Month: June 2019

God’s Merciful Choosing (Romans 9:1-16)

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Background

Remember that this book of Romans was written to the multicultural church in Rome working out how to be united in Christ despite their diversity.

  • Romans 1-3:20 outlined the common problem of sin.
  • Romans 3:21-5:21 revealed God’s solution, a righteousness that comes by grace through faith in Jesus!
  • Romans 6-8 unpacks the believer’s new relationship with the flesh, sin, Satan, the law & our new position & experiences as God’s children, empowered by the Holy Spirit and Romans 8 ends with promises of the future for all those who believe in Jesus.
  • The question which Paul now addresses in chapters 9–11 is whether the promises God made to Israel will still be fulfilled? This is important because if God’s promises to the Jews remain unfulfilled, how can Gentile Christians be sure that God will fulfil the great promises to all believers that conclude chapter 8?

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(Romans 9:1-5): As a Jew himself, Paul expresses anguish over the many Jews who reject the good news about Jesus the Messiah. He would rather be personally cut off from Christ if that would change the situation. The Israelites were an honoured people; God chose them; they experienced God’s glory; they received God’s covenant promises, the Law & God’s instructions on worshipping Him. The heroes of the faith were Jewish, and so was Jesus the Messiah – they are a blessed people!

(Romans 9:6): Yet the vast majority of Israelites have not believed in Jesus, but this is not because God’s word has failed in some way; instead, it is because of God’s purposes in election.

(Romans 9:7-13): Paul shows how the true Israel (God’s children) have always been not an ethnic group but rather those God elected (God chose).

  • Isaac & Ishmael were both children of Abraham, but God chose only Isaac
  • Jacob and Esau were both children of Isaac, but God chose only Jacob and did so not because of anything good in Jacob (vs11)
  • God did this so that His purposes in election (choosing) might stand (vs11).
  • We are saved (become God’s people) not by works or by ethnicity but by the sovereign choice of God (vs11).

(Romans 9:14-16): But is God unjust in choosing in this way? “By no means!” (vs14). God is sovereign and free. No one deserves God’s mercy; no one deserves God’s choosing of them. God revealed Himself to Moses, saying; “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” God doesn’t need to answer to anyone regarding why He has acted as He has.

Salvation for the believer depends not on the will of human beings or the effort of human beings, but totally on God the merciful one (vs16).

If you are a believer in Jesus, then you have been chosen by God (adopted by God as we learnt from Romans 8)! You have been included in the great family of faith, the people of God, the children of Abraham, the children of promise. All of this was the plan and the purpose of God who has been merciful to you in choosing you in this way so that He might be glorified as the One who chooses.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?

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Love Demonstrated (Romans 5:6-11)

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We sinned, Jesus died. Why did Jesus do this for you and me? Could it be that we were somehow worthy of this incredibly selfless act? Paul is at pains to show that we did not merit this act of selfless love. He describes the state we were in at the point when Jesus chose to die for us in four ways;
– we were utterly helpless, unable to help ourselves (vs6)
– we were ungodly/wicked/irreverent (vs6)
– we were sinners entrenched in our rebellion against God (vs8)
– we were the enemies of God (vs10)

How worthy were we of this selfless act on the part of Jesus?
Totally unworthy!

Jesus died for us ‘at just the right time’. Waiting any longer would not have helped matters. We were not going to improve our situation with more time none of the four characteristics Paul used to describe us would have changed with more time. But, what made it just the right time?

Jesus’ coming was preceded by the entire history of the people of God, the choosing of Abram, the covenant and the promises, the formation of a people, the exile, the giving of the Law & the system of atonement for sins & worship, the journey to the Promised Land, Israel’s rejection of God as King followed by one failed king after another, Israel’s continued cyclic disobedience and God’s grace & mercy and forgiveness & God’s sending multiple prophets to speak to His people of another era to come & more specifically of the coming Messiah God’s King of kings – all this made the timing of Jesus’ incarnation, life, death & resurrection just the right time.

