Sunday, November 27, 2011

Romans 5:1-11 – Love demonstrated, Peace received

Do you realize that without FAITH it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God (Heb. 11:6)? Moreover Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

So we have access to grace through faith, we must have faith to please God, and Paul said in Romans 1 that the justified living by faith reveals the righteousness of God. It is a valid criticism that too many evangelicals got stuck on justification. Meaning for the life of a believer there is only getting saved, and being a missionary to those who are lost. But the faith taught by the apostles has far more to do with our life and relationship to God, than simple justification.

1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

As we covered before if salvation were available through the law it would have been only for the keepers of the law, and it would be earned. Further if you could see all of the "how and why" with your eyes and if the benefits were received in your body, then faith would not be required. But this kind of salvation is not possible because all are sinners. The salvation was have available is by grace, not the law, and through faith not of works because it is spiritual it is supernatural. Righteousness comes from the unseen God and it is for His glory, not the glory of any man.

Verse 1 is the preview for this passage. By faith we are declared holy and reconciled to God. Before we were destined for wrath, but now we have escaped wrath and can be at peace with the God who saved us.

2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

This word access is used only twice elsewhere in the entire New Testament (Eph. 2:18; 3:12), and it describes an unprecedented privilege to all who trust in Christ – we have access to Almighty God!

Even the realization that we have escaped from God's wrath is incomplete. The end of the road of grace isn't just to escape judgment, but a spiritual transformation into the eternal presence of God and His full glory. This is our hope, this is our end, this is what God has predetermined for His redeemed. Paul says that this hope is so significant that is causes us to rejoice even before we fully receive it, because the outcome is certain.

3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Not only do we rejoice in hope but we glory in trouble or tribulation. To say that a "tribulation" is helpful or hopeful seems silly, but Paul writes that God is using tribulation to accomplish His purpose in us. The word "tribulation" that Paul uses here can be translated "pressure" like from a press that squeezes the juice from olives or grapes.

God wants to produce people of character who can persevere through trouble for his glory. Too many who claim to be Christians, try to stop on the edge of grace enduring as little change as possible. But that kind of redemption would glorify man rather than God. That would be God serving our purpose, not the other way around. Next time you find yourself trying to endure and persevere through a difficult time, understand that when you persevere by faith you are becoming what God wants you to be, a person of character. That is why Paul said we can even glory in tribulation.

5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

What kind of relationship do you have with God? Paul said God has reconciled us from a wrath relationship to a love relationship. God pours out His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit of God empowered Elijah to outrun a chariot (1 Kings 18:46), and we struggle to simply out-walk the world! Is the love and hope of the Lord visibly evident in us?

Jesus said to His disciples, "You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father" (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV).

Peter wrote in his epistle, "…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the HOPE that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). People will only ask you about the reason for the hope that is within you if it is externally evident. A fruit-filled life will get people talking! When they see love instead of hate, joy instead of anger, peace instead of worry, patience instead of hurry, kindness and goodness instead of rudeness, faithfulness instead of doubt, gentleness instead of harshness, and self-control instead of volatility, they will ask what makes you so different (Gal. 5:22)!

Jesus knew that the Christian life would be impossible to live on our own; so He gave us the help of His Holy Spirit to strengthen us, sanctify us, help us pray, help us share our faith, and to help us serve others. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in your heart and mine! We must surrender every room every part of ourselves to the Spirit's control. We must, by faith submit to His leadership in our lives and, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2 ESV).

Love demonstrates that the Spirit of God lives in us.

6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The cross of Calvary shouts, "I love you!" to a lost world. John the beloved tells us that, "God SO LOVED the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:16-17 ESV).

Without strength means impotent, lacking the power to accomplish the task. We were impotent to bring about our own reconciliation to God. But Jesus died in our place, God poured out His wrath on Christ as an act of love toward ungodly, unworthy people like us. He satisfied justice in order to give us grace.

9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

We are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. This means that God, by His own will and design, provided His only Son as the atoning Sacrifice for our sin so that we might be forgiven and have a restored relationship with Him. From enemies of God to friends of God by faith in Jesus!

Now, because we have been reconciled, we also have a ministry of reconciliation to the world. There are many who are still enemies of God in their trespasses and sins. We must share the good news that if they simply wave the "white flag of surrender" they can be saved and have peace with God. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5 18-20 "Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (NKJV).

