The Road: From Romans to the Gospel

Part 4

Every December, I am given a gift… and it’s probably not what you think.

It’s the Starbucks tumbler.

So, here’s the deal. If you purchase the tumbler for $40 (okay, take a moment and regather yourself), then all during the month of January you get “free” coffee in the tumbler.  You see? Totally worth it.

This is the 3rd year that I’ve been blessed by my wife to get the tumbler… and let’s just say, I’ve learned some things along the way.

In year one, I saw the tumbler as my opportunity to stick it to the man.  That’s right.  Like a high school football player at a Chinese buffet, my job was to get my money’s worth (and then some).  So, I was getting up to three giant tumblers of Starbucks dark roast a day… and it was glorious.

Or so I thought.

About a week in, I started having difficulty sleeping (hmmm, go figure).  I started getting heart palpitations.  I wonder why this is happening? I asked myself. And it was in that feeling of caffeine-induced sickness that I made an important discovery:

You can easily misuse a good thing.  You can misuse it so much that it makes you sick.This is exactly how the Apostle Paul sees the Old Testament use of The Law.

Basically, God gave the Israelites The Law so that they wouldn’t die (that was nice). Let me explain:

#1 If a Holy God was going to live in the midst of the people, they had to be holy too.  The Law was meant to show them what holiness for humans looks like.

#2 Then, knowing humans couldn’t do it perfectly because of sin, God gave them a sacrificial system.  Since death is the penalty for sin, God made a way for animals to die on behalf of the people (and thus setting up how to understand what Christ would accomplish).

#3 Why did God do all of this? Because God wanted them to live.  He wanted a relationship with them.  The Law wasn’t an end in itself – the relationship was.

Paul believes that the big problem with the Jewish people is that they’ve been misusing a good thing.  And it’s making them sick.

Romans 9:30-32: What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.  Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.

This might be a good time to ask a question: if it’s by faith that we are saved, how exactly do you put your faith in Jesus?

Paul says…

Romans 10:9: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Remember, God’s end game is relationship.  In any relationship, you not only have to believe that you love someone, but you have to say it too.  For example, I can believe that I love my kids… or my wife… but if I never say it, they may not know.

So, if you believe it and say it, you are saved by grace through faith.

This is meant to give us peace.  I hear from people all the time (many of whom are long time Christians), who ask: How do I know that I’m saved?  Well, this is how you know.

Salvation is a process.  It’s a lifelong journey that leads to believing and declaring.  But it’s also a moment.  A moment where we say yes to Jesus with our own lips.  In church today I think we often assume everyone’s had their moment.  Have you?

Just in case, here’s a prayer that you can pray to make sure:

Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for my sin. I believe you are Lord of all.  I put my faith, my trust, my hope, my whole life, in you.  Amen.

Now that will give you heart palpitations… in a good way.

So, let’s add that marker to our journey on the road:

Marker #4: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Marker #3: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Marker #2: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Marker #1 on the Roman Road: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

What does this mean for your relationship with God this week?

Pray to God about your relationship.  Are you living in the freedom of grace?  What would your life look like if you believed, heart and soul, that Jesus loves you, has forgiven you, and wants you to truly live?

If you want to hear more on this, you can listen to Part 4 of the sermon series.

The Road: From Romans to the Gospel

Part 3

Recently, I had to take a trip to the ER.

That morning I had a procedure to remove a piece of my scalp due to a runaway mole. The dermatologist said it was caused by sun damage from when I was a kid. (Thanks for the sunscreen, mom. But it was the 1970’s, I guess I should be thankful I wasn’t lathered in canola oil for a “healthy” tan).

Anyway, that evening as I lay down to go to sleep, I started bleeding profusely from the wound.  So, I applied pressure and had my wife drive me to the ER, to make sure no stitches popped out.  Upon arrival, the receptionist asked, “How are you doing?”

Choking back a sarcastic response, I said, “I’m fine, just bleeding from the head.”

[No laughter or sign of amusement]

“Would you like some gauze?” she asked.

“Ummm… yes,” I replied. She handed me a handful of folded gauze and asked me to have a seat.

It reminded me of the waiting room scene in Beetlejuice.  You know, where the snorkeler has a shark still attached to his leg, and is just handed a number like he’s at the deli counter?  That’s how I felt. Bleeding from the head – no problem.

An hour later a doctor finally saw me.  The wound had stopped bleeding and created a scab. After examining it, he said, “It looks like everything’s fine, but leave that scab so the wound can heal underneath.” After my initial frustration that he couldn’t determine the cause of bleeding (it must have been some kind of dark magic I suppose), a thought occurred to me… Jesus (yes, really).

The blood that heals the wound. This is what Jesus did on the cross. His blood covers over our wounds of sin and heals them.  Did you know that the word atonement means to cover over? And because of that we are justified (made right with God).

