Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans, Day 41, Sharing The Blessings On Gentiles With Israel

Paul's readers may wonder whether there is still hope for Israel, so he is quick to assure them God is not finished with Israel. "Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious." (Romans 11:11) Paul asks, "In rejecting Christ, did they stumble so badly they will be unable to rise to their feet again? Are they defeated? Are they hopeless? Absolutely not! But the gospel message cannot be contained, and if it isn't accepted in Israel at this time, it is being accepted in the Gentile nations. And while the Gentiles are being saved, Israel is noticing God's grace and blessing on the people who were once idolaters. The personal relationship the Gentiles are building with God is something the Israelites will come to envy. They will want this for themselves."

"But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring?" (Romans 11:12) If blessings came to the Gentiles because Israel rejected the Messiah, how much more blessings will there be when Israel accepts her Messiah? These two groups combined are powerful! They are filled with grace! They are one big family of God!

"I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them." (Romans 11:13-14) Paul says, "I am honored to have been chosen by God to be an apostle to the Gentiles. I tell people everywhere I go how powerfully God is working among the Gentiles. I share all this good news with my own people, hoping they will think to themselves, 'I want that in my life! I want the power and the joy and the peace that Paul and the Gentile believers have.'"

"For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world. what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Romans 11:15) Paul reminds his readers, "The gospel came to you because the majority of the Jews rejected it. But they won't all reject it always. A person who comes to Christ is reborn. A person who comes to Christ is like one risen from the dead. Just as their temporary rejection of Christ brought the gospel to you, your acceptance of the gospel should cause you to take it to them."

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 40, Do Not Quench The Spirit

Yesterday we took a look back into the Old Testament to find the prophet Elijah at a very low point. King Ahab of Israel had married the idolatrous Jezebel. Jezebel was an idolatress and she set about turning the people of Israel away from the Lord to her god Baal. Essentially what she did was set up a state religion. She had many of the prophets of the Lord killed. She did all she could to stamp out the worship of the one true God in favor of her own religion. Elijah stood up to her and to her prophets and called down fire from heaven after the prophets of Baal had spent all day calling out to their false god to send fire down. Supporters of Elijah slew the prophets of Baal and Jezebel vowed to kill Elijah before the next day ended. So Elijah fled, fearing he was the only prophet left in the land, not knowing whether any of the faithful in the land would survive. But God told him, "I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal."

This is where we pick up today. "So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." (Romans 11:5-6) Paul says, "Just as in Elijah's day, some of my fellow citizens remain faithful to the Lord today. A number of them have come to Christ. Their righteousness is not achieved by doing good deeds or by trying to keep the law, but by the grace of God. The Israelites who are faithful didn't receive grace because they are Israelites but because they trust in the Lord. If salvation was only for Israel then we wouldn't see the Gentiles being saved. It's by the same faith in the same Savior that both Jews and Gentiles receive salvation."

"What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but others were hardened, as it is written: 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear to this very day.'" (Romans 11:7-8) Paul has said previously that his people attempted to gain righteousness through works. They were focused on themselves and on their own performance. If any of us were good enough to earn salvation, why would we need God? We might even start thinking we are as righteous as He is. When we start thinking we can do things on our own without God's help, or that somehow we can earn salvation, we are as much of an idolater as if we were on our knees in front of the image of a false god. When we reject the one true God we always put something else in His place. We will serve ourselves and the desires of the flesh, essentially worshiping ourselves. We will worship some other deity or get drawn into the occult. We will chase money or fame or addictive substances. If we rely on ourselves for salvation, we are hopeless.

What does Paul mean when he quotes Moses and Isaiah saying that they people are hard-hearted and blinded? Is he saying they have no choice? Is he telling us God chose some of them and rejected others? No. Moses and Isaiah were speaking of people who had deliberately hardened their hearts toward God. Moses led the people forty years through the wilderness and it was a constant struggle. They complained against both Moses and God. They turned deaf ears to what Moses told them God was saying. Isaiah faced the same attitude in his day. He was trying to get the people to turn wholeheartedly back to the Lord or else their nation was going to be conquered. But they didn't listen to him any more than they listened to Moses. So I think what Paul is saying is that every time we refuse the Lord our hearts grow a little bit harder. We can grow so hard that nothing gets through to us. The Holy Spirit may be shouting to our consciences at the top of His voice, but we won't hear Him. It's not that God doesn't want to save us, but we can resist the pleading of the Holy Spirit for so long, and we can refuse to believe the word of God for so long, that we are in danger of remaining lost.

Next Paul quotes the words of King David, "And David says: 'May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.'" (Romans 11:9-10) The quote is from Psalm 69, which has a Messianic theme. It speaks of being hated for no reason, of being given vinegar to drink, and of being rejected even by family members. The one who is suffering these things is the one who pronounces what sounds like a curse on his enemies. It is as if he says, "Reject those who will never accept me. They have hardened their hearts against Your holy word and against Your prophets. They have hardened their hearts against me. If they continue in this manner, let them be what they want to be. Let them be deaf to the truth. Let them be blind to the truth. Let them remain in their sin because that is where they prefer to stay."

We don't ever want to reach such a point. When we feel the Holy Spirit calling us to believe and repent, we need to heed His voice. Each time we reject Him it gets a little bit easier and our hearts get a little bit harder. This is why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, "Do not quench the Spirit." If He's speaking to your heart today, listen.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 39, To The Faithful God Shows Himself Faithful

Paul concluded yesterday by telling us that Christ was found by people who weren't even looking for Him: the Gentiles. These words might make Paul's readers wonder if God has rejected Israel. He is going to discuss this subject and once again bring up the fact that the true Israelite in God's eyes is the person who honors Him.

"But concerning Israel He says, 'All day long I have held out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.'" (Romans 10:21) This quote is from Isaiah 65 which says, "All day long I have held out My hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations---a people who continually provoke Me to My very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick, who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of impure meat." (Isaiah 65:2-4) In Isaiah's day idolatry and occult practices were rampant. This is why the Lord gave Isaiah the message that the people must repent or be conquered and taken into captivity. A large number of the citizens were worshiping pagan gods and were trying to communicate with the dead and had given up the dietary laws.

But not all the citizens were unfaithful to the Lord. As we move on into Chapter 11 we will find that there has always been a faithful remnant. At this point Paul's readers might be wondering if God is finished with Israel. He is quick to assure them God is by no means done with His people. "I ask then: Did God reject His people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin." (Romans 11:1) Paul says, "If God has rejected His people, that would include me, for I am an Israelite. Does it seem to you God has rejected me? Has He not instead chosen me to share the gospel of His dear Son?"

"God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew. Don't you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah---how he appealed to God against Israel: 'Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me'?" (Romans 11:2-3) After Elijah's showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Queen Jezebel vowed to take his life. Elijah was a wanted man. He was discouraged and afraid, so he said to the Lord, "You know my enemies aren't making empty threats. They've killed other prophets and they've torn down Your altars and put up their own altars to false gods. I am the only man left who is faithful to You!"

"And what was God's answer to him? 'I have reserved for Myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.'" (Romans 11:4) God answered the weary prophet, "You're not alone! I know it seems like the whole nation has gone after other gods, but there are seven thousand souls in the land right now who serve Me. There are others just like you who love Me with all their hearts. I know you feel alone, but you aren't alone." If we look around us at the world today we could easily become as discouraged as Elijah. We could start believing that nobody loves the Lord anymore, but that's not true. Everywhere the gospel has been preached, God has a remnant that is faithful to Him. He never said every soul of every nation would turn to Him. He makes the invitation to every soul, but it is up to each individual person to accept or reject the invitation.

Again we find Paul preaching on the foreknowledge of God. He told us previously in the book of Romans that God knew long ago who would come to Him and who would reject Him. So Bible scholar William Barclay says we must make a distinction between "Israel" and "His people" in verse 2. Paul says God did not reject His people whom He foreknew. God has always had faithful ones in Israel. He knew them before they were ever born. He will never reject anyone who comes to Him in faith. But in verse 2 we also find the prophet Elijah praying against his own people Israel because he believes they are all out to kill him. In the same verse we find the faithful---"His people"---and we find the enemies of the Lord, those of Israel who were seeking Elijah's life. This demonstrates to us the principle Paul has already stated in Romans 9:6, "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." The true Israelite is the man or woman who serves the one true God. So God has not rejected His people, His people being those who have remained faithful to Him.

