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Atonement

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Paul paints a pretty grim picture of fallen mankind in today’s Bible reading. We saw him paint the same picture a few weeks ago in the beginning few chapters of Romans.

He says we were dead. He says we were alienated from God. He says we lived according to our fleshly desires (that’s all we had!). He says we lived according to our enemy’s rules. We were by nature children of wrath. I can’t think of anything he could have missed. There is nothing positive that Paul says about us in our lost, fallen condition. Nothing. And then two of my favorite words….

But God.

While all of these bad things were true of us, God steps in and makes all things new. He makes all things good. He makes all things right so that we might be justified — to have a right standing before Him, not just on judgment day, but today. Jesus served as the final, ultimate, once-for-all atoning sacrifice that made all things right between a holy God and a fallen humanity.

In Romans 5:8, Paul puts it this way. “God shows His love for us us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

God made us alive. He raised us up and sat us next to Jesus in the heavenly places so that at some point in the future, he can display the immeasurable riches of His grace through kindness. (Ephesians 2:5-7)

And then in just two verses, Paul drives home the fact that all of this is a miraculous work of God. The only thing we brought to the bargaining table is the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV)

  • Grace is unmerited favor. He gave it because He wanted to.
  • We have been saved. This is a passive mood in Greek. It happened to us. We didn’t do it to/for ourselves; it happened from outside of us.
  • We have been saved. This is the perfect tense in Greek. Salvation is a done deal. There is nothing left for us to do to complete it.
  • Salvation is through faith and it (the process of salvation) is not of our own doing.
  • Salvation is the gift of God. It’s something given, not earned.
  • Salvation is not of works. Again, we didn’t earn it by doing anything for it. Otherwise, by definition it wouldn’t be grace, it would be “wages“.

SEVEN TIMES IN TWO VERSES!

No one can boast of salvation. Why? Because we were passive in the process when it happened to us from outside of us, not of our own doing, but rather was a gift that we didn’t work for.

Paul highlights the fact that this was a miraculous work of God because He wanted to do it (He wasn’t obligated to do it)!

Application

As they say, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” How else could anyone respond to such a great salvation that God has given to His kids, but respond in joy and praise!

Spend some time doing that today!

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Adam and Eve are tempted

Paul continues developing his thoughts on justification by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading. He says, “So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is justification leading to life for everyone.” Romans 5:18 (CSB)

Each of us is responsible for our own sin, yet each of us inherited a fallen condition from our first parents (specifically the First Man, Adam) because of one act of disobedience: eating the fruit from the one tree that God had warned against eating.

But that wasn’t the end of the story! Another Man, also called “the Second Adam”, brought righteousness through His one act: sacrificial atoning death on the cross. And in His death and resurrection, He reconciled the broken relationship between God and His people, whom He relentlessly pursues through covenant throughout the rest of the Bible.

As much as sin, death, and judgment followed the one act of Adam’s disobedience, how much more did the one act of Jesus’ obedience bring life, righteousness, and forgiveness. In fact, Paul uses this phrase how much more four times in this one chapter. And counting his final parting shot, “where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more.” Romans 5:20 (CSB), Paul drives home his point a fifth time!

Application

There is no sin you have ever committed — or ever will — that will ever be so massive, so horrendous, that God’s grace cannot overcome. If you’ve ever felt that you’ve blown it and that you’ve done something God can never forgive, rest assured, you aren’t that powerful! You aren’t that bad. You haven’t surprised God. God’s plan to redeem Adam’s descendants didn’t arrive as Plan B. God planned redemption from before He spoke, “Let there be light.”

Wherever there is sin, there is even more grace. God’s grace is free for the taking from an unconditionally loving, reconciling God.

I love how Eugene Peterson translated Romans 5:20-21 in The Message Translation:

Sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

That’s good news! That’s the Gospel!

This devotional was originally published on May 21, 2019.

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Paul continues to develop his argument for salvation by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading from Romans 4. If you aren’t familiar with the Jewish Patriarch Abraham, let me briefly bring you up to speed.

Abram and Sarai were an aged couple who had never had children. God established a relationship with Abram and told him to leave his homeland and go to a land where God would show him. Abram packed up his wife, his servants, and his belongings and set out from modern-day Southeastern Iraq to the Northwest, then West, then South and settled in modern-day Israel.

God told Abram that he would be the father of many nations. Despite being very old and Sarai being postmenopausal, Abram took God at His word. Because she knew she would be unable to get pregnant, Sarai offered her servant Hagar to Abram. Nine months later baby Ishmael was born. Abram was 86 years old.

Thirteen years later, God repeats His promise to Abram (who is now 99 years old). He changes Abram’s name to Abraham and He changes Sarai’s name to Sarah. God tells Abraham to circumcise every male in his family as well as his male servants. Abraham obeys. A year later, as promised, Isaac is born. Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90. There’s a lot more that goes on and you can read Abraham and Sarah’s story in Genesis Chapters 12-22.

