Gray Matters (Romans 14)

November 13, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Lead Pastor

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Romans 14. I’m going to do something a little different this morning. I want to read all of chapter 14 at the beginning of the message. We are getting close to the end of our study of Romans together, and next week I’m not going to be here, so I want to get the whole passage in your minds, even if we don’t deal with it verse by verse.

Because the Scripture this morning deals with disagreements in the church. You know, there are some things that are crystal clear, black and white, and we have to be in agreement on those things. But there are other things that aren’t black and white. They are gray matters. And spoiler alert—the point of chapter 14 is that we don’t divide over those gray issues. Those gray matters. So let’s jump in. It’s a long passage, and I would really like you to be in your copy of God’s Word as we read. So I’m not going to ask you to stand up, but I am going to ask you to read along with me, and not just listen. Here we go.

[Chapter 14]


In Romans 14, Paul is going to address two specific issues that were dividing the church in Rome. We’re going to look briefly at what the two issues were, but then move from there to giving some guidance for how to deal with some of the gray areas that can potentially divide believers in the church today.

The first thing we have to understand is what Paul means by the one who is “weak in faith.” Well, he’s not talking about somebody who is not sure whether or not the Bible is true, or that Jesus is actually who He says He is. Paul isn’t describing a non-Christian here.

He’s also not talking about somebody who is weak in conviction. This isn’t a description of someone who is afraid to stand up or speak out for what he or she thinks is right.

One helpful clue to what he does mean comes from the original Greek. In the Greek, there’s a definite article there, so that it literally reads, accept the one who is weak in THE faith. So it’s not a lack of trust or a lack of faithfulness, but it’s a lack of understanding of Christian doctrine and the gospel message. And it’s a temporary condition. In the Greek “weak” is a present participle, which means it’s not a permanent state. So the assumption is that someone who is weak in the faith is going to do what? Right. He or she is going to get stronger in the faith.

Here’s a great definition of what it means to be weak in THE faith:

A weak Christian is one with strong convictions about superficial matters.

Now, let me be clear: Doctrine is not a superficial matter. There are doctrines that determine what it is to be a Christian.

  • Do you accept that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative word of God? Do you believe that there is one God revealed in three Persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
  • Do you understand that all human beings, including yourself, have a sin nature that inclines them toward sinful behavior, which separates them from God?
  • Do you accept that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified as a substitutionary, atoning sacrifice for our sin, buried, and dead, rose again in bodily form, and ascended into heaven?
  • Do you believe that he will return one day and that there will be a judgment of the living and the dead?
  • Let’s just close out the Apostles Creed: Do you believe in the church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting?

This is doctrine. And we have to be in agreement on those things, because they are the difference between whether you are a Christian or not. These are the essentials.

But then there are non-essentials. Superficial matters.

There were believers in the church in Rome who had strong convictions about superficial, or surface issues. Food was a big deal. It always is, whenever you have multiple cultures coming together. Some of them had come from pagan backgrounds, and they couldn’t bring themselves to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Because that was the common practice in Rome. An animal would first be offered in the temple, then it would be butchered and sold in the market. And that bothered their conscience so much that they would eat only vegetables. For others, they didn’t have an issue with it. They reasoned that an idol was just a hunk of wood or stone, so it didn’t matter if the meat had been offered to it first. Practically speaking, all the choicest cuts of meat had been offered to idols first, and it was sometimes hard to find meat that hadn’t been.

Then there were those who came from Jewish backgrounds, and they were still practicing all the dietary laws from Judaism. They were keeping kosher, which means they wouldn’t eat shrimp or shellfish or bacon.

Another issue was what day you considered to be the sabbath. Many of them still considered Saturday as the Sabbath and wanted to worship on Saturday. And many of them were still observing all of the Jewish feast days as well. But then others were saying, no, Sunday was the day Jesus rose from the dead. Sunday is the Lord’s day, so we should worship on Sunday. And why are you still observing all those feasts? That’s from the old covenant.

Now, I need to point out that Paul doesn’t specifically say what the issues were about food and days. We are drawing some conclusions based on what Paul did explicitly say to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 8, and what he said in Colossians 2:16 about Christians continuing to observe feast days. I think he keeps it intentionally vague in because he wants to focus on the principles and not on the issues.

So what is the principle? He says to welcome them. Welcome the one who has these strong convictions, but not to quarrel with them over opinions.  

There are a lot of variations in translations for the Greek here. It comes down to the same thing: arguing or dividing over non essential differences of opinion.

Do we have any of those today? Anything that you have a strong conviction about, but you can’t really back it up from Scripture? Or it’s in Scripture, but Scripture doesn’t treat it as something that is the difference between Christian and not Christian. And let’s just talk plainly and specifically:

  • Alcohol. Is it a sin to drink alcohol?
  • How do you feel about certain TV or movies? Do you follow the ratings board, and draw the line at R rated movies?
  • Tattoos. Is it a sin to have tattoos?
  • Is it a sin to wear makeup? Or to cut your hair?
  • We have our own issues about holidays, don’t we.  Should Christians allow their kids to dress up for Halloween? Should we talk about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? What about Christmas itself? We know that Constantine just kind of Christianized the pagan feast of Saturnalia, and that’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. So maybe we shouldn’t celebrate it.
  • What about patriotic celebrations in church? Some would say even having an American flag in the sanctuary is too much of a mix of church and state.
  • What about the way you dress at church? Do you have a strong conviction that you need to present your best at church, and that means a suit and tie? What’s your definition of Sunday best?
  • What about the way someone else is dressed at church?
  • What about the way I’m dressed? Would it bother you if I wore jeans? Does it bother you that I’m not wearing a tie?

Ok, so how do we decide what is a sin and what is a matter of conscience? Because as Tim Keller pointed out, it is possible to err on either side. He writes, “We must guard against thinking that almost every area is a disputable matter of conscience and against the view that hardly any area is a disputable matter of conscience.” One is about legalism, one is about antinomianism. One is about your sanctification as a Christian, the other is about your liberty as a Christian. So in the time we have left, I want to give you some filters to help you evaluate your strong convictions.

First, does Scripture speak to it? If so, how does it speak to it? Does the Bible describe a behavior or does it prescribe a behavior? If the Bible speaks to it, what is the context? Let’s look at the verses on alcohol, for example. Verse 21 of this passage says “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Paul is speaking specifically to believers here, and encouraging them to limit their own liberty in Christ out of love and compassion for someone else.

But in Proverbs 31, it says to give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” This was a word to a ruler, and the writer of Proverbs is contrasting how a ruler should behave with how those who don’t have any responsibility or decision making authority behave. When you look at Proverbs 31 in context, it begins with, “It is not for kings to drink wine or rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” You ladies that just finished the study of Esther, you saw how much alcohol played a part in some really bad decisions, didn’t you?

