’s saying is that nothing can cause us ultimate harm—undo all that God has done, is doing, and will do for us. “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined…. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified” we are sure that he will glorify.

[Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.] In the end, all of the opposition and trouble we face in this life, will produce “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”


God Gave Up His Son for Us

God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (v. 32). This is the clearest demonstration of God being “for us.” Octavius Winslow said, “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy;—but the Father, for love!”

Paul could be thinking of the story of Abraham and Isaac found in Genesis 22. God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him…as a burnt offering” (v. 2). In the end, Isaac was spared. But Jesus was not spared. What Abraham was told to do, God did. He “gave [his own Son] for us all.”

There could be no greater gift than the gift of God’s Son to die for us. Since God has already given us the greatest gift, he will certainly give us everything else we need. If someone has already graciously purchased a new car for you, will they mind giving you a piece of gum? [Read Philippians 4:19, then verses 11-13.] Remember: sometimes we don't actually need what we think we need.


Fear Not

What causes you to fear? If God is for us—and he is!—we should never be afraid. God—who if he were a basketball player would make Lebron James look like me—is on our side!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Glorified!

Part 5 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:29-30




For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (vv. 29-30). 


God Is Not Indifferent to Our Suffering

In this life we groan. It’s normal to ask, “Why, God?” But one question we should never ask is “Do you care, God?”

In John 11, Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus informing him that their brother Lazarus is dying. Jesus doesn’t leave until two days later, and by the time he arrives at their house, Lazarus has died. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21). I think what she really wants to say was, “Why didn’t you come sooner?” Did Jesus not care?

When Jesus sees Mary weeping, he becomes “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (v. 33). The KJV says that Jesus groans. [1]  And then when he arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus cries. [2]

God is not indifferent to our suffering. When we groan, God groans. When we cry, God cries.


The Coming Day of Glory

There is no greater proof that God cares about us than the cross. On that cross, Jesus groaned so that one day our groaning would cease. On that cross, Jesus suffered so that one day our suffering would end.

There is coming a day so glorious that the suffering of this life will seem like nothing in comparison. [3] That’s not making light of our suffering. That’s making much of the glory of that day!

How can we be sure that we will experience this day of glory? 


An Unbreakable Chain

The “purpose” of God (v. 28) is outlined in verses 29 and 30. There is an unbreakable chain of five links (i.e., five acts of God) that guarantee the completion of a believer’s salvation: “those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined…. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

“Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (v. 29). There’s been a lot of debate about what “foreknew” means.

There are two interpretations:

  • “Foreknew” means that God knew ahead of time who would put their faith in Christ. 
  • “Foreknew” means that God foreloved the elect (i.e., those whom he chose to be saved). “In Scripture God’s knowing often refers to his entering into relationship with someone.” [4] For example, in Amos 3:2 God says, “You [Israel] only have I known [5] of all the families of the earth.”

I agree with the second interpretation—though I also believe that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

“Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Our destiny is to be like Jesus in his glorified state. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21).

“Those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified.” “Calling” is not a general gospel invitation. It is God’s effective summoning of us into relationship with himself through Christ.” [6]

“Those whom [God] justified he also glorified.” Our glorification hasn’t happened yet. Why does Paul talk about it in the past tense? Because it’s as good as done from God’s perspective.


Grace Alone

How can we be sure that we will experience the day of glory? We can be sure because of God’s grace and God’s grace alone. It’s not up to us. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). “Every justified believer will be saved in the end.” [7]

____________________

[1] “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled” (John 11:33, KJV).
[2] “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
[3] “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
[4] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 270.
[5] The NIV says, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth.”
[6] Moo, Romans, p. 270.
[7] Ibid., p. 279.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

God Works All Things for Our Good

Part 4 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:28




And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (v. 28). 


An Amazing Promise

The promise of Romans 8:28 is one of the greatest promises in the Bible: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Nothing will come into our lives that God doesn’t allow and use for our good. What this promise tells us is that “God is for us” (v. 31).

