5 Understandable Words for Today: (Part 2)

“What then shall we say?” Romans 9:30 (NIV)

Bringing his teaching on election to a conclusion, Paul asked this question a second time (vv. 14, 30), and followed it with a contrast between those who trust Christ by faith and those who insist on continuing a broken religious system that was originally meant to work in tandem with faith. Paul asserted that the Gentiles, who had never pursued any righteous path, obtained righteousness through faith in Christ. Israel, however, having pursued righteousness through law never achieved the standard of the law because faith was left out of the paradigm (v.31).

The Roman Jewish-Christian was introduced to the biblical precept of God’s bedrock of faith (Matthew 16:18) becoming a stumbling stone to those who seek God’s favor through a religious system of man’s works (v.32). Again, citing from the ancient prophetic texts, Paul brought Isaiah’s words to the forefront once again:

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” (v.33)

To the first century Jew, Isaiah was a revered and well-read text. In it, the reader found hope for the promised Messiah, The Redeemer of Israel (and the human race). Utilizing this precious resource, Paul was able to bridge the divide between Jewish tradition and the arrival of the Messiah and the New Covenant. Paul himself had stumbled over the stone that the builders rejected (Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42-43; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). He grew up in the Jewish tradition, was schooled as a pharisee, was zealous for Judaism – even to the point of persecuting the Christian awakening (Acts 22:3-5; Philippians 3:4-6). Paul was a full-bred Hebrew! Yet, Paul came to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. You can read about it in Acts (22:6-21).

Peter took a cue from Paul and described Jesus as the Living Stone (1 Peter 2:4-8):

“As you come to Him, The Living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in scripture it says:

‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.’

“Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,’ and ‘a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.’”

We see, then, a thorough description of Christ:

  • The Living Stone: He is not dead; He is very much alive!

  • The rejected Stone: the Rock of Ages which was dismissed and scorned.

  • The chosen Stone: Jesus was chosen from among the Trinity to take the penalty for the sin of mankind.

  • The precious Cornerstone: upon Him the entire law and prophesies are fulfilled.

  • A stumbling Stone: The Living Stone has a way of getting in the way of those who reject it… becoming a stumbling stone.

Just as those from the Abrahamic covenant were chosen, so the new covenant welcomes those chosen to receive God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Peter echoed Paul’s argument with these words:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9 – 10)

Election… God’s powerful display of grace through adoption by faith. Do you have any Jewish friends? Pray for the opportunity to share this wonderful news of faith in Christ and how He fulfilled His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Have a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“What then shall we say?” Romans 9:14a (and v.30a)

Paul is really asking, “What more can be said about God’s right to do what, in His perfect wisdom, is best for mankind and His creation?” Having already pointed to the national history within the sacred texts, Paul adds further support to God’s right to pick favorites among His children by referring to the prophetic writings of scripture.

Knowing the natural reaction people give toward favoritism, Paul asked the question, “Is God unjust?” (v.14b) He answered with a resounding, “Not at all!” (v.14c), then he continued his lesson in systematic theology by resurrecting God’s conversation with Moses:

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (v.15; Exodus 33:19)

A person can do nothing on his/her own merit to achieve right standing with God, whether it be through one’s intentions or effort. It is entirely dependent on God’s mercy (v.16). Continuing with his historical reference on how God works, Paul cited Exodus 9:16, where God directed Moses to tell Pharaoh:

“I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (v.17)

To us, God’s ways may not make sense. Paul asserted God’s right to rule by referring to the Exodus 33 passage: “Therefore, God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden.” (v.18) The passage refers to Pharaoh’s heart hardening toward God until God Himself hardened it by halting further chances for redemption. The same warmth from the sun’s light which melts the snow also hardens the ground, leading to a barren desert. God is God, He rightfully rules and reigns without equal… He gives and takes away.

Paul was making a distinction between the faith of those who are the children of the promise and those who profess to be God’s children through one’s ancestry. Paul anticipated a possible question from those familiar with the sacred texts: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists His will?” (v.19) This would have been a typical reaction from the pharisees with whom Paul had learned and worked with all his life. Paul challenged such thinking, referencing both Job and Isaiah:

“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him Who formed it, ‘Why did you make me this way?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (vv. 20 – 21).

Paul answered the probable queries with some inspired questions of his own:

“What if God, choosing to show His wrath and make His power known, bore with great patience the objects of His wrath – prepared for destruction? What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”

This ‘Socratesian” approach to debate is called maieutics, and is used to encourage logical thinking. Paul may have picked it up from Gamaliel, his mentor as a pharisee intern. Paul followed his questions with a quote from Hosea 2:23:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one.” (v.25)

Paul then cited Hosea 1:10 which depicts God recognizing His people in the very place where it was earlier said they were NOT his people (v.26). Isaiah was the next source Paul cited, which prophesied that though they would be as numerous as sand, only a remnant of Israelites would be saved (v.27).

Now…. I have only tried to retell this portion of the letter for a basic understanding of Paul’s argument for faith being the basis of right standing before God, as opposed to a family history of religious practice. I encourage you to read the passages in their context to get a fuller picture of how God worked and of election. While Paul made it clear that the nation of Israel had experienced many blessings from God’s favor (vv. 4 – 5), he also cited how only a remnant would understand God’s covenant of faith (v.25). It is that remnant, however, that keeps a generation from becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah (v.29) by being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).

What then shall we say? Well, we can thank God for His mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23)! And we can tell of God’s great plan: how He raises rulers up and brings rulers down (Daniel 2:21). We can share the difference made in our hearts and lives because of His redeeming love!

