April 26, 2010

"No condemnation"!

His face was dry and cracked like an old pair of shoes. His hair was disheveled, dirty, and matted. His beard grew long and tangled like crab grass. Bags were under his eyes. And he was cowering beneath a pile of leaves, hiding in a hole in the ground. That was Saddam Hussein in the days and hours before he was captured by American forces in 2006. He was cornered; he was helpless; and he was afraid. He was a picture of condemnation. He was a portrait, outwardly, of what the human soul looks like when it has been caught in sin, cornered by God’s justice, and sees no way of escape – desperate, alone, and afraid.

We may not see it on their faces, but there are people – punching the clock beside us, or cutting the grass across the street – who are, inwardly, in this exact predicament. They are condemned and they feel it. Their souls are disheveled, dry, and cracked. They have contemplated suicide – figuring it would be better to end it all than to go through another week miserable, guilty, and without hope. Do you see them?

Alongside them there are countless others who are just as condemned – equally on the broad road that leads to destruction – but do not know it. But someday the justice of God will be made real to them. Someday, either in life or in death, they will see that they are surrounded by wrath and judgment with no prospect of escape. And in that day they, like Saddam, will look for a hole into which they may crawl.

Condemnation is horrific thing. Horrific as you watch someone live under its drying, cracking, aging, maddening effects. And even more ghastly when it comes to its end – in a noose for Saddam Hussein, in a leap from a bridge, or as someone slips, unwittingly, into the lake of fire. That is where men and women all around us are headed … and where we, too, deserve to be. For “the wrath of God” (Romans 1.18) “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth.” For men, women, and children who suppress what they know about God, an eternity of conscious condemnation awaits.

Thanks be to God, then, for Romans 8.1! “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Thank God that we who believe do not have to live – or die – cowering in a hole, hiding from the inevitable! Thank God that we need not hide, or cower, or despair! There is no judgment sentence awaiting us. We are forgiven in Jesus. There is “no condemnation”.

As an unbeliever, you were sitting on death row. You were doomed. You were trapped. There was no way to save yourself. There was no case to plead in your defense. And one day, into your cell walked Jesus with your orders of clemency, signed in His own blood. And now you are free from the eternal death you deserve. He is preparing a place for you on high, that where He is, you may be also. “There is now no condemnation” but only everlasting joy!

O, how happy we would be if we could only remember these things; if we could remember that God does not carry a big stick, waiting to bloody our knuckles with it. If you’re like me, you need reminded of that. You need to remind yourself that, if you are “in Christ Jesus”, God is happy with you … and not just as it relates to the there and then, but also in the here and now! He loves you! So you can be confident. You can allow yourself to feel loved by God. You can talk to Him freely. You can expect Him to give what is good when you ask Him. And you can know that, even when He spanks your bottom, He does so not in wrath, but in love. There may be chastisement for those who are in Christ Jesus. But there is “no condemnation”!

April 21, 2010

"That's Exactly how I Feel!"

So there is a big theological debate about Romans 7.14-25. Maybe you’re familiar with the passage. It’s the one where Paul says things like:

For what I am doing I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.

and …

The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil I do not want.

and, famously …

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body if this death?

The disagreement is whether Paul wrote these verses about himself, as a Christian … or whether he was, rather, giving voice to the feelings he felt before he came to Christ. In other words, are the longings and struggles of Romans 7.14-25 the cries of a saved man, or an unsaved man?

Both sides have some tick-marks in their column, I suppose. On the one hand, it seems hard to imagine a saved person considering himself (v.14) still “sold into bondage to sin” … especially after the freedom Paul spoke of in the first half of Romans 7! But on the other hand, it is quite difficult to assume that an unsaved man could say (v.22): “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” … not least because Paul describes the fleshly mindset as actually “unable to subject itself to the law of God” in chapter 8.7.

So you can see why Bible scholars scratch their heads … and come to varying conclusions about what Paul really meant by these twelve emotional verses. And there is not space in this format to tease out all the theological and interpretive arguments in favor of one viewpoint or the other.

But here’s the thing … almost every true Christian that I know, aside from the questions raised above, reads Romans 7.14-25 and says to him or herself: ‘Yep. That sums it up! Romans 7.14-25 is exactly how I feel sometimes!’ Almost every true Christian I know senses this great tug-of-war going on in his or her soul. In fact, if there is no tug-of-war about sin and holiness, then we wonder if a person is a real Christian … or if he realizes how bad sin really is!

So it seems to me that Romans 7.14-25 describes the real Christian experience. We have absolutely, irrevocably, radically changed by Jesus Christ, yes. But something’s still not quite right. The old, sinful nature has been dealt a death blow, to be sure. But, like a dying soldier on the battlefield, the old, sinful man often has just enough energy left to, with his last breaths, strike a crippling blow to an unwatchful opponent! And, oh, how many times we allow ourselves to get too close to that defeated, but still breathing, enemy!

