Monday, July 9, 2018

A New Life

Part 7 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?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

God in Us

Part 1 of Jesus, Continued...

Text: John 14:16-17; 16:4-7




“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7). 


To Be Continued 

When I was kid, one of my favourite TV shows was The Dukes of Hazzard. Sometimes an episode would end with the words “To be continued.” [1] What would happen next?

In the opening of the book of Acts, Luke says that his previous book, the Gospel of Luke, had been about “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). [2] In your Bible, at the end of Luke’s Gospel, you could write the words “To be continued.”

The book of Acts is part two of the story. If the Gospel of Luke is about what Jesus “began to do and teach,” the book of Acts is about what Jesus continued to do and teach.

But how did Jesus do and teach anything in the book of Acts? Where is he? He’s not on earth. He’s in heaven. So how did Jesus continue to do and teach things on earth? Through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his followers. 

Shouldn’t the presence and power of the Holy Spirit make a difference in our lives? What would Christianity look like if everyone was as committed as you are?


The Holy Spirit? 

What does the Bible tell us about the Holy Spirit?

  1. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete. In John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit is called the “Helper.” The original Greek word is parakletos, which literally means “called to one’s side.” In other versions of the Bible, parakletos is translated “Comforter” (KJV), “Counselor” (NIV 1984), and “Advocate” (NIV 2011). [3]
  2. The Holy Spirit is a person. He’s not an impersonal force. Jesus says, “He [not “it”] dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). 
  3. The Holy Spirit is God. Jesus told the disciples to baptize people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). He said “name,” not “names,” indicating that there is one God who exists as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (i.e., the Trinity). 
  4. The Holy Spirit lives inside believers. Jesus tells the disciples, “[The Holy Spirit] will be in you” (John 16:17). The Apostle Paul writes, “Your body is a temple of Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19). Do you live with the awareness that God is living inside you? 
  5. The Holy Spirit wants Jesus to get the attention. Jesus says, “[The Holy Spirit] will glorify me” (John 16:14). What does the Holy Spirit want to accomplish in our lives? He wants us to believe in Jesus, act like Jesus, and talk about Jesus. 

What the Holy Spirit Can Do 

Jesus says, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7). Is the Holy Spirit inside us better than Jesus beside us? We doubt that statement because we underestimate what the Holy Spirit can do in and through us.

Jesus gave his followers a huge task: take the gospel “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But he didn’t tell them, “Start right now.” He said, “Wait.” Wait for what? The sending of the Holy Spirit (“wait for the promise of the Father,” Acts 1:4).

This tells us that we are to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to accomplish God’s will. We can either be content to do what we can do, or we can strive to do what the Holy Spirit can do in and through us. Francis Chan writes, “The church becomes irrelevant when it becomes purely a human creation. We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God.” [4]

If God lives inside us, why don’t we act more like Jesus and talk more about Jesus? Do you want people to be saved? Every Christian will say, “Yes, I’d like people to be saved.” But do you want that to happen to the point that you’ll do something about it? I can say, “It would be nice to have a burger right now.” But am I going to do something to get a burger (e.g., go to the kitchen and make on or drive to a restaurant and buy one)?

Do you really want the Holy Spirit to make a difference in your life?


What Happens Next?

To ask the Holy Spirit to work in and through us can be a scary thing? What will he do?

To be continued.

____________________

[1] The title of this sermon series was taken from J. D. Greear’s book Jesus, Continued….
[2] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
[3] Jesus called the Holy Spirit “another Helper” (John 14:16), indicating that Jesus is also our Paraclete (1 John 2:1).
[4] Francis Chan, Forgotten God, p. 18.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Get Your Hopes Up!

Part 13 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 5:1-5




We rejoice in hope of the glory of God (v. 2). 


Should I Get My Hopes Up?

People who are accustomed to disappointment often say, “I won’t get my hopes up.”

Since today is Mother’s Day, we could think for a moment about the disappointments that many women experience. A young woman has high hopes when she imagines what marriage and mother-hood will be like. But sometimes a woman discovers she can’t have children. Sometimes a woman’s adult children abandon her. Sometimes a woman’s marriage falls apart.

