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Theology

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A living sacrifice

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)

This devotional was originally published on May 30, 2019.

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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!”

This devotional was originally published May 29, 2019.

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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 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.

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

This devotional was originally published May 25, 2019.

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Adoption is a beautiful thing!
Adoption is a beautiful thing!

While Romans is one of my favorite books of the Bible, today’s Bible reading is from my favorite chapter of Romans. Paul has built his argument for the gospel through the first seven chapters of this book. And today’s reading is the climax of the message.

One of the last things Jesus said to His disciples before He was betrayed was:

“This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father. John 15:12–15 (CSB)

This is a radical shift in the relationship between the Son of God and His disciples. Jesus says that God not only tolerates us as servants, but He even likes us as friends!

And in Romans 8, Paul says the relationship between Himself and His people gets even better! What God does, He does very well! Exceedingly well — and so much better than we could ever imagine! He so deeply wants His covenant with His people restored that He takes them from being servants to friends to adopted children and His heirs! (Romans 8:15)

I don’t know how familiar you may be with US Adoption Laws, but I have several friends who have adopted children, both domestically and internationally. US Adoption Laws are based on biblical adoption as well as Roman adoption customs. When the first of my friends and his wife adopted their daughter (pictured above), I learned that adoptive parents have more of a legal obligation to their adopted child than biological parents have with their own biological children. My friends had to swear to a judge in court that they would be good parents to their daughter. I never had to do that for my biological children! I also learned that an adopted child can never be un-adopted. An adopted child cannot be disinherited. Cannot!

What was good news from Jesus’ lips has been made even better from Paul’s pen! The gospel message isn’t just that believers are friends of God. No, we are adopted children who can never be disinherited. God put His Holy Spirit in us and by Him, we are able to cry out “Abba Father”. Not a formal “Heavenly Father”, but a child’s terms of endearment, “Papa” and “Daddy”.

Application

If you are a believer, you have been forever adopted into God’s family. You can never be un-adopted. As an adopted child, you are an heir of God and a co-heir with Jesus. You cannot be disinherited!

If you have ever wondered if you can lose your salvation, just come back to Romans 8. You are not condemned. You have been adopted. God placed His Holy Spirit in you, Who tells you that you are indeed God’s child. To lose your salvation would be to lose your identity as God’s child. The security of your salvation doesn’t depend on what you do or don’t do. Your eternal security depends on your Papa! Your Daddy loves you and He will never let go of you.

You are secure in His love!

This devotional was originally published May 24, 2019.

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internal struggles

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.

Application

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.

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