Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Romans 7

    I very rarely post twice on the same day, but I posted earlier and I still want to get into Romans tonight (why do I never get to post until late at night? Are there pills for that? :). I really enjoy this series anyway for my personal quiet time, because it makes me think through a lot of what I would usually just glance over as a verse I've read many times before. I think it was Einstein who said that if you can't explain something to a six year old,  you don't truly understand it. In trying to write it down in a clear, explanatory fashion, this series is making me learn Romans much better!

    Romans 7 is such a fun read. Many of you are probably like me, and have always been amused when this passage of Scripture is read at church, because it sounds as if Paul is purposefully joking around. Seriously, I don't do what I want to do, and what I want to do, I don't do, but I still want to do it, even though I don't do it, and those things I don't do are what I want to do! Until I took the time to actually read this passage several times, it was just confusing!

    In reality, chapter 7 is where Paul continues speaking of the results of our justification. If you remember, chapters 1-3 were proof of man's guilt before God and need of atonement, chapter 4 was how the atonement is given, chapter 5-7 are the results of that atonement. Romans is surprisingly orderly!

    The first part of this passage (v. 1-13) speak of our unification and joining with Christ through His substitutionary death. In taking our place, we are joined with Him. V. 1-3 uses the analogy of a woman married to a man, and is bound by Levitical law to him, until he dies.

    The same is true of us in our sin. Before Jesus, we were bound to the Law, with nothing in our power to enable our escape. Now, however, we are dead to the Law that we might be joined with Christ, in place of the Law! We have been made free from the judgment that comes from examination under the Law, and have instead been joined with Christ (v. 4-6).

    So, the logical question that follows from the discussion Paul has been initiating about our freedom from the Law is: why did the Law ever have to exist? Why bind anyone under it?

    The answer is one we've seen before in Rom. 5:20. The law exists to condemn all mankind, and to force us into the realization of our error. Naturally, the pride of our human hearts leads us to believe we are better, purer, and holier that we really are. Only when looking at it through the glasses of God's high demands through His law can we see our own shortcomings and failure.

    V. 7-13 begins another strain of argument, namely: if the law is brought in to condemn me, is not the law sin? Paul is very clear, the law is righteous. The fault is not with the law, but with my own flesh, whose very nature it is to break the law and act contrary to it. It is not the law's fault I fell (although that was it's purpose, to force me into a recognition of the failure that would not have occurred without it), but through the law, I have fallen, and I can now see my error through the eye-opening work of Jesus.

    I have to warn any staunch non-Calvinists reading this that this is where the reformed doctrine really starts coming through loud and clear. Feel free to point out below (cause I know some of you out there have voiced your disagreement with these views before) where I'm wrong and please feel free to give your own interpretation to the passage.

    V. 14-25 are some of my favorite verses ever written by Paul, and if he has thus far failed to convince you that man is his natural state is fallen, in complete rebellion, and unable to come to Christ on his own (as I see clearly taught in Rom. 3:9-12), this should seal the deal. This is where Paul clearly speaks of the war between his two natures. He is clearly speaking of after salvation, since before salvation Rom. 3 was clear that man did not want to do right, as Paul claims he does in v. 15.

    First off, Paul says that the Law is spiritual, but he as a man, sold under sin, is carnal, thus unable to keep the law. Even when Paul desires to, he can't. He doesn't have the strength in himself. It would be really easy to walk away from v. 14-21 saying that there is no point to even trying to do right. What's the point? Even Paul failed!

    But we're missing a pivotal point here. Look at the difference between Rom. 3 and 7. In three, Paul gives a glowing account of the condemnation we have brought on ourselves, saying that we have done nothing righteous. But in seven, Paul opens v. 18 with the statement that while he doesn't have the power to follow God's commands in his own strength, he now has the desire.

    Here we see one of the gifts of the regeneration from God. In chapter 1-3, we see no such desire for good. We instead only see man's evil actions and intentions. When God turns man over to the intentions of their hearts in chapter 1, man's inclination is not to turn to God, but instead to turn deeper into sin.

    But when we get to chapter 7, we have been made new! We now desire to do good, even if we still can't. Now we have the want to serve God, something that was completely lacking before.

    While I don't want to contradict the gospel many of the people on here have heard, I do feel it would not be entirely right of me to go through this series without addressing at least some of this. I want you to think about some of the logic of the salvation message some of y'all have heard. It usually goes something like this (summarized), "we have all broken God's law, and are thus under the judgment of God. But, if we decide that we want to be forgiven, all we have to do is confess and repent of our sins, and pray this prayer, and God will save you! Yay, you've just been saved!"

    Problem 1.) As we've seen, "broken" doesn't do justice to our status with God before salvation. We haven't just broken His law. "Broke the law" is anything from a mass murderer and serial killer to a dude with a parking ticket. We aren't just law-breakers; we have defied the law. We are completely contrary to it, dead in our sin (Eph. 2:1), and haters of God (Rom. 1:30). Mere law-breakers doesn't do us justice; we are dead men.

    Problem 2.) Try explaining the logic of a man dead in sin, hating God, and contrary to all His laws deciding one day that he needs God and he wants to accept him and love Him from that day onward. That makes no sense! When God turned the Gentiles over to their own lust and intentions of their hearts in Romans 1, what was their natural inclination? Not to turn to God, that's for sure! By our own human natures we will choose sin ever single time, because it is our nature to do so.

    Problem 3.) Where is God in all this? Rather than this being the gospel of grace it is presented as so often, this is simply a softer and better disguised version of self-help gospel. Rather than the Soli Deo Gloria gospel of the reformers (and the Scriptures), we have too often softened it to a cheap replica that relies on us to realize our guilt and do something about it. Cause we just naturally are longing for God. Huh? How did we get that from the Bible?

    What I'm trying to present here is that the gospel we have been taught and find ourselves teaching so frequently is man's default gospel, Pelagianism. Pelagianism is the belief that man can choose to do either right or wrong, either follow in the ways of Jesus or Adam, and thus has no need of grace. He can simply repent when he errs and return to Christ.

    But that's probably a little too radical for some of us. I mean, most of us realize we need grace, at least to some extent. So, we flee straight into the arms of semi-Pelagianism, our happy medium. Yes, we need God's grace, but we still come to God ourselves and recognize our need for Him on our own. As if haters of God will ever on their own decide to come to Him!

    But Paul is blowing this idea out of the water with Romans 7: 14-25! Even Paul is completely open that he cannot keep the law on his own. Without Christ, he is destined to failure, despite even his saved desires to follow Christ. Much less can a sinner follow Christ who has no such desires!

    So then, what is the conclusion? Is there hope for the saved, much less the sinner? The same hope for both, as Paul shows us in verse 24-25!

    What can save me from my own nature and carnal desires? Jesus Christ. He is the answer. Without Him, I can do nothing, not acknowledge His existence, not desire Him, nor come to Him. Without Him, I am bound by the desires of my nature contrary to the law. Only through Christ can I serve God while still resisting my flesh.

    So, what is the answer to the problems I spoke of above? What is the gospel that fixes those problems? It is the gospel of Christ alone, Solus Christus, as the Reformers would have called it if you asked. The foundation of the five Solas, through Christ alone.

    What is the answer to an over-emphasis on man and man's achievement? Christ and Christ's achievement. It is Christ who saves, Christ who draws, Christ who died, Christ who makes new, Christ who works in me, Christ who does it all! It is none of me and all of Him!

    If I come to Christ through my own strength of my own prowess, how then can the glory which is due Jesus come to Him? Instead, the glory should go to me for my wisdom in seeing the error of my ways over all the other poor sinners who had the same chance I did but still did not follow. But that is the pride of my sinful heart!

