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.

The Secret to Real Thanksgiving

And 3 Reasons You May Not Be Feeling It

Listen (ooh-ahh-ooh), do you want to know a secret (ooh-ahh-ooh)?  Any Beatles fans out there?

Seriously, though.  Do you want to know a secret?

What if I told you that I could give you a secret so powerful, that it can change your life?  In fact, most of the big decisions you make are based on chasing this secret.  What to do for a living, who to marry, how many kids to have (or not have), what to do on vacation, what house to purchase, what kind of pet to have… and countless others, all designed to move you closer and closer to it.  What am I talking about?

Contentment… Fulfillment… Peace.

Well… have you chased it down yet? Do you feel content, fulfilled, and full of peace no matter what is going on in your life?

If not, then this secret is for you. Of course, it’s not my secret… it’s been an open secret for the past two millennia.  And it can be found tucked away in a letter the apostle Paul wrote in the First Century.

But before we unpack Paul’s secret, let’s explore 3 reasons you may not be feeling so content to begin with.

Reason #1: Your Appetite for Stuff is Making You Discontent

When I’m trying to lose weight (which seems like every day of my life), I’m smart enough to know that I need to stay away from bagels.  Bagels, while absolutely delicious (especially here in the NYC area), are just about as unhealthy a food decision I can make for my morning routine.

So, let’s say I’m resisting the bagels and then I go to church… and as part of the coffee hour fare, they are serving – yep, you guessed it: bagels.  But, of course, this is church, and they don’t serve full bagels, they only serve bagels all cut up into pieces. By the way, who does that? Who serves 1/8th of a bagel?  Churches, that’s who.

Anyway, I take my 1/8th of a bagel, spread the thinnest layer of cream cheese on it (like molecules holding hands) and eat it in two bites.  Now, a bit of trivia for you.  Will that 1/8th a bagel satisfy me or will I want more?  Exactly.

Here’s the thing about appetites.  They grow when you feed them.  

We all have appetites, and it’s usually to do with upgrading some part of our lives that we wish were better.  We live in an upgrade culture: phones, homes, cars, relationships, and mountains of stuff.  We become convinced that if we just upgrade different areas of our lives, then we’ll finally be content.

But the problem is that, we are never content.  And that’s because our appetites keep growing.

When we are perpetually looking to upgrade, it can create a persistent sense of discontentment with what we currently have.  By definition, this prevents us from being content.

Reason #2: You Trust in Your Resources More Than God

There’s a reason Jesus taught about the dangers of wealth more than any other topic.  He knew that it would be the number one competitor for our hearts.  Why? Because we are tempted to trust in our own financial resources for security, status, comfort, and identity.

The thing is, our resources will eventually fail us.  

Don’t think so?  Well, what happens to all our resources when we die?  Do they save us?  Do they get packed into spiritual moving vans?

As Paul tells Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17).

Or as Jesus puts it:

 

Reason #3: Your Generosity is Dictated by Your Circumstances

Let’s say you go to a local coffee shop and a barista comes to your table.  You order black coffee and a bagel (of course!) Five minutes go by… then ten… after twenty minutes you give a nasty look over toward the counter.  Finally the barista comes back with a latte and a donut.  You mention the mistake, and the barista argues about your order.  Finally, you decide it’s not worth it and proceed toward the cash register.

How much will you tip?

A. An emphatic zero… or something really snarky like one cent.

B. 5, 10, or 15%

Okay, now imagine you found out that barista just lost her mother, and she had to work in order to cover funeral expenses.  How much would you tip then?

Or, what if the barista was your sister?  How generous would you be then?

Or, what if you just learned that a huge business deal you’ve been working on came through?  Or if it didn’t go through?

You see, our generosity is incredibly circumstantial.  And as a result of an underdeveloped generosity, we struggle to be thankful or feel content.

Paul’s Secret Revealed: Philippians 4:11-13

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

In other words, when we draw from the well of our circumstances, resources, or appetites, we never reach peace, contentment, or fulfillment.  It is only through God’s strength, abundance, and love that we can be content no matter what.

Then we start living a life of Thanksgiving.  And when that happens we finally feel that fulfillment, contentment, and peace we’ve been chasing our whole lives.

So resist the bagels… curb your appetite for stuff… and give thanks.

[If you’d like to hear more about this topic, check out our Be Rich sermon series on our podcast]

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