Two Errors the Church Makes with Homosexuality

Living in the first century Roman world Paul would’ve been familiar with homosexual relations.

It was widely known that many of the Roman Emperors engaged in homosexual acts and/or lifestyles. And being one who traveled around the Roman Empire preaching the gospel Paul would’ve encountered many who also engaged in homosexual behavior. And more so being raised as a Jew Paul was taught the Old Testament Scriptures. Where God’s original design in Genesis 1-2 is clear. God made man in His own image, male and female He made them. And after having Adam name all the animals, no suitable helper was found for him. So God put Adam to sleep and created woman from him, and gave her to Adam to be a helpmate, so that they’d complement one another in their God given roles. This is the foundation of marriage. And keep going, this foundational institution of marriage between one man and one woman was one reason the lusts and actions of Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked. These Scriptures Paul was taught as a young Jew he now knew fuller and deeper from being saved by Christ. And so Paul is very clear: all homosexual activity, from homosexuality between two loving and committed men or two women, to a more violent action like homosexual rape (like what we see in Judges 19), as well as everything in between, is against God’s design for sexual relations between men and women. This is why he speaks of men and women giving up what is in accord with nature in Romans 1:26-27.

Bringing all we find in Romans 1 together, we can see the depths of sin in the heart of man. Man claims to be wise by rejecting the God known from creation. Then in this ‘wisdom’ man continues downward turning away from worshipping God our Creator to worship a god of his own making or a creature of his choosing. Where does this idolatry lead to? For this God gives man over to the sin they love. And being so unrestrained in the chase after sin, man, in his supposed wisdom (v22 is always in play), looks into the ‘mirror’, falls in love with himself, worships himself, and then engages in sexual activity with others like himself. Homosexuality then, is not only sinful. Homosexuality is not only evidence of God’s wrath being poured out from heaven here and now. Homosexuality is ultimately idolatrous false worship, where man has become smitten with his own image.[1]

We believe this. But Christians individually and churches corporately don’t always handle this in the most winsome or wise manner. Two errors are usually made at this point with how we handle the sin of homosexuality.[2]

First, some Christians and some churches in an effort to appear nice, relevant, and winsome make it very clear that they’re eager to welcome gay men and women into their lives and congregations. In many of these cases the traditional view of marriage and homosexuality is held and believed, it’s just not talked about or it’s downplayed so no one is offended. Others in this same vein not only proclaim themselves to be welcoming but entirely affirming of the gay lifestyle, either teaching that Paul doesn’t say what he plainly says here, or that the Bible is simply wrong on this matter. In these cases the traditional view of marriage and homosexuality is flat out denied. This is usually called the ‘liberal’ approach.

Second, some Christians and some churches read what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, believe it, and make the rejection of it a prominent part of their identity. They see homosexuality as the sin above all sins, the pinnacle of human depravity. In some more extreme forms of this, you often hear comments like ‘God hates fags’ or ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’ Now because they believe homosexuality to be the sin over all sins they will not seek to befriend, evangelize, or be welcoming to gay men or women at all, even though they will seek to love all kinds of heterosexual sinners. This is usually called the ‘conservative’ approach.

Paul avoids both of these unfaithful postures. And we should too.

On one hand Paul doesn’t affirm homosexuality, he plainly calls it sin here in this passage. So, we should never deny the plain teaching of Scripture in an effort to be affirming of homosexual sin. But on the other hand Paul doesn’t shake his head teaching that homosexuality is the worst sin of all. So, we should never be those who teach and believe that homosexual sin is worse than heterosexual sin? How can I draw such conclusions? Look at what comes next in v28-31, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” Paul is teaching that all of these sins flow from rejecting God and running after idols of our own making. Claiming to be wise, man descends in a kind of free-fall, into a state where all manner of evil becomes possible.[3] Or, we can say man is not as bad as he could be, there is always room for ‘deprovement.’[4]

Every single man or woman in all of history finds themselves adequately represented somewhere in the list of sins in Romans 1. This should make us kind, compassionate, and patient to all sinners, however sin is displayed in their lives.

[1] J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 37.

[2] Tim Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 34–35.

[3] Fesko, Romans, 37. See also Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 53.

[4] Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 44.

Learning Paul’s Mission

A few weeks ago I began a series of posts introducing us to the Apostle Paul. In the first post we met Paul, in the second post we learned his message, and in this final post we’ll learn his mission.

Romans 1:5-7, “…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here we learn this message from God (v2-4) propels him out on a mission for God (v5-7). What is that mission? He begins with his apostolic calling again. His mission is to be what God has called him to be, an apostle. But see how he views it? He views it as something he’s received from Jesus and calls it grace. Grace! Here again is the first mention of another word which will dominate the landscape of Romans, grace. Paul didn’t become an apostle because he chose it as a career among a large list of possible careers, no. God called him into this work, God set him apart to this work, by His grace. This grace of God will, of course, be expanded on later, but here we see the beginnings of Paul’s thought on it. He believes he is what he is by the grace of God alone. Do you agree with him? Or do you believe you are what you are because of what you have done? In this we glimpse the heart of a true believer. Paul works, toils, labors, writes, plants churches, pastors churches, suffers a great deal of pain, agony, and turmoil on account of it, and ultimately dies because of it. Yet, when Paul thinks of all he’s done he doesn’t sit back and congratulate himself on his great and glorious accomplishments, no. He gives all the glory to God and confesses, ‘It was all of grace.’

After laying a foundation of the grace of God on his ministry, Paul unfolds the what, the why, and the where of his mission in v5.[1]

The what is “…to bring about the obedience of faith…” This phrase ‘bring about’ tells us God is going to do something through Paul in the lives of those he ministers to. What will God do? He’ll bring about the ‘obedience of faith.’ Curious phrase isn’t it? On one hand we can say these two words go together. Obedience always involves faith and faith always involves obedience, they belong together like lightning and thunder.[2] But on the other hand there is a sure order to these words we would do well to note. Just as lightning comes before thunder, so too faith always comes before and produces true obedience. So, when put together as “the obedience of faith” we learn the Jesus we have faith in is also the Lord we obey. Yes, faith alone saves, but when faith is true faith is never alone, works always follow. Or we could put it like this: the Christian isn’t one who just believes certain things, the Christian is one who lives a certain way because we believe certain things. Our whole life is a result of what we believe.[3] That’s the what of his mission.

