Monday, June 30, 2014

GOOD FOR EVIL (Romans Chapter 12)

Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

“The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).  And sinful man is “filled with all manner of…evil” (Romans 1:29).  It is only by God’s intervention in our lives that any of us can be or behave otherwise (Cf. Mark 10:18; Romans 3:12; Galatians 5:22; Romans 15:14; 3 John 11).  It should not surprise us when our lives are confronted by evil from time to time. 

The immediate context of Romans 12:21 has to do with the response of the believer to personal injuries suffered at the hands of others.  It is never permissible to take one’s own revenge (Cf. Romans 12:19).  The believer, in following in Jesus’ steps, is to respond in an altogether different, godly, manner.  It matters not the degree or consequence of the injustice, by the Spirit he is instructed and empowered to follow Christ’s example (Cf. 1 Peter 2:21-25, 3:9; Galatians 5:22).  Others might seek vengeance is such situations, to respond in kind to an injury (i.e. hate for hate, anger for anger, violence for violence, etc.), but the believer in Christ is commanded to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  Charles Spurgeon commented on this, “Good is the only weapon which in this dread conflict we are permitted to use, and we may rest assured it will be sufficient and effectual. To use any other weapon is not only unlawful but altogether impossible, for he who wields the sword of evil is no longer Christ’s soldier at all.  The reference in the text is to personal injuries…though the principle is capable of very great extension. In fighting with sin and error our weapons must be holiness and truth, and these alone.”

Mitsuo Fuchida was the lead pilot in the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.  He later trusted in Christ for salvation.  A part of what God used to reach him was the experience of a fellow airman that was related to him after the war.  That man, Kazuo Kanegaski, survived the sinking of the carrier Hiryu only to be rescued by the Americans.  He was sent to a prison camp/hospital near the Utah-Colorado border. 

Kazuo spoke of his experience in that camp, “Something happened at my camp which made it possible for all of us interned there to stop nursing our resentment and to return to Japan with lightened hearts…Shortly after the end of the war, an American girl about 18 years old came to the camp as a volunteer social worker. She ministered to the Japanese with tireless energy and kindness. Her name was Margaret Covell. The men called her Peggy, as did her American friends. She spoke no Japanese, but the prisoners had picked up enough English to communicate with her. ‘If you’re uncomfortable or need anything, let me know,’ she would say. ‘I’ll do anything I can to help.’ With her conscientious care she touched the prisoners. She also puzzled them. Some three weeks after her first visit, one of the men asked her curiously, ‘Why are you so kind to us?’ ‘Because Japanese soldiers killed my parents,’ she answered.”

As the prisoners stared at her in astonishment, she explained that her parents were missionaries who had fled Japan to Manila where they thought they would be safe. When the Japanese captured the city they fled to the mountains. Japanese soldiers ultimately found Peggy’s parents and in their possession a small portable radio they mistook for a secret communications apparatus. They tried the couple as spies and convicted them. They were blindfolded, their hands bound behind their backs, and forced to their knees. As the husband and wife prayed—asking God to forgive their executioners--the Japanese soldiers beheaded them.

“Peggy, who had been living in the United States, didn’t learn of her parents’ fate until the end of the war. At first she choked with hatred for the Japanese. Then she began to meditate on her parents’ selfless service to them. Slowly she became convinced that her parents had indeed forgiven their executioners before death. Could she do less? So she volunteered to work with Japanese prisoners of war. Her example of charity and gentleness greatly impressed the men, and they loved her with a pure tenderness.”  Peggy could have chosen a different route.  Others would have considered it both natural and acceptable for her to seethe in bitterness and nurture thoughts of revenge. Instead, looking to Christ’s example, and led by the Spirit, she took the higher route.  Her other-worldly response corresponded to the example of Christ who Himself had overcome evil with good in His death on the cross. Mitsuo Fuchida’s experience and quotes from excerpts from the book, “God’s Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor;” Katherine V. Dillon; Potomac Books Inc.; 2003.

Friday, June 27, 2014

INSCRUTABLE WAYS (Romans Chapter 11)

Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

Paul concludes his setting forth of God’s great plan of salvation (Romans chapters 1-11), with a doxology (Cf. Romans 11:33-36).  This is something Paul was elsewhere prone to do (Cf. Romans 1:25, 9:5, 16:25-27; Galatians 1:4-5; Ephesians 3:20-21; Philippians 4:20; 1 Timothy 1:17, 6:14-16; 2 Timothy 4:18).  Instructive truth regarding the person and works of God should likewise compel us to break forth in praise to Him “from (whom) and through (whom) and to (whom) are all things” (Romans 11:36).  As John Piper has said, “Education about God precedes and serves exultation in God…Good theology is the foundation of great doxology.”

The immediate context of this particular doxology is Paul’s preceding dissertation regarding the past and future estate of Israel and how, according to God’s plan, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).  God’s plan is literally a plan for the ages ultimately working to encompass people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).  The plan constituted an unforeseen “mystery,” which was “hidden for ages in God” (Romans 11:25).  In His plan, through the church, the “manifold wisdom of God” is made manifest “to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10).

Two words are used to express the transcendence of God with respect to the nature of his ways.  The ESV translates them as “unsearchable” and “inscrutable.”  The word “unsearchable” translates a Greek term meaning “incapable of being searched out or examined.”  The word “inscrutable” translates another term better translated “past finding out” (KJV).  Collectively the two terms negate any possibility on the part of man, in his own efforts, for comprehending the doings of God.  As was stated by the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9; Cf. Job 5:9, 9:10, 26:14; Psalm 36:6, 40:5, 92:5, 139:6; Daniel 4:35).

His unsearchable ways are consistent to the “depths of the riches of (His) wisdom and knowledge.”  The terms “wisdom” and “knowledge” are cousins.  In his commentary on Romans, Frederic Godet commented on these two terms, “The second, gnosis (knowledge) refers especially in the context to divine foreknowledge, and in general to the complete view which God has of all the free determinations of men, whether as individuals or as nations.  The former, sophia (wisdom) denotes the admirable skill with which God weaves into His plan the free actions of man, and transforms them into so many means for the accomplishment of the excellent end which He set originally before Him.”

The preeminence of God with respect to His knowledge and wisdom is a good thing.  We ought never to think of God in terms of human wisdom amplified, in His omniscience He is infinitely transcendent.  As A. W. Tozer once wrote, “God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell.”