Yes… God works through you and I to be the descendants pointing future generations to faith in Christ Jesus! Our children and grandchildren are not guaranteed admittance to Heaven because of our faith, but they can hear it from our mouths how we first believed and became followers of Christ… so pass it on to them – it’s the biggest blessing you could ever impart to your descendants.

Have a blessed day…

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…the children of the promise…” Romans 9:8b

The tone of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome changed at what is now the codified chapter nine of Romans. Paul had a broken heart for the Jewish nation (vv. 1 – 2). In fact, he would have gladly taken the blame for their hardness of heart (vv. 3; 31 - 32). He listed the following benefits God had bestowed to the Israelites in their long history:

  • Adopted as God’s children (v.4a);

  • Witnessed God’s glory in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (v.4b);

  • Covenanted with God through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… and David (v.4c);

  • Received God’s law through Moses (v.4d);

  • Experienced glorious worship in the temple (v.4e);

  • Received God’s promises of rescue and redemption (v.4f);

  • Revered the patriarchs of their faith and nationality (v.5a);

  • Traced through the patriarchs the human ancestry of Christ (v.5b).

So, what made Paul so sorrowful? The list above seems to give cause for celebrating his heritage and people. Paul skillfully presented both a history and theology lesson in this chapter revealing another aspect of systematic theology: election… not through a voting system, but by God’s divine choosing of people to accomplish His purposes. Paul presented the dynamic of faith working to make those far from God the children of the promise.

Paul began his ‘argument’ with the premise that “…not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” (v.6) Having Abraham as one’s ancestor doesn’t necessarily make one a child of God’s promises (v.7). Paul noted that it was through Isaac that Abraham’s offspring would be recognized. To us today, this doesn’t seem quite fair, but don’t rush to conclusions, for Paul is building a case that will show the promises of God available to all people through faith. Paul articulated it this way: “In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” (v.8) The Roman Jewish-Christian was reminded how the covenant was restated, describing how Sarah would have a son (v.9). We know that Abraham also had a son through Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar (Genesis 16), at the age of eighty-six years old, and that God promised Hagar her son would become a great nation as well. However, the seed of redemption would pass through Isaac, Sarah’s son.

Paul described how God’s promise was passed through Isaac’s son, Jacob, which had been prophesied before he and his twin brother were born, even though the twin, Esau, appeared first during delivery. Are we seeing a pattern develop? Can we see how God works His purposes out in ways that are much higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9; Ephesians 3:20-21)? To our eyes it may not seem fair, and Paul had a ready answer which we will ponder tomorrow, Lord willing.

For now, let it be sufficient that when we trust Christ with all our heart, we become the children of the promise!

Have a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…we are more than conquerors…” Romans 8:37a

Having just asked if trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or even the sword would separate Believers from Christ’s love, Paul answered with a resounding, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.” (v.37) The one who walks by faith, walks confidently in the hope of an eternal perspective.

When one is saved from the destructive power of sin, one is saved completely. Transformation takes a life once ravaged by sin and, over time, makes that life beautiful. Yes, in His time He makes all things beautiful (Ecclesiastes 3:11). As one grows nearer to The One Who empowers such a transformation, confidence in His staying power only grows. Perhaps that is why Paul went on to declare:

“…I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers; neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vv. 38 – 39)

In the words above, Paul presents to us yet another biblical precept of systematic theology: the security of the Believer. By security, I mean the assurance of one’s standing with God made possible through the power of Jesus. It made such a change in Paul’s life that he demonstrated reckless abandon toward his life, living with the desire to be present with The Lord. He even stated living, to him, was Christ, while dying would be only gain (Philippians 1:21).

Paul understood the security of the Believer from both his experience as a teacher of the law and as a convert to Christianity: the threat of death did not hinder his purpose in Christ, and his life was totally given to Christ. He revealed the reality of spiritual warfare occurring in the realm which we cannot see. The powers of this present world, nor the powers of the future would have any chance in separating Paul from Christ’s love. The philosophies and discoveries of man would not come between Christ and those He called. Nothing in all creation could ever challenge Christ’s ownership of His own… or Lordship over all creation.

If God takes care of the birds, keeps the universe expanding and working properly, then surely, we can trust Him to take care of us, supplying our needs while lavishing His grace upon us (Matthew 18:14; 2 Corinthians 12:9). Are you fretting over anything in your life today? Be confident in God’s supply! Rejoice in the security of His love!

Have a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…we are considered as sheep…” Romans 8:36

There are many biblical passages referring to God’s children as His sheep (Psalm 79:13, 100:3; Ezekiel 34; Matthew 10:6, 15:24), and other passages describing God as The Shepherd (Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11). Jesus described Himself as The Good Shepherd (John 10:11), and Luke referred to Him as The Good Shepherd Who left the flock in search of the one lost lamb (Luke 15:2-17).

Today’s five understandable words, however, described Christians as sheep to be slaughtered. Paul was inspired to refer to Psalm 44:22 to mirror the times in which he, as well as the Roman Christians, were living – a time when Christians were persecuted and martyred for their faith. This passage is very relevant to today, as many Christians experience all those things Paul listed:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sward? As it is written:

‘For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (vv. 35 – 36)

Paul had just described how God’s love was expressed through His Son’s sacrificial death and continued work of intercession before Heaven’s throne (v.34). God breathed into Paul the certainty that these expressions of God’s love can never be interrupted – nothing can separate those who walk by faith from God’s love… not even death. The psalmist said it best: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

Paul was a realist, confronting the possibilities the Roman Christians may face for their faith in Christ. The time may soon come when American Christians face the same threats to living out one’s faith. The comfort all Christians know in the face of persecution is the knowledge that Jesus suffered through the same brutal treatment. In fact, Jesus is the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 13:8).