There are some promises regarding the nation of Israel as a whole that God will not break because they do not depend on Israel's performance. He promised to send them a Messiah and He did. He promised they would never cease being a nation in His eyes, and we find He has kept this promise in spite of everything that has ever happened to them, for Israel is again a sovereign nation in the world today. He has promised that the King of kings will someday rule the world from David's throne, and this promise still stands. But most of the promises God made to Israel, and to all of us who believe, depend on faith and obedience. These promises still belong to the true Israel: to those who are faithful to God.

As we've said before, just as not all of Israel is Israel, not everyone who attends church services is a Christian. I am a member of a pretty large church, or at least what constitutes a large church in East Tennessee. We tend to have around seven hundred or so at our Sunday morning services, a thousand or more at Easter and Christmas. In a crowd that size, does everyone belong to Christ? It's possible but not likely. I could waste my time gazing around the crowd trying to figure out who is saved and who isn't, but I can't see into anyone's heart. God is able to gaze on the congregation and know the heart of every individual. He knows who belongs to Him. The promises of His word belong to those who belong to Him, in the same way the promises He's made to Israel belong to those who belong to Him. God has not, and never will, reject the faithful. So although to Paul's readers it may look as if Israel has lost her place as a special people of God, Paul reminds them that Israel in God's eyes is not so much a nation but a faithful people. Yes, many in Paul's day had turned from the Lord. But not all! King David understood this, for he joyously said to the Lord in Psalm 18:25, "To the faithful You show yourself faithful."

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 38, Found By Christ

Before we begin I need to ask your forgiveness again for being absent from the blog for a couple of days. I spent most of Sunday night and Monday morning at the emergency room having tests run for severe pelvic pain and then I spent Tuesday morning at my regular doctor's office. It has been an incredibly rough few days for me and I was in too much discomfort and on too much medication to do any sensible writing. In fact, I feel like the few blog posts I did were not my best effort because I was having trouble concentrating. But the word of the Lord is powerful and He is able to accomplish things through it even in our weakness. My doctors and I think we have an idea of what has been going on with me and I hope things are going to be okay now, but I still desire your prayers for a return to health. The things I've been through for the past three weeks or so have really worn me down and have made me feel weak. But with your prayers and the help of our Great Physician I believe I will be able to return to all my normal activities soon.

In today's post the Apostle Paul explains to us that while his own people are rejecting Christ, the Lord is saving the Gentiles. He proves to us that these things were foretold in the Old Testament. "But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our message?'" (Romans 10:16) The apostle quotes from Isaiah 53, the chapter that describes the crucifixion about seven hundred years before the birth Christ. I love the way The Message Bible words this verse, "Who believes what we've heard and seen? Who would have thought God's saving power would look like this?"

This is the problem in a nutshell: Jesus' nation did not think God's saving power would look like this. The nation lost its sovereignty several centuries before Christ. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 was not the type of Messiah most people were looking for. They were looking for a Conquering King who would overthrow their oppressors, reinstate their sovereignty, and rule the nation from the throne of David. The Old Testament contains prophecies about both the Suffering Servant and the Conquering King, and I can understand the nation's difficulty in reconciling these two roles in the same Messiah, but by New Testament times it had become clear how these roles are going to be reconciled. At His first advent the Lord came to give His life as atonement for our sins, becoming the Suffering Servant. But at His second advent He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. This is when He will judge sin and will wage war against His enemies in righteousness. This is when He will rule the earth.

Isaiah, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not only foresaw the crucifixion, but he also foresaw the rejection of the Messiah. Isaiah knew no one was going to believe his message in his own times, and he knew very few would believe the message in Christ's time. Paul says, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ." (Romans 10:17) Hearing the gospel doesn't save us. Faith is what saves us when we hear the gospel and believe it.

"But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: 'Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.'" (Romans 10:18) Paul quotes David's Psalm 19 in which he says the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of His hands. The creation proves there is a Creator.

"Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, 'I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.'" (Romans 10:19) This quote is from Deuteronomy 32:21 where the Lord says, "They made Me jealous by what is no god and angered Me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding." Bible scholar William Barclay comments on verse 19 by saying that one of the objections Paul's listeners might have brought up was, "'But what if Israel did not understand?' Apparently the meaning is: 'What if the message was so difficult to grasp that even when Israel did hear it they were unable to grasp its significance?' But Paul's answer is: 'Israel may have failed to understand, but the Gentiles did not.'" So no one can make the excuse that the gospel is too difficult to understand. The pagan Gentiles, who were living in complete ignorance of the God of the universe, understood it.

"And Isaiah boldly says, 'I was found by those who did not seek Me; I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me.'" (Romans 10:20) In Isaiah 65 we find the prophet predicting that those who weren't even looking for Christ were going to find Him. They may not have been looking for Him, but He was looking for them.

I'm so thankful Christ comes looking for us! I don't know where I'd be today if Christ never came looking for me.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 37, The Importance Of Sharing The Gospel

Paul concluded our session yesterday by saying that those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Calling on the name of the Lord means a person must believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ and must believe that He has risen from the dead.

But no one can believe on Him if they've never heard of Him, so sharing the gospel is of vital importance. "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:14) When Christ was about to return to the Father, He gave His followers the great commission, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15) If we do not care about reaching our fellow man with the gospel, perhaps we do not care too much about Christ, for, "By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) If we love Christ, we have to love each other. He didn't say we have to like everything about our fellow man, but we can love them as human beings who have souls that need the Lord.

It is God who calls people to be preachers of the gospel. Unless His calling and anointing is on the life of a preacher, that preacher is working in his own strength and not in the Lord's. "And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:15a) This is why the expression is used by those who announce their intention to become ministers of the gospel, "The Lord has called me to preach." If the Lord isn't in the work, the work won't accomplish much.

But just because God doesn't call all of us to be preachers doesn't mean we can't do very important work for the kingdom of Christ. If every believer were a preacher, who would teach Sunday school? Who would do volunteer work like cooking for the sick and the bereaved? Who would sing songs of praise to the Lord during church services? Who would play the music? If we were all ministers of the gospel, who would share the gospel in workplaces? Each of us has work to do for the kingdom of Christ, and it's important to make sure we are in the role God has chosen for us. If we are where God wants us to be, we will be able to produce valuable fruit.

"As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" (Romans 10:15b) Paul quotes the words of the prophet Isaiah, who said, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7)

Amen! The very word "gospel" means "good news". The gospel message is a message of peace, a message of good tidings, and a message of salvation. The gospel says, "Christ has risen from the dead! Your God reigns!" When we turn on the news channel the world around us seems out of control. Sometimes our own lives seem out of control. But our God reigns. "For God is the King of all the earth; sing to Him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on His holy throne." (Psalm 47:7-8) God is still in charge, no matter whether the world around us or the devil himself tries to convince us otherwise. Our God commands us to share the gospel with those around us, whether He has called us to preach, to teach, to sing, to write, to do good works in the community, or simply to talk to our co-workers and friends about Christ. How can they believe in Him if they haven't heard of Him? We have been commissioned to make sure they hear of Him.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 36, Christ Is The Culmination Of The Law

Paul reminds his readers again not to trust in their human strength or in the keeping of the law. They are to trust in Christ who perfectly kept the law and who gave Himself for them.

"Brothers and sisters, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." (Romans 10:1-4) Our right standing with God comes not through our works but through our relationship with Christ. If zealously following the law could have obtained salvation for us, Christ would not have had to give Himself. His sacrifice makes up our lack.

"Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: 'The person who does these things will live by them.' But the righteousness that is by faith says: 'Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down) or 'Who will ascend into the deep?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? 'The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,' that is, 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." (Romans 10:5-9) If a person wants to live by the law he must keep the law, but no one can perfectly keep the law. This is why the sacrificial system was still necessary in Old Testament times. But Jesus Christ came and kept the law perfectly, therefore our faith in His sacrifice does for us what we can't do for ourselves.

Paul knew that some scoffed at the idea that Christ had come from heaven. They didn't believe Jesus of Nazareth could be the Christ because He wasn't a great priest or king. They didn't believe He could be the Christ because He was crucified. They couldn't understand the concept of a Messiah who suffers. Paul knew that some scoffed at the idea that Christ was risen from the dead. They demanded proof. They wouldn't take the word of the disciples and all the other followers who witnessed the risen Christ for a period of forty days. This is why Paul says you have to be faith to be saved, the faith to say, 'Jesus is Lord,' and the faith to believe God raised Him from the dead.

