The Future of Israel (Romans 11)

Sermon preached September 25, 2022; Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Pastor

I want to warn you at the outset that this may be the most difficult part of Romans to wrap our heads around. Did you know that in 2 Peter 3:!6, the apostle Peter admits that sometimes Paul is hard to understand? I think he was talking about Romans 11!

This week I asked a question on Facebook to help me with this sermon. The question was, can you think of a movie, book, or play where the plot centered around one character pretending to be in love with another character in order to make a third character jealous.

The answers I got said as much about what a diverse group of friends I have as anything else.

I’ve got a couple of English major friends who immediately said things like “Much Ado About Nothing” by Shakespeare. Or Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Leo Tolstoy.

Then there were folks kind of in the middle who suggested movies like Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett pretends to be in love with Ashley Wilkes to make Rhett Butler jealous.

Finally, then there were some more current pop culture fans, who referenced Harry Potter, High School Musical, every Hallmark movie ever, and a line from Friends— WE WERE ON A BREAK!

My personal favorite was from my buddy who said “The Empire Strikes Back. But that got weird in a hurry, because you find out in the third movie that Luke and Leia are brother and sister.”

Yeah.

But the point of that little Facebook poll was to show that this is a plot point that runs all through the history of storytelling. From Wuthering Heights to High School Musical to Bob’s Burgers (thanks, Jordan Bailey)! A man falls in love with a woman and pursues her. The woman loses interest, or the man gets distracted So the man starts showing attention to another woman, or vice versa, hoping that his first true love will realize what she’s lost and come back to him.

Now, I bring this up this morning because believe it or not, this is also a plot point in the greatest love story in history. It’s central to God’s plan for the future of Israel, and it’s the reason we Gentiles have a relationship with God in the first place. It may sound weird, but stick with me, because it’s right here in Scripture.

We are calling this part three of the Israel Trilogy that makes up Romans 9-11. We saw in Romans 9 that God chose Israel from the very beginning to be the people from whom Jesus the Messiah would come.

Then, in chapter 10, Paul lays out what it means to put your trust in Jesus for salvation, and he says it doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, everyone comes to a relationship with Jesus the same way.

So chapter 11 wraps up the Israel trilogy by answering the question, has God permanently rejected the Jews? Are they still God’s chosen people? And what is His plan for their restoration?

The answers are,

  • No He hasn’t,
  • yes they are,
  • and God is going to use us—the Gentiles—to bring the Jews back to himself.

John MacArthur points out that we can know for sure that God isn’t done with Israel for the simple reason that all of His promises to her have not yet been fulfilled. “If God were through with His chosen nation, His Word would be false and His integrity discredited.” (MacArthur, 32).

if God had totally rejected Israel, that would mean that some of God’s promises had failed. And if there is a consistent message from Genesis to maps in the Bible, it is that God can be trusted.

So God has not ultimately rejected Israel. He has a plan for their redemption. And here’s the crazy part: we are part of that plan!

Now, get ready for the plot twist:  God’s plan for the restoration of Israel is that He is going to make Israel jealous by offering grace and a relationship with Himself to the Gentiles.

You thought you were just coming to church to hear a sermon this morning, didn’t you? You had no idea that you were a character in the most epic 80’s date movie in the Universe!

Let’s see how this plays out. I want to take you first to a couple of verses in chapter 10 that we didn’t really talk about last week. Turn back to Romans 10. Paul has just laid out how to be saved: If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. That’s how its done. There’s not a different process for the Jews. The law can’t save you. Being a son of Abraham can’t save you. If a Jew puts his faith in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, they will be saved.

But in verse 16 of Romans 10, Paul acknowledges that they (Israel) “have not all obeyed the gospel. They’ve heard the gospel (verse 17), and they’ve understood the gospel (verse 19).  

But they rejected the gospel because they rejected Christ.

There’s a scene in Acts 13 where Paul and Barnabas have been preaching in the Jewish synagogue. This was Paul’s pattern. Everywhere he went, he went to the synagogue first. But in Acts 13:44, it says that the Jews [pay attention to the wording here] were “filled with jealousy when they saw the crowds.” And so in verse 46, Paul says,

 “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’””

Acts 13:44-47 ESV

And from then on, Paul considered himself the apostle to the Gentiles. I think its fascinating that Acts 13 says the Jews became “jealous.” Because as Paul points out in Romans 10:19, this is exactly what God, through Moses, said would happen.

“But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.””

Romans 10:19 ESV

So, what Paul wrote about in Romans 10 was first prophesied by Moses waaay back in Deuteronomy 32:21. Before Israel had even settled into the Promised Land, Moses prophesied that there would come a day when God would provoke the Jews to jealousy by establishing a relationship with a foolish nation.

Side note: You want to know if America is talked about in Scripture? The answer is yes, Here we are. We are the foolish nation that God’s going to use to make the Jews jealous.

So this sets the stage for Romans 11, where God lays out his plan for restoring Israel. Let’s pick up with the beginning of Romans 11. Let’s look at the first couple of verses. Verses 1-2:

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

Has God rejected his people? Paul’s answer is a Greek phrase me genoito, which means, “May it never be.” The most polite way we would say it today is “heck, no.” God’s rejection of Israel is not total. There has always been, and always will be, a completed remnant.   

Exhibit A is Paul himself. Paul was the greatest missionary of the Christian faith, yet he never considered himself as a Christian. Every time he describes himself, it is as a Jew. Here. Philippians 3. Acts 22:3. Paul always thought of himself as a Jew. And his message is pretty straightforward: If God didn’t reject me, then there is hope for my people.

Exhibit B is Elijah. Look at the rest of verse 2, and into the next verses:

…Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

Paul is reminding his readers of the story of Elijah from the book of 1 Kings. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah has just single-handedly faced down the 450 prophets of Baal, but when Jezebel puts a bounty on Elijah’s head, Elijah has a little bit of a pity party and cries out to God, “Lord they have killed your prophets and demolished your altars, and I’m the only one left.” And God’s response is, “No, you’re not. I kept for myself 7000 men who didn’t bow the knee to Baal.”

So the point is, God ALWAYS preserves a remnant. Verse 5:

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

The point of all this is that God’s rejection of Israel is not total. No matter how bad things get, there will always be a remnant of faithful Jews. But don’t miss verse 5. They are chosen by grace, not because of their righteous deeds. God didn’t do a reality show called “Israel’s Got Goodness” and pick the winners. The remnant is chosen by grace. That’s an object lesson for the rest of us.

There is a believing remnant of Jews today—Jews who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. The most common term for this group is Messianic Jews, although you may hear the phrase “completed Jews” from time to time.

But when we say remnant, we mean REMNANT. It is a tiny amount. If you go to Israel today, there are around 20,000 Messianic Jews in the country. That was as of 2012, so it may be higher now. 20,000 Messianic Jews in Israel. Which sounds great, but keep in mind that represents .0003% of the total number of Jews in Israel.

There are actually ten times as many Arab Christians in Jordan as there are Jewish Christians in Israel. Worldwide, there are about 300,000 Messianic Jews, compared to about 10-15 million Arab Christians.

This is stunning. Are you starting to feel Paul’s heartache from chapter 9, where he says he has “unceasing anguish” for his kinsmen?

If you go to Israel with me is, there is an almost 100% chance that our tour guide will not be a believer. Both times I’ve gone, our guide hasn’t even been a religiously observant Jew, much less a believer.  

Here are these incredibly intelligent guides who have gone through a rigorous training process to be certified as a guide. They know the scriptures backwards and forwards. They can tell us all about the life of Jesus and what happened here and what happened there.

But they aren’t believers themselves. How is that possible? I remember Janice Thayer saying to me, “How can they be around this truth all day, every day, and yet not believe in Jesus?”

And here is the answer in Romans 11:7-8

“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.””

Romans 11:7-8 ESV

There is a current blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of Jews today. And according to verse 8, God is the one who blinded them.

It’s been that way since Jesus Himself was on the earth. In Luke 19, right after the triumphal entry, Jesus stopped at a place where He could see the whole city laid out in front of Him. And verse 41 says He wept over it:

“saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.””

Luke 19:42-44 ESV

Sure enough, less than forty years later, the Romans came in and destroyed that city. They lost their temple. They lost their national identity for 2,000 years. They lost their land.

And Jesus said that the way of peace “was hidden from their eyes.” Who did the hiding? God did. God’s plan all along was that Jesus would be the cornerstone that the Jews would stumble over. John 1 said that Jesus came to his own, and his own did not receive Him.

Why? Why would God do that? Why would God give His chosen people a “spirit of stupor and hardened hearts?”

Paul gives the answer in the next section. Read with me, beginning in verse 11:

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

Romans 11:11-12 ESV

Here’s Paul’s second “me genoito”: Did God make Israel stumble in order that they would fall— meaning, fall completely, and be totally rejected. And Paul says, Absolutely not. Israel stumbled in order that salvation could come to the Gentiles.

And why did salvation come to the Gentiles? Here it is: to make Israel jealous.

I know this bakes your brain a little— it did mine. But Paul says it three times: Once in Romans 10:19, once here in 11:11, and once more in verse 14, where Paul says, “I magnify my ministry among the Gentiles in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.”

That’s the part we play in the greatest love story in the history of the Universe. Our job is to make the Jews jealous.

Listen. Our job is to live lives that are characterized by grace and freedom in Christ. Lives where, when we sing songs like “Jesus Paid it All— all to Him I owe,” we really mean it. Where we realize at the very core of our being that our own righteousness isn’t what makes us right with God.

The gospels say it over and over: I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

 If the Son of Man sets you free, you are truly free (John 8:36).

Paul says it over and over: “Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14)

It was for freedom that Christ set you free (Galatians 5:1)

I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatias 2:20).

God’s plan is that His chosen people, the Jews, will one day look at us and say, “What is with these Christians?” They are joyful, all the time. They are secure in their relationship with God. They get along with each other. They are completely at peace.

Look at them! They’ve been set free from addiction! Their marriages are stable. They aren’t obsessed with trying to get ahead in the workplace. They love their families!

I want some of that!

Christian, are you living the kind of life in Christ that will make someone else jealous of what you have? Are you so obviously different from everyone around you that an unbelieving world says, “Whatever they’ve got, I want it too!”

Because that’s why God grafted us into His family in the first place.

In the next part of Romans 11, Paul goes into an extended analogy of how we non-Jews have been grafted into God’s family tree. It can be hard for us to understand, because most of us aren’t farmers, and we don’t live in a part of the world with a lot of olive trees.

But in verse 17, Paul starts talking about an olive tree as the symbol of God’s family. He says,

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.”

Romans 11:18-20 ESV

Have you ever seen an olive tree? This picture is of some of the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some of them are over 2000 years old. Olives have always been a commercial mainstay in the Mediterranean world, it was a commercial mainstay. Even today, when you go to Israel,  you’ll see olive trees in production everywhere.

Did you know that olive trees can live for hundreds of years? And though the tree, the root, can live on and on, what happens is individual branches can stop producing olives. So you know what they do when those branches stop producing? Cut them off. They lop them off. And they take branches from younger trees, off the younger trees, bore a hole in the old trunk of the old tree, and graft in a young olive branch so that the older trunks can be restored to productivity.

That’s the analogy. And it’s a plain analogy. The old productive branches, the Israelites, were broken off. That’s the blindness that happened. And then branches from a wild olive tree– that’s us, Gentiles– were grafted in. It means we get our sap, our energy, our nourishment from the covenant promises God gave to Israel.

We are tapped into the root of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the others, not as a replacement of Israel, but as a witness to Israel.

All for the purpose of wooing God’s people back to Himself, by making the Jews jealous of what we have in Christ. Listen, don’t get hung  up in the word “jealous.”  (your translation might read ‘envious’) The brilliant theologian John Stott put it this way:

Envy is ‘the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another’, and whether envy is good or evil depends on the nature of the something desired and on whether one has the right to its possession. If that something is in itself evil, or if it belongs to somebody else and we have no right to it, then the envy is sinful. But if the something desired is in itself good, a blessing from God, which he means all his people to enjoy, then to ‘covet’ it and to ‘envy’ those who have it is not at all unworthy. This kind of desire is right in itself, and to arouse it can be a realistic motive in ministry.

 God desires for all his people to experience all His blessings. I will say it again: The very best witness we can be to an unbelieving world in general and to the Jews in particular is to be the most loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, and self-controlled people in the world. That’s the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes in Galatians 5:22. And that fruit is to be so much on display in our lives that the people around us will say, “How can I get that in my life? I want that! I am jealous for that!”

And the Jews especially will say, “You get all that from our Scriptures? You experience that because you’ve put all your trust in a Jewish rabbi? Whoa. I want some of that.

And at some point in the future, God’s going to open the eyes of His people, Israel, and they will put their trust in Jesus as their Messiah.

Look how Paul describes it in verses 25-26:

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:[d] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved,

God has allowed “a partial hardening” to come upon Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” If you are reading from the NIV, it says, “the full number of the Gentiles.” The New Living Translation says “the complete number.” What does that mean?

It means that God has a number in mind—how many non Jews are going to respond to the gospel. There is a set number—the fulness of the Gentiles.

There is going to come a time, and I believe it’s going to come soon, when the last Gentile will be saved. The last person is going to walk the aisle. The last person is going to bow their head and surrender their lives to Jesus. It might happen in Vacation Bible School. It might happen at a men’s Bible study. It might happen under a tree in Honduras or a street corner in Chennai India.

But at some point, the last Gentile will be saved. And if you’re a premillenialist, you believe that at that point, the trumpet will sound, and the rapture of the church will take place.

Others say that the church will remain on the earth, and will have an integral part to play in the salvation of the Jews. I don’t know. What I do know is that according to verse 25,

And at that point, God will lift the blindness from the Jews, and those who are alive at the time will open their hearts to the gospel, and according to verse 25, all Israel will be saved.

So let me just say to any of you non-Jewish people out there who have resisted the Gospel this long. You might be the last Gentile saved before that happens. Could be. So do us all a favor. Give your life to Christ, like, now. Let’s get this show on the road.

Because on that day, (look at the rest of verse 26)

26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

Salvation will come to the Jews in the same way it came to us. The deliverer will come from Zion—that’s Jesus. He will take away their sins. They will trust in Jesus as their Savior.

