I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

Gospel Square 1The gospel that the Apostle spoke of is good news, stupendously good news. God had intervened in history, entering personally into the morass of human rebellion against Him and making a way out, a way to be freed from the entanglements that drew them to destruction. Jesus Christ entered the world in purity, lived a life of perfect holiness and died as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. His death atoned for all sin. When Jesus was then resurrected on that third day, He demonstrated indisputably that He had overcome death and broken the entrapping bonds of sin. The long-awaited promises to Israel were fulfilled and the blessing of God extended to all who would believe that Jesus was their only avenue of freedom from the bondage of the Fall.

That is fabulously good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:15

The Apostle quoted the prophet Isaiah in this assuring statement. The prophet communicated to God’s people Israel that their exile would end, that they would be released from their captivity in Babylon, that freedom was imminent. Good news to be sure, fantastic even. Except, the power sin remained and, while physically freed, people were still held in its vise-like grip. Better news was still to come.

The better news is Jesus. Jesus, the savior who died for the “sins of the whole world” 1 John 2:2. The amazing news is Jesus who overcame death and its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) and gives all who will believe that victory. Jesus not only makes the way of atonement, He shepherds believers along the path of life (Hebrews 7:25) until they are rejoined with God in perfect communion.

This is good news. This is the gospel.

 
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Be Careful What You Wish For – Roman Road 6

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.   Romans 1:28

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Despite our protestations to the contrary, we human beings want what we want. We invest a lot of energy in trying to be less selfish, or at least appearing to be less self-interested. Sooner or later, however, the reality of who we are comes to the surface. Our greatest desire is for our greatest desire.

On its surface, this doesn’t appear to be a negative trait. And if we are pure in heart and consider the greater good when evaluating our own interests then the probability of a positive outcome is measurably higher. But let’s not fool ourselves; we are not pure in heart and our idea of the greater good takes self into account before other.

This is what Paul has in mind as we begin to walk down the Roman Road. He makes a simple case for our greatest desires to be guided by the will of God rather then our natural self-satisfaction. Without diving into a deep theological morass he makes the case that what can be known about the natural order is self-evident to all people. To put this another way, we can evaluate what is proper according to the natural order and therefore judge when our desires are not in alignment with that order.

It’s here that the awful reality of accountability before God strikes our hearts. If we cannot claim to be ignorant of the way in which God intends for things to be then we will only be left with two choices, align with God’s will or our self-will. The consequence of this decision is clear as well.

When we choose and elevate and exercise our desires contrary to the plain evidence of God’s order and will, the possibility that we will find ourselves in a dangerous position increase exponentially. That dangerous position — that horrific position — is that God may turn us over to our desires. Paul makes this awful proclamation three times in the span of four verses and it catches us off guard. The omnipotent God who could force us to toe the line instead appears to throw up his hands and say “have at it!” Enjoy your desire and the consequence of that choice.

“Not fair”, we exclaim. We want the product of our selfish desire without the consequence but this is contrary to the evidence all around us that Paul has pointed to. You can’t have one without the other. It has never happened and it never will since it contradicts the created order.

The direction of our will sets the foundation for the gospel that Paul unfolds as we walk further down the road together. God does not force us to accept his will in place of our own. He makes the superiority of his ways evident to all. He makes the extent of his love for all transparent. He gives evidence to his desire in Jesus. Then God says choose. This call to choose is put in human language by Moses (Deuteronomy 30:19); “choose life.” Not choosing life can result in nothing but death.

Grace and peace to you.

A Disciple Walks the Roman Road

Part One

In my years as a Christian I have lost track of the number of times I’ve heard the Roman Road referenced as an evangelistic tool. It’s said that the method is simple; point out the shortcomings in a person’s life (3:23), lead them to see the penalty of continuing in that state (6:23), invite them to partake of the glorious promise (5:8) and tell them how this promise can become theirs (10:9). It seems as though it could be effective presented to a heart that the Spirit is engaging. It also seems to leave out much of the glory of the Gospel, pulling out a verse here and there and often using them incomplete to form a logical argument, while failing to engage the soul. This is a shame, because the richness of Paul’s letter to the Roman church contains such a depth of truth that, when shared in greater detail, can answer the arguments of modern man and connect with the souls that are seeking something they’re missing but can’t identify.

A disciple that comes to Romans finds a treasure that far outweighs the application of memory verses. One can examine their definition of faith and have it challenged or affirmed. We can discover and meditate on what it means to fall short of the glory of God. The disciple can find an assurance–a rock solid assurance–in understanding why it is so important to be both justified and reconciled. The disciple can find a new way to examine their attitude towards sin and know the power of freedom rather than constantly operating under the threat of death.

A shallowness of faith grips the modern Church. Too many are satisfied to allow their lives to pass by un-examined. And although this leads to many things, one of the symptoms of this lack of depth is the desire to take the shortest possible route to any goal. Not all things can be explained in four laws or a handful of proof texts. Sometimes, especially with the things of God, the longer, slower more arduous route often brings the greatest benefit.

