In today’s Bible reading we fast forward a few years and Jesus and His cousin John (the Baptizer) are about thirty years old. John steps into the Jordan River and preaches that people should repent of their sins and be baptized.
By today’s standards, John was a very politically-incorrect preacher. Nowhere do we hear him talk about self-esteem. Nowhere do we hear him say that God loves everyone and has a wonderful plan for them. Nowhere do we hear him talk about God’s grace and mercy. Nowhere do we hear him talk about how God wants you to have health and wealth if you would only have enough faith. Nowhere does he apologize for offending his hearers. .
No, John simply preaches the Law. He preaches the bad news that people are sinners and in need of forgiveness. Sinners? Surely not! Where is the gospel, the good news?
Recent conversations with Facebook friends have revealed to me the massive divide between what I believe the Bible teaches and what they believe. For these friends, our deepest need is to be saved from not being good stewards of our planet. To be Christlike is to be more loving and accepting, and less judgmental of others. There is no mention of the word or even the concept of sin as described in the Bible. There was no admission of guilt for any sin on their part. Sin is a problem other, less tolerant people must deal with. These were people who were raised in the church. And today, they are leaders in mainline churches.
Until people hear and understand their helpless, fallen condition (the bad news), they won’t have a desire for deliverance from that condition (the good news). Look back at our earlier readings from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. He begins with the bad news.
Look at the response of John’s audience in Luke 3:10, 12, 14. The exclaim, “What shall we do?” The Philippian Jailer asked the same question in Acts 16:30.
It isn’t until Romans Chapter 8 that Paul says that there is no condemnation for believers. (Romans 8:1) From that statement, Paul strongly implies that non-believers are still very much under God’s judgment.
Have you come to a point in your life where you realized that in light of God’s holiness, you have absolutely no claim to spending eternity with Him, much less walking with Him on this side of eternity? You may be better than many (or most) other people, but how do you compare with Jesus, the perfect man who was tempted just like we are, yet was without sin? (Hebrews 4:15)
I’m not just asking if you have sinned. Everyone (except Jesus) sins. I’m asking if you have ever come to God and confessed that you have offended your Creator and that you have an issue with a sin condition that separates you from His holiness?
This devotional was originally published June 29, 2019.
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….
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)!
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!
In today’s Bible reading from Romans 10, Paul points out that the Jewish people were attempting to establish their own righteousness. He says, they may be very zealous, but they haven’t submitted to God’s righteousness. What does that mean?
I have heard people say that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere. That statement is borne out of the belief that all religions are basically the same, that all religious expressions are equally valid. It sounds as good as a “Coexist” bumper sticker; you’ve probably seen them with each letter of the word a symbol from a different religion, the “C” is a Muslim Crescent and the “t” is a cross.
The problem with this belief is that Jesus made some very exclusive claims that are at odds with every religious expression out there. If Jesus is correct in His exclusive statements, then all religions are not equally valid. And if all religious expressions are not equally valid, then our response to Jesus’ statements on salvation affect our eternal destiny which begins on this side of eternity.
So what were some of Jesus’ exclusive statements? I’ll just call your attention to just one: John 14:6 “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (CSB)
That statement cannot coexist with statements made by any and all other religious leaders. Jesus was not just another “good moral teacher” among many; CS Lewis was correct when he said that Jesus didn’t give us an option to consider him just a good moral teacher.
Getting back to Paul’s statement… Paul says it doesn’t matter how sincere you may be, if you aren’t submitting your idea of righteousness — regardless of how sincere you may be — to God’s righteousness, you’re sincerely wrong. And that wrong belief will cost you blessings with God now and blessings in your destiny in the eternal future.
So how do you submit to God’s righteousness? First of all, you have to reject your own attempts to establish your own righteousness. Next, Paul answers the question in Romans 10:9-10:
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. (CSB)
The message of the Gospel is simple, but it isn’t easy. It is as simple as believing that Jesus was raised from the dead (something that no other religious leader predicted, much less fulfilled) and verbally expressing that belief. And if you truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead and really believe Jesus is Lord, then your other beliefs, attitudes, and behavior will be affected over time.
Note: Lordship is necessary for salvation. It means that Jesus is your ruler, your master, your boss, while at the same time, He is the lover of your soul. Yes, being a disciple of Jesus is about obedience (Matthew 28:19-20). But being a disciple is borne out of a relationship. This is the knowledge that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:2-3.
“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God,
and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ.” John 17:3 (CSB)
Don’t miss out on the message of the Gospel;
come to know God through Jesus today!
This devotional was originally published May 28, 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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In today’s Bible reading, Paul continues his allegations that no one has an excuse when it comes to having a right standing before God. Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3 and Psalm 53:1-3 to say that all are guilty. None are righteous and no one seeks God.
Just Friday morning, I saw a group post on Facebook where a small church pastor asked for prayer. He said he was preparing to preach a funeral of a nonbeliever who worshiped a lot. I responded that nonbelievers may go to worship services, but nonbelievers are incapable of worship of God. Those who have the Law are condemned by the Law and even those without the Law are condemned by the law in themselves.
Paul makes it crystal clear. Fallen people don’t have it in themselves to be sensitive to spiritual things. It takes a miraculous act of God to spark life in us that enables us to even be interested in the things of God. But when we experience God’s miraculous act of salvation, we so quickly latch onto the promises of God! We know instantaneously that God is all that He claims to be in Jesus Christ.
God is gracious to reach out to us in the midst of our fallen condition. Under what other condition could we be? Those without Jesus are in a desperately hopeless condition. They may think they’re only slightly affected by the Fall. But Paul couldn’t be clearer that apart from Jesus, we are lost. We are hopeless. We are helpless. By definition, we are unworthy of God’s grace.
And recognizing our condition is the best place to be to cry out to God and to receive His grace and mercy. We may think this heartcry is our initiative. But Paul says it’s simply a response to God’s initiative.