Grace

Salvation: It’s believing not sincerity or morality that saves! (Romans 10:1-10)

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Sincerity is not enough for salvation. It is possible to be sincere and yet sincerely wrong. Paul desires & prays that religious Jewish people who are in fact lost, might be saved.

He knows that many of them are sincerely zealous and yet simultaneously spiritually ignorant of the true Gospel. Because of this ignorance of the right relationship that is possible by grace through faith in Jesus – such people try to attain their own righteousness through human effort and law-keeping, which will never lead them to salvation.

But Jesus is the end of the law (Romans 10:4), both in the sense that He has fulfilled the law and also that through Him, God has announced a righteousness that is apart from the law (Romans 3:21). Paul is passionate about the salvation of his fellow Jews, sincerely religious people, who sadly are putting their faith in the wrong thing – in their own righteousness, their own law-keeping ability, their own morality which Paul knows is futile and will not lead to salvation. Only faith in Jesus will.

Personal reflection:

Paul was living with an earnest and intense passion and longing that people would come to faith in Jesus Christ. This passion directed his life; it informed his decisions and ultimately led him to massive self-sacrifice. Is the Gospel and the salvation of those you know, those you are near to a directing passion in your life? Does the Gospel feature highly in your decision-making process and your priorities? Spend some time reflecting and speaking to God about this.

The Gospel is simply this;

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

  • Anyone (Romans 10:4) who confesses these things will be saved.
  • Anyone who confesses or acknowledges WHO JESUS really is – God
  • Because they’ve believed that to be true in their heart
  • Anyone who believes WHAT Jesus did in dying & rising again for them will be saved.
  • They will be justified, declared righteous before God!
  • On the basis of WHO they believed in (Jesus) & WHAT they believed Jesus did for them on the cross.

Sincere religious people do not go to heaven, sincere morally good people do not go to heaven – believers in Jesus do.

 

 

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God: Free to Choose (Romans 9:16-29)

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In Romans 9:1-16, we learnt that God is mercifully sovereign in choosing anyone to be His people.

(Romans 9:16-18): God’s sovereign choice of actions is not limited. God works in all of human history; God even works through evil despots for the purpose of His will – “that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (vs17). God is free as the sovereign One to have mercy on those He chooses to and to harden whomever He wishes for the broader purpose of His will.

God is not unjust in acting in this way. After all, as Paul demonstrated in the early chapters of his letter, that all human beings are sinful and guilty in God’s sight (3:9,19&23), nobody deserves to be saved or chosen by God. “Therefore, if God hardens some, He is not unjust, for that is what their sin deserves.” – John Stott

(Romans 9:19): But if God is so much in control and since we cannot resist His will – then the question arises; “How can God find anyone guilty?” The answer to this question completes the verses of the chapter.

(Romans 9:20–23): Scripture never defends God’s sovereign free will to choose to show mercy or to express His righteous wrath and to still hold people accountable for their sin. Instead, Scripture insists that we, as finite human beings, are totally out of order rebelliously questioning God’s ways! When we do so, we are like the clay disrespectfully calling the potter to account for his actions in choosing to make what He wanted to out of the clay. “God created a world in which both his wrath and his mercy would be displayed. Indeed, his mercy shines against the backdrop of his just wrath, showing thereby that the salvation of any person is due to the marvellous grace and love of God. If this is difficult to understand, it is because people mistakenly think God owes them salvation! ” (ESV Study Bible)

(Romans 9:24-29): In his grace and mercy, God has called people to himself from both the Jews and the Gentiles just as He promised He would do through the prophet Hosea (Hosea 2:23 & 1:10). God did this to illustrate His stunning undeserved grace. All people who are called by God are sinful underserving people; God has shown His grace to the Gentiles just as He showed His grace to Israel by saving them and choosing them as His own even though they were all undeserving. Anyone being chosen by God for mercy and not wrath is pure mercy on the part of God!

(vs27-29) Remember that not all of ethnic Israel was saved, or were truly God’s people, but only a remnant was the true Israel of God as was prophesied in Isaiah 10:22–23 and experienced salvation and not God’s judgement (Isaiah 1:9).

Are you battling with some of what’s revealed about God in Romans 9? Ask yourself why you’re battling? Is not all of Scripture God-breathed and useful to teaching and rebuking us (2 Timothy 3:16)? Are you not in danger of being the clay screaming at the potter about what ought and ought not to be? We need to be so careful that we do not elevate our thoughts or questions above the revelation of Scripture in such a way that we end up judging Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to interrogate our hearts and minds!

Spurgeon once said when asked about defending the Bible;

“Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it, and it will defend itself.”

This is the revelation of Scripture regarding God’s sovereign merciful free will in choosing some and not others to be saved. May we, may I humble ourselves grateful that God elected to choose to show mercy to us and may we rejoice in His gracious choice and worship Him for His mercy.

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?

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?

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.

Do vs believing it’s DONE (Matthew 19:16-30)

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A young man, an achiever in life wants to know how to ensure that he obtains eternal life.  He seemingly has everything he wants in this life, but maybe he is intrigued by things Jesus has been saying about eternal life and he wants to know how to obtain it. 

So he asks Jesus what he needs to DO to get what he wants (vs16).  This young man is steeped in religion.  Religion always gives one something to DO in order to be accepted.