God's demonstration of love brought about our reconciliation to a loving friendship with Him. None of us would have wanted to watch the crucifixion of Jesus, but we rejoice in what it accomplished. Likewise in our own lives nobody hopes for trouble; but knowing that our perseverance produces character, means that even in troubles we can rejoice. We live lives of hope, knowing that the glory that waits for us is far greater than all the pleasures we could provide for ourselves if we had lived selfish lives.

Just as God's love was demonstrated to us in Jesus, so the Holy Spirit should be demonstrated to the world by our love and good works, giving glory to God; this is our job as ambassadors of peace.

Questions to consider:

  1. Sometimes we're not thankful for something until it's gone. Imagine for a moment your life WITHOUT faith in Christ and describe what that might look like for the class.
  2. We've been reviewing that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Ephesians 2:8&9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through, and THAT not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (NKJV). We often thank God for His grace, which is an unmistakable gift; but have you ever thanked God for your faith?

In light of what Paul has taught us in chapters 1-3 regarding man's condition (unrighteous, unreasonable, unresponsive, and unrepentant), how is even our faith a GIFT from God?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Romans 4:16-25 - Transcendent Faith

In Romans 4:16-25 the apostle Paul reminds us that Abraham believed God's promises against the reasonable knowledge of the flesh. He explains that if we believe God, like Abraham, then we too will enjoy the blessedness of being made right with God; not for this life only but for all eternity!

The Jewish idolatry of the circumcision, the law, the throne of David, and the temple; is based on the idea that God's favor and blessings is all about our peace and comfort here on earth. And that is the same theological and philosophical error that people like Joel Osteen make all the time. Jesus was preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Jews wanted their Kingdom on earth. God is a great idea, as long as he is giving us what we want.

How do we know the Jews got it wrong? 1 Peter 2:11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. To be a stranger and a pilgrim on earth means to be a citizen of the heavenly kingdom, and a visitor of the earth. Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And that brings us to the central question "why faith"? God has paid the price for our redemption, so why does he require us to receive it through faith? The answer is simple. If the goal were the glory of mankind, living in peace and harmony here on earth, and everything we needed we could see with our eyes, then faith would not be necessary. But that is not the purpose of grace! Grace is to provide our redemption for God's glory. If our hope and our worship is focused on what we cannot see, then the spirit has overcome the flesh, and God is glorified.

16 Therefore it [righteousness] is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, 17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

So "it" meaning righteousness comes from trusting what you cannot see, to receive what you cannot earn (grace). If you could earn it, it wouldn't be grace; and if you could see it, it wouldn't be faith. But if you can't earn it, and you can't see it but you still trust it; when you receive it, it glorifies God. God is glorified when the obvious limitations of the flesh are overcome by faith in the spirit that is God.

So the Jews looked at Abraham as the father of one nation according to the flesh, but God called him the father of many nations according to the spirit. Not of flesh by the law, but as descendents of the faith of Abraham, we are his spiritual children. Here we see that God also operates by faith: "calling things that are not, as though they were", because God knows what He will do.

In Chapter 3:35 it said the atonement of Christ was "to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past". God in faith had extended his own holiness as the collateral to give grace to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and all those in the Old Testament who believed God; knowing that he would satisfy justice and pour our His wrath for their sins and ours against Jesus when He hung on the cross. And in this chapter Paul recalls that God in faith called "Abraham the father of many" when he was still the father of no one.

18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb:

What Abraham could see was that he was 99 years old, Sarah was past menopause and she wasn't even fertile back when she was young. But God said "next year you will have a son, you will call him Isaac, and my covenant will be with him" (Gen. 17). No physical way for this kid to be conceived, let alone born; but God not only names him, he signs his name to a contract. Abraham looks at the evidence and decides to trust in God.

20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

Abraham's faith in God's promises led to his justification (being declared righteous) and the imputation (or crediting) of God's righteousness to his account! In other words, his sin debt was "paid in full"!

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

So, if we believe (like Abraham) that Jesus "was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" then our sin debt will be paid in full; and Christ's righteousness will be imputed (credited) to our account!

Many who believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sin and rose from the dead to deliver them, do not behave like it. They say that they're forgiven yet they live in the shame of past sin, and the guilt of regret.