Then in 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul says to Timothy, no longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach. Timothy was apparently dealing with some stomach issues, and they were apparently related to impurities in the water. So Paul said, don’t drink the water. Drink a little wine.

Maybe you are wondering, James, why do you have all those passages memorized? Well, it’s because those were the passages I used when I was trying to convince myself that it was okay to drink in high school and college. Me and my church friends didn’t want to cause anyone else to stumble, so we wouldn’t drink at parties. Instead, we would drink with each other. And so on it went.  

So knowing the text and the context is so important. There’s a phrase I’ve picked up from Tara-Leigh Cobble, the host of The Bible Recap podcast. Tara Leigh says, “We don’t want to shout where Scripture whispers, nor whisper where Scripture shouts.” That’s a good guide.

Second filter:

Does salvation depend on it? I’m not going to spend as much time on this, because we’ve already talked about the basic Christian doctrines—authority of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, trusting in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, etc. And none of the issues we’ve been talking about so far are about salvation. At best, they are salvation adjacent. They could relate to someone’s sanctification as a believer. But they aren’t requirements for salvation.

I say that because there are a lot of sentences that people begin with, “I just don’t see how you can call yourself a Christian if_______” and then they fill in the blank with something that doesn’t have anything to do with someone’s salvation. Listen: you are allowed to say, “I don’t see how you can call yourself a Christian if you think that Jesus was just a great moral teacher but wasn’t God.” That’s allowed. But if you’ve ever said, or thought, “I don’t understand how a Christian could dress that way, or listen to that kind of music, or vote for a Democrat, or anything else that is not a salvation issue, then you are adding to the Gospel.   

And that’s the third filter for evaluating whether you are going to partake in a behavior or abstain from it: Does it align with the Gospel?. In your notes, you can write, “is it in step with the gospel?”

Now, you should know that not even Paul himself was above a church fight or two. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas had a falling out, not over any doctrinal issues, but over a guy that Paul simply didn’t like named John Mark. He had left Paul on an earlier missionary journey, and when he wanted to come on the next one, Barnabas wanted to give him another chance, Paul said absolutely not, and it pretty much broke up the band.

Then in Galatians, Paul talks about a beef he had with the Apostle Peter. He says in 2:12 that for awhile while he and Peter were ministering together in Antioch. Peter was eating with the Gentiles, but then some guys came from headquarters in Jerusalem, and all of the sudden Peter stopped going out with the Gentile guys. They’re all like, “Hey, Peter, Peter, Bacon Eater, where are you going? I though we were bros.”

Paul says, “When that happened, I opposed Peter to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. And Paul gives a rationale in that situation that I think is important for us to keep in mind: Verse 14:

14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Now I give you those two examples to point out something important: On one hand, there are always going to be people in church that you don’t get along with. There’s always going to be people who are part of the body of Christ that you don’t agree with on certain issues. And it’s possible to disagree without derailing the gospel. As it turned out with Paul and Barnabas, the gospel actually advanced further when they parted ways.

However, there are some issues that, as Paul said in Galatians, are not in step with the truth of the gospel. Paul saw Peter making the gospel conditional. That it was salvation by grace AND keeping Jewish dietary laws. Or living to please men instead of God.

The gospel is that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not by works. Period. Full stop. Questions, none. There isn’t anything we can do to earn it. Nothing we do can make God love us anymore, and nothing we have done could make God love us any less.

So if your choice to do something or not do something, wear makeup or not, drink or not, wash your car on Sundays or not, watch certain movies or not—does it align with the gospel?

Don’t miss verse the last part of verse 3:

 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.

Do you see the connection between verse 1 and verse 3. Verse 1 says welcome the person who might have different convictions than you do, or doesn’t have the same convictions you do. And then verse 3 says “for God has welcomed him.”

However, you do have to judge your own convictions and your own choices. Let’s look at four tests that you need to apply to yourself when you are thinking about what you choose to do and choose not to do. Again, we aren’t talking about sin. We are talking about those areas that Scripture doesn’t speak to, or are salvation adjacent, not salvation crucial:

First: What is your motivation? Are you seeking man’s approval or God’s approval? Verse 4 says:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master[a] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

In a nutshell, if someone is a Christian, that means God is their master, not you. They are answering to God, not you. So it is not for you to judge their convictions. This also means that whatever you decide to do or not do, it ought to be because you are genuinely desiring to please God and not man. For you, if that means not drinking, you don’t drink. If it means wearing a coat and tie to church, you wear a coat and tie to church.

Number 2, what is your attitude toward God? Are you thankful to him or are you begrudging that you have to do this or don’t do this or can’t watch this or can’t dance or whatever? Look at verses 6-7 again:

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Maybe you’ve seen firsthand the destruction that alcohol has caused in your family, or maybe in your own life. And every day you don’t take a drink, you are giving thanks to God for what he has delivered you from. For how your marriage was restored when you quit drinking. And you don’t pass judgment on someone who doesn’t have that history. But you don’t say, “God, I hope you’re happy. Look at all this I’m giving up for you. I sure hope you’re noticing, because I’m missing out on a lot of fun for you. Listen: you are not getting brownie points from God just because you don’t play cards.

Third: What is your attitude toward those who think differently? Do you despise and judge them, or do you walk in love with them?

Don’t resent someone else for enjoying his Christian liberty. It’s not for you to judge them because they don’t have the same convictions as you. Verse 17 and 18 are a great word about this:

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 

Fourth: What is the effect of your behavior on someone else? Are you weakening their faith or building them up?

[story about my brother?]

Wrap it up with the so thens.

Paul has three summary statements in this chapter:

  1. 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. This means that each person is accountable to God, and no one else.
  • 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. This means that even more important than winning an argument is winning a person. Isn’t it worth it to give up some freedoms in the short term if it means building up and encouraging a fellow believer?
  • For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.[d] The conscience cannot take something that is sinful and make it okay. But it can take something okay and make it sinful. If you are choosing to indulge in a behavior or abstain from a behavior for any other reason that to please God, there’s a good chance that it is sin.

Pay Up, Wake Up, Suit Up (Romans 13:8-14)

Sermon Preached November 6, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville Alabama.

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Romans 13.

This week, I was in Stacey’s office, and she was helping me try to come up with a title for the message. I had these three points, of pay up, wake up, and suit up, but I couldn’t find anything to kind of tie them together. And as you can see, I kind of took the lazy way out and just made those three points the title. But while we were trying to come up with something, Stacey just typed those three phrases into the Google search bar. And what came up over and over again was this quote from a woman neither one of us had ever heard of named Regina Brett:

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up, and never, ever give up” –Regina Brett

I loved the quote, but I wanted to find out more about Regina Brett before I put her out there as an example or a role model for you guys. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t some Wiccan high priestess or whatever.