Now look at the why, “…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake His name…” Paul isn’t undertaking all of this gospel endeavor for personal profit or financial gain, he is no peddler of God’s Word who can’t trusted. Paul’s grand motivation for all things is “for the sake of His name” or for His glory. This is also God’s purpose in all things, the great glory of His name. In this Paul shows himself very healthy and spiritually alive, his heart beats with the same aim as God’s heart. Does yours? It ought to. If you’re ‘why’ is anything else you’re not just off base or unhealthy or in need of an adjustment, you’re an idolater. There is no one like God and there is no God but God. He, therefore, deserves all our love, all our affection, all our praise, all our hard work, and all our obedience. His glory is our great end in all things.

Lastly, Paul’s where. Finish out v5, “…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake His name…(where?)…among all the nations…” Not just Israel any longer, but the nations. Paul knows further on in this letter he’ll describe how God is now sovereignly working throughout all history to bring a new people together, from all nations, through the gospel. So here he begins with that in mind as he gives us the where of his mission. And as robust as this is, as grand and all encompassing as this is, to these Romans it would’ve been very personal. Why? See what he says next in v6, “…including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…” The nations God has called Paul to includes those in Rome.

And so, after meeting the apostle, learning his message, and learning his mission Paul concludes his greeting with sweet words in v7. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

This is our message. This is our mission.

[1] Robert W. Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 37.

[2] Douglas Moo, Romans – NICNT, 50–51.

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – vol. 1, 169.

Learning Paul’s Message

Romans 1:2-4, “…the gospel of God…which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”

A few weeks ago I began a series of posts introducing us to the Apostle Paul. In that first post we met Paul, today in this post we’ll learn his message.

In Romans 1:2-4 we come to next great matter Paul introduces to the Romans. That this gospel of God which God has set him apart for isn’t new. Rather the gospel is of old, it’s something God promised long ago. I think too many make too sharp a division between the Old and New Testaments, as if there were no gospel in the Old Testament and no Law in the New Testament.[1] In our daily living as Christians this usually looks like us simply not giving much attention to the Old Testament because we think we’re New Testament people and should just stick to the New Testament. To which I respond, ‘We are indeed no longer in the shadow lands, we are living in the realities, gloriously so! But where do we think the foundation of the New Covenant was laid? Nowhere else than the Old Covenant.’ Or as Augustine once said, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.” This is what Paul’s getting at here in v2. His message, the gospel of God, wasn’t invented by him. No, it goes all the way back to the Garden where God spoke the first words of light into the dark fallen hearts of Adam and Eve. ‘One day’, God told them in Gen. 3:15, ‘the serpent will strike one of your Descendants on the heel, but He will crush its head.’ All the prophets of old spoke of this Descendant of Eve, of His coming, of His entrance into our world, of His life, His death, His resurrection, and His ultimate victory. This means Paul’s eager to tell them and to show them that in these “holy Scriptures” God has made many promises, and in Jesus Christ we come to see how God has kept them all.

But what does he say next in v3-4? He gets more specific, saying this gospel of God promised beforehand in the holy Scriptures is about one thing. It concerns “…God’s Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”

Now we see it. The gospel of God is not about a set of principles or about a certain spiritual program, it’s about a Person.[2] The Person of Jesus Christ. Try as many may, there simply is no Christianity without Jesus Christ. Put anything else before Him or leave Him out entirely and you’ve left Christianity, regardless what one calls themselves. And notice, how Paul’s explanation of the gospel of God doesn’t begin with man, with man’s problems, or with man’s value or worth. No, it begins with Jesus.[3] And more so notice, Paul isn’t content to leave Jesus simply stated and undefined. He tells us what we should know about this Person Jesus Christ. Some today might already begin having issues with Paul. Arguing with him saying he’s getting too deep and going into things he shouldn’t. ‘We just want Jesus, Paul, don’t go into all this doctrine. Doctrine divides.’ Paul sees it differently. I’d argue Paul sees it rightly and clearly. Sure, doctrine may divide, but can we see that when handled properly doctrine divides between what is true and what is false? Or see it like this: Jesus is Paul’s Master, and Paul earnestly desires and labors to make his Master’s glories plain to the Romans, and to us. Let’s see what he says about Jesus.

First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh. We know what this means. Not only was Jesus to be the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), not only was Jesus to be a Descendant of Abraham that would bless the nations (Gen. 12), not only was Jesus to be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49), He was to be of a particular line, the line of David. Remember 2 Samuel 7? David desires to build God a house but God interrupts these desires and makes David a grand promise and says He’ll be the One doing the house building. Specifically, God will build David a great house, or kingdom and He’ll place one of David’s sons on the throne establishing David’s throne and kingdom forever and ever. This long-anticipated Son of David is Jesus. He was the true divine eternal Son of God before in eternity past, but at a certain point in time this Son of God willingly became something that He was not before as He entered into our world, true Man.

Paul doesn’t leave it at that but goes on with more detail about the nature of Jesus. First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh, that’s v3. See what comes second in v4, He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead…” Some read this as teaching us that Jesus was simply human before the resurrection and then became the Son of God after the resurrection. I disagree. That’s not what Paul is saying.[4] The Son of God has always been the Son of God. The point he’s making here is that there are stages of Christ’s work to see. He – the true, the divine, the eternal Son of God – took on flesh, and in His earthly ministry His glory was largely veiled. He was King of kings while on He walked among us but He went ‘incognito’ if you will. Then something happened that changed everything. What happened? The resurrection. In the resurrection, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power, meaning His glory is veiled no longer. He has been inaugurated, He has been enthroned, above all and overall to His rightful place. Paul is saying the resurrection is not only where we see Jesus as the Son of God, but the resurrection is where we see Jesus as the Son of God in power.[5] Which is why Paul concludes recognizing Jesus to be what He truly is, “Jesus Christ our Lord.” This theme will be the grand foundation for everything Paul says later on in chapter 6 about how we’re to view ourselves as those who’ve been redeemed and how that resurrected power changes our daily life.

So follow Paul here in v1-4. What is the gospel of God promised long ago in the holy Scriptures all about? It concerns Jesus. Eternal Son of God, Seed of David, Messiah, and Lord.[6] This is what Paul was set apart for. This is his message.

[1] R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 18.

[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 12.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 2 102.

[4] John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 7.

[5] Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 13.

[6] Douglas Moo, NICNT – Romans, 48–49.