We must, instead, take God at His Word. If God says that we're forgiven, we're forgiven. If God declares us righteous then who are we to say that we're not? If God says that He has credited Christ's righteousness to our account, then who are we to say that we are still in debt from our sin? I'm sure there were numerous occasions in Abraham's life when he did not FEEL justified, but he had to take God at His Word and believe the promises that he had been given. God promises payment for sin to all who believe.

Abraham was a pilgrim and a stranger as he journeyed to the Promised Land because he was not home yet. We, as believers in Christ are also pilgrims and strangers in this world because our new home is heaven. We cannot see now what God has prepared for us (1 Cor. 2:9), but we should live like it's already built and we're about to pick out the drapes and the carpet.

But idolatry is all about what you can see, the symbols and statues that substitute for real faith, and focus exclusively on earthly blessings; worshiping God's stuff with no regard for the glory of the God who created it. Though we are certainly blessed in creation, we understand that the natural world is corrupt and temporary, and that those walking the path of grace are outnumbered by those headed for destruction. People have seen throughout history that godly people by virtue of discipline and self control, avoid many of the problems in the world (1 Timothy 6:10) and have wrongly concluded, that a moral life is the purpose of religion. While that may be true of some religions, it is not the focus of the Christian faith. While virtue will belong to those following Jesus, our redemption for God's glory is the real purpose of God's grace.

Tonia and I watched a strange movie called "The Tree of Life". The narrative contrasted the way of nature and the way of grace saying everyone must choose. But it also said that "No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end". While that is true, it is only true when your focus is on the kingdom of heaven rather than the kingdom of the earth. Jesus said "In the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33). Paul likewise visiting his mission churches in Asia Minor said "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Abraham had trouble in the world. His brother died, his nephew was taken captive, his wife was barren, and he wondered about with no place to call home. But by faith he received a promise, not just for himself but also for us.

The same God that made all of those amazing promises to Abraham now makes them to you and me? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is our God too! Paul says in verse 23 of Romans 4, "now it was not written for his [Abraham] sake alone that it was imputed to him, BUT ALSO FOR US" (NKJV)! God has made very similar promises to us! We gain access to those promises the same way that Abraham did – BY FAITH.

Faith is transcendent. It reaches beyond natural ability and finite time, allowing us to receive what is supernatural and eternal. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), through faith all things are possible, not for our glory but for God's.

Isaiah 42:8 I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images. Idols are anything steal worship from God, and make us care for earth more than heaven, and the flesh more than the spirit. Faith moves our focus from the temporal things of earth, to the eternal fulfilling of God's promise.

Questions to consider:

  1. Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him". Why do you think God requires us to respond to His grace through faith?
  2. What causes our faith in God to fail?
  3. Hebrews 11:8-12 gives a summary of how Abraham walked by faith in God's promises; what does walking by faith in our everyday lives looks like?




Thursday, November 17, 2011

Romans 4:1-15 – Justified by faith

Main Theme: We are saved by grace THROUGH FAITH just like Father Abraham & King David.

The pride of the Jewish people is focused on 4 symbols of God's favor:

  • Circumcision of Abraham
  • Law of Moses
  • Throne of David
  • Temple of Solomon

1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Genesis 15:6) 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

Last week showed that salvation is by grace. But how do we get from the wrath of God to the grace of God? Some Jews considered that if grace was extended then it was extended to the circumcised, because of God's promise to Abraham. But Paul is saying that faith is the only exit ramp from wrath to grace. Abraham was called by God in Genesis 12, at age 75. He was not circumcised until Genesis 17 at age 99. But in Genesis 15 Abraham is declared righteous by faith, while he was still uncircumcised.

We learned in our study of chapter three that "justification" means – "to declare and treat as righteous". It is essentially declaring the guilty "not guilty" and then treating them as such. So in the example of Abraham he as justified by faith, not of works.

This word "accounted" is just like imputed we studied last week. God credits you for something unearned. Paul says in verses 4&5, "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is ACCOUNTED for righteousness" (NKJV). Just like in our lives faith comes before works.

Paul not only refers to the faith of the Hebrew's racial founder, he also refers to the faith of…

5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

7 " Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

And whose sins are covered;

8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin." (Psalm 32:1-2)


Now we take the second symbol of Judaism, the throne of David. The Jews had a lot of pride in the leadership of David, his military victories. Surely some thought that because of David, Israel deserved the grace of God, maybe that they could obtain grace through David. But Paul turns that around and shows David as a recipient of grace through faith.