In these difficult and precarious days someone might ask, “Does anybody here have a plan?”  And were we to forever search to the ends of the earth we’d not find sufficient wisdom in the minds of man to resolve that which troubles our world.  But God does indeed have a plan.  Creation and the cross testify to His great wisdom (Cf. Romans 1:20; 1 Corinthians 1:24-25, 30).  God knows what He’s doing.  He is absolutely trustworthy and praiseworthy! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

MISGUIDED ZEAL (Romans Chapter 10)

Romans 10:2, “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”

“Zeal” is defined as having “a strong feeling of interest and enthusiasm that makes someone very eager or determined to do something” (Webster’s Dictionary).  Prior to his conversion the Apostle Paul had been a zealous persecutor of the church (Cf. Philippians 3:6).  But afterwards, having been saved by grace, he enthusiastically devoted himself, in Christ, to a worthy cause.  He could thereby relate to his lost Jewish brethren, theirs was a misguided zeal.

William Borden was from the wealthy Borden family.  For his eighteenth birthday he was given a trip around the world.  That trip changed his life.  There is a tragic story in his biography about a Hindu woman in India, whom William Borden came across in his travels.  Having means of her own, she had visited all the most important temples in India to try to escape the burden of sin.  She carried awful guilt over her husband’s death at a young age, when she was only a child of thirteen.  She attributed it to some wickedness on her part in a previous life.  To atone for this unknown sin and to obtain relief for heart and conscience she spend seven long years traveling on foot from shrine to shrine, facing untold hardship and danger; but the burden grew only heavier as time went on.

She then determined to become a fakir (a Hindu ascetic).  Deciding that she had not suffered enough, she gave three years to self-inflicted torture, honoring the formulas in the sacred books for pleasing the gods.  She carried out her plan, though the sufferings she endured seemed incredible.  For one period of six months she sat without shelter in the sun all day with five fires burning around her, perspiration streaming from every pore.  Wealthy men brought wood and kept the fires burning as an act of merit.  With no clothing but a loin-cloth, her body smeared with ashes, and her long hair dubbed with cow-dung, she was an object of veneration to the pilgrims, many of whom worshiped her as they fed the fires.  At night she took her place in the temple, standing before the idol on one foot from midnight until daylight, her hands pressed together in the attitude of prayer, imploring the god to reveal himself to her.

Then, to increase her sufferings, when the cold season came with chilly nights, she went down at dark to the sacred pond and sat with water up to her neck, counting her beads hour after hour till dawn appeared.  And so she called upon Ram day and night with no response.  “If thou art God,” she used to plead, “reveal thyself to me.  Reach forth and take the offering I bring.  Let me see, hear, or feel something by which I may know that I have pleased thee, and that my sin is pardoned”--but there was no sign, no rest, no peace.

When the years of her long struggles were finished, she went to Calcutta, cut off her once-beautiful hair, and threw it into the Ganges as an offering, exclaiming, “There--I have done and suffered all that can be required of mortal man, yet without avail!”  She lost her faith in the idols and ceased to worship them.  “There is nothing in Hinduism,” was the conclusion forced upon her, “or I would have found it.”

There is no record of what became of her, but his witness of her experience was a part of what God used to change William Borden’s life.  He returned home with the desire to become a missionary.  He went off to Yale and as a student zealously devoted himself to sharing the gospel with his fellow students.  He formed Bible studies, started prayer meetings, and shared the gospel with the homeless and in the rescue missions.  He gave himself to the preaching of the gospel.  Why?  Because God had saved him and burdened him with compassionate concern for lost souls (like that woman he had come across in his travels).  Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers.  In his Bible, he wrote two more words: "No retreats."

His zeal for sharing the gospel was so intense that upon his father’s death, and with his family then begging him to take over the Borden Empire, he refused, thus turning his back on the corresponding wealth and prosperity.  He ventured on to missionary endeavor, but died prematurely at the age of 25 of spiral meningitis.  In his abbreviated life he faithfully served God and had a fruitful ministry.  Guided by Spirit-revealed truth he zealously devoted himself to the most worthy cause (Cf. Titus 2:14).  Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in his Bible.  Underneath the words "No reserves" and "No retreats," he had written: "No regrets."  Well-instructed zeal towards a worthy cause is a good thing, misguided zeal is a waste.  (William Borden’s experience based on excerpts from the book, “Borden of Yale,” by Mrs. Howard Taylor; Bethany House Publishers).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

COMPASSIONATE CONCERN (Romans Chapter 9)

Romans 9:1-2, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was a man who had great love for his own people.  But not all of his kinsmen believed that.  His message of salvation by faith alone was contrary to the way of thinking of many of his Jewish brethren.  In their deep-seated animosity towards the Gentiles they recoiled at the notion of the salvation of the “heathen” by grace alone.  They disliked the message and hated the messenger.  They opposed him, persecuted him, and—on more than one occasion—even tried to kill him.

But Paul loved his Jewish brethren.  He was well aware of the rich heritage and great privileges they possessed—“the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Romans 9:4).  The patriarchs belonged to their race and from their race came the Christ (Cf. Romans 9:5).  The fact that so many of his brethren had rejected Christ anguished Paul (Cf. Romans 9:1-3).

He loved his kinsmen and wanted them to know that.  He called upon two witnesses in affirming his love for them—both himself, in Christ, and his conscience, in the Spirit.  Despite their opposition, persecution, and attacks—the Apostle Paul loved them.  They hated him, but he loved them.

Paul used two words in expressing his heart-felt compassion.  “I have great sorrow” translates the Greek lupe which means “pain, grief, or mourning.”  It is the same word used to describe the feelings of the disciples when they were warned by Christ of His pending departure (Cf. John 16:6).  “And unceasing anguish” translates the Greek odune which means “intense pain, anguish, or torment.”  It is the same word used to describe Lazarus’ anguish and agony in the midst of the flames of hades (Cf. Luke 16:24).  Paul was saying that he was experiencing an intense, unceasing, sorrow and agony in the knowledge of the truth that his kinsmen were doomed in their unbelief.  Where do such emotions come from?  They come from God.  They are in the heart of God—who take no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Cf. Ezekiel 18:23); who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (Cf. John 3:16); “who desires all people to be saved” (1 Timothy 1:4).  They come from Christ—who felt compassion for the distressed and downcast multitudes (Cf. Matthew 9:36), who came to seek and to save that which was lost (Cf. Luke 19:10).  In Christ, by the Spirit, Paul heart’s was filled with God’s compassion for lost souls.  To the degree in which we are filled with the Spirit we will experience a similar degree of compassionate concern.

The Apostle Paul loved his people so much that he wished that he could exchange his salvation for theirs.  The Greek term translated “accursed” means “to be devoted to destruction.”  He was willing to suffer the loss of his own salvation so that his people might gain theirs.  He was, of course, speaking emotionally and hypothetically, not theologically.  He had already denied the possibility of that which he wished for (Cf. Romans 8:37-39).  But he was nevertheless willing, if possible, to give up that which was most dear to him, for the sake of those who were dear to him.  Moses had spoken of that kind of sacrifice (Cf. Exodus 32:32).  Christ made that kind of sacrifice (Cf. Galatians 3:13).  In following in Christ’s steps Paul shared in Christ’s perspective.