Listen—this is a heavy chapter. It is hard to understand. The apostle Peter himself said, in 2 Peter 3:16 that some things in Paul’s letters are hard to understand.

But look how Paul ends this section. He ends with this beautiful doxology!

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

We don’t have to understand in order to worship. And God’s plan of salvation—for both Jews and Gentiles! Is worthy of worship.

How to Be Saved (Romans 10)

September 18, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama. James Jackson, Senior Pastor

Good morning! Please turn to Romans 10.

I want you to imagine the world’s biggest college football fan. I’m not going to say the name of any particular team. But just imagine the fan. Everything in his wardrobe is the team’s colors. Every dog he’s ever owned is named after either a quarterback or a coach. He never misses a game. Not even for his own daughter’s wedding. The fact is, his daughter would never think of getting married on game day anyway because her daddy raised her right.

This man can tell you the score of every game since 1974. He knows all the stats. His ringtone is the school fight song.

But let me ask you something: on game day, when this Number One Fan comes to the gate of the stadium, what’s it going to take for him to through the gate? Will it matter that his twin sons are named Bryant and Denny?  Will it matter that he has houndstooth seat covers in the F-150? No. One thing, and one thing only, will get him through the gate on Game Day:

A ticket. Either you’ve bought a ticket or a ticket has been bought for you. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how enthusiastic a fan you are, you aren’t going to see the game.

Romans 10 is all about what it takes to get through the gate on Judgment Day. It’s about man’s responsibility when it comes to salvation.

And if talking about man’s responsibility in salvation gives you some whiplash after last week, I can’t blame you. After all, Romans 9 is all about God’s sovereign choice for us to be saved. If it’s all up to God from before the foundation of the world, then what does our choice have to do with it at all?

In order to answer that question, Paul once again uses Israel as a case study. Last week we saw that Israel is the best example of God’s election. God chose Israel as His special possession, and in the same way, if you are following Jesus, it’s because God chose you. God drew you to Himself.

But in chapter 10, we see that Israel is also the best example of rejecting God. God rejected Israel because Israel rejected the gospel. And just as that is true for Israel, it is also true for us, If someone doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus, it isn’t because they aren’t elect, or they aren’t predestined, or whatever. It’s because they have rejected Jesus.

So let me pray for us, and then we will dive in to chapter 10 to see how this works.

[pray]

You might remember how Romans 9 began. In verse 2-3, Paul said that he had

… great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 

In other words, Paul would give up his own relationship with Jesus if it meant his fellow Israelites would come to faith. But he’s not going to water down the gospel message in order to get there. Remember last week we said that to be a gospel-centered church means you have unceasing anguish for the lost, plus uncompromising faithfulness to the gospel.

Paul begins chapter 10 in a similar way. Look at verse 1:

10 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

It’s not that the Jews lack enthusiasm. Paul says, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. And zeal—which is a word that comes to us straight from the Greek—the Greek word is zelos—means to be hot or fervent. Passionately enthusiastic. Zeal without knowledge is fanaticism.

When Paul says “For I bear them witness,” it’s like he’s saying, “I know what I am talking about here,” because this is Paul’s story. Zeal characterized Paul the apostle when he was Saul of Tarsus. He was a very zealous Jewish man. He was so zealous that he dedicated his life to going house to house, rounding up followers of “the way” (that’s what they called this new sect before they called it Christianity) and dragging them off to prison and to death. This is how he described himself to the church in Galatia:

13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers (Galatians 1:14)

Paul was hardcore. His knowledge of Judaism went beyond what the other guys he was in seminary with knew.

I want you to notice something from Paul’s testimony. Turn to Acts 22 real quick. This is Paul making his defense before the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem after he’s been arrested for preaching the gospel, he told them,

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel[b] according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, (Acts 22:3-4)

So Paul is zealous. He goes on to tell them that he had been sent to Damascus “with letters from the brothers” (meaning, the Jewish leaders, so he was going on their authority) to arrest all the followers of The Way in Damascus.

Listen to how Paul described what happened next:

6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’

How does Paul answer?

8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’

So Paul had zeal. But it wasn’t according to knowledge. When he encounters Jesus face to face, it changes everything.

Notice what it says on the back of your listening guide. There were two primary words used in the Greek New Testament for knowledge. There’s gnosis, which is basic intellectual understanding of something. But then there’s epignosis, which is described as thorough understanding, discernment, or recognition. This is the word that’s used in verse 2, and it’s the word that is always used in reference to knowledge of God and His truth.

Remember this, because it’s going to help us understand something else in a few minutes.

Back to Romans 10. Verse 3 says that the Jews are “ignorant [they don’t have epignosis] of the righteousness of God, and are seeking to establish their own.”

Paul spent his entire life in Judaism trying to establish his own righteousness. And you can’t do it. God’s righteousness is a gift. It’s not something you earn, it’s something you are given. And verse 4 says it is available to “everyone who believes.”

What does it mean that Christ is “the end of the law?” Does it mean that we don’t have to keep the law anymore? No. It means that we have to stop thinking the law can save us. Christ is the telos—the fulfillment, of the law. The purpose of the law was never for salvation. Paul described it in Galatians 3 as a guardian, or a tutor—meant to show the Jews that they were helpless.  The idea was that when they realized they failed to keep the law, they would be driven to grace.

But instead, the Jews did the same thing lots of people do today. We say, “Well, if we can’t obey the Bible, then we will just spend more time studying the Bible.” This leads to the other problem.

The Problem of knowledge without zeal: Intellectualism

Keep in mind that the church in Rome was made up of people from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. We’ve already seen that the Jews big issue was zeal without knowledge [epignosis ] of Jesus. But the Greeks were a lot more into philosophy. You might remember how Luke described the culture in Athens in Acts 17:  

21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:21)

The Greeks loved philosophy. To this day we still study the great thinkers of Paul’s day—Plato, Aristotle, Socrates. They were extremely proud of their intellectual pursuits.

And you guys know me enough to know that I can be the same way. I can get really caught up in the latest book I’m reading or the latest idea I’ve heard. I love talking about stuff like that.

And I love, love, love studying the Bible. The other day Miranda put something on Facebook—“Anyone who knows me knows I love [blank].” I immediately said, “The Bible.”

I love the Bible studies that are happening all over Glynwood right now. I love what our women’s ministry is doing. I love that nearly 30 men showed up this past week to begin a Bible study together.

I love studying the Bible. But I have to ask the question, what are we doing with everything we are learning?

When I worked at Lifeway, I remember getting a customer service call from someone who was asking about when the next Beth Moore Bible study was coming out. And I was recommending some of the other Bible study writers LifeWay had. And this woman really said this to me. She really said, “Well, let me ask you—do they get into all that application stuff? Because I don’t really like all the questions about how you’re supposed to apply it to your life. I just want a deep Bible study.”

This is what Paul warned the Corinthians about in 1 Corinthians 8. The issue of the day was whether or not it was acceptable for a Christian to eat food that had been offered to idols. Some thought it was fine, because the idol wasn’t real in the first place. Others thought it would ruin your witness. They all had their ideas, they all had their arguments, and it was causing division in the church. So Paul wrote to them:

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

Knowledge wasn’t solving the problems in Corinth. It was actually creating them. Because even though people knew a lot, they weren’t acting in love toward one another. They weren’t following the new commandment Jesus gave, that they would love one another as He had loved them.

In other words, it isn’t what you know, it is who you are known by.

So, zeal without knowledge can’t save you. But neither can knowledge without zeal. So many people, when you ask them how they can know for sure they are going to heaven, will either give you a “zeal” answer or a “knowledge” answer.

The zeal answer is talking about all the things they do for God. I go to church, I’m a good person, I take care of my family. I pay my taxes. I give to charity.

The knowledge answer is when they say, “Well, I’m going to heaven because I believe in God. I’ll ask kids, “what does it mean to be a Christian, and their answer is, “It means that you believe in God.” And with all the love in my heart, I want you to know that no one ever got to heaven because they believed in God.

Remember what James said in his letter? “19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 

The union of the two: Gospel

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

This passage is probably the clearest answer to the question, “How can I be saved.” Paul says it comes down to two things: confessing with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.

You’re like, well, isn’t that knowledge? Yes. It starts with knowledge. Paul David Tripp says that before you can worship the king of kings and Lord of Lords, you have to know the fact of facts—that according to Hebrews 11, God exists, and He rewards those who seek him.

But this isn’t just gnosis. It’s epignosis. It’s recognizing Jesus is Lord. We don’t really understand the word Lord in our constitutional democracy. We don’t have lords and kings, we have representatives and presidents. But if you have epignosis—full knowledge and recognition that Jesus is the supreme authority over your life, then its going to change how you behave. Go back to Paul on the Damascus road. He said, “Who are you, Lord?” And when the answer came back, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” it changed everything for Paul. He had been zealous against God; he became zealous for God.

What about the second part—“believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead.” Again, that’s a fact that ought to change a person. If God has the authority to cancel death, then doesn’t that mean He has absolute authority in your life?

When you place your trust in someone who has this kind of authority over life and death, then it’s like verse 11 says: You’ll never be put to shame.

This invitation for salvation is offered to everyone. You might have walked away from Romans 9 with lots of questions about election and God’s sovereign choice. But make no mistake. God bestows his riches on all who call on him—verse 12. And, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (verse 13).

Paul closes chapter 10 by reminding us of our responsibility not just to respond to the gospel, but also to proclaim the gospel.

Look at the last section with me:

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

The word for preaching is kerysso, which meant to be a herald. Heralds were the guys who stood on the street corners and said “Hear ye, hear ye,” when there was a message from the king. So understand in this sense that preaching wasn’t what happened in the pulpits. It was what happened in the streets. The message had to leave the church and make it into the streets.

With these four questions, Paul emphasizes: [click for each one]

  • The necessity of belief: You can’t call on someone you don’t believe in.
  • The necessity of a testimony: How can they believe in whom they haven’t heard. You’ve probably heard the quote from St Francis—Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words. St. Francis didn’t say that. He said, “When necessary, use words.” Words are necessary. Faith comes through hearing.
  • The necessity of the gospel: How can they hear without a proclamation? This is The transmission of a body of truth that is not someone’s opinion but the authoritative revelation from Christ and His apostles.
  • The necessity of intentionality: How can they preach unless they are sent? We’ve all been sent. Every week we end the service by telling you you are sent.

I think this circles back to Paul’s “anguish for the Jews” in 9:1 and his heart’s desire and prayer for them to be saved in 10:1. Paul wants more preachers to be sent to His brothers.

At the same time, he recognizes that it may not do any good. In verse 16, he admits that the Jews have not all obeyed the gospel. Then Paul asks two questions he already knows the answer to. Have the Jews not heard? They have. Did they not understand? They did. It wasn’t a lack of understanding that has kept them from Jesus. It is a lack of submission. The word in verse 16 is “obeyed,” even though some translations read, “They have not all accepted the gospel. It really should be “obeyed.”Go back to verse 3: the Jews were so busy seeking to establish their own righteousness that they refused to submit to God’s righteousness.

As a result, Romans 10 ends with the image of God “holding His hands out all day long to a disobedient and contrary people.”

Have you ever tried holding your hands out for a long period of time? There’s some military movie I saw where new recruits had to hold their rifle at arms length for as long as possible. Imagine holding your hands out in front of you for as long as you could? How tired would you get? How long before they just gave out?

We know God doesn’t get physically tired. But the implication in verse 21 is that God is getting weary of holding out the gospel to a disobedient and contrary people.

And to that point, I will say, as Paul does elsewhere, that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. Or between the Jew and you. Is God getting tired of holding out His hands to you? Then repent. Confess. Believe. Receive.  

The Israel Trilogy, Part 1: How Odd of God (Romans 9)

September 11, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church. Prattville, Alabama. James Jackson, Senior Pastor

Once again, I am thankful for the teaching ministry of Skip Heitzig at Calvary Church, Alburquerque. The structure of this message is based on his teaching on this passage.

Good morning! Please turn to Romans 9.

In the early 20th century, there was a British journalist named William Norman Ewer, who has become famous for a little two line quip he made up and said to a friend at a bar one night in the 1920’s. He said,

“How odd of God to choose the Jews.”

People have been divided over whether or not Ewer intended that quip to be anti-semitic. It was the 20’s in Europe, so it certainly could have been. But a few years later, a Jewish American humorist named Leo Rosten added a couple of lines to Ewer’s poem. It now read,

How odd of God to choose the Jews

But not so odd as those who choose

The Jewish God, but hate the Jews.

We ended Romans 8 by talking about one of the greatest promises in all of Scripture—verses 38-39: that nothing can separate us from the love of God. So that raises the question, well, what about God’s chosen people, the Jews? Have they been separated from the love of God? Did God reject them?

There’s a line of incredibly ugly and anti-semitic theology out there that says that the Jews have been replaced as God’s chosen people by Christians. Is that true? Be very, very careful when you hear teaching along these lines. Because the Jews have NOT been replaced. They are still God’s chosen people, and God still has a plan for them.  But what is that plan?

We are going to spend the next three weeks talking about that, as we continue our journey through Romans.

You might remember when we first started talking about Romans that I showed you how Romans is divided into four sections: The overall theme of Romans is The Righteousness of God. Then, you have:

  • Romans 1:1-3:22: The wrath of God.
  • 3:23-8:39: The grace of God.
  • Now, chapters 9-11 are section three, which is the plan of God, for the Jew and the Gentile. This is the plan of God.

One preacher has called chapters 9-11 the “Israel Trilogy” of Romans. Chapter 9 is about Israel’s past. Chapter 10, principally about Israel’s present. Chapter 11 about Israel’s future. This morning we are going to look at chapter 9.

And I want to make four points about God’s plan in relation to the nation of Israel. So let me pray, and we will jump in to this text:

[pray]

So the first part of the plan is that God chose a people

Let’s look at verses 1-4:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,[a] my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites…

Let’s  just pause and reflect on Paul’s emotional anguish in the first couple of verses. This whole thing about “I’m telling you the truth, I’m not lying, God knows how knotted up I am about this: if it were possible for me to be cut off from God’s promises, I would totally do it, for the sake of my brothers.

This is stunning. Keep in mind that the Jews are the very ones that have been trying to kill Paul ever since he became a Christian. He is in prison in the first place because of the opposition to the gospel from the Jews.

