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.
Paul seems to condemn himself in today’s Bible reading. He tells his readers to not judge, but he seems to do that very thing as he progresses through Romans 2. So what’s going on?
Jesus told his followers to not judge, lest they also be judged. (Matthew 7:1) But Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t judge” in a vacuum. He says,
Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3–5 (CSB)
Jesus points out — as does Paul in today’s reading — that everyone sins. Everyone. And to point out someone else’s sin while not acknowledging our own is the problem with judgment. Jesus’ main idea in Matthew 7:3-5 is that every one of us has problems seeing properly. And Paul says that every one of us is a lawbreaker. Whereas we judge on a sliding scale — with us on the “good” end of the scale and not worthy of the worst punishment — God judges without showing favoritism: Everyone is equally guilty of breaking His covenant laws and therefore equally worthy of eternal separation from God in eternal torment.
Jesus’ main idea in Matthew 7:3-5 is that every one of us has problems seeing properly. And Paul says that every one of us is a lawbreaker. Whereas we judge on a sliding scale — with us on the “good” end of the scale and not worthy of the worst punishment — God judges without showing favoritism (Romans 2:11): Everyone is equally guilty of breaking His covenant laws and therefore equally worthy of eternal separation from God in eternal torment.
Paul brings out a crucial thought at the end of the chapter: It’s all about relationship! While Jewish readers might point out their physical differences with Gentiles, claiming God’s special blessing because they were circumcised, Paul says that what really matters is that someone’s heart is circumcised. The problem isn’t doing the right things and not doing the wrong things. The problem is Fallen Humanity has a heart problem. Jesus said that the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. (Luke 6:45) Hence, when we speak in judgment of someone with partiality — as we are prone to do — our words reveal what our heart really believes.
Do you judge? Do you talk down about other people in order to make yourself look better? That’s the problem that Paul is talking about. CS Lewis said, “The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.” Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue to deal with that “inner cesspool”.
Anytime you think you’re “all that”, remember that you, too are cut from the same piece of fabric as the rest of humanity, no better and no worse on God’s holiness scale. You are no more deserving of God’s grace and mercy than anyone else who ever walked on this planet, hence, your need for grace and mercy.
By definition, grace and mercy are undeserved. If someone deserved grace and mercy, it wouldn’t be grace and mercy; it would be “wages”. Because of sin, God owes you nothing. There is nothing you can bring to a negotiating table with God. And that’s what makes the gospel message so beautiful!
This devotional was originally published May 16, 2019.
Today’s Bible reading begins Paul’s letter to the Romans, one of my favorite books of the Bible. OK, all of the books of the Bible are my favorites. But Romans holds a special place in my heart because in, Paul lays out the Gospel Message in the most plain and developed way. In Chapter One, he says that he is not ashamed of the gospel because it reveals the righteousness of God.
Any discussion of the gospel must begin with God’s righteousness. Why? Because any other discussion of the gospel would begin with some other subject, mostly mankind. The gospel begins and ends with God. Period. Any other focus distracts from the introduction that our Creator created everything — from nothing — in a perfect condition. Perfection. But the world isn’t perfect now. So what happened?
THAT is the question!
Everything hinges on our understanding of God. If we begin discussing the gospel — either academically or practically — with God’s love, God’s goodness, or any other topic, we miss the importance of Paul’s presentation and the emphasis of the entire book of Romans. If we don’t see God’s righteousness and His sovereignty over everything, we’ll misunderstand things like the doctrine of election. We’ll miss how deeply fallen humanity is. We’ll miss the point that Jesus is the only suitable acceptable atoning sacrifice to give us a right standing with God.
Beginning with the righteousness of God brings us to the pivotal question of,
“How are fallen people to have a right standing with a holy God?”
Spend a few minutes today thinking about — really thinking about — the gospel message Thank God for the centrality of the cross in the process of salvation. Worship God for His plan of reconciling lost people to Himself. Thank God for doing everything necessary to secure your salvation.
And if you don’t know God, or if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, please reach out to me. I’d love to talk with you more about this!
In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 27, we see Jesus’ last moments as He dies on a cross just outside Jerusalem. He cries out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 CSB)
Billy Foote’s song You are My King (Amazing Love) begins, “I’m forgiven because You were forsaken. I’m accepted. You were condemned.”
As I am typing this and considering the verse, Billy’s description, and the picture, tears are welling up in my eyes. Jesus voluntarily became God’s sacrificial lamb, dying on the cross and taking the wrath of God head-on, becoming the atoning sacrifice for sin that wasn’t His — it was mine and it was yours — all to bridge the chasm between our Holy Creator and us, the fallen creation.
His death accomplished what our feeble attempt at obedience to the Law wasn’t able to — and wasn’t designed to do: give God’s people eternal forgiveness and eternal life. His death reestablished a relationship between God and His people, a relationship that had been severed a long time ago in a garden (Eden). And Jesus’ battle in another garden (Gethsemane) secured the victory over sin, a victory that God’s people experience vicariously.
Jesus was abandoned. Jesus was condemned. Jesus died. He endured all of these things so that you wouldn’t have to. Believer, your sin-debt has been paid. You have been adopted and you will never be abandoned by your Father. Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, power and desire to walk a life that pleases God is available to you.
Spend a few minutes worshiping God. Spend a few minutes expressing your gratitude for the incredibly selfless act that Jesus accomplished for you “on a hill far away”.
This devotional was originally published on May 11, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading, we read the parable of the Kingdom of God through the vineyard manager. In it, some day laborers are hired in the morning. They agree to work for a day’s wage. Several other times during the day, new workers are hired and agree to work for a day’s wage.
At the end of a hard day’s work, the owner told the foreman to arrange the workers according to when they were hired. Beginning with those who worked the most hours, the vineyard owner paid each worker the daily wage. All were paid the same. Those who worked all day grumbled when they saw that the short-day workers were paid the same as they were.
The owner rightly pointed out that no one was being cheated. Every single worker was being paid what he had agreed to. The key verse here is Matthew 20:15, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (ESV)
We are so man-centered in our thinking. And that man-centered orientation twists our understanding of EVERYTHING.
I have heard many people accuse God of not being fair. It isn’t fair that God allows some people to live with lots of blessings and excess while other people aren’t even paid a living wage. I haven’t heard as many people decry the ultimate unfairness that some people spending eternal rest in heaven while others spend eternal punishment in hell. That isn’t fair!
No, that isn’t fair…. from our man-centered orientation.
But if God is the owner of the vineyard, if God is the owner of everything, He can do anything He wishes. And being the only perfect being in the universe (or even outside of it!), He gets to call the shots. He gets to determine what is fair and what isn’t. Fallen human beings don’t get to judge the perfect God. Fallen human beings don’t get to make up the rules of how things work and what’s fair and what isn’t.
So, given the fact that God owns it all, given the fact that God is perfect and completely righteous, and given the fact that we are none of those things, the very idea that God would save anyone is simply shocking. That God would stoop to save a single person demonstrates His all-surpassing love, grace, and mercy.
It isn’t fair that God would send His perfect Son to die that even one fallen person would be saved. Not because the person was worth it, but because the offense was so heinous against such a Holy God.
No, it isn’t fair that any be sent to hell. But the more pressing point is that it isn’t fair that God would save anyone. Fair means that every fallen creature that has ever lived spends eternity separated from the Holy Creator.
Trust me: You don’t want God to be FAIR!
You want God to be GRACIOUS!
You want God to be MERCIFUL!
And because God is gracious,
because God is merciful,
He is worthy of all of our praise.