Meet the Apostle Paul

In reading the Bible ourselves and in hearing the Bible preached I think most Christians have grown far too accustomed to how Paul’s letters begin. Such that we don’t really pay attention to them any longer. In essence, we rush past these introductions to get to the content that really matters. This is something we must indeed stop doing. We must come to understand that we rob ourselves of great riches if we do this. Take Romans 1:1 as an example. You might think it’s just a general introduction from Paul to the Romans, that it isn’t very different from how he begins his other letters, and that there really isn’t anything we can learn from it. But a closer look at v1 shows us how Paul, from the very outset, is eager to teach the Romans. Teach them about what? We’ll let’s look into it to see.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”

Remember, it’s likely that most of the Christians in Rome have heard of Paul but Paul has never met them or been to visit them, so he must introduce himself to them. See how he does it? As was common for letters in the first century Paul begins with his name, but he then does something unexpected. After telling them who he is, he immediately tells them Whose he is. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” Whatever else the Romans might learn about him, Paul is anxious to teach them this most important thing about himself. He’s anxious to introduce them to the one Person in his life that matters most, the one Person Paul cannot think of himself apart from, Jesus Christ.[1] Paul could’ve easily said ‘Paul, eminent theologian, master of the Old Testament Scriptures, frontier missionary, gospel champion.’[2] But no, he says he’s a servant of Christ Jesus.

Don’t miss it. The very first thing he wants them to know about himself is that he belongs to Jesus.

This word ‘servant’ is key. The Greek word used here is doulos which is more rightly translated ‘slave.’ But you won’t find this is most English translations, because slavery in our modern world brings to mind such appalling things, most English translations avoid the word slavery and use servant or bondservant instead, which really ends up softening what Paul’s saying here. We’d do well to see this as it is. Paul doesn’t view himself as being a free man, no. He doesn’t come and go as he pleases, no. Christ is his Master and he is his Master’s possession. That’s the first thing he wants the Romans to know about him.

The second thing he wants them to know is that he has been called and set apart to be an apostle. This language of calling and setting apart is very similar to how God speaks of Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. Israel was and the Church has now been brought out from the rest of the world and made separate. But Paul also brings in the word apostle to clarify what he means in this. Paul uses this term in v1 to teach the Romans that he’s not a rogue figure out and about on his own mission, teaching his own ideas, trying to create his own religion. No, Paul is an apostle, a ‘sent one.’ One whose been chosen, called, selected to be an officially authorized representative of Christ along with Peter, James, John and the other apostles.[3] Those hand selected 12 who were with Jesus and eyewitnesses of His resurrection. The Romans may have never met Paul, but they should certainly listen to Paul since he’s an apostle. Why? Because as an apostle, he’s writes with the full authority of Jesus Christ Himself.

The third and final thing he wants the Romans to know as he begins in v1 is that God called and set him apart as an apostle for a reason. See it? The gospel of God. Here we have the first mention of the word that will dominate this letter, gospel. Paul will soon say he isn’t ashamed of this gospel and then spend the rest of the book explaining both the contents of the gospel and how the gospel transforms our lives. But did you note how he says this in v1? Paul identified himself earlier as one who belongs to Jesus, so we could say Paul is Jesus’ Paul. Well, what gospel is this? What gospel has Paul been set apart for? Not Peter’s gospel. Not John’s gospel. No, God’s gospel. The gospel belongs to God!

Romans then, is a letter about God. How God acted to bring about salvation, how God’s justice can be preserved in that salvation, how God’s purposes are being worked out in history, and how God can be served by His people throughout all their lives.[4]

You’ve now met the Apostle Paul. In posts to come I’ll introduce you to his message and his mission.

[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 1 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 32.

[2] Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 16–17.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 38.

[4] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 41.

Walk It Out

Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

These are some of the most important and strategic words ever penned in human history. 

They serve as a halftime address—a coach’s “chalk talk.” Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2are capable of leading God’s people to victory. But please don’t let your familiarity with these verses lead to passivity. Let’s Study them anew and afresh. If you do, God will transform you from the inside out. 

After devoting eleven chapters to heavy-duty theology, Paul transitions in chapter 12 from doctrine to duty, from creed to conduct, and from belief to behavior. 

He says, “In light of what God has done, here is how we should live.”

To put it another way, the apostle encourages us to turn our theology into “walkology.” 

In other words, we are to live out our beliefs. Paul uses the imperative thirteen times in the first eleven chapters of Romans; he uses it eleven times in chapter 12 alone!

In fact, this chapter has more commands in it than any other chapter of the New Testament. It is a chapter of action! Paul’s thesis is: Beliefs should impact behavior.

Present Your Body (12:1) I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship

This verse is one of the most important in the entire Bible and contains more key theological terms and truths for its size than perhaps any other verse of Scripture.

Verse 1 gives the “what” that we are to do in response to God. Paul opens this new unit with the word “Therefore” (oun).

What is the word “therefore” there for? “Therefore” looks back to all the doctrine that Paul has covered in chapters 1-11.

Paul believes that you haven’t really learned the Word until you live the Word. 

How well have you learned the Word? Have you been applying the truths of Romans? When you study the Bible on your own, do you bring it to bear on your life? Are you just a hearer of the Word or are you a doer of the Word?

Only when you become a doer of the Word, have you truly learned the Word.

Paul writes, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.” Instead of a command or a demand, Paul urges, or better yet, exhorts his readers

Paul functions as a Christian coach who challenges and encourages us to reach a particular goal.  Paul speaks as a Christian brother to other Christian brothers and sisters. 

This is a family affair! The apostle exhorts us to respond to “the mercies of God.” 

Paul informs us that God’s love for His people is unconditional. Is God merciful? You better believe it! 

God chose us, called us, saved us, released us, and will one day take us home to heaven. Indeed, God’s mercies are past finding out!

That is why I’m convinced that the best motivation to live for Christ is a good memory of all the mercies He has blessed us with. 

Long-lasting change only occurs when gratitude for God’s mercies is the chief motivation. The Bible’s way of preaching holiness begins by reminding Christians who they are, what they are, and what they have. 

Who are we? We are the children of God with all of the power of God working on our behalf? 

Where are we? We are in the kingdom of God and have died to the dominion of sin. 

What do we have? We have the Holy Spirit, we have Jesus’ intercession working for us, and we have the power of God ready to come to our aid. 

The best way to motivate people is to show them what God has done for them and let them rise to the challenge of responding to that love appropriately.

In response to God’s mercies, Paul challenges us “to present” our bodies. 

Please note that Paul does not say “yield” or “surrender” your bodies but “present” them. Yield and surrender are biblical terms, but they imply a measure of reluctance or hesitancy. 

Present, on the other hand, implies a glad, happy, willing offering of oneself. If I yield or surrender a gift to my wife, she will not be impressed by my efforts. I mean, who does that?

Our presentation of our bodies to God as a sacrifice for His use, just like my presentation of a gift to my wife, is to be a joyous and spontaneous act. 

God is not asking you to dedicate your gifts, abilities, money, time, ideas, creativity, or any such thing. He is asking you to sacrifice yourself. 

Remember the clear words of our Lord in Matthew 16:24: Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

This is an appeal to those who have been set free by grace to live under grace by presenting all that they are to God. 

Paul states that you are to present your body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.”