And I guess if I was in that situation, it would be really tempting to look at the people that put me in jail and say, “Ha! You rejected Jesus. I’ll get my revenge. You can put me in jail, but you’re going to hell.

But Paul doesn’t do that. Because he understands that the Jews are God’s chosen people, that Jesus is a Jewish Messiah; that Paul himself is a Jew—circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, he tells the Philippians in chapter 3.

So Paul has “unceasing anguish” for his Jewish kinsmen, and says that if it were possible, he would wish himself cut off from all the grace of God for the sake of his brothers.

Let me stop and ask you— to what extent are you in anguish for the lost around you? How much do you pour your heart out on behalf of those who reject you? It’s a humbling thing to think about.

But for all Paul’s anguish, he doesn’t water down the message to make it more acceptable to those who reject it. He longs with all his heart that his countrymen would embrace Jesus as their Messiah, but he isn’t going to alter the gospel to get them to buy in to it.

Paul sets an example for us today. If we want to be a gospel-centered church, those are the two things we have to have: Unceasing anguish for the lost and uncompromising faithfulness to the gospel.

In verses 4-5, Paul lists several advantages, several benefits, that the Jews have. For the sake of time, I’m going to fly through these, but there’s basically seven things Paul says God gave to the Israelites:

First, the adoption. No other nation on the planet could say that they were God’s special treasure like Israel could. In Deuteronomy chapter 7:6, the Lord declared,

out of all the nations on the earth, I have chosen you as my special treasure.

Second, they have the glory. It  means the presence of God. Exodus 29:42-45 describes the presence of God filling the tabernacle in the center of the Israelites camp.

Next, to the Jews belong the covenants. There are several covenants in the OT. He made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the world with water. He made a covenant with Abraham to bless him and make him a great nation. God made a covenant to establish his house forever, and that there would never fail to be a son of David sitting on the throne of David.

The receiving of the Law. God gave the Jews the Law on the top of Mount Sinai.

He gave them the worship,  the complex and detailed rituals and offerings and sacrifices and feasts days laid out in the Torah.

Next, Paul says that to the Jews God gave the promises. That’s the next blank on your outline: God made a promise.

Did you know that in your Bible, you have 31,173 verses in total?

Of all those verses, it is estimated there are 7,487 promises that God made to us.

Many of them are promises God gave specifically to the nation of Israel. God promised them a land. God promised them and eternal kingdom. And God promised them a messiah.

Paul continues his list of the advantages of the Jews with verse 5: “To them (the Jews) belong the patriarchs. These are like the founding fathers of the Jewish faith.

God chose one man, one person, by the name of Abraham. God said to him, through you, I’m going to make a great nation. God took an old man with an infertile wife and gave them a baby. The family grew. That family went on to produce lots of children. Eventually they moved the entire family to Egypt, where for 400 years they were in slavery. God delivered them and brought them back to their promised land.

They conquered the land under Joshua. Then had 400 years of moral decline under the judges.

Came together again as a monarchy under Saul, David, and Solomon. Split into two kingdoms for the next 400 years after Solomon’s death.  

The northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians, the southern kingdom by the Babylonians, and for 70 years the Jews were in exile.

Cyrus decreed they could return to the land in 520 BC, and so the Jews lived in the Promised Land for the next 600 years, until Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD.

And for the next two thousand years, the Jews were a people without a country. But in 1948 they were able to return to their homeland. And if your Bible has maps in the back of it, you can flip to the maps and see that the land of Israel today has roughly the same borders as it did then.

So why this loong history lesson? Because I want you to see that God is faithful to His promises. The land God promised to them four thousand years ago is the land they still occupy today.

Against all odds, it still exists. Today, there are 9 million people living in that tiny little state of Israel, the entirety of which could fit into the state of Florida.  

This tiny country is a great nation, with a $300 billion per year gross domestic product.

  • It is the fourth leading exporter of citrus to the world.
  • It is the third leading exporter of flowers to the world.
  • If you like cherry tomatoes on your salad, they were invented in Israel.
  • If you use Waze to get from one place to another, it was invented in Israel.
  • If you’ve ever used a flash drive (hold up a flash drive), guess where it was invented? Right. Israel.

If you were to go to the nation of Israel today, there is a town in the West Bank that in the Bible is called Bethel. It is the place where, according to Genesis 28, Jacob laid his head on a stone pillow and dreamed of a ladder ascending to heaven. There is a sign at one of the intersections just outside of Bethel that says, “Here in Bethel 3,800 years ago, the Creator of the world promised the land of Israel to the people of Israel. By virtue of this promise we are living today in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Shiloh, and Hebron.”

I mean, if you’re one of those dad nerds that will add two hours or more to every road trip because he wants to stop and read every single historical marker, this is like the mack daddy of roadside historical markers!

In other words, they’re saying, the only reason we’re still here is because God made promises to us for us to be here. And so they are there.

And why? Paul gives the answer in verse 5:

“and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all,” Amen.

Every advantage to being a Jew Paul gives in verses 4-5 is leading up to this statement in verse 5.

From the Jews came Jesus. Jesus was a Jewish man. He was dedicated in the Jewish temple. He went through the Jewish bar mitzvah. He went to the Jewish Passover. And so salvation came to the Jews through a Jew.

So God chose Israel, for one reason and one reason only. Earlier I took you to Deuteronomy 7, where God told the people of Israel that He had chosen them, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth, for his treasured possession. But look at the next verse:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,

The only reason God chose Israel is because Jesus had to be born somewhere. God knew that for all mankind to be redeemed, they would need a savior who would be made in human likeness and found in appearance as a man. So He would need to send His son to be born, somewhere. Could have been Asia. Could have been Australia. Could have been Mexico.

But God picked Israel. And thousands of years before Jesus was born, God established a covenant with His people. He gave them the Law, the prophets, the worship, and the promises. All to pave the way for his greatest gift—His son.

So, the first part of the strategy: God chose a people.  The second part: God made a promise.

Now we get to the part that is hard for us to understand sometimes, but when you understand this, you will also understand Paul’s anguish in verse one.

God chose a people, and God made a promise, but God made the promise distinct from the people.

Look at verses 6-8 with me:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 

Imagine Paul’s critics. He’s finished up that incredible teaching of Romans 8, which says that there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can thwart the purposes of God, that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God; that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose; that those whom God foreknew, he predestined, and if he predestined them, he called them; and if he called them, he justified them, and if he justified them, he glorified them.

And so now, imagine the guy at the back of the room, going, “hold on, Paul! What about the Jews?”  Martyn Lloyd-Jones imagines the conversation going this way:

You say that when God starts a thing He always completes it; you say that when something is the purpose of God nothing can frustrate it. But if your preaching of the gospel is right, then God’s purpose has gone very seriously astray, because the fact is that the vast majority of the Jews are not Christians. So has God’s promise failed? (MLJ, Rom 9, p. 4)

God’s promise didn’t fail. Why not? Look at verse 6: not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.

Whaat? What in the world does that mean—are you saying not all Israel, is real Israel?

To answer—Paul goes into another history lesson in verses 7-17. Abraham had one son with his wife Sarah. His name was Isaac. At one point, God tested Abraham and told him to take his only son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice. When Abraham passed that test, and the Lord stopped him from slaying His son, God renewed His promise to Abraham, and He told him that in his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

One generation later, Abraham’s son Isaac had two sons—twins—named Jacob and Esau. And here’s where things get uncomfortable for us. Even before they were born; in Paul’s words in verse 11, before either had done anything good or bad,” God revealed that His promise would be reckoned through Jacob, and not Esau. Verse 12:

11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

“Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Now, that’s a bothersome verse. But here it is. Both Jacob and Esau were children of Abraham, but only Jacob was the child of promise. Again, remember that Jesus had to be born somewhere. If God’s plan was He would take on flesh and bone, that means he had to have a family line. And in His foreknowledge, God knew that the line would go through Jacob and not Esau.

Why? Because Jacob was awesome, and godly, and virtuous? No!

When you read your Bible, Jacob really comes off as a dirtbag.

There was once a seminary student who said to his professor, Professor, I’m having a problem with Romans 9:13– “Jacob I have loved. Esau, I have hated.” What’s up with that?

And the professor looked down at the verse. And he said, “you know, I have a problem with that verse too. But my problem is different from yours. I don’t understand why God loved Jacob.”

Listen, friends—God takes every opportunity He can throughout Scripture to remind us that we aren’t chosen because of our own merit. We’ve already referenced Deuteronomy 7. Israel wasn’t chosen because they were more numerous than anyone else, or because they were more virtuous. And God didn’t choose Jacob over Esau because of any good Jacob had done or any evil Esau had done. It was all set before they were born.

Why? Because Jesus had to be born somewhere. And through Jesus, salvation is going to be available to everyone who places their faith in him. Including the Jews themselves.

So God’s promise to Israel has not failed. Because some Jews did believe. And for those Jews who did believe, they are a part of God’s elect remnant. God still has a covenant with them.

But understand: that covenant is through Jesus. Because of Jesus, it is now the same covenant He has with every single person on earth. It is a covenant not based upon physical descent nor human merit. The covenant doesn’t operate on the basis of human connection, who you’re related to.

It’s not based on  human perfection, working really hard, earning your way to God.

It’s based on divine election.

Now, again, this whole idea of election has had people twisted in knots for hundreds of years. It’s hard to figure out how God can predetermine and elect you before you are born and then demand that you make a choice to follow him after you are born.

He chooses us. But then he says to you, you must choose him. God elects us, but then he tells us to call on him. God predestines us to believe, but then He calls us to put our faith in him. How does that work? I can’t unravel it perfectly.

But let me tell you how DL Moody described it. Moody says, imagine you are walking down a hallway, and there are lots of doors on both sides of the hallway. You see a door marked “Whosoever will may come.” And you walk through that door. You trusted in John 3:16. You put your faith in Jesus, and you walked through that door.

But after you walk through the door, you look over your shoulder. And carved into the wood on the other side of the door it says, “chosen, from the foundation of the world.”

You were chosen to choose Christ before the foundation of the world. And if you were chosen, you will choose Christ.

Now, somebody can look at that and say, that’s not fair. Well, glad you brought that up. Because that’s exactly what he talks about in the next verse, verse 14.

“What shall we say then. Is there unrighteousness with God, or is God unfair?”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[b] but on God, who has mercy. 

Now here’s the fourth aspect of the promise: God’s plan is perfect. Look again at verse 14:

“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! “

I want you to notice what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t ask if God is fair. He asks if God is unfair. What’s the difference?

Consider for a minute how it would be if God acted fairly toward us. Fair would be saving the people that deserved to be saved, right? But if that was the basis, how many people deserve to be saved? Right! Nobody. Thank God He isn’t “fair.” Instead, He is merciful. Verse 16 continues:

“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Mercy is waaaay different from fairness. It wasn’t fairness that nailed Jesus to the cross. Jesus didn’t deserve that. He was perfect. Yet he did it. Why?

Because God was showing mercy and compassion to me and to you. And God will do that, if you allow Him to. But if you harden your heart against Him, God will allow your heart to get harder and harder against him, until, like Pharaoh in verse 17, you are no longer able to choose God.

The point of all this is simple. If you decide you’re going to harden your heart against God, if you are determined to go to hell, God will honor your choice. Listen: God did not create hell for any human being. Let’s make that clear. Jesus said that hell is a place of everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. God never meant humans to go there. But he lets them go there if they choose to go there.

So if you want nothing to do with God, God’s not going to force you to have anything to do with him. You hear people say, “How could a loving God just hurl people into hell?” But turn it around: If someone spends their entire life pushing God away from themselves, then how could a loving God make them be in heaven with him forever? How cruel would that be? “I want nothing to do with you, God.” and God says, “Fine. I’m taking you to heaven then, so you have to be with me forever.

So don’t worry. God won’t save you if you don’t want to be saved.

But if you want to be saved, the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. God chose the nation of Israel, the tribe of Judah, the family of Joseph and Mary, for His Son Jesus to be born into. Jesus grew up learning the Jewish Scriptures. Worshiping in the Jewish Temple. Observing the Jewish feasts.

And he died in a Jewish city, at the hands of Jewish authorities, on the day of the Jewish Passover, and the eve of the Jewish Sabbath.

He was buried in a Jewish tomb, according to Jewish burial practices.

Three days later, He rose again, in fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. And it is those same Jewish Scriptures that Paul quotes in verse 24:

25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

God’s plan includes everyone, Jew and Gentile. It is all inclusive. He is not willing, the Bible says, that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. God’s plan includes you. Now, you might fold your arms and say, well, maybe God’s plan doesn’t include me. Maybe perhaps I’m not elected to be saved. This whole deal about election—and God choosing people for salvation. Well, maybe I just haven’t been chosen. What do you say to that, Pastor?

I’ll say, well, why don’t you choose him right now, and you’ll discover God already chose you. You’ll discover God has already been pursuing you. For Jesus said, no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And he said to his disciples who made their own choice to follow him– He said, you didn’t choose me. I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bring forth fruit.

You wonder whether or not God chose you for salvation? Here’s how you can know: choose him. Receive him today. Receive him right now in your heart. And you’ll discover God picked you.

You say, “No, I’m not willing to do that. Don’t push me into this. I’m not ready. I’m not ready to receive Jesus yet.”

OK, well, maybe he didn’t choose you then.

You say, Well, that’s not fair.

Well, then choose him! Pick him. Surrender to him.

Listen, God’s predetermination and God’s election never precluded anyone from entering the Kingdom of God because they just discover they were already selected by God when they made that choice.

Salvation is like throwing a rope to a drowning man. The rope itself doesn’t save the drowning man. The drowning man has to grab it. He can’t stay in the water and go, well, there’s the rope. I hope it saves me. He’ll die. He has to grab the rope. But he can’t be saved unless there’s somebody at the shore pulling him to shore. So that’s how it works. God, by election, draws you to safety. You, by your choice, grab a hold of the rope.

God’s plan includes you. But does your plan include God? And that’s where the appeal comes in to make a choice. Make a choice to follow him. You can argue over election and predestination all you want. I say just enjoy it. I don’t argue over it. I walk away going, he picked me. I’m on his team. I’m on the winning team. I don’t care how you wrangle that in your mind. The fact that he picked you should cause you great humility, because you didn’t deserve to be picked, and great joy, because He did!