    Instead, I owe all to Christ. The very drawing of me from my sin and the desire to follow and love Him is due to Christ, not I. And I owe Him everything!

Missions Quotations

    I spent a little time this evening reading quotes from different missionaries, and I thought I'd share some of them here.

    “The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” -Henry Martyn

     “It is more important that you should know about the reverses than about the successes of the war. We shall have all eternity to celebrate the victories, but we have only the few hours before sunset in which to win them. We are not winning them as we should, because the fact of the reverses is so little realized, and the needed reinforcements are not forthcoming, as they would be in the position were thoroughly understood...So we have tried to tell you the truth the uninteresting, unromantic truth.”                                         -Amy Carmichael

    “God's command 'Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature' was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant.” -Elizabeth Elliot

    "God isn't looking for people of great faith, but for individuals who are willing to follow him."                    -Hudson Taylor

    And my personal favorite:

    "If ten men are carrying a log — nine of them on the little end and one at the heavy end — and you want to help, which end will you lift on?"             -William Borden

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Another Good Quote

    Well, it's late at night here, and I really don't feel like digging into Romans 7. Hopefully I'll restart that series tomorrow. I just want to post briefly tonight because 1. I want y'all to know that I am still alive, and 2. I ran across some awesome quotes from William Borden. If you don't know anything about the guy, run a quick Google search about him. You'll learn a lot about what a radical looks like.

    In a nutshell, Borden  was the heir of a huge fortune, and while taking a high school trip around the world (that should tell you about the fortune), he was convicted about missions. Upon graduation from Yale, Borden left for Egypt where he died while studying Arabic at the age of 25. If you read anything about his life at college, you will soon see that he was a radical for Jesus Christ.

    However, one quote of his found in his Bible upon his death has outlived his name. Most people wouldn't know who said these words that most Christians in conservative circles have heard at one time or another. There, penned in the back of his Bible, he had penned on three separate occasions three little sentences.

    "No reserves. No retreats. No regrets." Just take a moment and ponder that. Go back and re-read it.
    No reserves. Hold nothing back. Pour yourself into the cause of Christ. What millionaire turns down phenomenal job offers to go study Arabic in Africa? A radical. Someone holding nothing back.

    No retreats. With the power of almighty God, we have been commissioned to spread Him and glorify His name throughout ALL the earth, teaching and baptizing disciples everywhere. We are here to proclaim His name, with boldness and without shame.

    No regrets. This from a young man with meningitis in Egypt. No regrets. This from a millionaire dying painfully in a desert far from home. No regrets.

    God calls us, in the words of C.T. Studd, to be "not nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible." And while, as many told Borden, many may tell us that we are throwing away our lives, or we're crazy, God calls us. He calls us to be willing, to be ready to give up all for Him. And He is worth it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Good Quote

    Many times, I find myself struggling with actually doing what I know is right. Yeah, I know things are wrong, but that doesn't mean I always try to resist as hard as I should. Yeah, I know I ought to do some things more, but that doesn't mean I always try as hard as I should. I think this quote from David Platt sums up exactly what my greatest fear in life is.

    “My biggest fear, even now, is that I will hear Jesus' words and walk away, content to settle for less than radical obedience to Him. ”

    Let's practice what we claim to believe, people. It's so tempting, so very tempting, to be satisfied with accepted practices and cultural norms rather than Jesus Christ. It is so much easier to walk around with the name Christian stenciled on my chest while living a life no different from anyone around me. Let's not walk away from Jesus feeling good about ourselves, let's walk away realizing our need and dependence on God and our sacred calling to make Him known!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Romans 6

    Romans 6 is where we now get into what's going on after our salvation. We've been justified, now what? What changes? How are we different now that we are redeemed and made children of God?

    So, now comes one of my favorite topics, grace. So, we've been reading all these wonderful passages about how my status with God is dependent on Christ, not my obedience to the Law. What then is the natural human response? If I don't have to obey Christ's commands for salvation, why would I? Why not use grace, as Galatians puts it, for license?

    No, Paul states throughout v. 1-7 that we, having been put to death with Christ to our old natures, we should rise, just as Jesus did, with a new body. A body that wants to glorify Jesus and obey Him, not one that's trying to slip by with whatever I can.

    Throughout the NT, baptism is always closely associated with salvation (almost always following directly after the repentance and belief of the individual). We who have been baptized and thus identify with Christ have died with Him. His death put our sin to death. How do we then rationalize that we would then instantly return back to our sin? Instead, we have been freed from sin.

    In v. 7, Paul gives an amazing statement that at first glance seems pretty commonplace. We all know we've been made free from sin. But I want you to think of that in light of the case which Paul has built up to this point with the Law. Paul has built a very strong case that man is completely lost, an utter slave to sin, and if we bring in Ephesians, dead in it. To reference, yesterday's chapter, we are helpless in sin. It's hard to find too many more despondent words to describe us in our lost condition. We were in bad shape!

    But Paul proclaims that those of us who have find life in Jesus by dying with Him (through Him; substitutional atonement) have been made free. Alive. Found. All these things that were our curse from Adam are now our gifts in Jesus Christ. We are free!

    But it doesn't end with our death with and in Christ. We now live with Him (v. 8-11). We are now alive to righteousness, in stark contrast to our prior deadness in sin (Eph. 2:1-2). And since we are now alive in Christ, it should not be consistent with our new natures to love sin. We should no longer have the same draw toward sin. We still will have some (addressed in greater detail in chapter 7), but not with the same love we had toward it before, because we are now alive in Christ! We now love what Christ loves and hate what He hates. He is alive through His Body, and we are His body!

    Since we have now been made free from sin by payment from Jesus, we are now legally His (v. 14-20). Now, we may not like that thought of ownership. But, we need to grasp just how small we are on the world stage. We're not God, and we're not Satan. We're not one of the two powerful beings who control every soul on this planet. We are owned by one or the other, either by God or the enemy of God. If we try to stand with neither, we automatically take our natural position since the Fall of service to Satan.

    As slaves to Jesus Christ, we are now to live our lives as all the nouns Paul has used to describe us. Sons. Ambassadors. Messengers. Slaves. All of these share one thing in common. Every one of these except son are there to make the father known and great. Three of the four I could think of off the top of my head are there to serve the Father, to make Him known and famous.

    But, what does the son do? Does not the son not only receive the love and affection of the Father which the other three don't get? Does he not also represent the father in a way the others never can? Even a son is a father's representative, a loved, cherished representative, but still a representative.

    Thus, as representatives of Christ, we cannot do whatever pleases us and remain free of guilt. Because we have been bought with a price, sin cannot reign over us. We must instead remain forever subservient to and in submission to Christ and under His grace.

    V. 21 tells us very plainly that our desire for sin is foolish. What do we gain by sin, besides instant and fleeting pleasure? Death! Exactly what Adam gained by his rebellion, we gain through our rebellion. Our sin leads to the just conclusion, death to the rebel. So, when we have been made sons by adoption, how can we continue to act in rebellion against our Father?

    V. 22-23 make the final statement in regard to our sin as Christians. Since we have been freed from our old slavery to sin, we are now slaves to Christ, slaves to righteousness! Grace is not ours to abuse, but to enjoy. Grace is not a gift to allow us to sin, but a gift to cover our sin and free us from our old natures. Grace to love us despite our unloveliness and give us the ability to love others.

    I'm going to close with a quote from The Cure, a book which made a massive impact on how I view the grace of God. Many times we view the grace of God as something that allows us to get away with more, that simply gives me a Get out of Jail Free Card. But the motivation of a heart made clean by Jesus' blood is not to get away with anything!

