Sermons

Can You Hear Me Now: 1 Samuel 3:1-12

1 Samuel 3:1-12

Special thank you to Dr. Randy Bradley, Director of Missions for the Three Rivers Baptist Association, for filling in while I was on vacation.  Dr. Bradley received his undergraduate degree from Furman University, Master of Divinity from Southeaster Theological Seminary, and Doctor of Ministry from North Greenville University.  Randy and his wife, Karen, were missionaries to Argentina for 21 years with the International Mission Board.  Randy became the DOM for the Three Rivers Baptist Association, then the North Greenville Baptist Association, in 2007.  Dr. Bradley and Karen have three (3) grown sons and eight (8) grandchildren.

God’s Faithfulness to Israel – Romans 11:1-32

Romans 11:1-32

As always, I hope you have your copy of God’s Word and let me invite you to turn with me to Romans 11.

From 1740 to 1786, a man by the name of Frederick the Great ruled the Kingdom of Prussia (the territory of modern-day northern Germany and Poland).  During his reign, he came under the influence of the French philosopher Voltaire, and thus became skeptical of Christianity and of the reliability of the Bible.  The story is told that he asked one of his ministers to give him one word as proof of the inspiration of the Bible.  His words supposedly went something like this:

“If your Bible is really true, it ought to be capable of very easy proof.  So often, when I’ve asked for proof of the inspiration of the Bible, I’ve been given some large tome that I have neither the time nor the desire to read.  If your Bible is really from God, then you should be able to demonstrate the fact simply.  Give me proof for the inspiration of the Bible in a single word.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty profound challenge.  Wouldn’t you agree?  What would you have said?  Love?  Sin?  Grace?  Guilt?  Conscience?  Perhaps you’re thinking that the best one-word defense is a theological word: Justification, Sanctification, Atonement, Propitiation, or maybe Salvation.  Well, as the story goes, the priest resorted to what was plain and obvious – something that all the world could see.

“Your Majesty, indeed, it’s possible for me to give you the answer that your request.  I can give you the proof in a single word,” the priest replied.

Amazed, the king asked, “What’s this magic word that carries such a weight of proof?”

The priest’s answer was simply, “Israel.”

Frederick the Great is said to have responded only with silence.  Maybe, like Frederick the Great, you’re sitting there this morning scratching your head in silence too.  But might I remind you, the detailed records that we have of this nation are beyond that of any other.  We know when the nation was founded, why, and by whom.  We have a detailed written account of her ancient and modern history, and specific accounts of things experienced by her people during this time.  Her homeland is the same as it’s been for thousands of years.  Her language is still intact.  Her religion, while practiced faithfully today by only a small minority, is unchanged in its tenets as laid out for us in the Old Testament.

Those facts alone are remarkable, and might lead some to think that she’s experienced smooth sailing over the centuries.  But, of course, nothing could be further from the truth – and therein lies the brilliance of the priest’s one-word response to Frederick the Great.

I don’t have the time to give you a full recounting of Israel’s past, nor do I need to (since most of you know it).  But let me offer a very quick lightening round of facts to set the stage:

2,100 B.C.     Abram heeds God’s call to move from Ur of the Chaldees to a place called Canaan; thus, starting this magnificent nation.

1,876 B.C.     Abraham’s descendants leave Canaan for Egypt to escape a famine, and are then enslaved for nearly 400 years.

1,446 B.C.     God redeems His people from slavery and establishes them as a nation set apart until Him at Mount Sinai.

722 B.C.         The ten northern tribes of Israel are taken captive by the Assyrians.

586 B.C.         The capitol of the nation, Jerusalem, is destroyed by the Babylonians, and the two southern tribes of Israel are carried into captivity.

432 B.C.         Groups of exiles, under the leadership of Ezra-Nehemiah, return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding when the Persians take over.

70 A.D.           Jerusalem is destroyed by the Roman general and eventual emperor, Titus.

70-1940 A.D.     The nation is scattered throughout the world, and Jerusalem and is the scene of the Crusades and scores of other military conflicts between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

1940 A.D.           The Holocaust in Nazi Germany (and other atrocities in Eastern Europe and Russia) results in the death of millions of Jews.

1948 A.D.           The Zionist movement receives permission from the United Nations to reestablish Israel as a nation.

2020 A.D.           Millions of Jews from all over the world have returned (and are still returning) to their ancient homeland.  And the nation is functioning once again as a major player in world affairs, some 4,000 years after her founding.

Israel could’ve vanished from the world’s stage many times over in the course of her history.  The fact that she hasn’t is what caused Frederick the Great’s priest to claim “Israel” as his one-word answer for the Bible’s truthfulness and reliability.  So, what does all of this have to do with Romans 11?  Well, I’m glad you asked, because Paul says that’s exactly the same question that the Jews of his day were prepared to ask him.

Remember, Paul has taken a little detour while writing his letter to the church in Rome (a Jewish/Gentile congregation), and he’s intent on showing his own kinsmen – the Jews – that God’s plan of salvation has always worked by grace through faith.  Salvation is not a matter of birth: being born to the right parents.  It’s not even a matter of ethics: doing more “good” things than “bad” things.  Salvation has always operated off of God’s grace.  AND, moreover (fellow Jew, fellow Gentile, fellow attender at Mountain Hill) that offer of salvation by grace through faith is still on the table.  God, by way of the Holy Spirit, still calls people – both Jew and Gentile – to repent and believe:

…if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (NIV).

So, Paul has made it clear that God’s plan of salvation has always worked this way: by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and it’s still working like this – all day long, God is holding out His hands with this offer of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.  And the very same question you just asked about the history of Israel – “what does Israel’s past have to do with God’s plan of salvation?” – is the very same question that the Jews ask Paul in Romans 11.  “So, then, if salvation is by grace through faith, then what about God’s promise(s) to us?”  Look at verse 1 and following:

I ask, then, has God rejected His people?  By no means!  For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.  God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.  Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?  “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have demolished Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”  But what is God’s reply to him?  “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace (ESV).

God Has Always Preserved His Elect In Israel

Has God rejected His people?  Has God forgotten about Israel?  Has God been unfaithful to the Jews?  Paul says, “By no means!”  The Greek is me genoito.  It’s a phrase that every seminary Greek student loves to see because it can be translated in so many different ways: “Certainly not!”  “By no means!”  “Never!”  “Absolutely not!”  “May it never be!”.  In fact, Paul uses this phrase 14 times in his various epistles, and 10 of those, are in Romans.  Why is this important?

Because Paul wants the Jew to know that God has not forgotten him.  Paul wants us to know that God has not cast aside His people.

Paul doesn’t use this reference from Jeremiah, but I want you to hear how God promises to preserve His chosen people: “This is what the Lord says, He who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is His name: ‘Only if these decrees vanish from My sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.’  This is what the Lord says: ‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:35-37)

The only time that God will no longer remember Israel is when heaven and earth cease to exist.  And since there’s going to be a new heaven and a new earth, one day, God’s commitment to Israel will endure forever.  And Paul uses himself as exhibit A, “Look at me!  Do I look cast off to you?”

Just a little reminder about who Paul was.  You couldn’t get any more Jewish than Paul.  He was a descendant of Abraham (check 1).  He was of the tribe of Benjamin (extra credit) – Benjamin was the only one of Jacob’s 12 sons that was born in the Promised Land; rabbinic legend said that the tribe of Benjamin was the first to cross the Red Sea coming out of Egypt; Benjamin produced Israel’s first king (King Saul) and perhaps her greatest prophet, Jeremiah.  According to his own admission (in Philippians 3), he was a Pharisee of Pharisees (check 2).  And because of Paul’s background as a persecutor of the church, he would surely have been one of the first to go had God cast off Israel.  Yet, in God’s sovereign providence, Paul was called out to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.  Paul says, “Hey, you want proof that God hasn’t rejected Israel, just consider me.”

 And if that’s not good enough for you, then just consider the story of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet.  He’s slugging it out against wicked King Ahab, Queen Jezebel and the false prophets of Baal up on top of Mount Carmel.  You remember the challenge.  Whose God is really God?  Well, let’s make an altar and sacrifice some animals and just see whose God responds and consumes the sacrifice.  The prophets of Baal spend half the day trying to get their god to respond, but he never does.  Then Elijah adds insult to injury and douses the altar with water and God consumes the sacrifice with fire and dries up all the water.  And do you remember what happens immediately after that?  Elijah flees 18 miles to Mount Horeb and hides in a cave fearing for his life.

Dude, just got done rocking out in front of the false prophets.  God’s ready to defend His name, His honor, His glory and righteousness and Elijah gets scared and starts pouting, “Wha, wha, wha, they want to kill me too.”  And God reminds Elijah that He’s reserved 7,000 men who haven’t bowed the knee to Baal.  Notice verse 5, Paul says, “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”

Paul says, (to his Jewish kinsmen) “God hasn’t forgotten you, He hasn’t cast you off; you can still be accepted by God through faith.”  If you’re not a believer this morning, if you haven’t confessed your sin and cast your trust upon the completed work of Jesus Christ, then today is the day.  Accept the free gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, and find yourself among the elect of Israel.  If you are a Christian today, there’s good news in here for you too.  Time and time again, in the Old Testament, Israel failed to remain faithful to God – yet He never disowned them.  God will not go back on His promises to His people because His promises are unfailing.

God Has Delivered His Gospel To Gentiles

Look at verses 11-12, “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall?  By no means!  Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.  Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!”

Paul is trying to help the Jews (and Gentiles) understand that because the Jews refused to have faith, because they hardened their hearts God’s grace was extended to the rest of the world.  Now, I’ll grant to you, this is a strange way to make an argument, but Paul is trying to help the Jews see their failure is not final.  While Israel was being hard-headed about accepting Jesus (“He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” John 1:11), there were plenty of others (Gentiles) that were ready to receive this Good News and enter into a faithful and trusting relationship with God.  And it serves Paul in two ways: 1.) by reinforcing his message that salvation comes by grace – the Gentiles wouldn’t have received grace had it not been for Israel’s rejection, and 2.) he hopes this will make Israel jealous.

Now the idea of jealousy, here, isn’t the jilted high school lover scenario that we’re familiar with.  The primary difference between God’s jealousy for Israel and the modern version of jealousy lies in the beneficiary.  In our modern version, the jealous person wants someone back for his/her own benefit.  In God’s case, He wants Israel back for Israel’s sake.  God is self-sufficient.  He doesn’t need anything or anybody to make Him more “godly.”  On the other hand, you and I have needs that can only be met in Him and that’s why God is jealous for Israel (and you).

But this also causes a potential problem with the Gentiles and that problem is arrogance or pride.  So, in verses 13-24 Paul reminds the Gentiles – the people that he’s been sent to be a missionary to – that they don’t need to hear his message and get puffed up.  Yes, it’s true, if the Jews had not rejected Jesus, then they wouldn’t have received the gospel they way they did.  But look at the middle of verse 20-21, “…but you stand fast through faith.  So, do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.”