It turns out, she’s a really cool lady with a great testimony. She was raised Catholic with an abusive father and a distant mother, became an alcoholic with an unplanned pregnancy in high school, survived one marriage falling apart, got her life together through a series of spiritual retreats and devotional reading, became a newspaper columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer; remarried, and survived breast cancer. In 2006 she wrote a column called “Fifty Lessons From Life’s Little Detours,”  which made her a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for newspaper commentary, became a bestselling book, and launched a podcast. This quote is Life Lesson #46. But here are some of the other ones:

  • Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
  • When in doubt, just take the next small step.
  • Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
  • Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
  • Pay off your credit cards every month.
  • You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
  • Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
  • It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
  • Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
  • If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
  • All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

I bring all this up because I have a strong suspicion that Regina Brett must have been reading Romans 12-13. Because a lot of her life lessons sound a whole lot like what Paul has been saying all through this section.

We are going to finish up our conversation about Romans 13 this week by talking about verses 8-14. And since we are going to go through this passage verse by verse, I won’t ask you to stand to read it all at once. Let’s pray, and then we will get into the Scripture.


The first thing Paul talks about is the obligation to love one another. On your listening guide, we’re going to call this The Debt You’ll Never Get Out Of.

Paul says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 

Now, I want to be clear about what verse 8 is NOT saying. Verse 8 is not a prohibition against borrowing, so don’t make it a Dave Ramsey prooftext. It may be make good financial sense to avoid borrowing, but you can’t really argue that from Scripture. Verse 8 is just a clever transition from verse 7. Paul has just said pay to all what is owed them— taxes to whom taxes, revenue to whom revenue, respect to whom respect, honor to whom honor.

So now in verse 8, Paul is saying that the one debt you are never going to be able to pay off is the continuing debt to love one another.

Couple of things about the Greek that Dr. Mark helped me understand better this week. Your translation might say, “Owe no one anything except the continual debt to love each other.” That’s a better translation than the English Standard Version, because “to love” is an infinitive verb. That means it is independent of time, or person, or condition. I had never seen the connection between “infinitive” and “infinity” before Mark explained it this way to me. So we are to love like Buzz Lightyear. To infinitive and beyond.  

So who are we to love? Each other? Now is that inside the church or outside the church? Because remember in Chapter 12 we talked about how In verses 9-10, Paul was talking about loving one another inside the church, and verses 14-21 were about loving people outside the church. So when Paul says, 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law, which is it?

Here’s what’s genius: It’s both!  There are two one another’s in verse 8. The first one is the Greek allelon, which means another of the same kind. That would be loving the people who are like you—other believers, people in the church. But in the very next sentence, when Paul says “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” he switches to heteron, which is another of a different kind.

So it’s a debt that we can never stop paying, and it isn’t limited to the people who are like us. The debt of love is continual, and its universal.

You might be saying to yourself, OK, I can understand having a debt of love to people in our church. We are a family of faith, we support each other, and maybe today I have a need someone else can meet, but on another day I’ll be able to meet a need you have. I get that.

But what does it mean that I have a debt of love to someone I’ve never even met? How can I owe them anything? And the answer, is that it isn’t them that you owe. It’s God. We are to love—agape, which is self-sacrificing, Christlike love—because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19). And when we love, it is the fulfillment of the law. Verse 9:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

You may know this already, but just in case you don’t—the Ten Commandments are basically divided in half. The first five deal with our vertical relationship for God—no gods before Him, don’t make idols, don’t take His name in vain, remember the sabbath. Honor your father and mother.

(By the way, if you live in Prattville, you’ll never have an excuse for not remembering the first five commandments. Just think about Gin Shop Hill Road: Gods, Idols, Name, Sabbath, Honor Parents. Gin Shop. You’re welcome.)

 five, because the last five are all about our horizontal relationships—our relationships with other people. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t covet something that belongs to your neighbor. Don’t lie to or about your neighbor.

So when Jesus was asked what’s the greatest commandment, he said, I can’t just give you one. I have to give you two. First, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. If you do that, you’ll take care of those first four commandments—the vertical relationships.

Then, if you love others like you love yourself—starting with your mother and father, then the last six commandments will fall into place. And Paul is saying the same thing in Romans. If you love your neighbor, you aren’t going to steal from them. If you love your neighbor, you aren’t going to do any wrong to them.

Love is the fulfilling of the Law, according to verse 10. Now, this statement has another layer of meaning for those who are in Christ, In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I’ve not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law by never sinning. And then, he shed His blood on the cross as a demonstration of God’s love for us. Friends, that is a debt we can never repay. And so in a very real sense, every single person we will ever lock eyes with is a person for whom Christ died. And some of them don’t even know it. We owe it to them to share the love of Christ with them. It is a debt we will never get out of. So In the words of those great theologians from the 80’s, REO Speedwagon, we’re going to keep on loving you.

So that is the first point of the sermon this morning. You owe a debt of love to each other, so pay up.

Paul moves from talking about the debt you never get out of totalking about the Sleep we’ve all got to get up from. Look at the next two verses with me.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  

The word “time” is another one of those rich Greek words that’s worth camping out on. Greek has two basic words for time: chronos, which is about the chronological sequence of events, and Kairos, which is a divinely appointed moment. Kairos describes a time when God is about to break through and do something.

And that’s the word Paul uses here. He’s saying at any moment a chronos moment can become a Kairos moment. At any moment God can break through our normal everyday existence with a divine appointment—a Kairos moment that changes everything. And you don’t want to miss that. So you have to be awake. You have to be watching for those moments.

When Paul says that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed,” what does he mean? I think there’s three ways to understand this, and I think they are all true.

First, Paul is speaking prophetically. We know that Jesus is returning one day, right? And no one knows the day or the hour. But every day Jesus tarries is one day closer to the day he will come.

Second, Paul is speaking personally: The doctrine of salvation has three components: There is regeneration: that moment when a sinner repents and puts his or her faith in Christ. When people talk about when they “got saved,” they are talking about that moment of regeneration. But the Bible also talks about the ongoing process of sanctification as part of our salvation. Sanctification is our day to day becoming more like Jesus. Finally, there is glorification, which will happen in the future, either when Jesus comes back or when we die and are united with Christ. Regeneration, Sanctification, and Glorification are all part of salvation. As the early theologians put it, we have been saved, we are being saved, we will be saved. And Paul is saying that for every one of us, our ultimate glorification is nearer now than when new first believed.

