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.
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.
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!”
This devotional was originally published May 29, 2019.
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.”
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)
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 said “You 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.
This devotional was originally published May 25, 2019.
Among other things that Paul addresses in today’s Bible reading, he concludes the chapter discussing his internal holiness conflict. On one hand, he says that he doesn’t do what he wants to do. Instead, he does the very things he hates. (Romans 7:15, 19)
A few years ago I heard someone tell about being arrested for public intoxication. He was read his Miranda Rights and was told that he had the right to remain silent. Unfortunately, in his drunken state, he said he didn’t have the ability to remain silent.
Paul can relate. He says in Romans 7:18 that he wants to do what is good, but he is unable to do it. I can relate, too.
All too often, I don’t do what I should, or I do what I shouldn’t. Or I don’t say what I should, or I say something I shouldn’t. Like Paul, I’m conflicted. You probably are, too.
So what are we to do? For one, know that you aren’t weird. You aren’t the only believer who ever walked the planet feeling “spiritually schizophrenic”. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done that. And we all have more T-shirts than we’d care to admit.
So, put down the stick. Stop beating yourself up. Realize that until you cross over to the other side of eternity, you (and all of us) will continue to deal with this conflict.
The Christian life is one of “already, but not yet”. We have already been justified by God. Nothing will ever change that. But until we cross over to the other side, we aren’t there yet.
The Christian life is a life of continually becoming in our experience who we already are positionally in our standing before God. It’s a process called sanctification. It’s a process of becoming more and more holy in our beliefs, our attitudes, and our behavior.
It’s an all-out war to grow to be more like Jesus and to win the battles, you have to take on a wartime mentality. For an example of this wartime mentality, John Piper likens prayer to a wartime walkie-talkie as opposed to a domestic intercom. You would use a domestic intercom to request your personal assistant to refill your empty tea glass. But you would use a wartime walkie-talkie to call for reinforcements in a battle. When you operate with a wartime mentality, you approach things differently. And with Piper’s analogy, when you have a wartime mentality, you pray differently.
Too often, we don’t have a wartime mentality and as a result, we lose a lot of battles. We tend to want to manage our sin instead of killing it. I’ll have more on that in tomorrow’s devotional!
Don’t give up the fight. Keep striving to do those things that God has told you to do and to think of those things He has told you to think on. Know that you really don’t have the ability to do and think on those things in and of yourself. You need help. And the Holy Spirit is there to work in you and through you to change your beliefs, your attitudes, and your behavior. Just remember to ask for His help!
This devotional was originally published May 23, 2019.
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!
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)
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.