The Apostle Paul had two things that are essential to every would-be witness for Christ.  He had a Spirit-borne compassionate concern for the lost.  He also possessed a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of reaching them.  He followed in the footsteps of Jesus, and was willing to endure much for the sake of the gospel.  His example is both commendable and instructive.  Others may hate us for the message we bear, but as ambassadors for Christ we are ambassadors of love.

“Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,

Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

THE HELPER (Romans Chapter 8)

Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse once wrote to a group of Christian leaders, asking them, “If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, and could not take any book with your except the Bible, and could only take with you one chapter of the Bible, what chapter would you choose?”  Of the 20 leaders, 5 chose Romans Chapter 8.

This chapter has been variously described as “the mountain peak” of Scripture” and “the chapter of chapters for the Christian believer.  A German author once said of it, “If Holy Scripture was a ring, and the epistle to the Romans a precious stone, chapter 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel."

The chapter begins with “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1) and ends with “no separation” (Cf. Romans 8:39).  In between the message is “no defeat.”  William R. Newell compared Romans chapter 8 to a “mighty river rushing down toward the ocean.  As the river nears the ocean, other streams and other tributaries join into it so that as it nears the mouth where it empties into the ocean, you find that it carries with it everything that has gone before it.”  In that sense it serves as a summation of all that has preceded it in this epistle.

Amongst its many glorious themes is its focus on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is mentioned no less than 19 different times in Romans chapter 8.  No other chapter in Scripture put more emphasis on the particulars of His ministry.

The Spirit is not a force or eminence, He is a person identified variously in this chapter to be: “the Spirit of life” (Romans 8:2); “the Spirit” (Romans 8:4); “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9); “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” (Romans 8:11); “the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14); and “the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15).

Jesus spoke of the Spirit as the paracletos (literally “one called alongside to help”; John 15:26), and the helping nature of His indwelling presence is demonstratively described in this chapter.  Every believer is indwelt by the Spirit—indeed, no one who lacks the Spirit belongs to Christ and no one who belongs to Christ lacks the Spirit (Cf. Romans 8:9).  It is the Spirit who grants freedom (Cf. Romans 8:2, 9); imparts life, peace (Cf. Romans 8:6), leadership (Cf. Romans 8:14), assurance (Cf. Romans 8:16), hope (Cf. Romans 8:23-24), and help (Cf. Romans 8:26).

In His ever-present indwelling ministry, He patiently, lovingly, and relentlessly works to conform us to the image of Christ (Cf. Romans 8:29).  No trial or trouble can work to deter Him from HIs purpose (Cf. Romans 8:18-29).  We may pray amiss (Cf. Romans 8:26), but the Spirit intercedes and works in us always “according to the will of God” (Romans 8:27).  We are sometimes prone to wander, but the Spirit will never lead us off course!

On my recent trip to Alaska I was flown to the fishing camp by way of a float plane.  Eight of us boarded a decades-old Grumman Goose at the Dillingham, Alaska Airport.  The experienced pilot revved the engines and we headed down the runway at an increasing rate of speed.  A few minutes later we were airborne and ascended above the small town of Dillingham.  Bristol Bay and the Nushagak River passed underneath and then we arrived at our destination.  Having made such a descent countless times before, the pilot gently glided our plane down to the surface of the river and we landed.  I was totally dependent on the pilot throughout the journey.  All I did was get in the plane.  I lacked the skills and abilities to take off, navigate, fly, descend, land, etc.  I was led by the pilot to an unforeseen destination.  My job on board the plane was to trust the well-qualified pilot and allow him to lead me to where we were going. 

In the Helper, the Holy Spirit, the believer is led and indwelt by One who is well qualified to navigate and lead.  Apart from His instructing and empowering ministry we are lost and grounded.  But in Him we experience God’s very presence and manifold blessings.  It’s good to be led by a well-qualified pilot, it is ever better to be led by One who has led (and now leads) countless souls on a journey to the unimaginable heights in the riches of the glory of Christ!  “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14).

Monday, June 23, 2014

WRETCHED MAN (Romans Chapter 7)

Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

One of the questions raised regarding this passage (Romans 7:7-25) is the identity of the “wretched man” spoken of.  Three possibilities have been suggested: 1) an anonymous unconverted man; 2) the Apostle Paul before his conversion; and 3) the Apostle Paul in his “present tense” experience.  Both 1) and 2) cannot be true since Paul speaks of attitudes towards the law that are not concurrent to that of an unconverted person (i.e. delighting in the law, Romans 7:16; wanting to do it; Romans 7:18, 18-21; approving of it, Romans 7:22; with his inmost self, Romans 7:22; Cf. Romans 3:10-12; Colossians 1:21).  Since the verbs used in verses 24-25 are all in the present tense, the logical conclusion is that the Apostle Paul is speaking of himself in his “present tense” experience as a converted (i.e. saved) person.  The deliverance he longs for and anticipates can only be fully realized in the redemption of his body.

Three main points are made regarding his experience in respect to the law: 1) the effect of the law is to give knowledge of sin (Romans 7:7, 13; Cf. Romans 3:20); 2) the way in which the law does this is by declaring God’s prohibitions and commands which work to goal sin into active rebellion thus making a person aware of the specific shortcomings into which sin then leads him (Romans 7:8, 19, 23); 3) the law avails no power to a person to do the thing commanded and cannot deliver a person from sin’s power or influence (Romans 7:9-11, 22-24).

Three laws are spoken of: 1) the law which consists of God’s commands to us—the law which is “holy and righteous and good (Romans 7:12); 2) the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).  It is the “flesh” that renders the law powerless with respect to sin.  The term “flesh” is used to describe the fallen human condition.  It represents the old, earthly, temporal order that is subject to the power of sin—weak, corruptible, and doomed to destruction (it cannot be improved or sanctified).  The unconverted man lives only according to the flesh (Romans 8:6-8).  But the believer is “not in the flesh but in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9); 3) “the law of the Spirit of life” (Romans 8:2).  The righteousness which can never be achieved ‘in the flesh’ (Cf. Colossians 2:23) can be produced by the Spirit of life (Romans 8:4).

Not “I” but “He!”  In Romans chapter 7 the pronoun “I” occurs 27X and the Holy Spirit is not found once.  The passage, in its ‘self’ focus, ends with this question: “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  In commenting on this question, C H Spurgeon once noted that: “It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that every day he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.”  In self there can be no rescue from sin in any respect.  No amount or degree of wanting, willing, or working can work to deliver a man from sin, in Jesus alone can victory be found.  “None else can heal all our soul’s diseases!”