So, what’s the point?  God’s divine guidance and care is unfathomable.  He used Israel’s rejection, Israel’s sin to bring the Gentiles into the family of faith (the spiritual Israel).  God’s providence is profound.  And yet, His plan is unfinished.  God is definitely not finished with His chosen people.  And neither is He finished with you, if you are His child.

God Will Deliver The Gospel To Israel Again

The question Paul’s audience wanted to know – and frankly a question that many of today’s Christians want to know – is “When?”  When is God going to restore Israel?  And the answer is found in the last portion of verse 25, “…until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  When that happens.  When the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then Israel will have its heart softened and its eyes opened and all Israel will be saved (vs. 26).

But that raises another question.  How are we to understand the phrase “all Israel?”  It’s true, Paul sometimes uses the title Israel to refer to spiritual Israel or the church.  He did that back in Romans 9 when he said that not all Israel is Israel.  But that’s not what is meant here.  The Church has not taken over Israel’s position.  At the same, however, “all Israel” doesn’t mean every ethnic Jew.  If there’s one point that Paul’s made over and over it’s that you can’t be saved simply by being born into the family.  Again, how many times has Paul argued that you can’t rely upon your heritage with Abraham.  Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus.  So “all Israel” doesn’t mean every single ethnic Jew either.  So, what does it mean?  Well, I think what Paul has in mind here is Israel as a collective whole.  Let me see if I can illustrate this.

I might lean over to James after we sing a congregational song and say something like this, “Did you hear all of those voices singing in harmony?”  Now, let me ask you, did I mean that every single individual was singing the right part?  No, surely not.  Some of you wouldn’t know the harmony if it slapped you in the face.  I even know a few folks that don’t sing at all.  So, clearly, I didn’t mean “all without exception.”  What I meant was “all without distinction.”  We sometimes put it this way, “On the whole…”  I think that’s what Paul is saying here.  Collectively, Israel will one day respond positively in faith through their Messiah, Jesus Christ, and be saved.

God has a plan for His chosen people (Israel) and the Gentiles.  So, Paul concludes, and we will also, with a little comment concerning God’s mercy.  Look at verse 32, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”  Your Bible might have that translated as God “consigning” all to disobedience or God “binding everyone over” to disobedience.  The Greek word is sugkleió.  It literally means to shut someone up or enclose them.  God has locked the sinner up in the prison of his own sin, barred the door, and refused any way out except by His own mercy.  It’s a reference back to Romans 1 where Paul says God gave mankind up to the effect of their own sin.

It’s worth noting, however, that mercy is mentioned four times in this section: mercy for the Gentiles (v. 30), mercy for the Jews (v. 31), and mercy for the whole world (v. 32).  We talk a lot more about God’s grace, than we do His mercy.  But mercy is simply God not giving us the judgment we deserve.

One of the great hymns of the Church is a song called At Calvary by William Newell.  The refrain contains these words, “Mercy there was great and grace was free.  Pardon there was multiplied to me.  There my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary.”  One day Israel will find the great mercy of God.  I pray that you’ve found it.  If not, may today be the day.

Personal Responsibility – Romans 9:30-10:21

Romans 9:30-10:21

As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 10.  We’re going to continue to walk that fine line of respecting God’s sovereignty on the one hand, and man’s freedom, man’s responsibility on the other.  I gave you the illustration of the Continental Divide last week.  Let me offer you another simple little illustration that R. B. Kuiper, former Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary used back in the 1930’s.  He said, “I liken salvation to a rope going through two holes in the ceiling and over a pulley above, with each portion of the hanging rope representing God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom.  If I wish to support myself by them, I must cling to them both.  If I cling only to one and not the other, I go down.”

Back in the late 1700’s, English evangelical clergyman, Charles Simeon, of Cambridge University in England put it this way:

When I come to a text which speaks of election, I delight myself in the doctrine of election.  When the apostles exhort me to repentance and obedience, and indicate my freedom of choice and action, I give myself up to that side of the question…  As wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve a common end, so may truths apparently opposite be perfectly reconcilable with each other, and equally subserve the purposes of God in the accomplishment of man’s salvation.

Then again, maybe none of this has been helpful and you’re sitting there more confused than ever.  If so, let me just encourage you to press on with me as we move into chapter 10.  But before we do, let me quickly recap last week’s sermon.

Romans 9 is the first of three chapters that make up a footnote or an aside, if you will, by the Apostle Paul, to his kinsmen, the nation of Israel.  Paul’s purposes in Romans 9-11 are three-fold:

  1. to demonstrate to the Jews that God’s plan of salvation has always worked according to grace by faith in Jesus,
  2. to illustrate that even at this moment – the moment they were reading Paul’s letter (and this moment in 2020) – God’s plan of salvation is still working this way, and
  3. to show them (and us) that God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith will continue to work this way.

So, one way of organizing Romans 9-11 in your mind (or even on paper) is to see chapter 9 as Paul’s argument that salvation has always worked by grace through faith.  And we saw how Paul used several illustrations from Israel’s history to make his point.

He began by using Israel’s forefather, Abraham.  Paul said, “Look, if salvation . . . if being right in God’s eyes was based on being one of Abraham’s children, then Ishmael would have been the child of promise.  But that’s not how it worked, did it?  No.  Isaac was the child of promise, and so just being born to Abraham isn’t how you get into heaven.”  The modern equivalent of this is that being born to Christian parents doesn’t guarantee your salvation.  Salvation isn’t inherited.

Next, Paul anticipates the argument that salvation must, then, be based on merit – doing good versus doing bad – and so he uses the same family tree and points to Isaac’s children: Jacob and Esau, and makes it very clear that before either child was born or did anything good or bad Jacob was chosen and Esau was not.  So, “going to heaven” isn’t based on being born to the right parents and it’s not a matter of living a “good life” versus a “bad life,” or doing more good things than bad things.  Again, it’s grace… unmerited favor…

And this is where God’s divine election begins to rub the Jews (and us) the wrong way, and so Paul once again anticipates the argument: “That’s not fair!”  And in response to the “That’s not fair” complaint, Paul says, “Hey, wait a minute.  You guys didn’t argue about fairness when God rescued you from slavery in Egypt.”  And he uses Pharaoh as an illustration of God’s justice and mercy.

God’s justice is demonstrated on Pharaoh when Pharaoh continues to harden his heart against God’s call to let the Israelites go free.  In that instance God removes His hand of restraint, which, in its own right, is a demonstration of God’s grace, and Pharaoh gets justice (namely death and defeat) for his own sin.  In that same illustration, while Pharaoh is receiving God’s justice, Paul is reminding the Jews that they received God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s favor, but it wasn’t because of their nationality or their merits.

So, Paul is basically saying, “Hold on.  Let’s not be too quick to say ‘God isn’t being fair with salvation by grace,’ because you (Jews) received your own redemption, your own salvation, your own rescue from slavery in Egypt by God’s grace.”  Isn’t it interesting that we don’t have a problem with God’s sovereignty when we are the recipients of His mercy?  It’s only when something doesn’t seem to square with our sense of justice that we don’t like God being sovereign.

And finally, Paul anticipates one last complaint from the Jews (and us), and that’s the fact that God’s sovereignty sometimes leads us to actually blame God and point the finger at God and put Him on trial.  To that, Paul uses the potter/clay illustration and basically says, “Who are you to talk back to God?”  Or, as the kids say today, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”  This is Almighty God we’re talking to.  If He chooses to operate in this fashion and demonstrate His grace and mercy at His own bidding and for His own good and righteous purposes, then He has every right to.  Remember Job…

That leads us to the end of chapter 9 and all of chapter 10, where Paul basically says, “Hey, enough complaining and arguing about God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith.  God’s righteousness is still available.  God’s redemption by faith is still working and . . . (listen carefully) from a human perspective, if you choose not to believe then you’re responsible.  On the other hand, to everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, they will be saved” (Romans 10:13).  That’s the gist of Romans 10.  God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith is still presently working (even for you, Israel), if you believe.

So, this morning, I just want us to focus primarily on verses 9-17 and consider a few observations about faith and belief.  Follow along as I read:

9 …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”  12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him.  13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 14 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?  15 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!”  16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

(Skip down to verse 21)

 21 But of Israel He says, “All day long I have held out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

As I said last week, in Romans 9 and 10 we have God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, man’s free will put side-by-side.  Last week we heard these words from Romans 9:16, “So then it [salvation] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”  And this week we end with Paul quoting from Isaiah who, remember, is speaking for God and says, “All day long I have held out My hands…”  So, here’s a picture of God beckoning, calling, inviting, wooing through His prophets and preachers.  But the hearers don’t believe; they’re “disobedient and contrary.”

My aim this morning is not to analyze how this can be.  Rather, I want to urge us all to embrace the paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.  The sad thing is that some embrace the sovereignty of God over man’s will and say: “It’s wrong to portray God with His arms stretched out, inviting and calling.”  And others embrace the responsibility of man and say, “If God invites and calls and beckons, then He can’t really be sovereign over man’s will, and thus man really is ultimately self-determining and God isn’t really in control of all things.”

Both of these are sad mistakes.  It is sad, because one group rejects something deep and precious that God has revealed about Himself for our strength and hope and joy and love – namely, His absolute sovereignty.  Oh, how sweet it is “when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay” (The Solid Rock by Edward Mote)  And the other group (who embrace the sovereignty of God) sometimes rejects something utterly crucial for understanding the justice of God in dealing with people, and they fail to see how we should plead with people and persuade people and invite people and woo people with tears, to Christ, and on behalf of Christ.

So, my aim is not to explain the paradox but simply to underline it with three other examples (and there are many more), in the hope that God will cause your mind to submit to His Word, whether you can explain it all or not.

In Matthew 11:25 Jesus says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”  And then three verses later (in verse 28), He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  He has hidden the truth from some, and yet He invites all.

In John 6:35 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”  And one verse later He says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.”  All are invited to Christ.  And the Father gives some to Christ.

In Acts 13:38 Paul says to the synagogue in Antioch, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by Him everyone who believes is freed.”  And in verse 48 Luke says, “. . . And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”  All are invited to believe and be forgiven.  And as many as were appointed to life did believe.

Again, I’m not explaining this today.  I can’t.  I’m simply proclaiming it.  This is what it means for God to be God.  He’s the potter.  We’re the clay.  But on the other hand, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  He holds out His hands all day long to the Jew and the Gentile.  He calls, He beckons, He invites.

In the brief time that we have left, I just want to make four (4) observations about faith and belief.  Listen, verses 9-17 are rich in their assurance of our salvation, but they’re also tremendously informative about evangelism and how important it is that each of us (and corporately, as a church) be passionate about verbally sharing the gospel.

Saving faith believes on Jesus as Lord and calls on Him as Lord, from the beginning.

You can see that mainly in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  If you don’t confess Jesus as Lord, you’re not saved.  Romans 10:9 makes plain that the “Lord” that we call upon to be saved in verses 12 and 13 is the Lord Jesus.  That’s what saving faith does.  It calls on Jesus as Lord.

Some have been taught that their experience should be interpreted like this: “I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and not much changed, not much happened.  Then, I later surrendered to Him as Lord, and something else happened.”  That’s not a biblical description of what has really happened.

