Gettin’ Wet in God’s Grace (Romans Pt. 8)

Ephesians 2:4-9 relates to our discussion

All the way through this discussion in Romans on grace, I’ve stated that grace sits easily where sin once occupied. Sin’s place in our life has become to familiar. We’re conformed with sin, brought down by sin, immersed in sin and it only takes a single sin to break our relationship with God and that can happen before we even know about God and the relationship he wishes to share with us.

Since we are lost in sin and nothing we do on our part can get us out of it, God has made a way. We can’t pay our way out of sin, God doesn’t accept cash. We can’t work our way out. We’re never good enough for that to take place. We can’t be good enough or do enough good deeds for God to think well of us. We’re sunk, except for God’s grace that he will give you if you have faith in his Son who died on the cross for you.

Faith in Christ takes a new meaning when we realize that faith is more than just “I believe this about Jesus.” Faith is belief in the Son of God and that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). But faith is trust. Trust in the fact of Jesus’ being God’s son and raising from the dead and trust in God and Christ for everything it means to be a follower of Christ. Faith is also obeying. It makes very little sense to say we have faith but not follow the things of God. It’s illogical. God has given us the ways of Christ through his life and the teaching of the New Testament in order that we might follow in obedient faith.

But, I still have to receive this grace. When someone hands me a present for my birthday or Christmas or for some special occasion, I have to open it for the gift benefit me. I can set the present on my coffee table and talk about how great a gift it is and nice the wrapping is. When someone asks me what it is, the only response I can give is, “It’s a gift. Isn’t it nice?” If I haven’t opened it, the only thing it does for me is make me aware that the person who gave it to me thought enough of me to give me a gift.

If I hear that God wants to give me grace, but do nothing to receive it, I have received nothing. “God loves me. Isn’t that great.” just like an unopened gift, knowing about grace and not doing what is necessary to receive it is like an unopened gift.

Jesus died for you and me. Our sin sent Jesus to the cross. His death paid for my sins, but to receive God’s grace I have to experience Christ’s death and resurrection.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:1-14, NIV

Baptism puts us in contact with Jesus’ death and resurrection. God applies grace and salvation to us in baptism. Sin is removed, washed away during baptism. God’s grace is applied to my life and sin is no longer a part of me since I have been baptized. As Paul wrote, we are dead to sin.

When someone dies, we bury them. When someone dies they don’t have anything to do with the material world any longer. When we die to sin, we no longer have anything to do with sin, so why would we go on sinning. Grace is our way of life. It has replaced sin. It takes it’s place. In fact, it shoved sin out of the seat it occupied in our lives and sits easily in the same spot because grace makes Jesus the King of our life and he sits in that seat, the throne of our life.

I got wet on January 1st, 1967 because I wanted to be saved from my sins. I submitted myself to baptism (the word means immersion) to accept Jesus and let God put grace in my life. And now sin does not rule me, Christ leads me.

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The Convenient Truth (Romans Pt 4)

Grace sits easily in the chair that sin once occupied.

Our lives are a mess. Your life is messed up, my life is messed up. It’s the reality that results from sin. Sin sits so easily in our lives, sin is so natural for us it would seem we were born with it. We weren’t, we are born totally innocent. It would be immoral for God to count sins against a child who had never sinned, who couldn’t sin. They haven’t learned to sin . . .  yet, but the world will get a hold of them to the point that they will eventually sin and be guilty before God.

And that guilt is why we have all the trouble in the world that we do. Sin effected more than our souls, our spiritual side, it affects our natural world as well. That is why things are going from bad to worse. That is why more diseases are discovered every generation. That is why the earth and nature are in such turmoil. We sinned and the whole world has been effected by it.

Romans chapters 1, 2 & 3 tell how those with different relationships with God are guilty of sin.