Some people say, “If you never get your hopes up, you’ll never be let down.”

What about the Christian’s hope in Christ? The apostle Paul tell us, “Get your hopes up! God won’t let you down.”


The Results of Justification

So far in his letter to the Romans, Paul has written about the need for justification (1:18-3:20) and the way of justification (3:21-4:25). Now he tells us about the results of justification: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith” (v. 1a), we have….

  1. We have peace with God. “We have peace with God [i.e., reconciliation] through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1b). Peace is not just the absence of the negative (i.e., hostility) but the presence of the positive (i.e., harmonious well-being). 
  2. We have grace from God. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (v. 2a). Our relationship with God is one that is built on God’s grace—from start to finish. 
  3. We have hope in God. “And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (v. 2b). 

The Hope of the Glory of God

In the NT, the word “hope” doesn’t mean wishful thinking. It means “a joyful and confident expectation which rests on the promises of God.” [1] It’s “a sure confidence.” [2]

What is the “hope of the glory of God”? Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “The glory of God” is the “state of ‘God-like-ness’ which has been lost because of sin, and which will be restored in the last day to every Christian.” [3]

Later in Romans, Paul will write, “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be con-formed to the image of his Son…. And those who he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30).

Paul says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Our hope is something to celebrate! 


Huh? 

What Paul writes next might cause us to scratch our heads: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings” (v. 3a). Why would we rejoice “in our sufferings”? Here’s Paul’s answer: “Knowing that suffering produces endurance [like how a marathoner builds endurance] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (vv. 3b-4).

How does character produce hope? Suffering tests our faith. When suffering produces character in our lives (rather than anger, etc.), we have assurance that our faith is real. And if have assurance that our faith is real, then we have greater certainty about our hope.

Does this mean that suffering is good? No. “Paul calls on us to rejoice in the midst of afflictions, and even to rejoice because of afflictions (knowing what God will accomplish with them). But he does not ask us to be joyful about the affliction itself.” [4]

“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). Our sufferings—which can be very great—are insignificant compared to the glory we will one day experience!


God Won't Let Us Down

Paul says, “Hope does not put us to shame [“will not lead to disappointment,” NLT]” (v. 5a). You and I have had people let us down, but God won’t let us down.

We know God won’t let us down because we’re certain that he loves us: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (v. 5b). God’s love has been revealed to us (in a subjective way) by the Spirit and (in an objective way) by the cross (v. 8).

So get your hopes up!

____________________

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 140.
[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, p. 255.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 302.
[4] Moo, Romans, p. 178.

Monday, May 7, 2018

What Is Faith?

Part 12 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 4:9-25




No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised (vv. 20-21).


Incredible Promises 

Every day we hear incredible promises from advertisers. For example, lots of exercise gadgets (e.g., the Ab Roller) promise to give you “rock-hard abs.” But those gadgets usually end up in yard sales. They don’t do what they promise to do. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What is faith? We need to understand what faith really is. The apostle Paul shows us what biblical faith is by telling us about the faith of Abraham, the “forefather” of the Jews (v. 1).


Abraham Believed 

On a clear night, God takes Abraham outside. He tells him to look up at the stars and try to count them. And God says to Abraham, “So shall your offspring be.” Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky! That’s an incredible promise!

The word “incredible” means “difficult to believe.” God’s promise is hard to believe. Abraham and his wife Sarah are old and childless. To have even one descendant is physically impossible for them. But is anything too hard for God?

In spite of how everything looks, Abraham believes.

Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted [i.e., credited] it to him as righteousness” (cf. v. 3). Paul quotes this verse to show that Abraham was justified (i.e., declared righteous, innocent of wrongdoing) by faith, not by works (i.e., obeying God’s law).