A triumphant change of perspective takes place in the transition from Romans chapter 7 to Romans chapter 8.  In chapter 8 the pronoun “I” is found only twice and the Holy Spirit is referred to repeatedly.  That chapter begins with a declaration of freedom (8:2) and concludes with a promise of overwhelming triumph (8:37).  With respect to sin and salvation, “it is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63).  Wretched men are set free from sin only through the indwelling presence and power of a Wonderful Savior!

Friday, June 13, 2014

WHY NOT SIN? (Romans Chapter 6)

Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace might abound?”

A transition takes place from Romans chapter 5 to Romans chapter 6.  The first 5 chapters focused on issues related to the doctrine of justification, chapter 6 and following have more to do with the doctrine of sanctification.  Romans 6:1 includes one of the many rhetorical questions found in the epistle.  Paul, anticipating that some might object to what he had previously taught, raised the very questions they might have proposed.

Kenneth Wuest explains, “So Paul proposes the question, “What shall we say then?”  Say then to what?  We go back to Romans 5:20 for our answer which we find in the apostle’s statement, “Where sin abounded, there grace was in superabundance, and then some on top of that.”  (Paul’s teaching is that no matter how much sin committed, there are always unlimited resources of grace in the great heart of God by which to extend mercy to the sinning individual).  The objector’s thought was as follows; “Paul, do you mean to tell me that God is willing to forgive a person’s sins as often as he commits them?”  In response to Paul’s affirmative answer, this legalist says in effect, “Well then, if that is the case, shall we Christians keep on habitually sinning in order that God may have an opportunity to forgive us and thus display His grace?”  That is the background of this man’s reasoning."  (Wuest, K. S. Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: Studies in the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

Paul’s immediate response to the questions is “By no means” (Romans 6:2).  The supposition that continuation in sin would be an appropriate response to grace was anathema to Paul (i.e. KJV, “God forbid”).  The Greek phrase used by Paul, “me genoito,” represents the strongest Greek idiom to indicate repudiation.

It is important to note what Paul did not say in response to the question.  He did not say that it is important for the believer in Christ to not continue in sin because in so-doing he would risk the possibility of forfeiting his salvation.  That would, of course, contradict what Paul elsewhere clearly affirmed regarding the security of the believer (Cf. Romans 5:1; 8:31-29).  The fear of loss of one’s salvation is not the answer to the question.

The reason why the believer in Christ is not inclined to continue in sin (in a habitual manner; Cf. 1 John 1:8 and 3:9) is that he has experienced a radical transformation as a result of his intimate identification with Christ in HIs death and resurrection (Cf. Romans 6:3-4).  The term baptism is used to describe the work of the Spirit which transpired when the believer trusted in Christ (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13).  The term speaks to the intimate “identification with Him in death, burial, and resurrection” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  By means of this identification the “old self was crucified with him” (Romans 6:6) and the believer was raised then with him to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).  Put simply, he has been made to be “a new creation” in Christ (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20).  It is his relationship with Christ (his new identity) that instructs and motivates him, by the Spirit, to put off sin (Cf. Colossians 3:3-5).

When asked what God had taught him most deeply about life, George Mueller (1805-1898), pastor and philanthropist, explained: “There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will, died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends, and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”  The Apostle Paul said much the same thing in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

REASONS TO REJOICE (Romans Chapter 5)

Romans 5:1-5, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

I sometimes don’t feel much like rejoicing, but in the person and work of Christ I have good and abiding reasons to obey the command to “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).  It is sometimes a matter of perspective.  Life is filled with all kinds of troubles and trials, but by grace, in salvation, God has incredibly blessed me.  By grace He has given me good reasons to rejoice.  Romans 5:1-5 speaks to these reasons.  The term “rejoice” is used twice in these 5 verses.

Salvation is bigger than we are now capable of now fully comprehending (Cf. Ephesians 3:19-20).  It is a tripartite work of God in which he justifies, sanctifies, and ultimately glorifies the believer.  It is indeed a “salvation to the uttermost” (Cf. Hebrews 7:25, KJV).  All three tenses of salvation are spoken of in this passage.  Each is in itself reason enough to rejoice, but collectively they represent an indescribable treasure-trove of undeserved blessings.

Justified (Romans 5:1) is a legal term, meaning “to declare righteous.”  By faith the believer in Christ has been declared so.  In sin, “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10), but righteousness has been imputed on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross (Cf. 1 Peter 3:18).  In God’s divine courtroom we all stand guilty as charged.  The debt of sin owed to our Creator is of infinite measure.  In a divine exchange of unimaginable proportion, God has imputed our sin to His Son and on that basis the believer is declared righteous (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).  His “record of debt” has been canceled out, God having nailed “it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).  He is forgiven and now possesses the righteousness “which comes from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).  Having been justified by faith, former enemies (Cf. Romans 5:10) are thereby reconciled to God through Christ (Cf. Romans 5:1).  In this matter alone there is reason enough to rejoice!

God is even now doing a work in His born-again children.  Though the term “sanctification” is not used in this passage, verses 3-5 speak to the process.  It is a progressive work of the Spirit whereby He is patiently and relentlessly works to conform His children into the image of Christ (Cf. Romans 8:29).  The passage speaks of endurance producing “character.”  Christ-like character is the objective.  The Spirit of God is at work applying the Word of God to the hearts of children.  He uses our present “sufferings” in the process (Cf. James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).  And in this we also find good reason to rejoice, knowing that our present troubles are not contrary to His objective.  They constitute His “refining fire” through which sin is exposed and put off to be replaced by Christlikeness (Cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7; Ephesians 4:22-24).

“We rejoice in the hope of glory of God” (Romans 5:2).  Hope, as used in Scripture, refers to “favorable and confident expectation” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  There is no doubt element to the Biblical term.  The hope of the believer in Christ is invested in that which God has promised in Christ’s return.  Paul would more fully address this matter later in his epistle, writing, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:18-19).  A tearless, deathless, mourning-less, painless, and sinless eternity lies past the horizon (Cf. Revelation 21:4; 2 Peter 3:13).  We will be brought into Christ’s presence and will be made “to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2).  He has reserved a place for us in heaven (Cf. 1 Peter 1:4), and is even now guarding us “through faith for (this) salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).  In God’s love, by the Holy Spirit, our thimble sized beings have become the recipient of an ocean full of love!  A love so great, that in its “breadth and length and height and depth,” it “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18-19).  Solely on the basis of Christ’s loving sacrifice we’ve become the recipients of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).  There’s reason aplenty to rejoice always in Him!

RECKONED RIGHTEOUS (Romans Chapter 4)

Romans 4:7-8, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Romans chapter 4 speaks to the truth, made evident in Abraham’s example, that justification is by faith alone.  A key word in the chapter is the word “counted” (NASB, “reckon;” 4:3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24).  The word translates the Greek “logiszomai” which “primarily signifies ‘to reckon,’ whether by calculation or imputation” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).