Jesus’ coming to die in our place for our sin wasn’t just at the right time it was the primary demonstration of the love of God! (vs8)

The cross of Christ is the zenith of the demonstration of God’s love for you and me. Yes, we feel loved when there is an answer to some prayer of ours, or we feel God’s protection or provision or blessing. But these are secondary demonstrations of the love of God; nothing can compare with the cross as the ultimate expression of His love for us. Later in the letter, Paul will use this same argument, saying if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us, how much more will God not then also along with giving us Jesus give us all these other little things we need (Romans 8:32).

Don’t ever wonder whether God loves you – Jesus died on the cross for you! He did this while you were still an ungodly, helpless, sinner, who was His enemy! And now that you are no longer ungodly but righteous, no longer a sinner but a saint, no longer an enemy but a reconciled son or daughter of God & now that you are no longer helpless but have the Holy Spirit as your Helper – how much more will God not pour His love into your life (vs6)?

So when circumstances appear to shout that God doesn’t love you when your enemy the deceiver shouts God doesn’t have your best interests at heart (just like he did to Adam and Eve) – don’t listen, look again at the cross of Christ. Ponder what Jesus did for you while you were his enemy. Know that He loves you with an everlasting love and that this tough or confusing situation can’t mean that God doesn’t love you because nothing can unravel the zenith of God’s love demonstrated for you on the cross.

Friend, the future is impossibly bright for the believer. If you consider how God treated you while you were His enemy, can you imagine how God will overwhelm you now with His love since you have been reconciled back into right relationship with Him! (vs 9-11)

To underline his point, even more, Paul contrasts the results of the death of Jesus and the life of Jesus. Since the result of Jesus’ death that we were reconciled back to a right relationship with God, how much more shall our lives be healed & restored and our relationship with God be deepened as a result of Jesus’ resurrection life! Jesus resurrection life is what makes Jesus what Hebrews calls, the guarantor of a better covenant;

“This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:23-25)

Because of Jesus’ eternal life, He is able to save us to the uttermost, to save us completely. And because of this, we rejoice!

What do you rejoice in? (Romans 5:1-5)

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What types of things get your joy-juice flowing?
And what form does your rejoicing take?

In popular culture, the most common public expressions of joy are often supporters arms aloft, jumping, hugging strangers and yelling because their team scored.

I have the joy of serving with a fantastic fellow elder, Sibongiseni Dlamini who simply cannot contain himself in certain moments in church life. He can not stop his feet and arms from doing a little high-speed mini-dance at certain times. Like when he sees God at work in someone’s life, or that moment in one of our church services (www.recroadchurch.co.za) when a diverse crowd of Christ followers is passionately worshipping God’s name all in unison or when someone comes to faith in Christ – pure joy!

What do you rejoice in?

In Romans 5:1-5, Paul mentions two but lists four things we rejoice in as Christ followers.

1. We are at peace with God
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit

1. We rejoice because we are at peace with God

May we never tire of rejoicing in the wonder and goodness of our salvation – that God has justified the ungodly (Romans 4:5). We were saved FROM the consequences of our sin, but we were saved FOR relationship with God and access into His presence continually.

Those who have been declared righteous by God because of their faith in Jesus now are in a position of ‘having peace with God’. We were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10), but now we have been reconciled to a right relationship with Almighty God.

More than this as we will discover in later in Romans 8 we are granted the privilege of being adopted as the children of God because of our faith in Jesus (John 1:12) and therefore we have free access into the presence of the Holy God, calling out “Daddy” as we come to him (Romans 8:14-17).

When they were young (and to some degree still today) my children never asked if they could please interrupt me by bashing open my office door or bedroom door! If they wanted me, they came in without hesitation. They were confident and secure that whatever I might have been focused on was not as important as they were.

Come like that, rejoicing that you are at peace with God because you have been declared righteous (justified) by the grace of Jesus. Come knowing this is where you belong.