Back in Paul’s day, a big question was, “Is justification only possible for ‘the circumcised’”? Paul points out that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (Gen. 17). God had not only promised Abraham that he’d have countless descendants, but that he’d also be the father of many nations (Gen. 17:5; cf., v. 17). Paul says that this promise has been fulfilled because Abraham is the father of all who believe (vv. 11-12)—whether they are Jews (i.e., circumcised) or Gentiles (i.e., uncircumcised).


Father Abraham 

How did Abraham become the father of many nations? Centuries later, the son of Abraham would be born—Jesus (Matt. 1:1). He was named “Jesus” because he would “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). “His people” would be every person (regardless of nationality) who would put their faith in Jesus.

Before his ascension, Jesus told his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). And that’s what they did. They took the gospel everywhere. It even reached us! Everyone who believes the gospel becomes a son or daughter of Abraham.

Being a son or daughter of Abraham means we enjoy the blessing of God. God promised Abraham, “In you all the families [i.e., nations] of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The apostle John was given a vision of heaven, and he tells us what he saw: “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb…and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:10). God’s love extends to all people.

On that night when Abraham tried to count the stars, one of the stars represented me—a son of Abraham!


Faith Defined

Paul says that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (v. 21).

  • In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations” (v. 18). 
  • He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (v. 19). 
  • He trusted the God “who gives life to the dead [i.e., Abraham’s “dead” body and Sarah’s “dead” womb] and calls into existence the things that do not exist [i.e., many nations that didn’t yet exist]” (v. 17). 
  • No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (v. 20). 

What is faith? Faith is the firm belief that God will do whatever he has promised to do. Abraham’s faith didn’t weaken and didn’t waver. He believed even when it seemed crazy to keep on believing. But if you’ve read about Abraham in the book of Genesis, you might disagree with Paul’s description of Abraham’s faith. Didn’t Abraham’s faith weaken and waver? Yes, at times it did. But those were momentary lapses of faith. There is no believing without some doubting.

Three quick points on faith:

  1. Faith is based on God’s word. But many times we believe things that God hasn’t promised.
  2. Faith is a willingness to receive. We don’t get the credit for receiving. The glory goes to God. 
  3. Faith is nothing without God.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Faith and Works

Part 11 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 4:1-8



For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). 


A Contradiction?

There appears to be a contradiction between Romans 4 and James 2 regarding how Abraham was justified. Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith. James says that Abraham was justified by works.

  • “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted [1] as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). 
  • “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (James 2:21). 
Do Paul and James contradict each other? Are we justified by faith or works? These questions are not just for theologians to debate. These questions affect our belief in the trustworthiness of the Bible and our understanding of how we can be justified. What’s more important than that?


Making Sense of Paul and James

In order to properly understand what Paul and James are saying about justification, faith, and works, we need to know two things.

First, we need to know the chronology of Abraham’s life. The story of Abraham begins with God giving Abraham an amazing promise: “I will make of you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2). The only problem is that Abraham is seventy-five years old (Gen. 12:4) and his wife Sarah is barren (Gen. 11:30).

Some time later, God repeats his promise to Abraham, “Look up at the sky and count the stars.” Then God tells Abraham, “So shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5) What is Abraham’s reaction to God’s promise? Does he doubt or believe? Genesis 15:6 tells us, Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

More time passes. And just when it looks like Abraham and Sarah will never have a son, God’s promise is fulfilled. They name their long-awaited boy Isaac (Gen. 21:1-3).

Years later, Abraham’s story takes an unexpected twist. God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and sacrifice him as an offering” (Gen. 22:2, paraphrase). The next day, Abraham takes his son to the place God had told him to go. He places Isaac on the altar and takes out his knife to kill his son. But suddenly, an angel calls out to Abraham: “Do not lay your hand on the body or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son” (Gen. 22:12). [2]

Both Paul and James quote Genesis 15:6. Paul quotes that verse to show that Abraham was justified by faith. James points to the story of Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac on the altar as proof that Abraham was justified by works. Which came first? Abraham’s faith or his obedience? Abraham was justified by faith before he was justified by works. But what does that mean?