    "Look, Jesus says we really are new people, completely righteous. Jesus became sin so we might be righteous. Jesus didn't become theoretical sin. He became real sin, in every possible way that sin can be sin. And if the corollary holds, then we didn't become theoretical righteousness. We became real righteousness in every possible way that righteousness can be righteousness... Now we're free. But it isn't the freedom to get away with stuff, to give ourselves permission to have three glasses of wine instead of one. It isn't the freedom to care less or walk the tightrope of right and wrong without remorse. The motive of a righteous heart isn't to get away with anything. The motive of a righteous heart is to be loved and to love!"

    Grace isn't our free card to do whatever we want. It could be treated that way, if our new man wanted to. However, if we truly want desire Christ, we should want to be loved by Him and pleasing to Him, and to love like Him. That is the desire of our new man! We are now slaves of Christ, His representatives.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Romans 5

    After a week away from this series, I'm back for Romans 5 tonight! I had a bit of a crazy weekend, and I'm about to have another crazy one, so pardon my probable sporatic posting!

    Romans 5 continues the strain of discussion on justification. This chapter is beautiful because while the previous four have made the arguments for why you need the justification and what this justification is, this chapter finally begins telling you what the justification does.

    In fact, Paul opens it up with a proclamation of what it does in v. 1-2, where he says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God." After having our debt paid and our standing with God clarified, the idea is now that we have peace with God. The wrath of God for sin is satisfied, and we are henceforth free from His anger and instead ushered into His grace.

    Interestingly, our justification provides the means to be introduced into this grace, implying that what begins at justification is only scratching the surface of the incredible grace and mercy shown to us. Jesus Christ simply introduces us to His grace through the justification. His grace doesn't stop there!

    V. 3-5 are interesting (I find myself saying that a lot). Paul says that now we rejoice in our sufferings because we know they are working to conform us to Christ. All these attributes which He describes all build us further in Christ image. One of the really cool things is if you look at what all these attributes boil down to (you're following a chain; A leads to B which leads to C which leads to D and so on) hope. Hope in what?

    When we look at any book of the Bible through Jesus-centered eyes, we see the Bible constantly returning back to Him. I believe that's what we're looking at here. The Bible simply is returning back to Jesus. So, after our justification through Jesus, we learn all these things, right? And what do they do? They inspire us to place our confidence and trust back in Jesus, right where we started! We're back to trusting Jesus. I wonder how much sweeter our relationship with Jesus would be if we simply learned that we can trust Him!

    V. 6-11 give some really cool statements. First of all, the Bible describes us as helpless when Jesus died for us. We were not able to save ourselves. We were not able to follow Christ on our own. We were helpless in sin, dead. But Jesus shows His incredible love not by dying for friends, but enemies!

    I have to admit, this seems crazy. Personally, I have no desire to die for enemies. Our natural bent is to destroy enemies, not go out of our way and suffer to save them! This is the love of Christ. Sometimes we get this entitled attitude of, "How could God do anything but save me? He would be unjust if He didn't!"

    Never fall prey to that kind of thinking! God didn't die for you cause you were a really swell guy; He died for a rebel, His murderer. He died for His enemies. And, uncomfortable though it may be, this is the kind of love we too are called to show to others. Yes, those annoying people who mosey across the street in front of you in the parking lot. Yes, the rude, hateful people of the world. Yes, the people who you'd rather run over with a truck sometimes than sit and chat with. Yes, those people, those are the people we are called to love!

     Because of this love, we now have peace with God. Now we are reconciled. Now we are justified. Now we are redeemed and adopted. We now can (v. 11) "exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation."

    V. 12-14 begins another dissertation on sin, speaking of our symbolic fall in Adam. Just as sin entered the world through Adam, and death came all with it as a part of the all-inclusive curse of sin, so the curse is removed through one man, Jesus Christ! Just as the Fall of man was done before I was born and in which I had no say at all, so Jesus' Christ death and the offer of reconciliation is done without my say and blessing! In fact, as a rebel in sin, I would remain forever so except for the Holy Spirit's drawing of me to accept the reconciliation.

    Because of Adam's sin and our fall with him (v. 14), we are slaves to sin. Every one of us. We are born depraved, by nature against God and contrary to Him. We are born, as we discussed in previous chapters, without the desire to follow God because of our innate nature to sin.

    But, because of the gift in v. 15, we are made free. God's grace is completely unlike Adam's fall, because it accomplishes the opposite. While Adam's fall brought death, Jesus' death brought us life. While Adam brought us sin, Jesus brought righteousness. While Adam made us slaves, Jesus made us free. While Adam introduced shame and guilt, Jesus introduced grace and peace. Through Jesus, the curse of sin is lifted on His redeemed.

    V. 16-19 shows us the difference. The curse of sin came about by one sin, one little sin, just one. That one sin condemned the human race to death. And through Jesus Christ's one act of love on the cross, we are given access to life. Jesus once again is undoing the results of the Fall for those who He draws to Himself and those who humble themselves before Him, accepting His grace.

    V. 20 has a special place on this blog, since it the verse from which the blog title came from. "And Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Think about that. The Law's whole purpose was to prove our sin, so that we would have no ability to deny it. It was never intended to save a single soul, only to show our failure.

    But, when our failure becomes obvious, then God's grace becomes all the more when it covers our failures. Where sin abounded, grace abounded more. Where sin was great, grace was greater. Where sin was strong, grace was stronger! The power of God's grace is stronger than the power of sin. God's favor and His gifts will always be stronger and will always over-power the Devil.

    Finally, v. 21 sums up the beauty of the justification. As sin reigned on earth in our old bodies, so grace and righteousness are given to reign in our lives through the power of Jesus Christ. The old has gone and the new has come. Jesus Christ has come to replace sin, to become sin, in order to make us righteous.

    He didn't become figurative sin. He became literal sin, in order that He might give us literal righteousness, that we might become literally righteous. If that's not grace, I don't know what is. And if that's not cause to rejoice, I don't know what is! We, the sinful murderers of the Son of God, are given His righteousness and our penalty is taken, our very evil nature destroyed, by the "reckless, raging fury, that they call the love of God" as Rich Mullins called it. I love that line, because it so accurately sums up God's love. It's not tame, it's not calm, God's desire and passion for us was strong enough to drive Him to the cross. That's love.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Good Quote

    Man, but I do like C.S. Lewis' writings! I'm not sure I've ever read an author who so accurately read human emotions, frailties, and sinful weakness as Lewis. After having abstained from reading him for years, I now regret my abstinence from some excellent Christian literature!

    I will try to post as I can the next few days. I spent this whole evening helping to set up for a taekwondo tournament, then tomorrow I'll spend competing, and the next day I have church and a going away party for one of my best friends. So, I will try to post as able!

    “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
                                                                  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Is He worth it?

    I try to be honest and open on this blog about who I am. I'm not a perfect human being (just ask friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, teachers, students, pretty much anyone will tell you the same thing). There are days it takes effort just to keep going. Just to get anything done. Days when you fall to the same temptation, again. And again. And again.

    You know when the doubt starts to come? I've done it before. I did it today in fact. Is following Jesus really worth it? Yeah, I know, the good Christians never ask that. The mature ones, the spiritual ones, it's not even a question. But I feel it sometimes, that raw feeling in you somewhere that tempts you, that coaxes you that maybe, just maybe, it's not worth it. "C'mon, others follow Jesus comfortably! Others follow Him from afar!"

    It was a lot easier to flee from Jesus when He was in Gethsemane. In fact, logically, it made a lot more sense on a lot of levels. Flee, save your own lives. Maybe you can rescue Him later. Maybe you can write down what He said and write a book about Him for posterity. Oh, it made a lot more sense to run. It made a lot more sense to have nothing to do with this man who the crowds yelled to crucify.