The words “living,” “holy,” and “acceptable” all follow the noun “sacrifice.” 

There are three qualities of our sacrifice: 

(1) Living: In the Old Testament believers were called to “make” a sacrifice from a dead sacrifice. In the New Testament believers are called to “be” a sacrifice from a living sacrifice. The point is: God wants you to live to die. Most believers could take a bullet for Christ in a moment of courage, but every believer struggles to die to self and live for Christ on a daily basis. 

(2) Holy: We are to be wholly dedicated, “set apart” from the world and belonging to God. The term speaks of being fully abandoned to God. This means that as individual Christians and as a corporate church, we must do all that we can to ensure that holiness is promoted. That is why we must exercise church discipline. That is why we must speak the truth in love. That is why we must disciple new believers. We are commanded to be holy as God is holy. 

(3) Acceptable: The term “acceptable” builds on the Old and New Testament concept of the sacrifice as pleasing God. When you present your body as a sacrifice that is living and holy God is pleased.

Paul states that when you present your body as a sacrifice you have fulfilled your “spiritual service of worship.” 

The Greek adjective translated “spiritual” is logikos, from which we derive the English word “logical.” 

Logikos pertains to reason or the mind, and therefore does not really mean “spiritual.” It is better translated “reasonable” or “rational” 

I think what Paul is saying is: “If you consider all that God has done for you—a sinful being—the only reasonable response is to offer Him your life.”

After all, this is the only logical response! Why would freed slaves continue to serve their old master?

Presenting your body to serve the interests of your new Master, on the other hand, is completely logical—very much in keeping with good sense.

 A response of sacrificial worship expresses a heart of gratitude. It puts feet to our faith. 

Beliefs should impact behavior.

Renew Your Mind (12:2)  Do not be conformed to this world,[c]but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.[d]

The world’s philosophy is pretty simple: If you want something, go get it (partners, possessions, and power).

In the worlds eyes, people are important primarily because of what they can do for you. If they can’t do anything for you, don’t waste your time on them. 

Nowadays the publics opinion defines the truth.

Popularity is more important than holiness. 

Faith and everyday living are unrelated. 

Live for the moment and don’t concern yourself with consequences…. 

You are the center of your universe; don’t let anyone push you around! 

Our world also screams tolerance (religions are the same; accept and affirm same sex marriage) and truth is not absolute (what’s good for you is good for you). 

Listen, you cannot not be shaped by these influences. You have to fight hard against the tide of sin, self, and Satan. 

Ask yourself, How much television do you watch in the course of a week?

How many movies do you watch in the course of a year? What type of music do you listen to? What magazines, books, and websites do you read? 

How much time are you devoting to social networking? Who are your friends? What type of influence do they have on you? What are your hobbies? How do you send your discretionary time?

Even though Paul is writing to the church, we are a group of individuals. These verses are speaking specifically to YOU. 

Will one diseased fish affect the whole tank? Will one mad cow infect the whole herd? 

Will one person conformed to the world have an effect on our church? 

YES! BUT I dare you to be different. Stand up for Christ. Don’t go with the flow; go against the grain. Rebel against the status quo—become a disciple of Christ. Your life will be an adventure!

Turning from the negative to the positive, Paul goes on to say, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  

The term “transformed” is the Greek word metamorphoo, which forms the root for the English word “metamorphosis.”When a tadpole is changed into a frog or when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, we speak of it as a metamorphosis. 

That is what God wants for each of His children. At what stage are you in this Christian transformation? Are you staying in the larva stage? Caterpillar? Baby butterfly? Full-grown butterfly? Where are you on the conformity to Christ growth chart? 

Listen, Before you were saved, you were so accustomed to sin that you wore a groove into your heart and mind, like a river cutting a gorge through rock. 

What you now need to do is make some new grooves. That’s why Paul says you must be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

God wants your body and your mind; He wants all of you. Is there anything or anyone that you are withholding from God? Is your marriage and family yielded to Him? Is your vocation His? What about your finances or hobbies? Will you present yourself to Him today and every day hereafter? If you will, your life will never be the same. 

Walk out that robust theology you know oh so well.

Three Benedictions for Christmas

Hectic. Busy. Frantic. Rushed. These are just a few words that describe the Christmas season for most. What we could all use is a little endurance, encouragement, hope, and peace. The good news for us is that our God is all about giving us these very gifts, but not in a detached sort of way. God gives us something far better than hope or peace…He gives us Himself, the God of hope and peace.

The book of Romans is the Bible’s theological tour-de-force. Paul paints for us a picture of God’s impeccable holiness, our utter depravity, and the splendor of the Gospel to save such wretches. But there is a threefold benediction that is easy to miss in the last pages of this epistle. In Romans 15, Paul prays three benedictions over the church and each of these highlight a different aspect of God’s gift of Himself to His people.

Join me as we behold our great God…

The God of Endurance and Encouragement…

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Romans 15:5-6

Paul had just mentioned these two words in the previous verse. He told the church in Rome that the Old Testament was, “Written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Then Paul turns his focus from God’s revealed Word, to God the Revealer. He literally stops mid-sentence and prays this over them. But Paul doesn’t just pray for us to endure and have encouragement. His prayer hinges upon God, the source of endurance and encouragement for His people. Endurance and encouragement are two things God knows a little something about. Our God alone has endured from the beginning and has always been the source of encouragement to His people. But why does Paul pray this aspect of God’s nature over Christ’s church? It is not for their individual benefit, but their corporate unity and worship as a church. Endurance and encouragement are things that show up in relationships among fellow church members. Even as we celebrate the peace of Christmas together, we can be at odds with each other. We easily give up on one another and get discouraged by these relationships. Spouses in the church throw in the towel on their marriage too quickly. Once strong friendships in the church dissolve over harsh words said in a meeting or outside the worship gathering. This is why we need God’s endurance and encouragement. All that we need to relate well with one another in harmony and love is found in our God Himself. He will empower us to love as we have been loved. After all, God has shown much long-suffering in dealing with our sins, so we should in dealing with the sins of others. Along with endurance and encouragement, we need hope…

The God of Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

Paul had already said the Old Testament was written so that, “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Then Paul said of Christ that, “in Him will the Gentiles hope” (Rom. 15:12). Now he once again turns this into a benediction for the church. Our God is not only the enduring One and the source of all encouragement. He is also the source of hope for His people. Verse 13 is packed with significance for us as it mentions hope, joy, and peace; these are realities Christ came to give us. Paul prays for God to fill us with all joy and peace, which comes through believing the truth of God’s Word. He is praying that through faith in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might abound in joy, peace, and hope. There is no greater hope than that which was accomplished through Christ for the believer. We who once were in a hopeless predicament because of our sin have been given the greatest hope of all. I love how the author of Hebrews describes it: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Heb. 6:19). The hope of the Christian is not wishful thinking, but a fixed reality that awaits consummation. People say all the time they hope this or that will happen, but the believer’s hope is as secure as the ground under their feet and as certain as God’s faithfulness. God is the enduring source of encouragement for His people and gives them abounding hope, but these would not help us if there was no peace…

