Sunday, January 28, 2018

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Part 2 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:1-17




For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). 


Good News!

The book of Romans is a letter. It was written by the apostle Paul around A.D. 57. It was written to believers in Rome. The theme of the letter is the gospel.

“Gospel” means “good news.” “The gospel of God” (v. 1) is the best good news! The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). The gospel is good news that everyone needs to hear and believe. 

It’s often said that good news is for sharing. So why is it so hard for most of us to share the gospel with others?


Good News to Us, Foolishness to Them

What makes the gospel difficult to share is the fact that most people don’t want to hear it. Most people didn’t want to hear the gospel in Paul’s day. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “The message of the cross is foolishness [i.e., stupidity] to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18, NIV). There are people who want us to be ashamed of the gospel.

Even though most people thought the gospel was “foolishness,” Paul still believed that he was “under obligation” (v. 14) to share it with others. (“I am a debtor,” NKJV). Even though there will be people who will mock the gospel, we must still share it.


Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16). We must never forget that the gospel is about a person who was publicly humiliated on a cross. While enduring excruciating pain, he was naked for all to see and mocked mercilessly by his enemies. “To die by crucifixion was to plumb the lowest depths of disgrace; it was a punishment reserved for those who were deemed most unfit to live” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 338). Jesus didn’t avoid the shame of the cross, he endured it…for us, for our salvation.

The gospel is never going to be “cool.” People will try to shame us. But we can’t be ashamed of the one who was humiliated on a cross for us.


The Gospel Is for Believers

As we go through the book of Romans, you might start thinking, “I’ve already believed the gospel. Can’t we go on to something else?” Look at what Paul writes in verse 15: “I am eager to preach the gospel to you [i.e., believers in Rome].” The gospel is not only for everyone who has not yet believed but also for everyone who has already believed. 

We can’t leave the gospel and go on to something else. It’s when we forget about the gospel that we drift away from righteousness (i.e., loving God and others, “the obedience of faith,” v. 5).

  • The gospel gives us the desire to surrender our lives to God. “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one had died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to love others. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to give. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to rid ourselves of self-centeredness. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interest but each of you to the interests of the 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). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to forgive. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32; cf. Col. 3:13). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to avoid sexual sin. “Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). 
  • The gospel gives husbands the desire to love their wives. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). 
We must share the gospel with others, but we must also preach it to ourselves.

Monday, January 22, 2018

What Is the Gospel?

Part 1 of The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:1-17




[The gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). 


The Book of Romans 

Martin Luther believed that their was no greater book in the Bible than the book of Romans:
This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes. [1] 
But Luther didn’t always feel this way about Romans:
I had…been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But…a single word in chapter 1…stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which…I had been taught to under-stand…is the righteousness [with which God] punished the unrighteous sinner. [2]
What caused Luther to go from hating the word “righteousness” in the book of Romans to loving everything about Romans?

The book of Romans is a letter. It was written by the apostle Paul around A.D. 57. It was written to believers in Rome. The theme of the letter is the gospel.

Paul writes, “[I have been] set apart for the gospel of God” (v. 1); “I am eager to preach the gospel to you” (v. 15); and “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16). But what is the gospel? The word “gospel” means “good news.” But what’s the good news?


Salvation

The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). The gospel is about salvation. Salvation from what? Verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” We are guilty of unrighteousness (i.e., wrongdoing, breaking God's commands). We need to be saved from the wrath of God. [3] The wrath of God is his holy anger against unrighteousness. There must be punishment for our unrighteousness.

There is coming a day when you and I will stand before God. And each one of us is guilty of unrighteousness. [4] How is it possible that we could be declared innocent by God? How is it possible that we could escape hell? The answer is the gospel. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

In verse 16, we learn three truths about salvation. First, salvation is the work of God. The gospel is “the power of God for [i.e., that results in [5]] salvation.” Second, salvation is possible for everyone. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone.” No one is excluded and no one is exempted. Third, salvation requires faith. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Faith is “not (primarily) agreement with a set of doctrines but trust in a person.” [6]

In verse 17, Paul writes, “In it [i.e., the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed” (v. 17). There’s lots of debate about what “the righteousness of God” means in this verse. It could mean one of three things: (1) God’s attribute of righteousness, (2) an act of righteousness by God, or (3) a gift of righteousness from God. Perhaps Paul meant all three. The gospel displays God’s righteousness. The gospel is about God acting in righteousness. The gospel is about God giving us righteousness.

How does God give us righteousness? Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ became sin for us—and was punished for our sin. Through faith in him, we become the righteousness of God. So Luther went from hating that word "righteousness" to loving when he finally understood that God gives us righteousness through faith in Christ.


The Great Exchange

Second Corinthians 5:21 is often called the great exchange. There is no greater trade than the exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness. What God demands from us, he gives to us—at the cost of the life of his Son.

____________________
[1] Martin Luther, Preface to Romans, page unknown.
[2] Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, 10-11.
[3] Romans 5:9 states, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Christ’s] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
[4] According to Romans 3:23, “All have sinned.”
[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, 60.
[6] Douglas G. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 67.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Keeping Your Resolution to Pray

Part 2 of What's Your Resolution?

Text: 1 John 5:13-15




And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:14-15). 


Don't Ditch Your Resolution!

This is the time of year when people are trying to keep New Year’s resolutions. Two of the most common Christian resolutions are to read the Bible daily and to pray daily.

Did you know that January 17 has been named Ditch Your Resolutions Day? Why? Probably be-cause it only takes about two months into a new year to feel like ditching our resolution. Resolutions are hard to keep: 50% of people make New Year’s resolutions, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. How can we keep our resolution to pray daily?