Following Jesus is nothing like religion and so Jesus is going to reveal the difference between following Him and religion.  The man wants to DO something to gain God’s acceptance (that’s religion) and so Jesus plays along with him; 

“Keep the commandments” – Jesus says to the man.  “Done” the man says, I have kept them all (vs20).  ‘You want to be perfect?’ Jesus effectively says to the man?  ‘You want to know you DID enough, then just do one more thing’, Jesus says.

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)

This man, in fact no person can DO enough to satisfy God’s requirements.  No one is righteous (Romans 3:11-12), all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), the only way to be right before God is to accept the righteousness of God that’s apart from what you DO (Romans 3:21), a righteousness that’s from God through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:23). 

That’s grace, that’s the gospel, that’s the good news Jesus brings for each one of us – the way to eternal life is to believe in Him, to trust in what He has DONE for us. And that is the only way to obtain eternal life.

It’s a funny thing, but grace is not appealing to all people.  Although God’s grace offers us forgiveness and acceptance soley on the basis of believing in what Jesus has DONE for us, that very offer is offensive to a religious person!  How so?

It’s offensive, because in order to receive grace you have to accept that you have not been able to DO enough yourself!  In order to receive grace you have to accept that you need grace and that is a humbling hit to the pride that religion breeds.

Scripture says that the young man went away sorrowful, he did not believe Jesus who answered the question he had asked at first.  He did not believe that letting go of everything that he had been trusting in, to trust in Jesus was worth it, was the right choice.  He didn’t want to humble himself so as to receive grace, and so he went away sorrowful…

Receive Jesus’ grace daily.  Trust in what Jesus has DONE for you and don’t ever put your trust in what you can DO in order to please God.

Believe Jesus, believe Scripture.  Believe that nothing in this life is worth living for, saving up or hoarding when compared to what Jesus offers those who will lay everything down to believe in Him and to follow Him.  Surrender your whole life, all you have to Jesus – you will never reget it.  Not in this life and not in eternity either.

Disqualified? Qualified! (John 4:1-45)

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Life is a sequence of many moments isn’t it? Yet not all moments are equal in their importance for our lives. Some of the moments in our lives are what one could call; ‘God-moments’. These are moments, which are often unexpected in which radical change can happen, faith can be birthed or strengthened, in which we can learn something new about ourselves, God or others.

Today, God wants to bless you. This devotion could be a God-moment in your life. God wants to bless you, to encounter you, change your view of Him, to change you, to pour His love into you, wants to heal and restore you…

Back to the story, this woman at the well is about to have an unexpected God-moment in her life as she comes to draw water at the well but finds Jesus there! After some interaction about Jesus’ thirst, Jesus’ offered her water that would satisfy her thirst forever, she then asked Jesus to give her this water so that she would never thirst again.

Jesus knowing everything about her, asks her about her husband, asks her to call him. She didn’t want to talk about these things, it’s too personal, she tries to cover up this sad aspect of her life. We are often like this woman aren’t we? At first she resisted God’s loving, kind advances, and she tries to hide from the King of Glory. But He’s all-knowing, He knows about all 5 of her previous husbands & He knows of her current sinful relationship with the man who is not her husband but whom she is with.

At this point you might expect Jesus to draw back. After-all, she has been exposed and it’s messy. Yet,
amazingly, graciously, God still pursues her as He pursues you and I. Amazingly, what God knows about you and I doesn’t cause Him to re-coil and run from us.

Yet Jesus stays with her keeps pursuing her in this moment and reveals to her that He is the Messiah (vs26). God accepts us as we are, warts and all, God wants to transform us from who we have been and who we are today into worshippers who will worship in Spirit and truth!

And so in this God-moment the woman has a revelation of God, a revelation of the grace, mercy & forgiveness of God. What she thinks about God, what she knows is re-written in a moment as God reveals His true character to her in this God-moment…

You might have thought that her past and her present disqualified this lady. And yet actually her mess strangely qualified her to speak to others about who God is and what God is like! Having slinked out of town to come and get water, ashamed, at a time when not many others would be there.

Having met Jesus though she runs back into town effectively shouting; ‘Come and see a man who told me everything that I ever did, I think He is God!’ This woman’s shame actually became her proof of who God is! Her shame was what qualified her to testify to who God is and what God is like. In that God-moment, her sin became her God-story of redemption which in turn then showed off the grace, love & mercy of God to her whole town.

In one sense, you and I can’t be entrusted by God to share with others about Him until we have received, encountered, grace from God towards us first. Receiving grace from God qualifies us to tell others about God’s grace and mercy.

God’s grace is that He accepts us, just as we are, warts and all. God accepts us not on the basis of our merit but on account of His goodness and His lavish grace and kindness to us in Jesus. Although Jesus knew every sordid thing about this woman, He still accepted her and forgave her! Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He didn’t come for those who think they’re doing just fine, stuck in their self-righteousness, He came for sinners like me, like you…?

The end of the story is amazing. One woman’s God-moment, one woman encountering Jesus as the God of grace, results in her sharing her God-story with her town so that Scripture then records that; “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39)

So what are you ashamed of? What do you feel disqualifies you from being used by God, from being God’s agent for change, His channel of grace and blessing to people? Can your sin potentially actually become a God-story which ends up showing off the God of grace?

Ask Jesus to forgive you, to pour His grace and mercy into your life right now and then go and tell the world how great and good and loving Jesus is! Needing grace, doesn’t disqualify you, it qualifies you to share with others about the incredible grace and mercy and love of God.