Abraham gained righteousness, but not by works (Cf. Romans 4:4).  “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).  David is introduced as another example of one who gained righteousness by faith.  He likewise received forgiveness, not by works, but by faith.  The fact that Abraham received righteousness before he was circumcised (Cf. Genesis chapter 17), indicates that circumcision is not required to obtain right standing with God (Cf. Romans 4:9-12), and is availed to all who will but trust in God’s provision.

Jesus Christ, “who was delivered up for our trespasses,” has provided the means for forgiveness for all who “believe” (Romans 4:24-25).  “For our sake he (i.e. God) made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He represents the sole means through which true righteousness can be obtained.  By faith in Him one’s lawless deeds are forgiven, covered, and canceled out (Cf. Colossians 2:13-14; Ephesians 1:7).  True blessing is realized in God’s pardon.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was raised by a devout Christian mother, but to her bitter disappointment, he abandoned the church and went on live in a hedonistic way.  As a young man he associated himself with other young men who boasted of their sexual exploits.  It was during that period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”  At 19 he began an affair that would continue for over 13 years.  But then God began to do a work in him.  He came to realize his own wickedness, saying, “And now You set me face to face with myself, that I might see how ugly I was, and how crooked and sordid, be-spotted and ulcerous.  And I looked and I loathed myself.”  On a subsequent occasion Augustine was overcome in his sin with fear and anxiety.  He threw himself on the ground and cried out to God in despair, asking, “How long, O Lord!”  He wrote of that happened next: “I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl (I know not which) – coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again ‘Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.’”  Augustine darted back to where he left his friend and opened up the Scriptures to find Romans 13:13– a passage that spoke directly to the sin that Augustine could not seem to escape.  He said of the occasion, “I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to.  For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”  Augustine found forgiveness through faith in Christ.  He later had the words of Romans 4:7-8 engraved on a plaque.  He hung it at the foot of his bed so that he could look at them.  Until his dying day, the last thing his eyes beheld each day were these words from David, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:7-8).

Abraham entered into that blessed estate of forgiveness.  David (the writer of Psalm 32) did also.  Paul (the writer of Romans), likewise joined the company of the forgiven, along with Augustine and the myriads of others who have trusted in Christ for salvation.  They all did so solely by faith in God and His provision.

“Happy, happy day, When Jesus washed my sins away!  He taught me how to watch and pray, And live rejoicing every day; Happy, happy day, When Jesus washed my sins away” (O Happy Day!; Philip Doddridge).

FOR ALL HAVE SINNED (Romans Chapter 3)

Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

In his book “The Total Depravity of Man,” A. W. Pink wrote, “That something is radically wrong with the world of mankind requires no labored argument to demonstrate.  That such has been the case in all generations is plain from the annals of history…But when we come to inquire exactly what is wrong with man, and how he came to be in such a condition, unless we turn to God’s inspired Word no convincing answers are forthcoming.  Apart from that divine revelation no sure and satisfactory reply can be made to such questions as these: What is the source of the unmistakable imperfections of human nature?  What will furnish an adequate explanation of all the evils which infest man’s present state?  Why is it that none is able to keep God’s law perfectly or do anything which is acceptable to Him while in a state of nature?”

In Romans 3:9-18 we find Paul’s explanation regarding the source of man’s troubles.  Using quotes from Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah, Paul speaks from God’s perspective of man’s radical depravity.  Most suppose man to be basically good, but that’s not what God’s word says.

The words “none” and “no one” are repeatedly used, emphasizing the universal nature of man’s plight.  Man is a sinner four different ways—by nature, by word, by deed, by attitude--as J. Vernon McGee liked to say, “God is giving men four strikes, even though in baseball you only get three.”

Romans 3:10-12, “There is none righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  The passage speaks to the innate sinfulness of every human being.  He is not righteous and does not seek for God.  In sin he has become useless to the Creator.  He does not do good (at least not in a God-glorifying sense).

Romans 3:13-14, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”  Man is sinful in his words, his throat likened to an open grave, his lips to the hidden abode of a venomous tongue, and his mouth to a fountain of curses (Cf. James 3:1-12; Ephesians 4:29).

Romans 3:15-17, “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”  In his book "Lessons from History" Will Durant notes that "in the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war."  And even in the absence of war man still does not live in peace.  Adam and Even sinned.  Cain killed Abel.  Man’s been walking down a violence-filled path ever since.

Romans 3:18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  This quote from Psalm 36:1 speaks to the root cause of man’s problem.  Dismissing God’s relevance, man does as he pleases. 

Man is not basically good, he is radically depraved.  He is, by nature, “aliened and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21).  Romans 3:23 serves as an apt summary of man’s depraved condition.  All have sinned—in thought, words, and deeds--and have fallen short of God’s glory.  We’ve sinned, not as a result of their environmental conditioning, but because that is who we are by nature in Adam (Cf. Romans 5:12).  Man is radically depraved and as a result is utterly helpless to do anything to rectify his lost condition (Cf. Ephesians 2:1).  Salvation must therefore come from an outside source. 

Anyone who tries to make it to heaven by his own good works is, in fact, attempting the impossible.  J. Vernon McGee once spoke of what he called "the game of jumping to Catalina Island."  Of course, it's ridiculous to think that anyone could jump the 25 miles from the Santa Monica pier to Catalina Island.  The one who leaps the farthest gets just as wet as the person who barely clears the end of the pier.  But McGee was making a point.  In his unique homespun way he said, "Now, up to the present, nobody has made it....I see some people that I'm sure could out jump me.  But I'll tell you this,..(they) won't make Catalina.  All come short."  He was demonstrating the absurdity of thinking that man, being radically depraved as he is, could ever get to heaven by his own efforts.  The Bible says in Romans 3:10, "There is none righteous, no, not one."  McGee concluded, "For that reason, you and I today need His redemption" (Cf. Romans 3:21f).