It would more biblical to say: “I trusted Christ but understood little of His great salvation and sovereign rule in my life; I was immature in my faith and in my affections for Christ.  Later, I had experiences that opened my heart more and more to the richness of Christ as mighty Lord and beautiful Savior and more and more of my life was conformed to Him.”

For some, this happens in a series of crisis events; for others, it happens gradually and without crises.  But it’s wrong to say that there’s saving faith where there’s no submission to Jesus as Lord.  Saving faith IS faith in “the Lord Jesus Christ,” even if at first, we grasp very little.

Saving faith believes facts.  (It’s more than believing in facts, but not less.)

This is plain from Romans 10:9 as well: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a historical fact.  It really happened in time, in space, and in history.  Saving faith believes that.

This is one reason faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior can be so weak in so many.  Faith is rooted in facts.  Yet, for many, the facts are not known.  The gospels are there to give us the precious facts with all their personal and powerful significance.  But the facts are basic and essential.  Saving faith believes facts, and sees them as glory-revealing facts.

Saving faith is a personal confidence that these facts mean Christ has saved me.

James 2:19 says, “Even the demons believe – and shudder!”  The devils believe that the Son of God was incarnate, and that He lived a perfect life as the spotless Lamb of God, and that He died for sinners, and that He rose again from the dead and that He reigns and will one day cast all of them into the lake of fire.  This belief does them no good at all, because they are Jesus’ enemies.  They believe and shudder.

Saving faith rests in the facts.  Rests!  Reposes.  Feels at home and secure.  Saving faith experiences confidence.  Assurance rises in my soul that these facts have paid my debt and provided my righteousness and opened paradise for me.  So, saving faith is confidently resting in these facts, that God saves me.

Saving faith includes a spiritual satisfaction for all that God is for us in Jesus.

You can call this an emotional element, or an effectual element, or a spiritual taste that delights your heart with Christ.  Or you can call this aspect of faith a cherishing or a treasuring of Christ.  Whatever you call it, it’s an essential part of faith.

I could take you to several places to see it most plainly.  For example, we could go to Philippians 3:8 where Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  This is a treasuring of Christ.  A cherishing of His beauty and worth.  That’s part of what saving faith is.  To be sure, we grow in this. But there is always a seed of it in saving faith.

Or we could look at John 6:35 where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”  This means that believing in Jesus is finding Him to be the bread of life and the living water that satisfies the deepest longings of my soul.

So, saving faith is not just believing in facts, and it’s not just confidence that all will work out for my good forever, but it’s also a spiritual sense that this “good” is Christ Himself and that having Him is better than life.

But, in order for people to have saving faith, in order for people to believe they have to have someone that has been sent to proclaim the Word of God.  And God, by way of the Holy Spirit, sends messengers and entrusts to them the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19).  They open their mouths and say, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).  And people hear the gospel.  And in the gospel, they hear Christ calling and inviting and drawing.

Now, be careful here!  You’re going to be tempted to say to yourself, “I’m not sent, and so I won’t speak.  That’s the pastor’s job.”  But the body of Christ, a church with genuine born-again believers will prefer to say, “Here I am, Lord, send me.  Send me to an unreached people.  Send me to the urban neighborhoods of Greenville.  Send me across the street.  Send me across the office.  Send me to the telephone today.  Send me across this room.”

Yes, there’s a divine calling and a sending that is more official and vocational.  That’s what I have as a vocational pastor of this church.  But, dare I say it, some of you might receive that call too.  You say, “Pastor, I’m retired, that’s for young people.”  Not so fast.  Might I remind you that this church ordained a retired businessman to be a chaplain at one point.  In fact, in a sense, every time that Garron and Sharon go to Haiti we’re commissioning them with the gospel.  Every time Tom and Dave and Ron and Mike and others go to Tyger River, they’re being sent by this congregation (and the Holy Spirit) with the message of reconciliation, with the message of the gospel.  There are some of you in this church that are a part of the Good News Club at Tigerville Elementary.  In a sense, you’ve been sent out by this church and, more importantly, by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

If you have Christ within you, then you not only have the Good News to share but you have the capacity and ability to accomplish the mission.

Before I offer a closing prayer, I want to read to you a poem written by Sandra Goodwin.  You know, those of you that have been around here for a while know that I use all sorts of methods to preach God’s Word.  I use stories.  I use illustrations.  We play games and do trivia.  I use songs.  So many different approaches to helping get the truth of God’s Word into your hearts and heads.

One approach that I hadn’t much care for was poetry.  I was never one to take to poetry when I was growing up.  But I think that’s because, until you hear someone read poetry that’s very good at it, it just sounds like an odd assortment of words.  Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, died back in May of this year.  His teaching and his approach to preaching has had a tremendous impact on my own teaching and preaching.  And Ravi was the first minister that I remember (with great clarity) using poetry as an effective way of driving a sermon home.  So, in conclusion this morning:

Last night I took a journey

To a land far ‘cross the seas;

I didn’t go by boat or plane,

I trusted on my knees.

 I saw so many people there

In deepest depths of sin,

And Jesus told me I should go

That there were souls to win.

 But I said, “Jesus, I can’t go

And work with such as these.”

He answered quickly, “Yes, you can

By traveling on your knees.”

 He said, “You pray; I’ll meet the need,

You call and I will hear;

Be concerned about lost souls,

Of those both far and near.”

 And so, I tried it, knelt in prayer,

Gave up some hours of ease;

I felt the Lord right by my side

While traveling on my knees.

 As I prayed on and saw souls saved

And twisted bodies healed,

And saw God’s workers’ strength renewed

While laboring on the field.

 I said, “Yes, Lord, I have a job

My desire Thy will to please;

I can go and heed Thy call

By traveling on my knees.”

God’s Sovereignty – Romans 9:1-29

Romans 9:1-29

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 9.  As you’re finding your place let’s play a little game.  I’m going to ask you a few basic geography questions and see if you can help me answer them.  You ready?

Question 1

How many continents are there? (7)

Question 2

Can you name them? (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia/Oceania, Africa, and Antarctica.)

Question 3

Does every continent have a continental divide, or just North America? (Yes, all, except Antarctica)

Question 4

What do continental divides do – besides divide continents? (They’re used to define the direction that an area’s rivers flow, in order to drain into the oceans and seas.)

Of all the continental divides around the world, ours: The Continental Divide of the Americas, also known as the Great Divide or the Western Divide, is the most well-known.  It begins in Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska and the Bering Strait and travels south through Canada, the US, Mexico, Central America and South America, ending in Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Chile and Argentina.  In the US, the Great Divide tiptoes across the ridge of the Rocky Mountains beginning with Wyoming, and continuing with Idaho, Montana, Colorado, and ending with New Mexico.

Now, there are two reasons for taking that little geography lesson.  The first is to illustrate to one of the members of my family – whose name I won’t share, in order to protect the guilty – that geography is indeed important.  This particular member of my family didn’t know that Alaska was part of the United States.  I’m still wondering if the comment was made in sincerity or sarcasm.  I pray it was the latter, but suspect it was the former.  In either case, knowing the basics is important.

The second reason is to hopefully set in your mind the mental picture of the Rocky Mountains, in all their majestic beauty, and the idea of walking along that ridge that forms the Continental Divide and how careful one must be in order not to miss a step and fall either to the east (and thus the Atlantic) or the west (and thus the Pacific).

Someone once said that Romans 9-11 is like riding a bicycle.  If you stop peddling you’ll fall over – either to one side or the other.  You have to keep peddling in order to stay upright.  The reason I say that is because the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and Man’s free will are BOTH realities that are taught in the Bible.  In fact, both of them show up in these chapters of Romans.  (I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself but that’s ok.)

For instance, if you look at Romans 9:10-13, Paul is using the story of Isaac and Rebekah and their two boys: Jacob and Esau as an illustration of God’s sovereign election.  Listen to what he says, “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac.  Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by Him [God] who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’  Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  God’s divine election couldn’t be more clearly proclaimed.  Often times we say things like, “Show it to me in black and white.”  Well, there you have it.

But now, hang on with me, and look at Romans 10:8-9.  In the very next chapter Paul is talking about the gospel – the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – and listen to what he says, “the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Hold on.  Wait a minute, Paul.  What do you mean “if you…?”  You just made the argument for God’s divine election.  If that’s true, there is no “if you…” there’s only “you will…”  But that’s not what you just said.  Do you see, now, why I stand before you this morning in fear and trembling?

So, truth number one.  God’s sovereignty is a biblical reality.  God’s divine election is a biblical reality.

Truth number two.  You and I are not robots.  God, in His infinite wisdom, created men/women with an ability to make choices (good/bad), and we are held responsible for those choices.

So, here’s the issue…  This is the reason that Christendom has been divided on this issue.  Are you read?  How!  How do these two biblical realities go together?  That’s the question.  That’s the issue at the heart of a lot (not all, but a lot) of our theological conflict.  So, do you want to hear my answer to how we reconcile these two seemingly irreconcilable doctrines?  Flip over to Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!  “Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counselor?”  “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”  For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever!  Amen.

You say, “Now wait a second, pastor.  That’s not an answer.”  Well, it might not be the answer you wanted, but it’s Paul’s answer, and it’s my answer.  “So, what are you saying, pastor?  That we should just throw our hands up in the air and say ‘que sera sera’ – whatever will be, will be?”  No, I’m simply trying to encourage you to be in awe of our great God and King, the Lord, Jesus Christ.  Because, as we move through these next three chapters (and indeed all of your life) you’re going to want to come back to this conclusion time and time again.

Now, we could call it a day and go home.  Some of you would like that, wouldn’t you?  But alas, it’s my job and my duty – to the One who called me to the ministry – to faithfully proclaim and teach His holy Word to His church.  So, in the few moments we have left (all of that was introduction) we’re going to quickly look at chapter 9.

Now, again, remember that chapter 9, 10, and 11 all belong together.  They’re a unit.  It’s a brief aside.  As my preaching professor, Dr. Wayne Stacey, always used to say, “Let me drop a footnote here.”  This is Paul’s footnote concerning Israel and God’s plan of salvation.  And in chapter 9 Paul’s point to his people, to his kinsmen, to the Jew that’s scratching his head trying to understand salvation by grace through faith is this: God’s plan has always worked this way.  That’s the point of Romans 9 – to show the Jews that God’s plan of salvation was always based on God’s free gift of grace.

The Gospel Has Always Been Based On Election

Even as far back at Abraham, God’s good news of salvation (the gospel) has always been the outworking of God’s choice.  In Romans 9:6-9 all that Paul does is remind the Jews of their family’s story: God made a promise with Abraham to give him a son, right?  Yes.  But Abraham and Sarah were too quick to help God out and so you have Ishmael, who’s born to Hagar.  That’s the point of verse 7, “and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’”

Paul is basically saying, “Hey, fellow Jews, listen, even with Isaac and Ishmael – Abraham’s two boys – it was God’s choice.  It was God’s divine election at work.  God’s child, God’s choice was Isaac, not Ishmael.”