2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God

We rejoice knowing that we are not what we once were (‘sinners’ & ‘enemies of God’) and that we are not all that we will one day be! The best is yet to come. Although we have access into our Holy Father’s presence already, there is greater unlimited access & proximity to come in the new heaven and the new earth when this will happen;

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new..Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 21:1-5 & Revelation 22:20)

This is our hope. Unrestricted eternal access in the presence of God living in a new earth where all of the damage of sin and death and suffering has been eradicated! It’s hard to imagine, but it is our eternal and sure hope which we rejoice in. The future is very, very bright for the believer in Jesus.

3. We rejoice in our sufferings

Oooooh. This seems to be the odd one out. Seriously is there not a typo here? The most challenging word here is the word “knowing” in verse 3. Paul expects the believer in Jesus to rejoice in sufferings because they know something. Do you KNOW it? You need to KNOW it before you’re in it because once you’re in some suffering/pressure/hardship that will not be the right to try to get to KNOW this thing that Paul assumes you KNOW.

We rejoice in our sufferings because we KNOW;

1. That although in this age we suffer because of the sin of others, and because of the effects of the fall all around us in our bodies, creation & society around us. We know that Jesus is both with us in it, and ultimately is coming back to make all things new!

We know that; “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

2. We also rejoice in our sufferings in that we know that they are not outside of the loving, sovereign control of our Heavenly Father who will use even the worst things, even sinful things to shape us more and more into His likeness and show us His love for us. We KNOW that suffering with a right perspective (Hebrews 12:10-11) results in us developing the muscle of endurance. A muscle which can only grow with the resistance training of hardship. We also KNOW that endurance produces authentic character in us, Christ-like godliness, which is only formed under pressure. And lastly, we KNOW that godly character results in a view of the world that is filled with hope because we are convinced of what Scripture says about the future coming age of Christ.

It is only possible to rejoice in sufferings if you KNOW God is still in control, if you KNOW God loves you, if you KNOW your loving Father is able to work through all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), if you KNOW that this suffering has some purpose & that it will end and be swallowed up by eternal life to come and superseded by glory!

4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit

We rejoice because God the Father loves us with a love that is purer, deeper and more powerful than anything else in all creation. And we rejoice because this love has been given to us, not in some small measure, it hasn’t been rationed to us, it has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit! So rejoice, that you get to drink deeply of the love of God, by at any time inviting the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again and again with the fullness of God’s love.

We have so much to rejoice in!

The Father of Faith (Romans 4)

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At this point in his letter to all the believers in Rome, Paul brings out Abraham as a test case for this righteousness of God that comes through faith and not works/human effort.

To the believers in Rome of Jewish origin, Abraham would have been a very significant figure. They considered themselves to be children of Abraham, the chosen people. Paul is about to cause them to consider Abraham from a new perspective – the father of faith!

The question is, how did Abraham come to a place of being in right relationship with God, being righteous before God (Romans 4:10)?

Was it by something he did?
Or was it because he believed God?

Quoting Genesis 15:6 Paul exclaims the latter. It was because Abraham believed God that he was “counted” as righteous (Romans 4:3).

Paul argues that Abraham believed God before he was circumcised, circumcision (which is a ‘work’) didn’t make him righteous it came after he had been made righteous because he had believed God (Romans 4:11).

More than this Paul then shows how the promise of being a father to many nations that was given to Abraham did not come through obedience to the Law (since the Law had not even been given yet) but came through the ‘righteousness of faith’ (Romans 4:13).

Paul is unhitching for the Jewish believers any sense that they can be made right before God through either their Jewish heritage, anything they can do or any keeping of the Law. The promise of blessing to Abraham came by grace through faith to all who share in the same faith as Abraham (Romans 4:16-17).

And what was Abraham’s faith like?

  1. Abraham believed that God could create something out of nothing, could perform miracles (Romans 4:17)
  2. Abraham believed God what God had said to him even when there was no circumstantial evidence for his hope, Abraham believed what God had told him (Romans 4:18)
  3. Abraham’s faith remained robust when it was challenged by what he knew that contradicted what God had said (Romans 4:19)
  4. Abraham’s faith was strengthened as he continued to worship God in the midst of delay (Romans 4:20)
  5. Abraham’s faith was anchored in the character of God – he believed that God was able to do what He had promised. He believed that God did not lack in power and God did not lack in character either (Romans 4:21)

And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him, reckoned him to be righteous before Him. Abraham’s faith in God, his believing God was the key that caused God to “count” him as righteous.