The God of Peace

“May the God of peace be with you all. Amen…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” – Romans 15:33, 16:20

Octavius Caesar or Caesar Augustus was known for his “reign of peace”, but it was more fear than anything. In his commentary on Luke 2, R. Kent Hughes points out, “There was “peace,” but it was a dark peace—a Hitler’s peace—and no man or woman or boy or girl could say a word against it without fearfully looking over their shoulder.” The true reign of peace was announced by the angels at the birth of King Jesus. He was the Prince of Peace Isaiah had foretold who would also rule the nations. Our God is the God of peace because He has never known a rival. His reign is one of endless peace because there is nothing outside of His power and everything is dependent on Him for life. Another instance where Paul refers to “the God of peace” is found in Philippians 4. Paul says, “the peace of God…surpasses all understanding” and “will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Php. 4:7). He also says this peace is granted to us through prayer (Php. 4:6). But you can’t enjoy the peace of God until you are at peace with God. How? Jesus was God’s peace treaty to man. God in Christ was reconciling a world of enemies to Himself and doing so by means of Jesus. Christ endured the wrath of God so that the children of God might be at peace with God for all eternity. This is the peace that was foretold back in Genesis 3:15. God warned the snake that a son born of woman would crush his head even as the serpent bruised his heel. At the cross, God made peace with His people by taking their punishment on the cross and defeating Satan’s power of accusation. Now, we await the day when the enemy of our peace is decisively defeated. But we do so with the certain hope that this peace is ours by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and all to the glory of God alone.

May the God of endurance and encouragement, the God of hope, and the God of peace grant you to enjoy His gifts as you enjoy Him in the person of His Son Jesus.

Lifestyle Evangelism?


Many professing Christians think godly living is all the evangelism others need from us. They misquote St. Francis of Assisi, saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” In actuality St. Francis never said this. The sad reality is that many are quick to find spiritualized statements like this to justify their disobedience to Christ’s command. St. Francis of Assisi actually did comment on this issue though. His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, quoted him saying: “The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.”

That seems more in line with God’s Word.

Scripture is clear that salvation is always connected to the preached Word. James says God, “brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Peter says we are, “born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). In the parable of the four souls, Jesus taught the impossibility of growth apart from sowing the seed of God’s Word (Mark 4). But the clearest Scripture on this is perhaps Paul’s argument in Romans 10. He states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17). Paul’s quadruple “How” question clearly is rhetorical. Paul is saying that without gospel proclamation there can be no justification.”

Godly living is vital, but is insufficient to save a soul from God’s just wrath against sin. Only faith in the message of the Gospel can save. The only hope for the lost is that the saved share the Gospel with them: his sinless life, his substitutionary death, and his victorious resurrection. Those who try to avoid Gospel evangelism are trying to separate the inseparable. The very Greek word euangelion or Gospel is in our word evangelism. Tell people the only message that can save them, and don’t assume people understand it if you don’t share it with them.

We Are Now and One Day Will Be…Glorified

We began our study on soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, several weeks ago. Today we bring it to its conclusion by looking at the final doctrine in the ordo salutis, glorification. And when covering glorification there is one text we must go to, Romans 8:28-30. Here Paul says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.”

This passage, known to many as the golden chain of salvation, runs the whole gamut of the ordo salutis. The ESV Study Bible mentions this in it’s notes for v30 saying, “The chain that begins with the word ‘foreknew’ in v29 cannot be broken.” John Murray, in his commentary on John, says, “Three actions are mentioned, calling, justification, and glorification. There is an unbreakable bond between these three actions…serving the apostle’s purpose in delineating the divine plan of salvation from its fount in the love of God to its consummation in the glorification of the sons of God.” Although Paul describes our glorification in the past tense (glorified) it is intended to teach us a double meaning: we have already been glorified in Christ and we will be glorified in Christ when our salvation has been completed.

As a young boy and up through my teenage years our family vacationed in Sarasota, FL during the 4th of July weekend. We would eat at the same beachside diner every year, enjoy live music, we’d dance, shoot off our own fireworks, chase tiny crabs by the water with flashlights, and finish the evening by watching the firework show put on by a nearby beach resort. Most of you have seen similar firework displays, where there is all sorts of various booms, sounds, colors, and sizes of fireworks all leading up to the grand finale when they would set off hundreds of fireworks at the same time. This grand finale was always the highlight of the evening for me. The loud blasts, color displays, and sheer volume of lights in the sky were captivating to behold. In the same (but greater!) manner, the doctrine of glorification is the grand finale of our salvation, where all that God has done in our hearts for His glory and our good comes to its completion, He gives us resurrection bodies, and we enjoy Him forever and ever.

Romans 8 shows us this in a few others places. After speaking of our adoption and union with Christ 8:17 says, “…and if children than heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” Romans 8 presents the Christian life as a life of suffering, but in the midst of that suffering we must be reminded of a few things. Namely, that our suffering in this life is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. This is not just a statement intended for those who die a martyr’s death. No, this is for the whole Church. By sharing in the suffering of Christ, I think Paul means that our Christian lives, which are lived out in this fallen world, will cause us to bump up against and inwardly feel much fallenness and suffering. Paul spoke of always carrying around in his body the death of Christ, and we who believe know what this is like living in a fallen world as fallen and simultaneously redeemed people. Paul’s promise here in v17 is that if we share in His suffering (which all Christians do to varying degrees) we need to remember that we’ll one day share in His glory. Or to put it like Paul does, one day we’ll be glorified with Him. This causes a certain change about a believer’s life. We see it in v18 when Paul continues saying, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

First, see a confirmation of v17 here. That phrase ‘this present time’ is why I interpret v17 to mean suffering as a born again creature in a fallen world. Again, the suffering Paul has in mind is suffering brought to Christians during ‘this present time.’

Second, do you see how Paul’s hope of a future glory changes how he encounters the suffering in the present? He thinks of this current suffering as something not even worth comparing with what’s to come. He says similar things in 2 Corinthians 4 when he speaks of how the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ being held in jars of clay like you and I causes us to not lose heart. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). In both Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 4 Paul uses comparative language. Comparing the sufferings of this present world with the glory that’s to come. And his conclusion in both of these passages is the same: because of the eternal weight of glory that’s awaiting us, these present sufferings are two things: 1) they’re not even worth comparing with that glory, and 2) they’re only light and momentary afflictions.