But maybe you don’t feel like God is for you. Maybe your life—or the life of someone you know—seems to contradict Romans 8:28. Let’s make sure we understand what the apostle Paul is really saying in Romans 8:28.


A Promise for Every Believer

This promise isn’t for everyone. This promise is “for those who love God.” This promise is “for those who are called according to his purpose.” Paul isn’t talking about two kinds of people; he’s talking about one kind of person. He’s talking about believers.

You might be thinking, “But what if I don’t love God enough?” Paul isn’t saying that this promise applies only to believers who love God to a certain degree. This promise is for every believer. “Those who love God” is a description of all believers.


All Things?

All things work together for good.” “All things” means all things—both the good things and the bad things. But this doesn’t mean that bad things are good things.

Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). The crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate example of God using a bad thing to bring about good. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). “In this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).

Was the crucifixion of Jesus a good thing? That’s a tricky question. The cross was both the worst thing that ever happened and the best thing that ever happened.


"Good" Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

“All things work together for good.” Romans 8:28 is not promising that life will always be easy for a believer. Consider Paul’s life. He certainly didn’t live a life of ease. [Read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.] 

We shouldn’t interpret “good” from the world’s perspective. For example, if a believer loses his or her job, we shouldn’t automatically say, "Don’t be upset. God must have an even better job for you because 'all things work together for good.'" Maybe that is the plan of God. But maybe it isn’t. [Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.] “Good” includes our conformity to Christ—which begins in this life—and our glorification. [Read verses 29-30.] 


The Benefit of Hindsight

Paul says, “We know that…all things work together for good.” “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 12:8). In the present, we “know” by faith. We trust God to cause everything to work together for our good. We trust God—an all-wise God, an all-powerful God, a faithful God, a good God. One day, we will “know” by sight.

We live this life not having all the answers, not understanding why things happen the way they do. We ask, “Why would God allow [something bad] to happen?”

Think again about the crucifixion of Jesus. As his mother and friends were standing there watching him suffer and die, what were they thinking? They were probably thinking, “This is the most horrible thing that could have ever happened.” They were probably asking, “Why did God allow this to happen?”

We now have the benefit of hindsight. We now see that the cross was both the worst thing that ever happened and the best thing that ever happened. In the end, we’ll have the benefit of hindsight. We’ll be able to look back at some awful times in our lives and see how God was working for our good. The promise of Romans 8:28 gives us hope when everything seems pointless and painful.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Holy Spirit's Groaning

Part 3 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:26-27




Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (v. 26). 


It's Not Easy to Pray

It’s not easy to pray. Anyone who says it’s easy to pray is either lying or isn’t normal. Why isn’t it easy to pray?

  • Prayer requires time. 
  • Prayer requires discipline. No one accidentally falls into the habit of daily prayer.
  • Prayer requires focus. 
  • We often don’t know what to pray for. The Bible tells us to pray “according to the will of God,” but what do we do when we’re not sure what God’s will is? Should we pray for deliverance from our troubles or for strength to endure them? 

Why should we bother to pray when we don’t know what to pray for?


The Spirit Helps Us

When we don’t know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit helps us. “The Spirit [who “dwells in” believers (v. 11)] helps us in our weakness” (v. 26). [1]

Notice that Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” He doesn’t say “you.” Paul is admitting that even he didn’t always know what to pray for. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells about a time when he asked for something that wasn’t the will of God. [Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.]

How does the Spirit help us? He “intercedes [i.e., prays] for us” (v. 26). And how does he intercede for us? He intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words” (v. 26). One way to understand these “groanings” is that they are our groanings. “They are inexpressible longings that arise in every believer’s heart to do and know the will of God.” [2] But our groanings also become the Spirit’s groanings. He takes them to the Father and “translates these groanings and conforms them to God’s will.” [3]


Your Will Be Done

The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is the model for our prayers. We naturally want the easier path (deliverance from the trouble rather than strength through the trouble). It’s not wrong to pray for deliverance. Jesus prayed—while being “greatly distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33)—that the “cup” (a metaphor for the wrath of God) would be removed from him. But in the end, he said, “Yet not I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

 Is that your desire? Do you desire to do the will of the God who endured the cross?


