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Depravity

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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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In today’s Bible reading, Paul addresses an issue that is commonly misunderstood in Christian circles. He discusses this issue elsewhere, but I’m limiting my discussion to the words he uses here.

One of the issues we must deal with as believers is the tension between liberty and love, or freedom and maturity. Believers are not under the Law, but under Grace. But this doesn’t mean that we can do anything we want to whenever we want to. The tension comes when we consider the fact that other believers are not at the same level of maturity as us. Therefore, we need to extend grace to them, and they need to extend grace to us.

In Paul’s day, the hot-button issue was eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. After being slaughtered, the sacrificed animal could be brought home and cooked up for dinner. For some, eating a sacrificed animal was tantamount to sacrificing it yourself! For others, it’s just another meal to be enjoyed. Paul says that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17 (CSB)

For Paul and his context, it was eating sacrificed meat. For our context, it may be going to a party where people may be drinking and dancing. Paul is not saying that believers can’t drink or dance. Rather he says that if drinking or dancing causes another believer to drink to excess or otherwise stumble into some other sin, it’s better to not exercise our freedom at that time in the presence of that other believer.

Does this mean that we’re hypocrites practicing “situational ethics”? No, it means that we recognize that we’re not at the same point in our walk with Christ. Some of us aren’t (yet?) capable of doing some things that others are free to do.

Let me throw this out…. the party I mentioned above where people are drinking and dancing … what if the party is a wedding reception at a local country club? Does that change the situation? Does that change whether a believer should attend? What if the believer has been sharing her faith with the mother of the groom? This could open doors to share her faith with other family members. But should the faith-sharing believer not go to the wedding reception simply because a church member (who has no connection with the wedding party and thus, isn’t invited to the wedding) might be “offended”?

Paul’s use of two words may help us to understand how to handle the situation. He says believers should not put a stumbling block or a pitfall before another believer. (Romans 14:13) Both words can be translated as “stumbling block”. But the use of both words seems to indicate there’s a difference between the two. The second word can mean, not only something that someone trips over, but also a snare or a pit.

What Paul is trying to say is that believers should watch how they live so that other believers won’t stumble into, be ensnared by, or otherwise fall into sin. In other words, don’t set up someone to sin.

Scripture consistently condemns drunkenness, however, it never condemns consuming alcohol. Actually, Paul encourages Timothy to drink wine for “medicinal purposes”. (1Timothy 5:23) Drinking alcohol with a meal was commonplace until about one hundred years ago, even in the homes of the church leaders in current “teetotaling” denominations. The “Prince of Preachers”, Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon enjoyed his beer and cigars back in the 1800s. And I remember the painting of Southwestern Baptist Seminary’s first President that hangs in the Rotunda on campus. If you look at his left hand, it’s oddly placed in his pocket. Actually, the pocket was painted over Dr. Carroll’s cigar.

If you knew that a new believer had been delivered from years of alcoholism, you wouldn’t serve wine to him at dinner at your house. In fact, if you’re living according to the Law of Love that Paul has been discussing, you yourself wouldn’t drink wine at that time either. Even in your own home. Is it ok to drink in your own home? Sure, so long as you don’t drink to drunkenness and you don’t cause another believer to stumble into sin. In other words, you’re free. But don’t set a trap for someone else. Elsewhere, Paul says, you’re free, but don’t use your freedom as a license to sin. (Galatians 5:13)

Application

I have already provided several examples of how to apply living with the Laws of Liberty and Love. The bottom line is that you don’t need to look over your shoulder, afraid your pastor or deacon might see you take a sip of beer. Your pastor and deacon should be more mature than that.

Instead, you should live with a mind to avoid setting up someone to fail when tempted. Build them up. Set them up to succeed. (Romans 14:19 CSB)

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Today’s Bible reading presents a difficult visual. Paul appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1-2)

Look carefully at what Paul says. He appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices in the light of God’s mercies. He doesn’t give the appeal in a vacuum. It’s in the context of the last few verses of Chapter 11.

In just three verses (Romans 11:30-32), Paul uses the word mercy four times before launching into a hymn of praise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss the connection between 11:30-32 and 12:1, given the chapter division in our Bibles. Given that our daily readings were broken between chapters eleven and twelve, the problem is compounded. But in Paul’s mind — and in God’s mind — the intended connection is there.

It’s in light of God’s mercies, Paul invites his readers to die. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to die. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he should deny himself and pick up his cross daily. (Luke 9:23) A cross was an instrument of death. Picking up one’s own cross is a willingness to die. And picking up one’s own cross is a daily choice. Paul’s choice of grammar in Romans 12:1 means that one doesn’t just make a one-time sacrifice. It’s a continual sacrifice.

It’s in light of these mercies that he appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Could Paul have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 when he made this statement? I think so.

Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB)

Paul says that because God’s Spirit lives in us and we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, we can — and should — glorify God with our bodies. Actually, the context suggests that glorifying God doesn’t stop with our physical bodies; it extends to all that we are and all that we have, not unlike the Great Command to love God with all that we are. (Matthew 22:37)

Presenting all that we are is a daily choice. Every day we make the choice of staying on the altar … or crawling off.

The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!

Application

Every single day, each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to continue following Jesus? Am I going to die to my choices? Am I going to pray that His will be done, realizing that that includes that my will not be done?

Every. Single. Day.

Will you stay on the altar? Or will you crawl off?

