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 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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