MISJUDGING GOD'S JUDGMENT (Romans Chapter 2)

In John Bunyan’s classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, there is an interchange between Christian and Worldly Wiseman in which Christian seeks counsel as to how to alleviate his burden.  Worldly Wiseman responds by directing Christian to a village named Morality: “CHRISTIAN: I know what I would obtain; it is ease from my heavy burden.  MR. WORLDLY WISEMAN: But why wilt thou seek for ease this way, seeing so many dangers attend it? Especially since (hadst thou but patience to hear me) I could direct thee to the obtaining of what thou desirest, without the dangers that thou in this way wilt run thyself into. Yea, and the remedy is at hand. Besides, I will add, that instead of those dangers, thou shalt meet with much safety, friendship, and content.  CHRISTIAN: Sir, I pray open this secret to me.  MR. WORLDLY WISEMAN: Why, in yonder village (the village is named Morality) there dwells a gentleman whose name is Legality, a very judicious man, and a man of a very good name, that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine is from their shoulders; yea to my knowledge, he hath done a great deal of good this way; aye, and besides, he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens. To him, as I said, thou mayest go, and be helped presently.  His house is not quite a mile from this place; and if he should not be at home himself, he hath a pretty young man to his son, whose name is Civility, that can do it (to speak on) as well as the old gentleman himself: there, I say, thou mayest be eased of thy burden; and if thou art not minded to go back to thy former habitation, (as indeed I would not wish thee,) thou mayest send for thy wife and children to this village, where there are houses now standing empty, one of which thou mayest have at a reasonable rate: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy is, to be sure there thou shalt live by honest neighbors, in credit and good fashion.  Now was Christian somewhat at a stand; but presently he concluded, if this be true which this gentleman hath said, my wisest course is to take his advice: and with that he thus farther spake.  CHRISTIAN: Sir, which is my way to this honest man’s house?  MR. WORLDLY WISEMAN: Do you see yonder high hill?  CHRISTIAN: Yes, very well.”

Paul wrote his epistle, Romans, to a church comprised of both Jews and Gentiles.  And while Paul's point in chapter 1 was to show the radical depravity of all mankind, his objective in chapter 2 was to show that Jew and Gentile alike were under condemnation.  The Jews of Paul's day typically looked down upon the Gentiles as being especially sinful and worthy of God's judgment.  In addition, many of them erroneously assumed that righteousness could be obtained by performing certain moral and religious works—the view held by Worldly Wiseman.

This chapter has application to any who would view themselves as being excluded from the description of mankind in chapter 1.  John Mitchell once said that chapter 1 was for the "down and out" while chapter 2 was for the "up and out.”  In other words if you, having read through chapter 1, applying God's indictment only to others and not to yourself, you have missed the point.  Chapter 2 is for you.  This particular chapter is profitable in that it speaks to the principles by which God judges sin.  That is something which is important to know if we are going to avoid the mistaken perspective of Worldly Wiseman.

Amongst the other truths affirmed regarding God’s judgment are these: 1) God judges sin according to His righteous standard (Romans 2:1-5); God shows no partiality in His judgment (Romans 2:6-11); God judges the secrets of men (Romans 2:12-16); God is not fooled by man’s religious hypocrisy (Romans 2:17-24).

Mere external observance of religious rules can never work to satisfy the righteous demands of our all-knowing and just God.  The village of morality (Romans chapter 2) was in even greater danger than the City of Destruction (Romans chapter 1).  In Destruction the danger was manifest; in Morality it was smothered and covered up.  Believing all to be well, the fear of pending judgment was mistakenly discarded.  But there is a judge who knows all and who will impartiality judge according to His own righteous standard.  True righteousness is what is needed, the kind that is “a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:29).  That kind of righteousness is availed to a man only through faith in Christ (Cf. Romans 3:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9).  In Christ alone is safe refuge secured for those who seek to “flee from the wrath to come.”

INTO THE ABYSS (Romans Chapter 1)

Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

I’ve long imagined what it might be like to instantly transport a person from 50 years ago to today.  Supposing that person to be a godly man or woman, what would they think of that which has transpired in America since 1964?  I can still remember some of what things were like back then.  In 1964 I was eight years old.  We watched television, four channels on a black and white TV.  I remember liking “Leave It to Beaver” and “Gilligan’s Island.”  I grew up in the small town of Hillsboro, Oregon.  There was little crime.  No one locked their houses or cars.  In those days we walked, as children, to and from school—and we were safe.  I wasn’t a Christian at the time, but I remember that on Sunday all businesses, except the movie theatre, were closed, as Sundays were set aside for church going. And I remember sitting in a school classroom—we were taught to show respect; we daily recited the pledge of allegiance, and the principal of the school had a paddle in his office he wasn’t afraid to use.  No one would have imagined, in that day, some of the things that have since come to pass.  School shootings now happen with regularity, but back then no one would have conceived of such a thing. No one then, would have foreseen some of what has since transpired: marriage being redefined; 55 million innocent babies being aborted; marijuana being legalized; gross immorality being celebrated on TV shows; etc.  A lot has changed in 50 years, or as I’ve said before, “It’s a long ways from Gilligan’s Island to the Jersey Shore!”

Another school shooting happened the other day—about 100 miles from here in Troutdale, Oregon.  And subsequent to that, some were again speaking of the need for more gun control as a solution to the problem.  But guns are not the problem, the cause of these societal ills lies far deeper than that.  Sin is at the root of all that ails man.

As in a toilet full of flushed water, our society is even now spirally downward into a moral abyss.  Romans 1:18-32 is all about moral decline.  The decline starts with the suppression of the truth.  A number of historical factors have contributed to this in our society.  Evolutionism, modernism, post-modernism, and theological liberalism and compromise have worked to diminish the influence of God’s Word.  And though creation itself testifies to all of God’s existence, in pursuit of sin man gladly rejects truth to accept a lie (Cf. Romans 1:18-25).  Being created to worship, man fills the void by pursuing and worshipping various idols of his own making (Cf. Romans 1:22-24; 2 Timothy 3:1-5).  The wrath of God is then visited on man in the giving of man over to his “lusts,” “dishonorable passions,” and “debased minds” (Cf. Romans 1:24, 26, 28). 

A long lists of sinful activities then prove symptomatic.  The list, verses 26-31, is a fitting description of our current state of affairs—an awful list of ugly and malignant vices that beset sinful man (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:1-5).  The presence of such things is nothing new, you can trace them—through man’s sin-plagued existence--all the way back to the fall of man.  No one is exempt from the sin-malady herein described (Cf. Romans 5:12, 3:23).  A couple things stand out in the list, but note this especially—at the bottom of the downward spiral is a state of affairs in which men not only do things they know to be wrong, but “also give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).  At the bottom of the abyss lies an existence in which man’s moral compass is reversed such that he hopelessly loses his bearing--good is deemed evil, and evil is deemed good (Cf. Isaiah 5:20).

That’s a lot of bad news and if that were the conclusion of the matter it would constitute the ultimate of horror stories.  But the writer of the epistle was God-inspired to write of both bad news and good.  The bad news is that we are all sinners deserving of death (Cf. Romans 3:23, 6:23).  No amount of reformation can cure that which ails man, it is rescue that is needed.  The good news is that God so loved the world that He sent His Son, who died for sins and rose from the dead that lost sinners might be saved through faith in Him (Cf. John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:9).  That good news, the “gospel,” is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).  The bad news is sin.  The good news is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).  It is God’s all-powerful solution, and the only sure remedy, to cure that which ails man.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

MILIARIUM AUREUM (Acts Chapter 28)

Acts 28:30-31, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

The Miliarium Aureum was a monument erected by the Emperor Caesar Augustus in 20 BC near the temple of Saturn in the central Forum of Ancient Rome.  All roads were considered to begin from this monument and all distances in the Roman Empire were measured relative to that point.  According to one historian, the phrase “all roads lead to Rome” is a reference to that specific location.