Fearless Christianity (Romans 8:31-39)

September 4, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Senior Pastor

If you wanted to be cool in the nineties, there is a 100% chance that you had at least one article of clothing from No Fear [logo]. No Fear was launched in 1989 by two brothers and their friends who were really into motocross, and they basically sold shirts that were all about living on the edge, and taking risks, and winning at sports, and chugging energy drinks. They had slogans like, “You can’t steal second with your foot on first,” and “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

“Second Place is the First Loser.”

And my personal favorite, “Life’s Not Too Short, It’s Just that You’re Dead for So Long.”

But for awhile there, you couldn’t walk through a middle school cafeteria without seeing every other kid wearing a No Fear shirt.

Why were they so popular? Because everyone wants to have the reputation of being fearless. You want to be the guy that says, “get the ball to me, Coach” when your team is down by two with ten seconds left and only a three pointer will keep your season alive.

You want to be the pitcher who stares down the best hitter in the league… and winks at them.

You want to be the kicker that says, I can hit the field goal with one second left, Coach Saban, and there’s no way they would ever run it back for a touchdown…

We all want to be fearless, but the truth is, Henry David Thoreau was right when he said that “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” We want to be bold and courageous risk takers, but we almost always default back to playing it safe.

And we do that in our Christianity as well, don’t we. We want to be that fearless witness who speaks up about our faith at school, or shares the gospel with the guy at work. We want to be the husband that sits down with his wife and says, hey, can we pray together?

But instead of being fearless Christians, we usually default to being quiet Christians. Timid Christians.

Fearful Christians.

So as we come to the end of Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we find the secret to living this kind of fearless, audacious, bold Christianity. I want us to read this together, and then I want to point out the four rhetorical questions Paul throws out in order to make his argument that we can live fearlessly before God when we understand that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. If you are physically able, would you please stand to honor the reading of God’s Word.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:31-39 ESV

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Pray with me.

Sinclair Ferguson tells about a time a number of pastors from the Czech Republic were attending a preaching conference in the American South. And during some downtime, the host took these guys, who had grown up in Eastern Europe under Communist rule, to a Wal-Mart SuperCenter. Now, most of us would not think anything at all about Wal-Mart—it wouldn’t be the highlight of our trip abroad, would it. But these guys had never seen anything like it before. And when they walked through the doors and beheld the shelves lined with every imaginable fruit and vegetable and product, they turned to their host and they said, “Is this a store for the people in the government?” They couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that all of these things were accessible to everyone in America.

And Tony Merida, author of the Christ Centered Exposition commentary on the book of Romans, says that when we get to Romans 8, especially verses 31-39, we might have a similar feeling—are all these promises and privileges for every Christian? Or are they only for a few, like really elite Christians.

And the answer is, this is for all of us. As staggering as it is to comprehend, these great and precious promises are for every single follower of Jesus.

Paul asks four “who” questions in this passage. Romans has sixteen chapters, and this is the end of chapter 8, so really these questions are like the midterm exam.

Each of the questions starts with “who”: [Each transition]

  • Who can be against us? (verse 31)
  • Who can accuse us? (v. 33)
  • Who is to condemn us? (v. 34)
  • Who can separate us? (v. 35)

 Now,  with each one, he gives the answer of the person or thing that is able to, but doesn’t.

He tells us who is able to be against us, but is actually for us.

He tells us who has the right to accuse or condemn, but chooses not to.

Or, with the last one, the things that seem like they ought to be able to separate us from the love of God, but actually have no power to do so.

And here’s what is truly amazing: Not only do they not do what they have a right to do, but they actually accomplish the exact opposite of what you would expect them to do.

If you really take this to heart, you are going to find you have a capacity for fearless Christianity that you never thought you had. And in fact, you’ll find yourself impatient and bored with weak, timid, riskless, gutless Christianity. Let’s look at them one by one.

1st question: Who can be against us

Paul begins with “what then shall we say to these things?” These things could be the previous paragraph, beginning in verse 28—that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Or you could back it up to verse 1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But most scholars believe that these things really is taking into account everything Paul has written so far in Romans. Go back to Romans 1:2. Who is Paul writing to—“to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”

So the entire message of Romans can be summed up in verse 31: GOD IS FOR YOU. That alone should be a source for incredible comfort. God is for you, even though you have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

God is for you. Even though your sins deserve death, His free gift to you is eternal life through Jesus Christ.

God is for you. He demonstrated His love for you in that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.

So if God is for you, Paul asks (and he’s spent the last eight chapters proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is for you); then who can be against you?

Remember I said that Paul follows up all four of these rhetorical questions with the possible answer. Here’s how it works in the first question:

Question: Who can be against us?

Answer: He who did not spare His own son. God is the only one that could possibly be against us, is the one who did not spare His own son. And if He did not even spare His own son, so great was His desire to restore us to right relationship with Him, then we can be confident. Flip the question and make it a declaration. If God is not against us, then no one can be.

Listen, beloved: The only way God will be against us is if we reject the Son He did not spare for us. If we turn our nose up at so great a gift, then God is right to condemn us. Hebrews 2:3 says, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” If we reject His salvation, then He will reject us.

But when we surrender to His Lordship, not only is God NOT against us, but He graciously gives us all things. There’s that word again. We talked last week about how the Greek word translated “all things” is panta. It doesn’t actually have a word for things. English supplies that. But in the Greek it says, He who did not spare his own son but graciously gave Him up for us ALL, how we He not also with Him graciously give us ALL. What an incredible promise!

Because of that promise, we can live fearlessly. God graciously gives us all things. Think of it like the simplest Venn diagram you’ve ever seen. This circle represents all things. What is the subset of things God hasn’t given us? It’s not there.

2nd question: Who can bring any charge against God’s elect?

Paul asks his second question in verse 33: Who can, or who shall, bring any charge against God’s elect?

Before we deal with the question, let’s make sure we understand what we mean by God’s elect. On the back of your listening guide you’ve got a very basic definition of the doctrine of election. It is the scriptural truth that God chooses to show grace to undeserving sinners. You also hear it talked about as predestination. Now we could really get into the weeds and try to work out how this works with free will, but that’s a sermon series for another year. For now, just take “God’s elect” to be all of us, as followers of Jesus. So who can bring an accusation against a follower of Jesus.

If you stopped with just the next three words, you would have your answer: “It is God.” But you can’t stop with the next three words. You have to read the next five words: It is God who justifies. So God can accuse us, but God doesn’t accuse us. Instead, God does the opposite. Instead of bringing a charge, God justifies.

You also have a basic definition of justifies on the back of your listening guide. It means declaring a person to be just or righteous. This is a present active participle in the Greek, which means it’s an ongoing action. God is still in the business of justifying the ungodly to Himself! We have been justified— that is a once and for all, completed action, but God is continually justifying.

Make no mistake—God and God alone is doing the justifying. Our good deeds don’t make us right. Being born to Christian parents doesn’t make us right. It is God who justifies.

Aren’t you glad? Do you see how this truth enables us to live fearlessly? Because if I could do something to gain my salvation, then that means I could do something to lose my salvation. But if it’s God who justifies, then I can trust that God isn’t going to change His mind. God isn’t going to take it back. Because God is the one who justifies, then my salvation is secure, and I can be fearless.

Number One: God is for us, and no one can be against us.

Number Two: God justifies us, and no one can bring a change against us.

Now for Paul’s third question: Who is to condemn?

Verse 34 asks, “Who is to condemn?” And in what by now is a familiar pattern, the next phrase gives the answer for who is able to condemn: “Christ Jesus.”

Jesus can, but Jesus doesn’t. Instead of condemning, Christ died and was raised. And now that He has been raised, He is now seated at the right hand of God. And not only does He not condemn (speak against us); He actually does the opposite: He speaks for us. He intercedes.

There is no better illustration of this than Jesus with the woman caught in adultery.

The apostle John tells us in chapter 8 of his gospel that one day the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman before Jesus. And they said to Him,

“they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.

And they were correct, sort of. Leviticus 20 does indeed say that a woman who commits adultery must be stoned. But what it actually says is that both the man and the woman must be stoned.  The man is conveniently missing from this story, which means that this was probably a prostitute, and they were using her to trap Jesus. They knew that if Jesus said “let her go” then they could accuse Him of breaking the Law of Moses. But if He said to stone her then He would lose the support of all of those who had come to hear him teaching on love and forgiveness.

They figured they had him between a rock and a hard place.

Jesus ignored them at first, but when they pressed Him for an answer, John says

he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And when all those who had gathered up stones heard His response,

“they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

Jesus stood up and asked her the same question Paul asks in Romans 8:33 “Who condemns you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Beloved, do not miss this: Jesus was the only one in that circle who had no sin. He was the only one that had the right to condemn.

But the one who had no sin had no stones.

Listen: Satan desperately wants to condemn you, and he will do everything in his power to make you feel condemned. But that is all he can do. He can’t condemn you; he can just make you feel that way.

The One who is able to condemn you died on the cross so you wouldn’t have to be. The One who can condemn you was Himself condemned for you.

He died the death you deserved to die. And three days later, He rose again to show that the grave has no power over us. He died, was raised, and is now seated at the right hand of God. The image is of a courtroom. God is seated where the judge sits. And to the right of the judge is the defense attorney.

Get this: Jesus is sitting in the place of the defense attorney.  So, not only does He not condemn us, or accuse us, or speak against us, verse 34 says that He is actually interceding for us. To intercede for someone is to speak on their behalf. Can you imagine?

This is why the writer of Hebrews says that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, because we have a high priest who is interceding to the Father on our behalf. Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

In other words, let us fearlessly approach the throne of grace!

4rd question: Who can separate us?

Once again, Paul argues that the things that would be able to separate us actually accomplish the opposite.

Paul isn’t saying that none of these things will happen to followers of Jesus. He isn’t saying Christians won’t experience hardship or distress; or that they won’t be persecuted, or face famine, nakedness, danger, or sword.

Paul knows this firsthand. Remember, he is writing this letter from prison.

If our earthly bodies survive the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword, then all of those crises will draw us into a closer relationship with God. If our bodies don’t survive, then we will be ushered into the presence of God. That’s why Paul, in the next verses, says “As it is written, for your sake we are being killed all the day long, we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Either way, we win. This is what Paul was talking about when he said in Philippians 1 that to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

We are more than conquerers. It’s not that Paul had a death wish, He wasn’t like a suicide bomber who sought martyrdom. Paul wanted to live. But he also knew that all his enemies could do was kill him.  So he was like, do your worst. Nothing will separate me.

The end result ought to be fearless Christianity.

I heard an illustration years ago—this was actually an illustration I used in the first sermon I ever preached, when I was sixteen years old. But none of you were there, so I’ll use it again.

In the late 1800’s, a young man in Europe worked for years to earn enough money for passage on a ship to America. He saved every penny until finally he was able to buy his ticket. He thought to himself, all this suffering will be worth it when I can finally get to America.

It was a long voyage, and the small amount of food the man had brought with him was soon gone, and the man grew hungry. Every night he would look through the windows at the first class dining room. He would see the rich food laid out on the Captain’s table for all the wealthy people, and the hunger in his belly would gnaw at him.

Finally, the night before they were to dock in New York, he couldn’t stand it any more. He went to one of the ships stewards and begged him for some of the scraps from the captain’s table.

The steward asked to see the man’s ticket, and when he examined it, he said, “Sir, this is a first class ticket. You’ve been entitled to eat from the captain’s table for the entire voyage.”

Beloved, the promises of Romans 8:31-39 are your first class ticket.

  • Nothing can stand against you because God is for you.
  • No one can bring a charge against you because God has justified you.
  • No one can condemn you because Jesus was condemned instead of you.
  • Nothing can separate you from God’s love.

So live fearlessly. Come to the captain’s table.

And feast.

The Perfect Diamond of Romans 8:28

Sermon preached August 28, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama. James Jackson, Pastor

[I am grateful to the teaching of Skip Heitzig at Calvary Church Albuquerque. His sermon, “The Steady Hand of a Caring God” provides the outline and structure of this sermon.]

I promise I didn’t plan this. We’ve been in Romans for over eight months now, taking it almost verse by verse. We’ve taken a couple of breaks here and there, times I’ve been out of town, or days we had a special emphasis that took us out of Romans. I say all that to tell you I don’t think I could have planned this.

But here it is. Today is August 28. 8-28. And today, we are going to spend nearly the entire sermon on Romans 8:28. And Romans 8:28 tells us that God causes all things to work together for His purposes.

You can’t make this stuff up! And in a way, this “coincidence”—if you even want to call it that—is a perfect illustration of what Romans 8:28 is all about.

Romans Chapter 8:28 is one of the most well-known verses in the entire Bible.  Many of you know it by heart. When Biblegateway.com published a list of their most read verses, it was #3, behind John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11.

There is a good chance you have a pillow or coffee mug or T-shirt with Romans 8:28 on it.

But while many of you know every word of Romans 8:28 by heart, there’s also a pretty good chance that you haven’t really taken every word of Romans 8:28 to heart. And even if you have, there are a lot of people who claim Romans 8:28 out of context. They love 8:28, but they don’t know 8:29 and 30. And the truth is, Romans 8:28 really doesn’t make any sense without Romans 8:29-30. Let’s look at these three verses together. Normally, I read from the ESV, but I’m going to switch to the New American Standard version this morning, mainly because that’s what I first memorized 8:28 from. I’ll have it up on the screen too, because I know that’s not a translation a lot of people use. Let’s stand, if you are physically able, for the reading of God’s Word:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30  NASB1995

[Prayer]

We’ve talked before about how, if the entire Bible was a necklace, then Romans would be the pendant on that necklace. Romans 8 would be the cluster of diamonds in the middle of the pendant. And verse 28 would be the brightest diamond in the cluster.

When a jeweler grades the quality of a diamond, he looks at five C’s: cut, color, clarity, carats, and certification. Recently, they’ve added a sixth C— conscience, which is whether or not the diamond is ethically sourced. So this morning, So we’re going to look at Romans 8:28 phrase by phrase, and I want to point out the six C’s of the diamond that is Romans 8:28.

The First C stands for Certainty. “We know” is how verse 28 starts.