    It was easier to follow from afar like John. It's a lot easier to shadow Jesus, to follow Him, but not identify with Him. It's a lot easier to claim love for Jesus from afar, when the danger isn't there, when you're safe and comfortable. It's more logical to not put yourself in the position of danger with Jesus. It makes human sense again.

    It was easier to turn on Jesus like Judas. It's a lot easier to join the crowd, the popular ones, the majority, and just blend in. It's safe. It's logical. Just join the popular movement, the safe movement. The movement convenient at the time, the one that will guarantee you happiness now.

    It was easier to sit by the fire and deny Jesus. It was easier to claim ignorance, to hide behind our cowardice to stay off the battlefield, to save our own lives. It was easier to avoid the punishment, to avoid the shame and humiliation that went along with identity with the accused Messiah. It was more convenient. It was more comfortable. It was safer.

    It was comfortable, that is, until Peter looked into the eyes of Jesus and He remembered His words. Peter was content with His personal safety and happiness, until He saw Jesus and remember what He said.

    I wonder if we sometimes don't really believe that we will see Jesus one day. Every one of us. Yes, us Christians who walk through life comfortably and safely. Yes, us the convenient Christians who follow Jesus when it's easy. The Christians who follow Jesus when there's no cost, no shame, no humiliation.

    We see the disciples flee when the Jesus' accusers come. They fled. They did the safe thing. They did the smart thing. They ran. They fled the battle. Yet how often I do the same! How often do I run from the very things I profess to stand for. How often do I fall for temptation, expecting pleasure from sin I know can't satisfy! How often do I run from Jesus straight into the arms of my flesh, that I know will not give me joy!

    How often I follow Jesus from afar, close enough to call myself a Christian, but far enough away I don't have to sacrifice, I don't have to endure any shame or name-calling. Far enough away I don't have to do the uncomfortable thing. Far enough away that I'm not seen as weird or radical, yet close enough to appear righteous.

    How often do I deny Jesus with my lifestyle? How often do I sit so near His presence, nearer on the outside than anyone else, yet inwardly denying Him by my actions! Like Peter, who by all external appearances took the most risks to be nearest to Jesus in His darkest hour, yet fell so much further than the others.

    Yes, I am those fleeing disciples. Yes, I am John who watched Jesus from afar. Yes, I am Peter who denied Jesus. Yes, I am the one, Judas, who betrayed Jesus, who helped to nail Him to the cross. Yes, I am they. I am a sinner, I am one who chose the safe road, the smart road, the human road. Deny Jesus, and live! Stand with Him, and die.

    I am unworthy. It's easy to look back at our past before salvation and say we were unworthy. Yeah, sure, we were sinners back then. But when I look at my life today, my thought life, my actions, the stands I've taken, my unworthiness is just as clear. I am not deserving of life. I am not deserving of salvation.

    But with that unworthiness, with that questioning of whether it is worth it to follow Jesus, comes the beauty that comes in Rev. 7. When the multitude gathers around the throne of the Lamb, this huge congregation without number from every people, tribe, tongue,  and nation, we see a conversation occur from the past between John and one of the elders around the throne.

    "And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, 'What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they?' And I said unto him, 'Sir, thou knowest.' And he said to me, 'These are they which came out of a great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

     Where did their status come from? From their courage? From their brave stand with Jesus? For their amazing zeal in Christ's cause? "...have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

     We stand justified, redeemed, loved, adopted, because of the blood of the Lamb. Not because of me, not my awesomeness, or my courage, or my works, or my righteousness, or my zeal, or my intellect, but because of the blood of the Lamb.

    And when the disciples see this, what is their reaction? That every thing, every fiber of their being, is worth it. No sacrifice is too great, no death too painful, no distance too far, no person too lowly, no authority too daunting, no punishment too intimidating to keep them from spreading Jesus Christ across the world. This is what happens when Jesus comes alive to us, when the blood of the Lamb is in our lives. We turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

    Is it worth it? I asked myself that today. Is it worth it to try to be a radical? Why not live the normal, comfortable American life? Why not just attend church on Sunday, hold up my end of a "spiritual" conversation, and pray before my meals? Why not stop before the risk, the danger, the discomfort? Is it really worth it?

    Let's ask Peter, who asked to be crucified upside down in order to show His unworthiness to even die like Jesus. Let's ask John, who sat in exile on Patmos before he penned those words, "Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus." Let's ask Paul, who, with scars on his back from the whip and the rods and the scars on his feet from the stocks, says, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him."

    Did they find it worth it? They seemed to think so, even after the pain, after the discomfort, after the sorrow, after the humiliation, after the torture, because of the Lamb. What if we realized that the Lamb is real? What if we realized that the Lamb is worth it, worth dying for, worth living for? What if we realized that the Lamb is worthy of our undying, eternal worship and endless awe and service?

    Let's ask the martyrs, the Polycarps, the Felicia's, the John and Betty Stams, the Jim Eliot's if it was worth it? Let's ask them, as they stand before the Lamb praising Him for all eternity? Was it worth it? Let's ask those who gave their lives in service, the Mary Slessor's, the David Livingstone's, C.T. Studd's. Let's ask them. Was it worth it? You wanna take a guess what they'll say?

    I think they'd probably say something like this: "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him."

    Is it worth it? When we look at the cost to the unsaved and the world if we don't, what do you think we should say? What should our answer be? Is it worth it? Is He worth it? Jesus Himself commands that we count the cost before we commit to follow Him. Count the cost. Is He worth it?

Good Video

    Eric Ludy has some of the best videos I've ever seen on some of the important topics in Christianity. Here's another good one.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Romans 4

    Romans 4 is where Paul begins to take the information he gave us in the previous three chapters and use it to tell us how we can get rid of this mind-boggling amount of sin. What does all this talk of my guilt before God lead to? Am I simply forever condemned because of my rebellion? If works are condemned, then how can I ever come to God?

    I would encourage you again to have your Bible open when you go through these posts in Romans. I will not be typing out every verse that I reference, but I'd still like you to see them so you can 1.) understand them better, 2.) catch me in any mistakes I may be making, and  3.) so I don't influence your view of Romans with some of my personal bias. I know I have certain preconceived ideas in my head, and I don't want those things to rub off on others any more than can be helped. The best way to read Scripture is to be unbiased as much as possible toward your own cultural/religious/idealogical/political ideals and opinions.

    This chapter is the chapter in which Paul begins describing the imputed righteousness of God, to me one of the (I can never choose!) most beautiful doctrines in the Bible. Paul spends the whole chapter discussing faith vs. works and what it means to live by faith.

    Paul references Abraham the whole chapter as an example of justification by faith and works, in v. 1 telling us that if Abraham was saved by works then he has something to boast about, "but not before God." Even Abraham's (the patriarch of all Israel) works aren't pleasing enough to God for God to tolerate Abraham working his way into heaven, even if he could!

    V. 3 is where one of the first references to imputed righteousness I know of is referenced. What is counted to Abraham as righteousness? His obedience? His works? His personal righteousness? No, simply his faith. The only thing reckoned to Abraham is righteousness based on faith, which we also know from Eph. 2:8-9 is the "gift of God."

    I want you to think about the implications of that. If my works count for nothing (v. 4), and faith apart from works is the basis for salvation, and even that is a gift of God, then I truly owe everything to Jesus Christ. If every bit of my salvation is dependent on Jesus Christ and him alone, outside myself, then He is the greatest gift I could ever have, and the One to whom I owe everything. His sacrifice brought me everything, while my works brought me nothing.