Without a shepherd, sheep are defenseless. They often get themselves into predicaments by wandering away from the fold (Isaiah 53:6). Sheep are followers… and often follow the wrong leader into trouble (Numbers 16:2; Acts 13:50, 19:34). Peter described satan to be like a lion looking for an easy target (1 Peter 5:8), like a lamb or sheep wandering from the herd. By referring to the Psalm 44 passage, Paul brought to these first century Christians the reality of their life, so as not to be surprised when treated just as Christ was treated. Their steadfast faith would be a testament to Believers in the generations to come.

Today’s Believer must be just as conscious about the way the world views Christians. We are considered as sheep – dumb, with a crowd mentality, and easy prey for the lions of society. It is all the more imperative that Christians keep their eyes on Christ, the Lamb Who was slain, Who is The Good Shepherd of the sheep. Why should we be treated any different from The One Who bore all our transgressions? Why did He do it? Because He considered us as sheep… His flock to nurture and tend.

Have a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“Who is he that condemns?” Romans 8:34a

Paul posed this question similarly to the last, contrasting an accuser beside the statement, “It is God Who justifies” (v.33b). Paul’s question is more of a challenge for anyone to condemn one redeemed by the soul cleansing blood of Jesus.

In both questions, Paul refered to Jesus death on the cross. When asking, “Who can be against us?” (v.31c), Paul followed with, “He Who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (v.32) Being an expert in the sacred texts, Paul is reflecting back to Abraham’s test, where Abe offered his only son, believing God would raise him from the dead (Genesis 22:1-19). Comparing the actions of their forefather, Abraham, Paul is impressing upon these Jewish Christians the depth of God’s love for them by comparing it with the depth of Abraham’s love for God.

When asking today’s five understandable words, Paul again points the Roman church to Jesus, “…Who died…Who was raised to life… at the right hand of God… interceding for us.” (v.34b-d) Jesus is the hero Who is willing to take on any accuser of His children. In effect, Jesus is Heaven’s defense attorney, not only working to prove one’s good standing before God, but also having paid the penalty for the sin of every person, is interceding for all the redeemed.

Today’s five understandable words are also supported by Paul’s earlier statement of Believers being justified. It is past tense. Justification has already occurred, and the Believer cannot be charged again with being a sinner (breaking God’s law). Like the woman who was dragged before Jesus and charged with adultery, each of us stands before Jesus condemned. In the story, Jesus confronted the accusers by challenging them – stating those without sin could stone her to death (John 8:1-11). When every accuser dropped his stone and walked away, Jesus told the woman He would not condemn her either.

In the Bible, satan is described as the accuser (Revelation 12:10; Zechariah 3:1). We know this accuser has been vanquished. He does not have the power to accuse those who will stand justified and glorified before The Father. He will stand beside the redeemed and will vouch for all who have placed their faith in Him. He is for you!

This is surely a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…who can be against us?” Romans 8:31b

Fully devoted followers of Christ are iconic in their faith, being transformed into the likeness of their Savior, full of grace and truth (vv. 29; John 1:14). Just as God provided for His Son, Who had no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58), Paul showed first century Believers that God would supply their need as well. He presented questions which, at their core, allowed the Roman Christians to understand the strength of The One in Whom they trust:

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? 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, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”

Just as Jesus was given power to heal, feed, and deliver those in spiritual bondage, so the children of God are given power to do the same. The apostles were promised to receive power from The Holy Spirit to do the things they had seen Jesus do – and more (John 14:12-14). Should those who walk by faith today receive any less?

Perhaps one must first exercise the faith muscles of discipline in prayer and time in God’s Word to awaken to the certainty that God can and will work through those He calls and transforms. When God is working through His child(ren), is there anything that can hold them back? Who can be against us? Well… to be frank, anyone and everyone who rejects God’s righteous precepts will be against those who stand for Christ. We can expect to be treated the same way He was treated – beaten, falsely tried, and crucified.

So, what was Paul really trying to say? That Christians should view this life with an eternal perspective. Though everyone may be against us, if God is for us, any possible opposition is rendered powerless when we are working out God’s purposes - like a bully turning away from his target when a tougher adversary appears on the scene to defend the target. It’s not that we will never be targeted by the bullies of political correctness, peer pressure, or ‘controllers’. Faith-walkers can stand upon God’s truth, speak the truth in love, and point hearts to Christ.

As a teenage boy, David was a shepherd, protecting the sheep herd from predators like bears and lions (1 Samuel 17:34-36). Those experiences prepared him for the moment he would face Goliath (1 Samuel 17:37; 41-50). We see then, that the question, who can be against us, is posed from a perspective of strength and confidence.

Christian, when we step into the fray of life, do so expressing God’s love while standing for His truth. Do not be surprised if the world abuses you, just as Christ was tortured and abused. Live confidently in the blessed hope that God is working all things out for the good to those who have been called according to His purposes!

Have a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…the likeness of His son…” Romans 8:29b

Theologians have often disagreed on the meaning and implications of this passage. The central message of the verses, though, that everyone does agree on is: God desires ALL fully devoted followers of Christ to resemble God’s Son, Jesus – to be conformed to His image.