But third, Paul is speaking evangelistically. This circles back to what he has been saying about the debt of love we owe everyone we meet. Understand that every single person we encounter is potentially on the verse of a Kairos moment. They are either one step closer to following Jesus, or they are one step closer to rejecting him for the last time. And it is crucial for us to wake up, to preach and teach and proclaim and exhort and urge and beg and plead with urgency.

Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed, but beloved, so is condemnation for those who won’t believe. Listen to the verse again, but this time, put the emphasis on the word “we”: Salvation is nearer to us now than when WE first believed. For those who have not put their faith in Christ, the night is far gone, the day is at hand. O, God, let there be a Kairos moment for someone today! If you are listening to this and are not a Christian, wake up, and come to Christ. If you are listening to this and you are a Christian, wake up, and tell someone about Jesus.

We need you in the game. We need you off the bench. So that brings us to the third exhortation from Romans: It’s time to suit up. Put on the clothes you’ll never grow out of! Let’s close out the chapter by reading verses 12-14:

So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Notice that Paul says put on the armor of light. Armor is a very specific and intentional word. Not the bathrobe of light. Not the pajamas of light. Not the tuxedo or cocktail dress or cocktail dress of light. This is a reminder to the Christian that we are in a battle. Armor is what you wear when you are going to war. And the Christian is at war every minute of every day. Not against other people. Not primarily against a pagan culture, although there are elements of that. The emphasis in verse 13 is that we are at war against our own sinful nature.

So when Paul says out on the armor of light. In Ephesians 6, he will explain piece by piece what the armor is. We are to put on the belt of truth. The breastplate of righteousness, our feet shod with the gospel of peace. the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. We put on the helmet of salvation. That’s what protects our mind. Then, the one offensive weapon is the sword of the spirit.

And when we are suited up in the armor of light, we can do battle against all these besetting sins Paul lists in Romans 13.  

How do we make provision for the flesh? We make provision for the flesh when we don’t take sin seriously. Paul lists a lot of besetting sins that were an issue for the people of Rome— orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality (which doesn’t have to be sexual. It could just be living for your senses), quarreling, jealousy. So to make no provision for the flesh means you are aware of those besetting sins, and you avoid situations where they might have an open door back into your life.

  • If drinking too much is a besetting sin for you, then you don’t have alcohol in your home. One of the men in our men’s bible study talked about how he had been so used to downing a six pack every Saturday while watching college football that he had to take a break from college football.
  • If quarreling and rage are besetting sins for you, stop watching the news. Stop listening to talk radio.
  • Maybe jealousy is a besetting sin. Get off Instagram. Get off pinterest.
  • If sexual immorality is the besetting sin, and you are constantly giving in to the temptation of clicking on porn after everyone else has gone to bed, then don’t charge your phone by your bedside.
  • If procrastination is your besetting sin, and you find yourself wasting hours playing games on your phone, then have someone else set a screen time password on your phone. You can set limits for every app on your phone. And if you don’t know your own password, then once your allotted time is up for the day, you’re done.

The point of all of this is that this is how we as Christians put on the armor of light. This is how we do battle with our own sin nature. Forget the culture wars. The biggest battle you face is not against culture. It’s against your carnal, sinful nature. So suit up! Get in the game. Fight.

Part of the armor of light is directing your mind to a greater affection direct your mind to the glory of Jesus. Direct your mind to Scripture. This is going to be a major focus of 2023 as we are encouraging every glynwood member to read the Bible through next year.

But maybe some of you need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ for the first time. The call in verse 14 is for you to repent and turn to Christ and trust him to save you.

Listen, when you put on Christ, you will never grow out of Him. He will never go out of style. He will always fit you perfectly.

This morning, as the musicians come back up and we enter into our time of response, can I remind you that salvation is nearer than when we first believed. Today could be your Kairos moment—your moment of spiritual breakthrough. So suit up.  Put on Christ.


Church and State (Romans 13:1-7)

October 30, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville

Good morning. Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Romans, chapter 13. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through Romans as much as I have.

We’re in Romans chapter 13. And once again, God’s timing is just so perfect. Remember how it “just so happened” that we talked about Romans 8:28 on 8/28? Here we are again with another coincidence that isn’t really a coincidence. We hit Romans 13, about how believers are to relate to the governing authorities, and in a few days we get to vote on our governing authorities.

This is a great reminder to you to vote on November 8. We have a privilege that Paul and the believers in Rome didn’t have. We have a say in who our governing authorities will be. It is an unbelievable privilege to cast your vote. So don’t blow it off. Thank God for the privilege, and then exercise your right to vote.

Also, remember that our church is a polling place. On Election Day, our entire fellowship hall will be used for voting. So teachers and Awana leaders who use the fellowship hall, please make sure we clear away any personal items or clutter or stuff that needs to be thrown away before next Tuesday. We want to be good hosts. 

So. We participate in our democracy. We cast our vote. And if our chosen candidates win, we clap each other on the back and do a little happy dance and go to bed on election night believing that better days are ahead. And what Romans 13 says about being subject to the governing authorities comes easy. If someone else is critical of the person we voted for, we might remind them what the Bible says in Romans 13, and that we are commanded to pray for our government leaders, and that you show respect for the office even if you don’t agree with the person that is holding that office. We are quick to correct anyone who says, “He’s not my President.”

Again, these are all the things we do when the guy we voted for won. But what happens when our guy loses? What happens if our preferred political party is not in power? Romans 13:1 says we are to be subject to the governing authorities. Does that change? It’s amazing to me that conservative evangelical Christians, who maintain that every word of the Bible is inspired and inerrant can spend long stretches of time—often either four or eight years—acting like Romans 13 doesn’t really mean what it says.

So what does Romans 13 actually say? Let’s look at it together. If you are physically able, please stand as we honor the reading of God’s word:

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated. Let’s pray.


Now, I know you’ve got a LOT of blanks on your listening guide. And for the sake of all the people that will get really bent out of shape if we don’t fill in all the blanks, let’s go ahead and get that out of the way first. So, first things first. The blanks.

What is our Responsibility to Government (What we Do)?

First, be subject to the governing authorities. (v. 1). Paul says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

The word translated person is a little surprising. It’s not Anthropos, “man.” The word is psuche, which is usually translated “life” or soul. So I think Paul is saying this isn’t just superficial submission. You don’t just “do the right thing.” This is subjection at the soul level. We submit with our attitudes, not just our actions.

Just in case we miss it in verse 1, Paul says it again in verse 5: We must be in subjection to the governing authorities. Your translation might say, “submit” to the governing authorities. That Greek word is hupotasso and it literally means to line up under. It was used in a military sense to arrange troops in formation under a leader. It’s the same word Paul uses to describe husbands and wives submitting to one another in Ephesians 5:21, and wives submitting to their husbands in Ephesians 5:24 and Colossians 3:18.