  • The Gentile, the non-Jew, those who have no relationship with God at all are guilty of sin because nature itself, our own bodies tell us there is a God but we ignored that fact and lived as if there is no God. Life full of what is immoral according to God’s character, filled with the me-tude. It’s all about me, whatever I want, whatever I feel, I will do and it’s ok. I’m my old god in one sense. I make my own way, my own decisions and live by that (Romans chapter 1).
  • The Jew, who knew better, who had the law of God, who knew to honor God alone, to honor parents, to be faithful to their spouses, to not lie about their neighbor and more, they are guilty of sin because they too have sinned. They found ways around God’s laws, they avoided the relationship they had with God and they are guilty of sin within their system of religion (Romans chapter 2).
  • To sum it up, Paul writes in Romans chapter 3 that every individual is guilty before God. The non-Jew and the Jew alike. The Gentile who didn’t know God and the Jew who did. And even the Jew who did is responsible for their sin individually. God’s promises and protection in the past had to do with dealing with them as a nation for the sake of the world, but they were always individually responsible to God. Everyone is guilty of sin. “All have sinned and come short of God’s glory” Romans 3:23.

What’s the use then. If we are all guilty, what does it matter if I live for God or not. And it’s not as if God is out to get us with lightning bolts or flipping his finger at us and going, “F-U!”

This is actually when grace comes in and shouts, “Here I am!” God’s not out to get us, he wants to have an intimate relationship of love, grace, mercy, and openness with you and with me.

Read Paul’s words from Romans 3:21-31…

21But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,22even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justified of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27Where then is boasting? It is excluded? By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29Or is He not the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

(New American Standard Bible)

This grace, comes through YOUR faith in Jesus. God’s grace overrides sin’s power and effect. It not only sits easily where sin sat, it moves sin out, grace destroys sin. In fact, we are told that when our sins are forgiven, God blots out the record of our sin, as if there is an actual book that each of our sins has been recorded in and God uses “Wite-out” to cover over the record of our sins so that he can forget them and will not hold them against us because of his grace that comes by faith that is propitiated by Christ Jesus’ blood shed on the cross.

And God’s grace rests in our lives with merciful forgiveness so that we are not guilty.

I had a “Mandrake the Magician” game when I was a kid. It was based on the Mandrake comic book. I don’t remember much about the game except that there were these cards that had clues hidden on them. The clues were red and the there were these blue markings all over the card to hide the clue. You had to look through a view finder of some sort in order to see what the clue was. It was red. The red somehow washed the blue out and the clue in red was easily seen.

Christ’s blood given to us by God’s grace applied to our lives reminds me of the hidden clues and the view finder of the Mandrake game. Our sins cover our lives and when God looks at us all he sees is sin. When Christ’s blood covers us, our sins, though they are still a part of our past are not seen because God sees us through Christ’s blood. His blood covers us and gives us God’s grace in our belief.

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Is it Possible to Find God?

His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–though he is not far from any one of us” Acts 17:27. NIV

Should we consider the agnostic, the one who has doubts about the existence of God as we would an atheist or a prodigal?

God’s intent is for every person to make their way to him and find him. When a person searches for God with all their heart they will find him. He promises Israel that would be the case when they were in captivity in Babylon and he promises the individual the same thing.

Maybe the answer to the question is that some agnostics are more like an atheist and some are like the prodigal son. God is there and if they look for him, they WILL find him.

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Is Your Fellowship With God?

There are so many ways to God offered in our world and no one seems to know how to get to God.

It’s like we live in a desert and there are no roads, no paths, nothing to follow, not even footprints because the winds erase them almost as quickly as they are made.  We know there is water out there somewhere, but which direction and how far to the oasis? We haven’t a clue.

But, the Christian can know that they have gone the right direction, that they have drunk of the water of life. John tells all about it.

First John is a letter to Christians about our fellowship. Fellowship with God, through Jesus Christ which motivates fellowship with one another.

Maybe the thing that prompted John to write this first letter was the false teaching that one had to come into a sort of special kind of knowledge to know God. It is a form of belief that says Jesus was not really God. That God wouldn’t  become human. The best that there might be is that Jesus was a man and the Christ part of him came on him at his baptism when the Spirit descended like a dove on him at his baptism by John and left when he was on the cross at the moment when Jesus cried “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

But John notes that he and the other apostles heard, saw, and touched Jesus.  That he was from the beginning (cf. John 1:1).

“1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our joy complete.” 1 John 1:1-4

We were with him and we can account for the fact that he was God in the flesh and so we have fellowship with God because of him. That is John’s testimony.