But Paul continues the story in verses 10-13, and this is where the genius of the Holy Spirit, working through Paul, comes out.  See, Paul knows his fellow Jews all too well.  He knows that the Isaac/Ishmael comparison only proved that salvation was not made on the basis of lineage.  You can almost hear one of his Jewish friends saying, “Oh, I see.  I can’t punch my ticket to heaven just because I’m a descendant of Abraham and Isaac.”

Today’s modern equivalent would be, “It’s not the children of Christian parents who are Christians; it’s those who have personally embraced Christ as Savior and Lord who are Christians.”  So, Paul’s fellow Jew says (and perhaps even you), “Well, surely, I punch my ticket, then, based on what I do?”  Surely salvation is based on what someone does, right?  So, Paul moves to the story of Isaac and Rebekah, and their two boys: the womb-mates, the twins, Jacob and Esau.  Paul’s whole point here is to prove that merit and works have nothing to do with God’s sovereign plan of election.

Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac.  Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by Him who calls – she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

God, through the Apostle Paul, says, nope.  Merit and works; doing enough “good” things to outweigh the “bad” things doesn’t factor in either.  These two boys hadn’t even been born.  They hadn’t DONE anything, and yet God, of His own choosing, in order to accomplish His own purposes, chose Jacob and didn’t choose Esau.

By the way, that’s what is meant with the love/hate language of verse 13.  Hate doesn’t mean what we tend to think it means.  You say, “How do you know that, pastor.”  Because Jesus uses the same exact word in the same context in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be My disciple” (NIV).  Jesus isn’t telling us to hate our family, although He uses the word for “hate.”  The meaning is to “love less,” to make a “choice in favor of one over the other.”  That’s what Paul says God did with Jacob.  God chose Jacob over Esau.

So far, using Israel’s own family tree, Paul has demonstrated that God’s plan of salvation has always been based on election.  And Paul knows that this isn’t really sitting well with his Jewish friends (or the American spirit of independence and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps thinking).  So, he moves to answer the charge that he knows is coming.  You know what that charge is?  You hear it in every corner of society: “That’s not…fair.”

The Gospel Has Always Been Based On Justice And Mercy

This is how the New Living Translation renders verse 14, “Are we saying, then, that God was unfair?  Of course not!”  God is ALWAYS fair.  He’s ALWAYS just.  How do we know this?  Because His sovereign election is ALWAYS based on mercy.  The gospel has always been based on justice and mercy.

This is so interesting.  You don’t need to turn there, but mark down Romans 3:5 next to Romans 9:14.  In Romans 2-3 Paul has been talking about the sinfulness of mankind and how God (as the supreme Judge) is faithful (i.e. fair) in condemning sinners, and he sarcastically says that people will find fault with that.  “It’s not fair that God condemns sinners.”  That’s my paraphrase of Romans 3:5; and over here in Romans 9, Paul has been talking about God saving sinners and what’s the argument now?  “That’s not fair.”

Isn’t that exactly what our world says today.  It’s not fair that God is the judge.  It’s not fair that sinners are condemned to hell.  It’s not fair that God saves based on His divine sovereignty.  It’s not fair.  God’s not fair.  Listen folks, the same man that wrote Romans (via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) is the same man that wrote these words to Timothy, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).

What I’m trying to preach to you this morning (election, justice, mercy) are not easy things to preach.  Preaching the truth of God’s Word has never been easy.  Mainly because the truth is often uncomfortable.  Of course, you wouldn’t know that by listening to many sermons today.  Messages that tell people there’s no need to repent.  Sermons that stroke our egos and tell us that we’re basically good; that God is too loving to judge anyone; that the cross, with all its blood, is not really necessary; and that God wants His children to be healthy, wealthy, and content in this world.

That’s what itching ears want to hear.  Don’t wrestle with Romans 9 and God’s sovereignty and justice and mercy.  That’s too divisive.  That’s too hard.  That’s too messy.  Indeed, it truly has been and can be, but we are not at liberty to ignore it.  Thus, we move forward.

In order to illustrate that the gospel has always been based on justice and mercy, Paul, once again, takes his Jewish audience (and you and me) back to the Old Testament to remind them of God’s words to Moses (vss. 15ff), “For [God] says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” 

We don’t typically have any trouble understanding mercy, so long as we’re the recipients.  If someone else is about to receive mercy, that’s when we get a little antsy.  In those cases what we want isn’t mercy, we want justice.  And so, to show us that the gospel has always been based on God’s justice, Paul turns to another episode in the national life of Israel: Pharaoh.  “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’  So, then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.”

How does God harden someone’s heart?  That’s the question.  We know that hearts are hardened.  But how?  Does God intrude into the lives of otherwise holy and righteous people to sow seeds of evil, to create wickedness?  No, remember Romans 3:23, “There is no one righteous, not even one…”  God is not the author of evil or sin.  So, no, God’s doesn’t create evil and wickedness and hardness in Pharaoh’s heart.

Rather, are you ready?  God hardens Pharaoh’s heart by simply removing the restraints of His grace and mercy and “giving him over” to the evil that’s already present.  See if any of this rings a bell: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…   For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions…  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.”

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because those words come directly from Romans 1 where Paul describes the sinfulness of human hearts.  If you want to see people be worse than they already are, then just wait until God removes the restraints of His grace and mercy.  He doesn’t need to create any evil or wickedness or sin in Pharaoh’s heart.  It’s already there.  All God does is give Pharaoh the room to do what Pharaoh has already determined in His heart to do.

But this argument, by Paul, also brings an objection of “That’s not fair.”  And this leads to the last stance that Paul takes in chapter 9, as he share the good news with his Jewish friends, and that is the gospel has always been based on God’s sovereignty.

The Gospel Has Always Been Based On God’s Sovereignty

 Before Paul gives an answer to this latest objection, notice what he does.  He makes a moral appeal to remember who we are and who God is, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?”  Doesn’t this remind you of another man in the Bible – a guy named Job?  Job was the victim of so much injustice at the hands of men and of Satan.  Job was the epitome of someone who was afflicted without relief, when finally, he raised his fist against heaven and shook it in the face of God and screamed, “WHY, GOD?”

God answered Job by looking at Job and saying, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”  And then we read chapter after chapter of questions, Can you loosen the cords of Orion?”  “Nope.”  “Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south?”  “Nope.”  “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?”  “No, no, no, no…”  Four chapters of this.

And finally, Job says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ [you asked.  It was me.]  I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  [You said,] ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’  [O God,] I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Paul draws on the imagery of a potter and his clay.  “Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’  When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?  In the same way, even though God has the right to show His anger and His power, He is very patient with those on whom His anger falls, who are destined for destruction.  He does this to make the riches of His glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory.  And we are among those whom He selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.” (Romans 9:20-24, NLT).

What’s the point of Job’s response and Paul’s response?  Even when we struggle, even when we don’t fully comprehend the mystery of God’s sovereign will, may it not lead us to blasphemy.  Let us remember who’s will we’re talking about.  Going back to the previous question: Is there unrighteousness in God?  Don’t even ask it.  Even though at times it seems like it.  What we should understand more clearly than any other thing we’ve talked about today is the absolute integrity and righteousness of Almighty God.

Let me conclude with two quotes that I find tremendously helpful when considering God’s sovereignty and divine election.  The first is from American evangelist D. L. Moody back in the 1800’s.  He said, “Lord, save the elect, and then elect some more.”  And the second is from American congregationalist clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher, from around the same time period.  (If his name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you recognize his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852.)  Listen to how Henry Beecher summed this up, “The elect of God are the whosoever will, and the non-elect are the whosoever won’t.”

If you know Jesus, today, as your personal Lord and Savior.  If you’ve confessed your sin to Him, repented of your sin and asked Him to forgive you and reconcile you to the Father, then rejoice, knowing that God chose you before the foundations of the world.

If you’ve never responded to the call of God, to the movement of the Holy Spirit, today is the day to discover that you, too, are numbered among God’s elect.  Would you receive the free gift of God’s grace and be made new?

New Life in the Spirit (Part 2) – Romans 8:18-39

Romans 8:18-39

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me (again) to Romans 8.  Some of you are thinking, “Gee, pastor, this is the third week that we’ve been in this chapter.  Can’t we move on?”  Listen, we will, I promise.  But as I said three weeks ago when we came to this chapter, this is such a mighty chapter.  I know a pastor that spent 30 weeks (that’s over half a year’s worth of Sundays) preaching from this one chapter alone.  I also had the privilege of being taught by Dr. Derek Thomas, who took a group of pastors through this chapter in 12 weeks.  So hang in there with me just a little longer.

John was raised in Antioch, a leading intellectual town of late antiquity, by his widowed mother, Anthusa.  She was a pious Christian woman, and at her encouragement he entered into the monastery after his education.  He quickly rose through the ranks of the early church (from lector to deacon to priest), and eventually found himself as the archbishop of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey).

His eloquent and uncompromising preaching earned him the nickname “golden mouth.”  That nickname, in the Greek, is the word chrysostoma, and it’s the name that has forever been tied to him.  John Chrysostom preached against the excesses of his day.  He railed against the abuse of authority by church leaders and political leaders alike.  As you can imagine, that didn’t earn him any favor with the Roman emperor, who threatened him with banishment if he remained a Christian.  Listen to how this went down, according to one historian of the time:

“You cannot banish me; for this world is my Father’s house,” replied John.

“Well, then, I will kill you,” said the emperor.

“No, you can’t; for my life is hidden with Christ in God.”

 “Fine, then, I will take away your treasures.”

“You can’t do that either, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there too.”

“Then I guess the only thing left is to drive you away from man and you shall have no friends left.”

“No, you can’t; for I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me.  I dare you; for there is nothing that you can do to hurt me.”

John Chrysostom was a bit of a booger, wouldn’t you say?  In my house (to use nice words) we call that “being feisty.”  Either way, John Chrysostom understood what the Apostle Paul wanted the believers in Rome (and you and me) to know: once you’re liberated from the condemnation of sin and death, you’re truly free.  Nothing else matters – not geography, not possessions, not relations, not even life and death.  When condemnation and judgment is lifted from your shoulders, you gain the mental, emotional, and spiritual freedom that you were created to live in.

It’s so counter-intuitive, I know.  But when you know Jesus Christ, when you’ve confessed your sin, when you’ve repented of your rebellion against the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and you’ve freely accepted the gift of His amazing grace, then, by the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, you’re able to endure anything and everything because you have the most precious gift of all – a personal relationship with God through Christ.

As always, there are three things that I want us to see this morning.  But because we’re covering so much ground today, we’re not going to read all of this scripture at once.  I’m going to break this up into three segments and highlight what the new life in the Spirit is based on.  Follow along with me (in your Bible or on the screens), as I read vss. 18-25

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  24 For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

The first thing I want us to see is that our new life in Christ, our new life empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit is based on the promises of God.