And God will do the same for us if we like Abraham believe God, put our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord who was handed over to die in our place for our sin and was raised again so that we could be declared righteous by God because of our faith in Him (Romans 4:24).

May you and I have faith in God like Abraham did and may we rest assured that God counts us as righteous because we have put our faith in Jesus our Lord.

The Gift of Grace (Romans 4:4-5)

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Imagine the scene. You’ve worked your first month in your new job. You feel like you put your best foot forward, did all that was required of you, didn’t mess anything up. You know you worked hard, put in some extra hours wanting your new boss to be happy with the new hire!

It’s payday, and you get called into the office, presumably to collect your first payslip. It feels good, you know you earned it, and as you walk to your boss’s office, your mind is already thinking ahead a little spoil – maybe some dinner out or something.

As you enter their office though you’re a little taken aback, as they stand up to greet you with the words; “Phil, I have a gift for you!” They say as they hand you your payslip all wrapped in ribbons. A gift? No mate, I earned that. That’s not a gift, that’s my wages, that’s what I worked so hard for, that’s what you owe me – you think to yourself as you smile and stretch out to receive your payslip.

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

Paul is at pains here to show us that the righteousness that is from God (Romans 3:21) is not a reward for good behaviour or hard work. Our salvation is not God responding to something good or deserving in us.

On the contrary, our salvation is a work of God, despite us and in spite of what we have done and or not done. God saves the person who didn’t work to earn God’s forgiveness. God saves the person who ‘believes in Him who justifies the ungodly’ (vs5).

Tim Keller says; “And what is the gospel? It is that you are so lost and flawed, so sinful, that Jesus had to die for you, but that you are also so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for you. Now you are fully accepted and delighted in by the Father, not because you deserve it but only by free grace.”

God saves, God justifies the ungodly vs5 says! Jesus similarly said He came to help the sinner (Matthew 9:13) & the lost (Luke 19:10) not those who thought they did not need him! God saves ungodly people, not good people. As Angus Buchan says; “good people don’t go to heaven, believers in Jesus do.”

Friend, throw off all attempts to earn God’s favour or forgiveness! It can’t be done. That’s not how the righteousness of God is obtained. You can’t earn it, won’t ever deserve it. The only way to be made right with God is to receive God’s GIFT of salvation and forgiveness by believing in Jesus Christ, in His life, death & resurrection for you.

This gift of salvation is the most glorious gift of grace. And if you’ve ever given someone a massive gift, you’ll know that God doesn’t want you to now feel indebted, doesn’t want you to try to pay Him back, but rather is most honoured when you thank Him, appreciate the gift and love Him who paid the price for that gift.

Is your confidence in yourself or in the majestic goodness of God’s grace?
Repent of any pride of self-righteousness & revel in the glory of grace.

But God (Romans 3:21-31)

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3ab6f2c27c9413a1b12f20fefc4b1a66-700I remember dark cold nights as a parent with screaming teething kids or sick kids who would not sleep, at about 3-4am it feels like the darkest time, the bleakest time when emotional and energy resources are spent, and a sense of desperation has sometimes set in.

And yet there is the light of dawn just around the corner. I remember seeing the first hints of the sunrise and almost instantaneously feeling like life was not so desperate after all.

Similarly, after the bleak section from Romans 1:18-3:20 in which Paul has been at pains to detail our human problem of sin, Romans 3:21 is a new dawn of unspeakable joy!

No one is righteous; no one is good enough; no one can be justified through law-keeping…BUT NOW.