But what is and what is not real fellowship with God?

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” 1 John 1:5-2:6

There’s some stuff here that tell us we have fellowship with God

1. If we walk in the light as God is in the light we have fellowship with God.

2. Christ’s blood purifies/cleanses us from our unrighteousness which brings us into fellowship with God.

3. If we obey his commandments we are fellowshipping with God.

4. God’s love is made perfect in us because of our fellowship with God.

There is no special knowledge one must have beyond what God has given us in the Bible.  We do not have to be “in the know” with anything more, have a special experience, or any other thing.  Are we like God in the light of holiness and love?  Are we obeying what God and Christ has commanded us?  Are we loving as Christ loves? Are we cleansed from sin in Jesus Christ?

Then we have fellowship with God. Speaking in tongues, existential hyper-religious experiences, any number of things that some people claim are not needed or necessary to know we have fellowship with God, just what John says in the verses quoted above.

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He Just Decided

It is totally interesting to me and sometimes baffling to me what happens in a person’s life that leads them to become a disciple of Christ.

The past couple of years, I have had more people come to me and tell me about their new-found or re-found belief, or at least their journey to belief that is a couple of steps from true belief in Jesus Christ.  It happened again on Sunday.

A young man came to me after the spiritual time and asked if he could talk with me.  He revealed that he had chosen to be a Christian.  I smiled and inside I’m doing back flips.  Then he gave a condensed version of his journey in and out and back into faith.  Tuesday, we visited a little longer and I asked him to tell me more of his story.

He had been a part of a Christian family, but because of the difficulties and troubles he has experienced in his life, he had given up on their faith.  It appears that their faith was not his own.  He went through a series of changes and beliefs, from doubt and skepticism, to disbelief, even considering atheism and Satanism.  But nothing answered his questions and fulfilled his longing to understand and be accepted in spite of his weaknesses, failures and the outside stuff that came down on him.

He listened as Cliff, and Brian, and Ben, and I have shared with him and the others from the Bible about the lessons in the Bible over the past few months.  He watched our lives and saw that we cared and were consistent in caring and sharing.  More importantly, he was impacted by another student who has taken hold of faith over the past couple of years and chosen to follow Christ.

I think he wanted to share this with me because he recognizes me as an authority figure.  I feel privileged to have him place his trust in me and want to let me know about and have me help him grow in his faith.

He revealed to me a sense of peace and contentment, even though he is experiencing the same crap he was before.  So we talked about Job and the crap he went through and his steady faith in God.  Job had questions, but he never wavered in belief.  This young man is willing to be like Job, faithful to God through the crap.

He is coming out of life that resists God and has uncovered faith and turned toward God and accepting God’s love and mercy and grace.

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Can I Do All Things Through Him Through Christ?

There was a little Golden Book that I heard Captain Kangaroo read to me on TV, The Little Engine That Could.  It’s the story of a little train engine that tried to make it up a long steep hill.  The engine was convinced that he could do it if he believed he could do it so he kept saying as he pulled the train up the hill, “I think I can. I think I can.”  Of course he was successful.  He did it!

It is a story teaching us the power of positive thinking.  If you think you can do it, then you can.

So Philppians 4:13 becomes the spiritual version of The Little Engine that Could.  “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

You can accomplish some seemingly impossible task or achieve some unattainable goal because you have apparently learned that God gives you strength in that time of need to do so.  So the Christian athlete who finally overcomes the difficult or impossible obstacle in their sport does so because they reach down and use this verse.  Its as if this verse is a muscle building steroid enhancing a Red Bull adrenaline rush

The disabled doing something beyond belief and ability because of their disability because they believe “I can do all things through him who gives me strength!  A person gains emotional strength to work through difficult situations and problems, a tough marriage, chronic health issues, financial worries and such because they claim this verse.

I put on Facebook that I was preaching on this verse and several of my FB friends noted that Philippians 4:13 is their favorite Bible verse.  My favorites are Leviticus 13:40 and Revelation 21:3.  But Philippians 4:13 means a lot to me and it should.  It should for you too.  Let’s see why.

First – What is it that Paul is Talking About?