New Life in the Spirit: Based on the Promises of God

And the first promise mentioned in these verses is future glory.  Look at verse 18, again.  This is such a powerful promise.  “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Seeing beauty and greatness is one of the passionate desires and deep longings that was built into the human heart by our Creator.  Think about it.  We get pleasure from seeing beauty and greatness in movies and museums and world-class sporting events and art galleries and concerts and automobiles the Grand Canyon and the Rockies and the ocean and sunrises and night skies.  Seeing beauty and greatness is a huge part of our joy in life.

Charles Allen, in his little book Home Fires: A Treasury of Wit and Wisdom writes, “A little girl was taking an evening walk with her father.  Wonderingly, she looked up at the stars and exclaimed; ‘Oh, Daddy, if the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what must the right side be!’”  Isn’t that right.  All of these earthly things are images, and reflections, and pointers to a greater beauty and a greater greatness.  They all point to the glory of God.

Seeing the glory of heaven, and more importantly, the glory of the Father and the Son will bring an end to our quest for beauty and greatness.  This is why Jesus prayed for us the way he did in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

This was the greatest thing Jesus could’ve prayed for on our behalf.  It was the climax of His prayer.  Seeing the glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was the best gift Jesus could pray that we would receive after suffering in this life.  And this suffering isn’t just suffering for being a Christian.  This is suffering of any and all kinds.  Why do I believe that?

Just look at the next several verses.  The entire creation (vs. 19) waits with eager anticipation, the creation itself (vs. 21) will be set free from its bondage to corruption, and the whole creation (vs. 22) has been groaning.  No more destructive tornadoes or hurricanes or floods or droughts or plagues or diseases or accidents or harmful animals or insects or viruses.

The prophecy of Isaiah 65:17 will come to pass: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”  And the prophecy of Revelation 21:1-5 will come to pass as well, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

If you’re suffering this morning (and I know there are many who are), let me encourage you to hang on.  Because that leads to the second promise mentioned in these verses – the redemption of our bodies (vs. 23).  I ought to get a hearty AMEN out of this crowd, Amen?  Every church, but especially this one, is acquainted with broken down bodies – bodies that just don’t work right any more.  Whether you’re battling the effects of MS or ALS or cancer or Alzheimer’s or impaired vision or just plain old sanity, one day, we’re all going to look back and wonder how we could’ve every felt so ‘at home’ in a world so full of groaning.  Listen to how Paul describes this in another one of his letters:

Behold!  I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:51-55)

One day, all the walkers and crutches and wheelchairs will be put to pasture.  All the medications and ointments and therapies will be stopped.  For we [know] that He who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with [Him] (2 Corinthians 4:14).

Ok, let’s give our attention to verses 26-30.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  27 And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.  29 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.  30 And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.

Our new life in the spirit isn’t only based on promises, but on the purposes of God.

New Life in the Spirit: Based on the Purposes of God

In his book, Future Grace, retired pastor and theologian John Piper (who, by the way, grew up in Greenville, SC and graduated from my wife and mother-in-law’s alma mater, Wade Hampton High School) described Romans 8:28 this way:

If you live inside this massive promise, your life is more solid and stable than Mount Everest.

Nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls of Romans 8:28.  Outside Romans 8:28, all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty.  Outside this promise of God’s all-encompassing future grace, there are straw houses of drugs and pornography and dozens of futile diversions.  There are slat walls and tin roofs of fragile investment strategies and fleeting insurance coverage and trivial retirement plans.  There are cardboard fortifications of deadbolt locks and alarm systems and antiballistic missiles.  Outside are a thousand substitutes for Romans 8:28.

Once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure of Romans 8:28, everything changes.  There come into your life stability and depth and freedom.  You simply can’t be blown over anymore.  The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life.

When God’s people really live by the future grace of Romans 8:28 – from measles to the mortuary – they are the freest and strongest and most generous people in the world.

 Our new life in the Spirit is based on God’s good purposes for our lives, and that includes suffering.  The suffering of verse 17 and groaning of verse 23.  When we find ourselves in trying circumstances in life, we can know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  And verses 29-30 explain what God’s purpose is in His calling to salvation, and how it’s accomplished.

First, the purpose: that there might be many who would be conformed to the likeness of His Son.  God wasn’t satisfied to have a family with an “only child.”  Rather, since the “fall” of mankind, it’s been His purpose to redeem a family for Himself.  Second, His method: from our perspective, God adopted us as spiritual orphans into His family, so that His Son . . . might be the firstborn among many brothers.  That’s the metaphor for what God did behind the scenes to accomplish His purpose.

While these passages have generated much heated discussion and split churches over the years, there’s one key element which, if overlooked, gives rise to confusion, but if observed, gives focus.  That key element is God Himself: God has a purpose (v. 28), God foreknew (v. 29), God predestined (v. 29), God called (v. 30), God justified (v. 30), and God glorifies (v. 30).  This is all about God, not man!  God is the adopter, humans are the adopted.  God is the designer, engineer and One who accomplishes His salvation purposes in the earth, quite apart from the interference and influence of men and women.

How should that make us feel?  Well, the answer is in our final section of scripture (vss. 31-39).

31 What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  32 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?  33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  34 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.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  36 As it is written,

 “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

Our new life in the Spirit is based on the PROMISES of God, the PURPOSES of God, and finally, the PROTECTION of God.

New Life in the Spirit: Based on the Protection of God

As we saw last week, the point of this whole passage is your security.  God wants His people to experience deep, unshakeable confidence that they are secure in His love.  And the reason that Paul stresses it is because in real life we appear and often feel so insecure.  At some point in your life – things will happen that make you feel like you’re separated from the love of God.  That’s why this text is here.

Neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  When Christ died He secured us in death and in life.  Nothing in life and nothing in death will undo the triumph He achieved in the cross and the resurrection.

Neither angels nor rulers can separate us from the love of God.  Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God says it best: The Prince of Darkness grim – we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, For lo! His doom is sure – One little word shall fell him.

The present-future pair covers our fear that though the present might be tolerable now, the future is going to be horrible, and we wonder if we will be able to stand it.  The future is absolutely God’s and He knows it and runs it.  If He says it won’t separate us, it won’t.

Paul’s use of height and depth is akin to David’s words in Psalm 137, “Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.”

Then, at the end of verse 39, Paul adds one all-inclusive encouragement to make sure he hasn’t missed anything: “. . . [no] other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  That covers everything that is not God.  No thing and no person in all the universe can separate us from the love of God.

Let me conclude, if I may, with a brief story about Lisa Beamer.  You know Lisa.  She’s the widow of Todd Beamer, who was one of the 40 people murdered aboard United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.  As you may know, she wrote a book titled Let’s Roll: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage, to help her in the grieving process.

In 2002 (just before her book was released), WORLD Magazine – which is a Christian news publication – interviewed Lisa.  I want you to hear what new life in the Spirit sounds like.

“My family and I mourned the loss of Todd deeply that day . . . and we still do.  But because we have a hope in the Lord, we know beyond a doubt that one day we will see Todd again.  I hurt for the people who don’t have that same hope, and I pray that they will see something in our family that will encourage them to trust in the Lord.”

Lisa’s way of encouraging people to trust in the Lord is sometimes so straightforward that Newsweek magazine called it “stern and even a little grim.”  She wrote in her memoir, “You think you deserve a happy life and get angry when it doesn’t always happen like that.  In fact, you’re a sinner and deserve only death.  The fact that God has offered you hope of eternal life is amazing!  You should be overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.”

With hundreds of others, she attended the memorial service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at the crash site where her husband died.  The Christ-exalting memorial service for Todd had been on Sunday, the day before, and had strengthened her.  “On Monday,” she said, “as I listened to the well-intentioned speakers, who were doing their best to comfort, but with little, if any, direct reference to the power of God to sustain us, I felt I was sliding helplessly down a high mountain into a deep crevasse.  As much as I appreciated the kindness of the wonderful people who tried to encourage us, that afternoon was actually one of the lowest points in my grieving.  It wasn’t the people, or event, or the place.  Instead, it struck me how hopeless the world is when God is factored out of the equation.”

So, with Lisa Beamer, the apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ Himself, I plead with you: don’t factor God out of your life or Jesus Christ who died and rose and reigns and intercedes for all who trust Him that we might have eternal joy with Him in the presence of God.

God’s Everlasting Love – Romans 8:31-39

Romans 8:31-39

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me again to Romans 8.  If you’re like me this 4th of July weekend, you’ve been looking at America wondering if there’s any hope.  COVID-19 was bad enough (and still is, by the way), and the racial divide continues to grow.  Fear abounds.  Confusion abounds.  Frustration and anger abound.  So how should I strengthen your hope this morning?

  • Should I try to strengthen your hope politically, and comfort you that America is durable and will come together in great bipartisan unity and prove that the democratic system is strong and unshakable?
  • Should I try to strengthen your hope militarily, and comfort you that America’s military and police force is unsurpassed and can turn back any destructive force against the nation?
  • Should I try to strengthen your hope financially, and comfort you that when the market opens on Monday there will be stability and long-term growth to preserve the value of all your investments?
  • Should I try to strengthen your hope geographically, and comfort you that you live in northern Greenville County, far from the major political and military and financial targets that protestors and enemies might choose?
  • Should I try to strengthen your hope psychologically, and send you to a self-help website so that you can read about “individuals with strong coping skills . . . maintain a view of self as competent . . . and avoid regretting past decisions”?

Of course, the answer to those questions is a resounding “NO!”  For none of them is true.

  • The American political system is not imperishable.
  • The American military and police cannot protect us from every destructive force.
  • The financial future is not certain. In fact, you may lose your investments.
  • Northern Greenville County and The Cliffs is not immune from disease and domestic and international terrorism, which may be more pervasive and deadlier in the future.
  • Psychological efforts to feel competent and avoid regret are not healing, but fatal.

So, no, I won’t contradict my calling as a minister of the gospel by trying to strengthen your hope in those ways.  Instead, I want to strengthen your hope with these words:

31 What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  32 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?  33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  34 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.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  36 As it is written,

 “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

Beloved, listen to me this morning.  Your steady, solid hope this morning is that if you will trust Christ as your precious Savior and your supremely-valued King, then you will be folded into the love of God in a way that no terrorist, no torture, no demons, no disasters, no disease, no man, no microbe, no government, and no grave can destroy.  That’s the hope of this text.  That’s the hope of the Christian life.  Folks, we don’t put our hope in politics, military, finances, geography, psychology or anything else.  Our hope is found in a blood-bought, Spirit-wrought, Christ-exalting, God-centered, fear-destroying, death-defeating Lord and His name is JESUS!

Five times, here, in Romans 8, the apostle Paul has asked questions to draw out the amazing privileges of belonging to Jesus Christ.  Verse 31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  Verse 32: “How will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”  Verse 33: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?”  Verse 34: “Who is to condemn?”  And finally, in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

The answers are so plain and so wonderful that Paul lets us supply the answers ourselves and rejoice in them.  Verse 31: “No one can be successfully against us.”  Verse 32: “God will supply everything we need.”  Verse 33: “No one can make a charge stick against us in the court of heaven.”  Verse 34: “No one can condemn us.”  And verse 35: “No one and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”

And what makes this text so relevant today, on this 4th of July weekend, is that Paul spells out the kinds of things that cannot separate us from the love of Christ, and they’re the sort of things that we’ve been experiencing in 2020: “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

In the precious few moments that we have left.  Let’s consider three ways Christ loves us.