That is the wrestling of the Christian life! That is Romans 7.14-25. That is why, so often, “I do the very thing I do not want to do” – because sin, though defeated and as good as dead, is dying a slow death within my soul; even in me, “the one who wants to do good”. I too often toy with that old man. I too often feel sorry for him. I too often want to sit down beside him and talk about old times … forgetting that he still has a dagger at his waste. And so do you. That’s why Romans 7.14-25 sounds so familiar!

So … thank God that Paul was honest enough to tell us that even he struggled with the continuing influence of sin. We need not despair of our salvation every time we falter! But thank God, even more, that “through Jesus Christ” we don’t have to be nearly as unwatchful and wounded by sin as we sometimes are!

April 13, 2010

The Long Arm of the Law

Romans chapter 7 is largely a treatise on what it means to be dead to the Law (i.e. the Old Testament moral commandments, particularly the Ten Commandments). Paul argues in verse 4 that, if you are a believer in Jesus, “you were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ”. So, somehow, we Christians are dead to the Law; dead to the Ten Commandments. But what does that mean? And what does it not mean? Notice a few things from the first thirteen verses of Romans 7.

First, deadness to the Law refers to the way in which we are saved. We are saved, not because we are faithfully married to the Law; not because we can perfectly say ‘I do’ at every point along the way. Rather, we are saved because we have been “joined to another” (v.4), namely to Christ. We are dead to the Law, in other words, as a means of salvation. We do not have to keep the Law in order to be right with God. We must simply say ‘I do’ to Jesus, who has perfectly kept the Law for us.

That is what is most essential in Romans 7 … we are dead to the Law as a means of salvation. And that is exceedingly good news – especially since none of us has kept even the Ten Commandments perfectly, much less the various other moral instruction God has laid down!

But notice, then, that Paul does not argue that the Law can simply be thrown out. On the contrary, he says in verse 7: “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said ‘You shall not covet.’” In other words, Paul says, ‘I wouldn’t have realized I was a sinner (and consequently, I wouldn’t have realized I needed a Savior) had not the Law shown me my sin. I wouldn’t have realized the coveting was bad and contrary to God’s mind and heart without the Law to tell me so!’

Now that is an important point! The Law, though we are dead to it as a means of justifying ourselves before God, still has work to do in our lives. It shows us that we have a problem. It is a mirror, Alistair Begg has said, in which we see our sin. And thus the Law is like a spur in our side, driving us to seek forgiveness; driving us to seek a Savior; driving us to Jesus! So then, Paul says, “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (v.12).

So the law cannot save us, but it does show us our need for a Savior. And here is a third point that I think may be drawn from Romans 7 – the Law is still the pattern after which God expects His people to live. That is to say that, while we do not need to keep the law to be saved, we do need to keep the Law … because we love God and want to do what is right.

Now I know that a quick reading of Romans 6, and the first few verses of chapter 7 appears to teach the opposite. Paul’s statements about our being dead to the Law (Romans 7.4) and being, “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6.15) seem, at first glance, to mean that the Old Testament Law places no continuing duty on the New Testament believer. So, we might then deduce, if we want to teach someone not to covet, we should turn to the New Testament, not the Old. For the Old Testament Law, as this line of thinking goes, is no longer binding on the believer. But that is not exactly what Paul goes on to say in verses 7-13, is it?

Yes, we are – in one very important way – dead to the Law. But the Law is not dead itself! Remember what Paul said in verse 7: “I would not have known sin except through the Law.” Paul argued that the Law is good because it showed him his sin. And he passed that line of thinking along as relevant for his readers, who were living in the New Testament era. The Law shows us our sin and, consequently, our need for a Savior, too! But (and here is the kicker) for the Law to do that, it must still have some moral authority over our lives!

How can the Old Testament Law show us our sin if the Law is no longer ours to keep? If the Old Testament moral Law is no longer a rule of life for the believer … then it might show us the sins of Old Testament people, but it cannot show us our own. No, the only way the Law can show us our own sins is if it is still our own responsibility to keep it!

So again, the commandment is holy and righteous and good. No it cannot save us. But it does teach us the best and the right way to live our lives. And, even more fantastically, it shows us how far we fall short … and thus, drives us to Jesus! So study the Old Testament! Take serious its ethical instructions! And find yourself, again and again, nudged toward (and sometimes flung down at) the feet of Jesus!

April 5, 2010

What's in it for me?

We always seem to be asking that question, don’t we? O, I know, most of us Christian blog reading types probably don’t often ask it out loud. That would appear prideful, wouldn’t it? But we still think it in our hearts sometimes, don’t we? I know I often do. ‘What’s in it for me?’

Well, though that question usually arises out of self-serving motives (notice the emphasis on me!) … the apostle Paul would have us know that there is at least one situation in which Christians actually should be asking: ‘What’s in it for me?’ Listen to what he says in Romans 6.21:

What benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed?