Now we could spend all of our time just on verse 1, and it could be our guide for everything else. Because this is a categorical imperative. There’s no qualifiers or conditions on either side of this statement. Who is to be subject to the governing authorities?

Every soul. Every person. Every man, woman, and child…

Is to be subject to: Submit. Line up under. At the soul level, not just superficially.

To the governing authorities: Which governing authorities? All of them. You can fill in the blank with any world leader, past, present, or future, and it’s going to be the same answer. Paul was writing to believers living under Emperor Nero. Be subject to Emperor Nero. The next generation of Christians would suffer horrific persecution under Domitian. The book of Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign, and much of what we read as end-times prophecy, the Christians of the day were reading as what was happening to them. Be subject to Domitian. Well what about Stalin? What about Hitler? What about Xi Jinping, or Kim Jong Un, or Bashar Al-Assad in Syria or Erdogan in Turkey. What do you say to Christians in those countries?

You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.

Well, what about our local school board? What about my AP Us History teacher? What about the woman that runs our HOA and sends me a nasty letter whenever I don’t edge my sidewalk?

You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  

Second, we obey them, for the sake of the conscience.  Verse 5: everyone must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. God commands that we be subject to the governing authorities? Do submit and obey always mean the same thing? Not necessarily, and we will get to that, but after this Paul does gives some specific points in which we are to obey. For example:

Third, We are to pay our taxes: It’s right here, in verse 6. We don’t pick and choose which taxes to pay. Verse 7 says “Pay to all what is owed them.”

How many of you hate that this is in the Bible? This week I heard a story about a man who had cheated on his taxes, and for weeks after April 15, he had been unable to sleep. Finally, it became too much for him, so he wrote out a check to the IRS, along with a note that said, “Dear IRS: I haven’t been able to sleep ever since I failed to pay you the full amount I owed on last years taxes. So please accept this check, and I apologize for it being late.

P.S.: If I am still unable to sleep, I will send you another check for the rest of the amount I owe.”

The truth is, the believers in Paul’s day had a much, much more oppressive tax system than we do. Here are all the taxes a citizen of Rome was required to pay, according to a Wikipedia articie:

  • Every citizen paid what it’s called the poll tax. This wasn’t a tax to vote. Pol is from the Latin polis, which means people.  It was a tax simply for being a person. So you were taxed for every person in your household. Every male, aged 14 to age 65, every female aged 12 to age 65, just for being alive.
  • If you were an unmarried man or a woman of childbearing age who wasn’t married, you paid a marriage tax.
  • If you owned slaves, you paid a tax. If you sold slaves, you paid a tax on the sale. If you freed slaves, you paid 5% the value of each slave you freed.
  • If you were Jewish, you paid a tax just for being a Jew.
  • Widows and orphans paid a tax specifically to care for the horses of the military.
  • If you received an inheritance, you were taxed 5% the value of the inheritance.
  • There were sales taxes, trade taxes, and land taxes. There was a flat 10% tax for income. There were taxes for roads and harbors. 10% of your grain sales if you were a farmer. 20% of your wine sales if you had a vineyard.
  • Then there was the fish tax. You were taxed on how many nets you would throw out into the lake or into the sea. You were then taxed on every single fish that your net caught.
  • There was a wheel tax. If you had a cart, you were taxed on the number of wheels you had on your cart. Wheelbarrows were crazy popular.

The Roman government had the simplest 1040 ever. [show slide Two lines: How much money did you make? Send it in.]

But Paul didn’t spend time breaking down the tax code and trying to give the believers guidelines for which taxes to pay. Neither did Jesus. One time, the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Do you remember Jesus’ answer?

19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 

Jesus was brilliant here. The money has Ceasar’s image on it, so give it to Ceasar. But guess what, Christian: You have God’s image stamped on you. So you give yourself to God.

Fourth: We are responsible for honoring and respecting our governing authorities. Verse 7: respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Now, sometimes we attempt to do an end-run around this for politicians we don’t like by saying, “Well, so and so isn’t worthy of my respect.” She’s a godless pagan who is pro abortion and anti Second Amendment. She doesn’t deserve my respect.

My only question is, can you prove that from Scripture? Can you point to a place in Scripture where an authority figure was mocked or disKeep in mind that Paul is writing this to Christians who were living under Nero. Can you show me where Daniel ever dissed Darius? Or Jesus disrespected Pilate? Paul would say that they are owed respect and honor because of verse one. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Now, they may not be owed respect because they are good leaders, but we owe them respect if we are to be good followers. So, not to keep beating a dead horse, but this should eliminate about 98% of all memes that you see on social media during an election year.

  • Fifth, and most important, we are to pray for our leaders. This one is not specifically in Romans, but Paul will say it to Timothy a few years after writing this:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Can I ask everyone to do this this week? Make a list of every politician that represents you. Barry Moore, second district of Alabama. Tommy Tuberville and Richard Shelby, our two senators. Kay Ivey, our governor. Maybe you like them, maybe you can’t stand them. Maybe you voted for them, maybe you can’t wait to vote against them. Doesn’t matter.

Add to the list politicians that are in leadership: Mitch McConnell. Kevin McCarthy. Chuck Shumer. Nancy Pelosi. Joe Biden. Kamala Harris. You may like them, you may loathe them. Doesn’t matter. Scripture says we are to make supplication, prayer, intercession, AND THANKSGIVING for them. That may be really hard for you. You may choke on those words. Doesn’t matter. The goal is that we live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way (verse 3), and that all may be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (verse 4).

Listen, you may think a certain politician is the most godless, reprehensible person on the face of the earth. Every time you see his or her picture on the TV, you just want to throw something. You know what you do? You pray harder: “Lord, you desire all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Please… start with him!”

I’ll say this, too: there is a 100% chance that if you are praying for someone, you are not going to break into her home and attack her husband with a hammer.

So this is our responsibility to government. This is what we are to do. Now let’s talk about Why we do it. What is the reach of government? Or maybe this would have been better for your listening guide: What is the rationale for government?

First, let’s all agree that no government is perfect.  Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” No government is perfect. Government has actually been around ever since Genesis 1, when God gave Adam dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). Then family was introduced in Genesis 2. Woman was formed from man, so man is the head, and man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. That’s order. That’s a system of government.

But as Albert Mohler has pointed out, there’s no time at all between the establishment of order and government in Genesis 2 and the fall in Genesis 3. So we have no record of how government is supposed to function in a perfect world.