Paul’s not scratching his head saying, “We think,” or “We hope,” Or, maybe God causes all things to work together for good. He says, “We KNOW.” The verb is in the perfect tense, which means it is a completed, once and for all, never to be repeated action. And it is in the indicative mood, which means it is a simple statement of fact. So we could translate “we know” as, “this is settled. We know it with absolute knowledge and complete certainty. As sure as the sun rises, We know this.”

Several times in the book of Romans, Paul talks about things that we can know with this kind of certainty.

  • We know that God is just (Romans 2:2)
  • We know that suffering produces endurance (Romans 5:3)
  • We know that our old self was crucified (Romans 6:6)
  • We know that Christ will never die again (Romans 6:9)

These are all things we can know with certainty. So add to that the certainty that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God.

The Bible is honest about the fact that there are things in life we don’t know. Both Habakuk and Job wondered why God would allow bad things to happen. Isaac said that he didn’t know the hour of his death. And neither do we. We don’t know the day Jesus will come back. And according to Mark 13:32, neither does Jesus Himself.

But there are certain things we do know or we should know. And one of them– and it should never be a question in your mind– is that God loves you.  Sometimes our assurance the God loves us takes a hit when things are happening to us that don’t make sense. When we doubt the basis of Romans 8:28, that God is causing all these things to work for your good, it’s usually because you are doubting either God’s love or his power. These bad things are happening, you reason, either because God isn’t able to do anything about them, or because God doesn’t care enough about you to prevent them. 

Dear friend, you never have to question where you stand with someone who was willing to die for you. God’s love for you is absolutely, once and for all, settled, as is His absolute, sovereign power. Psalm 62:11-12 says, “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.

Beloved, never abandon what you do know because of what you don’t know. Romans 8:28 begins with certainty: We know.

Well, what do we know? That brings us to the Second C: Control— “God causes”

You can misquote Romans 8:28 just a tiny bit and come off sounding more like a Buddhist or a Hindu, or even an atheist. All you have to do is leave out “God causes.” Then you have “All things work together for good.” And you get karma. Or you get some kind of vague moralistic deism that suggests that if you keep doing good things things will turn out well for you. But that isn’t what Romans 8:28 says. The idea is not that all things just happen to work out for good on their own. So it’s not a statement of fate. It’s a statement of faith, that God is providentially bringing events together according to his plan.

Before you get to “all things,” you have to deal with “God causes all things.”  

At the root of everything that happens is the First Cause. The unmoved Mover. And since we looked at the verb tense for “we know,” let’s do the same thing with “causes.” This verb is present active. “Causes” is a present active verb, which means it is an ongoing activity that is orchestrated by God.

So if we were going to be more accurate, our translation so far would read, “We know with absolute certainty that God, on an ongoing basis, is causing.” This is one of the keys to understanding what you are observing in your life right now. It’s a work in progress. It isn’t finished yet.

The Third C is Comprehensive. “We know that God is causing all things”

Not “some things.” It might actually be easier to believe in God if that’s what the verse said. If you believed that, then you could at least have a God that was a little more understandable. You could give God credit for good things, and let Him off the hook for things like earthquakes and natural disasters and the Holocaust and mosquitoes.

But it doesn’t say God causes some things or most things or 99% of things to work together for good. It says “all things.”

It doesn’t say all good things work together for good. Nor does it say all prayed about things work together for good.

It says all things. The Greek word translated “all things” is panta.  And guess what it means? It means all things. There are no qualifications. There are no limitations. There are no caveats.

That’s hard. Christianity isn’t for sissies. It takes faith to look at our world and say that God is causing all things to work together for good. It’s one thing to praise God that you got the job you applied for, and say, “See, God causes all things to work together for good.” But do you have the faith to say that when you didn’t get the job? Or when the pregnancy test is negative? Or the cancer screening is positive?

All things means all things.  In his commentary on Romans, William R Newell sad that this includes “dark things, bright things, happy things, sad things, sweet things, bitter things, times of prosperity, times of adversity, all things.”

The Fourth C: Cooperation— “work together”

“Work together,” two words, one word in Greek language, sunergeo. You might be able to guess the word we get from this Greek word sunergeo. It’s synergy. Synergy is the interaction and cooperation of two or more things. It is the working together of various elements to produce a result greater than the sum.

So it’s not that you just have all these random things that happen. It’s that God superintends the mixture of all things.

So it’s the right combination. Here’s an example. Yesterday, we made brownies for a Sunday school party.

There are certain things in life in and of themselves are evil, horrible, bad, terrible. They’re not good. But in God’s kitchen, God is mixing all the ingredients together in the right amount.

And then, God subjects the ingredients to the two most important components—heat and time—the result is something good.

One of the best examples of this from Scripture is the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. You know the story.  Joseph was one of twelve sons of a man named Jacob, and he was his father’s favorite son. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, so they kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. Then they led their father to believe Joseph was dead.

Then there was a famine in the land. His other sons go to buy grain in Egypt, where Joseph is now in charge. Put a pin there, because we will come back to that in a minute.

Joseph puts one of the brothers in prison and tells the others to return home and bring back the youngest brother Benjamin. When they tell this to Jacob, Jacob throws up his hands and says,

“You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.” (Genesis 42:36)

So that’s one perspective. One worldview. “All these things are against me.”

But let’s compare Jacob’s worldview to his son’s worldview. Joseph was indeed sold into slavery. He became the chief servant in the house of a rich man named Potiphar. He was falsely accused by his boss’s wife and then thrown into prison. He spent years there. Then,  through a series of circumstances that only God could orchestrate, he rises to a position in the government second only to Pharaoh. And so, when his brothers come to him for food, he is able to preserve his family by providing for them. Otherwise, they would have starved. Years later, after Joseph has moved the entire family to Egypt, Jacob dies, and Jospeh’s brothers are afraid that Joseph will now get revenge on his brothers. But in Genesis 50:20, Joseph says,

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20 ESV

Think about it: Jacob and Joseph are living the exact same story with the exact same ingredients over the exact same amount of time. What is the difference between “all these things are against me” and “all these things are working together?” The difference is between looking at all the individual ingredients—the raw eggs, the flour, the salt, and saying, this is terrible—and looking at the result when everything is put together and subjected to heat and time, and saying, this is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. Heat, time, and the right ingredients mixed by a master chef.  

The Fifth C: Culmination

We know that God causes all things to work together for good

I cannot think of another statement that brings more assurance, more joy, more confidence to the Christian than this. Now, be careful.

He does not say we know that all things are good in and of themselves. Because that would be an absurd statement in view of natural disasters that happen, human tragedies that occur.

It’s not just absurd, it’s offensive. The death of a child– that’s not good. Cancer is not good. Suicide is not good. War is not good. Terrorism is not good. Rape is not good. Sex trafficking– all of those things are not good.

Do you want to stand over the casket of someone who died of a drug overdose and say “all things are good?” Of course not.  

What 8:28 says is that God causes all things to work together for good. Let’s consider those two words, “for good.” There is a difference between “for good” and “for comfort.” Not all good experiences are comfortable experiences. Any of you that have been through boot camp can tell us that. Certain experiences are very uncomfortable. All things do not work together for our ease, or our prosperity, or our physical health.

Know this, though, God is always working toward a supreme good as God defines good– as God defines good.

Many of you know the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. When she was 18 years old, she was paralyzed in a diving accident in the Chesapeake Bay. She’s 72 years old now, and has been confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic for nearly all her life.

Joni is often asked why she thinks God allows suffering. Listen to her short but profound answer. She said, and I quote, “God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” That’s profound. “God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”

The true Christian is not naive about suffering, and pain, and heartache, and tragedy. We know we’re not automatically healed as Christian believers.

Jerry Bridges writes, “God never allows pain without purpose in the lives of His children.”

And it’s not always easy to think about the fact that God allows pain at all. But get this: God allows pain, but He never wastes pain. He always causes to work together for our ultimate good, the good of conforming us more to the likeness of His son. Did you hear that last part? God has a goal, conforming us into the likeness of His son.

I want you to read it for yourself. Verse 29, “for whom He foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son.”

The good for which God causes all things to work together is making us, His beloved, more like Jesus. God desires our lives to be sweeter, and richer, and better, and deeper. That’s the good. In every trial, God has two things in mind: your highest good and His greatest glory.

There will always be parts of it we won’t understand. And I go, what’s up with that thing? Why that part of it? I don’t get it all. I don’t get it all.

But I’m OK with that. You know what the apostle James said? He said, we should even get to this point, “count it all joy, brothers, when you fall into various trials.”

Why would you be excited about that? Because God has got something up His sleeve. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing that the trial of your faith produces patience. Let patience have its perfect work, that you might be complete and entire, lacking nothing. God has something going on. The trials of your faith produce steadfastness, and that steadfastness is making us more like Jesus.

Now, let’s look at the last C of Romans 8:28. We’ve seen certainty, cause, comprehensiveness, cohesiveness, and the culmination. But there’s one more. And that is the condition. You see, the promise of Romans 8:28 isn’t for everyone. It is “to those who love God and are allied according to His purpose.

You see, we can’t take Verse 28 and just quote the part of the verse we like, “we know that all things work together for good.” Because that’s not what it says. It’s given to someone.

It is given to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. That’s the definition of a Christian. One who loves God and is called according to God’s purpose. Most of us only think about half of that definition. A Christian is someone who loves God. That’s the human definition. But God’s definition of a Christian is someone who called according to His purpose.

And what is that purpose? See, this is why you can’t quote Romans 8:28 without quoting Romans 8:29. Look at verse 29:

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Romans 8:29-30 ESV

Now we get the big picture. We go from eternity past to eternity future, from predestination and election all the way to glorification.

He foreknew. He predestined. He called. He justified.

He will glorify. The first four have already happened. You were known from very beginning of eternity. You were predestined to be God’s kid. God called you to Himself when you became a Christian. God justified you when you surrendered your life to the Lordship of Jesus.

And everything that happened to you leading up to your decision to follow Christ was God calling you. Everything that ever happened to you was so you would respond to God’s call, and so He could justify you.

So what about now? Everything that has happened to you since has been for the purpose of making you more like Jesus. God’s purpose is to form Christ in you. But look at the last one. Whom He justified, these He also what? Glorified. Well, guess what? That hasn’t happened yet.

This is not a glorified body!

So why does God write about it in the past tense. Because that’s how sure He is that it’s going to happen. Your glorification is as certain to God as Him choosing you before the foundation of the world, and electing you, and calling you, and justifying you. The next step, glorification is a done deal to Him.

This is why we can say with certainty that all things work together for the good of those who love God—because God is already writing about the end result as if it has already happened.

One of mine and Josh’s favorite things to do together is jigsaw puzzles. We’ll take a new puzzle and dump all the pieces out on the table. Then, we throw away the box, because we don’t need it anymore. The next step is to turn all the pieces over so that the picture side is facing up. After that, we’ll try to find the four corner pieces, and then all the edge pieces. And once we get the boundaries in place, we will start trying to complete the puzzle.

Now, one of the things I just said to you is not true. One of the steps I walked you through is not the way any sane person puts a jigsaw puzzle together. Did you hear what it was?

That’s right. You don’t throw the box away. Because it’s only by looking at the picture on the box that all of the little details make sense. Right now, you might be holding a pretty dark piece of your puzzle. Where does this go? Why would God allow this to happen? He sees the whole picture. Can you rest in that today?

(Re) Defining the Relationship (Romans 8:12-17)

This week, I asked several people around me if they knew what a DTR was. My suspicion was that if you were a college student or young adult, you knew exactly what a DTR was, but that if you were older, you didn’t. And as it turned out, I was right. When I asked a few people around my age what DTR stood for, and I heard “Don’t Trust Russia;” “Don’t Throw Rocks; Donald Trump Rocks; and even Dang Tide Roll—kind of a mashup between WDE and RTR.

But if you ask a twentysomething, they will tell you that the DTR is when you and your significant other sit down and DEFINE THE RELATIONSHIP. Where is this heading? What are we to each other? Are we just hanging out, or are we shopping for rings?

It’s a fair question. As a relationship progresses, it changes. A DTR is necessary so you know where you stand.

I want to suggest that Romans 8:12-17 is God’s DTR with His children. Because of what Jesus has done for us, our motivation for serving God has changed. So has our status— who we are. Finally, our expectations have changed— where is this leading. So that’s what we’re going to talk about this morning.

Join me in prayer, and then we are going to go verse by verse through this passage.

[Prayer]

Now, we are going to be talking about how our relationship has changed, but before we get to that, I want to talk about how our motivation for relationship changes:

Verse 12 starts with the phrase “so then:”

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 

“So then” is a conditional clause. It’s like “because of this.” There has been a change of motivation. We used to do something for one reason; now we do it for a different reason. And because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, We are no longer debtors to the flesh, but to the Spirit.

A debtor is someone who is in debt to someone else. Someone to whom we owe something. For example, Max credit union loaned as money for the renovation of our sanctuary several years ago, and this week we paid off the debt. We finished paying what we owed to Max credit union.

So what do we owe God? Aren’t all our debts paid? Isn’t salvation by grace? Why are we still debtors if Christ paid the debt?

The New International Version makes this a little more clear when it says “we have an obligation, but not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. Our new obligation is to the One who assumed the payments for our debt.

Paul goes on in verse 13 to say,

1For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 

 Our obligation is to put to death the deeds of the body. This is what the Puritans called the mortification of the flesh.

Tim Keller says,

This means a Christian doesn’t play games with sin. You don’t aim to wean yourself off it, or say, “I can keep it under control.” You get as far away from it as possible. You don’t just avoid the things you know are sin; you avoid the things that lead to it; and even the things that are doubtful. This is war!

(Romans 8-16 For You; p. 22)

Grace doesn’t change the need to put to death the deeds of the flesh, it just changes the motivation. Your motivation isn’t to earn your way to heaven or avoid the punishment of hell. Because of grace, your motivation is love and gratitude toward the One who gave everything up in order for you to become part of his family. So if you are filling in the blanks on your listening guide, you can say that the motivation changes from duty to delight.

When I was dating Trish, I did things to impress her, or so she would like me. Or (and this is the worst), I would do things for her so that she would feel obligated to do things for me. That’s the great advantage to having a birthday two days after hers. I might pull out all the stops and get her something really extravagant on her birthday, with the thought that she would feel obligated to do something even more extravagant for mine.