Christ’s Moment-by-Moment Love

Jesus is loving us now.  At this exact moment, in this worship service on July 5, 2020, Jesus is loving you.

A husband/wife might say of their deceased spouse: “Nothing will separate me from his/her love.”  Typically, what’s meant by that statement is that the memory of that person’s love will be sweet and powerful all their lives.  But that’s not what Paul means here.  In verse 34 it says plainly, “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.”

The reason Paul can say that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus is because Christ is alive and is still loving us now.  He’s at the right hand of God.  He’s ruling for us.  He’s interceding for us, which means He’s seeing to it that His finished work of redemption does, in fact, save us hour-by-hour and bring us safely to eternal joy.  His love is not a memory.  It’s a moment-by-moment action of the omnipotent, living Son of God, to bring us to everlasting joy.

Larry doesn’t know this, but when I first got here to Mountain Hill and listened to his prayers I always felt a little uneasy.  Not because his prayers weren’t genuine.  They were and they are.  It was because (and maybe some of you have noticed this too) his customary conclusion is “…and save us in Jesus’ name.”

Now, see, the theologian in me was struggling a little bit because the reality is this: if you’re trusted in Christ, if you’ve confessed your sin and accepted the free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus, then you’re saved (period, end of story).  And there was a part of me that wanted to pull Larry to the side and kind of gently remind him of this.  But thanks to prayer and the counsel of the Holy Spirit I didn’t and haven’t, and this is precisely why.

Yes, theologically, I’m correct.  The moment you trust Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins you’re saved.  But, theologically, Larry’s right too.  Not only is salvation a one-time event from the human side of eternity, but it’s an ongoing event from God’s side of eternity whereby Christ’s moment-by-moment love is poured out into our lives.

Christ’s Particular Love

This love of Christ is effective in protecting us from separation, and therefore is not a universal love for all, but a particular love for His people – those who, according to Romans 8:28, “love God and . . . are called according to His purpose.”

This is the love of Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.”  It’s Christ’s love for the Church – His bride.  Yes, Jesus has a general love for all people.  That’s why He came, and lived, and died for mankind.  But, He has a special, saving, preserving love for His bride.  And you know you’re a part of that bride if you’ve trusted Christ.  Anyone (no exceptions) who trusts Christ can say, “I’m a part of His bride, His church, His called and chosen ones – the ones who verse 35 says are kept and protected forever no matter what.”

Christ’s Preserving Love

This is Jesus’ omnipotent, effective, protecting love.  And we need to make a distinction here.  Notice, that this preserving love doesn’t spare us from calamities in this life, but it does (and will) bring us safely to everlasting joy with God.

Paul makes this crystal clear in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”  And some believers have been tempted to say, “Oh, but what he means is that God will not let these things happen to His bride.”  Two things prove that this is not the case.

One is the reference to death in verse 38: “Neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  Death will happen to us.  Physical death is coming for each of us, to be sure, but it won’t separate us.  So, when Paul says in verse 35 that the “sword” will not separate us from the love of Christ, what he means is that even if we ARE killed we won’t be separated from the love of Christ.

The other proof that this preserving love doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer is verse 36, where Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 and applies it to himself and Christians in general, “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’”  This means that martyrdom is normal Christianity.

It’s happening all over the world.  Those that were here for Secret Church last week were reminded of our brothers/sisters in Pakistan, Nepal, Sudan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Yemen, North Korea and so many other countries for whom suffering and death and calamity is REAL.  It’s estimated that 164,000 Christians will die this year because of their faith.  This is what Paul has in mind.  And it’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Some of you they will put to death.  You will be hated by all for My name’s sake” (Luke 21:16–17).

Folks, here me; our country with its relatively peaceful and tolerant approach to living and faith is an anomaly.  It is utterly unlike many places in the rest of the world, and that should drive us to greater and greater care for the persecuted church (Hebrews 13:3).

So, the sum of the matter in verse 35 is this: Jesus Christ is mightily loving His people with omnipotent, moment-by-moment love that does not always rescue us from calamity but preserves us for everlasting joy in His presence even through suffering and death.

What does Romans 8 have to do with today?  What’s the application for July 5, 2020, with the political and racial turmoil that we’re experiencing here in America?  Well, over and over again in the Bible, the love of God for us is the root of our love for each other.  The reality is that if we don’t rest in the love of God for us, we won’t be able to love each other.  For example, Jesus said in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

His love for us is first, and ours is an echo of it.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12–13)

His love for us is before and under our love for each other.  And it’s a deep, deep, unshakable Calvary love.  “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Ephesians 4:32–5:1)

All true love begins with this: God in Christ loved us and forgave us.  “In this is love, not that we loved God [or even each other], but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10–11)

As we prepare to take the Lord’s Table together…  As we prepare to celebrate this love that gave Himself for us…  Have you incorporated the love of Christ, have you been so filled with the love of God in Christ that it shows, that people hear it from you, that people sense it in you?  I want you to think about and reflect upon how YOU are doing sharing and showing the love of Christ in America today, as you listen to this song.

The Greatest of These

(by Larnelle Harris)

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong – a clanging cymbal.  2 And if I have the gift of prophecy, and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move the mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  3 If I give all I possess to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; it does not envy, does not boast; it is not proud 5 it is not rude.  It is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrong.  6 Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.  11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  But when I became a man, I put my childish ways behind me.  12 Now we see but a poor reflection, as in a mirror, but then we shall see face-to-face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.  The greatest of this is love.

New Life in the Spirit (Part 1) – Romans 8:1-17

Romans 8:1-17

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 8.  We use degrees of intensity, every day, when we talk and yet we probably don’t give any thought to their official labels.  For example, we say that we’re “happy.”  That’s the absolute degree.  Then we say that we’re “happier” than the next fellow.  That’s the comparative degree.  Finally, we say that we’re the “happiest.”  That’s the superlative degree.

Now, with some things, it’s easy to assign one of these three labels.  Take buildings for instance.  When it was completed in 1931, the Empire State Building was the world’s tallest building at 1,250 feet.  It was tall, taller, and tallest (all at the same time).  But today, it’s only tall.  In fact, the Empire State Building barely cracks the top 50 (at 49) of the world’s tallest buildings.  Presently, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates is the tallest at 2,717 feet (more than ½ mile).

When we’re talking about concrete and steel it’s fairly easy to slap a label on it.  But let’s adjust the terms a little bit and talk about good, better, and best.  Ah, now we’ve moved from the objective to the subjective.  Which of the world’s tallest buildings is the “best” building?  In that case, you should probably bring your lunch and prepare to stay a while.

What if we move the discussion from buildings to books?  Which of the books of the Bible would you say is the greatest?  Which chapter?  Which verse?  Which word or phrase?  Sure, we can look at the Bible using objective measurements (longest/shortest books, chapters, and verses), but applying subjective measures in more difficult.

I’m reminded of a story told by American theologian and Bible teacher, James Montgomery Boice.  Dr. Boice had more degrees than a thermometer, and he recalled an occasion where he anointed Romans 8 as the greatest chapter of the Bible during a sermon, only to have one of his parishioners catch him at the door and tell him that he’d already given that distinction to Hosea 3 in a sermon a few years earlier.  Dr. Boice, thinking quickly, fell back on a sentiment offered by renowned British minister, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, said, “Ah, yes, but the greatest book of the Bible should always be the one studied or taught at the moment.”

The reason I mention all of this gradation of degrees and the subjectivity of determining great, greater, and greatest is because we’ve arrived at the chapter of Scripture that many call the greatest, which is part of the book that many call the greatest, and which contains the verse that many call the greatest.

Philipp Jakob Spener was a German Lutheran theologian of the late 1600’s who said, “if the Bible was a ring and the Book of Romans its precious stone, chapter 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel.”  Dr. Charles Trumbull, long-time editor of The Sunday School Times perhaps said it best, “The eighth of Romans has become peculiarly precious to me, beginning with ‘no condemnation,’ ending with ‘no separation’ and in between, ‘no defeat.’” 

With that, we come to what may be called the inspirational highlight of the Book of Romans.  In this chapter we find Paul swept along in a wave of spiritual exaltation that begins with God’s provision of the Holy Spirit for victory over the old nature.  He then breaks through the sufferings that mark our present existence, and he ends with a doxology of praise to the unfathomable love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  And I believe that’s one of the reasons that so many people love this portion of Scripture – because it addresses our greatest need: protection, security and safety.

Paul has just succeeded, in Romans 6-7 of stripping away two appealing sources of security for us: sin and legalism.  Many people go in one direction and define themselves by their sin.  Others go in the opposite direction and define themselves by their attempts at perfection.  But the majority of us are somewhere in the middle.  And Paul has told us that we can, by dying to sin (Romans 6) and to the law (Romans 7), have a new identity in Jesus Christ.  Now, that sounds good in theory but it needs to be fleshed out for practice, and that’s the purpose of Romans 8.

Follow along with me as I read Romans 8:1-17.

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

 12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

These first 17 verses of Romans 8 detail three freedoms that believers, who have died to sin and the law, have by way of the Spirit, and the first is…

Freedom From Condemnation

Romans 1–7 lays it all out: holy God, sinful man, coming wrath, perfect Savior, Jesus Christ crucified and risen, justification by faith, and sanctification by faith.  And now Paul sums up the message of Christianity in the great conclusion of Romans 8:1: “Therefore [in view of all that, in light of chapters 1-7] there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

That’s the essence of Christianity.  That’s the central, foundational message of God to the world.  This is what we announce.  This is what we plead.  This is what we lay down our lives to communicate to the nations, to our neighbors, and to ourselves: no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

In keeping with our grammar lesson for today, did you know that the word “now” can have two different connotations?  The first is the way that most of us read this passage – finally, everything is in place, everything has been done, finally, now I can receive what I was promised.

It’s like a grandfather who sends a package to his granddaughter and says, “Do not open until your birthday.”  Every day the little girl says, “Now?  Can I open it now?”  “No, not now.  Only on your birthday.”  When it comes then she says, “Finally, now!”  The “now” in that case comes after waiting.

But the other nuance for “now” is the now that comes before you thought it would.  Let’s take that same grandfather.  This time he writes to his son and sends him a $5,000 check and says, “Son, you know that someday you will inherit my estate.  But I know that now is when you need it the most, so I am sending you this in advance.”  In this case the “now” is not “finally now,” but, “already now.”

Both of these meanings are found in Romans 8.  Look at verse 3, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned [there’s the word!] sin in the flesh.”

So, here’s the “finally now” version.  All those many years the law commanded, and the law condemned law-breakers, and the law pointed to a righteousness and a sacrifice that would someday come, but the law wasn’t able to remove condemnation from sinners.  If there was to come a time when sinners could experience “no condemnation!” – when the ungodly could be justified by faith – then God would have to do something besides give a law.  And what He did was send His Son in human nature, as our representative and substitute and there on the cross in the suffering of His Son, God condemned sin!