What glorious words. A new era has dawned. A seismic shift has occurred in salvation history and now everything is different forever and ever.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

  • No one is righteous (morally right & or right before God) (vs9-18)
  • No one can be made righteous through law-keeping (vs20)
  • But now a righteousness from God has been revealed (vs21)
  • The whole Old Testament hinted at its coming… (vs21)
  • A righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ (vs22&26)
  • A righteousness that is a gift (vs24)
  • A righteousness graciously bestowed on those who believe in Jesus because of Jesus’ self-sacrificial act of averting the wrath of God that should have been spent on us by taking it on Himself (propitiation/atonement). (vs25)
  • A righteousness that results in that person not just being declared right before God but also freed (redeemed) from their prior slavery to sin, Satan & death. (vs24)

Our salvation is entirely unmerited. We did not initiate it or deserve it; God stepped in to do what we could not do. In giving us Jesus as our atoning sacrifice, God gave us Himself to save us from Himself, His impending wrath against our sinfulness, so that He could save us for Himself, to be in right relationship with Him forever.

God worked salvation in such a way that as the Holy God, He could somehow be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (vs26). The cross of Christ was the only way for God to be both just & the justifier of those who trusted in Jesus’ saving work for them on the cross.

After all, God would not have been just in forgiving sinners if He had not substituted Himself in our place for our sin. Someone had to pay the penalty for sin for God to be just, and yet God did that for you and me. God Himself took on Himself the penalty for sin SO THAT He could justify us, declare us to now be not guilty of the sin we had done. God could do this and still be just because the guilt, shame and punishment that was ours had been transferred onto Him on the cross so that He paid it in full SO THAT we could have His righteousness transferred to us making us right with God.

As 2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV) summarises;
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Praise Him. Thank Him. Worship Him. Love Him. Live your whole life for Him.

The Bad News (Romans 3:1-20)

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Remember that the apostle Paul is helping this multi-cultural church in Rome deal with their unity in diversity. In Romans 2, Paul argued that God shows no partiality, all people are equal before Him (Romans 2:11).

So the question arises in Jewish Christian’s minds potentially – is there any value in being Jewish anymore? (Romans 3:1).

Oh yes! Replies Paul to his rhetorical question. “Much in every way.” (3:2)

After all, the Jewish people were entrusted with the word of God, with the prophecies of God – they were God’s special people. Now if you know the story, Israel had a bad history of unfaithfulness to God, but God is faithful, and so God will still be faithful to His promises made to His people (3:3-4). In one sense, the unfaithfulness of God’s people helps one to see the contrasting faithfulness of God (3:5)!

But then could one say that God is unrighteous in holding people to account for their sin since their sin shows off his righteousness? (3:5)
“By no means!” (3:6) Such talk is silly and hollow – says Paul.

He then comes back to the theme of Romans 1-2, that all of humanity is in the same terrible predicament before the Holy God – “both Jews and Greeks (and all other people), are under sin.” (3:9) In fact;

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (3:10-12)

What a bleak pronouncement! God is Holy, and we are not! No one, not even one person is holy. Everyone has turned aside from God, rejected Him. Our words are like poison, and we are prone to horrific acts of violence, we are on a miserable path away from God having no fear or proper respect for Him. (3:13-18).

More than this, no one can say anything in their defence regarding this dreadful pronouncement. There is no hope outside of the law, and there is no hope in trying to keep the law because no one can keep the whole law and hence be justified in the sight of the Holy God (3:20).

Now unsurprisingly, passages like this are not our favourites. But to disregard them is to undermine the majesty of our salvation and the wonder of God’s grace.

That’s because it’s only against the dark backdrop of our terrible sin, hopelessness and the wrath of God that’s coming against such sin (Romans 1:18), that the grace and mercy of God in salvation can be seen in all its wonder and glory.

So what does a passage like this mean for you and I today? See yourself there included in the “all” who have sinned, in the “no ones” of vs 10-18 and then thank and praise God that Jesus lived the perfect life you and I can not live and then died in our place for our sin! Praise Him for stepping in as the substitute, thank Him that you will never face the wrath of God that is coming against sin because He did for you…

Tomorrow we will begin to explore the wonder of God’s solution.