"For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, 'Anyone who believes 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.'" (Romans 10:10-13) Whether Jew or Gentile, salvation is by faith. We can't earn salvation. We have to trust in Christ, believing that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 35, A Stone Laid In Zion

In Chapter 9 we've found Paul grief stricken over the fact that so many of his countrymen have not accepted Christ. He's been explaining to us that being people of God does not depend on our nationality but on our faith. Today he points out that God has only ever had a remnant of Israel. Only a percentage of the people have ever remained steadfastly faithful to the Lord. For examples of this we can look throughout the Old Testament. God allowed Assyria to conquer the ten northern tribes and He allowed Babylon to conquer the two southern tribes because idolatry became so rampant. But even during those years there remained people faithful to the Lord. This is how righteousness is imputed to anyone: by faith. It is not our own works or our faith in our own abilities that saves us; it is our faith in the Lord that saves us.

Paul will show us that while the Lord waits for Israel's redemption to come, He is at work redeeming the Gentiles. Israel's rejection of her Messiah does not mean God has cast her aside. It simply means that for a time the relationship between Israel and God will be troubled, just as the relationship between a husband and wife will be troubled after one of them has been unfaithful. "As He says in Hosea: 'I will call them 'My people' who are not My people; and I will call her 'My loved one' who is not My loved one, and, 'In the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' there they will be called, 'children of the living God'." (Romans 9:25-26)

God instructed the prophet Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman so Hosea would understand rejection. Many times in the Old Testament we find God comparing Israel to an unfaithful wife. A large number of God's people rejected Him in favor of pagan gods, which to the Lord was the ultimate rejection---the type of rejection a husband feels when his wife has been unfaithful to him. The only valid reason for divorce that the Lord gives in the Scriptures is for unfaithfulness, so we learn that the Lord had the right to divorce Israel and remain separated from her from then on. But this isn't what the Lord wanted to do. Like a man who dearly loves his wife and is willing to forgive her, the Lord dearly loves Israel and is willing to forgive her. So through the prophet Hosea the Lord told the people that for a time, due to Israel's unfaithfulness, He would be like a man who is temporarily separated from his wife while they work things out. And through Hosea the Lord promised Israel that a day is coming when they will be reunited just like a husband and wife who have put their marriage back together.

"Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: 'Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out His sentence on earth with speed and finality.'" (Romans 9:26) The Lord doesn't give citizens of Israel a free pass just because they are citizens of Israel. They have to belong to Him at heart. Those who continue to reject Him will face the same penalty as any Gentile who continues to reject Him. The Bible does not teach a universal salvation. The word of God does not promise that every human being will be saved. God wants every human being to be saved, but He will not force anyone to love and serve and honor Him. Like a wife who has the free will to choose to be faithful or unfaithful to her husband, we all have the free will to choose to be faithful or unfaithful to the Lord.

"It is just as Isaiah said previously: 'Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.'" (Romans 9:29) The Lord has shown great mercy to Israel. Because He chose her and gave her His laws and commandments, she bore a great deal of responsibility. When so many of her citizens rejected the Lord in favor of idols, God could in all righteousness have treated her like Sodom and Gomorrah, upon whom He rained down burning sulfur, killing all the people and vegetation in the area. (Genesis 19:24-25) But Isaiah says, "God has been merciful! He did not wipe us out. He could have treated us like Sodom and Gomorrah, but instead He has allowed our family lines to continue on."

Lest anyone think I'm picking on Israel, I want to point out that God's judgment would be just for anyone who has rejected Him after having been brought up hearing and understanding the Scriptures. I grew up in the church. I could quote a number of Scriptures. I could sing the songs from the hymnal by heart. But until the summer I turned twenty-two I was as lost as anyone has ever been. I knew what God's word said and I lived in opposition to it. I rejected Him in favor of the things of this world. He would have been within His rights to say, "She hasn't turned out very well. I think I'll just go ahead and remove her from the earth." But instead He kept calling to me and dealing with my heart until I heeded His call. If I had persisted in rebellion, a dire fate would have awaited my soul. I wouldn't have been able to blame anyone but myself because I've heard the gospel message thousands of times. I've had access to the Holy Bible at any time or the day or night. I've been free to go to church, listen to religious programs on the radio, and watch godly preachers on TV. I had no excuse for not being faithful to the Lord. This is what Paul is saying about Israel. That nation was afforded opportunities to know the Lord like no other nation before them. God initiated a relationship with them. He made the first move. He gave them the commandments, the law, the prophets, the temple. But with great blessing comes great responsibility. We can say the same of citizens of the United States. We are a free people and our nation was founded on godly principles. We have been given enormous opportunities to hear and to read the gospel. But with great blessing comes great responsibility.

"What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: 'See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.'" (Romans 9:30-33) Paul quotes from Isaiah 8 and Isaiah 28. Christ is the chosen stone the Lord has laid in Zion. We can either fall over Him or fall on Him. We can either balk at the idea of a Messiah who is also a Suffering Servant or we can fall at His feet and worship Him as Lord. There is no other foundation but Christ. There is no other bedrock upon which to base our lives. There is no other immovable Rock upon whom to trust.

I'm including a link to a worship song below. It came out several years ago but for some reason I'm hearing it everywhere I turn for the past couple of weeks. I've been going through a season of waiting to see how some things are going to turn out, and I've had some personal illness for the past two weeks, and I've dealt with a great deal of stress in other ways. Life feels upside down, and when it feels like that the best thing we can do is turn to the Lord for help. When it feels like things are falling apart, Christ is the bedrock of our lives, our sure foundation, our unshakable support.
I Turn To You

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans, Day 34, Prepared In Advance For Glory

We are still studying the deep subject of God's foreknowledge and of His special calling on those whom He knows will have hearts for Him. Paul knows some of his readers will accuse God of making them the way they are (rebellious and sinful) but he puts forth a very logical argument against such thinking.

When we concluded yesterday we found Paul quoting God's words to the wicked pharaoh of the exodus. God said of him, "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Did God cause the king of Egypt to be a wicked man? No. Did God prevent him from coming to repentance? Of course not, for it isn't the will of God that any person should perish but that all would come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) But Pharaoh was God's chosen leader in a time when He intended to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. Pharaoh had a choice: he could continue to be wicked and resist the Lord, causing the Lord to perform many signs and wonders in the land; or he could acknowledge the Lord as God and not only let Israel go but turn the entire nation of Egypt to the Lord. Either way, the Lord was going to display His power while this particular king sat on the throne. Did God know Pharaoh was going to resist Him? He did know it, but this doesn't mean He wanted it to happen. God would far rather have had Pharaoh repent, and the whole nation repent, than to have to deal harshly with their rebellion. Egypt was an idolatrous land, perhaps the most idolatrous of any ancient kingdom, and they needed the Lord. He would have loved for them to turn to Him and become His people.

Since none of us deserves mercy, mercy is the gift of God. He chooses to dispense it according to His will and according to His foreknowledge of us. "Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden." (Romans 9:18) Paul uses the same Greek word, "miseo", that he used when speaking of Esau earlier in our chapter. It is the same word that is often translated as "rejected", as in, "The Lord rejected Esau." Paul is saying, "The Lord rejected Pharaoh. Just like God knew Esau's heart, God knew Pharaoh's heart. It wasn't God's desire that Pharaoh would reject Him, but since he did, God rejected Pharaoh in turn. God rejected this man as someone who could lead Egypt to the Lord. Because Pharaoh kept resisting the Lord, the Lord brought judgment on him and on the land. God was patient with Pharaoh for a while, but in the end He could not extend much mercy to Pharaoh because Pharaoh was not willing to accept mercy from the Lord's hand."

Paul knows some are going to argue with him. They are going to blame the Lord for the softness or the hardness of the heart. "One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist His will?' But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?" (Romans 9:19-21) Paul knows some will say, "God made me this way. It's not my fault I'm stubborn and rebellious. He shouldn't find fault with me; I can't help it."

But do any of us really believe Pharaoh, for example, was forced by God to be a stubborn and rebellious man? It would have brought God far more glory if Pharaoh had fallen to his knees and given his heart to Him. It would have brought the Lord great joy if the nation of Egypt had thrown their idols in the landfill and had decided to follow only Him. It's not God's fault Pharaoh was wicked. It's not God's fault that any world leader has ever been wicked. It's not His fault when you or I behave wickedly either. God has been patient and merciful to us, and we have rewarded His love and goodness with rebellion and hard-heartedness. As the prophet Jeremiah observed, "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail." (Lamentations 3:22) God has the right to give up on us for our repeated waywardness, yet He keeps calling to us with love and He keeps offering us mercy and forgiveness.