Many find the words, “…those God foreknew He also predestined…” hard to understand. God is not limited by linear time; He is in the past, future and present all at the same time. How does this happen? We can only know that if God is truly omniscient and unlimited in His scope or power, then linear time is no hindrance to Him. God knows who will accept His truth of redemption, allowing His Spirit to work in the transformation process to look like Jesus.

There is, however, a more profound meaning in these five understandable words, for God called those He foreknew, and Paul used the Greek word, “kaleo” (kah-leh’-oh), for “called” (v.28), which may infer the action of inviting. We know God desires that none should perish, in hopes that all would come to the saving knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:9). In any case, God’s call is divine and may come in a variety of ways: for Paul, it was on the road to Damascus; for Peter, it was by the sea; for me, it was in a church service.

While God works to make all things work together for the good, it is always according to His purposes. It is not correct to think that God makes all things come out fine in the wash of time. God is working in the lives of His children to make things turn out in a good way that reflects His good character and the precepts of His Kingdom… personified in His Son, Jesus Christ. He wants Believers to reflect the “image” of His Son (v.29). The Greek word Paul used for “image” or “likeness” is “eikonos” (pronounced i-kahn’-nahs), and its translation goes beyond a simple mirror image, by reflecting the essence of someone or something; from it, we get the English word, “icon”. From the very beginning, God desired man to bear His image (Genesis 1:26). Sin entered the picture and man began to reproduce after his own image (Genesis 5:3), a confederate image which was far inferior to God’s plan and purpose for man.

This is how Paul described how one is to become transformed into the image of Christ:

“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be The Firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; Those He justified, He also glorified.” (vv. 29 – 30)

 The transformation process begins with a calling. God knows us intimately – there’s nothing hidden from His purview, and He loves us anyway. God justifies the sinner by the work of redemption upon the cross. The fully devoted follower of Christ is glorified for entrance into Heaven… until then, the Believer is preparing for that moment – God shapes the heart and mind to become more detached from the world and more attached to God’s goodness and righteousness. It changes the way one thinks. But it’s not only about what one believes, it’s also about how one behaves. The process is all part of “the good” (v.28) God is working in one’s heart and mind.

Being conformed to the image of Christ leaves no room for approximation. It is not getting “close enough” or being somewhat like Him. To conform to a pattern, one cannot find short-cuts, or even omit one part of what the intended outcome is to be. We are to be conformed to Christ’s likeness… to be like clay in the hand of the potter. Many are like water, conformed to the shape it fills the easiest and quickest. However, a potter takes clay, forms it, leaves it alone to dry, paints it, leaves it alone to dry, glazes it, and fires it. None of the steps can be left out. Afterwards, the pottery becomes a usable ceramic piece. The potter/owner determines the function, the use, and the likeness of the ceramic piece. God is The Potter and we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18). Paul used the Greek word, “prototokon” (pronounced, pro-to’-to-kahn), translated, “firstborn”, from which the word “prototype” is related. A prototype is the original, and every duplicate is just that… a duplicate in every way. We are to resemble Christ, the prototype, in every way… especially in delivering His grace and love to the world.

Christian, what is God shaping you to be? Where are you in the process of transformation? How close do you resemble Jesus? Do you feel like your being left alone for a spell? God is at work to bring you to the good He has in store for you.

Have a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…God works for the good…” Romans 8:28 (NIV)

God hears the groans of nature, God’s children… and even The Holy Spirit (vv. 22, 23, & 26), and is working to make all things work together for the good. Paul asserted that God brings good to those who have been called to fulfill His purposes, which are all good, honorable, and just.

This was a bold statement to make, considering Rome was crucifying Christians – seen as a threat to Caesar’s authority (Christians recognized Christ as King). It was the eternal perspective which empowered the faith of the first century Christian, as well as for Believer’s today. Even if one’s circumstances make things seem bad, the one who walks by faith sees beyond this life into the next, and is confident of the good awaiting her/him in the eternal joy of Heaven.

Today, look past your pain, your suffering, and your circumstances. Know that God is working things together for your good. Keep your eyes on your purpose: being the only Jesus some will ever see. Let Him love others through your life. Be confident that God works for the good to all who love Him and are living to bring His Kingdom to earth.

Have a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…groans that words cannot express…” Romans 8:26d

In the last two passages, we have discovered that nature groans as if in the pains of a woman’s labor (v.22), while Christ followers groan inwardly (v.23) – both awaiting the glorious return of Jesus Christ (vv.21&23c). As that hope empowers Believers to wait patiently (v.25b), The Holy Spirit waits patiently to help those who walk by faith, interceding for them with groans that words cannot express (v.26).

There are moments when one simply does not know what to pray… the burden is too heavy… the loss is too great. In those moments, the Christian has an ally Who approaches Heaven’s throne in proxy for the downtrodden heart. And He accomplishes that function better than the Believer – even if the Believer was able to find the words to construct a prayer, for The Spirit intercedes in accordance to God’s will (v.27). Face it, sometimes we who claim to walk by faith pray very selfish prayers. Other times, we may pray wrongly, without a clue of what God’s will is for a given situation.

If you are facing a crisis and don’t have the words to express the depth of your burden, ask The Spirit to intercede for you – admitting you just don’t know what to say. He Who searches our hearts (I almost used those five words for today’s vignette) knows the mind of The Spirit – they are on a first name basis with each other! The Spirit will speak in a language only God understands. It may be The Spirit’s groaning, but believe me, it is being clearly expressed to The Father for you while sympathizing for your desperate situation.