But now we’ve been married for 30 years. And even though I’m still in my flesh a little bit and I will do things for her to make her feel obligated to me, when I am at my best I am serving my wife because I love her and I want to honor her, not because I am afraid of her or I want to manipulate her.

In 1986, Dr. Robertson McQuilken, president of Columbia Bible College, resigned from the presidency in order to provide round-the-clock care for his wife, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I want you to listen to a portion of his farewell address to the student body:

Now let’s look at how the relationship itself changes: from being sons to being slaves.

Look at verses 14-15:

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Paul teaches that we are children of God, by adoption.

Now according to pop culture, we are all God’s children. Tina Turner in “We Are the World: “We are all a part of God’s great big family…” And that’s true, in the sense that God created us all.

Paul himself, when he was speaking to pagan philosophers in Acts 17, quoted one of their own poets and said “We are all God’s offspring.” But while it is true creatively, that every human being is created by God in His image, it isn’t true redemptively.

You see, before you were saved, your relationship with God was only as your Creator. God loved you, but your sin separated you from Him. He was your creator, but He wasn’t your Father.

Once, some Pharisees came to Jesus and confronted Him about His teachings. They said to Him in John 8:41, we have one Father—even God.” Look how Jesus responded:

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me… 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.

I’m almost positive “We Are the World” would not have been nearly as popular if Michael Jackson had sung, “You’re of the world… your dad’s the devil…”

But according to Jesus not everybody is a child of God. In fact, there’s only one way to become a child of God. And that is by receiving God’s son as Savior into your life. That’s the only way.

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13)

So we are born—not of blood; that’s a biological birth; or of the will of man—that’s us choosing God; but by the will of God—God choosing us. The word Paul uses in verse 15 is adoption. The Greek huiothesis, which literally means “son-making.” We have received the spirit of “son-making” by whom we cry out, Abba, Father.

Adoption—being placed as a son– is different from being born as a son. When a child is adopted, his or her identity shifts from their biological parents to their adoptive parents. Our biological parents are Adam and Eve. We are, according to Ephesians 1, by nature children of wrath. But God placed us as sons and daughters into a new family. His family.

One time a teacher was trying to explain adoption to her class of kindergartners. One little girl shot her hand up, and said, I can tell you what adoption is. I’m adopted, and my mom explained it to me.  “Adoption is when a child grows in your heart instead of your tummy.”

What a beautiful description of adoption. And from a theological perspective, it’s an accurate description of biblical adoption. You see, God had you growing in his heart for years.

In Ephesians 1 Paul said, that God chose us in him before the foundation of the world having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will. That’s the doctrine of election. God picked you. God chose you. God wanted you to be part of his family.

I love this quote from Charles Spurgeon. He said,

I believe in the doctrine of election. I’m quite sure that if God had not chosen me I never would have chosen him. Furthermore, I am sure God chose me before I was born, because he never would have picked me afterwards.

When God adopts you, the relationship changes and you are now allowed to call him Abba, Father. That’s a Hebrew word that means daddy.

Did you know that more than 70 times in the gospels Jesus either called God His Father or instructed us to think of God as our Father. That’s how Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father in Heaven hallowed be your name.”

That came as a shock to the people of the first century because Jews did not refer to God as their father. In fact, you can do a search of the entire Old Testament and only find two verses where anyone addressed God as Father. They are both in Isaiah: 63:16-17, and 64:8-9 if you want to look them up.

But that’s pretty much it from the Old Testament. So when Jews prayed, they didn’t refer to God as Father. They would say, “Blessed are you Lord, God, King of the universe.” Beautiful, and true, but also distant, and unapproachable.

But Jesus said call Him Daddy, call him Father. That’s what adoption does. God has redefined the relationship. According to verse 15, we’ve gone from slaves to sons.

Now, just a few weeks ago, we read in Romans 6:19 that we are to present the members of our body as “slaves to righteousness.” So which is it? Are we sons or slaves?

Paul never says we aren’t slaves. He says we don’t have a spirit of slavery. It goes back to our first point. What is your motivation for serving? A slave serves from duty. A son serves from delight. We have not received the spirit of slavery that makes us fall back into fear.

Flash back to a time you really messed up when you were younger. Maybe you wrecked your car. Maybe you got a speeding ticket. Maybe it was something worse. Depending on the relationship you had with your earthly father, you probably had one of two responses.

You might have said, “Oh, man, I have really messed up. I hope my dad doesn’t find out.” If your biggest screw up leads you to be terrified that your father might find out, then your relationship with your father is characterized by the fear of punishment. This is the spirit of slavery. Your motivation to do good is based solely on not wanting to face the punishment if you mess up.

But here’s the second option. You wrecked the car. You got a speeding ticket. You got arrested. What if your response was, “Man, I’ve really messed up. I’ve got to call my dad.” That is the spirit of adoption. If you understand who you are as a son or daughter of a loving father, then he is the first person you cry out to when you are in trouble.

Now, one way or the other, your dad is going to find out. And you are either terrified by that, or you are grateful for that, based on your relationship with your father.

How do you know God really is your heavenly father? How do you know that you really are His son or daughter?

The answer is in verse 16:

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 

We know we are children of God because of the Holy Spirit Himself. Not itself, but Himself. The Holy Spirit isn’t an impersonal force. He is a person, and He bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

When I was preparing for this sermon, I texted Kristie Graves, because I knew that both Hazel and Elaina are adopted. I asked Kristie, “Hey, when you adopted the girls, were you required to have witnesses?” And she answered, “Oh, yes. We had to stand before a judge and take an oath. And we were surrounded by lawyers and family members and case workers and anyone else who would either share responsibility for raising the girls or anyone who had been responsible for vetting us as potential parents during the process. All of them were asked to stand with us as witnesses before the judge.”

Why is that important? Well, suppose the biological father decides to come forward and challenge the adoption. What if one day he comes and says, “this child still belongs to me. She isn’t yours. She’s mine!”

Beloved, don’t you see that this is what Satan tries to do all the time! Satan is our biological father. We inherited a sin nature from Adam and Eve. Like the Pharisees, we are of our father the devil, what Ephesians 2:3 calls  children of wrath.” Revelation 12:10 calls the devil the accuser of the brethren. That’s literally what satan means in Hebrew: Ha Satan: the accuser. This was actually the legal term for the one bringing charges. So the satan brings the charges against you before the Judge, the Heavenly Father. And he says, “This one doesn’t belong to you. Look at her! Look at her thought life. Look at all the times she’s screwed up. That’s my girl.”

And so Satan does everything he can to try to drag you back home.

That’s when the Holy Spirit comes forward and says, Nope. The Father adopted this child into His family. I was there before the foundation of the world, when the Father predestined her for adoption (Ephesians 1:5). I was there when God Himself allowed His only begotten Son to shed His blood to seal the adoption.

So You’ve got the witness of the Spirit. But notice that verse 16 says that the “Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” That’s why Revelation 12:11 says that the accuser was overcome by the blood of the lamb and by their testimony.

We can be confident in our salvation. We can have assurance. How does this happen?

Years ago, Trish’s sister and her husband adopted our nephew Drew from Guatemala. Now what assurances do we have that Drew is really Pam and Erdie’s son? Well, it’s pretty simple. He lives in their house. He doesn’t speak a word of Spanish.

There are some people who have even said they can see the resemblance between Drew and our brother in law. He may be biologically Guatemalan, but there is nothing about him that identifies with Guatemala anymore. I’m not even sure he could find it on a map! Drew has full assurance that he is their child.  

But what if Drew decided he didn’t want to live in Pam and Erdie’s house anymore? What if he refused to learn the language or customs of his adoptive country? What if he never left Guatemala, and only ate Guatemalan food, and only hung around with other Guatemalans? People around him would start to wonder if he was truly Pam and Erdie’s adoptive son. He might start to doubt it himself. He would cut himself off from all the privileges of sonship. And although Pam and Erdie would never stop loving him, if Drew spent the rest of his life running away from them, then he might miss out on the whatever inheritance would have been his.

For the spirit Himself to bear witness with our spirit, we need to ask ourselves if we are willingly submitting to sonship. Are you acting like a son or daughter? Are you living by the values of your adoptive father?

So the motivation changes—from duty to delight.

The relationship changes: from slave to son.

Finally, our desired outcome changes. It changes from happiness to holiness. Here’s what I mean: Verse 17 says:

we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

That’s kind of a scary caveat, isn’t it? We are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  

A lot of people love the first part of verse 17, and ignore the second part. So please hear this: whenever the New Testament mentions the blessings and benefits of being a child of God, it almost always mentions suffering adjacent to it.

  • Philippians 1:29: 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 
  • 1 Peter 4:12-14: 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 
  • 1 Peter 4:16: If anyone suffers as a Christian let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
  • Romans 5:3-5: Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

So God’s goal for His children isn’t to make them happy. It is to make them holy. And that is going to mean we face challenges. And those challenges will take the form of suffering and persecution.

If you are indeed an adopted son or daughter of the living God, you aligned yourself with Him and you follow Him and you love Him, you should see suffering for Him as an indicator that you’re on the right path.

Anybody can endure suffering, only the Christian can endure suffering knowing there’s purpose for it and that is leading somewhere. So all of these experiences are because God adopted you. Meaning he chose you.

Now, this morning, I want to invite you to receive Him. God has chosen you, but it isn’t a forced adoption. You get to sign the papers.

[Invitation]

Mindset Matters (Romans 8:5-11)

August 7, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama

Good morning. I’d like you to turn in your Bibles to Romans 8, as we continue our journey through what many people believe to be the greatest chapter in the entire Bible. We intRoduced chapter 8 by talking about how it was the greatest portrayal…

  • Of the depth of God’s love for his children.
  • Of the brokenness of creation
  • Of God’s design and purpose for life
  • Of the relationship we have with the Trinity
  • Of our assurance of salvation
  • Of the Holy Spirit empowering us to walk with Christ.

And it’s this last point that you are really going to see in our text for this morning. One of the features of Romans 8 is that the Holy Spirit really takes center stage in this chapter. Up to this point, Paul has only mentioned the Holy Spirit twice. But in chapter 8, Paul mentions Him twenty times.

We are going to be studying verses 5-11 this morning. Hopefully you’ve found it in your copy of God’s Word, and I’d like you to stand to honor the reading of God’s Word. I am reading from the English Standard Version:

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

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

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated.

[Pray]

There’s a phrase that Paul uses five times in the first three verses. He talks about setting our minds on one of two things, or the mind set on this thing or the other.

So I want to start off this morning by asking you, “What is a mindset? When people talk about their mindset, what does it mean? And is it the same thing Paul meant when he talked about what we set our minds on.

If you ask a psychologist, they will tell you that your mindset is a set of beliefs that shape how you make sense of the world and yourself. It influences how you think, feel, and behave in any given situation.

Henry Ford had maybe the most famous quote about mindset. The pioneer of mass production of the automobile said,

 “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right,”

In 2006, psychologist Carol S Dweck made a splash with her book Mindset. Dweck was interested in how people cope with failure. She ran a series of observations of children who were given increasingly difficult puzzles to solve. She watched as some kids threw their hands up in frustration and said “I just can’t do it.” But other kids would sit down in front of a hard puzzle, rub their hands together, and say, “I love a challenge.” Dr. Dweck said the difference was mindset.  Mindset, said Dr. Dweck, profoundly affects the way you live your life.

Some people have what she calls a “fixed” mindset. This is the idea that the intelligence, talents, and abilities you are born with set the limits for what you are able to achieve.

These are people who believe they have only a limited level of intelligence, a set personality, and a fixed moral character. And people with a fixed mindset will either spend their lives trying to prove that they are living up to whatever their potential is, or they will throw their hands up in the air and do nothing when they encounter a problem they see as beyond their capacity.

But then there is the growth mindset. Instead of looking at their current IQ or personality or moral character as the limit of their capacity, they see it as their starting point. People with a growth mindset believe that a person’s true potential is unknowable. That it is impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with passion, effort, and training.

So, all that is fascinating, and Carol Dweck’s book has helped a lot of people. But the question we need to ask this morning is, is this what Paul meant when he talked about the mind set?

And the answer is, no. See, the world defines “mindset” as a set of beliefs you have about yourself. But God’s Word is never all that interested in what someone believes about himself or herself. The first sentence in AW Tozer’s classic, The Knowledge of the Holy is

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

So when Paul talks about mindset, it is not the set of beliefs we have about ourselves. In fact, Paul doesn’t talk about a mindset as something you have. He talks about setting your mind, as something you do.  Look again at verse 5:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

The Greek word is phroneo, and it’s a verb. It shows up twenty times in the New Testament, seventeen of them in Paul’s writings. It means to be in agreement with, or to have the same understanding as.

Interestingly, when the Greeks thought about the mind, they didn’t think about the brain or the head. The word phrane, which is the root of phroneo, referred to the midriff or the diaphragm. What we would call the core. When a body builder talks about strengthening their core muscles, this is what they are talking about. Their phrane.

So if you put it all together, when your mind is set on something or someone, it means that at the very core of who you are, you are in agreement with them. You have the same understanding as them.

Do you see the difference between the world’s definition of a mindset and the command of Scripture to set your mind? Psychology says you either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Scripture says you set your mind either on the things of the flesh or the things of the spirit.

And then Paul gives the warning:

 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

I need you to understand something. The Bible does not offer a middle ground option. A person either has their mind set on the flesh, which, remember, means that at your core you are in agreement with the flesh, you are striving toward the flesh, you have the same understanding as the flesh.

Or they have their mind set on the Spirit. At their core, they are in agreement with the Spirit. They strive toward the Spirit. They have the same understanding as the Spirit.

Sometimes we talk about a carnal Christian. Someone who is saved, but they are still chasing after the things of the world. Or we might say that someone has accepted Jesus as their savior but not as their Lord.

But according to Scripture, there is no such thing as a carnal Christian. The so-called “Christian” who accepts Jesus as their savior but not as their Lord doesn’t exist. That isn’t even a category for Paul. If your mind is set on the flesh, that’s death. You are hostile to God. You don’t submit to God. You can’t submit to God. Verse 8: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You are lost, and if you die that way, you will go to hell. Full stop.