"What if God, although choosing to show His wrath and make His power known, bore with great patience the objects of His wrath---prepared for destruction? What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory---even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:22-24) The wording of this passage is complicated, but I will try to paraphrase it as best as I can understand it. God knew before any of us were ever born which of us would accept Him and which of us would reject Him. Yet He didn't wipe from the earth those He knew would reject Him. He bore them "with great patience". Though He knew some would remain rebellious against Him, He treated them with mercy anyway. He kept making His invitation to them even though He knew they would never accept it.

I'm going to use an example from gardening here to see if it will help us. In a garden we have plants that are going to be useful to us, but things also grow in the garden that are not useful. We often deal with this problem by chopping or uprooting the weeds. But have you ever grabbed hold of a weed and pulled a useful plant out of the ground along with it? Have you ever been chopping away at weeds with a hoe and accidentally cut your tomato plant down too? Have you ever tried spraying weed killer on the weeds only to have some of the spray go onto the good plants too? Wiping the wicked from the earth in a fearsome judgment could have caused the remaining population to be so offended at God that they would have turned from Him. They might have been so horrified by His wrath, and so terrified by His power, that they wouldn't dare seek a personal relationship with a God who wields such might. As the Lord Jesus said in the parable of the wheat and the tares, it's best not to uproot the wicked like weeds, "'No,' He answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into My barn." (Matthew 13:29-30)

Paul says in verse 22 that destruction is prepared for the wicked. In verse 23 he assures us that glory is prepared for those who love the Lord. Our destination is up to us. God created us for a relationship with Him. Why then would He create any of us with an inability to love Him? He didn't! If we don't enter into the glory prepared for the children of God it will be our own fault.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 33, God Is Not Unjust

Thank you for your patience over the past several days while I was unable to work on the blog. The case of poison ivy I contracted was bad enough to cause a systemic reaction because my immune system thought it was fighting off something serious and it overreacted to the rash. It turned out I also had a UTI which must have been going on for a while without my knowing it, so I spent Monday morning at the emergency room after spending Sunday night at the emergency room with my little dog. We have had a rough several days and I hope we are both on the mend now.

When we concluded our last passage, Paul was explaining to his readers that even before Isaac or Ishmael were born, God had already chosen to make His great nation Israel of the line of Isaac. And also, before either Jacob and Esau were born, God had already chosen Jacob and rejected Esau as the forefather of that nation. God is able to do these things because He sees the future as if it has already happened. He doesn't cause us to accept or reject Him; He simply knows who will accept or reject Him.

Paul knows some of his readers might accuse God of being unfair for judging people on the basis of choices they haven't even made yet, so he asks, "What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.'" (Romans 9:14-15) We don't deserve mercy or compassion. We can never say that God owes us these things, for we are sinners and lawbreakers. God therefore has the right to dispense mercy and compassion however He chooses, though there is nothing arbitrary about it. As we have seen from the example of Jacob and Esau, Jacob was a man God knew was going to seek Him, while Esau was a man God knew was going to be "godless". (Hebrews 12:16) The KJV renders the word "godless" as "profane", meaning a person who treats the Lord with irreverence and disrespect.

"It does not, however, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'" (Romans 9:16-17) Abraham would naturally have chosen his eldest son Ishmael to be his heir, but God had chosen Isaac before he was even born. Isaac wanted his eldest son Esau to be his heir, but God had chosen Jacob before he was even born. It is God who promotes and God who demotes according to His purposes and according to His foreknowledge. God quite often promotes the godly, as proven by the rise to power of men like Joseph, Daniel, and David. At other times He promotes a wicked ruler in order to fulfill a purpose. He allowed the wicked pharaoh of the Exodus to rise to power, not because he deserved the throne, but because God was going to be able to display His awesome power through pharaoh's resistance of Him.

If we knew what God knows, and if we could see the big picture like He can, it would make sense to us why He does the things He does. We sometimes see very wicked people placed in charge. We sometimes see godly people overlooked. We try to make sense of it and can't. Even the Apostle Paul, brilliant though he was, could not explain or understand such things, which is why he will later say, "Oh, the depths of the riches of the knowledge and wisdom of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!" (Romans 11:33) Not everything God does is going to make sense to us, which is why the Bible reminds us "we walk by faith, not by sight". (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Monday, June 18, 2018


I apologize for not posting sooner to let everyone know why there has not been a blog post. I'm quite ill and so is my little dog and we have both been in the ER within the last 24 hours. I desire your prayers very much for healing and I hope to be back with you soon.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 32, The Mystery Of God's Foreknowledge And Of Predestination

This morning we are going to take a look at what will be at least a two-part section on what is the mystery of what Paul means by the word "predestination" or "election". We previously spoke about Paul's use of the word "predestination" and about how God foreknew which people would accept His offer of salvation and which people would not. He called those who would accept His offer to be conformed to the image of His Son. I don't believe there's a human being on earth who can fully understand or explain the mystery of such a deep subject, but we are going to do our best to break it down into terms we will be able to deal with. I think it's going to help us a lot when Paul uses the example today of Jacob and Esau. This will help us to understand how and why, before these children were ever born, God was able to choose Jacob as the father of His chosen people and to reject Esau.

We concluded yesterday with Paul reminding us that Abraham's son Isaac was the son of God's promise, whereas Abraham's son Ishmael was the son Abraham fathered by carnal means outside of the will of God. So we pick up right there, "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.'" (Romans 9:10-13)

It used to trouble me a lot that God could say such things of Jacob and Esau before either of them had ever drawn their first breath, but when I did a study on the book of Genesis a few years ago the reason behind it became quite clear. God could say such things because He knew everything both of these men would ever do. God knows the future. He knows everything you and I will ever think or say or do, so there was nothing unrighteous or unfair about His feelings toward Jacob and Esau. God was able to look ahead and see that Jacob, misguided though he was in his youth, was going to have a heart that yearned to know the Him. He could also look ahead and see that Esau was always going to be carnally minded with no desire for a spiritual connection to his Maker. So it's completely righteous and fair that God viewed these things and said of these men, "I love Jacob already because He is going to love Me. But the soul of Esau is always going to reject Me; therefore I reject Him as the head of My chosen nation." The Greek word Paul uses for "hate" is "miseo" which means "to reject, to love less". God loves every human being and wants every human being to be saved. (1 Timothy 2:4) He isn't saying He decided long before Esau was ever born that He wasn't going to try to lead him to repentance. He's saying that long before Esau was ever born He saw the man Esau would be, and He knew Esau would never love Him, and He knew that even though Esau was going to be Isaac's firstborn he would never be able to lead the family or the nation that would come from the line of Isaac.

When Esau despised his birthright and considered it of little value, he was in fact despising God and considering Him of little value. The birthright was far more than an inheritance. It entailed maintaining a close relationship with the Lord in order to lead the family according to God's will. It entailed acting as high priest for the family in the days before there was a priesthood. Job, who lived in a time long before the law was given or the priesthood was established, acted as high priest for his family and made intercessory prayer and sacrifices on behalf of his family. This is what Esau would have been required to do if he had inherited the birthright. But he cared nothing about such things. Jacob, though he sought such a blessing in the wrong ways, had a spiritual nature. He wanted to know God. He wanted to lead the family. He valued what Esau despised. And this is why God was able to say, before either of these men were born, "I love Jacob! He's going to start out like a diamond in the rough, but I'm going to shape him into who he is destined to be. Because He wants to know me, I will reveal Myself to him. But Esau is never going to care about Me. Nothing I will ever say or do will change his mind. I love him but he's not going to let me help Him. I wish both these men would follow Me, but only one of them is willing and he is the one I have chosen."

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 31, God's Plan Not Defeated

Paul has been talking about the special relationship between God and Israel. God called Abraham from a pagan land because Abraham believed there was only one God. God made of Abraham's seed a great nation. God gave that nation His laws and commandments, His temple, and His promises. One of the greatest promises He gave Israel was that the Messiah was coming from among their own people. But, by and large, the nation rejected Christ. So Paul's readers naturally wonder if this changes the status of Israel. Has God's plan for Israel failed?