While both Believers and nature groan in the hope of being delivered from decay, The Spirit groans to make a difference in the lives of Faith-walkers to lighten the burden of life in this fallen world.

Have a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:25b

We’ve discovered how all of creation is groaning in anticipation of Christ’s return. In verses 22-25, Paul compares Believers similarly – followers of Christ are also groaning for that wonderful day. The only difference in Paul’s description between creation and Believers is how Believers groan inwardly (v.23) while waiting patiently (v.25).

Paul described nature’s groaning as similar to the groans of a woman in labor (v.22), still occurring in our time. When my wife was in labor, the labor pains became increasingly more frequent and more painful. In the same way, nature may provide evidence of Christ’s soon return by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms, etc. Their frequency and severity may increase, just as a woman in labor.

Just as the creation waits in eager expectation (v.19), so Believers wait eagerly (v.23b) for two things:

1.     For adoption as children (v.23c): the moment when Christians are welcomed into Heaven, experiencing all the privileges as God’s adoptive son or daughter. We are created differently than the spiritual beings of cherubim, seraphim, and angels. God renovated Heaven to accommodate His children. Jesus describe how He is preparing a place for those who follow Him with all their heart (John 14:1-3).

2.     For the redemption of earthly bodies (v.23d): the fulfillment of taking Christ at His word when He said, “…he who believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live.”  In fact, Jesus declared His power over death and decay by being The Resurrection. (John 11:21-24) The resurrection is not some dynamic or process – it is Jesus Himself! Jesus provided this explanation to Martha at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. Martha chastised Jesus by telling Him her brother would not have died if He had been there (John 11:21). Jesus assured her that her brother would rise again; to which she replied her confidence in such at the “last day” (the end of time, when all things will be made new; John 11:23-24). Jesus’ declaration revealed Him to be Lord over time and death! Email me if you don’t know the rest of the story… because it has a great ending! (steve@5understandablewords.com)

Just as creation anticipates being “liberated from its bondage to decay” (v.21), so the Believer waits eagerly for the redemption of her/his body (v.23d)! Paul stated that is was in this very hope that we are saved. Salvation not only gives us right-standing with God, it guarantees our inheritance of eternal life! That guarantee yields a blessed hope for the moment we will enter heaven and see our risen Lord face to face… as well as those who will meet us there! It is the joy of that hope that empowers one’s patience.

So, on the one hand, Believers groan with all nature in eager expectation for The Lord’s return. On the other hand, we wait patiently for the moment when we will be seen as adopted sons and daughters with a new glorified body. O, the hope of Heaven’s joy! Though we cannot see it, we hope all the more… and we wait for it patiently.

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…creation waits in eager expectation…” Romans 8:19

Paul compared martyrdom and persecution with the groaning of creation (vv. 18 – 23). He drew a conclusion that both the Christian and all Creation are looking for Christ’s second appearance upon the world scene, when all things will be made new… until then, there is groaning. His words were both prophetic and poetic: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”  (v.19) Think about it: ALL CREATION is longing for that moment.

The earth remembers its formation… the perfection… the celebration of life. That memory produces a certain amount of angst in our world. Paul expressed it this way: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (vv. 20 – 21) When God spoke everything into existence, He saw that it was good (Genesis 1:31). Unfortunately, what was originally good was polluted by man’s sin. It wasn’t Creation’s choice to be subject to the frustration man brought into the world. Everything was affected by man’s rebellion and Creation has been groaning ever since.

The groans have only been exacerbated when mankind abandons the duty to steward the earth and its resources. Dr. Stuart Briscoe stated, “Environmentalists have documented countless examples of man’s irresponsible actions that have precipitated innumerable crises in every area of the created order. Indeed, there is no doubt that man’s fallenness has done much to subject creation to all manner of disorder, imbalance, abuse, and extermination.” (The Communicator’s Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 6, p.170, pp.3, ll.2-6)

Paul pointed to the day of Christ’s return as the day that will change Creation’s groaning into glory. We may have days that hint at that wonderful day: mornings with a beautiful sunrise or evenings boasting a spectacular sunset; quiet moments by the sea; a peaceful nap during a summer rain; or the breathtaking views from a mountaintop. Yes, they all hint of the day when the earth will rest from her groaning and be liberated from the bondage of decay as it celebrates the Heavenly Coronation of The Lord of Lords, Who will proclaim freedom to the children of God!

When Christ returns, the natural order we know will be radically different: the wolf will dwell peaceably with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the kid (goat); the calf will not fear the lion; and a small child will lead them all… like herding domesticated animals (Isaiah 11:6); meat-eating animals will become grazers and will pose no threat to humans (Isaiah 65:25). Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Remember, what seems impossible to us is possible with God (Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Matthew 17:20; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; 18:27). Jesus’ second coming will fulfill Creation’s hope of being liberated from its current bondage of decay (v.21).

Do you look for that day with the same eagerness as Creation?

Have a blessed day…

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…brothers, we have an obligation…” Romans 8:12

IF Christ’s Spirit lives in you, then you – along with every Believer – have an obligation to:

  • Put to death the deeds of the flesh (v.13);

  • Live according to The Spirit (vv. 13b - 14).