That’s the question, what is Paul talking about here?  Let’s view the context.

Philippians 4:10-20

It seems there is a lot going on here.   But does Paul mean, that no matter what the issue, no matter what the situation that in anything, even everything, I can do everything because I have God’s strength?

We need to understand:

  • The context
  • What “everything” or “all” is.
  • What Paul means.

Paul is talking about “contentment.”  Another question then is contentment in a global everything or something specific?

After a quick look at the passage we see that Paul is talking about the ability to endure all situations and where the source of that ability to endure is from.  He makes a paradoxical claim, at least it seems odd to an American and European culture that is about gaining wealth and being comfortable and satisfied with our situation.  Paul claims that he can tolerate and endure hunger and want.  But at the same time he understood how to handle prosperity.

In his autobiography Just As I Am, Billy Graham tells about the paradox of contentment:

Some years ago Billy Graham and his wife Ruth were invited to the Caribbian by one of the wealthiest men in the world to his lavish home for lunch.  He was 75 years old, and throughout the entire meal he seemed close to tears. “I am the most miserable man in the world,” he said. “Out there is my yacht. I can go anywhere I want to. I have my private plane, my helicopters. I have everything I want to make my life happy, yet I am as miserable as hell.” They talked to him and prayed with him, trying to point him to Christ,who alone gives lasting meaning to life.

Then they went down the hill to a small cottage where they were staying. That afternoon the pastor of the local Baptist church came to call. He was an Englishman, and he, too, was 75 and a widower who spent most of his time taking care of his two invalid sisters. He was full of enthusiasm and love for Christ and others. “I don’t have two pounds to my name,” he said with a smile, “but I am the happiest man on this island.”

Billy Graham relates how he asked his wife Ruth after they left, “Who do you think is the richer man?” She didn’t have to reply because they both already knew the answer.    Citation: Billy Graham, Just As I Am (HarperCollins, 1999)

Wealth is a greater temptation than poverty.  Paul said in verses11&12 that he has learned to be content no matter what the circumstances are.  Paul is talking about the strength that enables contentment regardless of his physical circumstances and that strength to endure and persevere comes from the Lord.

Second – This is Paul’s Own Claim not a Global Promise to All Christians

Paul himself has learned to be content.  He has been through the ringer.

  • He’s been run out of town
  • He’s been accused of stirring up controversy
  • He’s been arrested
  • He’s been on trial
  • He’s been in prison (and was in prison when he wrote Philippians)
  • He’s been in peril, including shipwreck
  • He has as he said known want but he has also had plenty and he mostly means that he food, clothing, and shelter.

Paul learned to be content

Paul has learned in every situation to rely upon the Lord’s strength.  I think he knew what Jesus said about all of this.  Paul never worried about his next meal, or whether his money would last because Jesus said to do this one thing and it will be provided in need.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Pretty good promise.

God will provide if you will make God’s kingdom of love, hope and eternity more than the most important thing in your life as well as seeking to make God’s righteousness the key element of who you are and God will see that your needs are met.

Did Paul go hungry?  Of course but he never starved to death.  Why, because of his faith.  Did he suffer through trouble and agony for the Gospel of Christ?  Yes, but God brought him through it to preach another day.  Was Paul ever imprisoned and relying on the generosity of others to provide for his needs there?  O yes, and it is because he relied on God.  He put God’s kingdom first.  He learned to be content whatever because contentment is the activity of faith.

This is not an all-encompassing promise to each and every Christian.  This does not happen automatically because a person becomes a Christian.  This was Paul explaining something that he had learned because of his experiences a follower of Christ.  He had learned to be content.

This was not Paul making a promise to us, however . . .

Third  – Each Christian Should Learn to be Content

This is not God’s promise pronounced to you by Paul, but you can learn to be content.

Let me repeat a couple of realities here.  One is that this is a not that you can do everything single thing, lift the heaviest object, supernaturally have the smarts to fix something you’ll never attempted before without any knowledge of it, you know where someone accomplishes seemingly impossible things.  This is about contentment in Christ for the sake of the Gospel whether you are rich or poor, whether you are in need or not.  Second, this is not a promise to all Christians, but let me note, this can be a part of your faith.  You can have this contentment through faith and trust in God.  His strength can help you endure the difficulty of wealth and poverty.