Hope in Prayer

Verse 26 begins with the word “Likewise.” As our hope helps us in times of trouble, the Spirit helps us when we don’t know what to pray for.

If we truly desire to do the will of God, we don’t have to fear that we might ask for the wrong thing. The Spirit intercedes for us.

___________________

[1] The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. There is only one God, but each Person of the Trinity is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Should we not believe in the Trinity because we can’t understand it? No! We shouldn’t expect to understand with our finite minds everything about God. God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). Even the most brilliant human mind is finite.
[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 446.
[3] Ibid.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Our Groaning

Part 2 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:23-25




And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (v. 23). 


Groaning

The apostle Paul says that we (i.e., believers) “groan inwardly” (v. 23). Did you groan about something this past week?

  • We groan about the never-ending tasks of life.
  • We groan about our physical struggles (e.g., tiredness, weight gain, sickness, pain).
  • We groan about our relational problems (e.g., failed marriages).
  • We groan about our spiritual failures (e.g., not loving others as ourselves). 

We don’t groan because we have no hope. We groan because we do have hope. How can hope cause us to groan?


Our Hope

Paul writes, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23).

We “have the firstfruits of the Spirit.” The “firstfruits” are the beginning of the harvest, and they also cause the farmer to anticipate a greater harvest. Paul is saying that because we’ve received the Holy Spirit, we now look forward to even greater blessings. And since we are looking forward to a life that is so much better, we groan when we go through the struggles of this life.

An elderly person who was once a great athlete must inwardly groan when he struggles to walk up the stairs. He groans when he looks back. We groan when we look forward—not because we don’t have hope, but because we do have hope.

When Paul talks about our “hope,” he’s not talking about the normal kind of hope (i.e., wishful thinking)—“I hope I win a million dollars.” Our hope isn’t wishful thinking because it’s guaranteed by the word and power of God.

What’s our hope? “We wait eagerly for adoption as sons.” But didn’t Paul say in verse 15 that we already children of God? Yes, we have already been adopted into God’s family, but we do not yet enjoy all of the blessings of adoption. We are living in the period between justification and glorification (v. 30).

Paul is thinking specifically about “the redemption of our bodies.” [Read 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.] When Christ returns our bodies will raised (if he comes after we die) and transformed. “The redemption of our bodies” is not only freedom from our physical struggles, but also freedom from our spiritual struggles. (Do we groan about both?) “In this hope we were saved” (v. 24a).

There needs to be a balance in our lives between thankfulness (for our present blessings) and groaning (as we look forward to our future blessings).


How Should We Wait?

“Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (v. 24b). “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

We are waiting for a day when we will no longer groan. This is our hope. How should we wait for the day when our groaning will cease?

1. We are to wait with excitement (“we wait eagerly,” v. 23). 

Are you waiting for some big event, counting down the days? My kids often ask, “How many days until…?” We count down the days when were excited. What God has planned for our future is something to get excited about!

2. We are to wait with endurance (“we wait for it with patience,” v. 25). 

Paul isn’t talking about just killing time. He’s talking about holding on to hope despite suffering and difficulties. It’s not like waiting to see the dentist for a checkup. It’s like waiting to see the dentist because you have a terrible toothache. But remember, we’re not just waiting for the end of all our problems. We’re waiting for a future so glorious that we can’t even begin to imagine it.


We Are Far Too Easily Pleased

Are we really longing for this day?

C. S. Lewis writes,
…it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased (The Weight of Glory, p. 26).

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Creation's Groaning

Part 1 of From Groaning to Glory

Text: Romans 8:18-30




For 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). 


Series Introduction

For the remainder of our journey through the book of Romans, I’m going to do things a bit differently. From here on out, I’m going to make each section of Romans into its own little series of sermons. So I’m beginning a four-part series on Romans 8:18-30. And I’m calling this series From Groaning to Glory.