Note: Islam traces its lineage back to Abraham through Ishmael. However, the Bible presents Isaac as God’s promised child because He was born to Abraham and Sarah.

The key to Abraham’s story is found in Genesis 15:6: Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Paul refers to this passage in several of his letters.

In describing what God had done with Abram in Genesis 15:6, Moses (who wrote Genesis) used an accounting visual where Abram’s faith, apart from obedience to the Law (which God gave to Moses four hundred years later), was put in the “Assets” column of God’s Righteousness Ledger.

It’s important that Abraham didn’t just say, “Ok, I believe.” Paul says that Abraham was fully convinced that God was able to do what He promised: make Abraham and Sarah into a mighty nation of people. (Romans 4:20-21)

Application

It’s crucial that we come to God in faith, fully convinced that God has done what He promised in sending Jesus to be the ultimate fulfillment of His promise to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.

Have you put your faith in God’s promise? Are you fully convinced that Jesus’ death is sufficient to pay for your sin-debt?

You don’t have to have a lot of faith; you just need to have faith. Faith is your response to God’s activity. Believer, when you were given new life in the Spirit, you were able to trust God to make good on His promises. And because you responded to God’s activity, God credited the unlimited righteousness of Jesus to your account on His Righteousness Ledger.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)

Note the six things that Paul is driving home in just two verses:

  • Grace is undeserved favor.
  • You have been saved through faith. (passive on your part — something that happened to you — and done in the past)
  • This salvation is not of anything you have done, or will do — or can do.
  • Salvation is God’s free gift.
  • It’s not of works. No one can do anything to gain salvation or contribute to salvation, otherwise, salvation wouldn’t be grace, but wages.
  • Because salvation is a free gift of God despite what you have done (or will do) you have nothing to be proud of, to boast of, to brag of. You were no more deserving of salvation than anyone else who ever lived.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:15 (CSB)

This devotional was originally published on May 18-19, 2019.

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Justification

Today’s Bible reading begins Paul’s letter to the Romans, one of my favorite books of the Bible. OK, all of the books of the Bible are my favorites. But Romans holds a special place in my heart because in, Paul lays out the Gospel Message in the most plain and developed way. In Chapter One, he says that he is not ashamed of the gospel because it reveals the righteousness of God.

Any discussion of the gospel must begin with God’s righteousness. Why? Because any other discussion of the gospel would begin with some other subject, mostly mankind. The gospel begins and ends with God. Period. Any other focus distracts from the introduction that our Creator created everything — from nothing — in a perfect condition. Perfection. But the world isn’t perfect now. So what happened?

THAT is the question!

Everything hinges on our understanding of God. If we begin discussing the gospel — either academically or practically — with God’s love, God’s goodness, or any other topic, we miss the importance of Paul’s presentation and the emphasis of the entire book of Romans. If we don’t see God’s righteousness and His sovereignty over everything, we’ll misunderstand things like the doctrine of election. We’ll miss how deeply fallen humanity is. We’ll miss the point that Jesus is the only suitable acceptable atoning sacrifice to give us a right standing with God.

Beginning with the righteousness of God brings us to the pivotal question of,
“How are fallen people to have a right standing with a holy God?”

Application

Spend a few minutes today thinking about — really thinking about — the gospel message Thank God for the centrality of the cross in the process of salvation. Worship God for His plan of reconciling lost people to Himself. Thank God for doing everything necessary to secure your salvation.

And if you don’t know God, or if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, please reach out to me. I’d love to talk with you more about this!

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Jesus died on a cross to pay our sin-debt.
source: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 27, we see Jesus’ last moments as He dies on a cross just outside Jerusalem. He cries out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 CSB)

Billy Foote’s song You are My King (Amazing Love) begins, “I’m forgiven because You were forsaken. I’m accepted. You were condemned.”

As I am typing this and considering the verse, Billy’s description, and the picture, tears are welling up in my eyes. Jesus voluntarily became God’s sacrificial lamb, dying on the cross and taking the wrath of God head-on, becoming the atoning sacrifice for sin that wasn’t His — it was mine and it was yours — all to bridge the chasm between our Holy Creator and us, the fallen creation.

His death accomplished what our feeble attempt at obedience to the Law wasn’t able to — and wasn’t designed to do: give God’s people eternal forgiveness and eternal life. His death reestablished a relationship between God and His people, a relationship that had been severed a long time ago in a garden (Eden). And Jesus’ battle in another garden (Gethsemane) secured the victory over sin, a victory that God’s people experience vicariously.

Application

Jesus was abandoned. Jesus was condemned. Jesus died. He endured all of these things so that you wouldn’t have to. Believer, your sin-debt has been paid. You have been adopted and you will never be abandoned by your Father. Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, power and desire to walk a life that pleases God is available to you.

Spend a few minutes worshiping God. Spend a few minutes expressing your gratitude for the incredibly selfless act that Jesus accomplished for you “on a hill far away”.

This devotional was originally published on May 11, 2019.

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