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Covenant

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!

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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 is 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?

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Romans 3:10-18 Old Testament Cross References
Source: ESV Study Bible

In today’s Bible reading, Paul refers to several Psalms (Psalms 14:1-3 and 53:1-3 which are virtually identical) and Isaiah 59:7-8 to show the Old Testament basis that everyone is under the penalty of sin.

I used my Bible software to do an in-depth word study from Paul’s Greek in Romans and the Hebrew from Psalms and Isaiah. This Bible software is state-of-the-art, the best software you can buy, and it has all kinds of language resources including lexicons, dictionaries, and commentaries from world-class scholars. Let me share with you some astounding revelations from the original languages:

No one is righteous
No one understands
No one seeks for God
Everyone has turned aside from God
No one does good
No one fears God

It is very clear from my in-depth study of the Greek and Hebrew (and any plain reading in an English translation for that matter!) that Paul leaves no exception to those who are under the penalty of sin. Everyone deserves God’s judgment. Every. One. Of. Us.

You may respond, “But I’m a basically good person. I go to church. I sing in the choir. I write big checks and drop them in the offering plate.” Paul says that religious people are no better than nonreligious people when it comes to true righteousness. He paints a very bleak picture of mankind. But Paul is simply quoting from those Old Testament passages.

The theologians of the Reformation attempted to reclaim the Biblical understanding of Justification in asking how people are made right before God. They said that to understand Justification, you have to begin with another central doctrine (teaching) called Total Depravity.

In this doctrine, they said that the Fall of mankind affects every person to the very core of their being. Because that term “total depravity” sounds like it says that we are completely incapable of any good at all, modern theologian, RC Sproul has named this doctrine Radical Corruption (radical comes from the word for root so he says our corruption extends down to our roots). Taking into account what Paul says in Romans 3, the Reformers said that even our will was affected by the Fall; no one seeks for God. We don’t have to look far for sin influence in our lives; John Calvin said our hearts are idol factories. How true!

So if mankind is under the penalty of sin and every one of us is guilty and deserving of God’s wrath, then how in the world are we to be justified — given a right standing — before God? Paul answers that question, “For we conclude that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Romans 3:28 (CSB)

Paul will continue to develop his thoughts on justification by faith over the next few days’ Bible readings.

Application

So where does that leave us? Let me ask, are you right with God? Would you say that you and God are on good terms? What is the basis of your being on good terms with God? Have you depended on your behavior to be right with God?

Today’s reading is pretty clear. None of us really seeks for God. All of us are affected by a radical corruption that has been passed down through the generations from our original parents.

The only hope of any of us being justified — being on good terms with God — is faith alone.

Have you put your faith in Jesus alone?
Or are you relying on your own good behavior to be on good terms with God?

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Up front, I want to apologize for this long post. It is by far the longest I have ever written. But like with all of my devotionals, I hope you will find this one helpful, encouraging, and applicable.

Admittedly, I can be quite political in my Social Media posts. But I don’t like to get political in my preaching or Bible teaching. I really don’t. But the Bible continues speaks to today, even on cultural and political issues, and especially on moral issues.

As we begin today’s Bible reading in Matthew 19, we are faced with Jesus’ statements on very hot contemporary topics in the Christian Life: divorce/remarriage and sex/gender.

Under the Old Covenant, Moses permitted divorce under just a few situations. (Deuteronomy 24:1–4) Requiring that a divorce certificate to be given had a couple of purposes: it restricted the reasons why a husband could put away his wife; he couldn’t just divorce her because she burned the toast. If you remember the story of Jesus’ birth, Joseph considered putting away Mary. He would have justification to do so if she had been unfaithful during their betrothal/marriage. Given that she was pregnant, it would be obvious — apart from an immaculate conception — that she had been with another man. Also, given the cultural situation of the day, giving a divorce certificate gave rights to a divorced wife that she didn’t otherwise have. Just like the command of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was a way God limited His people, divorce did the same.

Note: Jesus’ statements on divorce spoke specifically to the Old Testament teachings on divorce. He was not addressing modern, American “no-fault” divorce.

Jesus’ comments on divorce were right in line with the Old Covenant. Nothing Jesus ever did, broke the Old Covenant; instead, He fulfilled it.

“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17–18 CSB)

The second cultural hot topic that Jesus addressed in today’s Bible reading is sex/gender.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and he also said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (Matthew 19:4–5 CSB)

Going back to Genesis 1:27, Jesus points out that God created mankind with two sexes/genders. A person is born either a male or a female. Period.

One of the reasons God created two sexes/genders is for procreation. Sexuality, as God created it, was to be a part of us, but it wasn’t all of us. That’s one key area where modern culture has gone off the rails. If you remove God from the equation, you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.

If you remove God from the equation,
you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.

When Moses penned the Pentateuch (the First Five Books of the Old Testament), and when Jesus and Paul addressed sexuality in the New Testament, there were no categories of “sexual identity” (the sex you “identify with”) and “sexual preference” (the sex of the person/people to whom you are attracted). Neither was there a category of “gender fluidity” (the idea that someone’s sexual identity or sexual preference can change).

The Bible doesn’t address these categories, because they were unknown at the time. Similarly, the Bible doesn’t address the topic of nuclear energy. These categories of understanding and discussion didn’t exist at the time.