Notice the word “groaning” in verse 22, the word “groan” in verse 23, and the word “groanings” in verse 26. And also notice the word “glorified” at the end of verse 30. From groaning to glory.


Present Suffering, Future Glory

Paul writes, “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). Is Paul saying that our suffering is insignificant?

Paul isn’t saying that people don’t experience great suffering. I'm sure you can think of someone (maybe it's yourself) who is going through a time of great suffering. And we know that there are many others who are going through similar kinds of suffering--or even worse.

Notice that verse 18 begins with the word “For.” What Paul says in verse 18 is connected to what he said in verse 17: we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

In verse 17, Paul is talking about persecution. In verse 18, he’s talking about all kinds of suffering. We suffer because of our “human frailty,” which includes both our physical and moral frailty. [1]

Paul doesn’t pretend that a person’s problems disappear when he or she becomes a follower of Christ. Actually, he often writes in his letters about how following Christ caused him to experience suffering. [2]

Paul suffered greatly. People today suffer greatly. Paul isn’t saying that our suffering is insignificant. What he is saying is that the suffering we experience now is nothing compared to the glory we will one day experience. So if our suffering is great, imagine how great the glory will be!


Eager Longing

Paul says that the glory will be so great that even “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (v. 19). Paul personifies [3] creation. [4]

He says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (vv. 20-21).

Who subjected creation to futility? It was God. Creation was “subjected to futility” because of humanity’s sin. [Read Genesis 3:17-19.] This world is not what it was made to be. But notice that he subjected creation to futility “in hope”—in hope that one day creation will “be set free from its bondage to corruption.” God says that he will “create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isa. 57:17; cf. Rev. 21:1).

We won’t forget about the old heavens and earth, but we won’t miss it (like my parents miss their old washing machine, even though they now have a new and “better” one). [Read Revelation 21:1-5; 22:3.] Paul is talking about the world we want to live in—a world where “the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev. 21:3), a world free from futility and frustration.

In The House at Pooh Corner, Winnie the Pooh is asked, “What do you like doing best in the world?” Pooh starts to answer, and then he stops and thinks because “although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you begin to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” That’s true. Usually the anticipation is better than the experience. The experience often doesn’t live up to our expectations. And, of course, every experience is only temporary.

What do you long for? What we really long for, we won’t find in this world. C. S. Lewis once said that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” [5] We were made for another world.


Do You Have Hope? 

In verse 22, Paul says “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” I haven’t experienced childbirth (obviously), but I’ve observed it. I was present for the birth of my four children. What I know is that the pain of childbirth is great, but it’s nothing compared to the joy of having a newborn baby. That’s what keeps a woman going during the pain of childbirth.

In this world, there is great suffering. But the suffering we experience now is nothing compared to the glory we will one day experience. Imagine how great the glory will be!

One thing we need during times of suffering is hope. Do you have hope?

____________________

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 237.
[2] In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “Once I was stoned” (2 Cor. 11:25; cf. Acts 14:19).
[3] This is common in the Bible. For example, Psalm 65:13 says that the pastures, hills, meadows, and valleys “shout and sing together for joy.”
[4] “Creation” refers to “all of subhuman creation: plants, animals, rocks, and so on” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 266).
[5] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 136-137.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What's So Great About Being a Child of God?

Part 26 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:14-17




For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (v. 15). 


My Dad! 

There’s a viral video in which a group of girls are bragging about their dads.

One girl says, “My daddy has a gold tooth!”

One of the girls is impressed: “Wow, a gold tooth?”

Not to be outdone, another girl turns to the first girl and says, “My dad has diabetes.”

We who are Christians say that God is our Father. And the Bible actually encourages us to boast about “our Father in heaven”: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). So what’s so great about being a child of God?


What It Means to Be a Child of God

In these verses, Paul gives us two reasons why it’s an amazing privilege to be a child of God—to have God as our Father.