Over the course of this series of posts I will explore the depths of Paul’s letter as it was intended to be read. There is a clear progression of thought and extraordinary value in taking our time walking with the apostle as he shares the inspired message that God gave him in the middle of the first century so that we could enjoy it in the 21st century. I pray that you’ll join me.

IN ALL THINGS GOD WORKS FOR THE GOOD OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM : CHARLESTON EDITION

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In the title you likely recognized a very familiar passage from Romans often ripped from its context and applied to different life situations indiscriminately. When that happens the meaning of the verse in the larger passage becomes muddled, and even lost. The idea of God working all things for good can adopt a diminished connotation, taking on the secular definition of good — a positive, pleasing outcome.

So where was God at work for those who love Him when the shooter in Charleston entered His house and began making martyrs with a pistol?

The answer requires that you travel back months and years in the faithful journey of the pastor and the disciples of the church who were mindful of preparing their hearts and souls for an event that they never imagined would be visited upon their church. They took seriously what the Lord taught in the Beatitudes and shaped their souls with his command to love your neighbor as yourself. They knew the necessity of recognizing the heart as the wellspring of life and were diligent in prayer and study to strengthen in shape that heart.

The good that God had worked in his people in the AME Church in Charleston was seen almost immediately in the aftermath of the shooting. A feverish news media descended on the crime scene looking high and low for someone who would shout words of racial division or a demand for the scalp of the shooter. Disappointed, all they received from the remaining members of the church were Christ-like words of forgiveness and love for the young man who had made such life shattering decision.

This is a challenge to understand until we grasp what Paul is saying in this verse in its context. The good that God works for is those things that increasingly conform us to the likeness of our Savior. It may be positive things and it may be life-changing events. Both stretch and test our souls in different ways giving the Holy Spirit ample opportunity to shape and mold us into the people that our Father intends us to be.

People whose first impulse is to love and forgive when hateful revenge seems to be the most appealing course.

image by Ken Wilcox

Challenging God’s Sovereignty II

The fact that God is sovereign need not be established, as I previously wrote here. The sovereignty of God is an essential aspect of who He is and it is not contingent on any other thing. We shall leave that as an established fact.

To proceed in light of the already established fact of non-contingency, we can state that God’s sovereignty in no way depends on either the fact or mode of election. Shank states this best when he says “God is sovereign, regardless of whether He elects, or does not elect…whether he elects some, or all…whether election is conditional, or unconditional.” Does the establishment of this sovereignty then demand, as Calvin and his framework do, the corollary doctrine of unconditional election?

Calvin says “God’s grace is illustrated by the fact that he does not give away salvation indiscriminately, but gives to some what he denies to others. Ignorance of this great truth detracts from God’s glory and prevents true humility.” (Institutes 3:21:1) He continues, pointing to Romans 11:5-6 for his evidence, “Paul maintains that the principle can be understood only if works are set on one side and God is seen to elect those whom he has predestined.” (ibid) [Romans 11:5-6: So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.] Calvin’s contingent will also take us to Romans 9 as proof of (the already established) sovereignty, most often to 9:6-29.

As we search the scriptures for further word on God’s sovereign love and choices, we also find it in evidence here:

For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Rom 11:32)

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For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. (Titus 2:11)

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This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4)

There are numerous other texts that propose a different election, one that is corporate and universal and conditional. Does this election challenge the sovereign God? In no way! The method or basis of election has no bearing on the truth of His sovereignty. Given the scriptural voices that emphasize the universal nature of grace, should the doctrine that establishes a conditional election rooted in an assumed decree continue to stand? Is God who clearly biblically offers an election in Christ universally to all men, challenged in His sovereign choices by this very offer?

Moderated Comments – Why?

I’ve considered the use of moderated comments on a blog for a long time. I suppose in some cases they are appropriate to filter out inappropriate material but in other cases, the blog authors have used them because they lack the ability to back up their opinions when challenged. I won’t drive any traffic to specific theoblogger sites but, in general, I’ve seen them posting nothing but attacks [written by someone else] on Arminian theology. Comments challenging the position are a waste of time since they go into the black hole of “awaiting moderation” and then disappear completely a day or two later. The appearance is that the author is unable to support his or her position but still wants the secret joy of an assault on something that they believe to be wrong.

I’m reminded of what Paul says in relation to raising oneself above the rest of the Body:

“For by the grace given men I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  Romans 12:3

Thanksgiving One

As the week counts down toward the day of our feast, it is a good period in which to reflect on the multitude of things for which we are or can be thankful. This quiet reflection can be a counterpoint to the ever-deafening roar of THE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SEASON!!! It seems as though all eyes have already peeked beyond Thanksgiving to the altar of consumerism commemorated on Black Friday. I begin with the root of all of my thanks…

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)

How can we not be thankful for this sacrifice? Sooner or later, we all realize that there would be no way for us to earn the great gift that is offered us; we are totally incapable of purifying ourselves enough to be in presence of the Holy. The righteousness that allows us to be called ‘friends’ of God came by the sacrifice of one who looked beyond our pitiful state and gave the ultimate reason for thanks.