In this passage, Paul presents five ‘proofs’ of those whose hearts have welcomed Jesus:

1.     The Believer is led by The Spirit (v.14);

2.      Free access to God, The Father – like a child calling, “Daddy” (Abba Father, v.15);

3.     The Spirit’s testimony of The Believer being God’s child (v.16);

4.     Sharing in Christ’s sufferings – the world will hate you (v.17; John 15:18-25);

5.     Sharing in Christ’s glory (v.17a,b,&d).

(These five proofs are from a sermon by Rev. Tom Holliday on June 23, 2019)

Paul asserted that when one is led by the power of sin, one is controlled by a spirit of fear (v.15a). Why fear? What makes one fearful about sin? Here are some possibilities:

  • Being discovered after trying to hide it (Numbers 32:23);

  • Painful consequences (Psalm 38:3; Ezekiel 28:18; Galatians 6:7-8);

  • Being ensnared in the sin (addiction, obsessive/compulsive behaviors; Proverbs 5:22);

  • Unheard prayers (Psalm 66:17-19; Isaiah 59:2; Mark 11:25-26; James 4:2-3; 1 Peter 3:7);

  • Judgment (Matthew 25:41-46; John 3:3; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 2:1-25; Revelation 21:8).

Receiving “the spirit of Sonship” empowers one to approach God without fear or reproach. We have unhindered access to The Creator, The Lord, The Risen Savior! It starts by agreeing with Him about your sin. Cry out to God for mercy and receive Jesus as your Savior today.

It will be a blessed day!

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…if Christ is in you…” Romans 8:10

After exposing the mind of sinful man leading to death (v.6), Paul reminded the Roman Christians that they no longer need to be controlled by their past sinful nature (v.9a). The guiding force for them, as well as for us today, is The Spirit of God living in each person who has come to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is The Spirit Who teaches, comforts, and guides. Those without the Spirit do not belong to Christ (v.9b).

When Christ resides in one’s heart, the body is reckoned as dead to sin, because The Believer died with Christ through baptism (vv.10a; 6:2-4). The Spirit within each Believer is alive because of righteousness having been born within her/his heart (v.10b). With righteousness welling-up in one’s heart comes the power for volitional living – actually being empowered to break the pattern of evil, allowing a new pattern of right living to emerge.

Paul articulated what I’ve been telling people for years – the same power that raised Jesus from the dead has been bestowed to every child of God for abundant, victorious living:

“And if The Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He Who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, Who lives in you.” (v.11)

It took me many years to understand and embrace this spiritual precept. This is the key to victorious living… it is the remedy for a life wrecked by sin. Many who have been held captive in a sin have played-out the scene so many times that they feel hopeless to break free from sin’s bondage. When one accepts fully the power of Christ to save and His resurrection power, one is able to be free from the demands of sin and the law, and actually decide – fully empowered – to live free from that sin.

The word “if” is used four times in these three verses (vv. 9 – 11). Paul challenged the reader(s) to have a self-inspection for reviewing one’s pattern of living. If the pattern was the same as before, then resurrection power had not been tapped for victorious living. Once salvation rescues the lost soul, one wants to know and experience that power to change the direction for her/his life. The pattern of living takes a completely opposite direction.

This is not to say we live out the rest of our days completely perfect – incapable of sinning. Otherwise, why would God have inspired John to write, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) The roadmap of one’s life is shown to have less sin (back-tracking) as one moves toward the prize of eternal life (1 Corinthians 9:24)… running toward it with the determination to win! IF CHRIST IS IN YOU… then run toward your eternal reward, your Heavenly prize!

Have a blessed and safe weekend…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“The mind of sinful man…” Romans 8:6

Having articulated the guarantee of absolution to those who have been born again by faith in Christ (vv. 1 – 4), Paul depicted the evidence of those whose lives are ruled by The Spirit vs. those who are ruled by the power of sin. The Holy Spirit is mentioned eighteen times in chapter eight, making this portion of scripture a short-course in the person and function of The Holy Spirit.

Paul described how those whose lives are patterned after the sinful nature (the natural man – man’s default after the fall in The Garden of Eden) have their minds “set” on those desires (v.5a). Sin is programmed in each of us… to rebel against God’s law and Kingdom (v.7). Paul contrasted those whose minds are set on their sinful nature to those whose minds have been renewed and are now set on following the guidance of God’s Spirit – leading to joy and peace by living lives which are good and just (v.5b) After contrasting the two life patterns, Paul then articulated the end-result of each: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by The Spirit is life and peace…” (v.6).

We see, then, that those who have rejected Christ and the salvation He offers continue in sin’s destructive cycle, eventually leading to death. They live to satisfy the demands of the flesh. They are helpless to save themselves – caught in the bondage of a repetitive pattern upon which their minds feed. The only power that can break them out of this mindset is the power of God’s love.

Paul is stating that the proof is in the pudding: one’s life – the pattern of their living – is the proof of Christ’s transforming power. The same power that brought Christ from the dead is available to all who call out to Him for a new life, a second chance… breaking the pattern of sin and evil. Have you cried out to Him? Are you tired of living in the grip of sin? Do you want to live victorious over that one sin which holds you captive year after year? He is as close as the mention of His name… the name above every name, Jesus. Call out to Him, receive His Spirit and be free from sin, for “Where The Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Have a blessed day…

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…there is now no condemnation…” Romans 8:1

These five simple words are the declaration of emancipation from sin for every Christian. The Believer is given a second chance to live apart from the bondage of sin – the destructive cycle from one’s own decisions and lusts. The eighth chapter of Romans describes the things from which every Faith-walker is free (from Warren Wiersbe’s New Testament Bible Commentary):

  • Judgment (vv. 1 – 4)

  • Defeat (vv. 5 – 17)