1. A child of God has been adopted by God. 

In verse 14, Paul says, “All who led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Later, he writes, “We have received the Spirit of adoption as sons.” To be adopted by God means to be chosen by God. God has chosen us to be his children.

Why do verses 14 and 15 say that we are “sons,” not “sons and daughters”? Is Paul excluding women? No! The reason why Paul uses the word “sons” has to do with the culture of his day. In that culture, a childless adult would adopt a male child to be his heir. So an adopted child would have been a son.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26). And then he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). In other words, all of us—both male and female—are equal in God’s family. No one is more or less a child of God than anyone else!

To be adopted by God also means to be loved by God. In verses 15 and 16, Paul writes, “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (cf. Gal. 4:6). Our relationship with God is not a relationship of fear; it’s a relationship of love.

Paul says that we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Paul’s original letter would have read Abba! Pater! The word Abba—which, by the way, has nothing to do with a Swedish pop group—is Aramaic, and the word Pater is Greek. Both words mean “Father.”

Jesus spoke Aramaic, so “Abba” is what Jesus called God. In Mark 14:36, Jesus address God as “Abba, Father.” When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he taught them to address God in the same way: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9).

Once God adopts us, we never have to fear that God will one day return us to the orphanage. He will never disown us. He will never kick us out of his family. We are permanently in God’s family. Nothing can or will change that. As Paul says later in Romans 8, “[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).

2. A child of God is an heir of God. 

In verse 17, Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with out spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

What does it mean to be “an heir of God”? What is our inheritance? Our inheritance includes many things, but the greatest treasure of our inheritance is God himself. “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6). We were made for God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the “chief end of man” is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

We are “fellow heirs with Christ.” Jesus became like us (v. 3) so that we could become like him (v. 29). The Son died on a cross so that I could become a son! “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 8:10).


Am I Really God's Child?

How do I know if I’m really a child of God? Am I really God’s child? Is God really my Father? If God is my Father, I will resemble him. How can I resemble God?

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells them, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:1-2). To be an imitator of God is to be like him in our character and in our actions.

Jesus “loved us and gave himself up for us.” The Father “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Look at 17: “if children then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” We aren’t to desire suffering, but are you willing to suffer in order to remain faithful to God? God was willing to suffer for us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How Do I know if the Holy Spirit Lives in Me?

Part 25 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:5-13




You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (v. 9). 


If in Fact

The apostle Paul says that there are two—only two—categories of people in this world. There are people who are “in the flesh,” and there are people who are “in the Spirit.”

Now this isn’t like if you’re left-handed or right-handed. The consequences of being “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit” are much higher!

  • “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (v. 8).
  • “If you live according to the flesh, you will die” (v. 13). 

Paul says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (v. 9a). But that’s not the end of the sentence. The next word is “if”: “if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (v. 9b). There’s a lot riding on whether or not the Holy Spirit is living in us!

How do I know if the Holy Spirit lives in me? Let me ask you this: What’s your mind set on? 


What's Your Mind Set On?

In verse 5, Paul writes, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” To set the mind on something is to desire something. We either desire “the things of the flesh” or “the things of the Spirit.”

What is the “flesh”? It’s “our fallen, ego-centric human nature” [1] To live “according to the flesh” is to live a life that’s all about me.

To “live according to the Spirit” is to live a different kind of life. The Holy Spirit transforms our mind. We have a new desire—a desire to please God. We desire “the fruit of the Spirit,” which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Verse 4 tells us that Jesus died so that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” “In us” could mean “for us” (i.e., justification) or “by us” (i.e., sanctification). Jesus didn’t die only for our justification. He also died for our sanctification. “Holiness is the ultimate purpose of the incarnation and the atonement.” [2]

What are you setting your mind on? [Read James 4:1-4; 1 John 2:15-17.] Are your values and pursuits any different from those of the world? What we set our minds on will affect the way we live.


Is Grace Just About Getting?

We are justified by grace. Justification is a gift from God. But is grace just about getting? What about giving? Do we say, “God, you have given me so much, but I’m not gonna give anything to you”?

