Saturday, June 23, 2018

Why Do I Do What I Don't Want to Do?

Released From the Law, Bound to Christ Romans 

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Most of us know when we have done something wrong, we don't need to be told.  We have an innate sense of what is right and wrong when we are born.  In this chapter Paul teaches about the Law and how the Law arouses our sinful nature.  Though we know what is right and wrong, we still choose to do the wrong thing.  

My favorite example is this picture ...
Image result for do not touch wet paint
Though we know we are not supposed to touch the sign we want to.  Why? Because we have a sinful nature that says, "Don't tell me what to do I will do what I want!"

We also have a side of us that wants to do good.  Paul says we know the good we want to do, but we do the very opposite.  When we do what we don't want to do, we prove that is it is sin working in us.  Paul is talking about this in the first person and sharing his own struggle with sin.  As a Pharisee, he knew the Law full well, but the problem for him was that he couldn't keep it, even as a teacher of the Law.  As Paul sums it up, "What a wretched man I am."

Have you ever come to that conclusion?  You want to be a better person, but so often you are not. But once we have fully understood the bad news, we need to hear the good news even more.  So Paul says, "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ."  The word "deliver" means to "save or redeem", and is used in reference to a slave who is set free.  

Most people in the world don't need to be told they are a sinner, they already know that.  What they need to know is that there is another way through Jesus Christ!  It is not about being more religious but being in a new relationship with God through Christ.  As we talk to those who don't yet know Christ, we should not try to act "holier than thou".  Why?  Because we aren't! Focusing on what Christ has done for us was the approach Paul took, and we should use it as well. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Why Going Back to our Sinful Nature Makes No Sense!

Romans 6:11-14
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Have you ever beaten a habit, at least temporarily?  You felt so good being free from it.  But then for whatever reason you went back to it.  This happens all the time, and we might call it insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.  We have developed a good habit which makes us happy, only to return to a bad habit that makes us miserable.  Well guess what? There is a name for this.  It is called our sinful nature.  And before we met Christ we were in bondage to sin and could not free ourselves from this sinful nature.

In the last few chapters Paul has laid out how we are made right with God, or what the bible calls "justification".  We are made right with God by faith, because our good works were never enough to meet God's perfect standard of righteousness.  But God wanting to be in a relationship with us, but still needing to by holy and just, came up with a solution.  He sent his only perfect Son into the world to become for us the righteousness we could never earn.  This is the Gospel and how we are saved from our sinful nature both here on earth and also why we will go to heaven one day. 

Today, in chapter 6, Paul addresses the same thing I mentioned in the first paragraph.  He says you have died to sin, so why are you going back to it?  Meaning by the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit we are no longer slaves to sin.  We are able to obey God out of a new heart cleansed from the bondage to sin.  But the Romans like the other early Christians were going back to old sinful ways.  Worse yet they were using the justification that if I sin more grace will abound all the more.  That logic was a reallly bad rationalization for sin and Paul saw right through it and calls them on it.

So Paul offers a solution in our passage today. He says don't offer any part of your body to sin and became a slave again.  You are set free by grace why go back to bondage.  He says when you offer a part of your body to sin, it becomes your master.  We have all seen this.  It can be our mind or our body.  We may offer our minds to immoral media or other thought patterns that lead to sin.  We may offer our bodies to something harmful to us and it becomes an addiction. And we see the devastating results to us and in our relationships.  Or, we dabble in things not of God and our soul is brought into it.  

Bottom line is God has set us free by grace.  Just as we are forgiven and saved by grace, we all need to stand it, as we said yesterday.  God wants us to be free from sin and use that freedom to love and serve others. Think about how much more time and energy you would have to serve God if you gave up that sinful habit.  Doesn't this seem logical?  If it does don't return to insanity it is not a very good way to live.  God wants so much more for us in this life and then eternal life when we die and has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to live a new life!     