He quotes from Psalm 32, which was written after the public exposure of his secret sins with Bathsheba (I Sam. 11-12).

David coveted his neighbor's wife, committed adultery with her, and plotted his neighbor's murder; according to the strict letter of Mosaic Law; there was no hope for him. What animal sacrifice could cover a sin like that? This is why David cried in Psalm 51:16-17, "For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, and a broken and a contrite heart – these, oh God, You will not despise" (NKJV). David's desperate case cast everything on God on grace. Out of this experience, David learned two vital truths about salvation; truths that he wrote down in Psalm 32 which now help further Paul's argument. David had faith in a God of grace.


Salvation is given freely, just as David also described the blessedness of "the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works" (v.6). David discovered the true way to happiness and holiness - without works. How could he restore purity to Bathsheba and life to Uriah? How could he even restore his own lost innocence? HE COULDN'T! His case was hopeless. But then God stepped in and in sovereign grace freely cancelled David's sin and counted him righteous! Nathan said to David in 2 Sam. 12:13, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die" (NKJV). That was all David had, but it was enough. Salvation is given freely. Not because God would ignore the sins of people he liked, but because Jesus would pay it all.

9 Does this blessedness (of forgiveness) then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

Do you have faith in your religious symbols, or works as a sign of your faith?

Circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:7-14). In Paul's day, many Jewish Christians maintained that salvation was impossible without circumcision (Acts 15:1-29; Gal. 2:1-14) and wanted all Gentile converts to be circumcised. Some people today think that it's impossible to be saved without administering the rites of the church (communion & baptism). Churches art and rituals to focus people on God, but these can become an idol to cover for poor theology. Know the qualities of your God, and you will not need a idol to focus on Him.

Abraham and David were both justified by faith in a gracious God, apart from any symbol.

Paul points out that there were two reasons that God gave Abraham this "righteous picture" of circumcision. It was given that, "[first] he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and [second] the father of circumcision to those who are not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of faith which our father Abraham had WHILE STILL UNCIRCUMCISED" (vv.11b-12).

J.B. Phillips writes, "Paul has turned the Jew's boast upside down. It is not the Gentile who must come to the Jew's circumcision for salvation; it is the Jew who must come to a Gentile faith, such a faith as Abraham had long before he was circumcised."

People who depend on religious rites such as baptism, confirmation or communion are just like the first century Jews that Paul was addressing. They are still depending on their religious works to save them. They are relying on symbols and pictures for their salvation instead of the substance and propitiation of Christ's finished work on the cross. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.

If not the circumcision of Abraham, or the throne of David, how about the Law of Moses? Surely the Law must be the way to grace.

"For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or of his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith"(v.13).

While many promises in the Bible are conditional, those made to Abraham and his seed were unconditional and are guaranteed by the faithfulness of God, not the faithfulness of man (Gal. 3:17-18; Rom. 4:13-18).

The rules and the requirements given to the Jews in the Mosaic Law at a later date do not affect in any way the original unconditional promise. The Mosaic Law had to do with the behavior of a redeemed people already in a covenant relationship with God, and demonstrated the holiness of God. Paul had already made it clear that Abraham's TRUE children were those who walked in Abraham's steps and exercised faith as Abraham did (v.12).

We can draw a parallel here. The practical requirements for the Christian, as found in the epistles, should be adhered to as walking by faith; but they do not add to our salvation. Works of righteousness are evidence of our faith, and meaningless without it.

The idea that Abraham was justified by faith while his children could be justified by the law, makes no sense at all. The law should drive us toward the grace of God, by making us aware of our guilt. Remember from Romans 3, "all have sinned".

So then, Paul pulls the rug out from all those who insist on "trying" for salvation. They have no righteousness that is acceptable to God. Their religious rites and rules cannot save them. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Questions to consider:

  1. Abraham was declared righteous because he exercised faith in God's promise. What are some ways that we exercise faith on a daily basis? How did you know that you needed to put your faith in God?
  2. Given God's gracious initiative in our salvation should we brag about our belief?
  3. What does imputation mean, and how does it relate to our salvation?
  4. Review the words: justification, redemption, and propitiation as a class.