In the verses that follow (Romans 8:20-27) Paul continues to expand on this saying the whole creation, and we ourselves (who are helped by the Holy Spirit) groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoptions as sons. Then into that context, we hear the stunning promise of the golden chain, “Those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” There are no dropouts!

Let’s go further.

After the stunning promise of a secure and sure glorification is no surprise that Paul rejoices in v31-39 with some of the most well known and celebrated passages in the book of Romans. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Can it get any better? Indeed it cannot. Thus, we long for the day when this glorification, when this completion of God’s salvation in us will bring us to the city we have sought. The city whose maker and builder is God. We long for the day when we’ll be ancient in our youth again, when we’ll run and not grow faint, when we’ll sing and not grow weary!

The truth is this: God has saved us. By grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God alone – and yet though He’s saved us, we are not now what we shall soon be.

Faith: A Receiving and A Resting

One particular genre I always enjoy and in which we can see a great deal about who we are is music. There is a list of songs as long as the Mississippi river that mention faith. Faith is a very widespread concept in popular culture. But faith in this respect is usually spoken of in relation to a lover, or has having faith in yourself. Both of these fall enormously short of the Biblical idea of faith.

In the Bible when the word faith is used it more resembles an idea of trust, a believe, hope, conviction, confidence, expectation, reliance, and dependence upon God Himself. In question 86 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism it asks “What is faith in Jesus Christ? Answer: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the gospel.”

Think of it like this – when we turn from or repent of sin we don’t turn towards nothing…we turn to faith, and not just faith in general like so many people speak of but faith in a Person, namely, the Person of Jesus Christ. And what happens in the heart once we turn? As the catechism says there are two things that happen: a receiving of Jesus and a resting in Jesus.

A Receiving of Jesus

As the Apostle John begins his gospel and begins unfolding the incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh he says this in 1:9-13. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people, did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” So Jesus came into the world that He had made. He came into to His own, yet His own did not know Him or receive Him. Then in v12 we find the wondrous moment of contrast where John points out that not all rejected Him, some did receive Him. What does it mean to receive Jesus? v12 continues and explains it for us, “…to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name…”

To receive Jesus, therefore, is to believe in His name. This word ‘believed’ in John 1:12 is the Greek verb ‘pisteuousin’ which is used by Paul in its noun form ‘pistis’ which we translate as ‘faith.’ So, to receive Jesus is to believe in His name. And, to believe in His name is the same as having faith in Him. v12 shows us what it means to have faith in Jesus, v13 shows us the origin of our faith in Jesus. When you receive Him, or believe in His name, or have faith in Him John says you become a child of God who is born, not by the will of man, but by the will of God. So the sovereignty of God is on display in the faith of man, in that, just as God grants repentance, so too God gives faith to His people. That’s why v13 is placed after v12.

That God gives faith as a gift to His people is confirmed in Ephesians 2:8-9 when Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” There are many important things to glean from this verse, it’s one of the pinnacle passages describing justification by faith alone. But one often overlooked thing in this passage is the small phrase “And this” in the middle of v8. What is the word ‘this’ referring to? Paul has just spoken of us being saved by grace through faith, so grace and faith are in view. When he continues on and starts the next sentence with “And this” he means “And grace and faith” are not your own doing, it is the gift of God. So both grace and faith are gifts from God.

A Resting in Jesus

To explain this idea of resting in Jesus I want to describe the conversion experience of Martin Luther. Some of you already know this story, but I know some of you don’t. Here’s how it played out. Looking back throughout Luther’s life there’s an intriguing pattern to notice. Every five years he was involved in, or had himself, a major controversy. In 1505 he was almost struck by lightning and ran into the monastery. In 1510 he visited Rome on an errand and became disenchanted with Roman Catholicism by all the wickedness he saw. In 1515 he had what proved to be his most pivotal controversy, and to this day it is called ‘The Tower Experience.’ After doing much in depth study of the Scriptures Luther came to believe that the proper way to interpret the Bible is to find the ‘sensus literalis’ which means we should interpret the Bible according to it’s literary genre. Well, later that year Luther was assigned to teach through Paul’s letter to the Romans. So in his private study in preparation for his lectures he came to Romans 1:16-17 and came to a screeching halt. That passage says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written (quoting Habakkuk 2:4) ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

Luther came to a halt because he found v17 repulsive. It was the word ‘righteousness’ that haunted him. He said, “I hated that word ‘the righteousness of God’ by which I had been taught according to the custom and use of all teachers that God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.” This, for Luther, was a barrier to God, a chasm between the holy God and his unholy heart that cannot be crossed. Luther saw no way around it and despaired of all hope. He was not righteous, thus, he could not live by faith. But, then Romans 1:17 broke upon his soul. He saw that what Paul was teaching was that there is a righteousness that is received as a result of faith and not as a result of works, and that once a person received this by faith they were reconciled to God.

What made the difference for Luther was that he was now studying the Greek text of Romans, not the Latin. You see, in the Latin text of Romans the word for righteousness is ‘eustificare’ which comes from the Roman legal system and means to make righteous. So the Latin meaning of this word in Romans 1:17 is that God’s very righteousness is in view. But in the original Greek the word was different. The Greek word for righteousness was the word ‘dikaiosune’ which means to count or to declare one as righteous. This was Luther’s awakening. Luther saw that Paul was teaching, not of God’s own righteousness, but of a righteousness God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have a righteousness of their own. Then he read St. Augustine on Romans and saw that he also believed this. Then Luther said this, “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

This ‘Tower Experience’ explains a lot of why Luther was the way He was. Luther was so unwavering and steadfast against the onslaught that would soon come his way for teaching the doctrine of justification by faith alone because he knew that when looked upward he beheld a reconciled Father because of Jesus’ work, not an angry Judge. Luther received Jesus by believing in His name and having faith in Him and as a result Luther rested in Jesus.

Phil. 3:8-9 confirms this rest of soul that comes by faith and shows us what all of this leads to. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”

Luther’s boldness as we’ve seen, and our boldness comes from this. We can live like v8, we can count knowing Christ as better than all things, we can count all things as rubbish compared to knowing Jesus our Lord because God has done v9 to us! He has given us a righteousness that is not our own, a righteousness that stands full and final in our account never to be removed.

See a pattern in all of this:

Receiving Jesus leads to resting in Jesus.

Resting in Jesus leads to recognizing Jesus’ worth above all things.

Recognizing Jesus’ worth above all things leads to risking all for Jesus.

Receiving, resting, recognizing, risking – begun by faith, sustained by faith, and Lord willing…finished by faith.