    One of the famous "Five Solas" of the Reformation is "Solus Christus", through Christ alone, and it is one of my absolute favorite phrases to describe salvation by faith. Salvation solely and only through faith given to me by God in the absolute and finished substitutionary work of Jesus Christ on the cross is my only hope for justification and righteousness.

    We'll see Paul continually coming back to combat the idea that Jews are somehow more worthy to be saved all the way through the book. Old habits die hard, and for two millenia the Jews had the only way to God. If you wanted to follow God, you had to be circumcised and keep the Law. You had to become a Jew. When Jesus' death and the Jews sovereignly appointed rejection of Him opened the door to the Gentiles, our universal complete depravity before God made us all equally guilty and equally in need of salvation, and we receive it equally. V. 9-12 tell the Jews that Abraham believed before circumcision, before the Jews even existed, and circumcision was simply a sign, not an action by which to gain favor with God. Even further, Abraham's being blessed of God was not because of circumcision (obviously since he wasn't circumcised yet), but because of his faith in God.

    V. 14 is one of the first mentions to Israel in the NT as the new Israel, speaking of the collective church of Gentiles and Jews together that form God's elect (Rom. 11 will speak of this in more detail). Abraham was blessed based on faith, and v. 13 tells us his descendents (which Gal. 3:29 tells us includes us as Gentiles) too are blessed solely on the basis of faith, and any reliance on the Law nullifies their faith.

    V. 15 continues, but it speaks of the Law, since it is an attempt to be justified through the flesh, as simply being a means of wrath, since any attempt to justify ourselves through the flesh will fall short and will heap on ourselves the wrath of God. But, if we accept that the Law has been fulfilled in Christ, then there is no anger from God. It has been fulfilled for us by Christ, and the fulfillment applied to our account by our faith given to us by God!

    V. 16-21 speak of Abraham's incredible faith in the promise of God, even though it entailed him having a child at 100 years old. Even while we know he didn't have perfect faith all the time (Gen. 16), this faith was "reckoned to him as righteousness".

    V. 25 sums up what Paul has been saying in this passage. Jesus Christ was delivered up because of our sin and our failure, and and was resurrected for our sakes! What an amazing thought after looking at the absolute blackness of our hearts presented in the previous chapters! Christ truly did die to save the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). It was not somehow for us more deserving, or for those of us who had an extra measure of wisdom who would see our need for God, but for complete and utter rebels, every one of us. The death of Christ was to make sinners righteous, dead men alive, and rebels sons. What an amazing thought! 


Monday, April 13, 2015

Romans 3

    Today we continue our Romans saga! I have to admit, I'm enjoying writing this series more than almost any posts yet to date. I love Romans! It presents the gospel so simply and clearly, yet mingled with theology that theologians have debated for centuries! It is a amateur writer/amateur theologian's dream!

    So, let's review quickly. Romans 1 condemned the Gentiles for their sin. Romans 2 shut the door and flushed out all possibility of hiding behind the law for Jews. Paul closed the chapter with a still open invitation that salvation can be attained by perfect keeping of the law (v. 10), or even a perseverence in trying to do good (v. 7).

    Now, I know I have friends reading this who know me well and know I would be the last person to teach salvation by works. So, how can I reconcile this apparent contradiction between what Paul says and what I believe? Did the Scripture not just say that if you do good, you can get into heaven?

    Well, that's why Paul included Romans 3. Romans 1 was for Gentiles, 2 was for Jews, and 3 is the universal, all inclusive condemnation of all men. Sure, if you do good, you can get into heaven. You can choose to follow Christ. But Paul's unmistakeable argument of chapter 3 is that none of us fit that department, for none of us do good!

    Paul first points out the advantages the Jews had because of their rich heritage in having already been granted the Law, and thus really the first knowledge of God over the other neighboring countries. The "oracles of God" I believe literally means the "revelation of God". The Jews had the advantage of having grown up with a knowledge of Yahweh, and some had even known Jesus. They certainly had an advantage over their Gentile neighbors in that respect.

    V. 3-5 seem to say that our very unrighteousness stands in such stark contrast to God's righteousness that it should be obvious God's holiness. God's truth defies every man's word, and if every man on earth denied God, every man would then be proven a liar, since God is literally truth, and the standard of it (Jn 14:6).

    V. 9-18 are to me the clearest Biblical evidence for Total Depravity found anywhere in Scripture. Paul clearly says that none do good, none are righteous, none seek for God, and man still in sin sees no fear of God, and do not even have a knowledge of the ways of peace. This is pretty undeniable evidence for man's complete and utter guilt before God, lacking in any righteousness of his own.

    V. 11 also builds up the further doctrine (an off-shoot of Total Depravity) of Total Inability, namely, that man in his natural state will not come to God on his own, because he has no desire for God. Paul explicitely says that "There is none who seeks for God". We are not naturally looking for God, on the contrary, we are either too busy storing up works for ourselves to gain our salvation or too busy enjoying our sin (and it is possible to do both at the same time) to accept Jesus.

    Thus, I see no alternative but to conclude from this passage that unregenerate man does no good actions on his own. Without the sovereign prompting of God, every man would continue in his Godless, lost state forever, with no desire for him. Eph. 2:1 clearly reflects that man is not asleep in sin, but dead in sin until we are made alive by Christ. Dead men don't know they're dead. They're not searching for a remedy to their deadness. They're DEAD! They are completely helpless and past the point of self-help!

    V. 19-20 sum up everything Paul has said thus far in the book of Romans as he says, "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law (which Paul has already proven is everyone in 2:14), that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin."

    Those two verses sum up everything Paul has been saying previously. We have seen what the Law says (both the Levitical and our conscience), and it should shut our mouths! We have no excuse left with which to declare our righteousness or self-suffiency. We all stand naked of our supposed righteousness and completely deserving of judgment. Paul then closes this particular part with the blazing statement that none can be justified by works of the Law (since no one can fulfill them even if we had the desire in our unregenerate sin natures).

    So, what's the point of the Law? It is there simply as an X-ray, to show us the injury, but it heals nothing. It diagnoses the issue, but I don't walk away any better than I was before. This is what the Law is. It is called in Galatians "a schoolmaster", an object to simply show me my faults and show me my need. An X-ray's sole purpose to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt my need for a healer. And the X-ray of the Law shows clearly that every one of us needs a Healer, because we all fall short of the Law's demands.

    So, Paul's main discourse on man's guilt before God is over. He now begins a new section which will spread across this last part of chapter 3 and the entirety of chapter 4, showing justification purely by faith, communicated to us by grace. Paul will be speaking here of the faith mostly.

    Since he just condemned all equally as under sin (v. 9), he offers salvation to all who believe also, whether Jew or Greek. Since all have fallen equally, all who believe are saved equally. If we truly have no righteousness of our own, then all righteousness must come from outside ourselves (Jesus Christ) and since it comes from the same source equally, our righteousness is not only sufficient but equal, since it is found solely through Jesus Christ and is Jesus Christ.

    Paul helps further cement the idea that all justification must come from outside myself in v. 27 when he concludes that boasting has no place since our righteousness does not come from us. No point boasting over something we didn't do! V. 28 seals the matter when Paul says clearly that man is justified by faith "apart from works of the Law". No, your works don't even help! Rom. 11:6 (which we'll get to later) show eloquently that works and grace have no place together. Since it has been clearly shown that our salvation is by faith and grace, then works have no place in any part of the justification.

    Paul continues his surprising rebuttal of the common beliefs held by the Jews in the day. No, no longer is God known as God of the Jews, but now He is the God of the Gentiles (the entire world, both Jews and Gentiles) in v. 29-30.