That’s the gospel.  That’s Christianity.  All of us were under God’s condemnation because of our sin.  But, as Romans 5:6 says, “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  In Romans 8:3 we see what it means that Christ died for the ungodly.  It means that God poured out on His Son the condemnation that we deserved.  He condemned sin (my sin!) in the flesh (Christ’s flesh!).  Therefore… finally… now… there is no condemnation.  Now, everything has been done in order to absorb the wrath of God.  Now, finally, there is no condemnation.  That’s the “finally now” version.

But what about the “already now” version?  Look at Romans 8:33–34.  Paul looks to the future.  He considers the fact that the final judgment is yet to come.  And on the way to it, there are many days when our adversary, the devil, will try to deceive us and blind us and accuse us and swallow us up in feelings of guilt.  So, Paul uses the “already now” version of no condemnation: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?  God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns [there’s the word!]?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”

So, here, we not only have the backward look to remind us that Christ has died and become our condemnation, but the forward look to remind us that, even though there’s a judgment coming, and we will sometimes tremble at the thought of it, nevertheless, already now there is no condemnation.

We don’t have to wait for the final inheritance to know what our portion will be.  “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?”  In that last day when your whole life, when my whole life – with all its Romans 7 imperfections is spread before us – this alone will be our hope: “It is God who justifies . . . it is Christ Jesus who died . . . who was raised . . . who intercedes.”

The verdict of the last judgment was given at Calvary: Not guilty!  No condemnation!  Finally, now, yes!  Already, now, yes!  This is the heart of Christianity.  This is the gift of God.

But notice, it’s only for those “who are in Christ Jesus.”  Some are in Him and some are not.  Paul assumes this everywhere in his writings.  There are those “in Christ” and there are those “outside.”  Make no mistake, Paul is not a universalist.  He says explicitly in Romans 9:3, with grief, that there are those who are “accursed, separated from Christ.”  Where are you?  In Christ?  Or separated from Christ?

Only by being in Christ does Christ’s condemnation become your condemnation.  If you want to be able to say now and at the last judgment, “There is no condemnation for me, because Jesus endured it for me,” then you must be “in Jesus.”  If you’re in Him, what happened to Him, happened to you.  If you’re not in Him, if you’re separated from Him, then you have no warrant for saying that what happened to Him happened to you.

There are some that say, “Ah, yes, but He died for the whole world.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  Yes, indeed.  And what that means is that there is infinite room in Jesus.  As John Piper says “Christ is not a small hotel.”  There’s room for everyone.  And everyone is invited and commanded, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden. . . . Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. . . . The one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (Matthew 11:28; Revelation 22:17; John 6:37).

But what if you don’t come?  What if you don’t believe?  What if you don’t receive the free gift?  Jesus tells us in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”  The wrath of God – the condemnation of God is taken away in Christ.  Not outside Christ.

So, where are you?  In Christ?  Or outside Christ?  Free from condemnation?  Or under condemnation?  You don’t have to stay under condemnation.  There’s room in Christ.  There’s always room in Christ.  And Christ’s word to every sinner is, “Come!  Trust me!  Enter!  I will be your life, your righteousness, your pardon, because I have been your condemnation.”

The second freedom that the Christian has access to by way of the Spirit is…

Freedom From The Sinful Nature

There’s a lot that could be said about verses 5-11, but the main point today is the impact that our minds have on our freedom from the sinful nature (the flesh, as some translations have it).  Beginning with verse 5, Paul mentions the “mind” (phroneó) five times.  The Greek word is not exactly equivalent to our English word because the Greek word includes a visceral, an instinctual, and intuitive aspect, as well as a cognitive aspect.  So, the mind that Paul is speaking about here is not just factual knowledge.  It’s not just an educated mind, or an intellectual mind.  It’s also a mind that is instinctually informed.  It’s connected in a deep and significant way to the Spirit.

Thankfully our English translators have helped us out a little bit here, because they’ve translated “spirit” with a capital S – meaning the Holy Spirit.  See, in the Greek New Testament, the word for “spirit” is pneuma and it’s not capitalized when speaking about the Holy Spirit.  The spirit is the spirit, and only the context can help you determine whether the writer was speaking about our human spirit or the Holy Spirit.

So what Paul is saying here is that if we’ve been “righteousized,” if we’ve been justified, if we’ve been made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus, then our minds will be set on the things of the Holy Spirit.

You may not recognize the name John Owen.  He was a contemporary of Oliver Cromwell in England during the mid-1600’s and was Vice Chancellor of Oxford University.  In volume 7 of his multi-volume treatise on the Holy Spirit he writes about the duty of being spiritually minded, and he poses this weighty question: What does your mind default to when it’s not thinking about anything in particular?  When you’re relaxed, when you’re just taking a break from all the other stuff going on in the world, when you’re not doing anything in particular – you’re just taking it easy – where does your mind go?  Where does it revert to?  And John Owen said that is a sign of the degree to which you’re growing towards a spiritual mindset.

It’s a convicting question, isn’t it?  You might find, as you think more fully on it, that you’re troubled by what you find.  A great deal of growing in our sanctification is about habits.  Breaking old habits and starting new ones.  And there are so many things about us and our daily living that are so habitual that we don’t even think about it.  Take, for instance, this whole COVID situation.  How many times have you touched your face today and you didn’t even realize it?

I was talking with several of you this week about Major League Baseball’s return to the field and some of the steps they’re taking to protect themselves.  One of the restrictions that they’ve implemented is that pitchers aren’t allowed to lick their fingers.  Now, for some you, that’s a horrible thing anyway, but if you’re a guy it’s natural (to some extent).  And I was thinking about this.  These professional players have been playing this sport for so long that doing these things is hardwired into who they are.  Paul says that the person who has been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit ought to be thinking about the things that the Spirit is thinking about.  That’s profound.  And humbling.

Listen to how much emphasis the Apostle Paul gives to our minds, when it comes to living the Christian life.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Now, I’m not suggesting that you can never think about things of this world, or material things, or things of the flesh.  Indeed, our daily lives are lived out in this world.  Rather, we ought to understand it as Corrie ten Boom did.  She writes, “I have a glove here in my hand.  The glove cannot do anything by itself, but when my hand is in it, it can do many things.  True, it is not the glove, but my hand in the glove that acts.  We are gloves.  It is the Holy Spirit in us who is the hand, who does the job.  We have to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled.”

Freedom from condemnation.  Freedom from the Sinful Nature (the flesh) and finally…

Freedom From Abandonment

I have to give Melissa all the credit for our adoption of Jordan.  At the time, adoption was the last thing on my mind.  But I wouldn’t trade him for all the money in the world.  He’s as much my son as Parker is.  Those of you that have adopted know what I’m talking about.  Of course, I’m not saying that biological children are less favored.  But there’s a major difference between biological children and adoptive children and that difference is: choice.  Every adoption is a conscious choice of the parents to choose the child, especially young and infant children.  And that’s the way it is with God.  This reality of adoption is a massive, firm, legal reality.  And it’s a deep, strong, full-hearted emotional reality, too.

When the Holy Spirit is called, in verse 15, the “Spirit of adoption,” the meaning is that the Spirit confirms and makes real to you this great legal transaction of adoption.  If you’ve trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior and Treasure, then you’re adopted.  John 1:12 says, “To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”  If you receive Christ, you are adopted.

Now to seal this and confirm it and make it experientially real to you, God sends the Spirit into our hearts.  Here’s the way Paul says it in Galatians 4:5-6, “[Christ] redeemed those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.  Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”  The Spirit is poured out into our hearts to confirm and make real our adoption.

How does he do that according to verse 15?  He does it by replacing the fear of a slave toward a master with the love of a son toward a father.  “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  We’re free from the fear of abandonment to slavery and loneliness.  The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to change our slavish fears toward God into confident, happy, peaceful affection for God as our father.

If you want to know that you’re a child of God, you don’t put your ear to the Holy Spirit and wait for a whisper; put your ear to the gospel and your eye to the cross of Christ and you pray that the Holy Spirit would enable you to see it and savor it for what it really is.  Romans 5:8 says, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The testimony of the Spirit is that when we look at cross we cry, “Jesus, you are my Lord!” (1 Corinthians 12:3), and “God, you are my Father!”  So, look to Christ!  Look to Christ!

Law and Life: The Struggle – Romans 7:7-25

Romans 7:7-25

Following in the footsteps of his sea-captain father, he was tossed out of the British Royal Navy for his rebellious ways.  He ended up in West Africa working for a slave trader where he was basically enslaved and violently mistreated.  One chronicler described him as “a wretched looking man toiling in a plantation of lemon trees in the Island of Plantains . . . clothes had become rags, no shelter and begging for unhealthy roots to assuage his hunger.”

Escaping the island in 1747, he was washed overboard while drunk in a violent storm.  He was saved only when another sailor harpooned him and pulled him back aboard!  It was that near-death experience, and the lingering message of Thomas á Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, that turned him to God.  Though a Christian, he continued for another six years as the captain of a slave ship, a practice he then gave up and ultimately crusaded against.  He went back to England and entered the pastoral ministry, becoming well-known for his preaching and his hymns.

Of course, I’m referring to John Newton, the well-known author of perhaps the most famous hymn in Christendom, Amazing Grace.  In it, of course, he writes, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”  And although some have attempted to smooth over the use of that word (wretch), no one knows better than Newton what a wretch had been found by God’s amazing grace.  As William Kruidenier writes in his commentary on Romans, “To downplay the wretchedness of the one found is surely to diminish the amazingness of the grace that seeks and finds.”

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 7.  This is a wake-up call for anybody who thinks that the Christian life is all sweetness and light.  As John Newton and the Apostle Paul both testify, it’s a life of victory; but it’s a victory won out of conflict.  It’s the ability to conform the hand (the “what I do” part) with the heart (the “what I want to do” part).  It’s all part of the tension of the “now, but not yet” that’s so characteristic of the Christian life.  We’re freed from sin (Chapter 6), yet we still have to wrestle with sin’s unrelenting presence (Chapter 7).  One day the conflict will cease.  But for now, it’s a moment-by-moment rescue that’s realized when we call upon Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul has just argued (in Chapter 6) that we’re no longer slaves to sin because we’ve been “righteousized”, we’ve been made right by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – that in some sense we’ve died to sin with Jesus and since dead people don’t sin we’re free to choose our master.  But, once again, Paul anticipates his audience’s argument (and ours) and here it is:

“Hey, Paul, see if I’m following you correctly here.  You’re saying that I’m made right before God – my acceptance, my standing, my position before a holy and righteous God – is not because of anything I’ve done, am doing, will do, or even anything that I possess.  Rather, my salvation, my rescue from sin and guilt and shame, my peace with God is due to the shear grace and love of God, which is fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and has been gifted to me, imputed to my account, and poured out upon me freely.  And all of this is done by trusting Jesus, by placing faith in Jesus?”