Direct Access to God

When you call to make an appointment with your doctor, you don’t speak to your doctor. You speak to your doctor’s receptionist. And you almost never get to see your doctor immediately. You have to make an appointment to see your doctor on a future day. Then when that day finally arrives and you go to your doctor’s office, you have to sit in a waiting room and wait.

It’s very different when we want to meet with God. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Ps. 34:15). We have direct access to God!


Keeping Our Resolution

If we are to keep our resolution to pray daily, we should remember five things. First, when we pray, we should remember that it’s normal to be frustrated with prayer. There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these people was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2). Sometimes it’s encouraging to discover that other people struggle like us. (We’re not happy about the struggles of others, but we are happy to know we’re not abnormal.)

Second, when we pray, we should remember that we’re approaching a Father who loves us. Throughout 1 John, John emphasizes that believers are God’s children (“born of God”). In 3:1, he writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” God is a Father who loves his children more than we can imagine. Because we know God loves us, we can have “confidence” (v. 14) when we pray.

Third, when we pray, we should remember that prayer really does work. But prayer is not a waste of time. It’s possible that when we pray we can “have the requests that we have asked of him” (v. 15). Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can make God do things he doesn’t want to do.

Fourth, when we pray, we should remember that prayer isn’t all about us. Prayer is about getting God’s will done, not ours (“if we ask anything according to his will,” v. 14). We should also pray for the needs of others, not just our own needs (see v. 16).

Fifth, before we pray, we should have a plan. Instead of saying to ourselves, “I want to pray daily,” we should make a specific plan. An ideal plan would be to combine Bible reading and prayer. Here’s one possible plan: (1) set aside 20 minutes; (2) pick a quiet time and place; (3) read a portion of Scripture; (4) meditate upon the words you have read; (5) ask God to speak to you through those words; (6) pray.


An Appointment with God

I’m sure most of us have a few appointments on our calendars for this month: an appointment to see your doctor, an appointment to get your car repaired, an appointment to have coffee with a friend. We do our best not to miss our appointments.

We have an each day appointment to meet with God—to hear his voice through his word and speak to him through prayer. But many of us miss that appointment. This is nothing new. Martin Luther—who lived 500 years ago—wrote a letter to his barber about how to pray. In the letter he said this:
It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day. [1]
Think about the incredible privilege it is to meet with God each day. And what’s most amazing is that he is “always more ready to hear than we [are] to pray.” [2]

If you struggle with taking time to pray, my purpose is not to make you feel guilty about your lack of prayer. My purpose is to encourage you—starting today—to make sure you keep your daily appointment with God.

____________________

[1] Martin Luther, A Simple Way to Pray.
[2] Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Keeping Your Resolution to Read the Bible

Part 1 of What's Your Resolution?

Text: 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17




All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).


New Year's Resolutions

This is the time of year when people make New Year’s resolutions. A common New Year’s resolution for Christians is to read the Bible more regularly. Unfortunately, most people don’t keep their resolutions: 50% of people make New Year’s resolutions, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. Those numbers are discouraging, but I still think that resolutions are worth making. How can we be more successful in keeping our resolution to read the Bible daily?


Keeping Our Resolution to Daily Read the Bible

If we are to keep our resolution to daily read the Bible, we must do two things. First, we must believe that the Bible is worth reading. In other words, we must have a high view of the Bible. We must believe that the words of the Bible are the words of God. Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (3:16). The Greek word for “breathed out by God” (“inspired,” NASB) is theopneustos. The word does not occur in any other Greek text (biblical or secular) prior to 2 Timothy. Some people think that Paul might have invented the word.

The apostle Peter states, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1:21). The Bible is both a divine book and a human book. It was written by humans but breathed out by God. God used each author’s unique style and experiences, but, at the same time, they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Second Timothy 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:21 actually refer to the OT. What about the NT? Peter implies that Paul’s writings are Scripture: “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). And Paul quotes the words of Jesus in Luke 10:7 as Scripture: “The Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

The psalmist says, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:16). The Hebrew word for “forget” (shakach) means to lay aside, to forget, to take for granted, to neglect. If we believe that the words of the Bible are the words of God, we shouldn’t neglect to read the Bible’s words. As Paul writes, the words of the Bible are “profitable” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:8; Titus 3:8).

Second, we must have a plan. Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best [be zealous] to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handing the word of truth” (2:15). Paul compares a Christian to a “worker” (i.e., a laborer). To work effectively, a worker needs a plan. Of course, with a plan we also need to have dedication.

Blogger Tim Challies recently wrote an article entitled “How to Make a New Year’s Resolution That Sticks.” Here are some tips from that article.

  1. Make resolutions, not wishes. Wishing upon a star might work in Disney movies, but not in real life. Merely making a resolution won’t somehow magically make things change. 
  2. Make just one resolution. Make it specific and realistic—big enough to be meaningful, but small and defined enough to be attainable. 
  3. Convert your resolutions to habits. Challies says, “Willpower is enough to get you started, but you will need habit to sustain it.” [reward system] 
  4. Make a plan. It’s often said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If you are resolving to read the Bible regularly, you need a plan. David Murray has some tips for Bible reading in his article entitled “Re-ignite Bible Reading That’s Become Boring.” A few of the tips: ban the cellphone, read a different version, use a devotional first, and use a study Bible. 
  5. Share your resolution. Tell a friend about your resolution so that they can keep you accountable. 
  6. Pray. 

Why We Read the Bible

But we must not read the Bible just to read it—to merely get it done. Reading the Bible is important, but being changed by the Bible is much more important. As James writes, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

Do you believe the words of the Bible are the words of God? Do you believe there is value in reading the Bible? If you do, you need to have a plan to regularly read the Bible—a wise plan you can stick to. And as you read it each day, seek to understand it and obey it.