    V. 30 brings an interesting twist into the combination. No, by declaring that our salvation comes by faith, Paul does not throw out the law! Rather, the law is now fulfilled by Christ, meaning it is more fulfilled than ever before through any and all Day of Atonements and blood sacrifices. The Law has not been ditched, rather, it has been fulfilled; not by me, but by Christ, my righteousness!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Romans 2

    I have to admit I'm a bit excited as I write another blog post in this series! My brother asked me last night why I blog, and it made me stop and think for a minute. I really enjoy writing, and I hope this is doing someone some good somewhere! I know it's done me some!

    I would highly recommend you just go get a Bible and open it up to the chapter I'm speaking from. I don't want to type the whole chapter or even all the verses I mention, because I would still be typing when Jesus came back, and I have other things I want to do before then! So just open your Bibles and exercise that reading education you have!

    Rom. 2 is where Romans really starts getting fun. Alright, let's be honest, chapter 1 doesn't really carry that much conviction for us "good" Christians, right? I mean, c'mon, I'm not "filled with unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice" or a "hater of God", am I? It's easy to leave chapter 1 thinking, "I'll add those dastardly Greeks to my prayer list. I hope God draws them to himself soon!"

    Well, fear not! Paul has not forgotten the self-righteous either! Rom. 1 is the condemnation of the Gentiles, the idolaters and nonreligious of the day. Up to this point, the Jews in his audience would have been nodding and maybe giving a few "Amens" here and there if they were Baptist Jews! Here is where Paul stops the fun for the "religious" in the audience.

    V. 1 opens with a bang. "Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." I can just picture the Jewish readers listening to someone read this aloud to the church, nodding, nodding, jaw dropping! Up to this point, you can read Rom. 1 and still leave feeling pretty good about yourself if you're moderately moral. Well, Paul intends to shatter that myth!

    Chapter 2 is the condemnation of the Jews, so that the depravity of man is proven to be world-wide, not limited to Gentiles. Paul recognizes instantly what is going on in the Jewish minds as they read his letter, and addresses it strongly!

    While the Gentiles are guilty for their sin against God, the Jews are guilty to an even greater degree because of their knowledge of what God expected of them. Paul says in v. 5 that because of their stubbornness they are "storing up wrath for yourself". God does not take the gift of His grace being spurned lightly. The Jews, having looked at all the gifts that had been granted to them as God's chosen people and still turned their backs on the Messiah, are simply making their punishment that much worse.

    V. 6-8 say very clearly what that means. God will render to every man exactly what he has coming, whether he is a man who strived to do good (which Paul will define later) or whether he is a man who simply walked in unrighteousness. V. 9 is the first time Paul includes both Jews and Gentiles under the same judgment when he says "There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek." 

    So, that verse tells us something. As long as you've tried to do good, you're safe. God will invite you into heaven.

    Now, I can hear some of y'all now saying, "That doesn't sound like the Taylor I know." Ok, I'm not saying it! Paul is. V. 10 says that every man who does good will receive "glory and honor and peace". Now, isn't that comforting!

    Well, before you get comfortable, let me burst your bubble with the little pin that is v. 11-12. Everyone who sins ignorant the Law (the Gentiles) will be judged without the law, and all who know the Law (Jews) will be judged by the Law. Think about that for just a sec. Paul just encompassed everyone with those two statements. Either you're ignorant of the Law or you know the Law, but there's no other option. And Paul tells us that both will be judged!

    V. 14 gives the principle that each of us, particularly Gentiles who had no law, have the law written on their hearts (conscience). So, when Paul seemingly gives the loophole to the Gentiles that since those who don't know the Law aren't required to obey it, he isn't exactly doing what it appears. He's simply attacking it from a different angle. V. 14 tells us that none are ignorant of the Law, either the Jewish law or what each of us has engrained in our hearts, but either way, we still are measured by the standard of the law! So, we can't escape for lack of a standard, because each of us have one!

    Now, Paul leaves us for just a moment with some blissful ignorance in v. 9-16, which tell us that those who do good will be given rewards. Now, some of you may be ready to jump at my throat for works salvation teaching, but believe me, this is not! You just haven't finished reading yet!

    Let's review for a second. So, we are going to be judged by whether or not we have been obedient to whatever law (whether in conscience or in writing) we were given. Now, Paul shatters the nice, comfortable room of works salvation in v. 17-29.

    If the law is so important to you, have you kept every point of it? Those who feel most secure in their works are those who are the "most righteous"? But are they guiltless? Have they ever stolen (v. 21), have they ever committed adultery (v. 22, Matt. 5:28)? The obvious conclusion is this: none have kept the law perfectly. We have all failed at some point, particularly if we listen to Jesus' articulate the true meaning of the Law in Matt. 5, where He lays down obviously impossible precepts by which our hearts will be judged.

    V. 25 completes the crushing of any ability to hide behind the title of Jew for safety from the judgment. Paul tells them, yes, circumcision will protect you... as long as you are not a transgressor of the Law! The door just slammed in our face!

    Paul has successfully slammed shut the last chance of the Jews to prove their salvation by means of their status. If their status only applies if they have perfectly kept the Law, and as Paul has just said and will continue hammering in chapter 3 that they have not, then they stand equally guilty as the Gentile!

    As if this is not enough, chapter 3 continues the same strain of man's universal guilt! No longer are we Jew and Gentile as different levels of guilt, now we all stand equally guilty of all points of the law (Jms. 2:10). None have an excuse before God, as Paul opened the chapter with. We all stand, completely naked and bare of our self-righteous defenses, and deserving of God's wrath.

    Paul is hammering the question, "Why do we need this salvation?" By the time he is finished, we should be a quivering little mass on the floor, crying out for mercy! V. 13 sums up the whole chapter beautifully. "For not the hearers of the Law are just before God. but the doers of the Law will be justified." You want salvation apart from Christ? Fair enough. Just keep the Law perfectly, and it's yours!

    So, it is Paul who offers the attempt at works salvation. If you simply persevere to do good (v. 7), you will receive glory! So, all you have to do is persevere in doing good! But what Paul will eloquently show us in chapter 3 is that none of us have done that or as chapter 8 says, are even able to do that. Thus, we all stand in need of Christ. I believe total depravity and inability will be abundantly clear by the end of next post!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Romans 1

    I will always remember sitting in Africa on a rainy afternoon when we couldn't leave the training center when one of the American pastors, Dr. John Gillespe, took the time to share with some of us some helpful notes on analyzing and interpreting Scripture. I will never forget how sweet that moment was, almost like a flashback to the apostolic days, with a group of young people gathered around an older mature Christian with Bibles open, reading and studying by candlelight.

    Anyhow, looking back through some notes I took from that session, I ran across something that will apply often as I begin this series through Romans. It's a basic concept, but it can change your view of a passage a lot! It's simply this: The Bible is a book about Jesus. Thus, when we realize the centrality and focus of Scripture is Jesus Christ, then we naturally will ask this very important question, one I hope we will ask a lot as we read the Bible personally and as we read through Romans together. Why is this passage in the history of Jesus' redemptive story? So, when you read these passages in Romans ask yourself that simple question, because it will help you see Jesus and the gospel everywhere!

    It is often helpful to find a verse, similar to our modern thesis sentence in formal writing, that summarizes the book's intent and purpose. Why is Paul writing Romans? What is His point through it? I personally believe that 1:16-17 are the synopsis of the entire book, the lens through which we can understand Paul's writings. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel. for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous man shall live by faith.'"

    Paul, whose greetings in his epistles can often help us see his purpose in writing and intentions in doing so, seems to outline the reason behind this letter in v. 11-13, 15. Clearly, Paul had tried or at least wished to come to Rome and communicate what's contained in this book in person, but was detained or unable, so he sent this letter as a temporary fix (since we know he would come to Rome later, although as a prisoner).