God's plan has not failed. All of Israel has never belonged to Him, because those who belong to God must belong to Him by faith. To the faithful, God's promises stand. Paul explained to us yesterday that not everyone who calls himself an Israelite is what God considers a true Israelite at heart. A true Israelite has faith like that of Abraham. Not everyone descended from Abraham can claim the promises God made to Abraham; only those who have faith like Abraham can claim the promises. "Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: 'At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.'" (Romans 9:7-9) The promise was not made about Abraham's son Ishmael, but about Abraham's son Isaac. Ishmael was the result of Abraham trying to take circumstances into his own hands. He tried to do the work for God instead of waiting for God to do the work. By contrast, Isaac was the son of faith. Isaac was the result of God keeping His promise.

We can see by this that the promises of God are obtained by faith and not by our own works, and the promises of God are obtained by faith and not by our genealogical lineage. I come from a Christian family, but that doesn't make me a Christian simply because I belong to my family. I'm a Christian because I have faith in Christ. Likewise, Paul's people of Israel could not assume they were right with God simply because they were descended from Abraham. Being right with God comes not through lineage but through faith.

Earlier in our study of the book of Romans we borrowed a portion of Paul's letter to the Galatians to prove the point that only those who have faith are the children of Abraham. This means even the Gentiles, who are not physically descended from Abraham, can be considered his descendants. "Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." (Galatians 3:7-9) In the eyes of God, those who are physically descended from Abraham but don't have faith are not considered Abraham's true offspring. The promises made to Abraham and his descendants don't apply to them if they don't have faith. Only those who believe God receive righteousness credited to their accounts, just as Abraham had righteousness credited to his account because he believed God.

My mother was a fine Christian woman. I was taken to church practically from birth and was taught the gospel at such a young age I can't remember a time when I didn't know it. But if I had not accepted the gospel on faith, it could not truly be said that I am my mother's spiritual offspring. In the same way, those who are physically descended from Abraham but do not have faith cannot be truly said to be his spiritual offspring. We don't get "grandfathered in" to salvation. We aren't guaranteed a place in heaven because Grandma and Grandpa faithfully served the Lord. We each have to make our own personal decision for Christ. He has to be Lord of our own lives. In Paul's day he knew that many of his countrymen were resting on the promises made to their forefathers without having a personal relationship with the Lord themselves. But this is not Scriptural. The great men and women of the Bible each had a personal relationship with the Lord. They didn't consider their seats in heaven reserved because they were descended from Abraham. They received their right standing with God through faith. You and I must be like them. We must each decide whether or not Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives. We must believe He is who He says He is. We must trust that He will do what He says He will do. We must count on Him to provide the righteousness we lack. Then we are the children of Abraham. Then the great promises of the Bible, which were made to the faithful, are ours.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 30, Paul's Love For Israel

In Wednesday's passage we found Paul assuring the Gentile believers in Rome that they are not any less in God's eyes than God's chosen people Israel. The Romans would naturally wonder now: what of Israel? What of the nation whose religious leaders rejected Jesus the Messiah? Has God forsaken them? Has He replaced them with the Gentiles as His chosen people? Paul is going to address these questions in today's passage and in tomorrow's passage. God has not forsaken His people Israel. While it's true that the Gentiles were more eager and willing to accept Jesus as the Messiah than Jesus' own people, God will never break a single promise He has ever made to Israel.

God still loves Israel and Paul, though he is called to be an apostle to the Gentiles, loves Israel too. "I speak the truth in Christ---I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit---I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel." (Romans 8:1-4a) Paul says, "Christ is my witness that this is the truth, and the Holy Spirit confirms it is the truth because if I were lying the Holy Spirit would reveal it to my conscience. I love my people so much that I would almost be willing to forfeit my own salvation in Christ if that were able to bring all my fellow Israelites to Christ."

What a strong statement! What love! It's hard to imagine being willing to give up the eternal salvation of one's soul for the sake of another. Thankfully, none of us ever has to do this. Giving Christ up won't help anyone else to get to Him. Giving Christ up would only destroy our testimony, our lives, and our souls. Paul couldn't sacrifice himself for Israel anymore than you or I can sacrifice ourselves to save our loved ones. Christ is the only One who could sacrifice Himself to save souls.

Paul goes on to say of Israel, "Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." (Romans 9:4b-5) He tells the Romans, "The people of Israel are God's children. His glory came down to them in the sanctuary. He gave them His covenants, His laws, and His promises. God has richly blessed Israel because He richly loves Israel."

So what about the promises? Are they made void because the majority of Jesus' countrymen did not accept Him? "It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." (Romans 9:6) Ever since Israel first became a nation, there have been citizens who were faithful to the Lord and citizens who were unfaithful to Him. We find many examples of this throughout the Old Testament. A person can be born an Israelite but not have a heart for the Lord, and this is why Paul says not everyone who is descended from Israel (Jacob) is a true Israelite. A true Israelite is a person who has a heart for the Lord. Previously in our study of the book of Romans we pointed out that the same thing happens in modern churches. There are people who join a church and attend services regularly, but in reality their hearts are far from God. They want the benefits that come with being part of the church body without truly giving themselves to the Lord. Some of Paul's countrymen wanted the benefits of being a citizen of Israel without truly giving themselves to the Lord.

God's word has not failed. A great deal of His chosen people Israel have accepted Christ. Some did so while Christ walked the earth, some did so following His resurrection, some did so through the preaching of the apostles, some are still doing so today, and many more will do so in the future. Many of the promises God made to Israel are of a political nature and He will keep those regardless of the faithfulness or faithlessness of the people. Other promises are spiritual and conditional upon the people's faithfulness to Him. Faith is what makes us chosen people of God. It's not our nationality, it's not our family history, and it's not our attendance to synagogue or church services. Faith is what makes us His, for faith is the only way to be pleasing in the sight of God, as Paul so beautifully explains it in Hebrews 11:6, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 29, More Than Conquerors

Yesterday we studied the fact that the Lord works all things together for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. If you are in Christ, you have a calling on your life. You are called to become more and more like Him. As we begin today the Apostle Paul has something more to say about this calling, "For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified." (Romans 8:29-30)

There is a lot of controversy about the topic of predestination, as if before He made the world God chose who He would save and who He would reject. This is not what the Apostle Paul is saying. The Lord makes His offer of salvation to every human being, but at the same time He knows who will accept His offer. We have the free will to choose; He doesn't force His will onto us. If we reject His offer we can't blame Him and claim He rejected us before He created us. Because we have the free will to choose, and because God knows all things, He knows who will accept His offer of salvation. So He has a great destiny in store for all who will accept, and that destiny is to become more and more like His Son. This is why Christ is the "firstborn among many brothers and sisters". Brothers and sisters tend to resemble each other, and if we are the brothers and sisters of Christ then we should resemble Christ.

I think we could paraphrase what Paul is saying like this, "God knew who would accept His Son, so He predestined those who would accept His Son to look like His Son. Because they accepted His calling, they are justified in Christ. Because they accepted His calling, they will be glorified in Christ." It could be that the Romans, being Gentiles, feared God didn't consider them a chosen people. They weren't of the lineage of Abraham and they didn't have the law and the prophets. But Paul assures them that if they belong to Christ they are as much of the lineage of Christ as any man or woman of Israel. They are very much a chosen people, for before God created the world He had already decided to call the Gentiles into His family. Paul doesn't want the Gentile believers to think they are worth less in the eyes of God than anyone else.

Now, since we are the children of God and the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, who can say anything against us? Who can take our salvation away from us? "What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31) Amen! Who can accuse us of anything to the One who has justified us? Who can tear us out of the Father's hand? Who can revoke the salvation we have in Christ? No one!

"He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all---how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died---more than that, who was raised to life---is at the right hand of God interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" (Romans 8:31-35) No one on earth or in hell can bring charges against those whom God has justified. If we are in Christ, no one has the power to separate us from Him. In Paul's day persecution against Christians had already broken out, and under Emperor Nero persecution was soon going to come against Christians in Rome as viciously as it came against the Jews in Nazi Germany. But nothing man can do and nothing Satan can do will ever separate Christ from those who belong to Him.

"As it is written: 'For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'" (Romans 8:36) The apostle quotes from Psalm 44 in which the sons of Korah cry out to God for help, reminding Him they have not turned away from Him and asking if He has turned away from them. The sons of Korah feared that persecution meant God had forsaken them. In the days of the sons of Korah, hardship was not a sign God had rejected His faithful ones, and persecution in Paul's day was not a sign God had rejected the believers, and persecution in our own day does not mean God has rejected us. Everyone who wants to lead godly lives in Christ Jesus will face some sort of persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12) This is because the world hates Christ and, by association, Christians. Persecution may not take the form of beatings, imprisonment, or death. But it may take the form of social or work-related rejection, ridicule, or exclusion.