And Paul says, “You got it.”  And then here’s the argument that Paul anticipates: “So what’s the point of the law?  Is the law sinful?  Is the law bad?  If, as you say, righteousness is from God via Jesus, then why did God give us the 10 Commandments?  And a follow-up question, what are we supposed to do with the law now?  Do we ignore it?  If we do, aren’t we ignoring God’s will and God’s character?  If we don’t ignore it, and we try to obey it, aren’t we denying righteousness by grace through faith?  Help me out, Paul?”

That’s where we are and here’s what God, by way of the Apostle Paul, through the super-intention of the Holy Spirit has to say:

7 What then shall we say?  That the law is sin?  By no means!  Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.  For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.  For apart from the law, sin lies dead.  9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.  10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.  11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.  12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

 13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me?  By no means!  It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.  14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  15 For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.  17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  24 Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  Today, the first argument that Paul wants to make is that the law is good and spiritual.

The Law Is Good and Spiritual

All along the way, Paul has argued passionately against justification by works of the Law.  We aren’t “made right,” we aren’t righteousized with God by law-keeping, but by faith alone.  And in the process, he even seemed to say that the Law is part of our problem.

For example, in Romans 3:20 Paul says, “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in [God’s] sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”  Or, in Romans 3:28 he says, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”  And, even more shockingly, in Romans 5:20 he writes, “The Law came in [God gave the Law at Mount Sinai] so that the transgression would increase.”  That almost makes the Law sound like an accomplice to sin.

In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that if you want to bear fruit for God – that is, if you want to be sanctified as well as justified – you have to die to the Law.  Romans 7:4 says, “Therefore, my brothers, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”  You can’t bear fruit for God if you don’t die to the Law.  Law-keeping is not the first and decisive way to bear fruit for God.  Being joined to the risen Christ is the first and decisive way to bear fruit for God.

So, the huge question that Paul has to answer is stated in Romans 7:7, “What shall we say then?  Is the Law sin?”  Or, a little differently in verse 13, “Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me?”  Here are two huge questions raised by Paul’s gospel of justification by faith apart from works of the law: Is the law sin? and Does the law cause death?

If the answer to these two questions is “yes” . . . if the law is sin and causes death, then Paul knows that his gospel is undermined.  Paul knows there’s no future for a gospel that turns the law of God into sin and death.  So, with all his might in verses 7 and 13 Paul says, No! “May it never be!”  “By no means!”  The law is not sin; sin exploits the law and uses it.

At least three times Paul makes this point.  Verse 14: “The Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh.”  Verse 16: “If I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.”  Verse 22: “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.”  The law is holy.  The law is just.  The law is good.  It’s not the law that causes death; it’s sin that causes death, but sin uses the law to accomplish this.

So, Paul’s purpose for writing Romans 7:7-25 is to explain and defend that answer.  Don’t miss this.  It’s all about justification by faith and sanctification by faith.  If these two foundational doctrines imply that the law of God is sin and causes death, they are doomed and cannot be true.  And Paul concludes that the Law is not sinful and deadly, rather I’m sinful, and my sin is deadly.

As a result . . . God, in His mercy, has made His righteousness available for us another way, apart from the Law (3:21), namely through Jesus Christ His Son.  For us to be righteousized or “made righteous” we must turn from our law-keeping to Christ’s law-keeping.  We must receive Christ as our treasure, and be declared righteous because of our union with Him by faith, not because of any righteousness in us.  That’s how we are declared perfectly righteous before God.  But the Law is not sinful.  In fact, it’s good and spiritual.  That’s the first point.

This naturally leads to the next question: “Okay, I’ve surrendered my life to Jesus, I’ve died to sin, I’ve died to the law, the law is good and spiritual, then why do I still struggle?”  And Paul’s second argument is for the reality of what he calls “indwelling sin.”

Indwelling Sin Is the Culprit

This is Paul’s way of explaining why Christians – although free from the dominion and rule and reign of sin (Chapter 6) and free to choose our master – don’t always make the right choice.  On the one hand he’s arguing that the Law is good, and on the other hand that indwelling sin is the culprit in the Christian life.

This is the section of Romans 7 that’s so familiar to us, and Paul uses himself as the subject.  Look back at verses 15-20, “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me?  By no means!  It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.  For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Let me say immediately that I do not – nor does Paul – suggest that we should settle in and coast with worldly living and a defeatist mentality.  We should not make peace with our sin; we should make war on our sin.  Defeat is not the main experience of the Christian life.  But it is part of it.  I like what J. I. Packer had to say about this many years ago.  He said:

“Paul is not telling us that the life of the ‘wretched man’ is as bad as it could be, only that it is not as good as it should be, and that because the man delights in the law and longs to keep it perfectly his continued inability to do so troubles him acutely. . .  The ‘wretched man’ is Paul himself, spontaneously voicing his distress at not being a better Christian than he is, and all that we know of Paul personally fits in with this supposition.”

So, I think what Paul is saying is not that Christians live in continual defeat, but that no Christian lives in continual victory.  And in those moments and times when we fail to triumph over sin, Romans 7:14-25 is the normal way a healthy Christian should respond.  The healthy believer should say,

  1. I love the Law of God. Verse 22: “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.”
  2. I hate what I just did. Verse 15: “I am doing the very thing I hate.”
  3. I long for deliverance from this body that constantly threatens to kill me. Verse 24: “Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from this body of death?”

Nobody should want to live this way or, dare I say, even settle to live this way.  That’s not the point.  The point is, when you do live this way, this is the Christian response.  No lying.  No hypocrisy.  No posing.  No vaunted perfectionism.  Lord, deliver us from a church like that – with its pasted smiles, and chipper superficiality, and blindness to our own failures, and consequent quickness to judge others.  God give us the honesty and candor and humility of the apostle Paul.  Romans 7 is part of the Christian experience.  It’s not ideal, but it’s real.

So, Paul’s answer is that the Christian loves the Law of God, the Christian esteems the Law of God, the Christian delights in the Law of God, he/she concurs with it, regards it as good, and does not blame the Law for his/her own failures.  Instead the Christian admits (and here’s a crucial and practical teaching) that there is in all of us, as long as this fallen age lasts and we live on the earth, the reality of “indwelling sin.”

Another way of looking at it is like this.  The Law doesn’t cause our defeats, the Law defines our victories.  It’s indwelling sin that causes our defeats.  And Paul is very jealous in chapters 6-8 that we not overstate or understate the measure of holiness possible in this fallen age where Christians are delivered from the dominion of sin and yet groan awaiting the full redemption of our bodies and the “law of sin” connected with them.

So, number one, the Law is good and spiritual.  Number two, indwelling sin is the culprit.  Finally, Paul argues for genuine Christianity.  He’s a new man, a new creature in Christ, even though he still sins.

A Genuine Christian Life

For example, he says in Romans 7:22-23: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”  I’ve been changed.  There’s a new spiritual taste for God and His law in me.  I’m a Christian.  I’m a believer.  And my growth in this new spiritual life will come in stages.

Look at verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  This isn’t Paul’s victory cry proving that he’s moved to a new, triumphant kind of life above the battles and losses of Romans 7.  Instead, this is a shout of hope – followed by a sober, realistic summary of everything we’ve seen, namely that Paul, the Christian, is both a new man and an old man.  He’s both indwelt by the Spirit and harassed by the flesh.  He’s freed from the dominion of sin and indwelt by remaining corruption.  This will be his lot until he dies or until Christ comes.  And it reflects the reality of your Christian journey too.  This is what a genuine Christian life looks like.

Paul is not describing a life that only has failure, or only has success.  Paul’s point is not how successful he is, or how often he is triumphant or defeated.  He’s only saying that these two realities exist in him, and that’s why he and other Christians aren’t perfect.  So, the question is: How are we to live in view of this double truth about ourselves?  And the answer comes from watching the amazing way that Paul speaks to us about our deliverance and our newness in Christ.

What he does again and again is to say: This new man, this new woman is who you decisively and irrevocably are in Christ.  This free man, this free woman is your deepest and truest identity.  Now act on it.  Look to Christ, trust His help, and by His Spirit become what you are.

If your besetting sin is anger, then affirm that in Christ you have died to that identity and in Christ you have His patience and kindness.  Look to Him and trust in Him and rejoice in Him.  And fight against anger as one who has the victory in Him.

If your besetting sin is heterosexual or homosexual lust, then affirm that in Christ you have died to this fallen and distorted identity.  I have a dear friend who has struggled almost his entire life with same sex attraction as a result of sexual abuse when he was a very young boy.  He never gets tired of saying, “Do not say ‘I am a homosexual.’” Say rather, “I struggle with homosexual desires.”  That’s not a superficial mind over matter trick.  It’s a profound Biblical insight into Romans 6 and 7.  In Christ our old selves have died – whatever their distortion and corruption – and we are decisively and irrevocably new.  In Christ Jesus the homosexual, the fornicator, the adulterer, the covetous, the thief, the alcoholic, are not who we truly are.  Affirm that by faith in Christ.  Trust Him as your all-satisfying treasure and look to Him for the help to become (as much as possible in this life) who you truly are in Christ.

Let me conclude with another story about a hymn writer.  Charlotte Elliott was born on March 18, 1789 in Brighton, England.  Her maternal grandfather was Rev. Henry Venn, an evangelical minister in the Church of England that helped to bring about “The Great Awakening.”  (By the way, if his last name sounds familiar it’s because his great-grandson is responsible for something in logic called the Venn diagram.  See, y’all learn all kinds of free trivia when you come to church.)

Charlotte’s childhood was passed in a circle of great refinement and piety.  She was highly educated.  She developed a great passion for music and art.  And at an early age she became aware of her sinful nature and of her need to resist sin’s enticements.  (Exactly what Paul talks about here in Romans 7.)  She felt unworthy of God’s grace and she knew she couldn’t face a righteous and perfect God.  She was continuously told by different pastors at the many churches that she visited to pray more, study the Bible more and to perform more noble deeds.

It was about this time, when she was 32, that the Rev. Dr. Cesar Malan of Geneva, visited her parent’s house and asked her whether she was at peace with God – a question she resented at the time and refused to talk about.  However, a few days later she called Dr. Malan and apologized, saying she wanted to cleanse her life before becoming a Christian.  Dr. Malan answered, “Come just as you are,” and she committed her life to Christ that day.

Twelve years later, reflecting on her conflicts and doubts, she remembered those words from Dr. Malan and she penned a song titled Just as I Am.  There was no way Charlotte Elliott could’ve known, but almost 100 years to the date of writing that song a 16-year old teenager would respond to the call of God upon His heart at a revival where her song was being played at the conclusion of the service.  That young boy would grow up to be one of the world’s greatest evangelists, Dr. Billy Graham.

Charlotte Elliott’s life reflected what the Apostle Paul described in Romans 7, and it led her to pen a song that God used to call another great evangelist to spread His gospel.  In fact, that song spoke to Billy’s heart so much that his team used it in almost every one of their crusades.  Rev. Graham said it presented “the strongest possible Biblical basis for the call of Christ.”  And he even used the song title as the title to his autobiography.

As we conclude our worship this morning, stand with me as we sing Just as I Am.