In other words: ‘Was your past life of sin really worth it? Did you really get anything positive out of it? Was there any benefit in it … really?’ O sure, it was fun. That’s why we did what we did! But did we really benefit from our sin? Of course not! And, by implication, if we were to continue in that sin, or go back to it, or even dabble in it … would there be any good outcome? Would there be anything ‘in it for me’ if I went back to living like I did in high school?

Those are good questions to ask ourselves when we are tempted to go back into sin (or to begin new sin habits): ‘What’s in it for me?’ Answer – the same thing that was in it for me way back when – shame. What did I get out of the way I lived as an unbeliever? Well, I am “now ashamed” of who I was, and where I went, and what I said, and what I did. And that is what is ‘in it for me’ if I go back. I’ll just heap up more and more shame onto the plate of my soul – more and more regret, and heartache, and burned bridges, and hurt loved ones, and embarrassing moments, and (most of all) disapproval from on high.

Not really benefits that we’d look forward to, huh? So why is it that I am still such a sucker? And why are you? Why do we still think that outbursts of anger, or cheap thrills, or binges of various sorts, or pity-parties, or stubbornness, or you-name-it will all of the sudden produce different and better results than they did before? Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results? Yes, that is insanity! And that is what sin is – absolute insanity!

So don’t be a spiritual nut-case! Ask yourself: “What benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed?” And if you are now ashamed of those things, don’t you think you’ll be ashamed again if you fall back into them? When you sin, what’s really in it for you?

O, if we could only train ourselves to ask that question in the moment of temptation! If we could only stamp Romans 6.21 onto the hot wax of our consciences … so that, every time we are tempted, we might remember how miserable sin actually makes us. Then we might quit it! Then we might all the more readily run to Jesus who has the power, not only to forgive us from sin, but to keep us from it!

So indulge yourself in a little Romans 6.21 kind of self-centeredness. Next time you are tempted to sin, just ask yourself honestly: ‘What’s in it for me?’

Southern Ohio Bible Jubilee

Southern Ohio Bible Jubilee
Sponsored by the Ohio Valley Baptist Association
and hosted by Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church

featuring Dr. Bruce Ware
May 17-18, 2010

About our Speaker
Dr. Ware is professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is the author of several books, including works on the Trinity and on God’s omniscience … and also Big Truths for Young Hearts, a book for children and parents.

He plans to speak to us, both evenings, on the person of Christ – who Jesus really is, and why He is so infinitely worthy of our praise.

About the Jubilee
Here are the details you need to know:

When: May 17 and 18, 6:45pm

Where: Pleasant Ridge Baptist [Map] | 6401 Ridge Ave. | Cincinnati, OH

Cost: Free of charge

Contact: Kurt Strassner | 513.731.9066 | jkstrassner@gmail.com

What else:
*Music provided by OVBA churches
*A love offering will be collected for Dr. Ware
*Refreshments to follow on the 17th
*Nursery provided, through age 4

April 1, 2010

Nine Reasons Jesus Rose from the Dead

Since we were saying that the resurrection isn't merely a happy ending to the gospel story, but has real, practical, theological reasons behind it ... let me list nine of those reasons:

The resurrection of Jesus ...

1. Reminds us that Jesus really was dead. He did not merely appear dead. He really, physically died ... securing our forgiveness.

2. Proves that Jesus really was who He said He was (Romans 1.4). Not a great religious leader. Not merely a great teacher. There have been many of those. They are dead. He is not.

3. Proves that the cross worked (Romans 4.25). Remember why Jesus died? So we could be forgiven and live after death. But, had Jesus not risen, how could we be sure that God accepted the sacrifice? If Jesus Himself had not lived after death, how could we be sure His death actually worked? See also 1 Cor. 15.17.

4. Proves that the Scripture is accurate (1 Cor. 15.3-4). The OT prophesied it 700 years in advance (see Isaiah 53.10). The NT confirms it. The Bible is true. See also Luke 18.31-33.

5. Proves that God is all powerful (2 Cor. 13.4a). Nothing is more irreversible than death. But God reversed it.

6. Reminds us that Christ has triumphed over the devil (Ephesians 1.20-21). Just when the devil thought he'd won, Jesus rose and held a victory parade in enemy streets!

7. Ensures that we, too, will someday rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15.23). We are one with Christ. What happens to Him happens to us ... including bodily resurrection. See also 1 Thess. 4.14, 2 Cor. 4.14, 1 Cor. 6.14.

8. Ensures that we have new life here and now (Romans 6.4-6). Christ has new life. Someday we will too. But even now, we have been given new hearts and new starts.

9. Ensures that Jesus can continue ministering to us. Because He is alive, He can intercede for us (Romans 8.34, Hebrews 7.25). Because He is alive, He can save us (Acts 3.26). Because He is alive, and appeared to Paul in Acts 9, we have all the various books we have been quoted from above (Paul's letters).

So there you have it. Nine reasons to fall down and worship this (and every) Sunday.