Are we going to be defeated by anything that comes against us in this world?  "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Romans 8:37) Paul says that in Christ we are "hupernikao", which means "super conquerors". Paul's use of this word means we are not just victorious in one battle, or victorious in a few battles, but victorious in all battles. To say a person is a hupernikao is saying he or she has achieved a decisive, overwhelming, and permanent victory.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39) Amen! Christ is with us every second of every day. He will never leave us or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5) In times of distress we may be so anxious we don't feel His presence, but we were never meant to live by our feelings but by what the word of God says. Christ loves us. Christ is for us. Christ is with us.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 28, God Works All Things For Good

Good morning and thank you for your patience yesterday when I had to miss our blog time to go to the doctor to get treatment for a large outbreak of poison ivy. I've blistered and broken out even more overnight in spite of the shot and the other medicines I was given yesterday, so I desire your prayers for healing. There is no question of me taking any sick days this week because we are too short-handed, but I trust that with God's help and your prayers I will make it through. Today we learn that God is working all things out for our good, so that means He can even use my current discomfort to accomplish something worthwhile.

We concluded Sunday's study with the Apostle Paul speaking about how humans and the entire creation are waiting for redemption. He says as we pick back up in Romans 8, "For in this hope we are saved." (Romans 8:24a) In consulting several commentaries it would appear that a more accurate rendering of the original text would be, "For we are saved by hope." What hope does the Apostle Paul mean? Our hope in Christ, for He is the only hope we have. We believe in Him and so we wait for the day when all the things He has promised us will be fulfilled. We believe He has redeemed our souls; we believe He will redeem our bodies as well.

"But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." (Romans 8:24b-25) What gives us this hope? Our faith, as the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) He's talking about a hope we can count on. He's not talking about the kind of hope we have when we say, "I hope it doesn't rain today.' or, 'I hope I got a good score on my test,' or, 'I hope I get that promotion at work.' He's talking about a hope that is already in our bank account, so to speak. We already have the assurance that the things Christ has promised us will be fulfilled, so our hope does not consist of wondering whether or not these things are going to happen. Our hope is an expectant, waiting type of hope such as, "It may be today, or it may be tomorrow, or it may be a thousand years from now. But Christ is going to do everything He says He's going to do. He is going to give me an eternal, incorruptible body like His. He is going to redeem the creation and make the world like Eden again. I accept on faith that these things are coming and I am able to rest securely in the knowledge that sooner or later these promises will come true."

Until the redemption of our bodies comes, God the Son helps us with the weaknesses we have in these mortal bodies. He helps us by giving us hope and by making intercession for us with God the Father. He also helps us by sending God the Holy Spirit to indwell us and guide us in our daily lives. "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God." (Romans 8:26-27) Christ performs intercession for us for our sins, the Spirit performs intercession for us for the guidance of our lives. We don't always know what is best for us. We pray for things that are not sinful in themselves but that don't always line up with God's plans for our lives, so the Spirit prays for us in accordance with the will of God. If we are in Christ, then the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and the Holy Spirit prays for us. There have been many times I was so upset or confused that I had no idea what to pray for. I wasn't in any condition to pray. I can remember several times in my life when I've thanked the Holy Spirit for praying for me. I couldn't pray for myself. Even if I'd been able to put sensible thoughts together I wouldn't have known what to ask for. But the Holy Spirit knew and I was able to take comfort in the fact that He was praying for me.

Right now I'm praying earnestly about something that could be a big and exciting change for my husband and me. I don't yet know the Lord's will in this matter. I know what I want, but I don't know what God wants. The only thing I know for sure is that God knows best, so although He may not answer my prayers in the way I want, He's still my God. If He says "no" I'm probably going to feel sad and disappointed, maybe even angry (because let's be honest: sometimes we get angry at God), but He's still going to be my God. When He says "no" it's because He sees the future and He knows whether or not the thing we are praying for is going to be good for us, as the Apostle Paul points out, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

Not everything that happens to us is what we would call "good". Disappointment isn't good. Being wronged by our fellow man isn't good. Suffering isn't good. Death isn't good. But God is able to use these things in our lives to bring about something that is good. If it weren't for some of the bad things that have happened to me, I wouldn't be studying the Bible with you this morning. If I hadn't been through things that led me to Christ, I would have no desire to study the Bible. If I hadn't experienced some of the things that have happened since I've come to Christ, I wouldn't love His holy word the way I do. If He hadn't helped me in my struggles, I wouldn't be here reminding you He will help you in your struggles. Some troubles came about because Satan wanted to harm me. Some troubles came about because other people wanted to harm me. Some troubles came about because I brought them on myself. But the Lord is able to use anything that is given over to Him---even our troubles and pain and disappointment---to do something good in our lives.

Joseph, the son of Jacob, would have been in full agreement with the Apostle Paul's words. Joseph was despised and betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. He was falsely accused and imprisoned for many years for an act he didn't commit. But the Lord used the bad things in his life for good. If Joseph had never gone through his struggles, he would not have developed the necessary character or the relationship with the Lord that later made him fit for a position of high leadership in Egypt. This is why Joseph said these words to his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." (Genesis 50:20) This is what we who love the Lord can say to any enemy or to any hardship that comes our way, "Your intention is to harm me. Well, the joke is on you, because God intends to use this for my good!"

Monday, June 11, 2018


I apologize for not getting today's blog post done on time. This weekend I've broken out with poison ivy on both legs and both arms with intense itching and swelling. It seems to be getting worse by the minute, so I've got to go to the walk-in clinic early this morning as soon as they open so that maybe they will give me a shot and I can manage to make it to work on time.

Thank you for your understanding. Prayers for fast healing would also be appreciated; this is even worse than the two times I had Shingles, and I thought that was pretty bad.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 27, The Creation Redeemed

Christ came into the world so that man could be redeemed, and He also intends to redeem the entire creation so that the earth is returned to an Eden-like state. Paul speaks today of the glory that is ahead for us and for the creation.

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) There was no suffering in this world before Adam fell from grace. It was sin that brought suffering into the world. Sin is the most deadly kind of pollution there is, and it has permeated everything. Becoming a Christian doesn't eliminate suffering in our lives; after all, Christ Himself suffered on this earth. Paul the apostle endured a great deal of suffering and eventually was martyred for his faith, so he knows what he's talking about when he speaks of suffering. But he also knows what he's talking about when he speaks of our future glory. The glory that is to come is going to be so overwhelming and so wonderful that it will have the power to make our sufferings seem like no more than a bad dream we once had.

The first time I recall ever reading verse 18 was in a hospital while I sat with a broken heart by my mother's bedside as she was losing her fight with cancer in 1996. I can't tell you how much this verse comforted me. She was in a great deal of pain and distress, yet Paul says no matter how bad the suffering is it isn't worthy of comparison to the glory that will someday be ours. My mother has been with the Lord for twenty-two years now and nothing in heaven or earth could entice her to return to an earthly body if it were possible for her to do so. Her suffering is over. She sees her Savior face to face. She will be in His presence forever, never again to have pain or sorrow. If we could ask her about the suffering she endured on earth, I believe she would say, "Oh, that? I'd almost forgotten about that. I don't spend any time thinking back on my struggles during my life on earth. I spend all my time rejoicing in my Savior and being thankful that I will live forever and ever and ever with Him."

We look forward to the day when we won't be subject to suffering and death any longer. The creation itself looks forward to that day. "For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." (Romans 8:19-21) The world and everything in it fell into the bondage of decay when man fell from grace. Man brought sin into the world and brought the whole world down with him. But when the fullness of our redemption has come, and when the Lord Himself reigns as king over all the world, the curse of sin will be no more.

The prophet Isaiah foresaw the redemption of creation and said, "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, and calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra's den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:6-9)

In Genesis we learn that in the beginning humans and animals were vegetarians. Humans didn't prey on animals for food and animals didn't prey on each other for food. The Lord is going to restore man and the animals to a state of harmony with each other. Animals will be so tame that a rattlesnake could be petted in the same way we pet our dogs and cats today. The pastures will contain the amazing and delightful sight of cows and horses grazing along with lions and bears. If you are an animal lover, like I am, this knowledge will warm your heart. The Lord never wanted us to have to slaughter animals for food and He never wanted animals to have to kill each other for food, but the pollution of sin apparently changed the actual atmosphere in such a way that ever since the flood the earth evidently does not produce enough of the nutrients humans and animals need through plant life alone. Doctors and scientists say that meat is actually bad for us, yet most human beings and most of the animals of higher intelligence crave it. As much as I love animals, and as much as my little dog loves other animals, both of us would rather eat a steak than a baked potato. This is what sin and its pollution has done to us. Our natural bodies crave the taste of flesh. The plant materials of this sin-polluted world don't contain as much protein, iron, and other nutrients as evidently they once did, so our answer to this problem has been to eat the flesh of animals.