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Standing in His Grace - Romans 5

Peace and Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b]boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Paul continues to teach us the benefits we have by being justified by Jesus' death for us.  Most importantly we have peace with God.  Until we were justified by grace, we feared God and feared punishment.  We didn't want to approach God, because we felt unworthy and indeed we were.  But now because of God's grace in Christ, we have peace with God, which is no small thing.  Most people have no concept of having peace with God and don't know what they are missing by not having it.  But as a believer we should be reminded that as we come to God he sees us through the lens of His Son, so we are accounted as righteous because of what Jesus has done. 
Second, I like the phrase, "into the grace which we stand".  It is pure grace and unmerited favor that brought us back to God.  But we need to stand in this grace and not go back to the Law.  Because grace, getting what we don't deserve, is so foreign to us it is easy to try and please God by works.  Works are good but they flow out of grace not to get grace.  Grace is a gift and we need to continue to be thankful for it and live in it.   It is the only way to go.
Finally, we know that just because we have this new standing before God through Jesus, and stand in His grace alone, this doesn't mean we won't suffer.  Anyone who has been walking with Christ for any period of time knows this.  But Paul says even in our trials and suffering, they produce perseverance and character.  And suffering also serves to increase our hope that one day we will be delivered from this body of death.  
Take some time today to rest in God's peace, stand in His grace, and realize that even in our suffering God is doing a good work in us.  Most of all it increases our hope that one day we will be done with suffering and realize the hope that Jesus has given us.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Romans 4 - Faith is Not Another Work We Do to Be Saved!

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
Paul continues to teach the Romans on the nature of faith and how we are credited with righteousness not because of what he have done, but because of what God has done for us.  If we could be righteous through works, God would owe us a debt of righteousness and it would not be a gift.  But as we saw yesterday, we cannot become righteous by obeying the law, because we all fall short of keeping it perfectly.  Works righteousness is legal in nature.  If I do this much, then you owe me this much.  Much like if we work a certain amount of hours we are owed a certain amount of money based on our hourly wage.  
Paul uses the example of Abraham to show why it is faith not works that makes us right with God.  Remember the law which was given through Moses came after Abraham.  Abraham is the father of faith because he was the first one to trust in God's promises.  When God told Abraham his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the skies though Abraham had no son at the the time but Genesis 15:5 says, "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness."    
Paul again teaches the Jews that although they are physical descendants of Abraham, if they don't have faith like him they won't be credited with righteousness.  Yet if a Gentile who does not know the law believes in God's promises, he becomes the offspring of Abraham by faith.  While circumcision was a sign of being part of God's covenant people, it did not justify the Jewish people, only faith could. Circumcision did not save the people, but faith in the God who prescribed the circumcision in the Law did.  
The covenant of circumcision is similar in some ways with holy baptism.  Baptism does not save us, but faith in what baptism signifies does.  Baptism simply means being "completely covered" or "immersed" in the grace of God. The water is the sign of being completely cleansed by the grace of God. Notice that the cleansing comes from outside of us. God acts to save us. When a child becomes older they are taught how to have faith in what their baptism signified when they were but a child.  Circumcision set apart Jewish boys and adult Jewish converts to God, but it was faith in God that saved them.  
Finally, the easiest way to say this which is the rallying cry of the Reformation is, "We are saved by grace through faith."  Notice it is not faith that saves us but God's grace which we apprehend by faith.  Faith is not another work we do to be saved.  Faith is trusting in what has already been done for us.  Therefore all credit must go to God.  Grace is a gift, it cannot be earned only received by faith in the gift giver.      

Monday, June 18, 2018

Romans 3 - Why Our Good Works Are Not Enough?

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Righteousness Through Faith

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
In chapter 3 Paul makes the important between Law and Gospel.  For Martin Luther this distinction was the key to interpreting all of scripture correctly.  Why is this important?
Unless we understand the purpose of the Law, we cannot understand the purpose of the Gospel.  The first purpose of the Law was for God to set apart the Israelites as His chosen people.  By obeying the Law they would receive God's blessing and when they disobeyed it they would see His curse.  Generally speaking the Law is the Ten Commandments.  The first three commandments deal with our relationship with God, and most importantly putting our trust in God alone.  The second seven commandments deal with how to have right relationships with each other.  They describe how we love, care and respect our neighbors. It is summarized by the golden rule, which is that we love our neighbors as we would love ourselves.  
So what's the problem? The problem is laid out in Romans 3:20.  It says, "No one will be declared as righteous in God's sight by the Law, but the purpose of the Law is to make us conscious of our sin."  Paul goes on to say in verse 22, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." 
So where does the gospel come in?  If the Law exposes our problem in terms of our broken relationship with God, what is the solution?  Where does the Good News come in? The Good News, also called the gospel, is that God realized we could not justify ourselves by doing good works.     
The Good News is that God provided a solution to our sin problem by sending His Son Jesus into the world. Jesus became for us the righteousness we could never achieve on our own. His righteousness is a gift from God that we can receive by faith alone.  Faith is trusting in God's promises. In this case it is the promise of a restored relationship with God by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior.       
I hope this explains why our good works are not enough, but our faith in Jesus is enough.     