  • Discouragement (vv. 18 – 30)

  • Fear (vv. 31 – 39)

Paul’s statement stands in contrast to the conclusive statement he made about condemnation in chapter three (3:20) – that NO ONE will be declared righteous in God’s sight by simply following His law. The law was meant to expose sin and point one to faith in God for His favor. While 3:20 was the “therefore” of condemnation, 8:1 is the “therefore” of NO condemnation. The qualifier God breathed into Paul is found in the words: “for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

In a courtroom, there comes a time when the defendant is pronounced either guilty or innocent. Today’s five understandable words declare the one who has died to self and sin and raised to a new life of faith in Christ as innocent before God. Jesus became our heavenly defense attorney while the law declared us guilty. Jesus Himself paid the fine or penalty for our wrongdoing, and became our heavenly defense attorney Who was able to also act as our witness that the punishment had been met, that we might stand before God as a non-offender (vv. 1 – 4). So, there is now no condemnation!

This is not to say we do not face the consequences for our actions here on earth. Each one should face one’s own offences toward others and seek reconciliation and, if necessary, restitution. By so doing, one demonstrates the authenticity of the change within. Whenever others arise to remind you of past failures or poor decisions, be gracious and allow this phrase from God’s Word to echo in your mind and heart. Own up to your own faults, disappointments, and failures while understanding that God is the God of a second chance.

If we are free in Christ, we are free indeed. Allow that freedom to release in you a spirit of reconciliation toward others and use that freedom to connect the hearts of others to the heart of God.

Have a blessed day!

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…I delight in God’s law…” Romans 7:22

In concluding his teaching on the inner struggle between good and evil, God breathed into Paul to write on the reality of this quandary – personal to everyone – each experiencing in one’s own way. Here’s how Paul described it:

“So, I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (vv. 21 – 24)

While delighting in God’s law, many still struggle with temptation in its many forms… all stemming from covetousness (v.8). Some struggle with greed, others with control or power; still others with envy, and others with lusts of the flesh, just to name a few. Having conquered the temptation once, why should we have to face it again… and again… and again.

Seems a bit hopeless, doesn’t it? Yesterday, I struggled with the words, “nothing good lives in me”. I rewrote it three times as I was trying to remain true to the text – without giving away today’s good news. While Paul recognized the wretchedness of his own sin, he was articulating the question everyone poses when confronted with one’s own sin, “Who will deliver me?” In other words, we are unable to change ourselves and we need a Redeemer – a Savior, Who will rescue us from ourselves.

The Roman Christians who lived in a quagmire of licentiousness and immorality were under the constant challenge to deny society’s expectations and their own lusts. Paul was simply agreeing with them about the life they faced daily, while agreeing with God’s answer to mankind’s problem – The Savior, Jesus Christ (v.25). Thank God for His provision of a Savior!

Paul recognized that the struggle will always be with us while we live on this earth: “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” The natural man/woman will always strive against the spiritual man/woman, and we have a warrior Who comes to live in the domain of the heart and mind to fight our battles for us as we die to sin daily.

In this passage we discover only Jesus can set us free; neither God’s law or one’s own strength is able to set one free from the law of sin. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:56) Paul’s inspired letter was organized in a way to present a systematic theology, and this passage leads the reader into the light of intentional living which Paul wrote about in chapter eight.

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, He will deliver me – making for a very blessed day!

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…nothing good lives in me…” Romans 7:18

These five words are used in Paul’s restatement of one’s slavery to sin, describing how he was “sold as a slave to sin.” (v.14) Even after one is given power to slay the sinful nature, there is an inward struggle each Believer experiences. Paul used the same words many articulate about their lives:

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do; but what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (vv. 14 – 20)

In this passage, Paul described the law as spiritual and good, as well as holy and just in verse twelve. The law reflects God’s perfect holiness and righteousness. Paul had already articulated how the law defines and exposes sin. In the section of scripture above, we discover the weakness of The Law – the law’s inability to change man’s sinful nature. All people inherit Adam’s sinful nature. Though the law is spiritual (working in the inner man – the conscience), it cannot transform one who tries to live by it. In fact, The Law will only activate the carnal nature within. One theologian described it this way: “The old nature knows no law, the new nature needs no law.” In other words, the natural man cannot be restrained by rules, the spiritual man or woman will reflect the goodness and love of Christ, Who is living in and through the one who has been born again.

When Moses received the law recorded in Exodus, the obvious purpose was for educating Israel on God’s expectation for living – an outward focus. In Deuteronomy, the spiritual side of the law was presented – an inward focus on how one’s heart is to be impacted by the law (the creation of one’s conscience, able to distinguish between what is good and evil). The spiritual focus is clearly given in Deuteronomy 10:12-13:

“And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”

The words: love, heart, and soul show a deeper context of how the law is to work within, and that is how the law is spiritual. However, since the fall of Adam in The Garden, the nature of man is carnal or from the flesh. Paul stated three times in Romans 7:14-20 that sin dwells in each of us, referring to the old nature – the natural man (vv. 14, 18, & 20). The passage, however, is not speaking of the problem presented in Romans 6 (How can I stop sinning?). The new problem for the born-again Believer is: How can I ever do anything good when sin is ever present in me? Paul exposed the dilemma every Faith-walker faces – the internal struggle against temptation and the desire to allow Christ to live in and through one’s life.