We know in our hearts that this world is not what it originally was. We know it was meant to be something more, something better. The animal kingdom knows it too. So both humans and animals eagerly await the day when our Creator redeems the entire creation. "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:22-24)

If we are in Christ our souls have already been redeemed. Christ is going to redeem our bodies too. Just as He rose from the dead with an immortal and incorruptible body, we too will rise with immortal and incorruptible bodies. The Apostle John believed this with all his heart, and although he couldn't quite wrap his mind around what our glorious immortal bodies will be like, he looked forward to the day when we will have bodies like Christ's. "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him like He is." (1 John 3:2) The Apostle John saw the resurrected Christ in person. He talked with Him and ate with Him. But he didn't see the resurrected Christ in all His glory. John got a glimpse of the glorified Christ on the Isle of Patmos when he was given the prophecies of Revelation, but in his humanity he could not fully see the Lord as He is. I believe the Lord had to hold some of His glory back or else it would have killed John, for what John did see caused him to fall in a dead faint at the feet of Christ. (Revelation 1:17) But when Christ raises our bodies from the dead, we will be like Him, and therefore we will be able to see Him in all the fullness of His glory.

A day is coming when our perishable bodies will be made imperishable. The bodies we have used for dishonorable things will become completely honorable and incapable of sin. The bodies that become sick, that died, and that were buried in weakness will be raised in power. (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)

Christ has redeemed our souls. He will redeem our bodies too. He will redeem the creation. At that time the visions given to men like Isaiah and John will come true, and the earth will be Eden again---only better, because then the Lord will dwell on earth with those who have trusted in Him. "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 22:1-5)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 26, Co-Heirs With Christ

We who are in Christ have new life in Christ. The body is still subject to death because the human race fell from grace, so we are "destined to die once". (Hebrews 9:27) But we are not destined to die twice! If we are in Christ, physical death is the only death we will ever have to face. We will not have to face the second death, which is still an eternal existence of the soul but is also an eternal separation from God. That is a fate far worse than death! Eternal separation from the presence of God is the eternal separation from light and love and hope. This is the most terrible fate than can ever befall a human being.

Paul speaks on the theme of death for the body but life for the soul by saying, "But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you." (Romans 8:10-11)

The fate of our eternal souls is up to us. We can choose Christ and experience only the physical death of the body, or we can reject Christ and experience the physical death of the body and a fate worse than death for our souls. "Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation---but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." (Romans 8:12-13) We accomplished nothing worthwhile when we lived in rebellion toward God. The things we did while we served ourselves are things that brought us shame and not honor. So why live according to the flesh any longer? What use is such a lifestyle? But living for Christ has benefits both in this life and in the life to come. We owe our lives to Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us; we owe nothing to the flesh or to the world or to sin. Sin never did anything good for us; why should we serve it any longer?

Now that we are in Christ and Christ is in us, we are the sons and daughters of the holy God. He couldn't call us His children while we were slaves to sin. We belonged to our father the devil then. (John 8:44) But now that we have redemption through Christ, the One whom Christ called "Father" is our Father too. "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." (Romans 8:14-16) A slave cannot call his master "father". He certainly cannot call his master "abba", which is a term that means something like "daddy" in English. But in Christ we are now the children of the living God, and the fear we feel is reverence, not the fear a slave might feel toward his master. Was I ever afraid my daddy would beat me or kill me if I made a mistake or if I came to him for help? Of course not; I had a daddy who loved me. As the children of God we don't need to be afraid to come to Him for help. Like any loving father, God wants us to come to Him for help. My daddy used to tell me that nothing was so bad I needed to lie about it. If I made a mistake he just wanted me to be up front about it, to get it out into the open, and to get past it. God is the same way. He wants us to come to Him and say, "Daddy, I made a mistake. I did something I shouldn't have. I want to tell You about it so I can get this heavy burden off my chest. I want to tell You about it because You can give me absolution for my sincere repentance. You can help me not to keep doing this wrong thing."

Paul is writing to Roman citizens, and in the Roman culture an adoption was irrevocable. When a Roman man adopted a son, that son no longer had any ties or any obligation to his old family. That son became a full heir of the Roman man's estate, just as if he were a biological child. That son had the same rights as any biological children the Roman man may have already had or may have had in the future. Any debts the son may have racked up before his adoption were cancelled. So now that we are in Christ we belong to the Father just as much as Christ (His biological Son) belongs to Him. We no longer have any ties to our old lives. The debt we owed God for our sins is cancelled. In every way we are new people with new lives, just as an adopted son in Roman society was considered to be a new man with a new life.

A Roman adoption was a legal proceeding that had to be witnessed. If at any time someone wanted to challenge whether the adoption had actually taken place or whether it was carried out according to the law, the witnesses would be called to give their testimony that they had in fact seen the adoption carried out properly. This is what the Holy Spirit does. He indwells us as a continual witness that we are the adopted sons and daughters of God. Because the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, and therefore known as God the Holy Spirit, there is no higher authority who can attest to our adoption. If God says we are adopted, there can be no argument about it. His testimony puts an end to any disputes regarding to whom we belong.

"Now if we are children, then we are heirs---heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory." (Romans 8:17) The fact that we are co-heirs with the perfect and holy Son of God is to me one of the most astounding statements of the Bible. We are so sinful and broken. We are so unworthy of being called the children of Christ. But God loved us in spite of our fallen condition and made a way for us to not only be redeemed from a life of futility and sin, but also to become His legal children and to share in the same inheritance He is going to give to His biological Son.

If we are the brothers and sisters of Christ, we must be willing to endure anything that our brother Christ endured. We must take part in whatever befalls the family of God. We can't expect the world to love us any more than it loved Christ. We can't expect to experience only the good times and never experience some hard times. Jesus Christ is the biological son of the living God, and He is holy and perfect, and He is the only human being who can truly be called "good", but He faced hardship and persecution in His life on earth. If the One who did no wrong didn't have it easy here, we can't expect everything to go our way. If we are part of His family, we must love Him enough to stand up for Him, just as He loved us enough to stand up for us.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 25, Governed By The Spirit

Now that we are in Christ Jesus we are to be governed not by our weak human natures but by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We discuss today what it means to have the seal of the Holy Spirit on our lives.

Paul concluded yesterday's passage by saying that when Christ gave His life for us He condemned sin by His own flesh, "in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit". (Romans 8:4) We have already concluded that we have never been able to fulfill the law, so how is it that the righteous requirement of the law is now fully met by us who are in Christ? The requirement is met because we are in Christ and Christ fulfilled the law. We trust in what He did for us, not in what we can do for ourselves. If we got up every morning of our lives determined to keep both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, we couldn't do it. We could keep some of it. We might even be able to keep all of the most important laws. But we couldn't keep all of them, so our only hope of righteousness is through Christ who perfectly kept the law and who offered Himself in our place.

Since we now belong to our Redeemer, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. "Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:5-8) Before we knew our Redeemer we lived at a distance from God. We lived for ourselves. This is what Paul means by living according to the flesh. When we don't allow God to be Lord of our lives we actually make gods of ourselves. We can never please God while we live that way. But the one who has been redeemed by Christ has his or her mind on things bigger than anything in this world. The one who loves the Lord Jesus is aware of Him at all times and is taught about Him by the Holy Spirit. This is a life that is pleasing to the Lord: a life that honors His Son.