Paul had followed an arduous path in making his way to Rome.  Saved by the grace of God he was then commissioned by God to “carry (Christ’s) name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  He was faithful to the task he was given.  It is estimated that Paul traveled over 10,000 miles in his three missionary journeys and subsequent voyage to Rome.  Along the way he preached the gospel, founded many churches, and loved and encouraged the brethren. 

His gospel preaching ministry was met with vehement and relentless opposition.  In Damascus they “plotted to kill him” soon after his conversion (Cf. Acts 9:23).  In Pisidian Antioch they ran him out of town (Cf. Acts 13:50).  They stoned him in Lystra (Cf. Acts 14:19) and beat and imprisoned him in Philippi (Cf. Acts 16:23).  Some hated him in Ephesus (Cf. Acts 19:23-41).  In Jerusalem over 40 men oath-bound themselves to slay him (Cf. Acts 23:12).  And others testified against him as he was subsequently tried before Roman governors (Cf. Acts 24:1; 25:7).  Despite the opposition and obstacles (and many more besides; Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28), Paul refused to waver from his purpose or compromise with respect to the truth.

God destined Paul to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome (Cf. Acts 20:22; 27:24), no obstacle or difficulty could have prevented it.  All roads led to Rome because Rome was the heart of the empire.  Rome was home to Caesar, the most powerful man on earth who led the great empire of that day.  God had his own purposes for bringing Paul there.  He arrived and was “allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him” (Acts 28:16).

In bringing His “ambassador” in chains to Rome, God had his gospel-preaching emissary exactly where He wanted him.  Mission headquarters was established in the very heart of the empire.  All roads led to Rome and a lot of roads fanned out from Rome in every direction to places near and far.  The mandate was to preach the gospel to the “end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Paul’s imprisonment worked to facilitate the mandate.

From prison Paul wrote to churches he had previously ministered to—in Colossae, Philippi, and Ephesus.  He wrote to those in Philippi of his circumstances, saying, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).  To the church in Ephesus he wrote, from prison, of how God had called him to “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).  He understood his sufferings to be according to that great cause (Cf. Ephesians 3:13).  Paul delivered his epistles through loyal messengers, indeed missionaries, who then instructed and ministered to the brethren, according to Paul’s instructions and example (Cf. Philippians 3:17).

Paul spent two years in prison, but the Word of God was not imprisoned.  It is altogether fitting that the book of Acts should conclude with the words “without hindrance.”  The gates of hell stormed against the newly found church and Paul’s gospel-preaching ministry, but they could not (and cannot) prevail against it (Cf. Matthew 16:18).  You possess, in this treasured portion of God’s Word, the record of God’s triumph in the ever-broadening ministry of the good news of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.  Two thousand years later Paul’s God-inspired letters from a prison cell have worked to proclaim the truth to places all around the globe.  Paul might have been confined to a prison cell, but the Word of God went forth “without hindrance.”  How wonderful did the plan of God work out in the furtherance of the gospel message!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

SHIPWRECKED! (Acts Chapter 27)

Acts 27:25, “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

I just finished reading “A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredible Rescue,” by Michael J. Touglas.  In the book the author recounts the dramatic Coast Guard Rescue of three men whose 47 foot sailboat capsized 250 miles off the east coast.  Amidst hurricane forces winds and 80 foot waves, the Coast Guardsmen delivered the men from their small and damaged raft, and brought them safely aboard their Jayhawk helicopter.  It’s a great story that speaks to the courageous, never-give-up, attitude of the three men and their rescuers.

Acts Chapter 27 records the events surrounding the shipwreck of the ship carrying the Apostle Paul to Rome.  The captain and crew of that ill-fated voyage lacked the advantages of their modern-day counterparts.  They had no reliable long range weather forecasts.  They had no EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) on board.  There was no Coast Guard to call.  But they had a man on board who intervened on their behalf.  He was not the captain and not even a member of the crew, but it would be fair to say that things might have turned out much differently were he not on board.  How was it that Paul, a mere prisoner on board ship, came to exercise such influence?  Interwoven through the account are some telltale clues.

The Apostle Paul endeared himself to others.  Paul had been delivered, along with some other prisoners, to a centurion named Julius.  Though we are not given all the details, it is obvious that Paul gained the respect of the centurion (Cf. Acts 27:3).  One would suspect that Paul had proven himself trustworthy, and judging from what we otherwise know of Paul, he no doubt showed kindness to Julius.

The Apostle Paul took initiative.   Paul had captained no ships and had no experience as a navigator, but he was knowledgeable—inasmuch as he was a man full of the Spirit—of what lay ahead.  He possessed, in the Helper’s indwelling presence, something that the others lacked.  When the decision was made to leave Fair Havens, Paul counseled against it (Cf. Acts 27:9-10).  The fact that he was allowed to speak his opinion on the matter speaks to the influence that he had already obtained.  “But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and the owner of the ship than to what Paul said” (Acts 27:11).  The ship sailed on to its ill-fated destination.

The Apostle Paul prayed for and encouraged his shipmates.  As Paul had predicted, the voyage met with difficulty.  “A tempestuous wind, called the northeaster” (Acts 27:14), began to blow causing the ship to be driven along without recourse.  The crew jettisoned overboard the cargo and then the ship’s tackle.  “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:20).  When all hope was lost, Paul encouraged the men with a message of hope (Cf. Acts 27:22, 25).  He told them that there would be no loss of life.  He spoke to them of how God had spoken to him, assuring him of his safe arrival in Rome and how God “granted (to him) all those who” sailed with him (Cf. Acts 27:24).  He had prayed for them.  God had granted to Paul their safety.

The Apostle Paul witnessed by his actions.  He gave specific instructions as to what the men were to do once they approached land (Cf. Acts 27:30-32).  After fourteen suspenseful days without food, Paul urged the men to eat (Cf. Acts 27:34a).  He reminded them again of God’s watch care over them Cf. Acts 27:34b).  “”And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.  Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves” (Acts 27:35-36).

He was not the captain and not even the first mate, but Paul—a mere prisoner on board—was used by God in an incredible manner to assist and encourage his shipmates.  He did things that we all, as believers, can do as we interact with others lacking hope in this storm-tossed world.  He befriended others and proved himself trustworthy.  He walked by the Spirit.  He prayed for and encouraged his companions.  He led by example as he trusted in God in the midst of his own difficulties.  Every member on board that vessel benefitted by Paul’s presence amongst them.  They lost their ship and their cargo, but they were brought safely to land (Cf. Acts 27:44b) and learned something about the God Paul worshipped and served. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

SINSANITY (Acts Chapter 26)

Acts 26:24, “And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.’  But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind,’ most excellent Festus, ‘but I am speaking true and rational words’.”