So what do you do with those who claim to not “identify” with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth? And what do you do with those who claim they are attracted to someone of their own sex/gender?

If one is to believe that the Bible is true because it is God-breathed it (literally “expired” in 2Timothy 3:16), that the Bible is completely authoritative, and that the Bible is relevant for all time, these questions must be answered with a Biblical answer.

And while the Bible doesn’t address the issues of “identity” and “preference”, the Bible is very clear about behavior. The Bible consistently condemns homosexual sexual behavior. Some have twisted the Biblical treatment of the subject to say that God only condemns homosexuality when it is disrespectful and otherwise “not loving”. Or they dismiss the authority of the Bible outright. Either that or try to insist that those statements are “culturally conditioned” to the Biblical times and do not apply today.

Although this has been the longest post I’ve ever written, I don’t want to write a dissertation on the topic of the Bible and homosexuality. Kevin DeYoung very clearly and quite exhaustively addressed the issue in his What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality. (affiliate link) Note: I highly recommend this book to anyone, from straight to LGBTQ+ because this is an issue that every Bible-believer should be well-versed in. This is too important of a cultural issue to withdraw from the conversation.

The issues of “identity” and “preference” are not addressed by the Bible, but there are applications we can — and should — make of clear Bible verses on closely-related issues.

Take a look at Matthew 19:12.

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (CSB)

Eunuchs are mentioned several times in the Bible. In Acts 8, Dr. Luke tells us about a eunuch from Ethiopia, a man who is quite influential and is actually in charge of the nation’s treasury. We know that the king’s eunuch helped to prepare Esther and other young women to prepare for meeting the king. (Esther 2:3)

Jesus comments here that some were eunuchs from birth, some were made eunuchs by men, and some made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven. Eunuchs were men who had been castrated. I don’t think it would not be out of line include in this label those males who had been born with disfigured and otherwise dysfunctional genitals. It would be safe to define a eunuch as a male who could not perform sexually like most other men. As such, they lived their lives accordingly — in celibacy.

Given that the Bible consistently condemns homosexual behavior, would it be out of the question to apply Jesus’ comments about eunuchs to those who are “same-sex attracted”? Could we not apply Jesus’ words to encourage same-sex attracted individuals to pursue a life of celibacy, just like unmarried heterosexuals should?

Regardless of whether they feel that they were “born that way”, everyone makes choices based on their preferences: whether it’s drinking coffee with cream and sugar vs. straight black, or whether it’s to have sexual relations outside of marriage with someone of the opposite sex … or of the same sex.

Sex outside marriage — heterosexual or homosexual — and drunkenness are condemned by the Bible, without regard to “desire” or “preference”. And even if someone were to be born an alcoholic, every alcoholic decides to take that first drink, and every drink since.

Application

I hope you have seen how the Bible applies to issues that it does not directly address. The Bible is relevant to your life and mine.

When you come to Bible passages you don’t like, you need to ask questions of the Bible text. Ask other believers what they see in the passage. Look at the passage. Ask what it says.

Only after you see what it says should you can ask how it applies. Don’t make the mistake of asking “What does it mean to you?” before you answer, “What does it say?” and “What did it mean back then?”

These are basic principles of reading, studying and understanding the Bible. It is crucial to understand these principles and to apply them every time you read and study your Bible.

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Once again, Jesus highlights the importance of relationship over religion. In today’s Bible reading, He drives home His point as He quotes Isaiah.

The Lord said: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service— yet their hearts are far from me, and human rules direct their worship of me. Isaiah 29:13 (CSB)

Over and over again throughout His ministry, Jesus highlights passages from the Old Testament (His Bible) that emphasize that He is all about relationship, not religion. In our passage today from Matthew 15, the Pharisees and Scribes ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” (Matthew 15:2 CSB) These religious leaders were all about religion. They were all about rules. They were all about doing the good things and not doing the bad things.

Religion looks good. Moralism looks good. Good behavior looks good. But beneath the good-looking veneer of religion, moralism, and good behavior lies the ugly truth that without a relationship with Jesus Christ, you cannot have a right standing before God. (John 17:3, Matthew 7:21-23)

Five hundred years ago, the Reformers definitively answered the question, “How can a person be justified before God?” or “How can people have a right standing before God?” They said that according to God’s Word, people can only be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. And they said that God alone is glorified in justification.

Notice in that statement, there is no mention of religious rituals. There is no mention of baptism. There is no mention of religious behavior. There is no mention of cleaning up your life first. There is no mention of praying a prayer. There is no mention of anything like that. It is only by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ that anyone has any hope of being right with God. Period.

And that’s why religious people in Jesus’ day — and ours too! — don’t get it. They think it’s up to them to make themselves good enough to be accepted by God. The only problem with that is that no one has ever been good enough to be accepted by God.

as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Romans 3:10–12 (CSB)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 (CSB)

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:21 (CSB)

Application

So what about you? You probably call yourself a Christian, a Believer, a Christ-follower. So? You can call yourself anything you want. You can “self-identify” however you want. But the condition of your heart is what matters.

On what basis do you make a claim to be right with God? If your claim has anything to do with you or your behavior, you probably need to go back to the previous paragraphs and rethink your claim.

Sure, good behavior is important. But if you have a right standing before a Holy, Sovereign God, it is only because of what has been done for you, not by you.

That’s good news! That’s the gospel!

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