    V. 1-5 are his introduction and greeting, which, while boring in our modern letters, contain some beautiful truths in Paul's. He introduces himself as an "apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised before hand through His prophets..." Paul doesn't pull any punches. Most scholars believe he was writing to Roman Jews, so his authoritative statement that he was simply an apostle to the gospel (the good news), prophesied by the prophets, and fulfilled through the Son of David (v. 3) and named as Jesus Christ (v. 4) would have instantly made him enemies among the many Jews who believed that Yeshua was simply a false Messiah, a blasphemer, and deceiver. Paul starts off the book with the bold declaration of what he will preach throughout the entire book, that the prophecies are fulfilled through Jesus Christ.

    V. 14 is so interesting! Paul makes the statement that he is "under obligation" to Greeks (the wise philosophers of the day) and the barbarians (the backwards hillbillies of the day), and because of this, he is eager to preach the gospel in Rome, the center of the world at the time. Paul felt his call to share the gospel with the entire world was not an option or job, but instead an obligation, a debt he owed to the world. Interesting choice of words indeed! Are we any less under the obligation that the good news God has opened our eyes to needs to be shared with the world than Paul was? I don't believe so!

    V. 18-32 is where Paul begins his argument for the need of a Savior, who he will ultimately name as Jesus Christ. First, however, Paul begins his book with what will ultimately be a two and a half chapter dissertation on man's fallen nature, depravity, and guilt before God.

    In these verses, I believe Paul proves beyond a shadow of a doubt man's complete and utter guilt before God and that nothing good resides in the heart of man apart from God's redeeming work. V. 18 states why all this study must occur. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness". This is why salvation is a concept that should be of stark interest to us! If God's wrath is upon all sin, and we are convicted as sinners (which is the undeniable final result of Paul's chapter 1-3 arguments), then the question of how we can be freed from that wrath should be of evident, all-consuming interest to us!

    Paul mentions quite a variety of sins in these verses, enough certainly for us to stand condemned before God. V. 25 condemns the idolatry of all nations, once again placing quite a bit of condemnation on all nations but Israel. V. 26-28 speak of what I believe to be homosexuality, while 29-32 speak more of the results of man having been turned over to a depraved mind as said in v. 24.

    Man's guilt before God is never more clearly presented than here in Rom. 1-3. While today's is a blanket condemnation of those who have hardened their hearts against God, next post will begin getting a little more interesting, as Paul targets a specific group, the superior ones, and proves their utter undeservedness of Christ.

    While reading about sin and man's depravity may not be exactly fun literature, Paul put it here for a reason that he says in Rom. 9. We are all shown to be condemned under sin, that Christ may show mercy on us. Without the realization of our complete and utter lostness, we would never realize our need for Christ, the whole point of Paul's writing!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Phil. 3:7-11


    I've been reading Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper, and in it a particular verse he referenced made me go look it up. I've read the verse before, but I want you to think of this verse differently. Don't think of this as "Wow, Paul was some guy", but think of it instead as "What if I had that passion?"

    My great grandmother died this morning. She was 101, so it wasn't completely unexpected, but we certainly didn't expect it this morning. My mom and brother spoke to her on the phone just last night, when she was joking and speaking normally. This morning, she was dead.

    As young people, sometimes we don't comprehend how short life is. Very few men have died in history expecting to die when they did. No, most walked blissfully unaware, caught up in the everyday matters that begged for their attention, until death ultimately claimed them.

    I have many friends that have joined the selfie craze. Personally, I have only taken selfies to try out camera modes and to ward off excessive boredom. For fun, I once looked up some epic selfies. Here is one that should make my point beautifully but sadly. Look up at that picture up at the top of this post.

    Now, although this isn't a selfie, I found this pic at the same time. This is a picture of a young lady who climbed out onto the top of a suspension bridge to prove to her friends that she was not afraid of heights. Seconds after this photo, she lost her balance and fell, plummeting into one of the cables, dying.

    Moments before, this young lady breathed, had friends, enjoyed the same things we enjoy, talked about the same things, watched the same movies, and read the same books. In one second, her life went from being ordinary to over. She never saw it coming, she never had time to carry out those noble ambitions for her life that I'm sure she had just as we do.

    One day, every single one of you reading this blog will be dead. You may not die in such an epic fashion, and there may not be a viral photo of you from seconds before your death, but you will be just as dead. And every award, accolade, promotion, and prize you've won on earth will be gone forever.

    If there is one thing I want to be able to say when I am on my death bed dying, I want to be able to say this following quote from Paul. I don't want to waste my life. I want to pour my life into following Jesus, just as Paul did! To me, this passage sums up "Living dangerously for the glory of God."

    "For whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him. not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him. and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death in order that I may attain to the resurrection of the dead."

Romans Series: Intro

   Ever since a particular series I listened to on the subject of the book of Romans, I have wanted to teach on this amazing book. It's overloaded with good things, with deep theology, practical advice, and a clear, concise gospel presentation shown eloquently throughout. I love this book!

    Romans gives I believe the clearest teachings on man's depravity before God contained in the entire Bible. Rom. 1-3 are centered entirely around proving this pivotal statement. Nearly 20% of the book then is on unsaved man's guilt before God. Combine that with Rom. 4-7, which details man's conflicting natures after salvation, and you have quite a case for man's sin nature, one that encompasses nearly 50% of the book. So, a lot of time will be spent talking about sin as we got through the book.

    For those of you who read this blog that disagree with my Calvinistic views, I'm afraid y'all are just gonna have to put up with me for a while. I argued as we went through the series before at church, and will argue again, that it is impossible to objectively study Romans without at least touching on the ideas that Paul hammers in Rom. 9 and 11, election. That said, my purpose is not to promote Calvinism. However, I cannot honestly teach through Romans without teaching Calvinism, and I would argue that Paul couldn't either!

    There are some amazing truths taught in Romans that I hope will be very encouraging to us as believers. The idea of a changed nature presented in chapters 6-7, of our freedom and adoption in Christ in chapter 8, of our joining with the nation of Israel as the fulfillment of God's sovereign choice in Rom. 9 and 11, the beautiful principles of salvation by faith alone presented in chapters 4-5, 10, and God's call for our lives in 12, outlined through 13-16.

    There's a reason this book was the foundational book of the Reformation, the one from which Luther began his departure from Catholic doctrine. The principles outlining salvation by faith cannot be missed. It presents a clear cut, open and shut case for faith, thus the reason for the famous "Roman's Road to salvation". Romans is built for new Christians and mature Christians.

    All that to say, I hope you enjoy this little series. I'm not a Bible teacher and certainly no pastor (just check my profile, or read the series. Either one should make it abundantly clear I'm no pastor.), I'm just a teen who likes the Bible. So, if you disagree with my interpretation of a passage or just really, really like me, please feel free to leave a comment or two!

Monday, April 6, 2015

The "Fine" Mask

    I'm going to do something somewhat odd with my next several posts. One of the books that seriously impacted my relationship with Christ was The Cure by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall. While I disagree with several things the book says and several of their statements are backed by some rather shaky Biblical foundations, it still spoke volumes about God's grace, love, and acceptance during a period of my life when I had never known that.

    One of the chapters of this book went into detail about a concept it mentions quite frequently throughout, Christian masks. This particular chapter made a huge impact on me, and I wish I was better at transferring that knowledge into application more often! While the concept got me, and I try to apply it, I'm still working on it.