Romans 5:1: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But what Jesus did on the cross may not even be the most shocking part. It may be this…

According to Jewish thought in the time of Paul, there were 3 categories of people:

#1 The Righteous

These people follow the obligation of the Law. This would be the Pharisee category.

#2 The Good

These would be righteous people who also were generous to the poor.  For example, they might pay the temple tax on their behalf.

#3 The Ungodly

All non-Jewish people. It was believed that because they did not follow the Law, they were never made clean or forgiven through sacrifice. They are the condemned… the criminals in God’s eyes.

Now the crazy part…

Romans 5:6-8: You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The good news of the gospel is that salvation is not dependent upon our ability to be faithful, Law-abiding, good, or righteous.  It’s not dependent on our attendance pattern at church, our giving, or our knowledge of the Bible.  It’s not even about our works of faith.  It’s about what God has done before we ever knew we needed it.

A very popular megachurch pastor tweeted recently: “If you want to change your heart, you must first change your habits.”

With all due respect… that’s not the gospel.  Our hearts are not changed by what we do, but by what God does.

A better tweet would be:

If you want to change your habits, God must first change your heart. Click to Tweet

Jesus doesn’t just hand us some gauze and say, “Stop the bleeding.”  He bleeds for us, so we don’t have to. His blood covers over our wounds and heals us.

Marker #3: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Marker #2: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Marker #1 on the Roman Road: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

What does this mean for your relationship with God this week?

Pray to God about your relationship.  Are you living in the freedom of grace?  What would your life look like if you believed, heart and soul, that Jesus loves you, has forgiven you, and wants you to truly live?

If you want to hear more on this, you can listen to Part 3 of the sermon series.

The Road: From Romans to the Gospel

Part 2

For most 21st Century American Christians, the term disciple is synonymous with student.

While student is a decent technical translation, it tends to fall short of painting an accurate picture of what it means to follow Jesus because of how we tend to view the student-teacher relationship.

When you think of student, what do you think of?  A classroom?  Taking notes?  Studying?  For our culture, the images we think of are examples of a more passive learning style.  But perhaps a more accurate description of disciple would be something like: apprentice.

Why? Because an apprentice learns actively.  They study as they do the work.  Then, they reach a point when they master the curriculum and teach someone else.  That’s what I see when I see the disciples in scripture.

God wants apprentices. After all, we're taking over the family business. God wants us to learn by doing. Click to Tweet

But first, there is a fatal learning flaw that must be overcome. Let’s return to the classroom idea.

Imagine we are like spiritual kids in a classroom.

The class is: Living a Righteous Life as God’s People

The teacher is: The Law (613 Commandments of the Old Testament)

The teacher’s job is to show us how to meet the expectations of the curriculum in a systematic way.  Our job is to learn and meet the expectations, or else we don’t pass.

This method (very loosely) describes the way to a right relationship with God in the Old Testament.  Obey the Law and you can be righteous.

But, like many kids, we tend to struggle with our classroom behavior.  Our sin drives us to goof around in class, zone out, cheat, pass notes, and otherwise be distracted from the teacher.  The result?  We don’t learn the curriculum and we fail.

The Pharisees believed that the key to righteousness was cleaning up the classroom behavior.  We just need to pay attention to the teacher and the problem will be fixed.  Unfortunately, it’s not enough.  Sin has completely damaged our ability to learn at all.

Behavior is just an expression of what’s going on inside.  Our sinful behavior is not the root of the problem.  It’s a brokenness that has hindered our ability to even hear the teacher.

It’s like we have a learning disability.

We’ve had it since birth.  We can’t control it or fix it on our own.  And we can’t learn the curriculum without intervention from the outside. That’s what the Pharisees didn’t understand – sin has sabotaged the class from the beginning.

We can’t meet the expectations of the Law without an intervention from God.  And that’s exactly what God did.

Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I love the parallel structure of this verse.  The wages of sin is death.  In other words, what we get paid for sin. We aren’t just victims – we’ve earned it.  But, there is a gift freely given (as opposed to a wage) that comes from what Jesus earned: eternal life.

Jesus met the expectations of the curriculum fully and finally.  Although the Law is still teaching us about sin and holiness, it no longer decides whether we pass or fail.  Through faith, Jesus’ Law-abiding accomplishments are credited to us.  We pass with flying colors because Jesus did.  What’s that mean?  We are righteous in the eyes of God because Jesus is righteous.

That’s why just following the Law won’t get you where you need to go.  The problem isn’t the teacher, it’s the students.  We need intervention from Jesus Christ.

Marker #2: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Marker #1 on the Roman Road: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

What does this mean for your relationship with God this week?

Maybe it means living under grace instead of legalism.  Are you so concerned with your behavior or the behavior of others that you find reasons to keep people out of the classroom?  Is your quest for perfect attendance really what God wants for your heart?

If you want to hear more on this, you can listen to Part 2 of the sermon series below.