Paul says to his audience of believers, "You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ." (Romans 8:9) Christ sets His seal of ownership on us when we come to Him, and that seal is the Holy Spirit. How do we know whether we have the Holy Spirit? We can get a clear idea by how we answer the following questions. When we heard the gospel, did the Holy Spirit lead us to believe and accept it? Does the Holy Spirit teach us, guide us, and comfort us? Does the Holy Spirit cause us to love Christ and want to honor Him? Has the Holy Spirit changed our character and helped us to live in ways that make us look more like the Son of God than like sinful and broken mankind? If we cannot affirmatively answer "yes" to these questions, we need to reevaluate whether we belong to Christ at all, for the Bible says this of those who truly belong to Christ, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession---to the praise of His glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The KJV says the Lord has given us the "earnest" of the Spirit, and I didn't clearly understand what that meant until some years back when my husband sold real estate for a while. When a person makes an offer on a house and the offer is accepted, he puts down earnest money. It's a deposit that clearly demonstrates his intention to keep his word and fulfill the contract by fully paying for the house he has committed to purchase. This is what the Lord has done. He has made a contract with those who have accepted His offer of salvation. He intends to fulfill that contract, so as proof of His ability to make good on His promises He has put down the "earnest money" of the Holy Spirit. Just as a man or woman puts down earnest money to guarantee he or she is going to go through with the purchase of a house, Christ has given us the seal of the Holy Spirit to guarantee He is going to go through with everything He has promised us.

If you have any doubts as to whether you are in Christ, you can make your salvation certain by letting Him be Lord of your life. You can pray a sincere prayer of repentance and ask Him to come into your life as your Savior. You don't have to use fancy words and you don't have to try and clean up your life before coming to Him. We've already established that none of us can clean up our life enough to be acceptable in the sight of God, and we don't have to---Christ does the cleaning for us. When you come to Christ you come just as you are right now with everything out in the open. You admit to Him that you've lived in opposition to His righteous laws. You admit to Him that you need Him to do what you aren't able to do. Then, when Christ has become your Savior, your life will begin to display the proof that Christ has marked you with His seal of ownership: the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 24, No Condemnation In Christ

We've been studying about the human tendency to want to do the things we've been told not to do. Some do it out of a spirit of rebellion toward the Lord, but even those who genuinely love the Lord struggle at times with temptation. Paul admitted he had noticed the same problem in himself, so he concludes chapter 7 by saying, "So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to sin." (Romans 7:25b) Before he came to know Christ as his Savior, the Apostle Paul loved God. He wanted to honor God by keeping the law, but the more he thought about the law the more he realized he was breaking it. That's when he came to the conclusion that he was a wretched sinner, but that's what the law was intended to do: to make all of us conclude that we are wretched sinners who need the Savior.

Even after Paul met the Savior he wasn't a perfect man, though he must have been a far better man than he was before. He knows he still fails at times to live up to the Lord's standards, so he is thankful for this, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2) We are condemned under the law because we are lawbreakers. But through Jesus Christ we are justified by grace through faith. Paul has already established the fact for us that when we accept Christ we are dead to our old lives, dead to serving our carnal flesh, and dead to the slavery of sin. But just as Christ rose from the dead, in Him we have risen to new life. We are alive in the Spirit where once we were dead in sins.

"For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering." (Romans 8:3a) The law was good and holy and perfect, but because we are weak we could not keep it. Therefore the law lacked the power to save us. But God sent the Son in our likeness and the Son kept the law perfectly in every way. This made the Son capable of making an offering of atonement for us that is acceptable forever in the eyes of God. If Christ had not come in our image, He would not have been an appropriate stand-in for us once and for all. The sacrificial lambs were not made in our image and were not capable of understanding or keeping the law, so they had to be slaughtered year after year after year because they were not like us and were not able to provide an atonement that would last forever. (Hebrews 10:1-4) But Christ, because He was made in our image, was able to make for us a sacrifice that makes us holy once and for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

God made Adam in His image, but Adam fell from grace and through him the entire human race fell. So God made Christ in man's image and through Him we are raised back up by the grace that comes by faith in Christ. When Christ gave His life for us, Paul tells us He "...condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:3b-4)

God would have been within His rights to condemn us, but instead He condemned sin through Christ. Because we had not met His holy requirements, He could have put us to death both physically and spiritually, but instead He sent Christ to give His life in our place. I can't comprehend the vast love that caused God to say, "These people are consumed by sins. No matter what I do and no matter what I say, they persist in doing wrong. They are unholy and deserving of death, but I'm going to send My holy Son to die in their place." No normal, loving parent would give their child's life for someone else's life, much less give a holy child's life for someone's unholy life. But that's what God did. That's how much He loves us. That's how much He was unwilling to let us perish.

How then could He ever condemn those of us who are in Christ? To condemn us would be to reject what His own Son did, and He cannot do that. The price Christ paid for us was too high and too holy for God to ever disregard it. We are not at liberty to live however we please, but when we do make mistakes we have the liberty as children of God to approach Him with a sincere heart of repentance and to obtain forgiveness for the sake of Christ. "Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:16) True repentance doesn't mean I can commit a sin today, tell God I'm sorry, then go right back to the same old sin. Biblical repentance is the Greek word metanoia, which means "to change one's mind, to turn back". For example, when we are driving in an unfamiliar area and realize we are going in the wrong direction, do we keep going in the wrong direction? No, because that would be pointless. We turn around. This is what repentance is: realizing we are going in the wrong direction and turning around. And when we do this, we find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 23, Paul's Struggle: Part Two

The apostle assures his readers that he is not saying anything is wrong with the law. "So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good." (Romans 7:12) He said in yesterday's passage that since human nature is perverse, knowing the law made him more aware of his sinfulness, yet at the same time it made him want to sin all the more. The fault was not in the law, but in him.

"Did that which was good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful." (Romans 7:12-13) It's easy to see why the Apostle Peter once said of Paul, "His letters contain some things that are hard to understand." (2 Peter 3:16) Paul anticipates that some of his enemies might accuse him of saying the law itself is sinful since thinking about things we are forbidden to do often has the effect of making us want to do those things. But he says no, the law is holy and man is unholy. God was right to give us the law because without the law we would not have recognized sin as sin. We need to recognize sin as sin so we can admit our faults and failures to the God who is able to impute righteousness to us. We need to recognize sin so we will want to die to our old selves and be made new in Christ.

"We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer myself who does it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do---this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who does it, but it is sin living in me that does it." (Romans 7:14-20) Who sold Paul (and us) into slavery to sin? We sold ourselves! Paul already told us that we are slaves to whatever we have chosen to obey. (Romans 6:16) When we lived in sin before we came to Christ we were slaves to sin. Even after our conversion we sometimes have to struggle against temptation. We know what is right and we want to do what is right, but our carnal natures try to rebel against our spiritual natures. "For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh." (Galatians 5:17a) Before Paul came to Christ he understood that the law was good. He knew he ought to obey every single word of it. Yet no matter how much he wanted to obey the whole law, he couldn't. He was able to obey some of it, perhaps even most of it, but not all of it. This caused him to have to admit to himself he couldn't obtain righteousness on his own. He needed something more than his own pitiful efforts to make him right with God.

"So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me." (Romans 7:21) Satan doesn't attack us when we're living in sin because we are already right where he wants us. He attacks us when we're living for Christ. Or, as I once heard Dr. Charles Stanley remark, "If the devil isn't bothering you, you aren't bothering him." If we are living effective, fruitful Christian lives we can be sure that evil will be right there with us, trying to entice us into sins that will cause unbelievers to scoff at Christians and to scoff at Christ.

"For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me." (Romans 7:22) Paul used to be a Pharisee. That entailed spending every waking moment meditating on the law, debating the law, and applying to law to everyday life. Yet the more he studied the law the more he understood he was a lawbreaker. He loved God's holy word and desperately wanted to live a life that pleased the Lord, but his carnal nature caused him to do things he didn't want to do. He couldn't understand why he would do things he didn't want to do. I think by the time he met the Lord Jesus on the Damascus road he was in deep spiritual distress. I think he was a very troubled man who was angry with himself, which is likely why he took out his anger on the growing Christian movement. Now he is a new creature in Christ, and he knows that through Christ he can obtain grace for his failures when he asks forgiveness with a sincerely repentant heart. But as much as he loves the Lord Jesus, he still sometimes finds his flesh struggling against the Spirit. We can relate to that, can't we? We are far better people in Christ than we were before, but our flesh still struggles against the Spirit.

Coming face to face with his weakness and failures caused the Apostle Paul to cry out, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?" (Romans 7:24) He came to a point where he admitted in horror, "I'm wretched! I'm corrupt! I can't make myself clean! What am I going to do? Who is able to help me?"

Who indeed can help any of us? Paul gratefully supplies the answer, "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Christ Jesus our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to sin." (Romans 7:25) In other words, no one but Christ can solve the conundrum of us wanting to serve the Lord with the mind but wanting to serve sin with the body. No one but Christ can solve the problem of humans not being able to obtain righteousness by the law. No one but Christ has the power to offer a method of absolution and redemption that is acceptable to a holy God.