But second, we can all agree that any government is better than no government? The absolute most horrific statement in the Old Testament is Judges 21:25: In those days, Israel had no king, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. So no government is perfect, but anarchy is horrible. So God gave Israel kings. Most of them were bad. Ultimately Israel and Judah were overthrown, the people went into exile. You get the stories of foreign kings like Nebuchadnezzar, and Xerxes, Cyrus the Persian and Darius the Mede. None of them were perfect. But here’s what Romans 13 teaches:

The source of their authority is God. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Period. Full stop. Questions? None.

Do you remember when Jesus stood before Pilate? Pilate was astonished that Jesus wouldn’t answer him. He looks at Jesus and says,  

10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. 

Daniel 2:21 says that God is the one who removes kings and establishes kings. So even the Roman governor who signed Jesus’ death warrant was put there by God.

Now, in a weird way, our very system of government makes it easy for us to forget this. We get to vote for the people who represent us. So when someone says, “Well, who put so and so in office,” we either say, “I did,” or we say, “It wasn’t me. It was those idiot [fill in the blank with whichever political party you oppose].” So listen: Even though “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” is politically correct, it isn’t theologically correct. We might pull the lever for this or that candidate, but God, in his sovereignty, is pulling the strings.

There is a twofold reason Paul says government exists. Paul says government is to be God’s servant on earth for two reasons, to protect and to punish. Government is the servant for our good (verses 4 and 6), and the administrator of God’s wrath (verses 3 and 5) To protect the community and to punish the criminal.

By the way, if you are looking for scriptural support for capital punishment, here it is. The government bears the sword as an avenger of God’s wrath against the wrongdoer. Police officers are the government officials who fulfill these roles the most. And notice how Paul describes them: Twice he calls them servants. You’ll recognize that Greek word—its diakonos, where we get our word deacon.

TR, Josh, Mike, did you know you were deacons of the City of Prattville?

When is the last time you got pulled over by a police officer, and thought, this is a servant of God. [CH Spurgeon story?]

But Paul is intentional with his language here. Governing authorities occupy a divinely appointed office. We should thank them for enforcing the law. But I now make it my point, whenever I see a police officer, somebody in government, to thank them for their service.

So we’ve talked about our responsibility to government: what we do. We’ve talked about government’s responsibility to us, which helps us understand why we are to be subject to them. But now, let’s turn to the key question for our time: Is it ever appropriate to resist the government?

Resistance to Government: (Should We Ever Not Do It?)

Remember I asked you earlier if “being subject to” meant the same thing as obey? Well, it actually doesn’t. Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out that there are other words in the New Testament that mean obey. The most common is hupakouo, which means “to hear under.” This is what was used when Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to be still, or demons to leave. That’s different from our word in Romans 13:1, hupotasso,  which is line up under.

So it is possible to be lined up under the authority of the government, or under the authority of a ruler without obeying that authority. This means you acknowledge their right to punish you for breaking the law, and you are willing to accept those consequences. This is what you see throughout Scripture. Shiphrah and Puah were the two Hebrew midwives who refused to follow Pharaoh’s order to kill all the male Hebrew babies. It’s what you see all through the book of Daniel, in all the stories of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They didn’t dispute the king’s authority to throw them into the fiery furnace .

This isn’t in your notes, but you see it in Esther, when she dared to come into the king’s presence without an invitation. What did she tell Mordecai? If I perish, I perish.

Peter and John, when they were told to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. “We must obey God, rather than men.”

You see it outside the pages of Scripture as well. There have been numerous times throughout history that Christians have opposed the state, knowing the consequences of doing so.

Do you remember what Benjamin Franklin said when he was signing the Declaration of Independence? “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” He was acknowledging that Great Britain had the right to hang them as traitors. All of the civil rights protestors in the Sixties recognized that the State had the right to take them to jail for sitting at a whites only lunch counter. They expected to get arrested, and they were arrested.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany in the 1930’s who dared to speak out against Adolf Hitler. Ironically, the majority of churches in Germany fell in line with Hitler’s policies, and used Romans 13:1 to justify it. So when the cross was replaced with the swastika in their churches, they went along with it, saying, “Well, we must be subject to the governing authorities.” Bonhoeffer said no. And in April, 1945, less than a month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged in a concentration camp.

So there are times when it is appropriate for a Christian to resist the state. Not just appropriate, but necessary. Christians can’t give up their voice in the public square. We vote. We speak out. We write our leaders. We educate ourselves on the issues so we can advocate where we need to advocate and oppose where we need to oppose. We accept that the state has the authority to punish, but we are willing to accept the punishment.

And as we get closer and closer to the return of Christ, we recognize that this will become more and more necessary. Here’s some homework for you. Go home and take your listening guide, where you have Romans 13 printed. But open your Bible to Revelation 13, and read them side by side. You’ll read in Revelation 13 that the Beast was given authority for 42 months to utter blasphemy. Romans 13 tells you who gave him that authority. You’ll read in Romans 13 that the state wields the sword. Then you’ll read in Revelation 13 that

If anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword he must be slain.

So how do you know when it is right to oppose the state. When are you required to obey God rather than men? Here are some questions to ask:

Questions to ask:

  1. Will obeying the government disobey a commandment of God?
  2. Am I being asked to do something immoral?
  3. Will obedience violate my conscience?
  4. Will my disobedience be consistent with my Christian witness (Can I disobey like a Christian?)

A good Christian is to be a good citizen until being a good citizen means being a bad Christian.

The Pursuit (Romans 12:1-2)

October 2, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Senior Pastor

Good morning! Please turn to Romans 12.

This week I spent way more time than I should have watching greyhound races. Don’t worry. I wasn’t betting any money. But I had heard a sermon illustration that talked about what happened at a greyhound race one time when the rabbit malfunctioned. And I never want to tell you something in a sermon that isn’t true (unless its something I make up), so of course I had to hunt down the story myself.

Now, if you don’t know anything about greyhound racing, and its okay if you don’t, because we’re baptists, and we aren’t supposed to know anything about greyhound racing), the dogs are trained to chase this mechanical bunny. But the thing is, they are never supposed to catch the bunny. But one day, the mecahnical bunny malfunctioned. Watch what happened:

[show clip]

That was one thing, but as I got sucked in to watching all these YouTube videos about greyhound racing, I saw this one too. I apologize because the quality on this one is so bad, but these two videos together illustrate something that I want to make sure I get across to you this morning. So watch carefully—this one is only about twenty seconds long.

[second clip]

Ok, so in video one, we see what happens when the greyhounds finally caught what they had been chasing after. You see that once they did, it was game over. They didn’t know what to do. They lost all motivation for actually running the race. A couple of them flopped down on the track, others just chased their tails or ran around in circles. Once they caught what they had been pursuing, this racetrack just became a dog park.