But the difference maker, is the Holy Spirit.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 

Remember our Tupperware from last week? You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in you. The Holy Spirit is the X-Factor. We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit very much in Baptist churches. We’ve kind of left that up to the Pentecostals. Which is really unfortunate, because that means that when most people think about the Holy Spirit, they think about speaking in tongues, or faith healing, or a lot of the nonsense you see from televangelists.

The way the Bible describes the Holy Spirit is way different. According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit:

  • Points people to Christ: John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.
  • This one isn’t on your listening guide, and that’s my fault, but write this in the margin. The Holy Spirit convicts people of sin, John 16:8: when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
  • He regenerates us and renews us. Titus 3:5
  • He baptizes us into the body of Christ. In your notes the reference is Romans 6:3, but it should be 1 Corinthians 12:13. Again, my fault, not Stacey’s.
  • Through the Holy Spirit, we understand the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:12: Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 
  •  He prays for us. We’ll talk about this in a couple of weeks. Romans 8:26—The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
  • Yes, the Holy Spirit does distribute spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12 lists some of the gifts of the Spirit. So does Romans 12. We will get to that in a few months.
  • He guarantees our inheritance. Ephesians 1:13-14 says that when we believe in Jesus, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.
  • Finally, he sanctifies us to bear fruit.

And this is where I want us to end this morning. One of the biggest challenges to preaching and teaching that we are saved by grace alone through faith is that we can sometimes leave people with the impression that the only thing that matters is that you believe in Jesus, and how you live your life doesn’t matter at all. Beloved, that could not be further from the truth. Martin Luther said that we are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is is never alone. The evidence of saving faith is that we will bear fruit. Go back to verse 5:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 

It doesn’t say those who are in the spirit are given a spiritual mindset. It says that those who LIVE according to the Spirit SET THEIR MINDS on the things of the Spirit. LIVE. SET. These aren’t nouns. They are verbs. And they aren’t passive verbs, describing an action that is done to you or on your behalf. You are the one that sets your mind.

And notice too that it doesn’t say you set your mind on the Spirit. If it was just setting your mind on the Spirit, then being a Christian could just be about sitting around thinking about religious stuff. Listening to Christian music, putting Bible verses on your wall, going to church.

No, verse 5 says we set our minds on the things of the Spirit. The things of the Spirit are the fruit of the Spirit, contrasted with the works of the flesh in Galatians 5.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries,dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

That’s a pretty sobering list. It should help you evaluate not just your media—the music, movies, TV shows you consume, but also your news media. Your social media.

Look at the way it ends—those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. This isn’t a one strike and you’re out thing. We all stumble and sin. But I’m begging you to take this list seriously. Do any of these things characterize your life? Are you habitually angry? Do you thrive on causing strife, stirring the pot, being at the center of dissension? Are you habitually involved in sexual immorality or impurity. If that’s you, then you’ve set your mind on the flesh, and you’re not a Christian.

You’re saying, James, you can’t judge me. You don’t know my heart. And you’re right. I don’t know your heart. But God does know your heart, and it’s God’s word that is doing the judging here.

But now, look at verse 22:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

These are the things of the spirit that a true Christian sets his or her mind on. Again, we don’t set our mind on the Spirit. Christianity is not just about thinking about religious stuff all the time.

  • It’s loving every person, all the time.
  • It’s choosing joy when joy doesn’t make any sense.
  • It’s peace when the world is in chaos.
  • It’s patience in circumstances. Patience with foolish people. Patience with your spouse. Patience with your kids. Patience to wait on God’s timing.
  • It’s kindness. Choosing words that build up instead of tearing down.
  • It’s goodness. Acting justly. Loving mercy. Doing the right thing.
  • It’s faithfulness. Being a person of integrity. Telling the truth. Keeping your promises.
  • It’s gentleness. Not using your position or your authority to power up on other people.
  • It’s self control. Resisting the urge to spend all there is to spend, own all there is to own, eat all there is to eat, drink till you pass out.

These are all intentional actions. They don’t come easy. But they are things we set our minds on.

You say, but that’s hard! And you’re right. It’s hard. But being a Christian means choosing hard things.

And we don’t have to do it alone. Look at the promise of verse 11:

11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesusfrom the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Our countdown video this week was Jeremy Camp’s “The Same Power.” Remember the lyric?

The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea

Lives in us, lives in us
He lives in us, lives in us

We have hope
That His promises are true
In His strength
There is nothing we can’t do
Yes, we know
There are greater things in store
We will not be overtaken
We will not be overcome

That’s the promise of verse 11. What God calls us to do, God equips us to do through the indwelling of his Spirit.

[INVITATION]

Romans 8:1-4: No Condemnation in Christ

Intro: This is why we do it

Good morning! Please turn to Romans, Chapter 8. I am so excited to be turning to Romans, Chapter 8, and not Romans Chapter 7. We’ve been in the book of Romans since January. And maybe there are some of you that are getting maybe just a little tired of it. Certainly, when we were just hitting chapter after chapter about God’s wrath, there were some who were ready for us to skip ahead to the good stuff. And for sure, after how depressing Romans 7 was, there had to be some that were wondering if the rest of the book was going to be like that. But I want to tell you that chapter 8 is the reason for all of it. I don’t know for sure if we will actually finish the book of Romans, but I’ll tell you one thing: If we quit before Chapter 8, it would be like waiting in line for the best ride at Disney World and then stepping out of line before you got on the roller coaster.

Many preachers and scholars have argued that Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in the entire Bible. One wrote  that if all of Scripture were a golden ring, then the book of Romans would be the diamond on that ring. Romans 8 would be the most perfectly cut facet on the diamond.

It begins with the promise that there is no condemnation by God for those who are in Christ. It concludes with the promise there can be no separation from God for those who are in Christ.

And in between those two bookends, we see the greatest portrayal…

  • Of the depth of God’s love for his children.
  • Of the brokenness of creation
  • Of God’s design and purpose for life
  • Of the relationship we have with the Trinity
  • Of our assurance of salvation
  • Of the Holy Spirit empowering us to walk with Christ.

So let’s get to it. This morning as we get ready to celebrate communion, we are just going to focus on the first four verses. If you are physically able, please stand to honor the reading of God’s Word:  

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.[a] For the law of the Spirit of life has set you[b] free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 

[prayer]

Before we get into what the passage actually says, I want to make you aware of the Epic Shift that takes place between Romans 7 and Romans 8. Romans 7 is one of the most miserable passages in the entire Bible. Romans 8 is one of the most hopeful. Romans 7:24 is a wail of defeat: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 8:1 is a cry of triumph: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

And a key to understanding the change from Chapter 7 to Chapter 8 is to look at the pronouns.

In chapter 7, there are forty-seven first person pronouns. Let me just call your attention to a few of them:

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

I, I, Me, Me, My, My. Just in those six verses, there are twenty first person pronouns. It is literally the most self-centered passage of scripture in the entire Bible.

Do you want to guess how many times Paul uses the words I, Me, or My in chapter 8? Zero.

And in their place, Paul makes over 20 references to the Holy Spirit in chapter 8. How many in Chapter 7? Zero. In fact, up to this point, Paul has only explicitly referred to the Holy Spirit once in the entire epistle.

Let’s start with verse one. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And if you are reading anything other than the KJV, that’s where it stops. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, period.

King James, and the New King James, adds a phrase:

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

That phrase isn’t included in the earliest manuscripts. It’s the same phrase that is in verse 4, where Paul writes that we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.” So how did this phrase wind up at the end of verse 1? Well, somewhere along the way, some scribe must have been worried that if someone read “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” then they would conclude that a Christian was free to do anything they wanted. So maybe they wrote the phrase from verse 4 up in the margin of verse 1, as a reminder that the Christian doesn’t walk according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. Then, the next scribe saw it in the margin and figured, “well, this must be part of verse 1. So they wrote it with a comma, and not a period.

But here’s the problem: if you read this as “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, as long as I am walking according to the spirit, and not according to the flesh,” then you are back to making this all about your behavior. And what happens on those days when you are back in your flesh? What happens when you overeat, or drink too much, or flip someone off in traffic? Does that mean you are condemned? And if that’s the case, you are right back to the miserable state we find ourselves in in Chapter 7: “Oh, wretched man that I am! The good that I want to do I don’t do, but I wind up doing the very thing that I hate!” So understand this, Christian:

It is not about you. The earliest manuscripts end verse one with “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

PERIOD!!!!

Why? Look at the next two verses:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 

 God condemned sin—not you.

God condemned sin in the flesh of His own son.

Notice how super careful Paul is with his words here. He says that God sent his own Son—not in the flesh, because he is making the point that flesh is sinful.  And not in the likeness of flesh, because Jesus didn’t just appear to be human, He was fully human. But in the likeness of sinful flesh—Jesus was fully human, but he was completely without sin. And because He Himself was without sin, He was able to take the condemnation for our sin, so that we do not have to.

There is no condemnation for us, because Jesus Himself already took the condemnation.

What “no condemnation” does and does not mean

Now, notice this doesn’t say, “There are no mistakes” for those who are in Christ Jesus. Or no “failures.” Friends, we who are in Christ Jesus still sin. We still fall short. We still fight temptation, and we still lose the fight.  

And it also does not say there are no consequences. Even a believer who sins can suffer the consequences of his or her sin. Drive drunk, go to jail. Cheat on your wife, lose your marriage. People face the consequences of their sin all the time. But in terms of penal condemnation—the punishment our sins deserve, damnation, eternal separation from God—that is settled. It was settled when Jesus died for your sins on Calvary.

Sometimes, you will hear Christians say that “God is punishing them” for something. Have you ever heard that? Have you ever felt that? I need you to remove that phrase from your vocabulary. If you have trusted Christ as your savior, you have eternal life, and “shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)

God doesn’t punish us for our sin, because He has already punished Jesus for our sin. If you are reading the Bible chronologically this year, then you read this passage from Isaiah yesterday:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5, NIV)

In the 1986 movie “The Mission,” Robert DeNiro plays a ruthless slave trader in 18th century Brazil named Rodrigo Mendoza. Mendoza makes his living kidnapping the natives who live above the Iguazu Falls and selling them to nearby plantations. After he kills his brother in a drunken duel, he is filled with remorse and converts to Christianity. As penance

[and by the way, do you know what penance is? It comes from the word penal. It means punishment. Penance is this idea that you need to do something to pay for your sins. And it is not in the Bible.]

But as penance, the local priest orders Mendoza to climb up the falls to ask forgiveness of the very natives he had been selling into slavery. And that’s not all: he must make the climb with all the tools of his slave trade lashed into a bundle tied around his neck. All his weapons. All his armor. All the nets and chains he used to capture the natives. When he reaches the top of the falls, he fully expects to be killed by the natives. Watch what happens:

[show clip]

Conclusion: The Theology of Tupperware

There is therefore now not one condemnation for those who are in Christ. I want to close by sharing with you a powerful illustration of what it means to be in Christ. Because let’s face it—there are times when we feel condemned. There are times when Satan tries to remind us of all we have done, and how we don’t deserve God’s grace, and how he can’t believe we’ve got the gall to even show up at church, and if all those people at Glynwood knew the things you had done, and on and on and on. So as we prepare to take communion, let me share this illustration with you. I stole it from David Platt, and I call it the theology of Tupperware.

This container represents you. Let’s just label it you. And when you trust Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and surrender your life to his Lordship, you are in Christ.

Paul’s favorite description for the Christian is “in Christ.” He uses that phrase 84 times in his letters. And if you add all the references to “in him,” it almost doubles.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, the new has come.

  • We are chosen in him (Eph 1:4)
  • We have redemption through his blood and the forgiveness of our sins in him (Eph. 1:4)
  • In him God makes known the mystery of His will. (Eph. 1:9)
  • All things are united in Him. (v. 10)
  • We have an inheritance in Him. V. 11)
  • We are sealed in him with the promised Holy Spirit (v. 13)

So, this is you, and now you are in Christ…

[label second Tupperware, put first inside it]

But it gets better. Not only are you in Christ, but Christ is in you. Skip down to verse 4: The righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us. How is that possible? The requirement is filled in Christ, so Christ must be in us.

Then verses 9 and 11 make it even more explicit: verse 9—the spirit of God dwells in you. The spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is in you. Look at Colossians 1:27—

27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

So let’s label this Tupperware Christ, and we will put Christ in you, and you in Christ.

But, it gets even better. Remember, I’m trying to give you an answer for what to say when the devil tries to condemn you for your sin—

Not only are you in Christ, and not only is Christ in you, but according to Colossians 3:3, we are with Christ in God.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your[a] life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

[Label biggest Tupperware God]

So here’s what all this means. For the devil to get to you, he first has to get past God. And he’s never been able to do that. But then, assuming he could, he would then have to get through Jesus to get to you. And even if he could do that, which he can’t, he would still have to deal with the holy spirit that is in you. Every time Satan tries to condemn you as a child of God, he has to deal with the full force of the Trinity. AW Tozer put it this way:

I’m not afraid of the devil. The devil can handle me – he’s got judo I never heard of. But he can’t handle the One to whom I’m joined; he can’t handle the One to whom I’m united; he can’t handle the One whose nature dwells in my nature.

AW Tozer

Friends, it isn’t just that God doesn’t condemn you. It’s that Satan can’t accuse you. Because if you are in Christ, then the Holy Spirit is in you. And you are hidden in Christ, and you are with Christ in God. And the devil does not have a chance.

[Invitation]

[Communion]

Gotta Serve Somebody (Romans 6:15-23)

Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 6. It’s been a minute since we have been in the book or Romans. But I wanted us to jump back in this Sunday, and I think God’s timing on this is actually pretty amazing.

You know, last week, on June 19th, we celebrated Father’s Day. But we didn’t say much about another national holiday—Juneteenth.

Many of us, if not most of us, didn’t know much about Juneteenth until recently, and some of us may still not know. Because while Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the united states, it didn’t become a federal holiday until last year.

Juneteenth commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger came riding into Galveston Texas and read General Order #3 to the people of Texas,

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…

Even though Lincoln issued the Emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863, and Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, slaves in Texas hadn’t gotten the word yet. For more than two and a half years, they had still been living as slaves, never knowing that they were actually free people

And I would imagine that there were a lot of slaves that didn’t hear anything beyond “all slaves are free.” What an amazing word that must have been. Free! You could understand if all those men and women, who had never known anything other than fulfilling the whims of their often cruel masters, stopped listening at that point.