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Romans 2 - The Church is not a Hotel for Saints, But a Hospital for Sinners!

God’s Righteous Judgment

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearanceand patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
In chapter 2 Paul builds a case that all of us fall short of God's glory.  If God's law is the final arbiter of a person's righteousness, then all people both Jews and Gentiles will need a lot of help.  So when you judge someone else, Paul says you are judging yourself.  Why?  Because there is no one without fault.  The only one who can judge is the one who is fully righteous, God.  
So if we all far short of God's righteousness, what do we need?  We need mercy.  Mercy is gettting what we don't deserve. When one truly understands the mercy, there is no room or reason to judge others.  In fact, Paul tells us that those who judge others are naive to think that they will not face as harsh of a judgment.
Finally, Paul appeals to them to realize that it is only God's kindness and patience that leads us to repent and turn to God for forgiveness.  Since we all need God's kindness and mercy let's not withhold it from others.  
Are you judgmental person?  I think we all can be judgmental at times.  Sometimes being judgmental is an attempt for us to feel better about ourselves.  After all if someone looks worse, we might look better.  But the truth is that NONE OF US has the right to judge anyone.  When we realize it is only by God's grace that we are saved, instead of judging others we will want to share with them grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.  The church should be the least judgmental place people can go to.  The church is not hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners.    

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Romans 1 - Paul Describes the Depravity of Mankind. Not much has changed!

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.Amen.
Today begins Paul's letter to the Romans.  Rome was where Paul ended up in prison at the end of the book of Acts. Paul longed to visit the church at Rome, which was made up of both Jews and Gentiles. In some ways it was the last stop on his missionary calling.  He wanted to encourage the Roman Christians more about their faith in Christ, and how Christ had called them to follow him.  
Romans is one of Paul's finest letters and contains some of the most important doctrines for the church.  Romans systematically lays out the condition of humankind, and how Jesus has become for us the righteousness we could never obtain on our own.  Then, after establishing our need for Christ's righteousness, Paul shows us the way to that righteousness, which is by grace through faith.  This is the classic explanation of the Christian faith which Martin Luther and the other reformers in the 16th century church used to bring the church back home to the Gospel.  The church had moved from salvation by faith alone, grace alone, based on the Word alone, to salvation by works.  Martin Luther used Romans as his primary argument that the Church had left the gospel behind.
In chapter 1, Paul makes the case that all people accountable to God, both the Jews and the Gentiles.  Why? Because what can be see about God is evident in Creation.  Paul says the Creation around us shows that there is a divine Creator with a divine purpose. Paul states that instead of worshipping and praising God as Creator, the people exchanged the truth for a lie.  They started worshipping human beings and other animals. As a result they fell into a downward spiral of depravity, sexual immorality and the degrading of each other's body.  
We learn of the Fall of humankind in Genesis, when the serpent tempts Adam and Eve to become like God, rather than worship God as their Creator.  This sounded good to Adam and Eve and they gave into the temptation and sin was brought into the world. Since then every man and woman has been born with sinful nature.  The basic consequence of the sinful nature is seen in the description what humans become in the rest of the chaper.  Instead of loving and respecting each other out of worship of God, they exploit and degrade each other for their own selfish ends. They refuse to be accountable to God for what is good and evil.  And in time God gave them to due penalty for their error. Because God is a just God he could not sit back and watch his Creation destroy itself but He intervened. 
You might say things don't look to differently today!  We have exchanged the truth of the Creator for a lie.  We worship created things not the Creator.  This attitude is reflected in a culture that says , "You can't judge me for my behavior.  I am only acting on what I want to do. I am going to do what is best for me, and you have no right to tell me otherwise"  When we tell God that we don't want him in our culture or our lives, He respects our decision and you can see the calamity that results. We make a grave mistake when we take God out of our society, or make God into our image so He can serve us.
Unfortunately we are not a Christian nation anymore, but that doesn't mean that Christians should not pray for our country, and strive to honor God with our lives.  While we may not be able to change the exploitive systems we live under, we can be a light in our neighborhoods, schools, and through our churches.  Churches have a unique opportunity today to show what it means to worship a Creator and not the created!