Then, in the second video, we saw what happened when the dogs, who had been chasing after something fake, were suddenly confronted with the real thing. They lost interest in pursuing the fake thing. In fact, they left the track and started running in the opposite direction, in pursuit of the genuine article.

Now why am I bringing this up? Its because I think these two images, taken together, illustrate something about what we have been talking about all year long as we have studied the book of Romans.

There’s a lot of people that are like the dogs in second video. They’ve spent a good chunk of their lives chasing after things that won’t satisfy their souls. Whether that’s fame, or possessions, or popularity, or athletic achievement, or sex, or political power—all of those things are like the fake rabbit. And then they encounter the truth of Romans 1:16—that the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, and they’re like—that’s the real thing. I’m gonna chase after that. And in the course of this year, we’ve seen people who have done that same 180 degree turn those greyhounds did. They stopped chasing after those things that have no power to save and started pursuing the real thing—a relationship with Jesus Christ.

But then, there are also some people who have sincerely been chasing after a relationship with Jesus, but they’ve been doing it with works-based religion, or legalistic righteousness, which is really no righteousness at all. Romans 1:17 says that in the gospel there is the righteousness of God for faith—not a righteousness that comes from ourselves. So they’re like those dogs that keep chasing the mechanical rabbit.

When you live your life pursuing religion instead of a relationship, then you are laser focused on running really fast, and trying really hard, and wearing yourself out in the attempt to please God.

And then they are confronted with the grace of God that we see in the book of Romans—that it isn’t our own righteousness that saves us, and it isn’t our righteous deeds that sustain us. Our righteousness is all about what Christ did for us, not on what we do for Him.

So now, its like they’ve caught up to the mechanical rabbit, and they’re like, “Now what?” If its all by grace and not by works, then does it matter how I live my life? Do I stop running? Do I stop striving? Do I stop pursuing?

And that’s where we are at the beginning of Romans 12. We are now in the fourth and final section of Romans. I could give you a pop quiz to see how much you remember, but I will be nice. I’ll have it up on the screen. This is also on the back of your listening guide.

Overall theme of Romans: The Righteousness of God

  1. The Wrath of God (1:1-3:23)
  2. The Grace of God (3:24-8:39)
  3. The Plan of God (9-11)
  4. The Will of God (12-16)

It’s in this last section of Romans that Paul moves from doctrine to practice. Beginning in chapter 12, Paul is going to talk about how we continue to pursue God—not in order to obtain a relationship with God, but because we have a relationship with God. Paul’s laid out 11 chapters of heavy, heavy theology. If you’re a Greek scholar, (which I’m not, but there’s lots of smart people that have pointed this out), you notice that the first 11 chapters of Romans are full of indicative verbs. The indicative mood presents true information. These things are certain. These things happened. I ate pizza for dinner. The wrath of God is poured out. All have sinned. The free gift of God is eternal life. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Indicative mood. Is what is certain.

But in the last four chapters of Romans, there are lots of imperative verbs. If the indicative mood is about what is certain, the imperative mood is about what is required. We’ll see lots of imperatives in the last four chapters of Romans. Let me give you a road map of where we are going between now and the end of November. No promises, but my goal is for us to finish the book of Romans before Advent begins. This is also on the back of your listening guide:

  • Loving your church with your service (Romans 12:3-8)
  • Loving Your Church with your attitude (12:9-16)
  • Loving Your Enemies (12:17-21)
  • Loving Your Government (No, really!)  (13:1-7)
  • The Law of Love (13:8-14)
  • Loving through our differences (14:1-15:13)
  • PS: I love you (16)

Now, when you look at that road map, you probably notice one word that pops up over and over. And that is no accident. Listen: if there is one big idea I want you to come away from this sermon with, it is this:

Our pursuit of God is motivated by love, marked by love, measured by love, and expressed with love.

So with that in mind, let’s look at Romans 12:1-2. We’re just going to be looking at those two verses, and so I’d like you to stand, if you are physically able. And since it’s only two verses, I’d like us to say them, out loud, together. They’ll be on the screen, or you can read them from your listening guide:

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[b] Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.


Paul begins with “I appeal to you therefore.” Therefore is one of those transitional words that help you make the connection between everything Paul’s about to say and everything he’s said up to this point. The cliché they teach you in Sunday school is that whenever you see a therefore, you have to back up and see what it’s… there for. So how far back does he want us to go?

Notice that it’s “I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God.” Another translation says, “in view of God’s mercies.” JB Philips, in his translation, put it this way: With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers…

So, “therefore” Could refer back all the way to the beginning of the book. Chapters 1-3 are all about the wrath of God, and the section ends with that verse we all have memorized—“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

But what’s the next verse? If you’re going to memorize Romans 3:23, you have to memorize Romans 3:24 also:

24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

So Paul says “I appeal to you “by the mercies of God, not the judgments of God.”

This tells you right away that our motivation for everything that is about to come—all the imperatives—is not because we are worried about God’s judgment, but because we are grateful for God’s grace. Our obedience won’t be motivated by fear of God’s punishment, but gratitude for God’s grace.  

In view of God’s mercy… With eyes wide open to the fact that you have been saved from God’s wrath: that’s one of the mercies of God.

In view of God’s mercy… With eyes wide open to the fact that God has poured out his grace on you. That there is no condemnation of you. That nothing can separate you from him. All those are the mercies of God.

In view of God’s mercy… With eyes wide open to the fact that God grafted the gentiles into his family tree, without rejecting the Jews completely.

All of these are God’s mercies. And so in view of God’s mercies, what do we do?

  1. Offer our bodies. Not just our minds. It would have been typical Greek and Roman thinking to separate body and mind. Greek philosophy was about dualism:  were convinced that since the flesh was corrupt, it didn’t matter what you did with it anyway. Your entire spiritual life was about your mind. Now, how many of us live with that same kind of dualism today? When we talk about the difference between our “spiritual” lives and our everyday lives, we are buying into the same kind of dualism. And really, there is no division between spiritual and everyday.
  • As a living sacrifice: I’ll say this for Paul. He was an equal opportunity confuser. If the Gentiles were stumped about why God wanted our bodies, the Jews were flummoxed about what a living sacrifice was supposed to be. They had all seen sacrifices being offered at the temple. Sometimes there were birds, sometimes there were bulls, sometimes there were rams, sometimes there were lambs, but they all had one thing in common. They were DEAD. So I’m sure the Jews were going, “how would that even work? If the sacrifice is alive when you offer it, isn’t it going to keep wriggling off the altar?”

To which Paul would say, “Exactly!” That’s the challenge of living for Jesus. We get all excited at a revival, or youth camp, and we give ourselves to God. “Lord I offer my life to you… everything I’ve been through…”

And then life happens. And the glow of youth camp fades away. And we get busy, or distracted. And then youth camp comes around again and we are right back at the altar, to rededicate our life.” Well, if you dedicated it, why are you rededicating?