    The concept the authors were writing about is the idea that many, possibly I believe most, Christians live much of their lives, particularly at church, behind a mask, afraid to share who they really are for fear of being seen as unspiritual, sinful, carnal, or immature. I know how often I have worn the mask to cover who I really am and the struggles I face everyday. Even now when I try not to do that and be much more open and honest about the struggles and temptations I face, I still wrestle with it every day. The constant temptation is to put on a mask that portrays me as someone I'm not in the hopes of making myself appear more spiritual or theologically intellectual than I really am.

    Of the three masks the authors discuss, the first is the "fine" mask, the mask that portrays me as "doing fine", "feeling fine", and everyone around me as "fine". We are all just a big, happy bundle of fine. We're all doing fine on our own, thank you!

    The ever-present temptation of the "fine" mask is that it portrays me as someone I'm not. It portrays me as the uber-spiritual, really good, moral teen instead of the genuine, sometimes struggling teen. What this mask does is it disguises my own weakness and temptation, unknowingly building our spiritual pride, all the while hiding and shielding form notice our own faults and shortcomings, while cleverly, though unintentionally, concealing our need for the everyday power of God found through my weakness and deficience.

    What those of us who struggle with the "fine" mask need to realize is that there is no need to hide behind the mask of false spirituality. When we read the words of Paul in Rom. 7, it's abundantly clear that the Christian life, even for a saint like Paul, is filled with temptation and struggle. V. 18-19, Paul makes this incredibly honest statement about the struggle between his two natures, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish."

     Even Paul was daily faced with the struggle of sin, and he confesses there that he failed quite frequently. V. 14-21 are an eloquent statement of the struggle each of us as Christians face, with v. 21 summing it up perfectly when Paul says, "I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good." Yep, even when we try really hard, we still fail sometimes. We will still fall at times.

    I'm not denying that we will fail or that we will sin and be tempted. Absolutely, temptation is something that will bombard us all day, for days on in, and even Paul couldn't avoid it. However, the answer to this universal problem is not to hide it!

    The authors make a very good point about this problem of us trying to cover our temptations and sometimes sin. In speaking of the guilt following the fall of man in the garden, the book says (p. 30)

    "So Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with fig leaves. And it worked. No more shame, no more hiding. And they lived happily ever after...

    "Umm.... no.

    "They still hid! This is the earliest recorded result of sin management. It will not work. It hasn't ever worked. When I discover I'm still hiding, that probably should be the hint that whatever I've tried to cover my shame with hasn't taken.

    "It wasn't until they trusted that God did something- providing His own covering for them- that they could be free from hiding and condemnation."

    So many times we try, like Adam and Eve in the garden when God came to talk with them, to hide our sin, cover our guilt. I wonder how much more loving and non-hypocritical a church would be if we openly talked about some of our struggles and the sins we seem to fall for most often, instead of hiding behind the veneer of perfection.

    However, what we need to realize is that relief from the guilt and shame of sin does not come from hiding it, ignoring its existence, or pretending it isn't there. The relief comes from a Person, and an action He has done in each of our lives to redeem us from not only sin, but the power of it too. And while we still will struggle with the sin, it is no longer our master.

    So, what's the application from this somewhat lengthy, maybe complicated post? Quite simple really! Stop trying to pretend we're perfect! Let's be honest around each other, and more open about the temptations we struggle with and fall for. Let down the mask, and allow the Body of Christ to see you for who you are, a saint, clothed in the grace and righteousness of Christ, who still struggles! As we all do!

    We sometimes get locked into a mentality that we are the only ones that struggle with a particular fault or feeling. Well, I got news for ya! None of us are that special! We don't have our little private sins that no one else struggles with. No, we all struggle with sin. And as a body of Christ, we can be much more authentic in our worship and glorification of Christ when we are open and honest about our failures. When we are weak to ourselves and in ourselves, Christ is free to show Himself and His strength through us.

    So, don't hide behind the mask of perfection. Be honest about your/our struggles, and I believe the church will be much more genuine in our love for Christ and for each other.

Friday, April 3, 2015

My Strength is Made Perfect

    Well, I'm just getting around to finishing my post from 2 Cor. 12. I've had a hard time coming back to finish this post, but for some reason I feel in the mood tonight. Why would God give me this mood at eleven at night, I don't know, but it's here!

    We already addressed the first part of this amazing passage in v. 7-10, but here are the verses again, just so you can reread them. "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

    I have no intention of repeating what I already said, since you can simply read it here, but we have been thinking about the concept of God's sufficient grace. As a quick review, it is important to keep that idea in mind today as we look at the second part of v. 8, because the two parts work together.

    "For my strength is made perfect in weakness". What a thought! There are several aspects of this verse that are comforting to an incredible degree, and I'd like to look at at least some of them. Again, this verse is incredible precious to me, so pardon my extreme partiality!

    Think of what God through Paul just said. His strength, the power of an all-mighty Creator, is made perfect in me by what? My intellect? My superior moral compass? My tighter standards and rules? My theological understanding?

    It's made perfect in my weakness. Christ's strength shines in me the strongest when I am at my lowest, when I have no more I can give Him. When I am completely emptied of myself, God's power can be shown through me.

    That's amazing on two levels. One, how absolutely thoughtless of us to run dashing around trying to appear more spiritual and more perfect than our brothers and sisters in Christ when in reality, Christ's strength in us is dependent not on our perfection, but on our dependence. Only when we realize that we need a crutch and that we can't walk on our own does the idea of Christ carrying us seem so sweet.

    There's a second beautiful aspect to the verse, and that is this: never, never are you too weak, too downtrodden, or too forgotten to be used by God. Never! When we are at our weakest, God can show His strongest through me.

    That said, that should make us think of something. If we want Christ's strength to reside in us constantly, doesn't that necessitate us remaining constantly in a state of utter dependence on God? If in my weakness Christ is strong, then shouldn't I remain forever weak in myself so that I can become strong in Christ? Is that a logical chain of thought?

    See, it's not fun to be weak. It's not fun to look your fear in the face and say, "I can't face you on my own. I just don't have the strength." It's much funner to walk into temptation and spiritual hard times with the smug, self-confident swagger of a Super Bowl winning football team. It's much funner to walk into church as the guy with the answers. It's much funner to pick the toothpick out of someone else's eye than it is to pick the log out my own.

    But when I am weak, and I realize that weakness, that is when Christ can be strongest in me. That is when Christ is free to manifest Himself and his strength through me, and bring Himself glory in doing so. When I realize that I can't, that I'm not strong enough, I'm not big enough, I'm not tough enough to handle life on my own, that is when Christ can come in, and fill me with Himself.

    It is in our weakness that Christ shows His strength. It's in a nearly crying teenager kneeling in the dirt in Africa, it's in the shy teenage girl at VBS, it's in the lonely highschool student. When we are at our lowest ebb is when Christ is free to show His power, and demonstrate Himself through us. When we walk through life confident in myself, in what I can do and I can say, I do not realize my need for Jesus in my everyday life.

    But when a terrible thing happens, or even a commonplace hard thing comes crashing into your life, and you don't know where else to go, and you know that you have nothing left, that is where God takes the broken, shattered vessels, with nothing but a willingness to be used, that are our lives and He fills them with Himself, with His Spirit and His power, and He uses them as His instruments.

    My favorite quote by Eric Ludy is when He refers to Christs as "little lambs, with the faces of lions." Because of the raging power of God, Christ uses us, these broken, weak instruments as His body on earth. Not because we are the strong, but because we are the weak! And because of our weakness, Christ is all the more able to shine through us. In our weakness, Christ demonstrates His strength by giving us, the weak of this world, the power to mock all the powers of earth and hell!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Another Mullins Song

    In case you hadn't figured it out yet, I am a huge fan of Rich Mullin's music. Here is another of his songs.