There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). But verse 13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v. 13). That’s a warning.
Neither the “indicative”—what God has done for us in Christ—nor the “imperative”—what we are commanded to do—can be eliminated. Nor can they be severed from one another; they are inextricably connected. The point of that connection in this passage is the Spirit. The same Spirit that “set us free from the law of sin and death” has taken up residence within us, producing in us that “mind-set” which tends toward the doing of God’s will and resists the ways of the flesh. [3] 
“We are debtors” (v. 12). Giving back to God isn’t optional. But God isn’t saying, “If you don’t pay me back, I’m going to take away everything I’ve given you.” First of all, we can never pay God back. Secondly, anyone who has the Holy Spirit will never argue that we don’t owe God our lives.

____________________

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 222.
[2] Ibid., p. 221.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 495.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Justification and Sanctification

Part 24 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:1-4




For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (v. 2). 


Justification and Sanctification

Two important biblical words are “justification” and “sanctification.” What do they mean?

Justification is the declaring of a person to be righteous (i.e., not guilty). (It’s like when we say, “His actions were justified.” In other words, the person is not guilty of wrongdoing.)

Sanctification is moral transformation (i.e., Christlikeness, holiness). Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of life,” v. 2). This is why he is called the Holy Spirit. (It's not that he's more holy than the Father and the Son.)


What's the Connection?

Many commentators believe that 8:1 is about justification (“no condemnation”) and 8:2 is about sanctification. [1] What’s the connection between verses 1 and 2?

Notice that verse 2 begins with “For,” which means “because.” John Piper points out that “because” can be used two ways. It can be used to provide evidence of something or state the cause of something. [2]

If I say, "I am tired because I’m yawning,” I'm saying that my yawning is evidence of being tired. But if I say, “I am tired because I didn’t get much sleep,” I'm saying that my not getting much sleep is the cause of being tired.

Is sanctification the cause of justification, or is sanctification the evidence of justification?

Sanctification isn’t the cause of justification. If it was, we could never achieve (or keep) the status of “no condemnation.” Sanctification is the evidence of justification.


God Has Done What the Law Couldn't Do

If it’s impossible for us to get rid of our guilt, how is it possible? “God has done what the law [i.e., the Mosaic law], weakened by the flesh [i.e., our sinfulness], could not do” (v. 3a). The purpose of the law was not to justify us: “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). [3]

God has done what the law couldn’t do: make a way for us to be justified. How?

  • The Father sent the Son (“By sending his own Son,” v. 3b). 
  • The Son became human (“in the likeness of sinful flesh,” v. 3c). “His humanity was both real and sinless simultaneously.” [4]
  • The Son became an offering for our sin (“for sin,” v. 3d). 
  • The penalty for our sin was paid by the Son on the cross (“he condemned sin in the flesh,” v. 3e). “In the flesh” refers to the body of Jesus. “Believers are no longer ‘condemned’ (v. 1) because in Christ sin has been ‘condemned.’” [5]
  • Now our justification and sanctification are possible (“in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” v. 4a). [6]

Believers are described as people “who walk [i.e., live] not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (v. 4b). This is sanctification—the evidence of our justification and the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.

To live “according to the flesh” is to live a me-centered life. To live “according to the Spirit” is to live differently—to be like Christ.


There Is "No Condemnation," But There Is Obligation

“No condemnation” means no condemnation. There’s no fine print; there are no exceptions. There is absolute security for the believer.

But Jesus died on the cross not only for both our justification; he also died for our sanctification. “Holiness is the ultimate purpose of the incarnation and the atonement.” [7]

Being satisfied with only justification (and not bothering with sanctification) is like being given a free Hawaiian vacation but never leaving your hotel room.

____________________

[1] The two occurrences of “law” in verse 2 mean “power” or “principle” (cf. Rom. 3:27).
[2] John Piper, “Set Free by the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” (sermon)
[3] The law isn’t bad. Telling someone that apples won’t cure tiredness doesn’t mean that apples are bad.
[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 219.
[5] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 477.
[6] The fulfillment of the “righteous requirement of the law” can be seen as referring to our justification or our sanctification. Perhaps it refers to both.
[7] Stott, p. 221.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

No Condemnation!