We Must See Our ____ to Know What ____ is

As we saw yesterday, we often forget to look at the really broad picture of the Bible, especially when it comes to how individual books of the Bible are laid out.  Take Romans again for example.

Romans is a letter that has been broken up into 16 chapters.  These chapters have themes, and these themes form purposed arguments.  In other words, the words of the Bible AND the flow of the Biblical authors arguments are not by accident.  In Romans chapter 1:1 – 3:20 descends into the abyss of sin.  3:21 – 5:21 soars in description of the gospel.  6:1 – 7:13 responds to the gospel with a call to holiness, while the rest of chapter 7 (7:14-25) discusses man’s failure to live up to those gospel standards.  This is all clear, but notice what comes in the beginning of chapter 8?  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.” 

This structure teaches us many things, one of those things stands out in particular to me today.  One cannot get to the astounding love of God toward us through Jesus without going through the darkness of sin.  This calls out a couple of types of people.

1) Some of you draw from the well of God’s love so much that you have never or have no intention of ever looking yourselves in the mirror to see how wretched you really are.  This is wrong.

2) Others of you drink heavily from the darkness of your own sin and failures so much that you never look up out of your pit, and glance in the direction of God’s love at all.  This is also wrong.

You probably already know what I’m going to say next don’t you?  We must avoid both of these extremes to be Biblical.  In order to get to the glorious love of God in gospel theology, we must go through sin to get there first.  There is no other way to it.  We cannot have sin with no love, or love with no sin.  We must see our sin to know what love is.

I wonder, which side of the pendulum to you fall on?  Find out, and run toward the middle to have a rich gospel-centered theology.

Theology = Worship = Application

When we take a step back from books in the Bible to look at the whole book, we often see things that stand out.

The book of Romans makes this especially clear.  In Romans, the first 11 chapters give us some of the richest, deepest, and thickest theology in the entire Bible.  Paul deals with many things in the first 11 chapters which we ought to give long attention to.  If we look at Romans as a whole we see something that stands out at the end of chapter 11, something that acts as a bridge.

After writing this glorious treasure of theology in Romans 1-11 Paul explodes into praise and says this, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the LORD, or who became His counselor?  Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever.  Amen.” 

This praise from Paul has often been called the bridge in Romans because of where it comes from and where it leads to.  I say where it comes from because before the bridge we have such rich theology; and I say where it leads to because after this praise chapter 12 begins the last section of Romans that deals primarily with application.  Why is this important?  Is it any surprise that theology leads to praise, and praise then leads to application of theology?  No, at least it shouldn’t surprise us.  Imagine Paul writing this as a boiling pot of water getting hotter and hotter to the boiling point as he is finishing chapter 11.  He then explodes in praise, because that is what the theology has led him to.  The praise then leads Paul to describe how the theology affects our everyday relationships including other believers, our authorities, and weaker brothers.

Notice that this means, contrary to popular opinion, that theology leads to the praise of God.  So many people have given up on deep thinking about the things of God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and in doing so they have given up the very thing that will lead them to white-hot worship.  I do not know whoever began saying that seminaries should be called cemetaries, but they obviously did not see this pattern in Romans.  If you’re a deep thinker of God and love deep theology, this is for you.  If you feel you can only scratch the surface of Paul’s thought, this is for you.   No matter if you dive in over your head, or jump in the shallow end of theology, it should lead you to praise, and that praise should lead to a practical out working of the great truths you have learned.

Romans 1-11 (Theology) = Romans 11:33-36 (Worship) = Romans 12-15 (Application)

Almost the Greatest Advice on Preaching I’ve Received

When it comes to preaching, I have very strong opinions, AS EVERY PREACHER SHOULD!  Anywho, the title of this post is exactly what I want to say.  The best preaching advice one can ever give or receive is simple: expository preaching (verse by verse preaching) is the best way to preach.  If you want to know what this is, find the “preaching” category below and you won’t have to go far to find posts on it.

Now for the second best advice you can ever give or receive.  In seminary, the first thing my preaching professor Dr. Bruce Lowe ever told me was this:

If you say everything, you say nothing.

Let me give you an example: Romans 5:1-2 says this, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  Let’s say this is the passage you’ve chosen to preach on, what will you say?  You could do one sermon, fully loaded on doctrinal items, going into depths of explanations like this:

How many doctrines are in Romans 5:1-2? “Therefore, having been justified by faith (Justification by Faith alone…), we have peace with God (…Propitiation, Atonement, Substitution, Satisfaction…) through our Lord Jesus Christ (…Christ’s Deity, Eternal Priesthood, and Mediatorial Work…), through Whom (…Sola Christus…) also we have obtained our introduction by faith (… Sola Fide…) into this grace (…Sola Gratia…) in which we stand (…Justification, Perseverance…);and we exult in hope (…Assurance…) of the glory of God (…Soli Deo Gloria…).”

If you were to do this, your people would surely get a head full of true and right doctrine, which is great.  But is this beneficial?  I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the doctrine I think is wrong, it’s the manner in which you bring it forth to your people.  Instead of doing one sermon on all these doctrines, how about doing one sermon on each of these doctrines (making it a sermon series on two Bible verses – awesome!), showing how this verse teaches it?  That would be far better, because your people would get deeper into each individual doctrine, and hear how it specifically applies to their lives.  This is far better of an option in preaching because…

…if you say everything, you say nothing.

The Biblical Meaning of Foreknowledge

Many people deny the doctrine of predestination because of the word in Romans 8:29-30, “foreknew.”

Here is the passage, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;  and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

Those who deny predestination based on this have one thing right, and one thing wrong.  The one thing they have correct is that predestination is indeed founded upon God’s foreknowing those whom He will choose.  What they have wrong is their definition of what it means to “foreknow.”  To “foreknow” can be defined in two ways: the philosophical way and the Biblical way.  The philosophical definition of foreknowledge or “foreknowing” is simple.  To foreknow means to know something beforehand.  Therefore when you bring this philosophical definition to Romans 8:29-30 it means this: God, before the world was made, looked down into the hallway of time and saw those people who would choose Him.  Based upon the foreknowledge of these people’s choice of Himself, God chose, or predestined them.  This manner of defining foreknowledge and predestination is not Biblical.

The Biblical definition of God’s foreknowledge is different.  Rather than meaning God’s prior knowledge of decisions man will make, it means a specific and intentional act of God loving certain people and setting His affection on them alone.  Confused?  Therefore when you bring the Biblical definition to Romans 8:29-30 it means this: God, based solely on His sovereign grace, chooses (elects) to set His affection on some men, regenerating them and thereby opening their heart to His truth.