The DSM-IV manual, the U.S. standard reference for psychiatry, cites over 300 different manifestations of mental illness.  Generally speaking a person is deemed mentally ill if their thinking or behavior lies distinctively outside the “norm.”  And especially if there is concern that they might cause harm to self or others.

Festus had no DSM-IV manual to consult, but when he heard Paul’s testimony, and his message regarding the death and resurrection of Christ, he deemed Paul to be crazy.  But Paul was not crazy, his spoke “true and rational words” to Festus, words having the power to save and restore a person to a right way of thinking.

Sin is an insanity (“sinsanity”).  That we, God’s created, should live in a state of rebellion against our Creator God is insane.  That we, despite all the evidence to the contrary, should deny His existence is sheer madness (Cf. Psalm 14:1).  That we would enslave ourselves to damning and harmful vices that work to inflict harm on ourselves and others is nuts (Cf. Romans 6:21; 1 Peter 1:18).  That we would “give approval to those who practice” such damning behaviors speaks to the depth of our sin-rooted folly (Cf. Romans 1:32).  The world is a mental ward, and every sinner is condemned to it lest God intervene to affect one’s release.

Paul defended himself before King Agrippa, his wife Bernice, and Festus.  They were all lost in sin, needy souls with depraved minds, blinded to the truth of the gospel (Cf. Ephesians 2:1-3, 4:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:4).  Before them he shared his own remarkable testimony of how Christ saved and transformed him, from his sin-maddening former manner of life, to make him to be that loving and faithful ambassador for the truth (Cf. Acts 26:10-18).  He spoke of the commission he had been given to go to the Gentiles, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).  Paul himself had been saved from “sinsanity” and was then commissioned by Christ to minister the gospel message to the “sinsane.”

Festus heard Paul’s defense and said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind!  Your great learning is driving you mad” (Acts 26:24).  To this day they say such things against those who speak the truth.  The gospel message of salvation by faith in the risen Christ is good news indeed.  There is no comparable message and no other means of salvation.  People may ignore it, laugh at it, mock it, and consider it folly (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23), but there is no good news apart from THE GOOD NEWS.  It radically transformed Paul (Cf. Acts 26:9-20).  It works to deliver sinners from darkness to light (Cf. Acts 26:18a).  It rescues them from the dominion of Satan to God (Acts 26:18b).  It provides, for those who believe, forgiveness and an inheritance (Cf. Acts 26:18c).  The glorious gospel of grace is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:11; Acts 20:24; Romans 1:16).  It alone is able, through the working of the Spirit, to restore a person to a spiritually sane way of thinking and living.

God calls us, as believers, like Paul, to share the gospel with others.  Some might deem you crazy for what you believe, but the gospel alone has the power to save--and make sane—“sin crazy” people.  It did that for Paul.  It did that for you, believer.  It can do the same for others.

Monday, June 9, 2014

POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE (Acts Chapter 25)

Acts 25:23, “So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city.  Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought it.”

Pomp, noun A procession distinguished by ostentation of grandeur and splendor; as the pomp of a Roman triumph.  2. Show of magnificence; parade; splendor (Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language; 1828 Edition).

Soon after Paul’s conversion, the Lord spoke to Ananias regarding the nature of Paul’s future ministry, saying, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  So, as we read of Paul’s life and ministry, it is good for us to keep in mind what was happening to Paul—his troublesome circumstances did not come upon him by accident.  The Lord providentially worked to use Paul to “carry his name” before Jews, Gentiles, and even kings.  He did that through an array of circumstances, sometimes even using the animosity and contrary decisions of men, but ultimately he worked to guide Paul’s along in him ministry according to His predetermined plan.  God purposed to use the Apostle Paul to proclaim the truth about Jesus to unforeseen places in unimaginable ways.

So, according to God’s plan, Paul found himself imprisoned under Felix for a period of two years (Cf. Acts 24:27).  Ultimately Felix was deposed and succeeded by Festus.  In Jerusalem, before Festus, Paul’s opponents laid out their case against Paul.  Festus invited some of them back to Caesarea where he would hold a tribunal.  Paul’s opponents brought “many and serious charges against (Paul) that they could not prove” (Acts 25:7).  Paul defended himself and ultimately chose, rather than being sent back to Jerusalem, to appeal his case to Caesar (Cf. Acts 25:8-12).

King Agrippa and Bernice then arrived in Caesarea.  “Festus laid Paul’s case before the king” (Acts 25:25:14).  “Being at a loss how to investigate” the matter, he spoke to Agrippa about it (Cf. Acts 25:13-22).  “Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear the man myself’” (Acts 25:22).  “So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city.  Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought it” (Acts 25:23).

Agrippa was the son of Agrippa I and the great-grandson of Herod the Great.  He had been brought up in Rome and was a favorite of the emperor.  Through a series of empirical promotions Agrippa came to reign as King over an ever-expanding region.  Years later he would attempt to squelch the revolt by the Jews against Rome, and would side with Rome in the future destruction of Jerusalem.  Bernice was King Agrippa’s sister, one year younger than he was.  She had been engaged to a man named Marcus, but then married her uncle, Herod, king of Chalcis.  At his death, she went to live with her brother, Agrippa.  Rumors of their incestuous relationship flourished in both Rome and Palestine.  In an effort to silence the rumors she married another king, but several years later she returned to her brother.  Years later, she went to Rome, where her subsequent affair with Titus (the emperor) became a public scandal.

It was these two, Agrippa and Bernice, who “came with great pomp” and entered into the audience hall.  They were of the political elite.  They were individuals possessing wealth, power, and connections.  Their entrance was orchestrated to impress.  The military tribunes were there, as were the “prominent men of the city” (Acts 25:23).  They were no doubt dressed to the hilt and were quite a spectacle to behold.  The na├»ve observer might have supposed them to be of some degree of importance.  But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and from God’s perspective the prisoner Paul, not the King, was the most powerful and influential person in that room.  Paul had no entourage, but transformed lives lay in the wake of his gospel-preaching ministry.  He had no accompanying military tribunes, but Christ Himself stood with him and strengthened him (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:17).  No prominent men stood by his side, but he was beloved by countless brothers and sisters scattered throughout the region.  His entrance into the audience hall was accompanied by no pomp and circumstance, but in his faithful devotion to his appointed task he left behind a lasting legacy (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:7-8, 18).  Jesus’ ministry was not accompanied by pomp and circumstance either (Cf. Isaiah 53:2), Paul followed “in His steps” (Cf. 1 Peter2:21-23).