Part 23 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:1, 13




There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (v. 1). 


A Heck of a Story!

I remember watching the NFL Network’s Super Bowl LI edition of Sound FX. The Patriots are losing 28-3 in the middle of the third quarter. A Patriots’ victory appears highly unlikely. But one thing that stood out to me was Patriot’s wide receiver Julian Edelman telling teammates, “It’s gonna be a [heck] of a story!”

Edelman ended up being right. Super Bowl LI did become “a [heck] of a story” for the Patriots. They ended up winning the game 34-28. The Patriots’ 25-point comeback is the largest comeback in Super Bowl history.

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul says that every single one of us is a sinner. We have broken God’s law. We are guilty. And there is absolutely nothing we can do to take away our guilt.

It looks very bad for us. But “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (5:20, NIV). The gospel is an amazing story!


Security and Warning

We are free from condemnation. But does that mean we’re free from obligation (i.e., obeying God’s commands)? Look at verse 13: “If you live according to the flesh you will die [eternally], but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live [eternally].”

According to verses 1 and 13, there is—for the believer—freedom from condemnation, but there isn’t freedom from obligation.

  • Does “no condemnation” mean that we are absolutely secure in Christ? 
  • Does the warning “If you live according to the flesh you will die” mean that we have to “earn our keep”? 

Freedom from Condemnation Yes!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1).

  • “Condemnation” is “the opposite of justification.” [1]
  • “Now” refers to the new era that began when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.
  • “Therefore” points back to what Paul has been saying about God’s grace. 
  • How can we be free from condemnation? God “condemned sin in the flesh” (v. 3). “The flesh” refers to Christ’s body. 
  • It doesn’t say, “No condemnation unless….” We don’t have to fear that any sin will ever condemn us! “Who is to condemn?” (v. 34). 
  • “To insist on feeling guilty is but another way of insisting on helping God with our salvation. How deeply imbedded in human nature is the influence of works-righteousness!” [2]

Freedom from Obligation? No!

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v. 13).
[How does] the need to put sin away from us relate to the promise of verse 1? Calvinists and Arminians are agreed that the believer must progress in the battle against sin if he or she is to attain eternal life. But the Arminian believes that a regenerate person might, indeed, be so lured by the flesh that he or she fails to progress in the Christian life. At some point, then, that person might cease to be “in Christ.” Thus, the promise of verse 1 no longer applies to that person. The Calvinist, by contrast, believes that the influence of the Spirit in a believer’s life is so dominant that he or she can never reach the point of falling permanently into a lifestyle of sin and so forfeit the promise of “no condemnation.” [3]
“Security without responsibility breeds passivity, but responsibility without security leads to anxiety.” We need balance! [4]

____________________

[1] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 274.
[2] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, p. 174.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 258.
[4] Ibid.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The War Within Us

Part 22 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 7:13-25




Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh the law of sin (vv. 24-25). 


Who Is the "Wretched Man"?

Romans 7 is one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible. Is the “wretched man” (v. 23) pre-conversion Paul or post-conversion Paul?

  • “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (v. 14). 
  • “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (v. 22). 
Can a Christian really call himself a “wretched man”? 


Grace and Law

Let’s go back to 5:20-21: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What Paul says in those two verses leads him to bring up four questions. The answer to all four questions is no.

  • “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1). 
  • “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15). 
  • “What then shall we say? That the law is sin?” (7:7). The law reveals our sin (e.g., coveting) and our sinfulness (i.e., rebelliousness).
  • “Did that which is good [i.e., the law], then, bring death to me?” (7:13). Sin is the problem, not the law. 

Is the "Wretched Man" Really Post-Conversion Paul?

Is the “wretched man” pre-conversion Paul or post-conversion Paul? There are strong arguments for both views, but I favour the latter view. Why?