We can probably all name Christians who are not content.  It’s never enough.  It’s never seems to satisfy and we have the false prophets preaching to us that there is a formula of faith that says if you exercise these certain taken-out-of-context passages of scripture, that you will not ever experience want, you have more than enough, you’ll even be rich, you’re health will be perfect, blah, blah, blah.

God may do that.  God never promises that.  What’s important for us is that the Gospel of Jesus is preached.  What are we investing in?  Is our treasure the treasure of heaven where wealth doesn’t apply?  Are we spending our money to make ourselves comfortable and lazy and ignoring the needs of others, sharing our faith and hope, placing our trust in God’s ability and power to provide despite the odds.

We should learn to be content.  I am sure that the financial crisis that we as a country are experiencing and appears to be  years from being cured has put a lot of Christians in financial want.  I wonder, how has their faith reacted to this?  Have they continued to trust God and rely upon his provision and be content whichever way their financial situation goes, or have they like a lot of people I read about and see in the news simply become discontented complainers, trusting in government, in organizations, in family, in friends, but not in God?

Not every Christian has learned the lesson of contentment.  Maybe you are one of those discontented Christians.  Paul learned it.  I think Paul’s various companions learned it.  I think the Philippians who struggled at times were learning it.  See, it’s not the content of our lives (the circumstances, the situations) that determine my contentment.  If it is, then I will always be discontented because nothing will ever measure up to what I feel is right for me.

It is also easy to convince ourselves and feel that we are the only ones experiencing whatever it is that we are experiencing.  If we simply pay attention when we read the Bible we’ll see that people experience the same things.  We will allow ourselves to observe the world around us, we’ll understand that we’re not the only ones that go through whatever it is we are or have gone through.

Hardship tempts us to think that God is unmoved by our plight or that he is against us and so we despair.  And wealth and comfort tempts us to believe that we don’t really need God since we think we accomplished it all on our own.

The reality is that God possesses all things.  Whatever you have, no matter how little or how much it belongs to God even while it is in your possession.  He let you have it for his glory.  Also, God is fully able (v. 13) and willing (v. 19) to meet whatever need’s surround you the believer.

What we learn from Paul is that being content is learned.  We learn to rely upon God in every situation.  We learn that God gives Christians the resources to cope with hardship.  And wealth is a hardship.

Examine your hearts.  Look into your life and determine now to learn to be content.  Whatever wealth you have, can still be lost.  Whatever satisfaction in your financial position you my possess can be washed away.  Will you be content if you have to scrounge for food, if you have to rely on the love and generosity of Christians to care of your needs?

Learn the lesson “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

Paul did.

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No Reason to Sing

He stood up in front of the group and shared a very intimate and personal testimony.  He is a somewhat guarded man.  He doesn’t open his heart to very many people very easily.  But today there was a burning desire within him to open up to our church.

Here is what he shared.  He listens to Christian radio all the time (91.7, Spirit FM http://www.lifechangingradio.org/home.php).  But two months ago he turned the radio off because he didn’t feel there was any reason to sing anymore.  That’s hard. He is into music big time.  He plays piano and loves to organize music for the church to worship with.

The reason for this is that his wife in her early 40s has been diagnosed with cancer. . .  again.  5 years ago she suffered from breast cancer.  She had surgery and went a series of treatments which included chemo-therapy.  The doctors believed that she was cancer free.  She had exams every 3 to 6 months to watch for any possibility that the cancer has returned.

Than a couple of months ago, they found cancer in her liver.  After some run around with the doctors (doubt and unsure diagnosis) it was determined that it was the breast cancer that masticized to her liver and they found it in her lungs and lymph nodes as well.  And the cancer was already at stage four.

He shared his despair and that is what took away the desire to sing.

But a couple of weeks ago, his wife turned the radio on and a song came on (I’m sorry I don’t know the song or the artist at this moment) that pierced his heart and opened him to allowing God to reach and heal his hurt.

He has regained his joy and even if he loses his wife (who we praying for and supporting with love and hope) his joy has not been lost, but restored and now he can sing with all his heart and soul.

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