Second, we need to know that “faith” and “justify” don’t always have the same meaning. “Faith” in the Bible does not always refer to saving faith. James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (v. 14). In this verse, James is referring to a certain kind of faith—a faith he describes as “dead” (vv. 17, 26) and “useless” (v. 20). It’s a faith of words but not deeds. [3]

When Paul writes that Abraham was “justified by faith,” he’s referring to Abraham’s initial justification (declared righteous by God through faith). But when James writes that Abraham was “justified by works,” he’s referring to a present justification (shown to be righteous through works). [4] Jesus used “justified” in the same way that James does: “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37; cf. 11:19).


Justified by Faith or Works?

Are we justified by faith or works? Both. Huh? Justification isn’t the only things that happens when we put our trust in Jesus. We are also given the Holy Spirit who begins the work of transforming us (i.e., putting within us love for God and others). If we have been justified by faith, we will show evidence of our justification by our works. In Galatians 5:6 Paul says that what matters most is “faith working through love” (“faith expressing itself through love,” NIV).

Paul and James don’t contradict each other; James is refuting an abuse of Paul’s teaching. What James writes is a response to people who were saying, “We have faith. Don’t bother us about how we should live.” This could be why James says what he does in vv. 15-17 (see also 2:1-4, 8-9; 3:8-11). Our love for God and others (or lack thereof) is a good test of the genuineness of our faith.

____________________

[1] To “count” (logizomai) means “to ‘credit’ or ‘reckon’, and when used in a financial or commercial context, it signifies to put something to somebody’s account, as when Paul wrote to Philemon about Onesimus: ‘If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.’ There are, however, two different ways in which money can be credited to our account, namely as wages (which are earned) or as a gift (which is free and unearned), and the two are necessarily incompatible” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 125).
[2] Skeptics often claim that it would be immoral for God to tell Abraham to kill his son. However, God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac was a test of faith (Gen. 22:1) that resulted in a promise of divine blessing for Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 22:15-18) and foreshadowed God’s gracious sacrifice of his only Son. Isaac’s life was spared, God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).
[3] John 6:66 mentions that “many of [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” John 12:42-43 says that “many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” These are two examples of people who possessed faith that did not save.
[4] “James 2:21, 24, and 25 are the only verses in James that contain forms of the verb ‘justify’...; in each case, the term means to ‘show to be righteous.’ Thus [Abraham was] shown, in history, to be righteous by [his] actions, giving proof of [his] prior spiritual state (cf. Ge 22:12, with its ‘now I know’)” (Craig L. Blomberg, Miriam J. Kamell, James, p. 136).

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Boasting in the Gospel

Part 10 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 3:27-31




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


Our "I" Problem

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

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

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

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

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


Boasting Eliminated

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

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

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


Upholding the Law

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Amazing News!

Part 9 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 3:21-26




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


The Heart of Romans

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

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


But Now!

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

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

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


Not Plan B

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

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

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


Justification

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


Are You Still Amazed by the Gospel?

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

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

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Speechless Before God

Part 8 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 3:1-20




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


Are We Really That Bad?

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

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


A Contradiction?

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

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


Our Addiction to Sin

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

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


Guilty

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

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


Speechless

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

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

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

____________________

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Justified by Works?

Part 7 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 2:12-29




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


A Contradiction?

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


God Shows No Partiality

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

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


Justification by Faith


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


A Changed Heart

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How God Deals with Hypocrites

Part 6 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 2:1-11




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


Hypocrites Give Christianity a Bad Name

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

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


Is It Wrong to Judge?

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


God's Justice and Kindness

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

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


Judged According to Works? 

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

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


God Doesn't Play Favourites

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

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

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

___________________

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Why Is God So Angry?

Part 5 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:24-32




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


A Foolish Exchange

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

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


God's Anger

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

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

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

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

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


Homosexuality 

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

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

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


Don't Forget About the Other Sins

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

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Foolish Trade

Part 4 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:21-23




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


The Human Heart Is an Idol Factory 

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

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

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

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

Settling for Less 

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

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

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

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

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

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


We Are All Worshipers

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

___________________

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