  • Paul shifts from the past tense to the present tense. 
  • Paul is referring to occasions of sin. We know by experience that it’s a struggle to not sin. “We all stumble in many ways [e.g., sinful words]” (James 3:2). 
  • Pre-conversion Paul didn’t see himself as a “wretched man.” 
  • A believer has an inner desire to do God’s will. “I delight in the law of God in my inner being” (v. 22). But because our sinfulness, we have a divided will. 
  • In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:7). 
  • If Romans 7 is describing the experience of a believer, it lines up well with what Paul says in 8:23: “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirt, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” We eagerly await total victory. 

What a Wretched Man I Am!

What is a “wretched” person? A miserable or vile person—a bad person.

The law shows us the holiness of God and the ugliness of our sin. But the cross shows us the grace of God and our value to God. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). What a wretched man I am! But what a loved man I am!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What Does Not Being "Under Law" Mean?

Part 21 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 6:14b




You are not under law but under grace (v. 14b). 


Not Under Law

Romans 6:14 says, “You are not under law but under grace.” When the apostle Paul writes, “You are not under law,” he’s addressing the believers in Rome. But the same thing can also be said of us today: we (i.e., believers) are not under law. What does that mean?


Picking and Choosing?

Christians are often accused of being inconsistent. It’s often said, “Christians pick and choose which rules in the Bible to obey.”

  • Did you eat any shellfish this week? Leviticus 11:9 says not to eat “anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales.” 
  • Did you do any work on Saturday? Saturday is the Sabbath, and the Fourth Commandment says, “On [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work” (Exod. 20:9-10). 
  • Are you wearing an article of clothing that’s a blend of two different fabrics? Leviticus 19:19 says, “[You shall not] wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” 

Under What Law?

Imagine someone from another country accusing us Canadians of not obeying all of Canada’s laws. The person says, “I have a book that lists several laws that you’re not obeying.” You ask to look at the book and discover that it was published in 1972. Many of the laws that existed in 1972 have been repealed. We could say that we’re not under those laws.

When Paul says, “You are not under law,” what does he mean by “law”? He’s talking about the law of Moses (i.e., the Torah). This law—which included the Ten Commandments—was given by God through Moses to the nation of Israel.


Free to Do Whatever?

Does this mean we’re free to do whatever we want to do? Paul brings up this question in 6:15: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Paul says, “By no means!”

We aren’t under the law of Moses, but we are under a different law: the law of Christ. [Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-21.] Paul says that he’s not “under the law” (v. 20), but he also says he’s not “outside the law of God” (v. 21). In other words, Paul isn’t under the law of Moses, but that doesn’t mean he’s not under any law. He’s “under the law of Christ” (v. 21).


The Law of Christ

What is the law of Christ? Douglas Moo says that the law of Christ is “the example of Jesus and the commands he and his apostles issue as a guide to the Spirit-filled life (Romans, p. 222).”

When we read the NT, we come across Jesus and the apostles saying that some of the commands of the law of Moses no longer need to be obeyed. For example, Jesus says, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Mark 7:18-19). Then Mark adds, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (v. 19).

Jesus said that the law of Moses could be summed up by stating two of its commands:

  • “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).
  • “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). 

The law of Christ includes these two commands. [Read Romans 13:8-10.] The law of Christ also includes nine of the Ten Commandments. (The Fourth Commandment is no longer in effect: “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath,” Col. 2:16.)


Why All Those "Strange" Rules?

Have you ever wondering why the law of Moses included all of those “strange” rules? Let’s think specifically about what the law says about being “clean” and “unclean.” I believe God wanted to show us that entering the presence of a holy God shouldn’t be thought of as an easy thing to do.

Jesus declared, “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). Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system in the law of Moses. He gave his life to take away our “uncleanness.” His blood makes us “clean.” “We have confidence to enter [the presence of God] by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).


Not Picking and Choosing

We’re not picking and choosing which rules in the Bible to obey. In a way, Jesus picked and chose which rules we are to obey. We obey the law of Christ.

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.