Because living sacrifices have a way of crawling off the altar.

You know, there are some people God will call to die for their faith. It happens every day. In fact, according to a study done by the Catholic church in 2000, twice as many Christians died for their faith in the 20th centuries than in the previous 19 centuries of the church put together. So I’m not saying God will never ask you to die as a martyr.

But it is much more likely, especially in the United States, that He is going to ask you to live as a martyr. You’re like, what? Martyr means “die for your faith,” doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. The Greek martus simply means “witness.” When Jesus told the disciples that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, it didn’t just mean that they would die for their faith. It meant they would be witnesses of their faith.

And listen, that can be a lot harder. To be a living sacrifice means that you are putting yourself fully at God’s disposal. It means to be willing to obey God in anything He says in any area of your life. All day. Every day. For the rest of your life.

 For serviceHere’s how John Stott puts it in The Message of Romans:

We are to offer different parts of our bodies… to God as ‘instruments of righteousness. Then our feet will walk in his paths, our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel, our tongues will bring healing, our hands will lift up those who have fallen, our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God.”[1]

Do you see now why I would say being a living sacrifice is tougher than just being a sacrifice? If you’re a Hamilton fan it reminds you of the line when George Washington says to Alexander Hamilton “You’ve got a head full of fantasies of dying like a martyr? Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”

Paul says our living sacrifice is to be characterized in two ways. First, it is to be holy. Holy means to be set apart for service. We don’t just repent of sin, we renounce sin. We refuse to be ruled by sin any longer.

Second, our living sacrifice is to be acceptable. An acceptable sacrifice met all the requirements of a sacrifice. If it was a grain offering, it was to be the firstfruits of the land—not the leftovers. This is where we have to ask the question, are we offering to God the best of our time, or what’s left over?

  • When we have a quiet time, do we sit down with God when we are at our most productive, or most exhausted?
  • Do we write our tithe check only after we make sure all our bills are paid, or before any other bill is paid?
  • What about our calendar? Do we look at travel ball, hunting season, finals week, project deadlines, water temperature at the lake, wind conditions at the golf course, and whether or not it’s a home game for Bama, and then decide whether or not we’ve got time to come to church? If so, then we aren’t giving God the firstfruits. We are giving God the leftovers, and it isn’t an acceptable offering.

What about if it’s a burnt offering? The Old Testament law was strict that any animal brought for sacrifice had to be without blemish. It couldn’t be lame, or bruised, or unclean. It had to be without defect.

And right now, you’re thinking, “What are you saying, Pastor?” Are you saying that I have to be perfect in order to offer myself to God? I thought this was about God’s mercy, not my sin? If I have to be spotless and blameless to stand before God, then I am sunk.

And dear friend, that brings us right back to the gospel. Where does your righteousness come from? It doesn’t come from yourself. That’s the fake rabbit. It doesn’t come from you trying to clean yourself up in order to present yourself to God. That’s legalism, or hypocrisy. That’s also impossible.

Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it in a minute. But let’s look at the last characteristic from verse 1.

Paul says “In view of God’s mercy”—that’s our motivation.

Offer you body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable.  And then he says, “This is your spiritual worship.” (ESV). In my opnion, this isn’t the best translation. The Greek word here is logicos, from which we get our word “logical.” So the KJV “this is your reasonable service” or the NASB “reasonable service of worship” is, I think, the better choice.

Our worship is reasonable, not ridiculous. It is the logical, sensible, normal, rational response to what has been done for you. It just makes sense.

Our worship of God doesn’t have to be weird. We don’t have to speak in tongues or handle snakes or run around the room or get slain in the spirit. We don’t have to have this mystical, out of body experience in order to have authentic worship.

We just have to respond to what has been done for us.

Tony Campolo told this story years ago at our seminary revival, and I’ve never forgotten it. He said that he was on a train once, and there were two men sitting in the compartment with him. Suddenly one of them had a seizure.

He shook. He rolled off the seat onto the floor. His friend quickly reacted, picked up the man and put him back on the seat. Took off his coat, made it into a blanket, rolled up a newspaper, put it in his mouth so he wouldn’t bite his tongue, and administered some medicine. The man shook for about a minute. And then he fell into a very, very deep sleep.

His friend said, ‘please forgive us. We were in Vietnam together. I was seriously wounded. I lost my leg.’ He pulled up his trousers, showed me an artificial leg. ‘My friend here, a hand grenade tore away half of his chest, and there was shrapnel all through his chest. He couldn’t move without screaming in pain. As we lay there, the helicopter that had been sent to rescue us was blown out of the air by a rocket and I knew we were going to die. Somehow my friend stood up. In agony he stood up. He moved with pain and he reached down and grabbed my shirt and he began to drag me through the jungle. Every step he took he screamed in pain. I yelled at him to Let me be. Go on without me. You’ll never get both of us out of this jungle. But he did. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.

‘A year ago, I heard he had this condition and I also heard that somebody has to be with him every minute of the day because we never know when these convulsions will occur and somebody has to be there to take care of him at that moment.

So I closed down my apartment in New York and sold my car and I came over and I’m that somebody. I’m with him every minute of the day. So that’s our story.

Campolo said ‘You don’t have to apologize to me, mister. This is a great story.’ I’ll not forget his response. He said ‘oh don’t be overly impressed. You see, mister, after what he did for me, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.’

For this man, moving to England to take care of his buddy was his reasonable service.

Let me close by circling back to the question I asked about acceptable sacrifices. If our sacrifice has to be unblemished and perfect, and if it doesn’t come from our trying harder, then how do we do it?

The answer is in verse 2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect

I want you to notice something. Even though these are imperatives, and imperatives, as we talked about before, are all about what is required, these are passive imperatives. It isn’t what you do, but what you allow to be done to you:

Be transformed instead of being conformed. It doesn’t say “Transform yourselves.” The Greek word is “metamorpho”—metamorphosis. If Sandra Moore was here, I would have her talk about butterflies—how they are transformed, not how they transform themselves.

By the renewing of your mind, not “by renewing your mind.” Again, this is something that is done to you when you yield to God.

Then you will be able to discern God’s will. We don’t figure out God’s will in any other way but to let God transform us and renew our minds.

Closing: The title of this message is The Pursuit. And we started off by talking about greyhounds pursuing the rabbit. And at the beginning, the analogy was that we were the grayhounds, and the rabbit was that relationship with Jesus.

Now, allow me to flip it. What if we are the rabbit? What if Jesus is the one pursuing you?

This morning, let yourself be caught.


[1] Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, p. 104

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.”


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.


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:


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 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


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.


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.


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