I like the way that Eugene Peterson translated Romans 12:1-2:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1–2 (The Message)

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There are so many things about God and His Kingdom that I don’t understand. And it seems the longer I walk with Him, the more I know… and the less I know.

grafting one branch onto another

In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about a partial hardening of the hearts of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) I think what this means is that God has hardened their hearts — as He did to Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21 — for a time, and all for His glory. And as soon as the set number (who knows what it is?) of Gentiles are saved, God will remove the veil that covers their eyes to see God’s Kingdom at hand. Until then, God will continue to graft Gentiles into the True Vine.

I’ll repeat what I said a few days ago: we need to approach things from a Biblical, God-centered viewpoint when we ask questions about God’s unconditional election of some people. (I say “unconditional election” because there is no condition that anyone can meet that would earn God’s approval.) If no one deserves salvation in the first place, and if only a miraculous work of God can save someone, then we can only plead for God to save our family members and friends who don’t (yet) know Jesus.

Yes, plead for their salvation. Plead for their sensitivity to God’s voice. Plead for a soft, moldable heart. Plead for God to overwhelm them with a sense of His presence so that they call out to Him. Plead for opportunities for you and others to talk with them. And tell them lovingly about how good God is. For what it’s worth, lovingly telling them what God is doing in your life and how their lives can be changed will probably work out better than continually beating them over the head with a 25lb Bible every time you talk with them.

To be able to answer the question of why God would save one and not save another is above my pay grade. I have to leave that up to God because I know that He is good and His ways are always right. I have to leave it up to God, but I have to be willing to be part of bringing them to Christ. Oftentimes, we are — at least partly — the answer to our own prayers.

Application

You may be heartbroken about a child or grandchild who no longer goes to church. Or maybe it’s a sister or a brother. Maybe it’s a friend. People can become disenfranchised with church for any number of reasons. If you’re part of the reason by being a stumbling block to them, or if you have hurt them in some other way, seek reconciliation today. Live at peace with everyone as far as you have control over the situation. (Romans 12:18)

But also realize that it isn’t about going to church. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone dropped out of church, it may have nothing to do with church and everything to do with not having a relationship with Jesus; in other words, they aren’t saved! Perhaps your prayers should be, “God, please bring them back!” Or perhaps your prayers should be, “God please save them!”

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chosen by God

Before we begin with today’s devotional on our Bible reading, we need to start with a basic understanding. It’s crucial that all discussion of justification begins with this basic thought: God is God and I’m not (and neither are you).

So much discussion in churches and Bible studies — and just basic conversation — is very man-centered, and not God-centered. Look at a lot of evangelism training. A lot of it is merely sales training. “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to pray this prayer so you can go to heaven?”

Seriously? Where is the thought of counting the cost of following Jesus? Where is repentance? Is God even in the equation?

It is of utmost importance that when we’re talking about any theological issue, we approach it from a God-centered, Bible-based position. It’s all about God! And it’s all about His initiating a relationship with His fallen creation. If you’ve been around church for a long time, you’ve probably sung, “O, how I love Jesus … Because He first loved me.” Note the order.

In some people’s minds, Romans 9 shouldn’t even be in the Bible because it sounds like God is too harsh and it seems to contradict a lot of what we think the Bible teaches. But God inspired Paul to write this chapter. And we must take it as seriously as God does.

God says some pretty blunt things through Paul’s pen:

Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Romans 9:6b (CSB)

As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau. Romans 9:13 (CSB)

What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For he tells Moses, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display my power in you and that my name may be proclaimed in the whole earth. So then, he has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden. Romans 9:14–18 (CSB)

A few days ago, I mentioned the doctrine of depravity. That anyone would believe and be saved is a miraculous work of God. For anyone to be saved from eternal punishment demonstrates that God is completely gracious and merciful. That anyone would even be interested in the things of God is a miraculous, sovereign work of God. (John 6:44)

If we are truly depraved to the core of who we are — even to the point of having a depraved will (Romans 9:16) — then it requires a miraculous, sovereign work of God for anyone to be saved.

These are all hard words because we have heard so many times that “God is a God of love”, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, and “God wouldn’t want anyone to go to hell.”

God spells it out clearly and in so many words that He will be merciful to whomever He chooses to be merciful. (Romans 9:14, 18; Exodus 33:19)

Look, I don’t understand why God would choose to be merciful to some people and to choose to not be merciful to some other people. But I have to let Him handle that one. Remember, I’m not God! And neither are you. There are some things that we just don’t — and won’t — understand. And God never says that He owes us an explanation! But I know that God always works according to His infinite wisdom and will always use everything to bring honor and glory to His name. (Romans 9:17) God is in heaven and does what pleases Him. (Psalm 115:3)

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33–36 (CSB)

I don’t know to whom He will choose to be merciful, so I have be ready to tell everybody about my hope in Christ. (1Peter 3:15) Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19-20). He promised Holy-Spirit-equipping-power for believers to take the gospel around the world. (Acts 1:8)

Application

If you are a believer, you have been chosen by God to be one of His adopted children. That’s fantastic news!

God didn’t choose you because you did something that other people didn’t do or because you didn’t do something that other people did. God didn’t choose you because of any good that He saw in you. No, He chose you despite the lack of good in you. (Romans 7:18)

God didn’t choose you because you chose Him. In fact, Jesus saidYou did not choose me, but I chose you.” John 15:16a (CSB)

Praise God for His goodness and mercy that He has shown in choosing you.
And pray that He will use you to tell other people about His goodness and mercy.

For further reading, see Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:4,7; Deuteronomy 2:30; Joshua 11:20; John 12:40; Romans 11:7,25

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