Paul was not describing himself as some mentally imbalanced psycho with a split personality. He was showing to the Roman Christians that he even struggles with the decision to compromise. There is always the battle within - between one’s nature to sin or to do good. Even when one lives a “good” life, sin or evil is always lurking. While salvation makes one whole, the problem of being controlled by one of the two natures is always present, which is why the Believer is to take one’s cross daily and be a fully devoted follower of Christ – dying daily to the power of sin.

Living to Christ makes the decision to die to sin much more intentional. Though the struggle may continue, the victory over sin becomes greater the closer one draws to Christ.

Have a blessed day

 

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…I would not have known…” Romans 7:7b&c NIV

Through these five simple words, we find the holiness and goodness of God’s law. Without the law we would not have known what sin was, the power of it to deceive, or how despicable it is in God’s eyes (vv. 7 – 13). Paul cited the last commandment found in the Decalogue: “You shall not covet.” (v.7c; Exodus 20:17) Covetousness differs from the other commandments: murder, larceny, adultery, etc., in that it is committed inwardly in one’s mind and heart and becomes the catalyst to committing the other prohibited acts.

Paul observed that sin (the pattern of rebellion found in man since the fall in Eden) seizes an opportunity through The Law: first through one dying to goodness in the discovery of wickedness (v.9); secondly, by covetousness leading to other acts of evil (v.10); thirdly, by deceiving the sinner into ignoring the guilt and remorse of sin (v.11a), thereby being as good as dead (not responding to any stimulus of goodness or rightness; v.11b).

Paul’s observations on sin are easily seen in the nature of man. For instance, a child will deliberately disobey his parents after being told not to do something, like eat a cookie or touch a hot iron. Children do not understand the love behind the restraints given. Teenager seek to push the limits of restraint. Why? Because it’s in their nature to do so. And adults will even disregard speeding or parking laws. Why? Because it’s in their nature to consider themselves more important than the law, more important than others, and to reject imposed limits. We all have a little (or a lot) of that nature in us.

Those who have not been awakened to righteousness know that sin exists without realizing how despicable it really is… the sinfulness of sin, as Warren Wiersby calls it (The Wiersby Bible Commentary, p.427, c.2, pp.5, l.3). Wiersby asserts: “Many Christians do not realize the true nature of sin. We excuse our sins with words like “mistakes” or “weaknesses,” but God condemns our sins and tries to get us to see that they are ‘exceeding sinful.’ Until we realize how wicked sin really is, we will never want to oppose it and live in victory.”

So, the truths Paul exposes in this passage are:

1.     The law is holy, righteous or just, and good (v.12);

2.     It is not the law that is sinful, it is the sinner (vv. 7 – 8);

3.     The law reveals sin, which in turn arouses further sin, leading to the death of the conscience (vv. 9 – 11).

Can we understand just how terrible sin really is, using God’s holy and good law to bring about such an awful end result? It is “utterly sinful” (v.13), its essence is evil, and its effect upon people is wholly destructive. The law is not the problem… it’s the sinful nature of man. Thank God with me that through the law our consciences were pricked by the scalpel of righteousness, leading us to Christ – The Living Word – and to His abundant life. Without someone sharing The Word and The Law with me I WOULD NOT HAVE KNOWN of my pitiful state or of God’s wonderful redemption through Christ.

5 Understandable Words for Today:

“…that we might bear fruit…” Romans 7:4d

I live just six miles south from our nation’s capital. There are more lawyers per square mile in and around DC than in any other location of the country. Every department, agency, and government contractor is fully staffed with lawyers who bring their specialties to the work table for developing, defining, and following policies, while offering litigation support. Rome was very similar in Paul’s day.

Paul understood the mind of a lawyer: they understand the letter of the law, how to meet the requirements of the law,  and know every conceivable way to find any and all loop-holes for avoiding penalty when the law has been broken. Perhaps we can now understand why Paul spent the first six chapters developing a relatable platform to “…men who know the law…” (v.7:1a), for dialogue with these Faith-walkers who had followed a broken religious system all their lives.

Seeking to find common ground with as many as possible, Paul provided yet another illustration to show the law’s limits being only for those who are alive (v.1b). He used marriage as an example, describing the illegality of one having more than one spouse. The law only allows marriage to another spouse after the death of the first (vv. 2 – 3). Drawing from that example, Paul likened new life in Christ as dying to the law (Levitical Law) through the death of Christ on the cross, allowing a soul to belong to “…Him Who was raised from the dead…” (v.4a-b).

How do we tell if a plant is alive or dead? Unless it’s an evergreen, the best time to tell is in the Spring, when the plant flowers and bears fruit. Paul described how one’s old nature was one that was controlled by sinful passions, bearing the fruit of death (v.5). When one dies to that old nature to belong to Christ, one bears the fruit of God’s righteousness, serving Him, empowered by The Spirit (vv. 4 – 5). Paul offered these words to summarize this section of his letter:

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (v.6)

The Christian is one who reckons him/herself dead to sin’s power, recognizes the soul as owned by God, enjoys the privilege of being God’s child through adoption, and experiences the intimacy with God as The Bride of Christ. It’s not as complex as it sounds, for all these descriptions and metaphors simply reflect God’s love for us, and the second chance He gives to all who call upon His name.

Are you experiencing a life of fruitful living? Just as a plant is known by its fruit, so we are known by the fruit of our lives. Who are we pointing to Christ? How does our spirit, our countenance reflect Christ? God delivers us from the death of sin to life in Christ so THAT WE MIGHT BEAR FRUIT! How are you making disciples that make disciples… that make disciples?

Read John 15:5 and have a blessed day…