But if all they heard was “you’re free,” they would have missed the rest of General Order Number Three, which read,

The connection heretofore existing between [masters and slaves] becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They will not be allowed to [gather] at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Now, I’m bringing up this history lesson because I think it will help us understand today’s Scripture. What if those slaves who were freed on Juneteenth said to themselves, “Well, now that I’m free, I don’t have to do anything! I’ll never have to work again! I don’t have a Master anymore!”

And I’m afraid that a lot of people look at Christianity in the same way. They take verses like John 8:36

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

And they think that because we are free in Christ, we are free to do whatever we want. We don’t have obligations to make any sort of change in our lives whatsoever. We can even go so far as to think that the only thing Christianity impacts is where we will spend eternity.

The people in the church in Rome had this misunderstanding as well. Last time we were in Romans, I introduced you to this big $5.00 word, antinomianism (it’s on the back of the listening guide). Antinomianism literally means “against the law,” and it’s the belief that because we are saved by grace, there aren’t any moral laws we are obligated to obey. We asked Jesus into our heart when we were five years old, so even though there is no evidence whatsoever that we belong to Jesus now, we know that we are going to heaven when we die.

So Paul deals with this In Romans 6. We talked about the first half of the chapter the last time we were in Romans. People had been saying, “well, if grace abounds because of our sin, then the more we sin, the more grace we get.” And Paul said, no, no—you’ve died to sin.

Now, in the second half of Romans 6, Paul shifts the metaphor. Instead of talking about being dead to sin and alive to Christ, he pivoted to talking about the difference between being a slave to sin and being a slave to righteousness. Let’s look at what he said together. I’m in Romans 6, verses 15-23. Please stand with me to honor the reading of God’s Word:

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[c] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Please pray with me. 

[pray]

Now, the question in verse 15 looks very similar to the question in verse 1. In verse 1, Paul’s dealing with people who are wondering if they should sin in order to get more grace—that grace should abound. And his answer is, “By no means.”

But in verse 15, Paul deals with the question of whether or not it’s ok to sin, since we aren’t under the law anymore but under grace.

And I really think that’s where a lot of people are today. “I don’t have to obey the law, because I am saved by grace.”

And that is partially true. It is not the law that saves you. You are saved because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. But freedom in Christ doesn’t mean that you have no master, but that you have a new master. Look carefully at verse 16:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Paul uses the word slave here. The Greek word is doulos, and there’s a definition for it on the back of your listening guide. A doulos was one who was in subjugation to another person’s will. One who was totally obligated to serving another, to the disregard of their own interests.  

And this was a term that would have been very easy for the people in the church in Rome to understand. Historians estimate that the population of first century Rome was about one-third slaves. There was also a significant population of free men who had at one time been enslaved. So there’s a very good chance that over half of the members of the church in Rome either were slaves or had been slaves.[1]  

So Paul used a metaphor this audience would understand. In fact, Paul refers to slavery eight times in these eight verses. And never once does he say that the people aren’t slaves anymore. Look at it with me:

  • Verse 16—you are either slaves of sin or slaves of obedience
  • Verse 18: You were slaves to sin, but now, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
  • Verse 19: We are to present the members of our bodies as slaves to righteousness, leading to sanctification.
  • Verse 20: When you were a slave to sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What does that mean? It means that nothing you did as a slave to sin was working toward your righteousness before God, because sin was still your master. And I think this is really, really important for anyone who argues that “good people” go to heaven. As long as you are a slave to sin, the quote-unquote good things you do can’t count for anything, because sin is still your master.
  • Verse 22: you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.

Be honest—are you surprised that the message of the gospel isn’t actually freedom? This may be the hardest thing to wrap our heads around about the gospel, and it is probably what puts us at odds with modern culture the most.

The message of culture is that you should be free to do whatever you want to do, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and in some cases, even if it does. So I should be free to marry whomever I want. If I am a woman I should be free to decide whether or not I want to carry a baby to term or abort it. I should be free to end a marriage if my wife and I have just grown apart from each other.

And they look at Christianity and they say, no thanks. I don’t want any part of a religion that puts such limitations on my personal freedom. I want a religion that keeps me in the driver’s seat. It sounds like if I follow your religion I’m just exchanging one form of slavery for another.  

And the scandal of the gospel is that in Romans 6, Paul is basically saying, “Yup. That’s exactly what you are doing.

Write this down, because it’s going to bake your brain a little:

The call to follow Christ is the call to obedient slavery.

Look at verse 19:

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

The language isn’t politically correct, and the message isn’t popular, but this is what the gospel boils down to.

Every human being is born into bondage to slavery. Jesus said in John 8:34 that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. And we know from Romans 3:23 that everyone has sinned.

And so Paul goes all in on this metaphor. Before someone turns their life over to Jesus, they are slaves to impurity. They present the members of their body—their hands, their feet, their eyes, their ears, their mouths—all the members of their body are given in the service of sin.

And I get it. You tell someone they are a slave to impurity and lawlessness, and you get a lot of pushback. They’ll say, “C’mon, man. I’m not a bad person. I’ve never killed anybody. I’m not a pedophile or a human trafficker or a drug dealer. I’ve never cheated on my wife.  I know the difference between right and wrong, and I don’t need god or church or your bible to judge me and tell me I’m going to hell because I don’t give my life to Jesus. I just want to be free to live my life the way I think is best, ok?

And that’s the human condition. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They decided they wanted to determine right and wrong for themselves, rather than trusting God to determine what is right and wrong. In the book of Judges, the author described that time in Israel’s history as everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.  

But here is where Satan has pulled the wool over our eyes. He’s convinced people all through history that this is where you find true freedom—following your bliss, pursuing whatever makes you happy.

Look again at verse 16:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Here’s the most simple way to put it, the most basic definition of slavery: You are a slave to whatever you can’t say no to. In the modern world, we call that addiction. It could be a substance, like drugs or alcohol. It could be a habit, like gambling or porn. It could be a a compulsion, like shopping or hoarding or over eating or over working. But you are a slave to whatever you can’t say no to.

Anyone who has battled addiction, and we have several who are here this morning that have been there—they know addiction by its true name: slavery. And if you are a slave to sin, it leads to death.

So the gospel is simple: Go back to verse 19: once you presented your members as slaves to impurity. Now, present your members as slaves to righteousness. Once, every part of your body – arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, mind, and mouth, was given to sin. And you were therefore slaves to sin.

Now, take all of those members—arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, mind, and present them as slaves to righteousness.

Jesus desires to be the one thing you can’t say no to. In Matthew 11, Jesus offered this invitation to everyone who was tired and exhausted from trying to serve sin. He said,

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

A yoke was what a farmer put over the neck of an ox in order to direct and guide the ox. A yoke was a symbol of slavery. And Jesus doesn’t say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and take off your yoke of slavery. He says take my yoke. Learn from me.

My yoke is easy, because instead of saying yes to a thousand different masters and addictions and commitments and obligations, all you have to say yes to now is Me. I’ll direct your pursuits. I’ll set your schedule. I’ll help you break every other chain, and the only chain that remains is the one that connects you to me.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be confused about what it takes to follow him. Look what Paul says in verse 17:

17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,

We don’t have to be in the dark about what Jesus expects of us. He’s given us His word—the standard of teaching to which we are committed.

And God’s Word tells us all that we need to know to live a life of godliness. 2 Peter 1:3 was the memory verse for VBS a few years ago. Since we just did VBS, probably a lot of you can still sing it with me, can’t you:

His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.

Now, I want to bring this to a close by addressing what may be on a lot of your minds. And that is, why should I trade one slavery for another? You’re telling me this morning that freedom in Christ isn’t really freedom. It’s still slavery.

So let me leave you with this very offensive sounding, non politically correct statement:

There is a blessing to obedient slavery.

I know, I know. It sounds awful. But Bob Dylan was right. You’ve gotta serve somebody. It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody. So what is the blessing of being a slave to righteousness?

Well, first, there is better fruit. Verse 19 says that being a slave to impurity leads to more impurity. But being a slave to righteousness leads to sanctification. Sanctification is the process of a believer, over time, becoming more and more like Jesus.

Paul says in verse 20 that being a slave to sin means that you are “free” in regard to righteousness. You can continue on in your sinful patterns and have no obligation to follow God’s law. But then he asks,

But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

The fruit of being a slave to sin is death. But look at the better fruit of being a slave to righteousness. And not just better fruit, a better ending. A better destination: Look at verse 22: Paul has just said that when we were slaves to sin we were “free” in regard to righteousness. And then he flips it:

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There are really only two options:

Slave to sin, Free from righteousness, fruit is death

Slave to God, free from sin, fruit is eternal life.


[1] Hughes, R. Kent. Romans: Righteousness From Heaevn. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Press, 1991, p. 124.

Day 173: Living in the Sweet Spot (Proverbs 30:7-9)

7 Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached a few years ago, based on the book The Prayer of Agur by Jay Payleitner. If you’d like to watch to the whole sermon, you can watch it here.

Proverbs 30 is written by a guy that is easily overlooked. His name is Agur.  This is the only time he’s mentioned in the entire Bible. His prayer is the only prayer in Proverbs.

The buried treasure in Proverbs 30 is the three-verse prayer that delivers a shocking formula for trusting God, discovering his will for our life.

Four Principles from The Prayer of Agur:

  1. Be simple with your prayers.

Jesus warned us about long, drawn out, complicated prayers. In the Sermon on the Mount, he told His disciples:

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Why is this such a good strategy for prayer? Well, it has to do with attention span. I’m not saying God has a short attention span. You could give God a list of a hundred million requests, and he would remember every single one. God’s attention span is limitless!

But ours isn’t. And if we have a personal prayer list that it would take hours to pray all the way through, we’re going to have a hard time tracking God’s response. But I think Agur’s example is an approach to prayer worth remembering.

Any time you can boil your prayer requests down to a small number of specific heartfelt desires you’re going to find yourself more aware of God working in you and through you to deliver answers.

What two things does Agur ask for? He has identified his top two personal weaknesses. The two things he struggles with most: Discerning truth and owning stuff. Let’s tackle one at a time. This brings us to our second lesson from Agur’s Prayer:

2. Be a stickler for the truth.

Agur prays, “Keep falsehoods and lies far from me.” You can almost hear Agur’s thought process as if he’s saying, I know the world is filled with lies, and they trip me up way too often. Father in heaven, please protect my ears from hearing lies that might lead me down the wrong path. And keep my lips from lying so that I might not deceive others.

And can I jump ahead a little bit to make an important point about this? The next part of Agur’s prayer is about moderation and balance—give me neither poverty or riches—I don’t need to live in a mansion, but I don’t want to live in a carboard box, either. But when it comes to discerning truth, Agur isn’t asking for moderation. He’s not saying, “give me a little truth, and a little shadiness. Help me to be mostly honest.” No. He says, “keep falsehoods and lying FAR from me.”

Beloved, we do not have to throw our hands up in the air and pretend we don’t know what to believe and who is telling the truth. We have the mind of Christ, and Christ has come into the world to bear witness to the truth.

So when we pray the prayer of Agur—keep falsehood and lies far from me, realize that is a two way street. We pray for

  • Discernment with what we receive. Not every news source is trustworthy. Having a Twitter account does not make you an expert. And just because something is shared or liked or retweeted six million times, that does not make it true.
  • Discipline with what we share. Truth matters, and it dishonors the name of Jesus if we pass on something we know to be false.

Agur recognizes God is the source of virtue and integrity. He wants to be on the winning team. That comes from hearing truth, discerning truth, and speaking truth.

3 Be satisfied with your stuff.

The first half of Agur’s prayer is universal. After all, everyone wants to know what’s really true. Even crooks and liars. They may ignore the truth, but they want to know it.

However, Agur’s next request is a stunner. He dares to pray for a life of moderation: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”

Moderation? That’s not on anyone’s checklist. Especially in the twenty-first century. We are living in an age of extremes.

Did you know that in 2018, there were over 60,000 self-storage facilities in the united States? There are more self storage facilities than McDonald’s, Wendy’s Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts COMBINED! We spent almost $5 billion in the construction of new facilities so that people would have a place to store all the stuff they didn’t have room for in their houses! This is a 344% increase since 2008.

On the flipside is another extreme. There’s an entire subculture choosing to live as minimalists. Maybe you know someone cutting up credit cards and clearing out clutter. They don’t want the latest gadgets. Their entire wardrobe fits in one knapsack or cardboard box. They live in micro apartments and tiny homes. They use Apple products. Marie Kondo is their prophet—if it doesn’t spark joy, throw it out!

Now, you are probably never going to hear a prosperity gospel preacher quoting Proverbs 30:8. They might agree with the first part—”don’t give me poverty” but not the second part—“don’t give me riches.” And the minimalist crowd would agree with the second half, but not the first half.

Agur is not endorsing minimalism. Nor is he saying wealth and influence define success. He endorses neither fast or slow, big or small, fancy or simple.

Agur is praying for the grace to live in the sweet spot. The perfect mixture of getting what you need and needing what you get. He sums it up nicely: “give me only my daily bread.”

Agur’s prayer for only his daily bread was written down almost a thousand years before Christ. Today, we recognize that phrase from The Lord’s Prayer delivered by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The thing is, that’s not what Agur prayed. He added the word only. That introduces an entire deeper level of trust in the one who provides. It takes a bit of courage to pray, “Give me only my daily bread.”

Why, by the way, would anyone pray that way? We kind of want to say, “God, all I really NEED is my daily bread, but if you WANT to give me more— I’m not gonna say no…” Why would anyone pray that God wouldn’t give them more than just the basics?

4. Be Honest With Yourself

Agur identified his weakness. It was materialism. Stuff. He knew if he had too much, he would take the credit himself. “I don’t need God after all.”

If he had too little, he would steal and dishonor God. Agur was asking for his cash flow to be . . . just right.

To be clear, money itself was not the problem. It was Agur’s emotional attachment to money. The Bible doesn’t say “money is the root of evil.” It says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Let’s applaud Agur’s self-awareness. He is praying, in essence, “Lord, keep me dependent on you. Having complete trust in you is the balance in which I want to live. I can’t do life without you.”

Agur’s overarching concerns were that he would neither forget God nor dishonor God. God’s glory was his first and only passion. For Agur, and for all of us, that is life in the Sweet Spot.

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