Look at Amos 3:2 “You (Israel) only have I known among all the families of the earth…” Does God only know of Israel on the planet?  Is he ignorant of all other people?  Of course not.  God knows all people, there is nothing hidden from Him (Heb. 4:13).  So what does it mean when it says God only knew Israel out of all the families of the earth?  It means God chose to set His favor and affection only upon Israel out of the all the families of the earth.  This is portrayed for us in the word ‘know’ throughout the entire Bible.  To know someone is to set a very intimate affection on them.  This is why the Bible refers to Adam and Eve’s sexual intimacy as ‘knowing’ in Genesis 4:1.

So what does “foreknowledge” mean?  It does not refer to God’s actual knowledge of anything beforehand (though He in fact does have that knowledge).  Rather “foreknowledge” refers to God’s setting His affection upon His people before the world was made.  God intimately chose and knows His people, just as a husband intimately chose and knows his wife.  It is true that this foreknowing is the foundation of predestination, and the Biblical definition of it makes this so much clearer.

Thus, if we were to translate the Biblical meaning of foreknowledge into Romans 8:29 it would read like this, “For those whom God intimately set His affection upon beforehand, He also predestined…” This meaning is in sync with the rest of the Bible.

Labor to rid your mind of philosophical definitions for Biblical words.  Let the Bible define words for itself.

The Fame Of His Name Sent the Son

Now we’ve come to our Advent text, Ezekiel 36:22-23, “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”

Last week I mentioned that in this text we find the why, how, and when of God’s action to restore His people. Why will God restore His people? Because He will act for the sake of His holy name, which is being profaned. How will God restore His people? By vindicating the holiness of His great name, so that all the nations (including Israel) will know that He is the Lord. In response to having His name be profaned by His people’s wicked living and the nations wicked scoffing God is stirred up to act.

Did you notice why God will act though? It is stark and blatant statement we cannot gloss over. He is He acting for who? Who is He acting in behalf of? Read 36:22, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My great name…” The reason God is about to vindicate His holiness before them is not because of His people, but because of His passion over the fame of His name. To put it another way, God is about to act for His glory.

This is why it says “all shall know that I am the Lord” after He acts in behalf of His great name. I cannot over emphasize this detail enough. The phrase “…and you shall know that I am the Lord…” up to Ezekiel 36:22-23 occurs 57 times in the book of Ezekiel. The only other place in the Bible this phrase is used so repeatedly is in the book of Exodus, showing that God saved His people out of Egypt for His own glory, that the Pharaoh and all Egypt would know who the Lord really is. What does this mean? It means that the reason God is about to show up and restore His people, the reason upholding and founding all other reasons, the reason that gives meaning and vibrancy to all other reasons is His own glory among the nations! This is why God saves His people. He did this way in Egypt and He is about to do it again when He saves them out of captivity in Babylon.

We have answered the question of why and how God will restore His people, but we have not yet answered the question of ‘when.’ God will act, not for the sake of His people but for the sake of His holy name, vindicating His holiness before all nations…but when will do this? Enter Christmas and our earlier question of getting down to the reason why we celebrate the momentous occasion of Christ’s advent among us each December. Why did Jesus come?

Listen to Paul’s answer in Romans 3:21-26, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 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. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

So you see what God promised to do in Ezekiel 36:22-23 He did on the cross. On the cross God publicly displayed His righteousness, crushing His Son for the sins of His people, and giving His people His Son’s holy and righteous credit in our account. This is the glorious exchange on the cross, where God vindicated the holiness of His great name for all who have eyes to see. But think about it, where does the road to the cross begin? The manger. The incarnation. But bring the whole of Ezekiel 36 forward with it: God did not carry out the whole of the incarnation for His people’s sake, He did it for the sake of His name which had been profaned among the nations, to vindicate His holiness, or as Paul said it, “This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

So why did Jesus come? What the reason beneath all other reasons that the first Christmas occurred? Jesus came for God, and as a result of His advent here among us all nations now know (more are knowing everyday) that God is the Lord. God is now seen as both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. The fame of His name brought the Son of God to earth, and the fame of His name now brings us to all nations with the message of the Gospel.

The Superior Good News of All of Romans 8

From the Desiring God Blog:

John Piper says that good news is so dense and so constant in Romans 8 — and so vastly superior to all earthly good news — that we scarcely feel the force of it until we take every verse of Romans 8 and restate it as the miracle it means for our lives.

So that is what he did.

As the apostle Paul described gospel ministry to be “God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20), Pastor John speaks the truth of Romans 8 to us as if God himself were speaking them. They are God’s words to us, and in his final message of the 2014 National Conference, Piper encourages us to just listen. He encourages us to bring our minds and hearts into a “hungry readiness to hear the Lord himself speak kindly and deeply and powerfully to our souls.” In this excerpt, he mentions sixteen, which takes about four minutes.

  • In Christ, you are free from eternal condemnation. (Romans 8:1)
  • My Spirit in you will one day give life to your mortal bodies in the resurrection. (Romans 8:10–11)
  • I executed the penalty for your sin in the crucified flesh of my Son. (Romans 8:3)
  • My Holy Spirit is fulfilling in you the demands of my law summed up in love. (Romans 8:4)
  • My Spirit’s power is the only means by which you can kill your sin. (Romans 8:13)
  • My indwelling Spirit is the spirit of adoption, wakening the cry from your heart, “Abba Father.” (Romans 8:15)
  • As my children, you are my heirs and will share my glory after a life of groaning with me in this fallen world. But children, that groaning is not worth comparing to the glory that you will one day see and share. (Romans 8:17–18)
  • One day, this entire creation will attain its own freedom and glory after and from and for my glorious children. (Romans 8:21)
  • When you don’t know how to pray in your sufferings, my Spirit prays for you through your very groanings. (Romans 8:26)
  • But one thing you do know: I work everything for the good of those who love me and are called according to my purpose. (Romans 8:28)
  • From eternity I took note of you, acknowledged you, chose you, and destined you infallibly to magnify my Son by becoming like him as the great firstborn. (Romans 8:29)
  • I forged in eternity the unbreakable links of the chain: predestined, called, justified, glorified so that at no point is any of my elect ever lost. (Romans 8:30)
  • Do you see, then? I, the Almighty, am for you! No one can successfully be against you. (Romans 8:31)
  • I gave my own Son to save you. And so, with the hardest act behind me, nothing can stop me from giving you everything you need to enjoy me forever. (Romans 8:32)
  • No charge can stick against you. I, the judge of the universe, count you righteous in my Son, Christ Jesus, who died, and rose, and reigns, and intercedes for you before me. (Romans 8:33–34)
  • Therefore, everyone and everything that attempts to block my love for you will not only be removed but it will be swept into the river of my omnipotent love, and it will serve you for your good and my glory forever. (Romans 8:38–39)